Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short

30 03 2009

Even he—‘I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death’—thought torture useless:

Also accusations upon torture are not to be reputed as testimonies. For torture is to be used but as means of conjecture and light in the futher examination and search of truth; and what is in that case confessed tendeth to the ease of him that is tortured, not to the informing of the torturers, and therefore ought not to have the credit of sufficient testimony; for whether he deliver himself by true or false accusation, he does it by the right of preserving his own life.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

Although he shrugged off much conventional 17th-century morality, Hobbes was convinced of the necessity of the person to preserve himself. Thus even the overwhelming and legitimate authority of the sovereign was not enough to render torture of use to that sovereign.

Is this a ringing defense of the dignity of the person or a denunciation of the horrors of state-sponsored terror?

No. And yes.

Thinking like a mountain and wishing like the sea

22 03 2009

My t.v. sits there, mute and uncomplaining. Or mute and seething. If a t.v. could, you know, uncomplain or seethe.

Do I liberate it?

I’ve watched t.v. twice since I’ve moved in, and both times it was chore: I don’t have cable, so the reception was more snow than picture. I’ve thought about getting the Roku box and streaming movies through Netflix, but beyond my initial research, I’ve done nothing about it.

So do I sell or give away the t.v.?

It’s in decent shape, but it’s also a few years old, and the big ol’ console type—not a sleek, new flatscreen.

I dunno. If someone would offer me 25 bucks, I’d probably unload it.

A plant would fit nicely in its spot.


On my continuing inability to write that elegant piece on abortion, or to patch together anything coherent on Israel and Palestine: why oh why?

It’s not as if I don’t have well-formed ideas on either issue. On abortion, for example, I think that it’s a no-brainer that it remain legal, but that morally, it’s murky. And that it’s murky means that, for some people, it’s not a no-brainer that it remain legal. I think it’s silly to expect all women to feel guilt or shame or regret for terminating a pregnancy, and silly to expect that no woman would feel guilt or shame or regret for terminating a pregnancy.

But wait! There’s more! There’s freedom and equality and sex and contraception and men and motherhood and meaning and. . . all that.

So much to write.

Similarly with Israel and Palestine. Why should I take side other than that of peace and pluralism? Why would I support a two-state solution, one which implies—no, practically requires—a single-identity set of states, which in turns would necessarily involve some version of ‘transfer.’

As in ‘ethnic cleansing’. As in a crime against humanity.

Hannah Arendt (who was and is not beloved in Israel) made the argument in favor of a Jewish homeland—but not a Jewish state. Edward Said (who has his own unbeloveds) ended up supporting the goal of a single state as the most just solution.

The current situation is unjust. A two-state solution would simply reify this injustice, and in so doing, make such reification irresistible. In other words, the injustice involved in bringing reality to the two states would itself become an argument in favor of the process of states-making itself.

Perversity. The entire damned situation abounds in perversity. Again, so much to say.

Too much to say, perhaps. Perhaps that’s why I am unable to say it.


I am temporarily working three jobs again, but the third job will soon go away for the spring and probably the summer.

The second job (teaching) is secure through December, and probably the following spring.

Job1 is the current angst-generator. It’s a retail position, not difficult, but low-paying and irritating in the usual way of retail positions. It sucks up time, both on the job and in travel. And did I mention the customers?

But it has had one great benefit, however: benefits. Most part-time jobs do not offer health or other benefits, but this one does.

This has kept me working there even when I thought AAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH! That, and the need to pay rent.

But I now qualify for health care through Job2, and am in the process of switching my coverage. Wrinkle one.

Wrinkle two: My store is in the midst of a shake-up, and not all of us currently employed will be offered jobs past June. I went through the process to keep my job, but I’m not at all sure that I do want to continue working there.

This is different from the AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH reaction. I’m getting more courses, and while the pay for adjunct teaching is lousy compared to a tenure-track job, it’s great compared to retail. And there’s a good chance I’ll be able to continue working off-and-on at Job3—a job which also pays more than Job1, and is closer to home.

The big reason to leave, however, is that I have no damned time to write. I wrecked my life to leave academia, and wrecked my finances to move to New York to write—which I have, in my first two years here, managed to do. In the midst of my third year, however, I haven’t been able to grab those chunks of time necessary for writing.

Yeah, I have time to blog and to web-surf and to play spider solitaire, but none of these activities requires the particular kind of concentration I engage in while writing. These are filler activities, wind-downs—only now I’m winding down from my commute or course prep, not from cranking out a crucial scene.

And I have a new idea. I have characters and a rough sense of where I want to begin. I want to find out what happens. And I don’t have time to write to find out what happens.

The economy? Oh, yeah, that. How could I give up a job in this economy? Is wanting or needing to write enough? Yeah, the check’s small, but it’s not nothing; how could I give that up?

Perhaps I won’t make the cut, which means the decision is out of my hands. But this is my life, and it should be in my hands. I should have to figure out what to do.

Should. Not that I have, yet.

Karma police

20 03 2009

Every time.

You’d think I’d learn, but nope, I keep doing it: I need a day off Job1 (a need  which arises after the schedule has been set) and think, ‘I’ll just call in sick. A migraine.’

A migraine works better than a cold, because I don’t have to explain why I couldn’t come in Day X, but am fine on Day X+1.

At least that’s the idea.

So, on Thursday, and after I was unable to reach my manager about taking a personal day, I thought, Hm, I’ll just call out Friday with a migraine.

Yep. Friday I wake up and call out with a migraine—because I actually had a migraine.

This is what you get/when you mess with us.


You can hear the sound of the underground train

19 03 2009

The window was full of words.

I looked up from my magazine and saw the cascade on the tunnel walls.

The tunnels are usually dark; there’s no point in looking.  But the line is under construction, so banks of lights were strung along the length of this run, illuminating the hidden markings.

It was too much. The walls were pages, filled with painted words, page after page after page.

We were on an underground ship, charting its own course: The slow sway of the train as it crept along the tracks, horn blowing ahead to warn the workers, and the lights—oh! the lights! constant and warm and bowing toward us, beckoning us through this secret passageway—did anyone else notice this?

What were those words? Yes, we all know that someone has been here, before. But still, all those words? What had happened, before?

It’s all the same: dead is dead

16 03 2009

Drill Babies, Drill’?

Ah, yes. Another stunning allegory from William Saletan. He’s just discovered that scientists find fetal tissue useful, and wonders why arguments in favor of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research aren’t similarly applied to research on fetuses.

What he neglects is that federal guidelines on fetal research have long been in place (here’s the relevant statute, revised in 2005; see subpart B), as well as being subject to ethical and political skirmishes (regarding, for example, the admissibility of transplants of fetal material; cf. then-Secretary of HHS Sullivan’s rulings in the late 1980s).

So what’s new in what Saletan has to say? Not much.

I guess he’s going after the rhetoric: Those in favor of hESC research tend to argue for the urgency of such research: It’ll save lives! It’ll improve quality of life! We’ll learn so much more about human development. . . which will help us save lives and improve the quality of life!

If this is the case for hESC research, he wonders, why aren’t those in favor of research on fetuses making similar claims?

Well, in some cases, they have (I’ll have to dig out the cites), but these were arguments made years and decades ago. More to the point, perhaps, is precisely what Saletan both highlights and elides: Partisans in the hESC debate deploy rhetoric strategically (disassembling a blastocyst versus dismembering a human being), such that those who favor fetal research are likely not to want to trumpet a line of research which would create rhetorical openings to those opponents.

After all, many people distinguish between the status of an embryo and that of the fetus, such that most folks (if you trust poll data) don’t see embryo destruction as equivalent to dismemberment, while harvesting tissue from a fetus might seem, mm, grotesque.

Thus the reaction of Rod Dreher at Crunchy Con, who theorizes that fetal research will lead to the mining and cannibalization of babies.

As I point out in the comments to his initial post, however, I question the logic which links the harvesting of cadaveric fetal tissue to cannibalization—not least because he doesn’t consider how this situation is any different from the harvesting of adult cadaveric tissue for research and transplantation.

In other words, as grotesque as research on cadaveric fetal tissue may appear, it’s not clear to me that it is in kind any different from research on any other cadaver-derived tissue. The only difference is what led to the availability of that tissue: Abortion, in the first case, and death caused by accident or disease.

I have my own questions regarding transplantation and the pressures to donate (or create a market for)  tissues and organs, and generally think skepticism ought to be applied to any claims of Imminent Medical Breakthroughs! That said, I think that those who criticize fetal-tissue research exclusively are unwilling to allow that there could be any medical-social benefits from abortion.

They might truly be appalled by research on fetuses. I simply wonder why they are not similarly appalled by research on adults.

Indict! Indict! Indict!

11 03 2009

Tenured radical, indeed: former Office of Legal Council/current professor of law John Yoo.

Ap photo/Susan Walsh (via Salon)

Ap photo/Susan Walsh (via Salon)

Here’s a link to Yoo’s infamous torture memo; a key argument regarding the lawfulness of various forms of ‘aggressive interrogation’ can be found on pp. 26-31. The most famous excerpt can be found at the bottom of p. 27:

In defining substantial bodily injury, for example, the statute speaks in terms of disfigurement, or loss of function of some bodily member or organ. In case of serious bodily injury, the statute reaches more serious injuries to include those injuries that bear a substantial risk of death, result in extreme pain, as well as protacted  disfigurement or the impairment of a bodily member or organ.

Here’s the DOJ site which lists the nine recently released Bush-era memos on presidential power; these were apparently written by Yoo and now federal judge (!) Jay Bybee.

Photo via Slate

Photo via Slate

Impeach, then indict, this moral and political cretin, as well.

And all the rest of those who enabled this evisceration of the Constitution and the brutalization of human beings: Indict! Indict! Indict!

Ain’t nobody’s business if I do

9 03 2009

I’ve started and stopped posts on abortion mebbe half-a-dozen times, wanting to craft an elegant justification of leaving the decision of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy to the woman herself.

Well, fuck that. I won’t give up on that elegant argument, but I won’t let it get in the way of writing anything about abortion, either.

Y’all have read about the nine-year-old rape victim, and the Catholic Church’s chilling response to her pregnancy and its subsequent termination. The Church says it won’t excommunicate her, but out are her mother and doctors. As C. noted, ‘Fuck them.’

(And yes, this is the same Church which could be partially shamed about the anti-semitism of schismatic Bishop Williamson, but didn’t give a shit about the misogyny of Williamson and his cohort and their denunciations of women wearing pants and, oh yeah, getting university educations.)

But they’re hardly the only ones who dismiss the risks of pregnancy to girls and women. Remember John McCain and his famous mockery of any health exceptions to laws outlawing abortion? He used scare quotes around ‘health’, as if it were some kind of game or dodge.

Scare quotes. Now THERE’S an argument.

Or what about the groups, like the Family Research Council, which reacted to the good news of an effective HPV vaccine by worrying that taking away the risk of sexually transmitted disease would make girls promiscuous?

Kinda like making contraception widely available would lead to promiscuity and general mayhem. Nope, let ’em get pregnant or an STD—that’ll show ’em!

This is of a piece with the argument of those who consider pregnancy a just punishment to promiscuoussex—because all sex which leads to an unwanted pregnancy must of course be promiscuous. No, no married women ever want an abortion,  nor women in stable relationships. Just those whores who get knocked up just to knock off the fetus, or those poor, poor victims of the abortion industry, seeking to turn those poor, poor women into barren dykes.

Got that?

Yes, this is a rant, which means there ain’t no elegance and not much argument, either. This is just me screaming at the notion that any woman who chooses to live her life, to assert her ability and liberty to live her life, is somehow a morally depraved human being. Or too stupid to recognize that this is a decision with consequences (until it hits her at some unspecified point in the future, at which point she’ll collapse in a heap of regret).

Even those mildly pro-choice can take a mild version of this line. As any number of bloggers at Feministing, Pandagon, and the Pursuit of Harpyness, among others, have pointed out, William Saletan of Slate is willing to extend to women the right to terminate their pregnancies only if they’re really really sorry for it. Rights in exchange for shame.

Well, to repeat: fuck that.

Abortion is morally complex—and so are women. No, not every woman who decides to terminate (or carry the pregnancy to term, for that matter) engages in Properly Certified Reflection, but when have we required such certification for the legalization of any number of other complex moral activities?

Or is the problem that to state the complexity of pregnancy is to admit that there is more than one morally justified decision?

Or or or is it more basic than that: That to leave the decision to the woman is to. . . leave the decision to a woman?

‘My Body, My Choice’ has long seemed too reductive a slogan to me, but I don’t suppose ‘My life, My life’ has quite the same zing to it.


The righteous women at Pandagon have a post on this very issue, along with an embedded vid of three men (including Saletan) talking about abortion and women’s sexuality. Haven’t yet watched the vid—and given my mood tonight, may wait.

On the other hand, since I’m already pissed off, what’s another increment of outrage?

Janey’s got a gun

7 03 2009

A nine-year old rape victim, pregnant with twins, received a waiver from the Brazilian government to obtain an abortion, which was performed Wednesday.

The Catholic Church, which had intervened to try to prevent the abortion, responded by excommunicating the girl’s mother and the doctors who performed the abortion.

Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho declined to excommunicate the stepfather who raped her (and is suspected of raping her sister), noting  that  ‘He committed a serious crime, but . . . there are many other serious sins. Abortion is more serious.’

Do I let loose with any number of observations and cutting remarks about the church and women, the church and rape, the church and. . . mercy?

No, I think this unspeakable story speaks for itself.

Teach the children well

4 03 2009

Do I go with Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young—or Pink Floyd (‘Teacher, leave those kids alone!)? Do good, or try not to do harm?

Eh, I go back and forth. My colleagues Jtt., D., and I spend a fair amount of time dissecting just what is required of us as professors, both by the college and our own senses of obligation. We deplore efforts to sex up the curriculum, or to put a shiny happy face on the educational endeavor generally, but none of us is quite willing to write off what we do.

In short, we take teaching seriously.

As an adjunct, however, there are limits as to what I’m willing to do for my students or for the college. As I mentioned to a colleague at another institution, the shitty pay of adjunct-ing is somewhat compensated for the by the release from meetings: if I am paid only to teach, then that is all I will do. My current college is good about paying for adjuncts to attend enrichment seminars (perhaps at the, ah, urging, of the union), and, knowing that I have a long commute, my department chair schedules all of my courses two days a week.

That said, there are things I won’t do as an adjunct that I probably would do as a tenure-track professor. One, I refuse to correct for grammar and style. However important I think good writing is, I’m a political science prof, not a composition teacher. I grade on synthetic and analytic abilities, not syntax.

Second, I refuse to agonize over late papers. This is a recent conversion. Most students hand in work on time; a few do not. I used to believe that the principle of fairness required me to penalize the latecomers, but I’ve since decided that any ‘real’ penalty often assumed an importance disproportionate to the offense. And it was a pain in the ass to determine a fair penalty across all categories of tardiness—this one had to work, that one’s kid got sick, the other one hit a wall—when to penalize and when to waive? It was more trouble that it was worth, and I’m far more interested in the students’ mastery of the material than in their promptness in delivering proof of that mastery. That I no longer penalize lateness has had no effect on the percentage of students who hand their work in on time.

Finally, I refuse to agonize over the grading process itself. When I first started teaching, it was very important to give students plenty of feedback, to try to help them improve their performance over the course of the semester. This evolved into a practice of having students write a rough draft of the first part of a paper, which was graded and returned with about a page of notes, and then writing a complete final paper, incorporating the changes suggested in the marked-up rough draft. Only it didn’t work. Oh, one or two students would actually rewrite their drafts, but more often they would simply paste the draft into the final version—often complete with spelling and grammatical errors. I then switched to a modified version of this: I offered students the option of writing a draft (which would be graded), or just going with the final version. More than half would take this option, although, again, they often ignored the comments on the drafts. I stopped this practice completely after a student complained to my then-department chair that I gave too much feedback. Too much feedback! Fine. Done.

Were I not an adjunct, I might feel a more-than-minimal sense of responsibility to the college and the standards it was trying to raise or maintain. As such, I might reconsider how my standards do or do not match the standards of my institution. Now, however, I worry about the standards of effective teaching and whether I live up to my own understanding of those standards. That’s enough, I think.

Still, my understanding of those standards does lead me to ‘non-required’ work. My college uses Blackboard, which is a kind of online syllabus and bulletin board for students and professors. I haven’t been trained in this, so haven’t made use of it. I like the idea, however, of having some place my students could to refer to additional course-relevant resources, or even just copies of syllabi and paper requirements.

So I set up a blog for my students. Although it’s still not where I want it to be, I put in a fair amount of time and effort setting it up—time for which I will not be compensated. But if I’m to measure my performance by the standards of efficacy (as opposed to, say, institutional demands), then it’s worth that time and effort to at least try to increase or deepen that efficacy.

I like my institution, but I won’t forget that I’m in a mercenary relationship to (with?) it. Can’t say the same about my relationship with my students, however: in the classroom, good teaching reigns.

Let it snow

2 03 2009

BIG STORM! the media warned. UP TO A FOOT OF SNOW! meteorologists said.

Ha. I’ll believe it when I see it, I said.

The evidence is in. I am a skeptic who yields to evidence: Yes, there is snow.

Skinny Cat doesn’t care about the snow, as nothing will interfere with her feline duties, especially that of sleep.

She may be old, but she’s as steadfast a worker as they come.