Mexican kids are shootin’ fireworks below

4 07 2019

We shamble on. . .

But since we also have kids in cages and adults bundled like fasces behind walls:

There’s much to like about this country, much to celebrate, but if you’re not also angry and ashamed, then I wonder about the nature of your celebration.

As for the rest of us: let us take what is good and use it like a lever to overturn what is not.


Come put out your eyes

2 07 2019

University websites are of the devil.

One of my on-again off-again jobs requires me to find information on college and university websites (those offering associates and up only), which means that over the years I’ve probably looked at every single one of those websites (3000+) at least once, and a fair number, two or three times.

It sucks dirt.

Community colleges tend to be less awful, i.e., more straightforward. Maybe they have less money to throw at “innovative” designs, or maybe the people in charge of the website have less patience for bullshit, or maybe the would-be students of those institutions have somehow convinced the site designers to just give out the information already.

Elite schools, arts schools, and small liberal-arts “name” schools are often the worst offenders. Oh, here’s a website that will open with a series of scrolling images and rah-rah pull-quotes and advertising copy. Maybe there will be links to Degrees and Admissions and whatnot in a taskbar, maybe those links pop out at the menu icon, but once you click on the desired link, you are welcomed to a whole new set of scrolling images and rah-rah pull-quotes and advertising copy.

Oh, and blog posts, because of course you, a prospective student, want to read what’s happenin’! at Admissions.

You think I’m exaggerating? I am not. Consider Johns Hopkins University. Go ahead, click on the link.

Now tell me, how long does it take you to find what are the requirements for admission as an undergrad?

You can find the link either at the icon or on the bottom, which then takes you to a page which requires you to click either undergrad (with a separate link to the Peabody Institute—good luck if you don’t already know that that’s the place for performing arts) or grad, then, when you click on undergrad, you get this:

You think, Huh, I might want to apply, so let’s hit “Application Process”, then scroll down a bit to find this:

Nifty, you think. Now, what are the GPA requirements? What scores do I need for the SAT and ACT? Oh, look there’s a link to “Deadlines and requirements”:

Huh. A list of deadlines. . . wait, here’s this illustration-quote-thing:

Excellent! Just what I want. . . oh, this is just an image, I can’t click on it for more information.

Well, there is at least a link to “Standardized Test Information”, which, hmm, tells me how to submit my scores, what JHU will do with them, how they’ll calculate repeat test submissions—which is useful, yeah, but since I don’t know what the cut-offs are, how do I know whether or not to retake?


Okay, I see, there’s an FAQ link up near the top: that oughta tell me something, yes?


All rightly, then, let’s just click on every damned link on the Admissions page. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Ah, here’s something useful, via Discover JHU/Get the Facts: a snapshot of the Class of 2022, which includes “middle 50th percentile” SAT & ACT scores. Okay! If I’m above those numbers, I should be good, right? And maybe take again if I’m way under. . . ? What about slightly under?

I can at least find out how much everything (tuition, housing, etc) costs: just a hair under 75 grand for on-campus students, about 70Gs for off-campus.

Well, then.

I pick on Johns Hopkins because a) I had to try to find information on their website today and am thus still irritated, many hours later; and b) for a non-artsy school, it’s one of the worst.

I have nothing against Johns Hopkins as a university—it’s a very good school—but if I were some first-generation-college kid from podunk Wisconsin trying to figure out whether I should take a shot at applying to it? Fuh-getit.

That might be the point—they only want students who don’t actually need to use the website for information—but I doubt it. I think the site was designed by people who think, Ooh, this’ll look good on a phone or tablet or whatever, who like how clever/inspirational/creative it all is, but who haven’t a clue how people who haven’t a clue how universities work might actually want to use their site.

Now, it’s possible that this does work for some subset of students, and that admissions counselors are available to fill in all of the blanks, but, man, it is also possible that this joint would intimidate someone into not even bothering to contact that counselor.

(I know, in fairness I should do my alma mater. I have no faith that it will actually be good, but, sheesh, it can’t be worse than JHU.)

Having done this job, I know too much how colleges and universities are organized to have a good sense of how an undergraduate might navigate the site for information—do they know that the bulk of undergrad programs would be in a college of arts & sciences or liberal arts? do they understand general education or core requirements?—but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re almost as useless for current as for prospective students.

And faculty? Staff? Ha, right.

So, I gotta ask: if these sites are garbage for prospective and current students, for faculty and staff, then just who in the hell are they for?

Into the breach! 2020

27 06 2019

ETA: It’s unto the breach! UNTO! Goddammit.

Yeah, I’ve pretty much landed on that for the theme. Works.

Anyway, I’ve said I’m not going to say much about the primaries and. . .  I’m not. I like Warren for her plans and Harris for her knife skills; I think Julián Castro would make a fine veep, and while I’m sorry she’s not doing better, I appreciate Gillibrand pounding away on women’s issues.

Regardless, and as ever, I’ll vote for the nominee.

Anyway, the real reason I’m bringing up the primaries is because the last two nights I followed the debates on twitter and oh, is that an exercise in meta-analysis: what one person adores another abhors.

Same as it ever was, I’d guess, but it’s a lesson I keep forgetting.

I mean, this isn’t about Dems vs GOPpers, or even lefties vs liberals vs moderates—the ideological disputes I get—but about tone and style and emphasis, about one person saying about a slip-up, Eh, it happens and another OMFG! Doomed!

Again, t’ain’t nothin’ new about that, but I can’t help but notice it every time.

Anyway, this is why I’m confining myself at this point to meta- than actual analysis: I get as caught up in this tonal shit as anyone, and thus don’t trust that I’m in any position to say Ooo, this’ll play well or Sadly, no.

That’ll be less of an issue during the general election campaign, because at that point it’s less about impressing those willing to give you a look-see and more about straight beating the shit out of the other guy.

But in the meantime? Meta.

And Sir Sun stands up

20 06 2019

Fucking summer.

It’s been a cool June so far in NYC, but you know that by July the weather will be filthy and by August, murderous.

So, in “honor” of the worst of the four seasons, some sun and summer songs.

From back in me college days:

This got a lot of play when I was living in the apartment on Breese Terrace (right across from Camp Randall stadium). I don’t know that I yet hated summer—I was probably still operating under the delusion of fellow northerners that one should be glad that summer’s here, as it least it’s not winter—but regardless, I liked this one. Still do.

This one’s a throwback to the seventies:

I didn’t have this album—this came out before my album-buying days—but my older sister had a copy of Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy that I listened to, up in our shared bedroom, so I tend to associate all songs of this era with the seventies, even if I didn’t actually listen to them back then.

As to that first album I bought? Foreigner, Double Vision. I was mad for Foreigner, and at twelve or thirteen, when I started really paying attention to music, this. . . this is what I wanted.

I still listen to old Elton John. Foreigner? Not so much.

I fuckin’ love this song, still:

In fact, I hopped out of my chair and lip-synced to this as it played on my tinny computer speakers.

This would make a great song for a chorus, don’t you think? So many ways to take this.

Man, I fuckin’ loved all of early U2, and while I don’t hate them now, at some point getting their new music was no longer necessary. But this song reminds me of when it was.

This is kind of a trash song, but I do love me some Be Good Tanyas:

A friend of mine who, well, kinda of worked music festivals (as in, he had a job that mostly had nothing to do with music but sometimes did), once booked the Be Good Tanyas. They fought like hell offstage, he told me.

But the show was fine.

This one was included on a mixtape sent to me in grad school by my friend L:

I don’t know this artist well, or, really, at all, but apparently Eddie Vedder later covered the song.

Anyway, I listened to this song on my walkman on the number 2 bus taking me down Franklin, heading toward and away home.

And, of course, this is the song that’s counts as hopeful for mopes like me:

God, what a great song.

The Police was one of those bands I was introduced to by MTV. I don’t know what anyone thinks about MTV these days, but back in the ’80s they played all kinds of shit I couldn’t get on the radio.

Falls is between Green Bay and Milwaukee, so I’d listen to stations out of there (mostly Milwaukee, honestly, 93.9 (?) WQXR! and a station at 97-point-something), the relevant ones of which were either Top-40 (which I, a cool teenager, disdained) and hard rock. I was into the latter in my early teens, but once I heard post-punk and New Wave, it was all over.

Anyway, the Milwaukee School of Engineering was rumored to have a great indie station, but the signal was weak and we almost never got it up in Sheb county.

So MTV was it. It was terribly white, back in those days, which I might have tutted about, but honestly, I dug the Police and the Eurythmics and the B-52’s and the Femmes and BoDeans and on and on, so Music TeleVision fed me what I needed.

There are many, many, many, MANY more summer/sun songs, but here’s one on how to deal with the heat:

Naked is a state of mind, indeed.

School’s out forever

14 06 2019

I wasn’t much for graduation ceremonies: I went to my HS graduation, but skipped both my undergrad and grad ones.

And my high school ceremony kinda sucked. I mean, it was fine, but we voted on a class song—Van Halen’s version of “Happy Trails”—and the administration nixed it as too, I dunno, fun. And the speech—which, again, was fine—was more for the parents than the kids.

Anyway, here’s a speech worth listening to. The first half is the usual thank you thank you thank you, but then it gets. . .  interesting.


h/t Jezebel

Boy, you gotta carry that weight

12 06 2019

When are you responsible, for what, and for how long?

Linda Fairstein, who worked hard to put Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise (aka the Central Park 5) into prison for a horrendous crime they did not commit, is unhappy that that hard work has come in for some criticism.

She prosecuted the Central Park jogger rape case, was heavily supported by elites and the media in that prosecution, did the job that was expected of her. And even though she was but one of a litany of cops and those in the DAs who fucked up horrendously—not only were 5 kids jailed for a crime they didn’t commit, the man, Matias Reyes, who did rape Trisha Meili remained free to rape other women, and to kill at least one of them—fucked up horrendously she did.

So what should she do with that?

I’ve mentioned before that I am leery of clean slates for adults, that I think we should carry our deeds with us; how far does that go? How heavy must these deeds remain?

If we must keep trouble in mind, how much trouble?

I think you only get to lighten yourself after you’ve accepted that you’ve done wrong, and try, in some way, to atone. And if you can’t make it up to those you’ve wronged, then you accept that you can’t make it up, and say nothing more.

The late senator Ted Kennedy killed Mary Jo Kopechne; she’s dead due to his recklessness and unwillingness to get help for her when that help might have saved her life. He evaded the social consequences—prison—for his deeds (his 2-month sentence was suspended), and went on to a long public life as senator. He was lauded and respected for his political work.

Should he have remained a senator? Should that respect have been withheld?

I don’t know the answer to these. Had this happened today, I’d say No, and Yes, but I only knew the Kennedy who didn’t pay the consequences back then, who was able to build the public record for which he received that respect. Had he gone to prison, had the full story come out then, he might have gone away, and stayed away.

Did Kopechne weigh on his conscience? After the initial testimony, I don’t know that Kennedy said much about Chappaquiddick one way or the other. He apparently spoke with her parents a couple of times, but not to their satisfaction; publicly, he said little.

And that may have been the least he could do. If he couldn’t make it right, he could at least not proclaim over the years that he did no wrong.

I don’t know how to calibrate Fairstein’s versus Kennedy’s wrongs; how do you measure 5 boys, wrongly imprisoned, versus one young woman killed? He committed a crime, whereas she did nothing illegal; what happened to all six was unjust.

But her response to her wrongs bother me more than his, and I’m not sure why or if that even makes sense.

Maybe her defense of herself irritates because it’s so recent. I was a toddler when Kennedy defended himself, so wasn’t aware enough to take umbrage at his evasions. But now I’m a grown-ass woman listening to another grown-ass woman trying to justify injustice, and. . . no.

Maybe it’s because, all of these long years after the case, and after the real rapist was found, and after the convictions were vacated, she’s still defending herself. Okay, she says, maybe the  boys didn’t actually commit the rape, but those kids were still guilty of . . . something, and oh, by the way, we didn’t do anything wrong.

Of course, she’s wrong about being not-wrong:

In what she called “the film’s most egregious falsehoods,” she noted that the series depicts the teenagers as being held without food and their parents as not always being present during questioning. “If that had been true, surely they would have brought those issues up and prevailed in pretrial hearings on the voluntariness of their statements, as well as in their lawsuit against the city,” Ms. Fairstein wrote. “They didn’t, because it never happened.”

In fact, according to a 2003 report on the investigation commissioned by the New York Police Department, the defendants did raise these issues in a pretrial hearing, though they did not prevail.

She might not like how she was portrayed in When They See Us, might take issue with being portrayed as, in her words, an “evil mastermind”. I can see how that might sting.

And that she felt that she had to resign from a number of boards and that her publisher dropped her? Yeah, that probably hurt.

But she did herself no favors by taking that private hurt public and belittling the public hurt visited upon these young men. Maybe there was a way for her to have meaningfully engaged Ava DuVernay’s film and its portrayal of her, but that would have required her to have recognized the injustice of her real-life actions, which she apparently is unwilling to do.

Given that, it would have been better for her simply to have said nothing.

Take the long way home

6 06 2019

I mentioned awhile back that I was working on a project called “Modernity’s Ideologies”, in which I trace the historical emergence of political ideologies in Europe from ’round about 1517-1945. I waaaay condensed that into a chart much like this one:

(Sorry for the bleed-through: I print almost everything on used paper.)

I haven’t given up on that, exactly, but the bugger certainly became bigger and bigger and bigger and I thought, Man, I gotta getta hold of this. So, I’m still reading and thinking and thinking and reading, but I’ve cooled my jets considerably.

That project was/is meant as scholarship, but also as a teaching tool, and I used some of those ideas in my class on the Weimar Republic to try to help the students make sense of the riot of political movements in 1920s Germany.

(I don’t know that it actually helped.)

Anyway, in teaching that, on women’s politics, and a course on American government and politics, I’ve also had the occasion to ask What is politics, anyway?

In those cases, I used a version of this chart:

This refers to what I call the “fields of action” of politics, and I first developed it when teaching that women in politics course in order to capture the multifarious ways women participated in political life.

I’ve since adapted this to my AmPol course, and as you can see by the written notes, the adaptation is ongoing.

In fact, this adaptation is part of a new project called “A Partial Politics”, a part of which I plan to use for teaching in the fall. I’ll discuss the fields of action (mentioning that in other nations military, religious, and economic institutions may also form overtly political fields) along with various definitions of politics (Aristotle, Easton, Lasswell, Crick, Arendt, Schmitt, etc.). I lecture on all of this and write it on the board, but I think it would be useful for the students to have a version written out for them and that they can refer back to.

The fields of action thing actually works well for how I teach the AmPol course, which includes a central role for the early civil rights movement (1960-65, more or less): I note the different institutions within government, the splits in the parties, and note how the NAACP fits more as an interest group, SNCC & CORE as activists groups, and the SCLC somewhere in the overlap.

One thing I’ll definitely change in the chart is the implication that “underground” politics flow only out of activist groups: certainly the overlapping roles of the Klan, the White Citizens’ Councils, and sundry other violent white supremacist groups with state and local governments give lie to that. And, of course, the various corruptions involving modern-day interest groups, while not exactly underground in the same way, suggest further modification of the above-ground/underground distinction.

I may also include some discussion of the different types of roles one sees across all fields (although some may be more prominent in one area than another); I currently have:

politicking (persuading, pressing flesh, etc) [eh, too indistinct; maybe ‘persuader’?]
foot soldier
trickster (dirty, ie, ratfucker; anarchic, eg Yippie, Pirate Party, Ukrainian comic)
hustler (grifter; spotlight hogs, etc)

Political actors may inhabit multiple roles, or may be primarily defined by one. Nancy Pelosi, I’d argue, is a master of process, but she’s not who to turn to in developing policy or to lead the masses to the promised land, i.e., a prophet.

And this isn’t just about elected officials; you can find people to fill these roles across all fields. John Lewis in his SNCC days, for example, was a foot soldier and a connector, putting himself on the line repeatedly as well as being willing to work with King and the SCLC when others in SNCC were unwilling.

Anyway, this is all preliminary: I’ve got the summer to get at least this part pulled together.

You’ll notice that I didn’t say anything about ideologies and AmPol. That’s due mostly to my focusing on strategies and tactics, but also to the fact that the chart above needs to be radically altered to account for American ideologies (another piece of that overgrown Ideologies project). Given that the US, as a nation (ie, since the 1780s), has always been modern, discussing ideologies as a reaction to modernity doesn’t work. There’s also the matter of how to deal with the slaveocracy, which to my-mostly-ignorant mind, attempts to graft Enlightenment sensibilities on top of a pseudo-feudal structure.

I won’t teach from a mostly-ignorant position, so this doesn’t get discussed much at all. Given that I barely get through the material as-is, this isn’t a problem.

But if I am to fill out that “A Partial Politics”, then I will also have to fill out that ideologies section, in some way or another.

I know, I keep doing wide outruns and getting lost; this time, I’ll try to keep it closer, and plink away at it bit by bit.