From Philadelphia to Room 101

from the Washington Post, 4 Nov 06:
"The Bush administration has told a federal judge that terrorism suspects held in secret CIA prisons should not be allowed to reveal details of the 'alternative interrogation methods' that their captors used to get them to talk. The government says in new court filings that those interrogation methods are now among the nation's most sensitive national secrets and that their release--even to the detainee's own attorneys--'could reasonably be expected to cause extremely grave damage.'"

"You asked me once," said O'Brien, "what was in Room 101. I told you that you know the answer already. Everybody knows. The thing in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world."

Let us recap the story thus far:
1. The President reserves the right to jail, without due process of trial or even contact with attorneys, anyone in the world, including United States citizens (for example, Jose Padilla), whom he deems to be "enemy combatants."
2. The determination of who is and who is not an "enemy combatant" is soley the jurisdiction of the President, without appeal or judicial oversight. No evidence need be presented. The criteria upon which the President makes this determination are secret. The sources of the information are classified.
3. Even if contact with an attorney is approved, one may not communicate information about one's detention, though the conditions of the detention might themselves constitute a crime. Imagine that if you are picked up by the police and beaten, then try to tell an someone about the violence, you will be charged with revealing police department secrets, while the officers will remain unpunished.

We are at war with terrorism. We have always been at war with terrorism.

hit me

I never know when it's going to hit me--but today it did, while standing in line at a clothes store. It staggered me so bad that when I returned home I felt so drained I immediately launched into a 3 hour nap, not that I could afford the time, but I had nothing left. I drifted off into deep sleep, where I imagined myself driving up and down 680 and 24, trying in vain to find a particular rock outcrop.

In this case, the cause of my funk was an obese woman trying to purchase $211 in clothes. It's hard to find clothes when you're fat--I should know. I had just spent a half hour flipping through clothes I liked, but which were made for someone just a fraction of me. When you're fat like me there's not much choice; you look first not at the price or at the style, but at the size. I suppose most people first look for a style they like, then try to find a size that fits. But everything is reversed for the obese.

This woman had a lot of clothes. It had probably taken her a long time to find them. But as the cashier rang her up, he politely informed her that her card had been declined.

Ouch. Embarassment. I shifted on my feet and considered finding another register, but there were no others available. I tried to avert my gaze. A few more people came into the line. And then it hit.

I was overwhelmed with empathy for this woman. I considered, for a fleeting moment, paying for her clothes, but I am unsure how the gesture would have been interpreted. I felt myself transported from where I was standing into her, feeling her anger and humiliation. I know on an intellectual level that the brain can easily be stimulated into faux out-of-body experiences, and that these moments I have of extreme empathy are just a manifestation of some deeper psychological complex. I remember though, as a child, how it would feel to look at myself through someone else's eyes and to feel their thoughts and emotions. I suppose that this is one reason why I've always felt so disconnected from myself--sometimes I scarcely recognize my face in a mirror. Nor do I easily recognize the faces of those I know; perhaps this is some minor form of agnosia

Images of the woman flash back to me even now. There was a time when these images would be overwhelming to me, when I would literally crowd out every other thought in my mind thinking about this, over and over. Now I've learned to control this better.

America worships the skinny and the rich. Paris Hilton, then, is the apogee of everything American, and that's why I so frequently mention her. America has no place for the fat or poor. You find whatever clothes you can in the reject pile. America has devolved into the fascist Abercrombie & Fitch ideal--everyone is beautiful, white, skinny, and posed in overexposed black and white photos right out of a Leni Reifenstahl film. Those who don't fit this mold--off to the camps with them. This is what America has become.

Sometimes I wish I could not feel the empathy, that I could somehow block it out. My years of flirtation with conservative views were, I think, just an attempt to block out the feelings of the raging, howling sorrow of the world that crashes uncontrollably at me in every direction all day long. When I was at Berkeley, in order to walk to class I literally had to step over unconscious homeless and ignore beggars. Every day I would pretend that many of the people around me were not people. I had to close my heart to the suffering as a defense. How much easier it would be to see the misery as the fault of the homeless, blame the sick for their sickness; how much easier it is to blame the poor for being poor, even though in the back of my mind I have never forgotten that I was a welfare baby.

I suppose that these thoughts are what lead me to Steinbeck, and Hemingway, and Faulkner, and help me understand how their work defines the inevitable suffering of life. I've been listening to Hemingway on CD in my car this last week, and his raw humanity has touched me. If I were not an atheist I would be a Buddhist, for the Buddha teaches that all life is suffering, and the biggest cause of suffering is the false expectation that you will somehow be immune to the pain.

Matthew Barney

Thoughts on Matthew Barney:

I recently had the opportunity to see the new Matthew Barney exhibit at the SFMOMA. I had missed his previous Cremaster Cycle exhibit, much to my regret, and was excited that this had come to San Francisco.

This multimedia exhibit was called “Drawing Restraint,” and involved a feature length film and several rooms filled with plastic castings, with drawings and short videos. Barney’s theme again derives from his experience with sports: Restraint on muscles affect and shapes them. Exercise transforms the body. And as always, Barney uses his body directly as part of the art.

At the opening Barney climbed up the 100+ foot atrium at SFMOMA, using a climbing rope and clipping himself on anchors along the wall. He climbed underneath a walkway and hanging suspended by the rope, began to draw on a high wall. He has done an original drawing in a similar way at each Restraint exhibition. This climbing also reminded me of the five levels of climbing from Cremaster 3, where Barney also employed a harness and climbing equipment as he scaled levels in the Guggenheim.

One of his works echoed the idea of drawing with encumbrance. He combined several heavy free weight plates with a pen, then evidently tried to make a drawing by pushing the weights.

The theme of transformation was echoed in a sculpture of ambergris. Ambergris is regurgitated Sperm whale digestive material. It is thought that it may help passage of hard squid skeletons out of the whale. Ambergris is highly prized in the perfume industry; in fact, beachcombers can expect to reap about $8000 per pound of the rare substance.

Ambergris must remain at sea for approximately a decade to be valuable. During this time it loses its initial fecal odor and develops a sweet fragrance. So Barney’s theme of transformation is echoed in a huge, 20 foot+ sculpture of faux ambergris using glued squid shells. This sculpture also plays a role in the film Restraint 9.

No Matthew Barney exhibit would be complete without something made with petroleum jelly. In this case, Barney filled an enormous mold with petroleum jelly and allowed it to settle once solidified. The resulting shape was then cast in white plastic. The textures and fractures on this were very interesting.

For the mold form Barney used the symbol of The Field, a personal symbol for him that occurs in all his work. The Field in some ways reflects his sports background, however in Restraint seems to emphasize transformation. Each left/right side can be seen as one of the two Occidental guests featured in the film, who when joined on a Japanese whaling vessel are transformed. The Field also has the gross outline of a ship.

The Japanese whaling ship featured in the film is the Nisshin Maru, which in 1999 was involved in a collision with a Greenpeace vessel. This event is mentioned in one of the rare moments of dialogue in Barney’s film, in which a member of the crew discusses the mark (both literal and figurative) left by the collision. The collision can therefore be seen as itself a kind of transformative event, altering the shape of the boat and bringing to worldwide attention in a dramatic way the fact that the Japanese still practice whaling, an unnecessary and barbaric fact that should be a source of great shame to the Japanese naton.

Barney chooses not to address the whaling issue. However, as the film progresses The Field sculpture dissolves on the deck of the Nisshin Maru, looking remarkably like a whale being cut apart by flensing knifes. Flensing also takes place in the scene between Barney and his wife Björk.

Barney and Björk arrive on the ship separately, and are immediately cleaned in preparation for a tea ceremony; Barney’s scraggly beard is shaven and Björk is bathed, and they are each dressed in elaborate costumes, transforming them. Following the ceremony, they embrace and lovingly cut each other with flensing knives until they are transformed into whales. Indeed, this very act is happening on a whaling ship which transforms whales into oil—much like the petroleum jelly that gradually fills the room until Barney and Björk are swimming in it.

In sum, this was a very thought-provoking exhibition by that most rare and unique of persons: An important contemporary artist.

the hedgehog

ron jeremy ( writes:

Dude... how long does it take to put some scan trons through the machine and read the short answer questions. all my other teachers had my grades in yesterday! you said they would be in on Monday. it's Tuesday night and there are no grades. get off your fat ass and put in the goddamn grades!!! Jesus Christ. if you stopped drinking sodas and slurpies, maybe you would be able to see your dick without having to look in the mirror. do your job and submit the fucking grades!


Well. Ironic--considering that I had alread turned in grades. :)

In response, I think of the famous Chris Rock Horoscope bit: "'re gonna die. Virgo ... you're gonna die. Gemini... you're gonna die _twice_." If you're this concerned about a grade, you didn't pass. If you need to know this bad, you flunked.

Now the real Ron Jeremy has an MA in Special Education. This means he's taken and passed a lot of classes. And I'm quite sure that the Hedgehog was never quite that rude to any of his instructors. :)

when the levee breaks...

A recent article, deeply buried, said:


BY SAMANTHA YOUNG, Associated Press Writer

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has withdrawn its endorsement of levees protecting parts of Sacramento, reversing a 1998 evaluation that has facilitated a construction boom in the Natomas area.

In a letter released Tuesday to The Associated Press, the Corps' chief engineer in Sacramento attributed the decision to local and federal studies that have unearthed levee vulnerabilities.

"Based on this information, we can no longer support our original position regarding certification of the levee system surrounding the Natomas area," wrote Thomas E. Trainer, chief of the engineering division.

The letter was forwarded to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which certified the Natomas levees in light of the Corps' 1998 finding the levees provided 100-year flood protection.

The certification led to skyrocketing development of the Natomas area — a section of the state capital north of downtown that flood experts now say could be submerged by at least 13 feet of water if the levees failed.

An area with 100-year protection has a one chance in 100 of flooding in any given year.

If Natomas were to lose its 100-year designation, flood insurance would become mandatory for people with federally insured mortgages, insurance rates would increase, and building restrictions could be implemented.

But local officials described the Corps letter as an expected formality, which they have been told should not change FEMA's current assessment of Natomas.

That's because the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, which commissioned a March study that first identified the gapping weaknesses in the levees, has already begun a $370 million project to upgrade the system to 200-year flood protection. That is twice the protection required by FEMA.

"We're not going to wait for FEMA to act, we're got to act to resolve this," said Pete Ghelfi, director of engineering for the Sacramento flood agency.

He said construction should begin next year to fortify the Natomas levees over the next five years.

In total, 20 of the 26 miles of levees surrounding Natomas need some kind of work, including erosion protection, deeper walls to prevent seepage and greater height to withstand bigger floods.

FEMA spokeswoman Kim Walz confirmed that the agency would not re-evaluate the Natomas area if Sacramento officials fix the levee problem.

Jeffrey Mount, a professor at the University of California, Davis, said local planners now face a real decision about whether to temporarily curb construction behind levees that will not be strengthened for another five years.

"The politically difficult question is whether you continue to put people at risk," Mount said. "Is there the political will to halt development out on the flood plain until they've got this worked out?"


Jeff Mount is a great geologist, who has done a lot of work in rocks near and dear to my heart (the White Mountains and the Poleta Formation, in particular). He was also fired from a flood advisory position by Schwarzenegger for daring to suggest that Sacramento could face a Katrina-like disaster because of its weak levees.

Now we see the Army Corps retreated, trying to shift blame away from itself before all hell breaks loose. Remember that the levees in the Delta are even more dangerous; a breach in them will flood the California Aqueduct, and cause SoCal to lose half its water. No one wants to talk much about this, no one wants to spend the money now to shore up the weak levees.

I find it grimly funny that the Natomas area of Sacramento, built in such a bad place only because of the assurances of the Corps, now finds itself abandonned and subject to increased mandatory flood insurance. Could this get any worse? Yes--when the levees fail.

field trip complaint

A student writes (in text exactly as I received it):

“So let me get this strait. We have to go on field trips that are really far away. The field trip on Sunday is going to be close to a 4 hour round trip. That is going to cost 40 dollars for gas, 3 dollars for toll, time spent off work,wear and tear on my vehicle, and a waste of a weekend. And your telling me that isn't enough to get the extra credit? We have to do a write up on top of that? I figure dishing out all this money and eating up my weekend should be enough. And Why are the Field trips so far away? There are rocks everywhere! I don't understand your reasoning for this.
And about your tests. I think we should be aloud to bring in a note card of some type. There are way to many weird definitions to remember. All this information is really just going to be to memorize for the test and then brain dump. We just want to fur fill a science requirement. We don't want to devote our lives to rocks.”


Because this missive expresses concerns that many students have, although do not articulate to me, let me respond issue by issue.

> That is going to cost 40 dollars for gas, 3 dollars for toll
Some students have this idea that tuition is the only cost of going to college. I don’t know who told them this idea, but in my experience the tuition is about half of the accrued expenditures of going to college.

Consider books. Many students are outraged at paying $100 or more for textbooks. But as instructors, we regularly observe students chatting away on cell phones, a luxury that for some people produces a bill far in excess of this. Fashionable clothes, iPods, movies—all of these things cost money, but for this spending there seems to be no regret. It is comic to hear students complain about buying books or paying tolls as they spend greater sums on frivolous pleasures and socializing. They seem to expect that going to college should not necessitate a reduction in living standards.

> time spent off work
More and more colleges are changing their schedules to allow gaps of hours between classes, stretching the classes out over the course of the entire day, in order to prevent students from going to part-time jobs. These colleges find that students who are also working are distracted from their studies and achieve poorer grades.

While this will not, of course, happen at the JC level, any student transferring to a 4-year school will get a very rude shock if he or she expects accommodation because of a work schedule.

> a waste of a weekend
Or was it just one day?

What rubs me wrong is this sense of an entitlement to a “weekend.” Only people with union jobs are guaranteed weekends. All other employees dread the Friday afternoon request by a boss to work the weekend; this was perfectly parodied in the film “Office Space.”

More and more, 4-year schools are finding that they can put more instruction in a semester if they schedule midterms on weekends, outside of classtime. In my experience, there is very little flexibility with this—you either show up to the midterm at the time scheduled, or you flunk the class. So expect that if you are transferring, you may not get class time off in order to take a test, but will have it scheduled during a Sat or Sun, presumably “wasting” a weekend.

> We have to do a write up on top of that?
You will be hard pressed to find a science course at a 4-year school that does not require a write-up in order to get credit for a field trip. And as this class is required to be equivalent of a university course in order to qualify for transferablility, I feel I should follow this standard.

> And Why are the Field trips so far away? There are rocks everywhere!
Of all the comments in this email, this is the one that get to me the most. It reminds me of the biology instructors who, when arguing for splitting up funds between bio and geology, say that they should get more money because “You can just go pick up a rock anywhere.”

I really feel like I’m not getting through to a person who thinks this. But I’ve come to expect that with some minds there is only so much I can do to reach them.

> There are way to many weird definitions to remember
Yes, indeed. If you already knew the vocabulary, then there wouldn’t be any challenge to the class, would there?

> All this information is really just going to be to memorize for the test and then brain dump.

I know what you mean. The analogy I always made when I was a student was to shitting. You eat all this food, digest it a bit, trying to extract something useful from it, then in one cataclysmic moment, you blow it all out, using the paper of the final test as toilet paper. Of course, this is hardly an original thought; students have probably been noting the brain dump as long as there have been universities.

> We don't want to devote our lives to rocks
Is one field trip a lifelong devotion to rocks? And why not, anyway? :)


In my dream my parents live in an enlarged, vertical version of their real house, with an ornate rococo roof, replete with gables and terraces. And scampering around on this roof I see a small humanoid. It pounces with Gollum-like ease over the roof, and as it rushes toward me, screeching, I see that it does indeed resemble Gollum, although the face looks like Macaulay Culkin with large eyes.

I try to alert my father to this thing I have seen, but no matter how many times I explain it, he refuses to believe it. There are other people in the house, however, and they are curious. They open windows and peer out trying to see this monster.

It is then that I understand the monster had planned this all along. As people lean out to look, a cold, muscular hand reaches from above and yanks them headfirst out the window. They die as they hit the ground far below.

As I pass a window, desperately trying to shut it, I find myself face to face with this monster, which growls at me between yellowed fangs. I awake screaming.

Fox's John Gibson

Normally, the quality of what passes as "news" on Fox News is such an affront to journalism, good taste, and a fact-based perspective on the world that criticizing Fox News becomes an exercise in arguing against a lunatic. A good rule of thumb: Don't argue with a fool, because people won't know the difference.

However, recently John Gibson, one of the Fox talking heads, made a statement that bears examination.

On 11 May 2006, as part of his show The Big Picture, John Gibson made the following pronouncement, in response to demographic data showing high birth rates among Hispanics:

"By far, the greatest number [of children under five] are Hispanic. You know what that means? Twenty-five years and the majority of the population is Hispanic. To put it bluntly, we need more babies."

When I studied eugenics (back in another life, when I was a history major at Cal) I came across innumerable such statements expressing white fear in the early twentieth century of a creeping "ethnic" population takeover. This fear was, in part, responsible for atrocities such as California's forced sterilization programs. California's aggressive sterilization of those "unfit" to breed in the early twentieth century was later used as a model for Nazi sterilization efforts, which were planned on a scale that would allow the Nazis to use the entire population of the Soviet Union as slaves, yet make that generation the last generation of Soviets, because these workers would be sterilized en masse.

Here's another quote:

"It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind."

This isn't from some raving Fox News talking head, but from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Oliver Holmes, writing in the infamous 1927 Buck v. Bell decision.

I had thought that such pseudoscientific nonsense had long since passed into the region where only ignorant rednecks espoused such views as they denied the Holocaust, argued that mercury in their fillings was poisoning them, and feared the Trilateral Commission.

Sadly, I now see, eugenic views have crept back into the public discourse, and hardly a peep of protest is heard. Score: Fox News 1, America 0.

I don’t get HBO, so I have to wait for the shows I love to come out on DVD, and still it takes a long time for me to see them. So it was only yesterday that I saw the series finale of 6 Feet Under.

I was deeply jarred and disturbed. I cried continuously through the finale, and then intermittently for the next hour. Even today I find myself tearing up. Every time I hear the Sia song Breathe Me I start weeping anew. My throat is so choked up now that I can barely swallow. The final sequence, where Claire drives away from the Fisher home to start her new life in New York, while she has visions of the deaths of all her family, including herself, collapsed something inside my heart. I just lost it—and I can’t find “it” again.

Why did this disturb me so profoundly? Granted, the final four minutes showed how each of these characters I had come to know and love met their demise. Such a wrap-up was expected from a show in which every episode dealt with a death and its aftermath. I think what got to me so much was Claire’s story.

Claire accepts a job in New York to pursue a career in photography. At the last minute the job falls through, but her dead brother Nate advises her to not tell anyone and just go anyhow, banking that she will find something else soon enough. This is perhaps the point where Claire pushes through and I have failed. I am so overwhelmed by my anxieties and fears that unless a job is 100% secure, and I have an apartment lined up in a good neighborhood, and all this incredible bullshit list of worries is satisfied, then I can’t go. Perhaps these fears will never end, never be satisfied, and I’ll never go.

I’ve thought as I’m driving to teach some class that I should just keep driving past the college, past the Central Valley, past the Sierras, out of the suffocating claustrophobia of California, and be well into Nevada before I get out of the car. John Kennedy Toole, after he wrote Confederacy of Dunces, drove all around the country, aimlessly, going to the houses of famous writers, going to the coast, before he stopped on lonely road and directed a hose from his tailpipe into his sealed car. I feel as if I should cut myself off from everything I’m doing now. Start a new life. Get another chance. Have an adventure. Fall in love. Raise a family. Buy a house. Start my life. Feel, in some small corner of my heart, a measure of happiness. Yet, I know that none of these things will ever, ever happen for me if I continue like this.

Am I David then? David keeps the family business going when while Nate goes off to Seattle. He’s playing the father role even before his father dies (episode 1). Is this responsibility such a bad thing? Or do I feel drawn to responsibility as an escape from fear?

Recently I explained to a friend how little I’ve traveled, how I’ve never been to Europe or New York for example, because I figure that if a trip is going to cost me $2k, then I should really pay off $2k of debt before I incur that sum in debt again. Responsible, she judged—but boring.

Why do I feel such overwhelming fear over imaginary problems, and yet so little trepidation over real dangers? When that punk popped my tire on Telegraph while my brother-in-law and I were sitting in the car, and we confronted him and ran him down in the street, my pulse didn’t even rise. I see how my life is spiraling downward and yet I don’t feel an impetus to act, to do something, anything. I don’t know what to do. This isn’t the life I hoped for, yet I have no idea how to change it, or where it went wrong.

I thought graduating from Berkeley would help me find some sort of future, but there are just no jobs anymore, no real jobs with benefits and a livable wage. There are plenty of part-time, no benefit, no advancement dead ends. In theory there are real jobs, but I never got the offer, I never got the entry-level position I needed to move away from jobs where I ran a cash register. How many times after I graduated did I break down crying and think that I had it all completely backwards, that I should have studied a trade like plumbing? That I should join the military? When I was a student I imagined that the years of scraping money and worrying about how I was going to pay rent were only temporary, that this would change after I had a degree. If I could go back, would I tell my younger self that this was only the beginning? That a dozen years later I would still struggle to pay rent, be far in debt, never have enough money, never take vacations, always be scratching just to live and not have a hope of any financial security. That I still wouldn’t have health care? Maybe I wouldn’t tell my younger self how life was going to turn out—at least back then false hope kept me going.

So why do I keep going now? I really cannot say. Claire’s death scene involved her lying in bed, at 102, surrounded by photographs spanning her illustrious career. I suppose that on some level I still hope for success, I hope for love, though my experience so far suggests that these won’t be mine. I have hope that somehow the gnawing, terrible hunger will go away and I’ll lose weight before I go crazy and cut off my excess rolls of fat with a knife, claw the skin off my fat face.

Why do I get up in the morning? As Beckett said, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” Why don’t I give in to the dark, melodramatic, self-pitying urge take that last, final stroll over the Golden Gate? I can’t say why, but I won’t give up, not yet, even though I feel I have failed so miserably in so many ways, that I am such a disappointment to myself and to my family, that I cannot form even a basic human connection other than to tell trite, meaningless jokes and perform mediocre impersonations. Perhaps this is the core of why I feel so inspired by Claire’s departure to New York. Perhaps it is not too late for me yet. Here Tolkien speaks to me: Despair is a theological error, as one does not know how the story ends, so the hobbits struggle on, without hope but without despair.

matthew barney

I dreamt I was in a Matthew Barney movie, the sculptor who works in giant blobs of Vaseline.

I was touring a college campus, being introduced to the rooms where I would teach. One was a giant amphitheatre, such as the ones at Cal that accommodate 1000 students. But this auditorium was slanted oddly. The podium was the highest point, and all the students’ seats descended downwards, so that they would look up at me. As I was touring, a class in criminology began, and I was handed a test. I struggled but couldn’t answer any of the questions.

Then as I tried to leave, I found it impossible. Stairways turned me back into the auditorium. I waited for elevators, but they were too small for me to fit in. Finally I emerged o the outside, where it was not night. As people milled about, I saw strange flashes. I looked at a homeless man on the ground in a sleeping bag, and FLASH! I saw that he was some sort of grotesque demon.

This happened on the sidewalk too. As I wandered around, FLASH, and the people would reveal themselves as monsters.

Far, far away from the classroom, on the summit of a grassy hill, was a set of elevators that would take me to another part of the campus. I was very angry at having to walk through mud and grass just to get to where I was going.

A constant feeling throughout this dream was the Americans with Disabilities Act, and my anger that this campus was not built to ADA standards. Sure—I could walk through mud now, and jump fences to get to where I needed to go, but what if I broke a leg? None of the elevators connected to where I had t go. I was walked, walking around this campus until I was quite tired.

I had an argument in a hallway with a student about gangs. I told her she need not worry about minor street gangs, as they were small time. I suggested that she should instead be worried about gangs such as the IRS, because they had so much more power.

As I wandered, I found myself swimming, then diving into mucky, distasteful water. I saw a car submerged. It looked old, grown over with weeds, as if it bad been there a long time. Yet there was pounding coming from inside the car, as if someone were trapped there.

FLASH—I would see a man and a woman making love, then FLASH! I saw that it was actually a demon, a small blue demon, forcing himself into her mouth. She could not see what I saw.

Blobs of Vaseline became more and more part of the landscape. Soon I was wading through Vaseline as I solidified. I sought escape, but there were only the elevators that led no where.

from Thomas Hart Benton

I think this says what I feel especially well. The name is a pseudonym, of course, for fear of retaliation for speaking the truth. :)

http://chronicle. com/jobs/ news/2006/ 06/2006060901c/ careers.html
Friday, June 9, 2006
A Tough-Love Manifesto for Professors
By Thomas H. Benton

An Academic in America
"Thomas H. Benton," an assistant professor of English, offers his take on academic work and life.

Ask any older employer of recent graduates and you'll hear that most bachelor's degrees are inferior to the high-school diplomas of a generation ago, and, what's more, there is a gross sense of entitlement among today's students, even after they become employees. Somehow they think their employers exist to serve them.

"How much do you pay? Is this interview over, or what?"

One reason for that is obvious enough. Those job applicants just spent the last four years regarding highly educated adults as customer-service representatives. Why? An entire generation of professors has been weakened by the transformation of higher education into a part-time, no-benefit operation. The steady erosion of tenure and the use of student evaluations as a faculty-culling device are turning college teachers into spineless crowd pleasers.

"Please, please hire me! I'll do anything! I'll keep the students entertained and give them all high grades because everyone's special and who am I to judge anyway?"

The last two months I wrote about the relationship between the "7 Deadly Sins of Students" and the "7 Deadly Sins of Professors."

My argument is that a student culture of self-indulgence is enabled by the failure of professors to maintain expectations in the classroom. At many institutions, courses have been gutted to the point that students receive high grades for minimal effort, and the lowest grade many professors can risk assigning is a "B+." Even that will produce imperious complaints from students who think they are destined for greatness: "I worked really hard. Your class is not fair. Raise my grade or I'm taking it to the provost. Just wait till you get your evaluation!"

The consumer mentality of students results in their desiring less rigorous instruction because they are paying more for it. They use the cost of tuition -- which I acknowledge, is far too high -- as a justification for lowering standards. So they will pay again later when they discover that their degrees are a form of inflated currency and that employers will not treat them like little geniuses but expect them to actually work without complaining. Even if one accepts the instrumentalist view of education, we do our students no favors by letting them leave with so little knowledge and so much attitude.

Students, even if they are paying tuition, are not "customers" because, at most institutions, their tuition covers only a fraction of the total cost of their education, which is paid for by the state, donors, and accumulated institutional capital. The professors are also making a major contribution by working for far less than comparably educated professionals.

Nevertheless, students think they are customers because the majority of college teachers know they are "employees" who will be fired for displeasing those customers. The 2005-6 version of the American Association of University Professor's "Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession" shows that in the last generation or so the proportion of faculty members teaching part time has doubled. It was 23 percent in 1971; it was 46 percent in 2003. It's probably more than 50 percent now.

That percentage does not include all of the teaching assistants who log most of the student contact hours at large universities. It's probably safe to say that more than two-thirds of college teaching is now done by people who are routinely punished for maintaining standards. The professional survival of untenured faculty members depends on processing large numbers of students without making waves.

After at least 10 years of trying to balance idealism and reality, I am finally one of the faculty members in a position to fight the trend: I was awarded tenure this spring. And already I see that my perspective on the teacher-student relationship is shifting as a result of having job security.

So I am tinkering with a list of things that will structure my relations with students in the coming years. It's my "Tough-Love Manifesto," and I am thinking about putting it on my syllabi:

I. Students are not customers. Teachers are not employees.
II. Students and teachers have obligations to each other.
III. Here is what I expect from students:

a.. You will treat everyone in the class, including the professor, with the respect due to all human beings.
b.. You will attend every class, give your full attention to the material, and conduct yourself in an appropriate manner.
c.. You will agree to do the work outlined in the syllabus on time.
d.. You will acknowledge that previous academic preparation (e.g., writing skills) will affect your performance in this course.
e.. You will acknowledge that your perception of effort, by itself, is not enough to justify a distinguished grade.
f.. You will not plagiarize or otherwise steal the work of others.
g.. You will not make excuses for your failure to do what you ought.
h.. You will accept the consequences -- good and bad -- of your actions.

IV. Here is what students can expect from me:
a.. I will treat you with the respect due to all human beings.
b.. I will know your name and treat you as an individual.
c.. I will not discriminate against you on the basis of your identity or your well-informed viewpoints.
d.. I will manage the class in a professional manner. That may include educating you in appropriate behavior.
e.. I will prepare carefully for every class.
f.. I will begin and end class on time.
g.. I will teach only in areas of my professional expertise. If I do not know something, I will say so.
h.. I will conduct scholarly research and publication with the aim of making myself a more informed teacher.
i.. I will return your assignments quickly with detailed feedback.
j.. I will pursue the maximum punishment for plagiarism, cheating, and other violations of academic integrity.
k.. I will keep careful records of your attendance, performance, and progress.
l.. I will investigate every excuse for nonattendance of classes and noncompletion of assignments.
m.. I will make myself available to you for advising.
n.. I will maintain confidentiality concerning your performance.
o.. I will provide you with professional support and write recommendations for you if appropriate.
p.. I will be honest with you
q.. Your grade will reflect the quality of your work and nothing else.
r.. I am interested in your feedback about the class, but I am more interested in what you learned than how you feel.

If you are going to be tough on students, you have to be much tougher on yourself. Your autonomy as a professor comes from having the strength to stand for something more than keeping your job for just one more semester.

Begin with small steps. Cut and paste the Tough-Love Manifesto into your syllabi with, perhaps, some customized modifications. Now, repeat after me: "I have principles. I demand respect. I have high expectations. I am a professor." Say that 10 times a day, at least. Can you handle that?

In one semester, I predict, you will begin to feel your educational biceps growing. In two semesters you will have six-pack academic abs. But you have to stay on the program, even when the grade-grubbers and accidental plagiarists start to line up outside your office.

Students and professors have entered into a mutual pact of low expectations, and somebody has to be the first to re-arm. The popularity of programs like American Idol in the college-student demographic shows how hungry they are for honest criticism. On some level, they want the hard truth instead of the "everybody is a winner" nonsense. They will rise to high expectations if teachers are firm and resist sending mixed messages. And we teachers should want, most of all, to be respected rather than liked, even if that means having to grow some backbone and take some risks.

It is absolutely true that I can act with authority because I have tenure, though, of course, the scope of that authority is limited to the classroom. Most untenured faculty members who maintain high expectations are eventually unemployed faculty members. There is such a thing as duty to one's students regardless of consequences, but untenured professors also have obligations to their families not to lose their jobs.

College students seem more immature than ever before, and, as a consequence, more likely to bring disgrace upon themselves and their institutions. Tom Wolfe was not exaggerating in I Am Charlotte Simmons. You just have to watch the news to know how serious the problem of character has become at American universities. Maybe it's time to restore in loco parentis? I believe most parents would support that, even if it meant granting more authority and protection to the faculty members who would have to fill that role.

Parents, legislators, administrators -- are you reading this? If you want educated, disciplined graduates who are willing to work hard and become productive citizens -- who will not disgrace you -- then you have to reverse the de-professionalizat ion of college faculty members. And that means saving tenure before it is downsized out of existence for the sake of bigger athletic facilities, fancier dining halls, and better campus landscaping.

This is not a partisan issue. Yes, tenure also protects a small percentage of highly visible, career-driven, ideological extremists. But they are disdained by the majority of moderate professors. Freedom of speech sometimes means letting the Klan demonstrate. And education with character means giving teachers the protection they need to uphold standards. Otherwise, you might as well send your children on a four-year cruise.

It's time to restore tough-love to higher education or just call the whole thing off.


I was flipping channels the other day when I recognized a voice. It stopped me cold and I spent twenty minutes transfixed. My embarrassing discovery: I had stumbled into Oprah's show.

The voice was that of Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate and survivor of Auschwitz. Oprah had featured his magnum opus, Night, in her book of the month thing, but this tv program showed Oprah walking with Wiesel through Auschwitz, past the glass-encased displays of mounds of hair, shoes, pictures, childrens' clothes. It was deeply moving to see Wiesel talk about this, my own personal Virgil guiding a tour of Hell. His low, steady voice was firm that others should know what happened there.

After this show, I felt moved. I went to the framed, signed letter from Elie Wiesel that I have (on loan from a close friend, to whom he sent it). I started listening to a reading of Night in my car as I drive.

The question Oprah did not ask, and the question that has haunted me ever since reading Night at about age 12, was this: How do you leave? How do you leave the exhibits at Auschwitz and go on with the rest of your life? How do you ever smile or laugh again? I got a Bachelor's degree in German history trying (unsuccessfully) to answer these questions.

Every time I feel some bit of joy, I also feel a bit of guilt. Perhaps this comes from the Puritan roots of America. But I rather think it's a reminder to me not to live trivially, to live and think and write as if it mattered.

I was an atheist long before reading Night, but I think it was this book in particular, and Primo Levi's autobiography Survival in Auschwitz, that made me understand that the Holocaust disproves even the possibility of a benevolent God. I think of that scene where the young boy is being hanged by the Nazis, and the other prisoners are made to watch; the hanging doesn't go right, and the boy is held by the rope for 10 minutes, kicking and choking, 20 minutes, swinging and gasping, and it just will never end. And the cry goes up among the prisoners: Where is God?

I don't want to imagine a God who would allow the Holocaust to happen. I don't want to imagine the God who gave my cousin leukemia. Don't get me started on pediatric brain cancer. If there were such a God, then I would hope that upon death I could have the opportunity to express my feelings with my fists, against the bridge of His nose. Perhaps the Gnostics were right: We're not going to Hell, this world is Hell.

I once told my friend, from whom I have Wiesel's letter, of Wiesel's importance for my atheism. She replied that even though Wiesel remains religious, he would understand. Here's a man who remembers as a teenager standing before Dr. Mengele, and yet continues to write, to live, to teach. Such is the greatness of the man from whom we all have something to learn.

how i spent my summer vacation

I know how to work, but I never learned how to enjoy time off. I finished grading finals early this term, because I wanted to make the very most of the time I have off. But now that I'm off, I find it's very hard to get anything done, and I'm beating myself up over not doing it.

I feel this constant, nagging voice telling me to leave, to go somewhere. It's as if the "down time" I get during the term is no longer valid. Now every second is ticking, ticking. I try to pack in so much fun that I'm not having any fun. If I'm shopping too slowly, I feel the pull of the clock. If I'm sleeping, I feel an urge to get up and prepare for a trip.

Planning and preparing for trips causes me anxiety; I always worry and over-pack. But once I'm on the road, my anxieties melt away. Only once in my life did I feel a sense of utter abandon, where I could just pick up and leave without guilt. This was immediately after my summer field geology course, where I had been living in tents for 6 weeks. Once the class was over, it was another two weeks before I slept in a bed regularly, because I felt such an impetus to just _not be home_. Having running water and electricity didn't seem right anymore. It was a wonderful feeling of freedom to grab my tent and sleeping bag and just go.

The trips I'm planning are all solo. I think that is the root of some of my anxiety. It's not particularly dangerous to backpack alone, but I have on one occassion shifted a rock by standing on it so that I was pinned. Luckily, I had a partner that time who helped free me. Otherwise ... I guess it would have been time to sever my foot. :) This isn't what worries me, though.

What worries me is the long days and nights alone, without distraction, with only the poor company of my thoughts. Sometimes I feel distressed if I drive even a short distance without the radio playing. I need something in the background to keep the thoughts at bay.

Of course, having these long periods of silence is what appeals to me. I have spent days where I haven't spoken a single word. I have spent days where I haven't seen another human being. I have gotten to know myself better, and what I know is that I would be much happier with company. :)

a barbecue

It begins with a barbeque. I’m at a park with an old friend of mine and we need to clean a grill in order o barbeque. So I suggest that we take the grill to a building close by. We try a couple of locked doors before one finally opens.

Inside there are long rows of paintings. This is some sort of art gallery, although there are not visitors milling about. We ask someone who looks like a staff member where we can clean this grill, and he directs us to the other side, where we exit into a large industrial yard, with welding and activity going on. We enter another building, which is a warehouse, and are then directed by another staff member further away to a concert hall. We have to climb through a broken window to go between the buildings. Then there is a very narrow elevator with three floors. We try in vain to find the floor with a cleaning sink, and finally end back up where we first entered the building. The worker who had helped us then walks us down the hall to a large kitchen, which is filled with activity. My friend cleans the grill.

By now, however, I am feeling a growing rage, an insane anger. It’s not directed at her, but at everything around me. I can feel my heart pounding and my pulse quickening. I don’t know why I feel so upset. I feel like I’m going to explode. So I duck out of the kitchen to try to walk about a bit to calm myself down.

This hallway has painting as well. They are almost all portraits, nineteenth century portraits of well-dressed people. Now something is different about them. I had missed it before. Now I can see that every few paintings, the eyes in a painting come alive. They move, follow me. And they glow. Most paintings have dead, painted eyes. But inexplicably every third or fourth painting stares at me.

I find myself in the concert hall, which is empty except for a television. I click it on and see the middle of the movie Jaws. I watch it for quite some time, because I am relaxed and surprised when one of the original workers who directed me here bursts into the auditorium and orders me out.

Now the halls are bustling with activity, and I try to warn every one I see about the eyes in the paintings. No one listens. I am becoming very frustrated at my utter inability to spread the word of this menace. Then a very tall, elderly black man grabs me by the arm and pulls me aside.

He announces that he is a paleontologist for the Smithsonian, which is evidently where I’ve been wandering about. He directs me to a cluttered alcove and together we remove crates and boxes in order to access a locked cabinet tucked far in the back.

This cabinet is full of fossils of oviraptors—dinosaurs who ate eggs—and fossils of dinosaur eggs. As the paleontologist leaves me to explore this cabinet, he explains that as a child in Haiti his mother had laid an extensive curse on him because he had stolen some chicken eggs. It was this curse he had also put on the paintings, and this was why some of them were coming alive now, infecting visitors, and reaching out from the paintings themselves to grab and strangle people.

I find myself out on an airport tarmac. A continuous stream of jets lands close to me. People are assembled, awaiting the arrival of some VIP. I am fearful that whoever it is will visit the portraits and hence become infected with rage, as I have been, but looking into the eyes of the portraits. I have to stop the plane from landing.

Nothing I say or do has any affect. I am distraught with frustration. Then out of the plane comes a female singer, whom the crowd identifies as my wife. She is very famous. I am continuously complimented by the crowd for being married to her, but as I look at these sycophants in the eyes, then I see that they too have become infected by the paintings.

I have no idea what this dream means, but it disturbed me greatly.

tachyon tableaux

It was recently proven that light can be made to run in reverse:

This is a startling concept, especially in that in seems to violate the law against speeds faster than light. You inject a beam of light into a fiber optic cable, but the instant that it begins to move into the cable, it is greeted by the same beam travelling out in reverse from the cable. One resolution is that the lightbeam moves backwards in time, as is thought to be the case with the elusive class of particles called tachyons. Clearly something is at work here.

After I read this I had a dream. I was invited to a special Kripalu yoga group, in which about twenty other people had previously participted. It was my first time, so everything was explained to me. We stood at random intervals throughout the room and were not to move from our spot as we struck various poses. A large cardboard sheet was randomly thrown in the air, and as it sailed, we would attempt to catch it while not deviating from a pose. Each time the cardboard landed near one, you were supposed to pick it up and write something personal on it. You then flung it around the room again. This was a mixed nudity class, and the thought occurred to me as we conducted our poses and tossed the cardboard, that we were creating a performance art piece, both written and physical, in the style of Vanessa Beecroft.

However, the writing on the cardboard means something else to me now that I have thought about the dream. The prohibition against faster than speed of light travel most accurately stated says that information cannot move faster than C. Was the group poem we composed meant to represent information itself?

After the session ended, one of the participants, an elderly man, invited me to look out a window, and as he pulled back the drapes, I saw the vastness of space--utterly dark, punctuated only by specks of light. The man told me that something was wrong. Our ship had stopped moving. We should have thought ahead and placed rescue stations along the way. I told him I didn't understand.

Outside in the parking lot it was night, although it had been day when I entered. The parking lot was barren, just a few cars that looked as if they had not moved in a long time. A high chain link/barbed wire fence surrounded the parking lot. I was alone, and of course, my car wouldn't start.

And it was then that I realized that there was no wind, no sound. Birds hung in the air, midflight. Time itself had stopped.

This is how it must be, I realized, this is how it must feel the moment that a beam of light travelling backwards through time meets its own beam tunneling foward through time.

the bear in the forest

Yesterday I ran a very fulfilling field trip to Salt Point State Park. I had never run this trip before, although I had been there numerous times before. I was filled with anxiety: a big component of the trip was tide pool marine biology, and I ain't no marine biologist. I was worried that people would get lost on the long road to Salt Point, or that no one would show up. I was worried that I was misreading the tide charts and that the water would be too high to see anything interesting.

All of these fears turned out to be unjustified. As Mark Twain said, "I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."

And it was very good for my head to have a few hours away from my troubles here. I actually forgot, for perhaps six or seven continuous hours, that because of my career troubles this might in fact be the very last field trip I ever lead. I hope, I dearly hope, this isn't the case, but if this was to be my last trip, then I'm glad that it went off with such a good sendoff.

In some ways, returning to Salt Pont completes a cycle for me which began so many years ago. Perhaps my earliest clear memory, when I was 5 or 6, was camping with my family at Salt Point. My memory is this: looking down from the campground into the canopy of trees and ferns and seeing a bear standing among the plants. I alerted my parents, who assured me that it was only a tree.

I was so insistent about what I saw, however, that I cajoled them into walking with me down the hill to where I had seen the bear. I saw the old tree stump they were referring to, but no bear. We hiked back up the hill to our campsight. Then I looked down again and saw the bear.

I found it hard to believe that my eyes were playing tricks on me. Yet the core of science is seeing the world despite our preconceptions and agenda; to see things as they actually are is more difficult than the non-scientist might imagine. I could go down and touch this tree stump, examine the minutae of its bark in as much detail as I pleased, but when I went back up the hill it would still look to me like a bear standing on its hindlegs. I learned something about the need for proper perspective that day.

For years I didn't know where this had happened. We camped at so many places when I was a child that my parents didn't recall this incident. Indeed, so malleable is a child's memory that I wasn't even quite sure it had even happened. I have many false memories, lying somewhere between a dream or a wish and the ooze of the juvenile brain.

When I was in junior high school my classmates took a weekend trip to Salt Point. Chance would have it that we camped in the same spot. And as I sat alone from my peers (as was my habit) meditating in the stillness of the woods, my eyes abruptly came upon the very same tree/bear that had intrigued me so many years before. The vision and recollection hit me like a lightningbolt.

It was a moment of enlightenment. Not, of course, full enlightenment but perhaps a tiny, baby step in that direction. I found it interesting to learn later of the long history of sylvian associations with enlightenment (Osiris trapped in a tree-coffin, Jesus and his tree-cross of olive, Buddha and the Bo Tree, Tolkein and his forest-consciousness).

Even as I write this, the fog shrowding my path is lifting. My mind is shifting through the morass of my thoughts, trying to tell me something. These examples come from Joseph Campbell. I recall his injunction that all people must first learn what is their passion, and then passionately pursue it, though it might well cost them everything. To do less is to sell one's soul at a discount rate.

LOST and found

Perhaps it is a sign of the state of my head right now, but I find it hard not to think constantly about the tv show LOST.

This last Weds--like, oh my God! I was jolted, I was gasping. I mean, I suspected that Michael's story was false: He was in very bad shape for just having been on his own, scouting out The Others. If the jungle was taking so much out of him that he drops unconscious at their feet, then it didn't make sense that Michael would have the wherewithal to stalk people as adept in the jungle as The Others. It didn't make sense that The Others would be as weak as Michael described and yet able to do so much evil. Considering Henry's earlier taunt about leading people into traps, Michael's story sounded like maybe he was setting his people up. In any event, things just didn't seem right.

The "line in the sand" was probably close to some structure, perhaps another hatch, that The Others occupy, and they simply released Michael when Kate and Jack came close. Remember that Claire met, and scratched, Rousseau in a similar way after Ethan kidnapped Claire.

Although I suspected there was more to Michael's story, it was still a shock when he turned the gun on Ana-Lucia. Pisser. Michele Rodriquez is a great actress; I was inspired by her in Girl Fight. I think about that movie when I'm working out.

Could it really be a coincidence that both Ana-Lucia and Libby were shot within seconds of each other when in real life they were pulled over for DUI's within minutes of each other? Most studios insist that they be able to carry insurance on the actors, so that if some important actor dies in real life and they need to reshoot an entire big segment, the insurance will cover that cost. This is why Robert Downey Jr. isn't working any more--he's had such a bad drug arrest record that no insurance company will allow him on the policy, and without all the actors covered by the policy, no studio will financially support a project. Ya kinda gotta be on good behavior. Hollywood doesn't have "morals" clauses in contracts any more--they don't need to because it's been replaced by insurance requirements. So I think that the LOST producers just killed off Ana-Lucia and Libby to guarantee that future DUI problems wouldn't affect the show.

As you can see, I spend _way_ too much mental energy on this show. :)

Years ago I had a similar affinity for the movie Titanic. I admit that I really liked it. I confess that I saw it three or four times in the theatre. I mean, everyone thinks about the Titanic when they're a kid, asking themselves what they would do as the ship slowly sank beneath them, but that movie just brought out in me a longing for genuine experience. I found myself wishing that I could be on that deck that night, though it would mean my end, because the realness of those two hours would be more genuine than all my years of waking up too early/rushing to work/struggling against deadlines/fighting through commute traffic/crashing alone in my pad and starting that process over again each day. I think it was Eliot who said that the person waiting on a train platform to go to work dies inside a little each day.

validate your ticket here

Thanks to "anon" for those comments... you're right in so many respects. :) I don't need personal validation from the admins, who with the exception of the odd hour or two of observation, have no idea what actually goes in my classroom. When I am periodically evaluated, the response is glowing with praise.

The response from most students, however, is what really count for me, and what validates my work. The comments I get are so positive that I know I'm doing something right.

Because of the quickly-deteriotating state of the school--the poorly constructed concrete literally dissolving before our eyes--it is probably a blessing in disguise to be done with it. Chances are that the Big One will happen at 5 am, when no one is around. But if the Big One does happen to occur when that school is full, there's a likelihood of terrible casualties.

When did colleges become businesses?

It seems obvious to me that the product (classes) should come first, that everything should be directed toward having the best teachers with the optimal facilities. I really don't understand the need for all this administrative overhead. If this truly were a business, then it would be a situation where half of the employees are running around trying to hinder the other half from getting any work done. Meanwhile, the customers (students, in this metaphor) are left at the cash register wondering if the employees behind the counter will stop yelling at each other long enough to ring them up. I don't blame, and could only expect, that customers in such a situation would take their money elsewhere.

Students are going elsewhere in droves. Enrollment is dropping by double-digits. Since enrollment is tied to the money schools receives, the vicious cycle has begun: Classes get cut, you can't find a class you want at the time you want it, you go to another school, enrollment drops, so money drops, so classes get cut, et cetera.

We need an earthquake. We need a huge earthquake. We need an earthquake that shakes California colleges to their foundations and sweeps the bullshit away in a tsunami. This is what California colleges need, but I'm not holding my breath.

blinded by ingratitude

Well, it's official: my jobs at the Peralta District, College of Alameda and Laney, are over. I've been there over four years and come to rely on these sections for steady work. This is a devastating blow to me.

An administrator was recently fired in the district. Admins have a "return to teaching" clause in their contract. This guy is exercising this right, even though he has never taught before, and is not a geologist. He gets my job, nonetheless.

Peralta to Steve: So long, and thanks for all the hard work!

Just so you all know: As America's science education continues its precipitous decline, as other competitor nations produce legions of skilled workers, we are mired in this kind of bureacratic bullshit, tangled in technicalities, unable even to fire someone cleanly. How did it come to this?

I just wish that somewhere, someday, I would receive a phone call or a letter that actually contained good news. I dread listening to my answering machine or opening my mailbox. Will this flurry of bad tidings ever cease? Can there really be no single thing for me that is going in the right direction?

I had meant to spend this afternoon working on a field trip for tomorrow. I have to create the trip and all its stops and information from scratch. I will probably work until around midnight; this is how I spend my Friday nights this term. I want to go out and celebrate Cindo de Mayo, but I simply have too much work to do. What am I doing all this work for? Does it get me promoted? No, I get fired. Does it yield me a pay raise? No, DVC cuts everyone's salary 7%. Can colleges sustain themselves when their every action annihilates the hopes of all who work for them?

It's a wonder to me that higher education in this country functions at all.

no rest for the wicked

Despite having 12 hour+ sleep sessions this weekend, I cannot shake this fatigue. Usually one 12 hour binge is enough to recharge me for a week of 5 hour nights, but something seems off. It feels as if I cannot wake up these last two days. Perhaps sleep apnea, if I indeed have it, is becoming more acute; several times in the last week I've woken up gasping for air, feeling as if I've just had the wind knocked out of me. I used to hate that feeling when I played soccer and took a ball to the chest so hard I couldn't breathe for a minute afterwards. There's nothing like the panic of not being able to breathe. Of course, my asthma has made me very used to the sensation of suffocation.

Feeling better: A recent email has improved my head a lot. Also got a good classroom review from a teacher I respect, and that is the sort of positive feedback I rarely get. It's so hard to know how my lectures come across, how effectively the information is actually transmitted, that it is very helpful to know what people think.

Weight: Stubbornly the same. Despite trying, per my doctor's instructions, to increase protein in the diet, I still have no feeling of satiation. I must be firmer with myself about not eating even when I'm hungry. Light-headedness: increasing. No discernable cause. I wonder if my body, like some perverse food addict, isn't making these fainting spells up psychosomatically, so that I will eat to try to stop the shaking/light-headedness. Humph.

Your tired working boy,

eating glass

I'm walking through a country valley sometime in the early 19th century. There are no cars and only a few horses ambling through fields of green grass. I seem to be an investigator of sorts, trying to collect recipes from the famous glass eaters of this valley.

I observe as an eldery matron demonstrates how she bakes glass in her open until it is hot and snappish. It breaks apart in my mouth as I bite it and burns me with its searing hot shards.

An older gentleman explains his technique for sauteeing glass in a fying pan with soy sauce. The glass is stained brown, and the salt of the soy sauce finds every cut crevice in my mouth. The glass breaks just the same and cuts my throat as I devour it.

I can feel the glass working its way through my guts. It catches and cuts, bloating me with gas and blood. My stomach protrudes in its fullness yet I hunger for more because of the lack of nutrition. I am starving to death with a full stomach. I think of those poor birds who starve because of ingested plastic.

When I wake up, my stomach is twisted in knots. I think the dream caused the ache rather than the ache the dream.

mine was 97 percentile verbal

Today the Educational Testing Service announced additional errors in this year's scores for the SAT. The number of test-takers involved: a perfect 1600.

You couldn't make this stuff up. :)

Eurypterids and sharks

So the dream goes like this:

There is an amusement park, like Marine World, that has rides and animals intermixed. One of the rides is available only to people with amputations. They swim in a large tank while a Great White shark is introduced. The shark doesn't eat them--to the contrary, they are harassing it.

But even stranger is the petting zoo. For there, intermixed with running children, are extinct animals. Eurypterids, sometimes called sea scorpions, were a fearsome predator of the Permian. They grew up to six feet in length, were armored, and bristled with stingers and spines.

In the petting zoo, a large eurypterid scuttles along snapping its claws at the children. It is a pale brown; color is always a difficult question in paleontology, and I'm quite pleased to now know the color of a living specimen. I let it touch my leg, which it does as if trying to get my attention.

I am not as scared as I should be.

Later I am in another part of the park, where a Great White is nuzzling up to a whale. They are both in shallow water below a bridge. My sister and I can reach down from the bridge and touch them, and we do, although my sister is much less fearful than I. I have touched the dried skin of a Great White before, but in my dream I forget this and think that this is the very first time.

The skin of the shark is sticky and laden with mucus. As I am touching it, the shark transforms. It is now no longer a Great White, but another kind of shark that looks like a Goblin shark.

It wasn't quite a Goblin shark, as it had several noses on the top of its head, flapping wetly as the shark breathed in and out with great effort. Was it breathing air? It could have been.

Its head became triangular as I touched it. It reminded my of those Star Destroyers from the Star Wars movies.

I have no idea what this dream means. :|

Fear and Self-Loathing

There is a tacit agreement: You work at a place part-time and temporary for less than half the wages of a full-timer, no benefits, and they might reward this loyal internship with at least an interview when a full-time position does open. Alas, the community college system continues to shock with its betrayal and treachery.

So I've been working at this school for three years. Steadily. Every term getting work, as if they think I'm doing a decent job. After all, with zero semester-to-semester security, they can fire you by simply not hiring you. If you raise a complaint--fired. If you protest some decision--fired. You glance at an administrator the wrong way--fired. So my continued work from term to term made me think that I was actually doing something The Powers That Be liked, such as showing up on time and not taking sick days.

A full-time, permanent position came up. I figured that after teaching there three years, I would have some sort of leg-up for getting an interview, if not the job itself. After all, I've always been told that you cannot get a job at place where you do not already work.

Once I received some sage advice from an old geologist. He told me that not until he was 65 did he actually win a job that he had applied for cold--meaning, he didn't already work for the company, didn't know someone on the inside. By the age of 65, he had earned the reputation that allowed him to actually win a job cold. Otherwise, he said, you have to already work at a place in order to work there.

I have gotten a number of interviews at other community colleges, and have scored second interviews at all of them. But not the final offer.

At the school where I'm working, I don't even get an interview.

I am, therefore, completely fucked. It's like some vicious game designed to be impossible for me to win. Where I am not working, I can interview, but not get the job. Where I am already working, and could get the job, I cannot get an interview. Is this system designed to make my mind crack, to push me over the edge?

Oh, God, why the hell do I feel drawn to this terrible "profession" of teaching? Why can't I feel a similar passion for something such as accounting, where this sort of unbelievable bullshit wouldn't happen? I'm wasting my life, one day at a time. I am still waiting, after all these years, to begin my life. Everything is on hold. I can't buy a house, I don't know where I'm going to live. I'm in this sick limbo...and it looks like it's destined to continue longer.

I am such a fucking waste. I'm a reverse Midas--everything I do turns to shit. I know what I must do...but I don't have the courage to do it. I don't know where I got so far off track. This is just a complete mystery to me. I'll never understand the failure of my life.

The People's Republic of Google

Google's recent decision to offer a censored search engine to the government of the People's Republic of China is only the latest in a shameful procession of American companies eagerly participating in political and social repression.

Google's ostensible reason justification is that local Chinese law prohibits discussion of certain topics, such as 1989 Tiannamen Square massacre, the bloody and horrific Cultural Revolution, and Mao's murder of perhaps as many as 70 million of his countrymen during his long reign. If Chinese law forbids discussion of this, Google argues, then who are they to violate Chinese law?

Let me argue with an example from the past. In September 1935 Germany imposed the Law for Protection of German Blood and German Honor. This entirely legal statue, put into place by the legitimately-elected Chancellor Hitler, barred Jews and non-Jews from marrying. It banned sex between Jews and non-Jews. The Nuremberg Laws, which were imposed on the same day as the German Blood decree, stripped Jews of citizenship and the right to vote.

Would Google comply with these laws if such an act were put into place today? If their standard is to obey all local laws, then logic dictates that they would.

Google's complicity with the PRC government is morally bankrupt. Google has done many great things in the Internet Revolution--this is not one of them. Let us hope that Google someday provides a "backdoor" in its engine that will allow information to flow into China right under the noses of the authorities.

Driving in Sand

This is how paranoid I am about my car:

I had the car in for a minor alignment check, but the dealership screwed me and couldn't finish it that day, so I was without it for a night. All last night I'm having dreams about driving. As I race down steep curves, I find myself unable to make the turn. Again and again I have that rush of fear when you realize that you're not going to make it, that you're going to go off the road.

No matter how hard I pulled on the wheel, I couldn't turn properly. It was like driving in sand. Perhaps this is a metaphor for my life right now.


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