Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gustav prompts changes to RNC agenda

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney will not attend the GOP convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, because of Hurricane Gustav, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Sunday.
Or maybe because they're two of the most hated public figures in the world, and because the RNC only wants to use them at private thousand-a-plate fund-raisers with psychotic neo-Nazi millionaires? Or because of this 3rd anniversary?

http://img349.imageshack.us/img349/2001/cake04ce3.jpg

BFF's.

In the general category of "Holy crap!"

Dolores Keane and John Faulkner, some time in the 1980s, singing the "mouth music" piece Ho Ro Haradala:



That's what I'm talking about.

ps: Praying hard around here that Gustav decelerates and wimps out in the next 12 hours. We don't need any more intentional homicide and ethnic cleansing at the hands of the war criminals of the Bush Administration.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fuzzy people 40

This is what a saint looks like:



"In the midst of chaos, take one positive action." That's what Lynnea Latanzeo did. No kill, permanent adoption, clean, safe, and warm.

This is one person who's going to be allowed to skip a few thousand cycles of rebirth.

http://www.cathouseonthekings.com/

Friday, August 29, 2008

Day 05 (Round II) "In the trenches" (quick hit)

No time to comment at length today, though I may come back and try to expand, maybe after tonight's pub session. First Friday of the semester, including Friday Shout-Out (have to teach the kiddos how to really scream their cathartic guts out, so they'll actually relax and focus enough to hack the last 50 minutes before a 3-day weekend). Boss's "welcome back" party for faculty this evening, where he always makes sure the red wine is drinkable and copious and there's lots 'n' lots of interaction between old and new faculty--plus spouses and kids and significant others. We're welcoming at least 5 new faculty, which means between 12-18 people joining the SOM family, and there's a very old incantatory vibe he manages to get going. We're going to be on this journey together for a very long time (tenure's a bitch) and he knows that everything, from committee work to collaboration to faculty parties to student mentoring, is going to go a lot better if we all get along with each other. For anywhere between the next 5 and 15 years. So investing in a couple of cases of decent wine now, and risking his wife's new rugs now, is probably a cost-effective move for the future.

Pub session before that. Teaching session over the weekend.

Done, done, done, a thousand times done!

It's been over, it was over, it's now over, it will be over.

We as a nation are greater than the thieves, liars, CEO's, pundits, gasbags, sociopaths, and war criminals who have "led" us--have ruled us like their private feudal estate--for the last eight years. A stolen election, lies upon lies upon lies, 4000 American dead, one hundred thousand dead civilians in the Middle East, a 400 billion dollar deficit, Katrina, and on, and on, and on, and on. They have done everything they could to turn us into the hoi-polloi and cannon fodder of ancient Rome.

And we are not. NO one is. They lie. They steal. They kill. And all they've got is an angry, delusional, wounded, old man who sold his soul to the very monsters who tried to destroy him.

They are monsters. And THEY ARE DONE. We are goddamned well going to take back our country.

It is done, done, done, a thousand times DONE!

And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Reverend King--you didn't see us at the top of the mountain. But we are there.

http://www.cbc.ca/gfx/images/news/photos/2008/08/28/democrats-cp-5406533.jpg

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day 04 (Round II) "In the trenches" (Here we go round again edition)

Cue Ray Davies:

And we're back where we started,
Here we go 'round again,
Day after day I get up and I say
"I better do it again, do it again."


I've quoted it before and probably will again--ideas become cliches because they're accurate, not the obverse. Four days into the semester and it already feels as if we've been back-in-the-saddle for quite some time.

Much of my teaching work is much simpler than it was, because much of it is based upon courses I've now taught in 3 or 4 or 5 iterations, and so, no matter how much revising/digitizing I do, it's still not like conceptualizing the course for the first time. Although the initial brainstorming of topics and modeling of procedures is largely internal (you don't have a lot of tangible physical evidence, like lecture notes or playlists) at that early stage of the game, it's in fact the most difficult and sometimes the most time-consuming part of the process. Having the idea, and working out how to articulate/implement the idea, is the hardest part of designing a course, or a thesis, or a dissertation (or a book, for that matter). One reason we run both our undergrads and grad students, both musicology and non-musicology majors, through multiple repetitions of the "topic idea - thesis statement - short bibliography - abstract - annotated bibliography - background paper - final paper" paradigm, with assessment and response at each of those stages, is because the best way to learn how to formulate a new idea, thesis, project, or course is to do it multiple times, tinkering with what works. This is less painful and more efficient before you actually apply it in the public academic marketplace, or before (for example) you put a classroom full of undergraduates through an experiment whose efficacy you can't yet predict.

On the other hand, it does get easier. Not only because revising an existing course is easier than creating an original one. But also, and equally significantly though less obviously, because you can learn to get better at the process. The task of generating the ideas for a new project is unique to each individual, of course, but something I have observed to be remarkably consistent amongst most people who are reasonably productive is that the task is not linear but rather comparatively intuitive. You don't say "well, I know that I am interested in Topic A within Time Period B and Culture/Content Issues C and D and so therefore I know that the original thesis X will lead me to interesting and worthwhile research." In my observation and experience, it's much more like the line from Malory's Morte d'Arthur, where he describes the knights of the newly-minted Round Table deciding that they must go out seeking adventure singly, not in a group, and each enters the trackless forest alone, "where the trees seemed thickest."

What this gets at is that new scholarship does not actually proceed by "building upon existing work." Of course it must take the existing work on a given question into account--that's what Literature Reviews, the bane of most dissertators (and of most editors trying to turn dissertations into books), are precisely intended to do: to comprehensively internalize and accurately summarize the existing scholarship on a topic or question. But the Literature Review is not the foundation of the original hypothesis or insight. The Review gets all that stuff into your brain, so that (a) you can command the existing information and (b) assert with reasonable confidence that the work you propose to do does not replicate existing scholarship.

But the map is not the territory. The Lit Review shows you the known world, and your job is to contribute to that known world by scoring a path through some portion of the White Space ("where be monsters") on that map. You can't comprehensively diagram that territory--there is too much of it and, absent a specific point on the horizon as a goal, you won't know where you're trying to go--but you can provide a "reading" of the terrain; show somebody at least one efficacious way to negotiate the ups and downs and twists and turns. It's the rough spots--where you're lost--that lead to new insights.

Below the jump: sunrise on the South Plains.



Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Impeccable imagery

I'm not a political scientist or a rhetoritician but I can recognize an impeccably-apt and rich metaphor when somebody turns one--this time, DoverBitch about how the fundamental laziness, nauseating ego-centrism, and virtually utter co-optation of inside-the-Beltway reporting (RobertsMatthewsWallaceCarvilleKristolBlitzerDowd and the whole disgusting rest of them) is always incomplete, inaccurate, and misleading:

But, as Digby wrote this morning, the media narrative is like a piece of Ikea furniture. The holes are already drilled, the dowels already measured out and there's only one way to put it together, no matter how painful it is to assemble it into its catalog-photo orientation. And in the end, of course, there are obviously a few screws loose.
Snap!

Day 03 (Round II) "In the trenches" (Sod's Law edition)

a/k/a the "Oh, for fuck's sake" edition.

In Ireland, the phenomenon known as "Murphy's Law" in the USA (e.g., "anything that can go wrong will go wrong") is known much more colorfully, aptly, and satisfyingly as "Sod's Law." E.g., "this is the kind of bastard bad luck that comes just when you don't want/need it." And that's the kind of bastard ("sod's") bad luck I don't need at this time of year.

This time, it's mothering jury duty. Don't get me wrong: I've successfully ducked (never been called for) jury duty in the 8 years we've lived here. There's never been a time in my life when taking large chunks of it to sit in a courtroom while the Wheels of Justice grind so appallingly slow and fine. And I get that every Citizen is supposed to do her/his duty in this area.

But goddammit, it is not the best use of my time: I can do more positive things for a larger sector of the population in those hours doing what I do than sitting in a courtroom. I'll suck it up and finally report when the county auditor finally gets around to calling me up, but I'm not going to believe that I wouldn't be better served otherwise occupied.

And the timing could not be worse. We are 72 hours into the new semester with two new hires, not to mention all the Fall semester startup jitters and glitches, and I'm going to have to be essentially unreachable one full day per week for a month: no direct contact, no email, no teaching, no cell access, and barely able to communicate via text-message (thank christ for the Blackberry's SIMS and web abilities). I described just yesterday how much of a priority we had placed upon moving our teaching to the digital realm, and today am reminded it's a damned good thing, because the only way that a good number of my students are going to be able to reach me on that day, for the classes meeting on that day, is online.

And oh, by the way, those forty hours over the course of the month's 5 weekly meetings? They're gone--Jack; you ain't gonna get them back.

C.J.
The President wants to discuss broader themes for the classroom.

TOBY
I don't think there's going to be a classroom.

C.J.
The President's holding out hope.

SAM
In the meantime, Mallory's going to be there with her boyfriend. And it's
going to be weird
because we haven't spoken to one another since the picture, which was wrong,
I know. But I'm
not even sure there was an implied obligation to do that.

C.J. stops to talk to Carol. Toby and Sam continue walking.

SAM [cont.]
Please, let's remember, it's not like we were dating. It was a flirtation. We
had one date.
The rest were all with groups of people and...

Sam stops and Toby does too.

SAM [cont.]
I don't know, I don't even know what dating is anymore.

TOBY
Well, that's 20 seconds of my life I'm never going to get back.
That's how I feel too. Only it's forty hours.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Day 02 (Round II) "In the trenches"

Day 2 (the Tuesday-Thursday, as opposed to Mon-Wed-Fri rotation). For us, the Tues-Thurs is when most of the upper-level (4000-level) and graduate (5000-7000-level) history courses are taught: 80 minutes per day, twice a week, as the more advanced topics and students tend to do better with the longer meeting times and ability to concentrate. First meeting of my World Music seminar, which despite a rather generic title is in fact a topics-oriented course--there's no way I'm going to try to teach a "comprehensive survey" of all the world's musics in 8 semesters, much less 1. So it's more of a case-study approach, focusing on specific genres in specific culture-areas, but trying to trace functionalist/contextual/cognitive priorities across and between contrasting zones. A course I've taught twice before here, and taught semester-after-semester as PT adjunct at Indiana--so a set of topics I know cold: don't really use notes for it anymore, just lecture from the 1- and 2-word slides in each meeting's Powerpoint presentation.

On the other hand, just last spring 2008 taught my "Musics of the African Diaspora" course, and those music occupy at least 7 weeks of the World Music course. So the overlap, given that there are several kids from last spring in this fall's seminar, would be way too extensive. So, in turn, I'm taking the opportunity to parcel out those Diasporic topics and build in some new culture areas and idioms--including some I haven't taught before. It's always interesting, and challenging, to revisit a course I've taught in the past and really try to "make it new."

Typically, the first 2 or 3 years that somebody teaches in a FT tenure-track position are very very demanding, because (typically) that's when new faculty write and learn how to deliver the meat-and-potatoes courses they've been hired to cover. I was lucky, in the case of the world music topic, because I had taught a variant of the topic so many times as an adjunct. But the first iterations of the 20th century, medieval, ethnomusicology, and American seminars--and, for that matter, the undergraduate antiquity-to-1750 and 1750-to-the present surveys (prior to our revising and expanding the sequence)--were pretty damned demanding. I'd get out of one meeting and immediately sit down to grind out the lecture that was coming up in 48 hours.

This is why, in any sane setting, new faculty are not loaded down with service obligations, or committee work, and why we don't really start tallying the tenure-dossier items in the first year of the appointment: because it's such a remorseless grind to get those courses written, and delivered, and refined, in the first couple of years. And because somebody new to the FT grind should have the time cleared in order to be able to get good at the teaching which is the guts of why we hire them. And why, when possible, we try to hire people who are already good at teaching, because if they've taught a course or courses before--if they can hit the ground running in terms of at least some of the teaching,-- they have a huge jump-start forward in terms of refining their delivery.

And I still refine, 8 years later, and on the 3rd and 4th iterations of some of these classes. I still come out of every meeting, and immediately after class sit down, revise the lecture notes and the Powerpoint, continuing to fine-tune and hone. I actually get a double-dip from this: refine and revise the Powerpoint so that I can both plan ahead for the material to be covered in the next class meeting, and so I can turn it into a slideshow, to be uploaded to the course website. Then the students have the slideshow for study and review, I know what's been covered, and I've revised and fine-tuned for whatever is the next iteration of the class.

One of the reasons that, in our department, we've tried to move as much of our content delivery (audio, video, scores, texts, images) to the digital realm is that it so drastically expedites and streamlines our ability to revise, refine, share, and deliver to wider, non-traditional, and/or distant populations. It also means--because my staff have historically been so generous with one another, and with their successors--that we can share the material from previous iterations of the class as new people take over teaching it. So the material is constantly refined, both by individuals as they revisit their own presentation, and as they pass that presentation forward to others who may be inheriting. So the unworkable idiosyncrasies and the procedural loopholes get ironed out by successive instructors, the unique and valuable individual ideas and insights get shared and borrowed and permutated, and everybody wins. Including the students.

Below the jump: sunset on the South Plains. New Mexico sunsets at W Texas prices.








Toby Ziegler loves Biden

If I needed any more persuasion (and I don't) about Biden's suitability as VP candidate, Toby Ziegler's endorsement would do it for me:

As the Democratic National Convention was kicking off, actor Richard Schiff, who played the White House communications director on "West Wing," was holding court with a pack of reporters on a concrete version of a red carpet outside of a restaurant here. The Emmy Award-winning actor was completely at ease talking about real-life politics and his favorite politician, Sen. Joe Biden.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Day 01 (Round II) "In the trenches"

Here we go again: Day 01 of the semester, second time that I'll blog day-by-day the content of the work week (see the series here). Ain't gonna be a lot of time available, though I will try to return and update through the day:

6-8am: up, polish last bits of online webct course materials and syllabi

9am: play the Delta blues for opening meeting of Rock History class, now passed-along to the 3rd faculty member (finishing-up PhD student, teaching as instructor-of-record) since Dharmonia founded it. The course covers, roughly, Robert Johnson in the '30s to the punk revolution of the '70s, and it's become a bit of a class tradition that I come in first day and hammer away at the National steel. Fortunately, we've got a top-notch crew of student assistants, several of whom have worked the class for multiple semesters, all of whom take care of business technologically and kick asses efficaciously.

10am: opening meeting of the first semester of 4-semester undergraduate history sequence, a "tools & skills" class which we employ as a jump-start in both college skills and college attitudes. Mostly our incoming students are really good kids with good attitudes and work ethics, but they come from such a wide divergence of preparations that we need something (as least a semester) to teach them bibliographic skills, research, critical reading, critical writing, critical listening, etc. We used to teach or remediate all those skills on the fly over the course of three period-based semesters, but it just didn't work: it would be superfluous for some kids, insufficient mitigation for many others, and massively limited the amount of actual history we could teach them. So now we chunk it out, front-load the remediation, and put the emphasis upon teaching/learning very specific and remarkably sophisticated listening skills--which they uniformly, good prior preparation or bad, need loads of.

Plus, I enjoy catching 'em the very first morning of their college careers, and setting the bar. It's a good, salutary shock to their systems, and sends the message out-front that College is Not High School (thank Christ!).

11am: guest in colleague's "The Early Period" sophomore-level survey course. Our 3-semester sequences runs "The Common-Practice Period," "The Early Period," "The Modern Period." We avoid traditional "early - middle - modern" chronology because that doesn't line up effectively with either their theory sequence (which moves from scales, keys, intervals, triads, to modes & species counterpoint, to post-tonal theory) or with their familiar repertoires. Most of them, in high school, would have played or sung mostly common-practice (c1780-1880) repertoires, so giving them the "Common-Practice Period" first lines up with both the repertoires they've previously played or sung, and with the musical elements they concurrently getting in their theory classes. Then, in the fall semester of their sophomore years, when we've had them for a year already, they can begin to deal with the modes & counterpoint of "Early Period" repertoires, and then, finally, in the 4th, sophomore-spring semester, the "Modern Period."

Historically, I've taught the first (fall/freshman) and fourth (spring/sophomore) sections. This is both because they address my own areas of expertise within our faculty (cross-cultural musics in the first, 20th century in the fourth), because initially I was the only person on staff teaching the undergrads, and--I'll confess it--because I like to get 'em right at the beginning, to set the tone. Plus they're funny as hell, when they get over the freshman jitters and start having fun.

Hell if I can remember what comes up in the balance of the day--but I 'magine it'll fill up.

Here we go!

[ETA: in the event, all three were great: 9am Rock class was jammed to the rafters--indicative that the course-brand is holding its value with the incoming general population--but the crew was equal to it: calm, confident, authoritative, in command of their material, systems, and clientele; 10am new crop of freshmen were pretty-well engaged, certainly responsive (laughing at the jokes, anyway); 11am guest presentation was good--if you've been an improvising performer for enough years, then you understand some of the expressive and psychological mechanics necessary to create the slightly-heightened experiential space that maximizes student receptivity. I'll have to say about all this in the coming weeks, I'm sure!]

Below the jump: dawn and the waning moon on the South Plains

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Grownups

Digging the weekend-long screenings on network TV of Peter Jackson’s masterpiece Lord of the Rings. Tonight is my favorite, The Two Towers (also my favorite of the three books). Jackson et al actually manage to pull a coherent story out of Tolkien’s impossibly cumbersome construction, and to convey—although there was a little bit too much Wagnerian pseudo-Norse mumbo-jumbo in Tolkien’s transplantation of Viking culture from the fjords of Scandinavia to the plains of the American West—the comparative reality and exhausted-beyond-death description of what combat actually feels like, reaching back to his own experience on the Western Front.

And it has the magnificent, transcendent, archetypal poetry of the mythic bond between horses and riders (see, in the extra to DVD, the absolutely fearless Rebecca Howell begin to cry as she recounts Viggo Mortensen buying her the horse she had ridden, and fallen in love with, as Liv Tyler’s stand-in) and of the stunning, mind-altering beauty of the New Zealand locations. And the balls-to-the-wall, bruised-and-battered commitment of the actors (Mortensen, Bloom, and the superhuman Kiwi and Ozzie stunt-men) who lived Helm’s Deep for three months of frozen, rain-lashed night shoots.

And it has the magnificent, sweet ferocity, the full-bodied and holding-nothing-back portrayal by Mirando Otto of Eowyn, the alternative/almost love-interest of Mortensen’s Aragorn. Even in the book, Eowyn was six times the woman that the “elf-princess” Arwen was—and in the film, Liv Tyler simply cannot hold a candle to Otto’s intensity, physicality, and charisma. Partly it’s simply that Eowyn is a far-better-written character (in book and film), partly it’s the guts Otto showed in training for the character (fantastic sequence in the DVD extras of her training for the combat portrayed in Return of the King) but it’s also that Otto completely loses herself in the character. There’s no “oh yes, that’s Liv Tyler playing the elf-princess Arwen” in Otto’s portrayal—there’s only the intensity and heartbreak of Eowyn herself. It’s a remarkably unselfish and powerful characterization. So that when her uncle is released from a spell, he says to Eowyn “I know your face”—and says it again, in the foreshadowed next film, at the moment of his transcendence and death—and it’s the most powerful moment in the movie.

Real men—in fiction, in myth, and in reality—celebrate, and recognize, strong women.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

God, I hope it's Romney...

...for McCain's VP pick. I can't wait to see that lying, cheating, fortune-inheriting empty suit go up against this:



I said I wanted a street fighter. I'm glad we got one.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Day -01 "In the trenches" (Round II edition)

T-minus 1.

Flat ran out of today: auditions, college convocation, pre-semester class prep. But a nice pub session--always nice to have an existing social event to which you can invite the new faculty, concretizing everything we claim about collegiality and the degree to which we look out for each other, and where, in our parallel universe, musicians drink for free. And a huge relief to have the new people housed in comfortable and proximate digs.

Tomorrow brings day-long orientation for a new part of my weekly calendar--the university's formal mentoring program, pairing faculty/staff members with incoming new students who've requested a little extra boost and "big brothering."

Don't know if this is true of all American males who reach a certain age (49) and level of professional accomplishment--but I'm looking forward to helping some young man get jump-started into his college life.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The breaking point

This campaign just ended. I don't care that the polls have McCain closing the gap with Obama. Yesterday, McCain, when asked, could not remember how many homes he owns; actual quote "I'll have to check with my staff."

We are in a housing/mortgage and energy crisis; tens of thousands of people are losing their homes and jobs. And this man whose campaign has tried to point Obama, the former college professor and community organizer, as "elitist," cannot remember how many homes he owns.

In point of fact, the Obama ad below low-balls the number. It's not seven homes.

It's ten.

This date, 8/21/08, is the tipping point of the 2008 campaign. McCain finally just stepped in the shit in just the right way, and the Obama campaign knows it. They smell the blood in the water, and it's now, finally, the street-fight necessary to defeat the fascist machine.

They started the shit. It's time to end it.

----------------
Now playing: Doug Goodhart and Mason Brown - 13 Shady Grove
via FoxyTunes

Day -02 "In the trenches" (Round II edition) and, Fuzzy people 39

T-minus 2 days to the jump-off of the semester (Monday). Today is mostly an open day, so being employed for course-materials reproduction, touching base with my own research work, and plotting out the various away-dates in the semester. It sounds like the most rampant, Ivory-Towered, white-collar privilege, but the fact is that travel days--even when paid for by the school, a publisher, a gig, or a conference,--are a huge hit in the flow of the semester. Particularly in the fall iteration, because the academic calendar in the fall is already massively skewed. The traditional Spring Break (2nd or 3rd week of March) breaks up the 15-week sprint reasonably well--though when most kids come back from the constant alcoholic and reproductive stimulus of the Break, their heads are most definitely not in the game--and, after they've sobered up and dried out, recharges their batteries for final projects, final exams, and (for the competent few) graduation.

Not so the Fall. Just because of the historical and "traditional" peculiarites of North American academic calendars, there is no such break/recharging of batteries in this semester. The closest we get is the 3 days mandated (and the 5-7 days which kids, or their parents, routinely insist upon) at Thanksgiving. Prior to the end of November, then, it's a 12-13 week sprint of unremitting hard work with few breaks (and, for the 400+ kids in the marching band, even the weekends are socked-in, playing for home, or worse, away games). Especially for our target intake, for whom the southwestern US high-school music experience was mostly geared around sitting in ensembles (some of those kids were in high school ensembles as much as 4 hours/day, six days a week), the idea of having to get all your musicianship work done in an 80-minute daily rehearsal, so that you can spend 3-4 hours practicing, another 4 in class, and the balance of the awake-time studying, is quite an adjustment. Many of them are bright and didn't have to study much in high school--so they could be in a lot of ensembles. Many of them are bright but went to shitty high schools--so they could still avoid much studying.

That ain't college. In college, they all, whatever their backgrounds (good school, bad school, home schooled) need to study, and they need to be permitted the schedule, and the psychological reinforcement, to succeed at that. We like to get 'em into the classroom, get 'em away from their parents, and begin "abatement" (kinda like what you do with asbestos) of the high school presumptions as quickly as we can.

But that first fall semester of college is also extremely intense, sometimes disorienting, and carries for them a very high degree of stress. And 12-13 weeks without any real break is terribly hard on them: by around Nov 1 they're just flat shell-shocked--can barely focus anymore at all. The thing that helps them hold it together is looking forward to Thanksgiving, when they can go home to Mom, crash on the couch, have somebody else cook and clean for them, sleep 'til noon, etc.--though what usually happens is that everybody in the extended Texas family or small town wants to "visit" with them to find out how college is going.

This year, though, as a result of some particular asinine calendar coincidences, the fall semester is starting early (Aug 25), and thus ending early (Dec 3). Which means that they're going to sprint almost 14 weeks, arrive at the Nov 22 week totally burnt-out (and therefore more prone to blowing-off the Mon-Tues required classes), achieve a nine-day "Thanksgiving break", and then return--at least physically--for a brief period of class-days until Final exams and departure for Christmas.

This year? That brief window of return between "Thanksgiving break" (really "Thanksgiving week") and the mental checkout that accompanies the last day of classes?

It's three class days. Three. They come back, they have classes for three days, and then finals start. There is no way that the typical freshman or sophomore is going to be present mentally for those three days. And that doesn't count the ones who literally, physically, don't even return.

Which means that they sprint for 14 days, and then the semester--in their mental estimation--ends around November 18.

We got to plan ahead. One way we do that is to locate as much course work, materials, critical feedback, and testing/assessment on the web, so that, on those occasions when the students and the faculty are not in the same physical proximity, at least some degree of the work can be done, and some degree of continuity maintained. Over the past 4 years or so, we have all in the Musicology division done as much as we can to continue moving scores, audio, video, commentary, discussion, etc to the digital realm. This both facilitates access for the students--and makes use of information interfaces that are a hell of a lot more familiar to them than books and paper--and makes possible intermittent and/or when-necessary "distance" education. Lets them work from the physical locations, and for that matter at the clock times, that suit them best--which typically are not the 9-9:50am, 10-10:50am, etc slots of face-to-face classes. And, it lets us reserve that (very limited) face-to-face class time to the essential dynamic interaction that is only possible in the classroom.

We have to be both technologically savvy, imaginative, and receptive, and great classroom teachers. Not a small order.

Image: digitizing workstation, with HP Scanner software, Adobe Acrobat, and a USB hub. Means I can take a stack of xeroxed articles, stick them in the automatic-feed scanner on the right, hit "capture," and blithely do other work (or wank on the blog), while the damned thing grabs the entire stack and turns them into pdf's. "Why, I remember when we had to run our own xerox copies! And we had to pay for comb-bound reading packets! Uphill, in the snow, both ways! And we liked it!.

The degree to which digital technology has completed transformed--and vastly improved--the pedagogy we are able to offer still blows my mind.

Below the jump: Aliens Have Landed in Ur Driveway. They Want Salmon.

Thanks to the Rev for the "fuzzy people" appellation.


----------------
Now playing: Doug Goodhart and Mason Brown - 02 Kitchen Girl
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Smack-DOWN!!

Norbizness deploys a much-deserved smackdown on Hizzoner the Mayor of Nine-Eleven--the man who has cited his "heroism" on that day in every speech he has ever given, while at the same time denying responsibility for bad decisions before, and criminal neglect of first-responders after, that day. There is a reason that the NYC firefighters and NYPD campaigned ferociously against Giuliani getting the nomination.

And now the war criminals, thieves, and oligarchs who head the RNC have selected him for the keynote of their pathetic convention. Well, Norbiz ain't buyin':

Have fun with this, you pasty collection of plutocratic, warmongering dirtballs. Maybe in 2012 you can complete your transformation by having the convention at a gender-, race-, and ethnicity-restricted orbiting country club owned by ExxonMobil with very special keynote speaker Michael Savage (who delivers it via satellite from a lower-orbiting station for Jews).
Fuckin' A. I lived in Manhattan. I know Giuliani. He's scum.

Day -03 "In the trenches" (Round II edition)

T-minus 3 and counting. Report day was last Monday; semester starts this coming Monday and, with the sod's law inevitability with which such things tend to happen, I have to report for jury duty on Wednesday. Three days after the start of the semester, goddammit. Am hoping that my visible and blatant DFH* bias will be so obvious that the DA will swiftly disqualify me. Or that it'll be a drug case, in which I will hope for questions regarding incarceration versus treatment that will permit wildly unsatisfactory answers.

That failing, I'll have to serve--and have already put in place colleagues to step in for the balance of the week. Thank god for the degree to which we conduct both graduate and undergraduate business, outside class, via Web 2.0--at least the classes don't have to grind completely to a halt.

Today, in the run-up to first classes, brings the following: auditions for the Celtic Ensemble, musicology division staff meeting, 2nd full faculty meeting of the week, old-time/Appalachian music session (please understand that, given a "work" schedule like that, I never complain about having to do my "job").

"Auditions" for the Celtic Ensemble are really more of a getting-acquainted than a success/failure dynamic. I can't imagine declining somebody for the Ensemble unless they manifested an outrageously arrogant manner in the audition--and even then, I'd probably accept the person, just for the opportunity to get him/her in the band situation and thrash the arrogance out. There's almost nothing more constructively humbling than to be placed in an unusual musical/procedural situation: the most skilled, prodigious, spoiled-too-early prima donna will fold, in the most salutary way, when confronted with the reality that there are musics and musical procedures about which s/he knows nothing. I guess I'm an African musician at heart: I think playing ensemble music is a great way of teaching somebody how to be a functional and socially-integrated adult.

After that, it's musicology division staff meeting, our first of the academic year. Chance to get all four tenure-track faculty, plus our instructors and PT lecturers (who are mostl;y our own PhD students) in a room and begin to interact in a quasi-formal fashion. Sets the tone for the year, gives people a sense of roles and general divisional philosophy and manner. There are various management styles, some more and some less direct(orial), but Dharmonia will be the first to say that I'm more of a proponent of the "tangible leadership" school--a fact for which she busts my chops on a regular basis.

Trying as I am to nuance and diversify leadership approach (and to curb my mouthy tongue), I still like to run the department in a fashion that's consistent with the situations where I felt most comfortable as a subordinate. I wouldn't say it's quite Alaskan-dog-team leadership, but I will cop to its being way more concrete than, say, "let's all hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya'," or even--much more common in university settings--a directorial approach of "Oh, I don't know what to do--I'll just be in my office/studio, you all decide things amongst yourselves" (in my view, a recipe for disaster). Actually, my leadership approach comes, once again like so many other things I've learned in life, from great models: principally, at crucial formative moments, the great David Baker, and my old brother-in-arms Quantzalcoatl. From Dave--chair of the Jazz program at Indiana, and my greatest improvisation and composition teacher--I learned the merit of modeling the professional behavior you seek. Don't tell people how you want them to play, teach, interact--show them.

This plays out, in my own department, in how we conduct ourselves with one another, but even more importantly, how we conduct ourselves in front of students. From little things to big things: in the classroom, always refer to the graduate teaching assistants as "Ms. Mac Tire," "Mr. Afro-Cuba," "Ms. Taiyo," etc, so that the youngsters see modeled the tone of address they themselves are expected to employ. The result is that the youngsters likewise employ those same respectful terms of address, without ever having to be told to do so. Or, as the great Thelonious Monk said (and as I quoted him in the title of my dissertation), "I can show it to you better than I can explain it to you." I believe that's true, and good leadership. Dave Baker taught me that.

Quantzalcoatl, a Baroque flute-player, taught me about focus and directed intensity, and how that could play out in a relaxed-but-clear mode of leadership. We whopped the snot out of each other on the dojo mats--when we weren't being detailed by our sifu to take down some student who wouldn't learn to pull his punches--and Q taught me how to bring that same one-pointed combat intensity to the practice room: one of my favorite Quantzalcoatl moments ever was the time we went to Lexington KY, to test for advanced belts (in our syncretic kung fu style, all belt/sash testing had to be conducted by the Grandmaster). There were probably 150 people in the room, from the Tubby Bearded Guys who taught schools full of little kids, to the scary-looking bruised-and-tattooed guys, many of them ex-bikers, who used the formal discipline of the martial arts to channel aggression that might otherwise (or had formerly) gone in much less constructive directions. None of them was scarier-looking than our own sifu, an ex-Bandido, with all the coded tattoos that told his own History of Violence, who weighed around 145 pounds, lived in an abandoned bus in the woods, and was the best martial arts teacher I've ever met: little kids loved him and women students trusted him implicitly.

The Grandmaster had a tendency to conduct the belt-testing very quickly: with 150 people in the dojo on any given weekend, he pretty much had to. He'd walk quickly through the crowd at the fringes of the mat, slapping pairs of shoulders, and saying "you-and-you...you-and-you..you-and-you." You were expected to find a corner of the mat, face off against your opponent, and, at the word "fight!", free-spar until told to stop. Mostly it was quick: 30 or 40 seconds, in hand-to-hand combat, usually reveals who does and does not have their shit together.

My testing always went pretty quick--I wasn't the most naturally skilled fighter in my belt class, and I damned sure wasn't the most experienced, but I had/have a really good ability to take somebody else out of their comfort zone. It just always seemed like the most obvious strategic choice in the world: if the guy likes to circle clockwise, go at him counter-clockwise. If he likes to close, hold back and hit with the greater arm-length (I'm six-five). If he likes to stay back--go at that motherfucker. I just learned that, if you take people out of their zone, you can win just by being smarter than they are (one reason I admire Henry Knox, and Bill Belichek, so much).

And we had been trained, over and over again, in applications. Our sifu never taught a technique, or a form, without unpacking it and showing multiple combat applications. If the technique was "slap the punch to the opponent's outside, move your body closer in than arm's length, strike with the forearm or elbow", our sifu would break it down, have us practice it from all angles, against left- and right-handed punches or leads, inside-out, and against multiple attackers. So when we got into a testing situation, we had a very high facility with however many techniques we knew, even if we didn't know very many. So I didn't usually have too many problems. Plus, I liked sparring: I was fascinated by the real-time split-second physical and psychological chess game of getting inside an opponent's head.

And, our culture is hopelessly fucked-up about violence. We are simultaneously bombarded with violent images, and those images are sexualized. Violence is made to seem ubiquitous, but also sort of erotic. But also without consequences. After some little kid has seen six thousand television murders, without the actual blood and piss and defecant, the horror and lasting consequences of actual violence, of course he won't understand the actual impact of pulling a trigger. In this culture, violence as depicted emblemizes and sublimates a million other social impulses: competition, sexuality, security, anger, aggression. One reason I really admire the David Lynch/Viggo Mortensen History of Violence--because it does show the lasting, horrific impact.

That's also why I like the martial arts: because they teach you what violence actually is; about how much (and how) it hurts, about how to recognize that it's coming and cope when it arrives, how to employ it precisely and constructively and only when it's essential, and--most importantly--how to employ it without anger. Violence in its actuality is not a metaphor for anything else: like birth, death, sex, hunger, violence is not--ought not to be--a sublimation for anything.

Buddhism doesn't teach that violence should never be employed (Gary Snyder had a great construct: he said that, at times, "gentle violence" might be called for). I threw a violent street person down the steps and out the door of a stationary subway car when I was nineteen, because he was about to hurt somebody smaller and more vulnerable than I. And there have been a few other like incidents: when you're six-five, and trained in martial arts, sometimes "Right Action" demands violence. Sometimes, a Buddhist takes on the inevitable bad karma of violence, in order to prevent worse violence.

But violence also teaches clarity as well--when a fist or a foot is coming at you, you damned better focus or you're gonna get hit. And you can take that combat-focus and apply it to other things.

In the event, Quantzalcoatl was paired-up with some guy who was substantially shorter than he (he's as big as me) and I think the guy freaked-out a little. At any rate, when Master Sin called "fight!", this guy ran at Q, tackled him around the waist, and they both went rolling around the floor. The sifu broke them up, and they got up and faced-off again, Master Sin called "fight!", and the guy tackled Q again. Mind you, in open combat, this guy would have got his head handed to him, but in the specifically restricted situation of sparring, I think the dude was just trying to tangle Q up long enough to escape with his life.

Anyway, after the second round of rolling-around-on-the-floor, Quantzalcoatl got up, reached into his sash, and put in his mouthpiece. He's a flute-player, after all--a smack in the chops, especially by some panicked dweeb who was flailing around, could keep him out of the practice room for weeks--but I think Master Sin, and the spectators (most of whom were laughing hysterically, except for the opponent's friends, who were ashen), and certainly the dude himself, saw the mouthpiece as signal that things were about to Get Very Serious Very Suddenly.

So the Grandmaster laughed, slapped them both on the shoulder, and said "You pass. Next!"

I played in the original incarnation of Quantzalcoatl's great Baroque rock 'n' roll band and I learned a huge amount about band-leadership from him: how to manifest a certain attitude, a certain vibe, level of virtuosity, attention...hell, even a certain stance and breathing posture, or even, when the situation truly called for, a certain lovely violence, that was so clear and so centered, so focused, that everybody else could kind of slipstream in along behind it.

Some might argue, but my feeling is that most people in collaborative situations are actually relieved when the leadership is clear, focused, and centered. Everybody can relax, everybody can communicate, everybody can feel confident. Because they know I've got their back.

Quantzalcoatl taught me that.

*Dirty Fucking Hippie
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Now playing: Doug Goodhart and Mason Brown - 01 Sandy Boys
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Day -04 "In the trenches" (Round II edition)

Countdown continues: T-minus 4 work days to first class. Today continued the ramp-up from yesterday (first faculty meeting, introducing new faculty, current [tough] fiscal status, policies, update on fundraising): today was music history placement exams for entering graduate students: 3 hours in a room, exam including short ID's, listening excerpts, score excerpts, score analysis, and a short essay. Then a cross-college picnic at a local park, in the miraculously balmy (as opposed to baking) August evening. Best part of the picnic: getting to meet everybody's dog--how cool is that?

Placement exams are essential, unavoidable, and fraught. My concept for writing, administering, grading, and acting upon the results is shaped by the experience that Dharmonia and I had at Indiana: where (in the bad old days) they'd tell you your MM would be done in 2 years of coursework and the Ph.D. in 3, without telling you that the entering-grad placement exams were intentionally made so insanely difficult that almost everybody had another semester--or another year--of remedial coursework slapped on top of the estimate. It made IU a lot of money, and it was blindingly traumatic--and economically scary--for the impacted grads. I thought it sucked then and I think so now, and I won't permit it to happen to the kids here.

But, on the other hand, our intake is such that in a given entering class, there may well be people who are excellent players, good candidates, nice people, but whose academic preparation in one or another area (typically, music theory or music history) is not adequate for them to succeed without remediation. My spiel for the opening of the exam session always begins with me saying "I'm here to administer the exam because I wrote it, I'll grade it, and I'll write the exit qualifying exam you take in 2 or 3 years from now. Our job in this exam is to get an accurate diagnosis of where you're at, so that we--and you--know what you need to do over that period of time."

When I came here, there was no history placement exam, no way of knowing the candidates' skills or preparation--and we'd only find out about any lacks at the exit exam! Needless to say, that was horrifically too late.

Then there was a period when we'd instituted a placement exam, but the end result, regardless of a candidate's performance, was only "suggestions" about areas which would be the student's own choice to remediate by taking various courses, more-or-less relevant to the problems.

Then there was a period when, at Dharmonia's suggestion, we instituted a one-semester "Graduate History Review," which was both a brush-up on all periods but also, at least as important, a semester-long coaching & practice session for those getting ready to take those exit exam. And then we finally got to where we would tie low performance on the entering placement exam to a requirement for the review course : 3 tiers of scores: [top score] "PASS: no further action required"; [median] "MARGINAL: review course recommended"; [low] "NO PASS: review course required". It was only then that we could finally identify academic problems right at the beginning of a grad student's career, direct her/him to specifically tailored remediation, and maximize constructive use of the time between matriculation and graduation to fix those problems.

And we turn it around quick. I walked out of the exam room today at 4pm, having administered around 32 exams. By 6pm I had them graded, ranked, and recommendations written, and had forwarded them to the director of graduate studies (but asked him to hold d off on communicating results to students--I know damned well that if I turn the exam around with results in 12 hours this year, then next year the little bastards will start sending email queries after only 6).

It's not a perfect system--we're still tweaking, and I've added an additional layer of recommended remediation this year for the first time--but at least now it's a complete system.

Because I won't let the system screw them like it did me.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Day -05 "In the trenches" (Round II edition)

Here we go again: T-minus 5 days and counting 'til the start of the semester. Today was the mandatory report day, 1 week in advance of the beginning of classes. This week is heavy meetings (full faculty, musicology division, executive committee, etc); introducing new faculty member(s), both within and outside our own division; finalizing course materials--we write a lot of stuff in advance, but a good chunk of any new or revised course is most effectively handled week-by-week and class-by-class over the course of the semester, as you deliver the class and take stock of how materials and pace are going over.

The "In the trenches" series (Round II) aims to provide a day-by-day chronology of the actual content of my semester: 5 days a week for the 16 weeks of the semester, and the way that one musicology professor tries to balance the teaching/research & creative activity/service duties (usually weighted 60%, 40%, 20% in annual reviews) with all the other stuff I try to do: practice blues & Irish trad & old-time banjo, work on the two book projects, all the community service teaching & etc, householding, and a lot of loud- and foul-mouthed denunciation of the oligarchs, fascists, and war criminals in the Bush administration. It's not a perfect blend--in fact it's typically a pretty im-perfect collision--but it does intend a kind of public record, and maybe a template, for other people in the same boat, or getting ready to set sail on the same journey.

One particularly important element: welcoming a new hire within our division. When I came in 8 years ago, the particulars of the situation at the time left me pretty much to our own devices, in terms of on-campus logistics (keys, email access, parking, etc), off-campus infrastructure (housing, car, storage unit, grocery, blah blah blah), in-class course design and delivery. That all was OK for me--I'll sacrifice hand-holding for autonomy--but there's no denying that it was a lot of work and required a good deal of flying by the seat of my pants.

In contrast, as we've brought new people in, we've tried to provide as much of the above as we can, mostly just so they can concentrate on the stuff they have to do on their own--mostly course design and in-class delivery--and draw a little bit on what's come to be called "hive mind." Back in the dim and distant past before the Internet, we'd actually pool information and pass it around by hand; that's what I did with the Countercultural guide to Lubbock. It helped some: for instance, when we hired the African-American jazz saxophone teacher with the Japanese wife and were trying to persuade him they'd be able to survive the Buckle of the Bible Belt; or when we're trying to recruit grad students who can make more money (and be more neglected) elsewhere. Mostly, it conveys to the new people that neither they nor their families have to sit at home in a subdivision or rental place by themselves--that there's a group of people here who have learned that, in the "geographical oddity" that is five hours from everywhere, looking after each other is the best way to build a community and hold it together. So "In the trenches" is about that too.

Coming up: a recollection of the great Jerry Wexler. Right now, a quick film hit:

There’s an awful lot I don’t like about the movies of Michael Mann, chiefly the ways in which (a) he MTV’s violence (e.g., renders it sleek, neon-lit, and sexy) and (b) the degree to which he enables the absurd preening of Hollywood leading men (from Don Johnson and Colin Farrell to Will Smith and Al Pacino). But there are aspects of Last of the Mohicans that are incredibly compelling. It’s riddled with American essentialism (Brits are uptight, class-obsessed prigs; Indians are either savages or primeval children-of-nature; Americans are free-wheeling incipient democrats), bang-it-to-fit-and-paint-it-to-match historical absurdity, and bullshit romanticism—beginning with that infallible indicator of gauzy pseudo-historical character, mis-used uilleann bagpipes—but it has a couple of remarkable strengths: the beauty of the Smokey Mountains locations (standing in for the Catskills and Alleghenies) and the way the visual framing of the film makes them look worth fighting over; the extraordinary historical verisimilitude that the phenomenon of historical re-enactment makes possible (you can’t pay or costume 2000 extras with the precise and accurate clothing and armaments of the French & Indian War, but the 18th century historical re-enactors will show up, precise and dedicated, and—unlike the Tubby Bearded Guys and wannabe white supremacists who riddle the Civil War scene—see both sides), the extensive—and, for Hollywood, criminally rare—usage of you know, actual Native Americans, and, especially, the physical ferocity of the acting jobs by Daniel Day-Lewis, Wes Studi (a magnificent mixture of cold-hearted brutality and righteous rage), and the great Russell Means.

The closing scene, which mixes both historical absurdity (since when can you prime and load an 18th-century flintlock on the run?!?) and stunning fight choreography, is a case in point. I’m not mourning for the radical reworking of the narrative (Cooper was a terrible writer), and the closing does provide the right balance of villains-get-theirs payoff and but-the-good-guys-experience-tragedy legitimacy—and the editing and soundtrack in that closing sequence are virtually perfect.

But I’m a bigger fan of an earlier scene, one probably entirely unremarked by both the cinephiles and the history buffs, which comes when Hawkeye (Day-Lewis), Uncas (the little-seen but terrific Eric Schweig), and Chingachgook (Means) escort Madeleine Stowe’s and Jodhi May’s sisters into a besieged fort. There’s an overhead shot, of Highlanders surrounding the party as they sneak in through a postern gate, that’s simultaneously absurd (why, if they’re trying for concealment, are they carrying torches?!?) but powerfully evocative—because it was, of course, Britain’s own Highland savages who were most effective on the frontier, as George III would later find to his own chagrin when the same Hielandmen and their offspring turned against him in ’76. I’m always reminded at this point of the “town scruffs and ticket-of-leave men,” many of them Scots or Irish, who actually won and held the Empire, for the sake of rich men’s purses—a point made likewise in the Boston Massacre trial scenes of HBO’s great John Adams miniseries.

The other scene comes a bit later, when Hawkeye and Uncas try to clear a path for a runner leaving the fort. As with the closer, the editing and music are essential in making the scene work, as Day-Lewis and Schweig carefully prime and load their long rifles (descendents of Scottish hunting rifles brought to the Appalachians in the previous century) and take position at an embrasure, waiting for the enemy pickets who they know are stalking the distant runner as he tear-asses down the moonlit hillside.



I grew up in New England and I knew the hills of western Massachusetts and upstate New York (the “Old Frontier”) as a child. My ancestors, farmers, fighting men, and adventurers, often on the wrong sides, have been in these Americas since the 1640s at latest. And even though the film was shot in the Smokies, and virtually every single person depicted is about six times as beautiful as anybody in Colonial America could have been (Madeleine Stowe and Daniel Day-Lewis in the posters—the eye-candy for viewers of any persuasion was pretty much off the charts), those two scenes—the Highlanders at the postern and the half-breed marksmen at the embrasures—feel very very familiar.

I don’t say much about this—and won’t—but let’s just say they bring back very old memories.
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Now playing: Spider John Koerner - Sail Away Ladies
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ah, bollocks...

Ronnie Drew RIP:

The 'grouchy' Dubliner who never lost his sense of humour

Ronnie was never my favorite of the Dubs--Luke Kelly was my great hero, both for his politics and for the astonishing intensity of his singing (he was either the whitest R&B singer or the blackest Irish ballad singer I'd ever heard),--and I kind of agreed that Ronnie's sounded like gravel being ground under a sheet-metal door, and his quasi-flamenco guitar playing always sounded incongruous beneath it. But Ronnie had absolute brass balls and, despite the Italian suits and pointy-toed shoes, you always felt like he could handle himself in a barroom whenever the crack might deteriorate into a set-to. And he never backed down an inch.



Best quote in the above article:

"You can take the hardest rock band on the earth and they sound like bunch of girls next to The Dubliners," said Bono of U2.
You got that right, Paulie. And don't you forget it.

Fare thee well.

Quick hit: Morning smoothie

No time to post today (on-duty starts Monday), so here's a quick-hit placeholder: Dr Coyote's Magic-Elixir Morning Smoothie and Energy Blaster:

Combine in a blender:

1 cup ice;

1 to 1.5 cold green tea (I'm addicted, I admit, to Arizona Green Tea with ginseng and honey);

1 to 1.5 cup plain (unflavored) yogurt

any kind of fruit: ripe peach, ripe (or overripe) banana (but avoid citrus unless you're a "with pulp" person);

a good squeeze of lemon;

powdered ginger

Blend 'til smooth.

[vegan alternative: omit the yogurt]

Merits:

  • The lemon, ginger, caffeine, and ginseng provide a good wakeup jolt;
  • Gets a couple of adult-minimum-daily-requirements portions fruits & vegetables into you;
  • Provides a shot of quick-burning sugars for workout or wakeup energy.
Gotta run!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Quick hit: FZ

Boy do I miss Zappa. Today, it's because of the great moment in the live version (from Zappa in New York) biker-themed "T*tties & Beer," a brilliant parody of Stravinsky's L'histoire du Soldat, where FZ as himself and drummer Terry Bozzio (as "Da Devil") negotiate the price of Zappa's soul:

TB: "Wait a minute...a tinge of doubt crosses my mind...when you say...that you want to make a deal with me..."

FZ: "That's very, very true"

TB: "Yeah, but...you ain't s'posed to want to make a deal with me."

FZ: "I'm only interested in two things; see if you can guess what they are"...

TB: "Big-tittie chick you just had out here with the camera..."

FZ: [interrupts] Listen to me, O Devil"

TB: "Uh-huh"

FZ: "I'm only interested in two things."

FZ: "I would think...uh...let's see, maybe Stravinsky..."
Best moment: Terry's absolutely impeccable, flat-affect delivery of the "Uh-huh."

Second-best moment: when the Devil acknowledges that somebody who so much doesn't believe is probably an even greater threat than "Milhous Nixon or Agnew too."

[NB for the feminist perspective: the gender-inappropriate language in title and text is the Biker speaking--not FZ himself]
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Now playing: Zappa - Titties & Beer
via FoxyTunes

"The Office" (workstation series) 110 (nationalism sucks edition)

If there's anything that watching the orgy of materialist nationalism that is the Olympics every four years ought to teach us, it's that there is nothing pure in the world--least of all in the world of global-echelon sports competition.

I'm old enough to remember the days of the actual Cold War (not the one that the increasingly-to-be-believed-senile John McCain seems to want to return to), and the impotent fury we would all feel when the Soviet Bloc judges consistently, in event after event, for decades, would rank American athletes consistently lower than did the other judges.

So now when I hear those fucking Botoxed chipmunks on MSNBC babbling about the "medal count" (I'm looking at you, Tiki Barber! Shut the fuck up!), or see those children the Chinese are claiming as of-age gymnasts, or the degree to which the Olympics for Kobe Bryant is nothing but a platform for growing his ego to truly epic proportions (I exempt Kidd and Lebron--those guys are soldiers, not media stars), or that miserable little war-criminal-in-Chief with his fucking visor and tails-out denim shirt and flip-flops, looking like the frat-house cheerleader he always was and still is, it makes me want to vomit.

But it also reminds me that it was ever thus.

The only purity is in the hours and hours and days and weeks and months and years of hard, physically-painful, boring, focused effort that got those athletes there. The best commentary on the magnitude, courage, and pure-D stick-to-it-ivity of those extraordinary people would be silence, and attention.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Support the troops"?!?

Let's see:who "supports the troops" more? The guy who voted against veterans' benefits as much as any Republican chickenhawk in Congress, or the guy to whose campaign the troops themselves are donating by a factor of six-to-one?

Troops Deployed Abroad Donate Six Times More To Obama

According to an analysis of campaign contributions by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Democrat Barack Obama has received nearly six times as much money from troops deployed overseas at the time of their contributions than has Republican John McCain.
Guess that answers that. The claim that McCain, or the Republican Congress as a whole, "support the troops" better or completely than do the Dirty Fucking Hippies who opposed sending those same troops on an ill-conceived, incompetently planned, criminally-motivated elective imperial war?

It's a lie. John McCain, Mitch McConnell, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh?

They lie.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"The Office" (workstation series) 109 (Days-of-transition edition)

There's a lot of damned suffering in the world. Some days that truism is brought home particularly directly and repetitively; say, by walking the streets of lower Manhattan or Haight-Ashbury, or seeing the news reports from Baghdad or Darfur or Georgia, or--closer to home--by the trials and sorrows of good friends. Part of my religious obligation is to acknowledge the inevitable present reality of suffering (and to dis-associate it from "guilt" or "sin"), and to attempt to practice compassion and alleviate suffering--largely through gaining and sharing insight--but that doesn't make it any more easy to bear.

Autumn has always been a transition time for me. Maybe it's because of the deaths in my past, or the simple reality that, in an academic context, fall is when the ends of things really hit home: when you return to campus, and people are departed, and the shock of the new crop of impossibly-young faces hits home, and you just realize that another year is truly gone. Used to be that I dreaded the fall--twelve years of graduate school in a snakepit will do that to you--but anymore, it just makes me feel older.

But, in that same academic context, you see an awful lot of transitional suffering around you, particularly among the youngsters who are maybe encountering these blows & buffets for the first time. This is the first year I've caved and decided to use the messaging & community tools the kiddos employ most frequently, which are not email and websites (those are all so Last Century) but rather IM and, particularly, Facebook. Dharmonia and I have both sucked it up and signed up--we have been assimilated--and I'm already overwhelmed with the amount of data, and just the sheer intensity of the experience, that these kids deal with. FB is mostly useful, from my ancient-of-days perspective, as a communications tool: if I can't reach some kid any other way, I can almost always get through via the "Wall."

I've avoided FB in the past, because, in the first few years of its massive popularity, there was way too much information posted that I didn't want to have. I didn't want to know, or see, all the health-and-sanity-risking hijinks the kiddos were getting up to. Nowadays, thankfully, they're a lot more circumspect with what they choose to post--as they should be--and so there are a lot fewer instances where I have to avert my eyes (though I still find it useful, when some punk-ass kid renter next-door acts in an un-neighborly fashion, to contact Mommy or Daddy directly and say "I have pictures of the bad behavior, and an Internet connection; now will you lay down the law to your offspring?"). And FB is invaluable just for banal things like matching names to faces, which, with entering classes of 100-110, is a very useful tool.

But it also brings me face-to-face (heh--pun) with what the kiddos are going through--because even they though don't so much anymore post self-incriminatory photos, they still bare their souls in prose. And, with the day-to-day and hour-by-hour updates some of them employ, and my own inability as of yet to modify what-all comes into my "news" (really--"friends' hour-by-hour drama") feed, I'm brought face-to-face with the heartbreak that some are going through for the first time.

And autumn is a tough time for them, for that: leaving home, moving away from 2 or 3 generations of relations, fear or anticipation of the unknown, frustration with the contraints of parents or dread of anonymity, and--particularly--romantic relationships ending. It's goddamned difficult to maintain a relationship at long distance. And that's if you have been through a separation before, or an adult breakup, or, hell, the deep losses that many people only encounter for the first time right around college. There's an awful lot of "we're soul mates forever" relationships that don't survive the looming departure, or return, to college, and the concomitant expanded, or shifted, horizons every fall.

And, goddammit, with this damned FB "news" feed, I see it all go down.

I'm already too parental to students--have to watch out for the boundaries--so I'm not going to respond with all the hour-by-hour "Wall"-based consolations and cheerleading they rightfully get from their friends. But, at this autumnal time, when the leaves are already falling even if the temperature hasn't (the trees know the turning season, even if we don't), I'm aware of their heartbreak.

Hence to the following. What I would wish for these young women, most of them artists of one ilk or another, is that they find ways to make art out of their heartbreak. Because that's what art does: it takes the hard realization of the inevitability of suffering--of loss, pain, horror, or even just the deep, deep reality that we are all going to die--and out of it, through the application of effort, time, and courage--it creates beauty. That's what Art is: creating beauty, out of pain, through effort.

Sort of like childbirth.

I met Beth Patterson in '98, at the very first Zoukfest in Weston MO: a curly-haired Boadicea with a bouzouki, a self-described "riot-grrlll" accompanist, a great singer and writer, and an absolute powerhouse stage presence. She was like Pete Townsend with a bouzouki, or, as an anonymous admirer said, like Donal Lunny with better boobs. One of my favorite memories of that first ZF is of playing some waltz on the oud from the outdoor stage, while out in the audience Beth pulled up some lucky middle-aged bouzouki guy to dance

For all the brave, beautiful, skillful, loving, heart-broken women I have known, without whom homo "sapiens" long ago would have disappeared in a welter of anger, aggression, and stupid fucking mindless violence, I give you Beth Patterson. As Dick Gaughan would have it, "strong women rule us all."


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Now playing: Beth Patterson - Steer By The Stars (Beth Patterson)
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Quick-hit: noir, and, Fuzzy people 38

In passing: Denzel Washington’s masterful turn in the 1995 Devil with a Blue Dress: a recasting of the classic noir films but from the perspective of black LA. The film realizes all the potential of Mosley’s book, but it's actually much greater, I think: the 1st-person voiceover that was clumsy and awkward in the book—a too obvious homage to Raymond Chandler—works beautifully in the film. Fantastic casting, starting with Denzel and Don Cheadle (and not too much damaged by Jessica Beal’s presence); captures the feel of post-WWII Los Angeles, and a depth of hard-boiled reality that Chandler never touched; the reality of the Zoot Suit riots and West Coast-style Jim Crow; the beatings any black man in the wrong place at the wrong time might have to take. Mosley had a fantastic idea but didn’t, it seems to me, have the skills to execute it—and yet the thing turned out to be a matchless film. I would put this up there with the Bogart/Bacall Big Sleep or the Huston/Bogart Maltese Falcon (the ultimate, perfect realization of the noir genre).

Below the jump: Mr Man sleeps on Coyote's sandals--doesn't seem particularly comfortable, but it's pretty endearing.

Thanks to the Rev for the "fuzzy people" appellation.

Monday, August 11, 2008

"Pathetic"

John McCain's speechwriting team, in a hurry to say something "maverickish" (or "truthy") about the absolute foreign-policy (and human rights) catastrophe going on in Georgia, plagiarizes Wikipedia. Bowers nails it:

Lifting your report on a subject directly from an encyclopedia is something most people are encouraged to stop doing in, oh, about the sixth grade. If you, your policy team, and your speech writing team are still doing it when commenting on an international crisis while running for President of the United States, that's both pathetic and scary.
I'm a university educator, and I know from plagiarism, particularly of the cut-and-paste variety. If the best that Team McCain can muster is something we break our freshmen of within one semester, where the hell does the electorate think he's gonna generate original quality thinking?

Pathetic is right. And, as a potential Commander-in-Chief, dangerous.

I'm an American musician

And, when I'm watching Sister Rosetta Tharpe, damned proud of it.

Sister Rosetta with the Olivet Baptist Church choir performs "Up Above My Head," c1955. Check out the ripping guitar solo!
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Now playing: Sister Rosetta Tharpe - Didn't It Rain - Sister Rosetta Tharpe with Marie Knight
via FoxyTunes