Thursday, December 27, 2007

Only Bush

Only Bush could announce (at a press conference to address the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto) “those who committed this crime must be brought to justice” about a killer who then blew himself up.

But then (since the last National Republican Convention stressed “a vote for Bush is a vote for God!) he probably just picked up the bat phone, talked to the Big Guy and told him what to do (just like he has on a host of other “moral” issues, like blocking life-saving cell stem research). Only Bush. It’s his mandate.

In the 2000 campaign, a 60 minutes reporter asked Bush if he could name the Prime Minister of Pakistan. “No,” he answered with obvious disdain. “Can you?” He could. Most educated people could-- Pervez Musharraf, the military leader who took over the country. Musharraf, the all important ally in the “War on Terror” supposedly against Osama bin Laden, but which quickly spiraled into an ill-justified quagmire in Iraq. Only Bush.

And Musharraf, along with Putin, leaders able to seize and hold power in ways that exceed Bush’s Supreme Court grab in 2000. Undoubtedly his heroes. They, however, didn’t have to face the U.S. Constitution and the balance of powers. Poor only Bush—yet he can condemn oppressive regimes in the same breath that he embraces them when it serves his purpose.

But as he has ably demonstrated, the Constitution and balance of powers can be corrupted and undermined. I only hope that we actually have a democratic election in 2008, not a “declaration of national emergency” to leave Bush in power.

We can’t continue with only Bush. I hope his regime doesn’t force us to beyond Jan. 2009.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Letter to Readers

Dear Readers—both long-term and newbies,

Thanks for your patience. Yes, I’m still committed to posting regularly and will resume soon.

The semester from hell has finally ended, just yesterday as a posted final grades. I did take some time this week to post a few pieces to discussion boards, and I’m itching to get back to blogging.

I’ve certainly no shortage of topics (I continually shake my head when I hear “I’ve nothing to write about!” – more a matter of where my mood swings me that day. [For example, on the way back from running with my dog this morning, we passed a man wearing a camouflage jacker—hardly unique, as safety orange has long been suppressed by Rambo wannabes, but this jacket resembled something between a camouflage tie-die and a Jackson Pollack. Where to start???????]

Now I’m moping up the residue of that semester, including rushing to finish some commissioned pieces on Romantic Opera, Russian Composers, and Impressionism. Then on to course design….

I’m teaching two of my favorite novels this coming term—Joyce’s “Dubliners” and Hesse’s “Magister Ludi.” I’m excited—but I’ve got work to do.

Back very soon, though.

Thanks truly for reading!


Sunday, December 16, 2007


When one of the clerks at my local small-town store returned from college last spring, I asked her how her first year of college went.

“OK,” she answered cheerfully, and then added emphatically, “Only thing is, college professors just don’t care about you. High school teachers care; professors just want to collect that check, and that’s all they care about.”

I kept my groans and sighs internal. “What do you mean, exactly?” I asked. She just repeated the above. “Well, like what, for example?” I prompted. She didn’t know. Said she’d think about it.

I saw her again this week, back from school again. I didn’t recognize her until I heard her voice—she was at best “stocky” before, and in the past few months, she’s changed her hair style and color and gained at least 25 lbs.—now seriously obese. I was shaking my head about a few of my own students, students who had emailed me course work eight days after the last day of classes—no explanation, no excuse, no plea for clemency, just the blithe expectation that of course I could just accept it whenever they got around to submitting it.

“A problem with math skills, perhaps!” I joked with the clerk.

“Oh, I’m terrible at math—but I got an A, because my math teacher likes me.”

Still joking, I abruptly shifted my weight, placed my fist on my hip, demanding “And English?!”

“Oh—that was horrible!” she replied. “We had an adjunct.”

OK—not quite enough information (especially since she attends a community college—60%+ of the faculty are adjuncts)…

“What was the problem?” I asked.

“He hardly ever came to class,” she said calmly, and then with much more animation, “And he was the kind of professor who would assign a ten page paper on introducing wolves into the Adirondacks…”

I cut her off. “Wait a minute. He hardly ever came to class?”

“Yup,” she answered, “And he assigned this ridiculous ten page paper on introducing wolves into the Adirondacks…”

I sensed a pattern here, and sure enough, we repeated it a few more times.

“Never mind the paper,” I finally insisted. “Let’s stick with your first point—if he hardly ever came to class, why didn’t you talk to the department Chair? Or the Dean?”

She looked at me and shrugged, a bit confused. “Well, this paper was just ridiculous…”

A ten page paper. O the horrors. Probably involved research too.

“But why would you all sit there repeatedly when he didn’t come to class and not report it?”

She shrugged again. “I don’t know. We didn’t think of it, I guess.”

Critical thinking. Education in action.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Chance Meeting with the Grinch

A large, green cartoon character is certainly not the norm outside the Department of Labor, so I couldn’t help but pull in for a chat.

But how to start? “Hi, I’m a stranger” doesn’t work, but then neither does the blatantly obvious and potentially embarrassing “So, what are you doing here?”

I did my best. “What am I supposed to do?” the Grinch asked.

OK, I thought his role was clearly defined, so as tactfully as possible, I pressed for details.

“I’m supposed to steal Christmas!” he exclaimed. That was my understanding too. “But how am I to do that when it’s already been stolen!” I glanced at my laptop, casually clicking the New York Times link for any breaking news. None. Again, I pressed for details.

“I just got there too late.” complained the Grinch. This is why I hate ambiguous pronouns.

“Got where?” I asked.

“To Christmas, to steal it! It was already gone!”

I stared blankly.

“How am I going to pay the rent with no job?!”

I still stared blankly.

“You’d think stealing Christmas would be a niche market,” he added, calming down a bit.

“You have competition?” I offered (blithely, I realize in retrospect).

“Competition?” He snorted loudly. “It was gone before I got there! I’m out of business!”

I waited until the clerk finished all his paperwork, then invited him for coffee. We went across the street, and after a warm blueberry muffin and some hazelnut coffee (assuring him I was buying), he related the whole story.

“It’s the Christians!” He looked glumly into the dregs of his coffee.

“They’re fighting you?” I prompted.

“NO!” He looked angry. “They’re beating me to it!”

I signaled the waitress to replenish our coffee, sat back and just let him talk.

“Talk about ‘Bah Humbug!’” he complained. “Scrooge was a prophet compared to these guys!”

I sipped a little coffee, and waited.

“Happy Holidays!” he exclaimed. “What the hell is wrong with that?”

“Um…nothing?” I ventured.

He had entered a rant. “A bunch of people decide that they’ll respect all beliefs and traditions. Sounds Christian, right? Nope! It’s ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Get Lost, Godless Pagan!’ That’s what Jesus was about anyway, right? Criticizing others? Shooting tax collectors out of trees? Advising Peter to draw his sword? Do these morons even OWN Bibles?”

I was back to staring blankly.

“And now movies? MOVIES! Do these ‘brain trusts’ understand fiction? FICTION! A movie portrays people’s psyches as visible animals, and this is someone anti-Christian? What happened to Psychology 101?”

I remembered reading something about that film, “The Golden Compass.”

“Maybe they were confused about the term ‘daimon.’” I offered. “After all, they DO believe in Guardian Angels—six of one, half a dozen of the other…”

He looked sad. “No,” he answered finally, looking sad. “They believe in self-righteousness, judgment, exclusion, hatred. They’re confused about the terms ‘love,’ ‘tolerance,’ ‘faith,’ ‘brotherhood.’” And after a long pause, he added, “After all—isn’t that way they killed the Prince of Peace?”


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Writing, Responsibility, and Repercussions

I’m always amazed at the almost casual way students commit plagiarism, as if the point were merely to generate paper to submit to instructors. Often I’m even insulted with their obvious forays into academic dishonesty, apparently believing I’d never notice, when I usually notice practically immediately, and can confirm in seconds (ironically, this “Internet savvy” generation actually can’t find their way around the virtual world unless it’s the first keyboard posting on Google).

I had three cases this term—over, of all things, blog posts for which they simply earn full credit.

I sighed. I talked to them—one complained that she was just resubmitting material she’d submitted for another course (which is also plagiarism), for which she earned an A. Double sigh—it wasn’t even summary, but rather word for word compilations of the original sources. Another student liked my butt, saying “Well, I certainly don’t want you to have to do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing.” I resisted the urge to vomit.

The third student, however, listened carefully, asked questions, stressed that he didn’t want to lose this class, and not only asked what he could do, but also proposed solutions (involving extra work and grade reductions). In short, he took responsibility. What’s sad is that I was impressed—this is not the norm.

He impressed me again this week. “Hey, I can’t take your Intro to Fiction class after all,” he reported, turning in all his extra work during an office visit. “Truth is, I can’t come back.”

“You can’t come back?” I echoed? Students backing out of course selections is hardly new, and no problem at all, but this was a new approach.

“Yeah,” he answered. “I found this guy in bed with my girlfriend.”

“Ah,” I noted. “I’m guessing that didn’t go well.” Two things strike me. First, he didn’t make excuses, but simply took responsibility for his actions. Unique approach, and one underused. Second, the focus was entirely on the guy, not the unfaithful two-timing girlfriend. Can anyone say double standard? And this brings us back to writing classes.

After five semesters of teaching professional writing courses, with only a couple of exceptions, the professional writing majors are far from the best students. Among the most extreme examples of this occurred in the same class, with the major refusing to hand in her final writing piece, not even the draft, protesting “It’s not ready!” This after the class has worked on these for weeks.

“Well, when WILL it be ready?” I venture. After all, it’s the last day of classes.

“Sometime next week?”

“That won’t work. Grades have to be submitted within three days of the last class or exam.”

“Then give me an Incomplete.”



“You’re about to get a whole lot more stressed.”

We worked out a compromise, and this particular situation is extreme, but all too often representative. “Professional Writing,” to them, seems to mean babbling about summer vacations to a patronizing high school teacher, and they expect to find jobs “Where I can do something creative.” Thing is, those jobs expect you to, well, create. A lot. Often. And well. Oh—and on deadline.

But these students have clearly been taught otherwise.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Truck, the Law, and the U.S.

During hunting season, I take my husky out to the state land after dark. Sure, this makes running on forest trails a bit tricky, but if not that, I’d have to run along the canal trail with endless headlights in my face, or not run at all, or risk the hunters. So I run at night.

About seven o’clock, on my way to the dirt road down to the Stoney Pond trails, I passed a pickup in the parking area, apparently with someone there. I slowed my car and turned the headlights to check it out—some guy in an orange vest just sitting on the tailgate, patiently waiting. I had my suspicions, but he seemed fine, and since I could do nothing, continued.

After parking and running for about a quarter of a mile, my suspicions were likely confirmed. Blam! Blam! Just two shots, and this guy presumably got his deer, illegally, probably even driving over to pick it up. And not unique—a friend who lives 20 miles south of here reports that she hears shots daily before dawn (also illegal), and another woman I frequently run across walking her dog reports chasing hunters off her land regularly.

A few springs ago, I ran into a young guy carrying a bow and arrow, pregnant wife trotting behind him, campers from the campsite half a mile away. “Seen any geese?” he asked. How could I not. I had my dog on a retractable leash precisely because we saw plenty of geese, raising their goslings. Definitely not in season, and for good reason. He even suggested my dog could flush them for him (she’d hunt them herself, however). I declined.

Disregard for the law seems widespread. At first a few, and now many or even most of the nutty drivers doing dumb moves on the road are, as I take a look, on their cell phones. Let’s not even get into speeding or stop signs. Laws apply to other people. We’re a nation of law-breakers.

Starts at the top. The Bush Administration’s “interpretation” of U.S. law the Constitution has been creative at best. During the Nixon Administration’s woes, the mantra was “the President is not above the law.” Contrast that with Cheney’s contention that the administration makes reality.

What do we do with this? The U.S. is in a never-ending war in Iraq because of the Cheney/Rumsfeld version of reality proved either stupid or an outright lie. Certainly the White House lied about the details leading to the conflict. Now the news that the rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear progress is untrue—and was reported to the White House months ago.

What happens when the government actually does tell the truth, should that ever happen? How would we know?

And how can we pretend to be a nation of laws when both government and citizenry ignore those laws they find inconvenient?

We have found the enemy, as Pogo used to report, and “they is us.”