Monday, January 31, 2011


The online New York Times ran Lisa W. Foderaro's "Brooklyn College Revokes Instructor's Appointment to Teach Mideast Politics" on January 27, 2011. In the article, Foderaro notes that the official reason for the appointment's elimination is a lack of qualification on the instructor's part; the person in question only has a master's, and so Brooklyn College thinks it inappropriate that the instructor teach master's- and doctoral-level students. Foderaro also notes that there is an unhappy alignment of student complaints about some of the (decontextualized) views expressed in the once-instructor's unpublished work and the elimination, leading to the conclusion that the elimination of appointment is politically motivated.

While it is extremely unusual that a doctoral student would be in line to teach master's or other doctoral students, if qualifications alone were a problem, then why did Brooklyn College, affiliated with the school where the once-instructor is working towards a PhD, ever offer the appointment? While it is understandable that a local, city school would seek to respond to the beliefs and desires of the community in which it exists, it is part of the task of the academy to offer divergent and opposing views of matters. It is for that very reason that the principle of academic freedom exists. Once appointed for a term, an instructor or professor should be free to advance views regardless of their lack of alignment with popular belief, as long as they are put forth in a rigorous, scholarly manner as agreed upon by others in the field. And if they are not published, and the viewpoints in question are reported as unpublished, then they have not actually been formally advanced, and the presenter is presenting as a private citizen--a type of presentation which is supposed to enjoy extensive free speech protection.

Either way, I am suspicious of this. Something has been done wrongly.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


The snow continues to fall on New York City.
It is difficult to avoid cliche
When discussing this place.
The canyons of concrete
Steel and glass
Are the stuff of a thousand poems
Ten thousand tales
And entirely too many movies.
I still am not sure what draws
So many
From there to here.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Payday is always a good day. Today is payday. Therefore, it must be a good day.

Such simple syllogistic logic belies the unease I feel. I remain tending towards hibernation; waking up this morning was difficult, even though I got to bed at a reasonable time last night. This morning, my stomach was a Perhaps it was sinus drainage, but still, it made the train ride in less than pleasant, despite the fact that I was able to get a seat after only four stops of standing (I rode in at the leading edge of rush hour--I am not often so lucky as to get a seat at all).

Now, I face a class of close to forty after having been off due to weather yesterday. I do not know how many will arrive--I have yet to have more than thirty appear at one time, and I do not expect quite that many today. But I would not be surprised to have that expectation thwarted, either.

"I" appears quite a bit, yes? The focus of the post is fairly evident therefore.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Things have been slow for me, of late, largely influenced by the weather turning sour here in NYC. Something about the quickly-stained white blanket under which the city has been finding itself these past weeks induces something to move towards hibernation.

I have mixed feelings about it.

There is pleasure in remaining abed on such days as this, when schools are closed and so I need not report to work. There is ease in simply being, enjoying the company about me and not worrying overmuch about doing, well, anything.

But then again, there is always much to do, some of it well-suited to such days as this. And I know that I have quite enough to take care of; I really ought to be about it.

Hardly a new notion, that.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Ukemi, the breakfalls taught in many martial arts, can save your life.

Bear with me.

My first car was a 1980 Ford Granada, a two-door, powder-blue contraption that smelled of slightly rotten wood, various automotive fluids, and, in short order, the kind of funk that only a nerdy teenage boy with a fondness for bacon and Hot Pockets can generate. But it was a car, and good enough for what I needed--which was to go down Sidney Baker to buy burgers and tacos.

One morning, my friends--all two of them--and I had met at the high school. I think there was some kind of event going on, but I don't remember. Anyway, it came into our minds (as should be no surprise, given that we were teenage boys) that it would be fun to screw around with our cars in said parking lot. And so we did.

At one point, I got out of my car to do something or other; I don't remember what. But I do remember that my friend got into the driver's seat of my car and put the beast in gear. And I ran after, jumped, and caught onto the back of the thing. Hanging from the car, doing my best to embrace the back glass, I laughed as my friend motored around the lot. I was still laughing when he made a sharp left turn and I lost my grip.

By my best guess, the car was going about 35.

Normally, falling from a vehicle going at that speed is significantly deleterious to human health. But I had, at that point, been in martial arts classes (if sporadically) for five years or so, and I was (and remain) fairly well-schooled in first principles.

Falling down.

The first thing that typically gets taught to students in judo, classical jiujitsu, aikido, and similar arts is how to hit the ground without sustaining significant injury. Those who follow those arts know that quite a bit of practice involves being put onto the ground--and neither always nor often gently--so that knowing how to do so is vital. And it was certainly vital in my case.

I did what is called zempo kaiten ukemi, the front rolling breakfall. It took seven, maybe eight revolutions for me to dissipate the momentum of the fall entirely. I scraped my palm and my knee, and I ruined a pair of pants, but that was far better than the alternative.

So, kids, learn to fall down. It helps.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


The poet writes what the scop once sang,
That "Beowulf his word-hord onleac,"
The hero to Spear-Danes and Ecgþeow's son
Spoke bravely and well where he would do deeds
Remembered by many in years yet to come.
In those later years, I gather together
A host of a sort wholly unlike his
In prowess and purpose and potency martial,
Though like in in content, common in kind
With what he had wielded.
In Hroðgar's hall, he "unlocked his word-hoard,"
That valiant hero,
To sway with his speech he who sat on the throne.
I unlock my nerd-hoard of books in their bundles,
Plumbing the pages to peer at the truth.

Friday, January 14, 2011


The recent events in Arizona have attracted a significant amount of attention to the inflammatory rhetoric that pervades the American political discourse. The rhetoric deserves attention, certainly, and it had been receiving it, but not to the degree that it ought to have--except as it has followed the tragedy in Tuscon.

Shame on us that we needed that to happen to actually pay attention for a moment.

I deplore what was done, whatever the motivation. There are ways to address grievance. Spraying bullets around a peaceful gathering is not among them.

I do not, though, and cannot fully agree with such commentators as Paul Krugman, who on January 13, 2011, wrote in "A Tale of Two Moralities" for the online New York Times that "both violence and any language hinting at the acceptability of violence are out of bounds." It seems to me that resorting to legislation to enforce civil political discourse will be ineffective. It also seems to me that curtailing "any language hinting" at anything opens a dangerous, dangerous path.

I realize that this is a bit of the camel's nose fallacy. But I also make my living working with hints and implications. It is not difficult to cast relatively innocuous statements as "hinting at the acceptability of violence." Also, who would judge whether or not such hints have been dropped? Do we leave it to the lawyers, who carefully parse language according to strict legal interpretation that passes beyond what the theoretical "common" person perceives? Do we put it in the hands of those such as myself, all too often labeled as effete in large part because we spend our time gaining the kind of expertise that allows us to make that kind of determination?

And is it not true that there are, in fact, times when violence is acceptable? I seem to recall that one call to it begins "When in the Course of human events..."

I am wary of the kind of blanket pronouncement Krugman offers, and even more so at those coming from our lawmakers. I am wary, indeed.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I ought to have done some work after teaching today, but I found myself oddly tired. I take it as a bad sign that it has already happened this term, but even so, I came home. Doing so, though, was not easy.

As is fairly normal, I caught the Q to come home. When it got to DeKalb, however, the Q was diverted to the N line. Confused, I decided to get off at Atlantic and transfer to another train which would place me close to home. That train, though, was overcrowded, and so I took it only one stop. The idea was that at the next stop, I could catch a bus that would take me even closer to home than either subway.

Of course, the bus was also overcrowded, so much so that the driver refused to let any new passengers on. I wound up getting off of the bus not far from a restaurant my wife and I frequent; the press on the bus got to be too much, and the restaurant is close enough to walk home from if it isn't raining.

The brisk walk in the brisker air did not help me wake up, though it was probably good for me to get the exercise.


Work has begun again for me. This semester ought to be a bit less demanding of me than last; I am not teaching quite as many classes, and enrollment seems low so far. I have no new preps, which is good; I can focus on refinement rather than having suddenly to master new material.

The shift back to a schedule that is externally imposed is a mixed blessing. Having to come in to work means that I actually get out of the house, which makes it more likely that I will do other things that I ought to do--such as go to the dojo (and I can feel having been absent from it for nearly a month, believe me). I also find myself back in quiet spaces with limited distractions, which is conducive to getting work done. And the commute offers reading time; there's not a whole lot else to do while alone on the train.

But work is still work is still work. I do enjoy this job, and I am far from opposed to the paycheck, but the loss of the freedom I enjoyed during the break grates. Also, since I teach mostly first-semester work, those students who are in my classes now are more likely to be those who have already failed at what my courses require (and in one case, at least, I know this for a fact, since the student was in my class last term); such students tend to be more resentful, and thus more resistant, and that helps nobody.

After last term, though, I have hope that things will be better.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Only quickly...

Thank you, Sonya, for making this past year the best I've had so far. Happy Anniversary, beloved, and I look forward to many, many more with you!

Friday, January 7, 2011


On January 6, 2011, Paul Krugman's "The Texas Omen" appeared in the online New York Times. In the article, Krugman notes that Texas's evident budget surplus, created by the biennial legislature in that state, is about to vanish. The economic downturn has finally hit the state, which has been touted as the model for balancing the budget by cutting spending.

Those who, like myself, have lived in Texas know that there is quite a bit to love about the state. There is a lot of room to move around in, and having a can of beer in a park on the Fourth of July is not a crime. There are a lot of interesting people in the state, there is a lot of history to learn, and there is much in the way of God-wrought beauty to gaze upon in mind-numbed wonder.

But there is also a dearth of service in the state. Much of what people elsewhere take for granted is simply not in place. Most workers have little if any protection from bosses; any complaint about working conditions can lead to firing, since Texas is an "at-will" state. In many instances, the people of the state--not all of them, but a lot of them--are closed-minded, unwilling to look outside themselves, clinging to overly-romanticized views of a past that never really existed. Comments about secession come to mind--as though Texas, with the number and size of the military bases all across the state (with their financial contributions to the state as well as the simple fact of firepower), could successfully break away.

Even this, though, won't change the minds of people there. Somehow, this will be blamed on the Democratic party, despite the fact that the Republican has controlled state government since Ann Richards left the governor's mansion (at which time there really WAS a budget surplus). With each Congressional redistricting, the hold of the party on the state's government grows stronger, even to the point that the state redistricts in off years.

I still say "God bless Texas," though. It needs all the help it can get.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


As I was writing in my journal this evening, I had a thought...which is scary, I know. And unusual.


It is a green pasture I have been made to lie in, indeed, and I am glad of it. I shall do what I can to make it greener. But not by shitting all over.

It seems that this metaphor does not bear any cultivation.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


During my morning reading this morning, I came across Stanley Fish's "Anonymity and the Dark Side of the Internet" in the online New York Times. I have been active in support of Net Neutrality* and free speech more generally, and so the article, which discusses the implications both of Internet anonymity and its elimination, piqued my interest.

So, too, did a number of the comments. I have not read them all as yet--there are quite a few--but they seem to speak generally to the tension between anonymity protecting those who abuse the protection (also known as trolls) and it protecting those who require that protection (whistleblowers and the like). And I can understand both arguments, certainly. It is vital, at times, to keep hidden the names of those who put forth information that needs to be put forth--the old adage about rightness and popularity comes to mind, as do the comments from poster Doc regarding Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover. But Fish is right to note that the source of the information is itself part of the information--which may or may not cross over into logical fallacy, but which people often do anyway (the boy who cried wolf did, eventually, do so honestly, after all, but his final honesty did not save him). And the posters who comment that there are a lot of idiots and assholes who use the anonymity afforded by the Internet to attack others without regard to factual truth or even simple human decency are not wrong in condemning that behavior--though I would add that there is a lot of attributed, mainstream media that does the same thing and is yet held blameless...


It becomes a question in my mind of what must we pay to enjoy the benefit. The benefits of free speech are immense and have been readily accepted in a number of places across a fair stretch of time. To follow the Good Doctor, if trolls and asshats are the price we pay for good work and the ability to get and give information as rapidly as the Internet allows, then we are still getting the better part of the bargain.

*In this regard, it seems to me that poster Paul Turpin moves toward a fine point. Internet providers are currently protected in a manner like common carriers--if they want the control that publishers have, then they ought to have to bear the same burdens, including liability for what they put forth.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Happy Hangover Day, all!

In my morning reading today, I came across this contribution to the New York Time "The Thread" series. I have discussed the snowfall, if only sketchily, but I will remark that it took two or three days for me to be able to get into town at all, and now, after two or three more days with temperatures getting well into the 40s (it is 46 as I write this), there is still snow on the avenue outside my house. When my wife and I went to the store yesterday, there were still cars stuck in the snow. Also, garbage collection is still off--I understand about the holiday and all, but there is no notice that pickup will resume on Monday.

I do not think that there is a conspiracy afoot. I do think, though, that there are some people who need to get off of their happy asses and get to work.


Have a happy 2011, folks. Or at least have a good day.