Monday, August 28, 2006
( 9:19 AM )
Weird is as Weird Does
There was a great column in the Oregonian this Sunday: How Weird Are We? It's about how we Portlanders pride ourselves on our unique weirdness, but is our weirdness really all that original? Now this may seem to be a trivial question amidst all the heavy issues that face us these days. But the column brought up a good point:
Time was, every place was weird -- using the less-common dictionary definition: "of strange or extraordinary character." Unique, in other words. Back in the day, every city was weird, there were weird streets and weird neighborhoods and weird businesses serving weird people. You know, kind of like Alaska. It was a wonderful age.
But then normal reared its featureless and banal head. Chain stores, fast-food restaurants, hotel giants all spread like English ivy. America began to homogenize faster than milk -- which, of course, is homogenized precisely to prevent the cream from rising to the top!
It is this franchising of the United States, where all the cities lose their individuality under the box-store identities being forced upon them, that is the United States that has turned into such an unfeeling, brutal influence in the world. It's this un-weirding of America that has spread into globalization, where the corporate powers now homogenize not just this country but as many corners of the world that they can. Losing our identity in this way - could this explain some of the trend from blue to red in this country? Americans who are voting republican against their own interests are Walmarted to within an inch of their lives. Keeping uniqueness and weirdness in American communities allows something the republicans can't stand: independence. Once a community feels some sense of indepence, they might start questioning what they're being forced to swallow. Can't let that happen.
I live in one of the more progressive cities in the country, and yet I can concede that little by little, our weirdness is slipping. If we are going to stay strong and able to resist this insipid slide into the black and gray control of the corporatocracy, we have to work at it. Unlike the columnist, I prefer to go with the first definition of Weird, according to Websters: "having a mysterious or unearthly quality; of an odd, bizarre or inexplicable nature." Now that is something to strive for.
( 8:36 AM )
I just heard on the Thom Hartmann show this morning (if you don't listen to Thom, you are missing one of the best progressive voices on the radio) about the Music Row Democrats. These are Country Music professionals - writers, singers, producers - who have just had enough. They have formed a PAC to raise money to publicize how progressive values are more in line with what most Americans hold true in their hearts. Redefining democrats is what they are trying to do. So despite the stranglehold their industry has on progressive ideas, they have stepped out at the risk to their own careers to take a stand.
I generally don't listen to country music anymore because of the likes of Toby Keith and his ilk. I went to Texas A&M for a few years of my varried undergraduate career and so was indeed exposed in the most obvious way to country music. I think it is a genre that contains a lot of talent and heart. And I can see why the "middle" of America relates with it. But when it closes the doors to ideas other than the loyalist drivel that comes from Toby-ites, then it loses its soul. When even Merle Haggard isn't gettting play because he thinks the government should fix America before it screws up the whole world, then something is wrong.
So if you're proud to call yourself a Dixie Chicks fan even if you never listened to country music in your life, then maybe downlowding a few soon-to-be-hits from the Music Row Dems and sharing them around might be a new way to open up conversation that will lead to some more progressive conversions in your circle of influence.
Besides - if we're taking the country back, we might as well take country music with it.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
( 7:35 AM )
Pluto, We Hardly Knew Ye
PRAGUE, Czech Republic - Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight.
Yes, that's right. A few human astronomers have the "authority" to declare what a planet is and what a planet isn't. And evidently, Pluto ain't it. Poor Pluto. We've all known there's been controversy over the years about the outermost sphere in our galaxy. But is it really fair to strip a poor little planetary-like orb circling our Sun of its status just because its orbit is a bit off. Now it can't be in the club anymore.
For now, membership will be restricted to the eight "classical" planets in the solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
Much-maligned Pluto doesn't make the grade under the new rules for a planet: "a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."
Pluto is automatically disqualified because its oblong orbit overlaps with Neptune's.
Pluto is now a "dwarf planet." Most astronomers seem to feel that the new classification is appropriate. That Pluto never should have been part of the gang in the first place. Now, I'm just thinking of all those textbooks and teaching materials that will need to be changed...
( 7:22 AM )
Enough Jon Benet
I was trying to avoid commenting on this travesty of a distraction in the media, but I read a great blog this morning on Oregon Blue by Karol Collymore about it. She echoes my own thoughts on the matter and I couldn't have said it better than her conclusion:
I thought it was just the mass media, cable news, rating seekers. But it's not. KOIN news 6 was talking about what the alleged perputrator was having for breakfast in jail. I'm sure they weren't the only ones, just the one I happened to see. So with all that the world is handing us to deal with - borderline rasict politicians, Bush press conferences, election fraud, children without health insurance, the working poor, and raging wars across the globe - I would like to point our sick obession with a long dead child. And one more greater point: There are still 43 missing children in Oregon dating back to 1982 (www.missingkids.com). This does not count the ones that have been found, dead or alive. The only one on the list you've heard of? Brooke Wilburger, another beautiful blonde.
While I would go so far as to disagree with Karol that the politicians she's talking about are not "borderline" but actually rabid racists, I totally echo her thoughts here. I think of the REAL things that are going on in this world. And I know that the rest of the world that has media access is actually hearing about those things, while our media obsesses on this thing. The real tragedy are the comatose American citizens who allow themselves to lulled into ignorance by this kind of constant "news."
Wake Up America!
Thursday, August 17, 2006
( 8:54 AM )
Oregon - You can Do Better!
Today Sadly, No! points us to a 50-state survey on GW Bush's approval ratings taken this week. Overall, the average points to a 38% approval rating. A bit higher than other recent polls. However, like Sadly notes about his own state, I'm disturbed (or at least bemused) by the fact that Oregon rates at a 33% Approval. What's going on, Oregon? I realize the Eastern and Southern part of the state are being slowly invaded by all the California yokels who just don't want to live around so many brown people, but really - can't we still claim a higher (and more diverse) population in the West of the state? What happened to Little Beirut?
I challenge all my blue Oregonians: bring those numbers DOWN!! Oregon should not only be leading the way in biodiesel, we should also be leading the way in the low, Low, LOW approval ratings for this failure of an administration. Shouldn't we at least have him in the 20's? I mean, for crying out loud. What is it going to take - what more could he do...wait, never mind.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
( 9:08 AM )
Best thing I heard on the radio last week: Al Franken was asking what Joe Lieberman's slogan should be for his new campaign. A caller came on and offered:
"Lieberman - Party of One?"
( 8:17 AM )
I have been dropping in on some of my favorite blogs that I didn't have a chance to keep up with in the last half year of my "sabbatical" - and I was sad to see that Notes on the Atrocities is shutting down. But as I read Jeff's explanations about why he was deciding to stop blogging it really hit a chord with me.
I'm throwing in the towel because it's not good for my mental health. This past week, on the Buddhist retreat, we practiced the most basic form of meditation--putting the attention on the breath as a way of calming the mind. It predates Buddhism and has been practiced by most religious communities for thousands of years. I've been a practicing Buddhist for 7 years, and in that time, I've never seen the level of my mind's inattention get as bad as it is now. It's an index--and a pretty good one--of where one's mental health is. Blogging isn't the only factor, but it's a central contributor. Moreover, it's far from essential--I don't have to blog to feed myself. I can't cut back on all the things that jeopardize my mental health, but blogging is expendable.
This hits home for me because in the last year I have been slowly learning about and beginning the practices of the middle way of buddhism and I realize that it is that clutter in the mind that so often brings you to that 2nd of the Four Truths: the reason people suffer is because they constantly want what they don't have. It is easy to see how blogging can lend itself to this clutter. I think I felt that last year and when I gave it up in December, having every inention of the break being only a few weeks, I did not realize how much I did not need it until I let it go.
Now that I am back blogging, it is not a necessity for me anymore. I definitely missed it and I sometimes pine for being a dynamic part of the ol blogging circle - but I think that's a symptom of the same thing we all have: that need to be a part of something bigger. But the real truth is that I am part of something bigger that is real. Being a mama, being a teacher, being a participant in my community, being a friend. These tangible things are what not only enrich our lives but can actually be done contemplatively. This is what I'm learning about practicing that middle way: if you cannot do something or be something with your full awareness then it is only sapping you of your full self. And I have not found a way I can contemplatively blog. Therein lies the twist.
So blogging for me has changed its nature, but it has also become something to learn to savor and enjoy rather than feel pulled to and obligated to. I also agree with Notes that bloggers are definitely the way forward for the Democratic party to return to its progressive roots.
Blogs are that medium and I think they're the main reason the Democratic party has begun to veer left after all these years--and will keep veering left if bloggers do their work. Bloggers are canaries in the coalmine--we speak for the people. Eventually, the country will follow and we'll move away from the madness of the neocon precipice.
I'm proud that I was part of the little wave that began way back when haloscan was the comment format on Daily Kos and before Atrios had even mentioned Trent Lott. But I'm more proud that in that same time I've raised an infant into a cool little boy, I've put myself through grad school and I've become a high school social studies teacher. Keeping perspective is definitely a habit worth practicing. I'd like to thank Notes for giving that to me today.
Friday, August 04, 2006
( 6:41 AM )
Friday - Poetry? Vocabulary?
Now that I'm back, I'm considering what Friday Feature to return to. Early on, in the old days, we did Poetry Fridays. Here are some oldies but goodies:
It's hard to ignore the confession
Of a man with such high moral obsession
But my, poor old Rush;
His brains are such mush;
The pills prob'ly helped his profession
Who leaked the i.d. of Ms. Plame?
Who IS the rascal to blame?
Could it be, maybe
That it was Cheney?
Oh that would be SUCH a shame!
or, some Haiku:
Many men have tried
To lie to me about war
But I am too smart
We are ask'd: believe
We are told: it's true, just wait
Faith does not make truth
Then, early in 2005 I tried Vocabulary Word Friday. Here's a good one:
Today's word is:
government in which the people hold the ruling power either directly or through elected representatives; rule by the ruled; the principle of equality of rights, opportunity, and treatment, or the practice of this principle; the common people as the wielders of political power.
Use it in a sentence this weekend! "Boy, would I like to be a part of making this country a democracy again!"
It's kind of depressing looking back at almost 4 years of blogging and seeing how little has changed. But off with the depression!
Let's end this week with some NEW HAIKU!!
Just can't convince Bush:
"Yeeha!" is not a foreign
policy that works
Rumsfeld, you have SUCH
a way with words that we are
deaf from your bullshit
Condi, you forgot that
Dip-lo-ma-cy means you must
use your brain sometimes
Minimum Wage, raised?
No, Just Congress flipping off
Those that put them there.
Well, happy Friday. It's been a great first week back blogging. Though my guess is no one has figured out yet that I'm back. We're off to a week at the Coast - but of course I'm taking the laptop!
UPDATE: Good Friday Fun over at Kos:
"Cuban dictator Fidel Castro is still in the hospital with a serious medical condition. Castro said that a half century of Communist rule seemed like a good idea right up until the point he was rushed to the hospital in a '55 Oldsmobile."
"President Bush has rejected calls for an immediate cease-fire [in Lebanon] on the grounds that he'd prefer a "sustainable" cease-fire. It makes sense. He doesn't want the killing to stop until he's sure it will stop. So there will be more killing until the president's convinced that there will be no more killing. Or everyone else runs out of people."
( 5:59 AM )
Why they didn't do this years ago, I don't know. But the Bush White House evidently feels that lame-duckness shouldn't prevent them from furthering the decline of democracy. Liberal Oasis has the best post I've seen on the new "redecorating" of the White House Press Briefing Room:
Renovation itself is, of course, innocuous. Surely the room does need a spiffing up.
But this is not just adding comfy chairs and new curtains. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Next up: a renovation of the briefing room, likely with a video wall that could display everything from "flags waving in the breeze [to] detailed charts and graphs," according to a senior White House official working on the project.
For TV viewers, the video feed could be the sole on-screen image, or could share the space with the speaker...the new technology could help transform White House briefings ... into more interesting viewing.
Both the planned video capabilities and Mr. Snow's hiring appear to be part of a subtle but sweeping effort by administration officials to deliver their message directly to the public, particularly through video...
As Liberal Oasis says:
In other words: what was a daily forum where the public, through the media, could attempt to hold the White House accountable for its actions and policies, will become a staged television event to help the White House "catapult the propaganda."
And I agree about what the response should be:
The proper response should be outright defiance: a boycott of the daily briefing.
White House reporters simply should not tolerate being relegated to political props.
Which is what Tony Snow's appointment has been all about: making the briefing a Fox News-style rigged debate with reporters as foils, instead of a means to subject White House positions to public questioning.
The press corps shouldn't stand for it.
And they shouldn't worry about losing anything by boycotting it.
Sure, the Bushies would gladly call their bluff and cancel the briefing.
But they have sapped the daily briefing of all its utility anyway. No useful information is ever obtained there. Reporters could easily find better ways to spend their time.
The Briefing Room is just that. It should be a straightforward, up front, simple situation where the press asks direct questions of the administration. And gets answers. But since neither the questions nor the answers have been much in evidence in the last few years, its no wonder the white house is looking to flash-up its message.
There is always the chance that the White House press corps will wake up and actually start asking questions and investigating, but forgive me if I don't hold my breath. The new propaganda room is one more way to lull the citizens of this country into a drunken sense of contentedness in their own ignorance. Democracy cannot survive unless the citizens take it in hand and hold their government accountable. Allowing straight propaganda to come out of the briefing room is not the way to do this.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
( 7:18 AM )
Education at Risk
As the new school year approaches, I thought I'd link to a few of my favorite teacher blogs. I'm especially drawn to those who defend public education and its value in our society,and those teachers who are activists for more than just the academic lives of their students, but for the quality of our country's collective mind.
Some of my favorites:
An Old Soul
Shut Up and Teach!
From the Trenches
It being an election year, at least fall semester should be interesting for Government class. People often ask me if it's hard to keep my personal opinions out of the classroom (especially since I'm obviously so opinionated). But in fact, it's not hard at all. My goal for teaching isn't to make more little Me's - it's to teach teenagers how to think for themselves and be critical questioners and contemplators of reason. Simply presenting the facts to them is enough to make them question and then pursue the answers. Now there are some things I don't compromise on or leave open for debate. For instance, civil rights for all people, the fact that democracy won't survive without informed citizens making it work, and that people died so that we can vote, so we better do it. Things like that.
The current administration is definitely anti-science and anti-critical thinking. If they and the corporate media - that seems to care nothing about news except what will give them more commercial dollars - actually cared about the quality of our education and minds, then I truly believe the current world situation would be a LOT different. But for now it serves them better to promote unquestioning ignorance in the citizenry. Otherwise, how could they slowly strip away the provisions of the Constitution? And like I just said, the Constitution only lives if we stay awake.
A Schoolyard Blog demonstrates this very well in a funny post he put up last month:
A public school teacher was arrested today at JFK INTL Airport as he attempted to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a set square, a slide rule and a calculator.
At a morning press conference, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-gebra movement. He did not identify the man, who has been charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.
"Al-gebra is a problem for us," Gonzales said. "They desire solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in a search of absolute value. They use secret code names like 'x' and 'y' and refer to themselves as unknowns', but we have determined they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country. As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, 'There are 3 sides to every triangle'."
When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, "If God had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, He would have given us more fingers and toes." White House aides told reporters they could not recall a more intelligent or profound statement by the president.