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November 2008

Proposition 8 and the discriminatory nature of marriage

RadicalmoiThere are protests nationwide today against California's passage of their Proposition 8, banning gay marriage. Instead of marching, I'm blogging (because it's pouring rain here). I am repeatedly boggled by the need of human beings to deny others their humanity, when those Others have done nothing to directly harm those who would classify them as subhuman. This was the cornerstone of slavery in this country (slaves counted as only 3/5 of a person); of denying both African Americans and women voting privileges; and now of denying gays the right to marry. In a word (or acronym): WTF?

Gw150h150 The argument that two people of the same sex marrying somehow harms the "sanctity of marriage" between two people of the opposite sex is completely illogical, as Spock might say. I'd like to see a demonstration of what this harm is. Does it prevent opposite sex couples from obtaining marriage licenses? No. Does it prevent opposite sex couples from obtaining housing? No. Does it hinder them in exercising any of their already granted rights? No. It merely offends some of them. Too bad. I'm offended by bigoted people marrying and propagating their bigotry by teaching it to their children, but I'm not about to deny them the right to do so. Human rights don't work that way. Either we all get them, or none of us get them.

The idea that the marriage of two people of the same sex is somehow an aberration is also just patently false. Tufts University Historian Gary Leupp has a great capsulized refutation of this idea in an open letter he wrote to Governor Mitt Romney. Here's a little sample of it, with a bibliography:

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RarmoiOne of my students, one I actually like, has plagiarized most of her most recent paper from the Internet. She's a C writer, at best, and why she thought I wouldn't notice the sudden change in the acuteness of her observations, her ability to quote the relevant passages, and her suddenly complete and perfect sentence structure is beyond me. It took all of about 90 seconds to find the relevant paper on the Internet, a one-shot Googling of a simple phrase, and there it was. 90 seconds. If that.

And whose fault is this? First and foremost, my student's. It's not that I haven't explained in painstaking detail what plagiarism is. It's not that I haven't threatened hellfire and damnation for doing it. She's behind several papers and like many of my students has kids and a full-time job and I suspect it's desperation. And this is why I blame, in very small part, the culture of adjuncting. If colleges would break down and hire more full-time faculty with real office hours, I'd be available to my students when they got in trouble. I sound like a hardass in the classroom, but it's always tempered with the caveat that I want my students to talk to me if they're getting into trouble. My rules are actually pretty flexible because I know how hard it is to go to school and work at the same time, let alone have kids to take care of. Sheesh. And I've had those semesters myself where everything just goes to hell in a handbasket and you need extensions to get your work done. Make a sincere effort, that's all I ask. And talk to me.

To be fair, I'm available by email and phone and other students have taken advantage of that (not in a bad way), so this student could have too, which is why I blame her primarily. But a department or school full of adjuncts is not doing students any service. I, for one, have too many other things on my plate, while I try to make a living in addition to the meager wages I'm paid by the school, to really serve my students well. And I hate doing a half-assed job of it.

Now I'm remembering why I didn't adjunct for long.

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Fuck Veterans' Day

RadicalmoiIf anybody were reading this blog, I'd be getting flames just for the title. But let me explain exactly what I mean. Veterans' Day started out as Armistice Day, marking the moment when World War I, the War to End All Wars, ended across Europe at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. WWI killed the flower of an entire generation in England, France, Germany and elsewhere in particularly horrible ways. Trench warfare, mustard gas, and shell shock (now called post traumatic stress) left many, many more permanently disabled and unfit for work, marriage, life itself. Afterwards, world leaders swore "Never again!" as they've done so many times before. Then World War II came along and Armistice Day became Veterans' Day, because it turned out not to be the war to end all wars, just the first of a pair (hopefully not a series).

Now, my dad was a WWII vet, a career Air Force non-com who spent 20 years in the service and came out as a Master Sergeant and retired as a line chief. During the war, he was stationed in Panama, North Africa, England, and finally Germany, as a belly gunner and one of the grunts on the ground who kept the Berlin Airlift running and maintained an American presence after the war. He didn't talk much about his experiences, and to hear him tell it, much of it was a big pub crawl. But every now and then he would let slip that he had seen things that changed him: fellow ball turret gunners hosed out of their stations after they'd been strafed. German children starving and the American troops giving away their rations to them; German peasants who went from enemies to friends overnight. When the massacre at My Lai came to light, Dad watched the news reports about it with a fascination that, in hindsight, told me he'd seen similar things happen during his service: kids tossing grenades at soldiers, and soldier's retaliating. He wasn't unsympathetic to Calley and his troops, but I remember him turning away from the trial one night, and stomping off, muttering "how can that bastard look in the mirror and shave every day?"

So I'm not entirely unsympathetic to or ignorant of what soldiers experience. I grew up in a military household attached to an Air Force base where there were nuclear weapons. We used to joke that we'd be the news everyone else saw if the Cold War became a hot one. At the time, that seemed a more pleasant alternative than the resulting nuclear winter. It was a possibility always in the back of our minds, despite two devastating World Wars and countless minor ones. As if we had learned nothing. We hadn't. And the change from Armistice Day to Veterans day proves that.

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Bronx Voices

ArtsyfartsymoiOkay, deep breath . . .  it looks like this thing is actually gonna get off the ground. Bronx Voices is a group of performers, poets, songwriters, rappers, singers, actors, teachers and whomever else we can drag onto the stage. It started with something one of my fellow profs, D.L. Anderson, called the Poetry Jam in a room at the South Bronx campus of the College of New Rochelle. I contributed a poem and then got chatting with D.L. about how to make the voices of the students we were teaching, and their mind-boggling stories, heard in public.I'd already thought about putting together an anthology of their work when D.L. mentioned the same thing to me. We got together with a few of them and D.L.'s vision of a performance piece and, well, Bronx Voices was born.

Fundraisingflyer_3 Our first performance is coming up (click for larger view or download the flyer).
Most of all, come to our show. We're dirt poor, like most new and struggling organizations and we need some seed money besides mine and D.L.'s, especially since neither of us have a lot of dough to go around.D.L.'s daughter just started college and well, I'm a freelancer and an adjunct. Right now we're doing this purely for love, and out of the belief that the people we're working with need to be heard.

If you can't come, but you're interested in donating, I've got a Paypal account that will make it extremely easy for you, and your donation will be tax deductible now that we've joined The Field.

Every little bit helps. But we'd really like to see you sitting in a seat at the Arc Light come December 9th.

Just coincidentally, this is my 100th post on this blog, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate that fact. Poetry is such a huge part of my life, and teaching is becoming so again, so that makes this post double relevant.

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Take this drug! Lower Your risk of death!

Feeling_my_age_moi"A large new study suggests that millions more people could benefit from taking the cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins, even if they have low cholesterol, because the drugs can significantly lower their risk of heart attacks, strokes and death," says today's New York Times. Please note that the study was carried out on "nearly 18,000 people worldwide, [and] tested statin treatment in men 50 and older and in women 60 and older who did not have high cholesterol or histories of heart disease."

Now, this sounds like a big study, but keep in mind that there are approximately 400 million people in this age range world wide, so this sample is less than one-half of one percent of that target population. Statistically, this is a very small sample and the time period over which it was carried out, two years, is pretty short. But the fundamental flaw in this study is the last bit of that first sentence. Nothing lowers your risk of death. Nothing. "Scientists said the research could provide clues on how to address a long-confounding statistic: that half of heart attacks and strokes occur in people without high cholesterol." So they're puzzled? The answer is simple: we are mortal. Everything dies. If heart attacks don't kill us, something else will.

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The Boho Dance

UrbandollJoni Mitchell, songwriter extraordinaire, turns 65 today. I first discovered her on the Detroit AM radio station CKLW with "Free Man in Paris" from Court and Spark in 1974 when I was 14. It's been true love ever since. Her musical experiments helped introduce me to jazz and to a far more eclectic range of music than I might have known until far later. She did everything: folk, rock, jazz, country, all of it loaded with off-kilter rhythm and quirky instrumental arrangements. She didn't have Judy Collins' pure, ethereal voice, but she had something just as interesting: a kind of smoky warble that inclined to minor keys.

If there were one song that sums up my fascination with art, with New York, with my motives for moving here and the way I've structured my life, it would be Joni Mitchell's "The Boho Dance." Although it's an ironic look at the hip crowd and their contempt for the squares, it had its own strange sort of mocking appeal that made both the grit and the glamor of New York romantically attractive. Of course, real life is never like our dreams imagine it to be, but I'm happy to say that I've found a bit of my own Boho Dance here without the absolute squalor that often accompanies it. I guess the cleaner's press was in my jeans, too. Happy birthday, Joni. Thanks for the inspiration.

watching the world wake up from history


The Wall Street Journal just called it. I'm a little giddy. Everybody in my neighborhood is too. Horns honking, shouting, music. Like New Year's. I suppose it is. At the very least, it is a new age. The unthinkable has happened. A liberal Black man is going to move into the White House. About damn time. Next, a woman. Then someone gay, until the only thing that matters is your qualifications and your vision.

History. Right here. Right now.


why I done it

911moiSo, I done it. Got up at 6 and headed downstairs and stood in line very briefly, had my spanking new voter registration verified, got in the booth and pulled the levers. I still have very little if any confidence in any of the politicians for whom I pulled those levers, but I'm willing to be pleasantly surprised. MUG Newsletter had a nice concise list of reasons to vote this morning called "Tro da Bums Out!" It's as good a set of reasons as any; here it is:

  • Iraq
  • The Economy
  • Katrina
  • Guantanamo
  • Renditions and Torture
  • Abandoning the Kyoto Treaty
  • The Patriot Act
  • Fighting the formation of the 9/11 Commission
  • Veteran Care at Walter Reed
  • U.S. Attorney Firings
  • Valerie Plame Outing
  • The National Debt
  • Ignoring Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine
  • Stem Cell Research
  • Darfur

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