The Voyage of Captain Obvious

Grading is satanic

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Giants and pygmies

I'm trying to make sense of where we are as a country and a world right now. When one looks back retrospectively on 20th century history, you can't help but see these grand personalities fly out at you--Bismarck, Bryan, Cecil Rhodes, T. Roosevelt, Wilhelm II, Wilson, Lenin, Stalin, FDR, Hitler, Chruchhill, Sun Yat-Sen, Chairman Mao, and so on and so on. Good or evil, right or wrong, I can hardly help but see these people as archetypes of something, imagining a world of bold choices and options--nations led by symbols as much as they are being led by people. Even the faults of these figures seem larger than life--when you read about them, they seem more like the faults of the old Greek Gods than the problems faced by mere mortals.

Something seemed to have happened, however. Today, it seems that our leaders are human, all too human. European leaders face continual and seemingly nonstop parliamentary turmoil. American leaders simply spew endless amounts of out of touch soundbytes and try to say nothing provokative whatsoever. Nonstop ethical issues and complaints dog leaders everywhere (some more justified than others--François Mitterand recieving official government honors from the Vichy government seems to be a particularly nasty skeleton from the closet). And, most importantly of all, it seems that leaders are terrified of any bold, visionary policy. Our current president runs around saying a bunch of nonsense about Social Security, and continuously contradicts himself about Iraq. All the meanwhile, he idly snickers at himself, and moves about with a smug assurance that is never interrputed with consideration for the facts. His predecessor was hardly better. Clinton's bold contriubtion to history is moderating the insane shit the 1994 republicans demanded. You can trace this back quite far in american history, but Reagan's claim that he didn't remember whether or not he ordered the documents showing that he committed an impechable offense is, to me, a shining moment in modern political cowardice.

OK, rant over. My real point is: is all of this just a matter of perspective? The British rid themselves of Churchhill for Richard Atlee in 1945. FDR attempted his own war on the constitution with his court packing plan, and didnt' really beat back the Depression, anyway. Most of the other guys were the victims of severe personality flaws that they could barely overcome. If we were contemporaries of these guys, would this post be talking about how rediculous it is that we are led by lame-o's like TR and Clemenceau, and how the world used to be ruled by real giants like Abe Lincoln and Napolean Bonaparte?

Also, if your answer to the previous question is no... then are things better this way? Is it good that we don't have major changes and clear choices between leaders come election time? Is it good that we don't have major fundamental change on the table, and that we make up for not having FDRs and Churchhills by not having Stalins and Maos running around? In the long run, I'd have to say probably, but living in a sound byte society is getting damn fucking frustrating.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


I am so sick of renting. Every five seconds, something (half of the time, our hot water heater) breaks in our apartment. When we call to get said thing fixed, the landlord hems and haws over actually repairing the damn thing. THEN, they find some reason to bitch about how good we are as tenants, and make some rediculous charge upon us. I am getting sick of this bullshit, and if I ever get the time for it, I say it's time to start a local tenant rights organization, and even, get a standardize lease/deposit law passed through city hall. 'Cause I'm sick of this crap.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Plus ça change, plus c'est le meme chose

I was playing around with my ipod the other day, and good ol' Dust Bowl Ballads came up. I don't think that the United States have has as important an artist as Woody Guthrie ever come along in its history. In particular, it amazes me how these songs about the Depression are able to still remind me of what's going on today. In particualr, this bit, though rediculously classic, seemed pretty precient:

Lots of folks back East, they say, is leavin' home every day,
Beatin' the hot old dusty way to the California line.
'Cross the desert sands they roll, gettin' out of that old dust bowl,
They think they're goin' to a sugar bowl, but here's what they find --
Now, the police at the port of entry say,
"You're number fourteen thousand for today."

Oh, if you ain't got the do re mi, folks, you ain't got the do re mi,
Why, you better go back to beautiful Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee.
California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see;
But believe it or not, you won't find it so hot
If you ain't got the do re mi.

You want to buy you a home or a farm, that can't deal nobody harm,
Or take your vacation by the mountains or sea.
Don't swap your old cow for a car, you better stay right where you are,
Better take this little tip from me.
'Cause I look through the want ads every day
But the headlines on the papers always say:

If you ain't got the do re mi, boys, you ain't got the do re mi,
Why, you better go back to beautiful Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee.
California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see;
But believe it or not, you won't find it so hot
If you ain't got the do re mi."

The scenery is most certainly different. In the 30s, it was more "I understand, and I'd do something if I could, but I've got my own problems" than it was "they deserve it." The commonalities, however, seem too glaring to ignore. In the 30s, they had semi-effectual government programs, while now, we have "government programs" which are a codeword for "handouts to Halliburton." Still, both cases resulted in a giant mess, with no clear solution (since the only obvious solution, that the government employ the victims in the reconstruction effort*, seems to be the complete opposite of what is going to happen). Hell, the migration during the 30s was only stopped when the US lost half a generation in Europe and Japan.

I don't mean to really compare our situation to the Depression. As a whole, the nation is clearly, far better off financially, and, at this instant, we face no threat to the survival of humanity on the scale of Hitler-syle fascism. But my concern is that we are starting to leave people behind, and we are doing it using the smug anthems of "they deserved it," or "they should have known better, living there." As if everywhere but a few choice places was immune to natural disaster. We can do better.

I say, "fuck it, we're all in this together." I'm sick of being wedged off from everyone else by morons who know more about positioning and "message" than substance and emotion**. But fuck it, I'm in it together with them, too. I'm going to pledge to try my best to give everyone an open ear, and my true opinion in rebuttal. This principle does not mean that I'm going to always agree (in reality, it probably means more disagreement than agreement), but it means that I'm going to do my best to realize that we all need to work together.

Because I don't want to live in a world where I tell the helpless and hopeless to go away, 'cause they ain't got that Do-Re-Mi.

*The advantages of this are so obvious to me that it amazes me that noone is talking aobut it--in one fell swoop, you prevent the appearance of impropriety, you employ the people whose places of work were destroyed (since mass unemployment will be one of the big long term problems that this will cause), you give everyone a stake in the New New Orleans, making everyone feel welcome to come back home, and you minimize the money wasted on contractors. In essence, there is no better way to let the people come back home, wtih arms wide open than to offer them a job rebuilding the city better than it was in the first place. But I'm an idealist.

**by this I clearly mean feeling emotion, not manipulating it in others.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Don't read this if you don't want to fucking cry

I have no fucking words for this. Via Bitch, Ph.D.

Friday, September 02, 2005


I'm back home and back to the horrible grindstone of teaching and classses and research, but, if you have the time, listen to this interview with the mayor of New Orleans. Depressing, but alarming at the same time.