Monday, June 27, 2005

space and such things

I decided that I would allow myself one "pleasure" book (as opposed to "work"), so, in typical Mike DuBose style and fashion, I picked a little ditty by George Dyson called Project Orion, the true story of an early attempt at designing and building an interplanetary rocketship. Yeah, I know, not exactly the standard "summer reading."

As opposed to the chemical rocket-driven 3 man Apollo missions, Orion was supposed to be large. The average size for an Orion ship was in the 2,000 ton range. Yes, that big. It was to hold a number of people, hold them in comfort, and hold enough supplies to last for voyages to Mars and to the moons of Saturn.

What is infinitely weirder about the whole project (at least to our 21st century perspective) is that the ship was to be powered by 200+ nuclear bombs. Yes, not rockets, but a nuclear bomb powered spaceship.

Apparently, the scientists designed (at least theoretically) a shock absorber which would allow them to focus the shock wave of an atomic blast into a very specific trajectory, thus powering the huge Orion ship. There was the little matter of fallout, but the scientists estimated that, compared to the amount of fallout from open air nuclear tests (which were still going on at the time), the fallout concerns would be minimal. As far as the radiation, well, that was underestimated...although plans for the project in its later stages would have the ship flown into space and assembled there, because space is already chock full of radiation, so (the logic goes) what harm could a little more do?

There are at least a few particularly weird things about this project, in my view. First off, most of the scientists still feel the Orion project to be scientifically valid. We could, in other words, probably dust this off and have interplanetary space ships within ten years, if these guys are right. And most of them feel that nuclear bomb power is the only science we currently have that can get us moving on an interplanetary scale.

So, if this is so viable, why did it not work? Why did the US government not go for it? As best as I can figure, it was mostly political. Orion got caught trying to find government funding, and very few people in the government could find an immediate reason to support it over the already NASA-approved Saturn V rockets. Even when many early rocket pioneers came out in favor of Orion as the next logical step for space travel, the government couldn't justify funding a project without immediate objectives, one that would not "pay off" for years.

So, in Orion's struggle to get funding, they tried to justify their program to the Air Force, as a weapons program. This is where the whole Orion thing gets scary. The book lists many possible selling points, and they are all fairly close to "doomsday" devices. As an example, a number of scientists devised a way to explode large amounts of warheads in space and direct, using their shock absorbers and sheilding, the resulting fallout and radiation from the explosions towards a particular global area...thus effectively irradiating entire continents!

Another proposed Air Force use for Orion was as a floating defense platform with the ability to shoot down nuclear missiles. And if this sounds suspiciously like Reagan's SDI, you are right. In fact, large research project elements and documents remain top secret to this day, and the writer speculates that current SDI research can be directly traced back to Orion.

The lesson here is that all plans for space exploration have a fairly nefarious military dimension to them. When Reagan claimed in the 80s that his SDI had no possible negative uses and was defensive only, he was either lying out his gourd or extremely naive...because even the simple act of shooting down missles meant that those missiles could most likely be expoded not too long after takeoff, thus irradiating the area where they were launched...thus serving as a nuclear strike from afar as well as an anti-missile shield.

Unfortunately, any plans for Star Trek-esque space programs could only ever come to be after military uses, because defense is where the funding is...which is a shame, because I could really get in to the whole one piece elasticised jumpsuit uniform that the space exploration thing would inevitably entail.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The bio is up!

My first academic department website bio is up here, along with a sporting picture, for those who might be interested.


So, last weekend I went to see a NASCAR race with my father, who's in the neighborhood (they're visiting my sister, not me, because she has kids and I don't...there's probably a post in that too, but maybe later). It was Father's Day, and Dad is a big racing fan.

This was not my first time seeing NASCAR live and in person. I saw a race before perhaps 14 years ago, so I had an idea of what I should expect. The day did, however, still have its weird elements, and I did learn a lot.

Most of what I learned was about the people watching. They were, to be honest, generally a little weird. When the people who were sitting to the right of our group sat down, the female (hot in a redneck housewife kind of way) asked me if she could clean her glasses on my shirt. How do you respond to this kind of question? I couldn't tell if she had no social grace or if she was coming on to me.

In some ways, a NASCAR audience is like a time capsule from ten years ago. The gentleman sitting in front of me was wearing this Big Johnson shirt. I thought those died a long time ago, but apparently not. Yes, misogynist clothing is funny. Incidentally, if you are interested, they have actually published a History of Big Johnsons book, where they call the t-shirt design "America's most popular t-shirt." Now we know why the feminist movement is still necessary

Anyway, this and other examples make it clear to me that NASCAR has a ways to go before they reach true diversity. For instance, they are not very popular with the brothers...I may have seen one black family in our section, and I saw very few others as we were leaving. Interestingly enough, though, my sister's husband did point out a nice, heartwarming example of NASCAR lesbian love on our way out, but I guess that is acceptable to the masses for the tittilation factor alone.

If there has been a big change in NASCAR in the last decade and a half, it is that the audience doesn't seem to be as overtly "redneck" (Big Johnsons aside) as it used to be. I only saw a few mullets, for example. I didn't notice a preponderance of rebel flags (and yes, the race was in Michigan, but that doesn't always mean anything). Not sure how many other overt displays of redneckishness there were either.

What there was, in abundance, was people wearing hats and clothing which represent their favorite driver. More often than not, however, their outfits more clearly represented the sponsor of their favorite driver than the driver itself. Dale Jarrett, for instance, drives the UPS car. Well, many Dale Jarrett fans were wearing UPS hats. Did they support the company as an extension of their driver loyalty? Did they just like the logo and not really care about the company? Or were they loyal UPS customers who started rooting for Mr. Jarrett because he drove their company's car? Or, even weirder, were they UPS employees showing the colors?

Yes, they sound like silly questions on the surface, but NASCAR fans do show a suprising loyalty to products. I would bet that the hardest thing to find at such an event would be someone who likes both Chevys and, there were people who had some seemingly irrational hatred towards a brand of car. Would they still like Dale Earnhardt Jr. if he started driving a Ford? I have to wonder. I was left with the mischevious thought that Hyundai needs to enter NASCAR, just to tick off the hard-core fan.

I also have to wonder what's at the root of the severe hatred towards Jeff Gordon. There were some fans who would flick off Mr. Gordon every time he took a lap, screaming out obscenities. There was one woman who had a picture of him taped to her cooler with the caption: "Jeff and I share one thing: We both like men." There were plenty of people booing his every move, who would've been happiest if he would've wrecked. Not liking someone is something I can understand, but why would someone invest the time, energy, and money into attending a race just to boo one driver?

My father thinks it's just because he's good (which seems strange enough; we like our drivers to be good but not too good!?!?). I suspect it's largely because he (1) is from California, not the "Deep South," and (2) because he still looks a little boyish. Yes, Jeff Gordon is an affront to most NASCAR fans because he (in academic-speak) "subverts the dominant NASCAR paradigm of masculinity." Drivers are supposed to talk with an accent and look like they could either rebuild a transmission in their living room or punch you out; instead, Jeff talks normally, looks normal, and can outrace them. Than is why people hate him and think/wish/hope he is gay. He threatens their desired image of machismo. It's a theory, anyway.

So, what about the actual race? Some sports translate very well to television, some work very well in person only. Personally, I think NASCAR is much better on television by far than it is in person. Once the leader started lapping cars, it became very hard to tell who was on the lead lap and who was being lapped. You could spend all your time rooting for someone who, you would later discover, was actually a few laps down and stood no chance. And since the track was so damn big, it was very hard to tell what was going on on the opposite corners.

It was loud, though. The one thing you really cannot get from watching NASCAR on television is a true appreciation of the raw power. Race cars sound like fighter jets screaming around the tracks. You can feel them coming around the corners in your chest. They move much quicker than simple automobiles should. And they are driven by people who look and talk like they could be sitting in the stands. More than anything else, NASCAR is about the image of unbelievable power controlled by seemingly-ordinary people. In this way, it is truly a populist sport.

Having said that, most of the drivers are millionaires. They are all explicitly tied to major corporations. In actuality, NASCAR is really more about these major corporations coopting the populist image of good-ole boys tinkering with cars, but this is an argument which is really more suitable to an academic article than a blog.

Oh, I did learn one more thing, something drastically important, something everyone reading this can apply to their real life on a daily basis: when a sunscreen says either "lasts for eight hours" or "waterproof and sweatproof," they are lying.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

PBS funding Elimination

I wouldn't normally quote a full article at length, but the one below is from a reputable source and is so disturbing, it warrants a wide distribution. If this disturbs you at all (and it should), please go to MoveOn and sign their petition. And get your friends to do the same.

From The Washington Post

Public Broadcasting Targeted By House

Panel Seeks to End CPB's Funding Within 2 Years

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 10, 2005; Page A01

A House subcommittee voted yesterday to sharply reduce the federal government's financial support for public broadcasting, including eliminating taxpayer funds that help underwrite such popular children's educational programs as "Sesame Street," "Reading Rainbow," "Arthur" and "Postcards From Buster."

In addition, the subcommittee acted to eliminate within two years all federal money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- which passes federal funds to public broadcasters -- starting with a 25 percent reduction in CPB's budget for next year, from $400 million to $300 million.

In all, the cuts would represent the most drastic cutback of public broadcasting since Congress created the nonprofit CPB in 1967. The CPB funds are particularly important for small TV and radio stations and account for about 15 percent of the public broadcasting industry's total revenue.

Expressing alarm, public broadcasters and their supporters in Congress interpreted the move as an escalation of a Republican-led campaign against a perceived liberal bias in their programming. That effort was initiated by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's own chairman, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson.

"Americans overwhelmingly see public broadcasting as an unbiased information source," Rep. David Obey (Wis.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, said in a statement. "Perhaps that's what the GOP finds so offensive about it. Republican leaders are trying to bring every facet of the federal government under their control. . . . Now they are trying to put their ideological stamp on public broadcasting."

But the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, and education asserted that the panel was simply making choices among various worthy government programs, and that no political message was intended.

The subcommittee's action, which came on a voice vote, doesn't necessarily put Big Bird on the Endangered Species List. House members could restore funding as the appropriations bill moves along or, more likely, when the House and Senate meet to reconcile budget legislation later this year. The Senate has traditionally been a stronger ally of public broadcasting than the House, whose former speaker, Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), waged a high-profile but ultimately unsuccessful campaign to "zero out" funding for the CPB a decade ago.

The cuts nevertheless surprised people in public broadcasting. In his budget sent to Congress in February, President Bush had recommended reducing CPB's budget only slightly.

Several denounced the decision by the panel, which has 10 Republicans and seven Democrats, as payback by a Republican-dominated House after years of complaints from conservatives who see liberal bias in programs carried by the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio. Broadcasters noted, for example, that the 25 percent cutback in next year's CPB budget was a rollback of money that Congress had promised in 2004.

PBS, in particular, drew harsh criticism in December from the Bush administration for a "Postcards From Buster" episode in which Buster, an animated rabbit, "visited" two families in Vermont headed by lesbians. And programming on both PBS and NPR has come under fire in recent months from Tomlinson, the Republican chairman of the CPB, who has pushed for greater "balance" on the public airwaves.

A spokeswoman for NPR, Andi Sporkin, directly blamed Tomlinson for yesterday's action, saying, "We've never been sure of Mr. Tomlinson's intent but, with this news, we might be seeing his effect."

Tomlinson did not return calls seeking comment. In a statement, he said, "Obviously, we are concerned [by the cuts], and we will be joining with our colleagues in the public broadcasting community to make the case for a higher level of funding as the appropriations measure makes its way through Congress."

John Lawson, the president of the Association of Public Television Stations, a Washington-based group that lobbies for public broadcasters, called the subcommittee's action "at least malicious wounding, if not outright attempted murder, of public broadcasting in America." He added, "This action could deprive tens of millions of American children of commercial-free educational programming."

Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), the subcommittee's chairman, said the cuts had nothing to do with dissatisfaction over public radio or TV programs. "It's pretty simple," he said in an interview. "The thinking was, there's not enough money for everything. There are 'must-do,' 'need-to-do' and 'nice-to-do' programs that we have to pay for. [Public broadcasting] is somewhere between a 'need-to-do' and a 'nice-to-do.' "

The subcommittee had to decide, he said, on cutting money for public broadcasting or cutting college grants, special education, worker retraining and health care programs. "No one's out to get" public broadcasting, Regula said. "It's not punitive in any way."

In fact, none of the Republican members of the subcommittee publicly denounced public radio or TV funding at yesterday's markup. Public broadcasting drew supportive statements from Obey and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.).

Regula suggested public stations could "make do" without federal money by getting more funding from private sources, such as contributions from corporations, foundations, and listeners and viewers.

But the loss of $23.4 million in federal funds for children's educational shows -- which PBS calls its "Ready to Learn" programs -- could mean the elimination of these programs, said an official at Alexandria-based PBS who asked not to be named because the network still hopes to regain the funding. PBS's revenue totaled $333 million in fiscal year 2004.

The Ready to Learn group includes "Sesame Street," "Dragontales," "Clifford" and "Arthur," among others.

The House measure also cuts support for a variety of smaller projects, such as a $39.6 million public TV satellite distribution network and a $39.4 million program that helps public stations update their analog TV signals to digital format.

Small public radio stations, particularly those in rural areas and those serving minority audiences, may be the most vulnerable to federal cuts because they currently operate on shoestring budgets.

"This could literally put us out of business," said Paul Stankavich, president and general manager of the Alaska Public Radio Network, an alliance of 26 stations in the state that create and share news programming. "Almost all of us are down to the bone right now. If we lost 5 or 10 percent of our budgets in one fell swoop, we could end up being just a repeater service" for national news, with no funds to produce local content.

Stankavich, who also runs a public radio and TV station in Anchorage, said public radio is "an important source of news in urban areas, but it's life-critical in rural areas," especially in far-flung parts of Alaska unserved by any other broadcast medium.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

my first stab at an academic bio!

I had to write a bio for the webpage at my new job, so I thought I would present it here for your amusement. Did I get the proper mix of serious and "Mike?"


Mike S. DuBose (Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University in American Culture Studies) is a Lecturer in the department who teaches various composition courses. He is the former editor of the now defunct literary journal Stark Raving Sanity, and he has published academic writing in Holidays, Ritual, Festival, Celebration, and Public Display, in the journal Reconstruction, in the Encyclopedia of Capitalism, and forthcoming in the Journal of Popular Culture. Mike's main areas of research interest include 1980s popular culture, critical media studies, and the application of complexity theory to the study of culture; he is combining all three in both a revision of his dissertation into book form for a major American academic press and several research papers in progress. In his spare time, he plays guitar, watches Food Network almost obsessively, participates gleefully in geek culture such as professional wrestling fandom, and stares at his wife in awe. Mike also occasionally writes a non-fiction, non-academic blog called TheMikeDuBose

Saturday, June 11, 2005

proudest zoo moment

Customer: Sorry, my kid spilt some milk in this wagon we rented.

Me: It's okay...definitely nothing to cry over.

And the customer GOT IT!

the best television network in the world

When I was told that I indeed had a fulltime position for the upcoming year, I told myself that I was not going to go on too much of a spending spree just because I had finally reached the level where I can sustain myself without credit (at least, that's where I'll be when I start getting paid). But I did need to get a few creature comforts, so one of the things I did was get the DirecTV full package with a TiVo Digital Video Recorder.

I had DirecTV before (mostly for the football package), so I knew what I was getting into. The TiVo, however, makes all the difference. It has a 70 hour hard drive and will automatically record every episode of my favorite show, if I program it to do so. But as network tv is such a waste, I really don't use it for that. What do I want with fifteen episodes of the latest Fox reality show, _So I married the top singer and was forced to live on an island with a strict Nanny_? I would much rather expand my viewing in hopes of finding new, exciting, and non-moronic television programs.

What I am using it for, however, is to record stuff off of what is now my favorite channel, the Independant Film Channel. Have you heard of this? It's friggin' awesome. All independant films, all day, uncut, uncensored.

So far I have watched a b&w Bruce Campbell film about a bank heist (forgot the name), two of the Blind Swordsman films (from what they call Samuri Saturday...which is as cool as it sounds), and Slasher, a documentary about a used car dealer. On the TiVo, I have The Usual Suspects, some Mamet film, some Phillip Seymour Hoffman film about a gasoline sniffer, and a few others. Tonight, it's gonna record The Evil Dead. I got more coming.

Indy culture, stuff I would never see otherwise (and most likely, never even hear of), and I can watch it WHENEVER I WANT!!!! VICTORY!!!!!! CULTURE SHOULD WORK ***FOR*** YOU, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!!!! DEMAND THIS STUFF!!!!!!!!

(yes, I'm done now)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

new measures of political and economic stability

So when I told my leader at work (a nice 18 year old, about whom I have some good stories) that I was leaving, he told me that he was happy for me, but he could never understand just what I was doing there in the first place when I should have a real, good job. We then talked about the guy who dresses up as one of our zoo mascots (hate to blow it for the kiddies out there, but he's KC the Polar Bear), because he is a computer programmer (nice guy, too). Mr. Polar Bear is in the same boat as me; he too should have suitable employment. I then told my leader that my wonderful wife has an MA in Higher Ed Administration and is working as a bank teller.

Y'ever heard of the phrase "organic intellectual?" Well, my leader suprised me by showing some hints of being one himself. He told me that him and his friend (also 18, a nice guy, works at the zoo, and looks suspiciously like Carlito Carribean Cool) have talked about this, and that they have concluded that you can tell when the economy of our fair country is in trouble because the zoo gets drastically better employees. When the economy is actually doing good, they are stuck with high school brats only. When things start going down the crapper, they get smart people who should be working somewhere else.

When I was in the midst of my great tenure at Little Caesar Pizzas in management, we of course noticed this as well. When Bush Mark I was prez, things were bad because we had lotsa college students and ex-military working for us. It was really great as an assistant manager to know that you had workers who understood you actually had to work at work ("If it wasn't work, they wouldn't call it work...they'd call it super-happy funtime"...Red Foreman) instead of being ignorant high school punks who only were trying to goof off and get in the pants of our countergirls. When the economy improved, though, you could feel the IQ inside a Little Caesars drop like the air pressure. Good economy, moron workers.

I wish I could've taped my conversation with my leader so I could play it for my classes, because it demonstrated a great principle which we talk about in class...that of the "reserve labor force." It is (the Marxist thought goes) in the best interest of those in control of the means of production (the rich, the business owners) to keep employment rates and the level of satisfaction of the general public at a fairly low level. By doing so, people will be happy to get and keep whatever crap job they have, and the worker pool will be large...this works out to the advantage of the rich because they can hire only the good people, and those good workers can't give too much crap to their bosses about their awful working conditions because there are people lined up waiting for those awful jobs.

Again, the zoo bears this out. When I applied for the job, it was at the zoo's job fair. It was scheduled to run from 9 to 1. I got there at 10:30. I didn't get out until 12:30. There were 500 people who showed up that day, all for (mind you) $6/hour employment. In a real economy, this wouldn't be happening. But it makes you realize that the powers that have to hire must start licking their chops when the economy goes in the tank or whenever there's mass layoffs. That's why WalMart loves going into towns where every other industry is dying, because they can get the best workers and hold out the hope of staying at those low-paying, soul-destroying jobs over the heads of those the former assemblyline foreman better be thankful of his Greeter job and not raise any ruckus.

I swear, the more exposure I have to lower-class life and work, the worse it makes me feel about the world...and the more it makes me feel like a pseudo-Marxist/socialist myself. At the very least, I understand those viewpoints a whole lot better.

So, if I was running a news organization (online, radio, whatever), I would go around and talk to the people who do the hiring at corporations and anyone who works in HR. If they are happy with their employee base, there must be something wrong with the world somewhere.

Lesson? It is good for the populace when the rich suffer. When they are happy, watch out.

Or am I getting swept away into bitterness over my own low wage potential?

Sunday, June 05, 2005

clever students pt. 1

One of my Ethnic Studies students, before the final exam, came up with the most clever metaphor for American history I've heard in a while. American history, he said, is like a big game of immigrant whack-a-mole. The powers-that-be wield the hammer. Indians pop up? Whack! Irish? Whack! Blacks? Chinese? Whack, whack!

It was one of the most clever things I've heard a student say in a long time. For a second, I was tempted to give him an "A" just for that comment...but only for a second. If I could remember his name, I would tell ya.

Incidentally, here's a java whack-a-mole game.

Friday, June 03, 2005

long overdue announcement

There will be much more about this coming up in the near future (especially as I just put in my notice at my part time job), but:

Last Thursday, I formally accepted a position at the University of Toledo as a Lecturer in the Department of English. My teaching duties will be be primarily in the Comp 1/2 cycle, but they promise to also let me teach some Professional Writing and Technical Writing classes...which should diversify my cv a little. It is a full time, permanent position, with the requisite salary (not great, but a whole lot better than my previous adjunct pay) and full benefits. The department itself seems really nice and professional, and I look forward to the experience.

I am very happy to have the position. Now that I will not have to ferry myself between three colleges and prepare for classes in multiple disciplines, I hope to both improve the quality of my teaching and actually do some of the research and writing that's been spinning around my head for the past two years. I am also very happy not to be on the adjunct "where am I gonna work next year" bandwagon.

I am not, however, content. I still wish to be a college professor, and I would like to work in a field which is more compatable with my research interests than Composition....which I have the greatest respect for, but is not really what I thought I would be doing professionally.

I will be reentering the job market in the fall. This time around, I will (as the result of my UT position) be able to focus ONLY on tenure track positions. I hope to spend the summer making myself a more viable candidate, both in terms of my research (I have quit my summer job and am going to read and write extensively) and in presentation.

And I know I've said this in the past, but...more info coming soon.

Mike S. DuBose
Lecturer of Composition
University of Toledo