Friday, September 28, 2007


Eons ago, way back in the distant past (the 70s), there was a man called Tony Orlando who performed a song called "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree." It was an annoying little ditty about someone getting out of jail who was writing his wife, looking for a signal that he was wanted back (and hopefully, you can figure out what that signal was from the song title). At the time, it was not really a life-changing tune or concept.

This changed, however, in the late 70s-early 80s, when the Iranians stormed the US embassy and kidnapped its workers. Suddenly, the yellow ribbon became a sign of support and welcome for these hostages as they finally made their way home right as Ronald Reagan became president. There was at one time plans to wrap the Empire State Building in a giganto yellow ribbon as the hostages flew into New York, so they could see it from their plane...don't think they actually did it, though, and putting that sucker up would be one job I would not want.

Then our country invaded Iraq (first, because Saddam had "weapons of mass destruction" and then for a myriad of revolving reasons), and those damn yellow ribbons made another comeback, this time as car magnets. Although the explicit message is supposed to be "we support our troops," they actually say something along the lines of "Prez Bush II was right, and we should support him sending the Army anywhere he wants without questioning his infinite wisdom, because doing so would be unpatriotic" the very least, they seemed to have been sold in a multi-pack with those "W 04" stickers that still litter cars to this day.

Then everyone got in on the scam, and we started to see ribbons for AIDS (a worthy cause)...and Breast Cancer (again, worthy)...and then POWs, Autism, Child Abuse, and every other malady/misfortune you can imagine. They span the range of colors, from red to pink to plaid, and we now have to carry around a mental rolodex to figure out what cause the driver in front of us is trying to support. One wisenheimer company started manufacturing ribbons that simply said "One Nation Under Ribbons"...I liked that rare showing of irony.

The other day, I was driving to work, and the car in front of me had a white with black border ribbon magnet. I got closer so I could see the writing and figure out the cause...because this was a new one on me...and it said "I love my dachshund."

Do I even need to say that this has gone too far?

Tony Orlando, did you have any clue what madness you had wrought? If you knew your lame song would've ended up supporting everything from right wing politics to wiener dogs, would you still have released it? Do you feel shame or remorse? Can you sleep at night?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

new ways to discriminate

Just ran across an article that some apartment complexes in Texas are refusing to rent to people who have extensive tattooing or multiple piercings. Apparently this policy is perfectly legal...but it's still pretty sad.

In a world where most people seem aware that outright racial prejudice and stereotyping are wrong (although not all...there are still schools that hold segregated proms), I'm always slightly disgusted at the new ways which people find to let their hateful sides out and be nasty to large chunks of the population for no apparent reason. This is just another example.

I'm not surprised, however. Every day when I walk around the campus where I teach, there's a great chance that I'll hear someone refer to someone they don't like as either "retarded" or "gay"...and every time I hear someone struggling for a new way to prejudge or oppress, as if they are actions necessary for life, I fear for the future of humanity a little more.

We've got a lot of work to do.

fall television review II--House season 4

Last year on House, the status quo changed nicely. This is something that this show is very good at doing. Season 2 ended up with House's shooting and "cure" of his bad leg. The leg went back to normal (meaning severe pain and disability), but the whole next season became about House's efforts to achieve normalcy in the rest of his life...through drugs, antidepressants, police harassment, and much else.

It ended cataclysmicaly, of course, with him losing his entire team. Rather than just applying the "quick fix" this season, though, the premiere promises to make "the quest for family/belonging and the haunting of the past" explicit themes for the rest of the year...but in a non-saccharine fun way, with sexual harassment and insults.

The episode ended with House auditioning a new team...out of 40+ candidates. This has the potential to stretch out for a while, and House does play well...albeit reluctantly...with groups. The "on next week's" segment brings back the old team, but in hallucinations...or alcoholic fever dreams, which I would prefer (imagine...if they were back but not really? for the WHOLE season?).

The writing was as sharp as ever. The House/Wilson interaction took on new levels, with House pulling the ultimate attack in a feud by breaking into Wilson's house and deleting tivo'd episodes of a reality show...personally, I'd kill whomever did this. And the House/Cuddy rivalry was also fun.

Line of the night?

Cuddy: Where did you come from?
House: Apes, if you believe what the Democrats say.

I need my House fix. I spent most of the summer working on a paper on this show, and even so, I was jonesing for the premiere...and it delivered the rush I expected, one I'm gonna have fun riding all season long.

fall television review I--Chuck

Last night, for professional reasons (no lie--I love being a Culture Studies guy), I watched the TiVo'd season premiere of the new NBC show Chuck. For those of you not in the know, it is about a computer techie for some big box store (an obvious Circuit City Geek Squad parallel) who somehow (don't ask) has the contents of Homeland Security's computer database implanted into his brain...and thus becomes involved in the whole spy game.

While it was watchable, there was absolutely nothing remarkable about the program. You have a tv show featuring a nerd character? This said nothing new or interesting about nerds. Guess what: they suck at dates! they play video games! they watch online porn! they're socially inept! Stereotypes, every single one of them.

The spy community didn't fare much have the stereotypical hot lady spy and the slightly paranoid and violent guy spy. Also, this seems to take place in a Los Angeles devoid of either Blacks or Latinos...or any non-Caucasian ethnicity.

I object to a lot of the standard television output, mostly because so much of it is totally lazy, and this show was a typical example. There is very little thought going into this program. The characters are dull and predictable.

It's a shame, because it gives one the impression that all network tv is this unimaginative. This show does have potential, criticize the "big box" store mentality, the geek stereotypes...let's hope they actually can follow through.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

the ghosts of crappy cars past

My first car was admittedly not was a very solid 10 year old Chevy Impala. Of course, I wrecked the thing after about a month by running into a pickup truck carrying a horse trailer, thus shortening it by almost two feet. Compounding this was the fact that it wasn't actually my was my father's, and that led to some difficulties.

Second car was a '73 Valiant that was classic, had a torque-filled beast of a motor, and would blow IROC Camaros off the line. It also leaked oil and had some bad seals and heads, though. This one died after I wrecked it by running it into a 3-yr-old Monte Carlo SS.

Car three was a '73 Duster. This was the ultimate hell car. The motor was a very sluggish slant 6. The driver-side door didn't open from the outside. The passenger door didn't open from the inside. There was no foam left on the seat, so I had various raincoats wedged down there to stop the car from giving me a steel spring enema. It had a vinyl roof that was covering large pockets of rust, and one time when I was on vacation, it rained so bad that my Dad had to drill holes in the floorboard to drain out the water. Ever since that day, there was a constant mini-ecosystem within that consisted mostly of a weird, sticky, indestructible green mold that I had to scrape off the surfaces weekly. It got horrific gas mileage, and people were embarrassed to be seen in it...which limited its potential as a make-out car. I eventually pawned it off on my brother, and then it threw a rod one week later.

Car 4 was a 80-something Honda Prelude. This would've been a nice car if the previous owner hadn't trashed it. The transmission slipped and the a/c didn't work. Plus, a Prelude is not a big car, and I am 6'5", so it looked like I was getting out of a clown vehicle. Eventually, the tranny died, so we managed to drive it up to the junkyard and sell it before it completely shut down.

I then got my parent's old Oldsmobile, which I still drive today. It was really nice and swanky when I got it...power everything, cold a/c, looked immaculate. For a while, I briefly had panache.

That was a long time ago, however, and age has definitely ravaged this set of wheels. I did some mild front-end reconstruction to the car...meaning I had a few accidents. One was caused by a squirrel running in front of the car in front of me...the squirrel lived, even though I still want it to die horribly. Then someone pulled out of a parking space in an icy lot without seeing if anyone was coming...and I was, so I crashed into them. Then there was the mishap with a parking garage metal pole...

My Olds hasn't only suffered collision damage, however. The driver-side back door decided to just quit working one day when I was hauling a friend to the airport. Then the driver's window quit working. Shortly thereafter, the a/c died...of course, this happened in the middle of the summer...and I can't get it fixed because it's too ecologically unsound and requires an expensive conversion kit, and I am, after all, poverty-stricken.

The last thing to happen was that the fabric hood liner started to bubble and come down. At first, this was just an annoyance. After all, no one really likes having cloth hanging on your head when you drive. So I bought the special spray bottle of adhesive, but that only kept it glued for a day or so...then we were back to ceiling fabric bubbles.

It grew worse, and I finally had to resort to a staple gun to get the increasingly vast volumes of billowy fabric off my skull. This worked for a few months in spite of the staples not really having anything to grab onto. Over the last few weeks, however, all of the fabric glue gave out, and the weight of the cloth became more than the staples would take, so the whole fabric sheet flopped down about a foot below ceiling level. Even worse, dried up glue started to regularly shower me whenever I hit a bump in the road.

So yesterday, I got to attempt exploratory surgery on my car. I went up to the local coin-op car wash, took a razor knife to the fabric, and cut it away. Dried glue flew everywhere, and I was thankful for my forethought to buy a dust mask. I then had to rip out all the fiberglass insulation over the whole ceiling. Finally, I vacuumed out all the debris, which took four cycles of the pay vacuum cleaner. The only difficulty was my arms and legs itching like hell from the insulation for the rest of the night.

The car now looks pretty cool inside. My ceiling is down to bare metal framing, and it is uber-industrial. I fear that when we get snow, the car is going to be really friggin' cold, though, and I will have to take care not to lick it, unless I want my tongue stuck to my car roof...but I think I can manage that one.

Unfortunately, I still can't operate my window, and the a/c still doesn't work, but I'm just taking baby steps...and keeping in mind that one fine day, when I'm rich enough to afford a Kia, I'll look on this car and laugh.

tunes on the road

On the way to work today, I was listening to Jesse Malin's latest album, Glitter in the Gutter. It's not a magnificent album, and if you try to listen to it while you're working, you're going to want to kill someone. BUt it works very well indeed in a fast-moving car.

Of course, being the overly analytical type that I am, I needed to figure out why it works better in the car. If you are just sitting down to "listen to music," this ends up being rather monotone and one dimensional. In a car, though, you don't need to have dynamics because, chances are, the wind noise would drown out any intricacies.

Where you are listening to music and how you are listening to it are just as important as what music you are listening to. The equipment and the environment determine an awful lot of your reactions.

Ever wonder why 60s pop music is so boring? They were writing for AM radio.

Think about it.

but a star uses this brand...

Yesterday, I got to do some emergency repair work on my car using a razor knife (do you really want to know?), and I thought it would be a good idea to get a dust mask. So I went to the local mega-annoying box store and trooped over to their hardware aisle...and I saw the most amazing thing there.

Amy Wynn, celebrity carpenter for the TLC show Trading Spaces, endorses a particular brand of dust mask. Yes, you can use the same type this hot wood-cuttin' babe uses to keep sawdust out of her lungs.

Celebrity endorsement has officially gone too far.

Monday, September 24, 2007

the future of civilization is in the tea leaves

The other day, I bought a bottle of "gourmet" iced tea...something I normally would never do, but I had an upcoming meeting and was thirsty enough to ignore the fact that I was paying $1.89 for something I could make myself for pennies.

The shock came when I looked at the label. Ingredients? Water, tea essence, tea concentrate, caramel color, and some unpronounceable petrochemical compound.

Iced tea is the simplest thing in the world to make. You boil water. Pour over tea leaves. Let sit. Strain out the leaves. Chill. This ain't brain surgery, folks.

Why did they need concentrate and essence when leaves would've been just as easy? Caramel color? What are they hiding with this? Why would you need chemicals?

If we are living in a world where something as simple as tea has to be chemically engineered and sold as "gourmet," the end of society as we know it can't be too far behind.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

chopping down walls

The other day, I was watching American Chopper. For those of you not familiar, it's a reality/documentary show about an upstate New York family that builds custom motorcycles.

This didn't sound interesting to me in the abstract when I first heard of it, but my first show turned out to be a fascinating hour of television, and I am totally hooked. More than anything, it's a study of how machismo, family, and business interact. Hint: they express love for each other by yelling.

Anyway, last week's episode had a segment where the son/chief designer went back to his junior high and spoke to the kids who had learning disabilities. Paulie Jr. has them himself, had to get special help in high school, and he was there to give them a bit of inspiration and help them realize that in spite of their difficulties, they can become huge successes.

In what's usually an hour of machismo, it was quite brave and refreshing so see him admit to a disability. It also filled me with hope. If someone who's held up as a macho icon can admit to learning disabilities, maybe there's hope for society as a whole. We need to destigmatize and inform, and talking is the only real way we can do this.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

this time, maybe I'll get it right

I walked to the post office today and boldly mailed out a job application. It's the first of yet another year on the job number 5 (or possibly 6). Naturally, this mailing came with mixed emotions.

During my time trying to get a tenure track job, I have sent out possibly over 500 applications, and I have seen a lot of weird stuff in that time. I've gotten numerous one sentence rejections. I've gotten campus interviews without phone interviews. I had one rejection notice that started out with a paragraph on the candidate they did hire and her wonderful qualifications before saying "needless to say, this means we will not be considering your application." On the same day that one arrived, I had one rejection notice that was a five paragraph explanation of the process, and it was the nicest letter I've ever seen. I've been told in interviews that my skills were exactly what the institution was looking for, only to be passed over for a campus visit without notice.

Frankly, it's weird, and I hate the whole process. The worst part is that I have a hard time getting honest, straight advice from people as to why the hell I don't have a tenured position yet. One year, after getting passed over for 100+ jobs, I had three different people tell me my application material "looked fine." Um, obviously not, fellas, but thanks for the effort.

Putting yourself on the job market is such a risk to the ego. You are judged on your abilities, intelligence, and potential for a future career on the basis of five pages of written material. Suddenly, the stupidest things become major concerns because they might kill your chances for a job. Did I use the wrong font? Do they want me to use a breezy tone or look like a gearhead? Should I go out and buy expensive woven paper with watermarks? Will they dump my application if I use a Darth Vader stamp on the envelope?

I knew I'd be facing all these dilemmas and heartaches, but I really need to move my career forward. While I have possibly the best Lectureship I could hope for, it is still a non-tenure job, and I spend so much time grading (especially in the fall) that I have to struggle to do research. So many of my friends have moved away, and I don't have the money to see them. I have to go to conferences to be an active scholar, but each one puts me a grand or so in debt. I love teaching, but I get more value from the writing and research I don't seem to have the time to do. So I need to either move on or figure out another career path.

This summer, I did everything I could think of to increase my chances of success. I finished a book proposal (which looks very solid, if I might say so myself) and started shopping it around to several publishers. I got an article on class structure within the academy accepted for publication, and I was able to persuade a journal to fast-track my already-accepted article. I wrote two new articles and shipped them out to journals, and I recycled an old paper for a third possible publication. I have enough stuff on the go to make me look like a serious scholar as well...and if this doesn't help, I might have to scream or listen to Motorhead.

I've also undertaken a vast revision of all my job material, and my cv now looks fun and shiny. I'm currently debating between two basic job letters. I'm scouring the web for job postings. I've gotten a ton of great advice and help from friends and colleagues. Overall, I am in full "let's get Mike a job" mode, and I have high hopes.

It's the final step to becoming a grown-up (at least in some ways), and I'm ready to take, let's hope I don't screw up.

Monday, September 10, 2007

on further contemplation

Maybe the whole quality of television thing I brought up in my Dr. Who post has to do with the sheer number of episodes a year they have to produce. There's usually around 24 episodes per year of a show, minimum. Can you produce that much stuff and not have it come out stupid?

Of course, there are great American shows that don't treat you like a moron...The Shield, Dexter, The Sopranos, and so forth. You only really get them on pay channels or cable. It's the networks that have to do wall-to-wall programming and, as a result, get so many episodes of each show that the quality has to suffer.

Once again, everything is the fault of the big businesses...and let me tell you, that makes me feel much better.

Doctor Who

After a very long delay, I've gotten back into Dr. Who... watched the first two episodes of season 2 this weekend. If you're not familiar, try either BBC America, SciFi, or get the back episodes on Netflix.

All I can say is, wow, why can't American television be this good? Dr. Who is very cool, and that's not just because it's a scifi television show...something our major networks never seem to attempt. What's remarkable about the program is the depth which they give the characters...all the characters.

The good guys all have some sad, pathetic, or scary side to them in addition to their standard hero tendencies. The bad guys also have emotion and depth. Everyone is sympathetic to some degree, even the people/creatures you end up loathing.

In short, everyone in the show is a well-rounded, 3-d character...kind of like in life. In our standard American tv shows, there is a firm reliance on moral binaries. The good guys are all very good indeed. The bad guys are all totally evil. If there's someone who is a hero, our shows want us to root for them 100%. If there are villains, our shows will make them totally unredeemable.

Why are they trying to brainwash us? Why doesn't our entertainment ever treat us like reasoning, logical adults?