Thursday, October 31, 2013

Levinson’s 1st Law of the Marketplace

Law: Good stuff gets replaced by crap. 
Corollary: Not long after, a backlash offers good stuff as an alternative to crap – usually at a higher price for consumers who like to think they have discovered something new.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

a war lost

For the first time that I can recall, popular opposition stopped a war action by the U.S.  It wasn't just citizen resistance to another misbegotten incursion into someone else's civil war; the military thought it was a rotten idea too. So bravo for that -- or at least a sigh of relief.  For now. 

Yes, it's hardly a perfect solution: not lobbing Tomahawk missiles is a far cry from peace and a lot of people were let off the hook who should be on the hook.  Syria's violent revolution and its government's violent suppression of that revolution will continue (I'm not making an equivalence here; Assad's government has the power and apparently the will to be more ruthless), thousands of people will die, communities will be destroyed, hundreds of thousands of lives will be upended, and those mind-boggling refugee camps will continue to grow and grow and grow.  (Spending the cost of several Tomahawks there would be a way to start addressing that misery.)  Still, for one moment, our government has acknowledged, at least tacitly,  that not all international problems require a military solution, and for that, I'm grateful.

Friday, August 30, 2013

deja vu all over again

The U.S. is no doubt going to war in.on/over/with Syria -- with rush-to-judgement "evidence," little international support (or national, for that matter), and clear signs that we will be sucked into something we can't control.  I don't doubt for a minute that Assad is monstrous or that the people in Syria are suffering massively and tragically.  Nor do I doubt that Obama is a smart man and, unlike his predecessor, not keen to swashbuckle his way into war.  I suppose he's equally in thrall to the interests of oil companies and, like all presidents, unable to take on the military.

But, still, don't they ever goddamn learn?   

slow learning curve

When protests erupted in Istanbul at the end of May and police forces reacted with a sledgehammer response that was both brutal and unnecessary, my husband asked, "Don't they ever learn?"  We had left the Taksim neighborhood only days before, so we could picture exactly where it was happening and -- because everyone in the city seemed to be selling something or building something -- why.  But the "they" were the government, which responded as governments and others in power do when they think they're loosing control: they try for more control.

It doesn't work, at least not in the long run and not usually in the short run either. You can't keep the lid on when it has already blown off and by now you'd think someone would have learned that out-of-proportion responses only make things worse.

The mess in Turkey has been followed in quick succession by the crackdown in Libya, the coup and resulting slaughter in Egypt, the rigged trial of Bradley Manning (which would have been much worse had the military been able to keep the public in the dark, as it no doubt was counting on), and just yesterday, the 9-hour detention and interrogation at London's Heathrow Airport of David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has pissed off a lot of people by aiding Edward Snowden's in publicizing the U.S. government's spying on its citizens.

I don't believe that power necessarily makes people stupid, but I don't get why people in power are so blinkered when it comes to responding to challenges to their power.  I don't get why they don't ever learn.

Friday, August 2, 2013

what's good for the union?

In a letter announcing a vote on unionization of part-time faculty at Tufts University, her deanship wrote: "We do not believe that unionization is necessarily in the best interest of the University as a whole or of all of the part-time lecturers."  Not at all surprising and it reads as boilerplate, but it makes me genuinely curious to know if any administration -- aka management -- at any time anywhere in the U.S. did believe unionization was in its best interest. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

um, maybe there are better forms of protection?

"One of our primary missions is to protect the population over there,"
         Army Brigadier General (ret.) Robert Carr
         testifying in the sentencing phase of Bradley Manning's court martial
         about the damage his leaks caused "over there" in Afghanistan

Is this the Afghanistan version of: We had to bomb the village to save it?  And if the mission is to protect the population, maybe a good place to start would be not killing the people we're protecting callously -- as recorded in Iraq in the Collateral Murder video Manning leaked and Wikileaks publicized?  Or "mistakenly killing" 5 Afghan police at a highway checkpoint, as reported the following day?

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Sad Pleasures of Travel

cartoon by Edward Gorey
"For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go," wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. "The great affair is to move." To move, to go, to travel; the need can be so great as to be almost a sickness, away-sickness, maybe, an untamably sweet longing to go somewhere that will never be your home among people you'll never know well enough to belong to.

When I was little, my uncle gave me storybooks with pictures of kids around the world: a Dutch girl surrounded by tulips and wearing a starched white cap with wings; a Chinese boy with a pigtail who slept on a brick bed heated by coals. They were cliches so bald it's embarrassing to think about, but I loved those books and wanted to be everywhere those children were. More than that, I wanted to be those children, each of them in turn. I think maybe the first real sadness of my life came when I realized that I couldn't.

Later on, I pinned a map to a wall and drew a red line along the routes I had traveled: Europe, the Andes, India and Nepal; for some reason, I didn’t chronicle the U.S. or Canada. Then I realized that all I had seen was what was on either side of that line, and that made me too sad to continue.

One night in the seventies, friends and I, probably stoned, created a travel agency of the mind. We'd offer package deals to tiny countries (Andorra, San Marino, Fiji), or to countries colored green on the globe, or we'd organize terrorism tours to the sites of bombings, kidnappings and assassinations. (Long before 9/11, I used to walk a version of that in Washington on my way to work.) We would call our agency Book in Haste, Repent at Leisure.

And why not, really? Once you eliminate travel for work or family obligation, you have tourism, and tourists have more pretexts than reasons for choosing one place over another. But once you do choose, the world becomes full of reasons: the tart crunch of the apples the Buddhist monk pulled like a magic trick from his maroon-and- saffron robe when we shared a bus seat on the world's highest highway; the Andean air that's ripe as cheese and thin as gauze (music and smells are most evocative of place and time); the moment the lights come on in Florence's Brancacci Chapel and you see the Masaccios for the first - or tenth - time. I have no words for that.

Friday, July 19, 2013

it's time part-time

     An article about the plight -- and burgeoning fight -- of part-time college faculty in The Nation. The comments seem to get hung up, as these things do, on how many women are asked to dance on the head of a pin and loses the focus: that part-timers are generally underpaid (academia is heavy-duty don't ask, don't tell when it comes to who makes how much), overworked, and underappreciated.

At Tufts, where I teach, our salary is considerably better than the average cited here and we're offered a benefits package, but we haven't gotten a cost-of-living increase or merit raise in 4 years and have been informed that those of us who have been there for any length of time -- the majority, I think -- will never see one again.  (My contract specifies that I'm getting the same amount -- down to the last 48 cents.)  Market rates, we're told.  No one actually says "salary cap," nor have they said explicitly, like it or lump it -- but that's what they mean.    As far as I know, no other group of employees at the university is in this position.  (And, incidentally, it sure looks like the majority of us are female and older. Or maybe we're just the ones who show up at meetings?)  Even those of us who have taught there for years and, by all accounts, are skilled, committed, hard-working and valuable teachers, are on year-to-year contracts, so we could be let go with no repercussions or recourse. (The only reverberations might come from students and alums, two groups who are hard to organize for any sustained action.)

I'm happy at Tufts; I like my students a lot, like teaching them, appreciate the facilities I and they have access to & the people who staff them.  When I used to work in arts administration (including a stint with the govt at the National Endowment for the Arts), we called that sort of thing "psychic benefits," noting that while those are nice, you can't eat them.

So it seems like a no-brainer that a union would give us some leverage, some bargaining power, with an ever more numerous administration (how many deans have had their pay frozen, I wonder?) and would help us protect our jobs, work situation and status.  We have no way to push back now and the administration, like all administrations, likes it that way.  They could have bought us off on the cheap and instead they chose to piss us off.

The larger issue -- the end-run around tenure, which results in an academic workforce that is increasingly fractured and harried -- is a political one, but my beef is more specific.  I don't like being pushed around and I resent being treated unfairly.  I'd prefer not to be in an adversarial position with people I used to think of as colleagues and friends.  I just want what I deserve.  Tufts talks big about being a community, but to us they talk about being a marketplace -- and it isn't a marketplace of ideas they have in mind..  

Monday, July 1, 2013

where you'll find me

See under "formidable" in the American Heritage Dictionary.  Really.  I couldn't make it up.  And (you'll excuse me if I boast) it's probably my proudest publication credit.

ohh, baby, baby, where did our love go?

Marriage being some combination of symbolism, legalities, and romance, the Supremes got it right on 2 out of 3 in ruling no mo DOMA -- or was it, stop, in the name of love?  So, though the robed 9 often give me nothing but heartache, I'd like to say to them, no matter what sign you are, somedays, we'll be together.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Friday, April 19, 2013

my city in ruins

April 19, 2013: So this is what it's like to live in a war zone.