Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Need Confidence? Try Tequila!

The outstanding El Guapo posted a link to this video, and I had to play copy cat. It's simply too damn funny.

Labels: , ,

Monday, May 21, 2007

Keep the Needle Above 75

Keep the needle above 75, and you'll get home before 11.

For most of the ride, the speed limit was 65. Fifteen over was reckless. Normally, he kept it at seven over, but he'd been on the road for seven hours, and still had at least three hours to go. Between 75 and 80 seemed like a reasonable risk. He wasn't worried about getting a ticket, but the time spent pulled over would cost him his alertness, and that was the only currency that mattered.

He didn't know why eleven was so important, but it felt like a line in the sand: home before eleven, and everything'd be all right. Home after eleven...well, he didn't know if he'd be able to make it home after eleven.

Keep the needle above 75, and you'll get home before 11. Damn, she was scary.

Scurrying from his car, he'd muttered "bathroom?," and the lady sitting in front of the gas station had idly waved to the right. Maybe she was clearing away her cigarette smoke or maybe she was swatting a gnat, but the bathrooms were, indeed, around the corner, and he'd heaved a sigh of relief as he drained his rock-hard bladder.

He hadn't gotten a good look at her, and was surprised to see how old she was. She looked fifty but was probably thirty, and her lank blond hair hung down the sides of her face. Her loose lavender shirt fell open when she leaned forward to give him his change, and he caught a glimpse of her pale dugs. There was something in the way she answered his every comment, in the languorous way she said "honey," that told him he could have her. It would only take a line, and any line would do.

The hackneyed and sympathetic: "So, when yew get off?"

The subtle and sophisticated: "Y'all sell rubbers?"

The redneck: "That a coldsore or yore man hit yew?"

There hadn't been many times when he'd been so deeply aware of another's attraction, and he felt an automatic rush of pride and something that felt like arousal. But he needed to get on the road, and her offering, while a little exciting, was ultimately unappetizing. He pocketed his change, grabbed his bottles of water, and got back on the interstate.

Keep the needle above 75, and you'll get home before eleven. God, I hate this fucking music.

He needed to listen to something jangly and sharp, like needles and broken glass. Something like Nina Hagen's cover of "I'm a Believer." He needed something that would irritate him, like fiberglas splinters in his fingertips or steel wool bellybutton lint.

The mellow Simon and Garfunkel tones of the Shins were definitely not getting it done. The music was soft, comforting, melodic. The wrongness of it started to get to him, putting his teeth on edge and making him damn the limited musical selections that he'd packed for the road. With a smile, he realized that the total, cosmic wrongness of the Shins made them the absolute perfect music.

Keep the needle above 75, and you'll get home before eleven. Jesus, I have to piss.

He'd started off with a few bottles of water and had picked up more at every pitstop. He'd interspersed them with the occasional can of iced coffee. Now the empties littered the floor of the car like gigantic cold capsules, and he imagined for a brief, wild moment that he was sitting in the bottom of Lindsay Lohan's stomach.

The water kept him hydrated, but had the side effect of filling up his bladder. An inconvenience at the best of times, a hard bladder was a real problem during an eleven-hour road trip. Still, it kept him wide awake, and as long as he timed it right, there was very little chance that he'd end up pissing on himself.

He hadn't miscalculated yet, but there was always a first time...

Keep the needle above 75, and you'll get home before eleven.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Diversion

Okay, still caught up in grading and like pursuits. In the meantime, I'm sending you Alexander Petrov's version of The Old Man and the Sea. I'm a little hesitant to put this up, as the two videos are, combined, almost twenty minutes. However, Petrov's style is unique and beautiful. He paints on glass, which yields a soft flow to his images. I think he captures the lyricism of Hemingway's story perfectly. The only downside is that the YouTube compression causes a little drop in quality. At any rate, here's part one:

And here's part 2:

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, May 07, 2007

Grading is Grating

Unfortunately, I'm knee-deep in grading. I hope to see sunlight by tomorrow, an I plan to post a few more this week. In the meantime, here's another Ella movie:

This version runs a little long, but it still seems like a good thing for a Monday.

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 03, 2007

This Thing of Darkness

Okay, as a (now former) teacher, I'm officially allowed to have a few favorite Shakespeare quotes. One of these is the line that Prospero says at the end of The Tempest. Speaking of Caliban, the twisted servant who recently tried to kill him, Prospero says, "This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine."

I really love that line, both for its mildly goth structure and for the honesty that it contains. While Prospero is proud to acknowledge his intelligent, beautiful daughter Miranda, he must also accept responsibility for his deformed, angry slave Caliban. This rings true: as any parent will attest, it's easy to take credit for a successful, brilliant child, but much harder to admit responsibility for a shambling disaster.

Case in point: I proudly admit a measure of responsibility for my former student Ian MacFarland. A couple of weeks ago, Ian published copies of Seung-Hui Cho's plays on AOL news. Ian told me that he has received a great deal of criticism for this, but I think that his reason for releasing the plays is sound:

[I] put myself in the shoes of the average person researching this situation. I'd want to know everything I could about the killer to figure out what could drive a person to do something like this and hopefully prevent it in the future. Also, I hope this might help people start caring about others more no matter how weird they might seem, because if this was some kind of cry for attention, then he should have gotten it a long time ago.

The publication of these plays also had a more immediate effect: they opened up a wide-ranging discussion of Seung-Hui Cho's conduct in the university and the myriad warning signs of his impending breakdown. In the weeks following Ian's release, numerous other students and teachers have come forth to talk about Seung-Hui. A consistent picture has emerged of a disturbed recluse who openly discussed his bizarre fantasies of murder and torture. According to various reports, Seung Hui repeatedly stalked his classmates, wrote revenge fantasies that seemed to target his teachers, and was a consistently disruptive influence in class. The question, of course, is why the University didn't do something a long time ago. As Virginia Tech has repeatedly pointed out, colleges have very few options in matters of student rights, but it's worth asking why the school didn't pursue this problem more agressively. Given Virginia Tech's claim that it "Invents the Future," one has to wonder why it wasn't invested in inventing a solution to this problem.

One major issue is the University's method, or lack thereof, for dealing with disturbed students. When issues crop up in the classroom, teachers generally follow the same protocol. We complain to a department administrator, who tells us that there's nothing we can do until the student commits a crime. We, of course, knew this already; we only complained so we could go on the record as having complained, which proves useful when the student acts out and the whole thing becomes a legal case.

That's it. There's no official procedure that we can follow, no university administrator to whom we can appeal. Nothing is written down, nothing is recorded, and nothing is done. I have been through this process a few times and have always found it to be a miserable, insulting experience. There's nothing quite like being told that your fears are meaningless and your safety isn't a priority to make you question your place in the universe.

As Ian points out, the situation is even worse for students who wish to report a problem:

While I "knew" Cho, I always wished there was something I could do for him, but I couldn't think of anything. As far as notifying authorities, there isn't (to my knowledge) any system set up that lets people say "Hey! This guy has some issues! Maybe you should look into this guy!" If there were, I definitely would have tried to get the kid some help. I think that could have had a good chance of averting yesterday's tragedy more than anything.

In Seung-Hui's case, the complainant was Nikki Giovanni. Because Nikki is Virginia Tech's only famous poet, her report holds a little more significance than the rest of ours. Still, she had to threaten to quit before Lucinda Roy, the head of the department, offered to tutor the student in her office. Even so, this was hardly a reasonable solution: Lucinda was terrified of Seung-Hui, but was repeatedly told by the University that there was nothing that could be done. Part of the problem here is that the University, and academia in general, is legally hamstrung in these situations. Because of privacy issues, the University cannot discuss student conduct with parents, and cannot compel students to undergo psychiatric evaluation.

Clearly, the University needs to develop safeguards to protect itself and its students. However, rather than use the April 16th shootings to pursue laws or internal procedures that will improve the situation, the University is in full lockdown mode. By April 17th, my department had sent out an e-mail stating that "Legal Counsel's office asks that you not make statements to the press or anyone while the investigation is pending." Fearing for their jobs, most teachers followed this directive. The notable exceptions were Nikki Giovanni, Lucinda Roy, and Lisa Norris. In the ensuing weeks, all three have become very silent, and I wonder if they were threatened.

A few days after the first e-mail, we recieved this message from the university: "Legal Counsel's office has asked me to remind you that it is inappropriate to speak to anyone, including the press, about a student's behavior in class. FERPA rights survive death. We must be especially careful not to talk about other students or similar cases of troubled students who have exhibited strange behavior in class." While I understand the need to protect a student's legal rights, I'm pretty sure that Seung-Hui Cho's family won't be suing. What I'm far less sure about is that other families won't sue. Of course, FERPA is less pressing in this case; the University's culpability is the real issue here.

When Tech realized that threatening the livelihoods of its professors had produced a truly disturbing level of silence, they relented. We were officially encouraged to talk about the tragedy, as long as we didn't discuss Seung-Hui. In fact, we were given specific points to push in interviews. Here's part of the e-mail that we received:

Next, I want to share with you the messages we think are important to convey. These messages are part of Virginia Tech's continuing efforts to support one another as our community regroups to grieve, heal and move forward:

1. We will not be defined by this event [...] as an academic family we will endeavor to analyze, learn and, ultimately, come to some understanding of the event. Our Principles of Community remain our values [...] Virginia Tech--our traditions, community, history, and promising future--will prevail. Our motto Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) underscores our spirit [...]Finally, everything we do as we move forward will commemorate, honor, and respect the numerous individuals affected by this tragic event.

2. Invent the Future [...] "Invent the Future" captures our role and spirit as a world-renowned research institution. Nothing in the events of last week will alter who we are and what we represent. When classes resume, our academic excellence, the commitment and talent of our students, and our clear role in shaping a positive future for the world will again be apparent. Hokies are, and always will, embody learning, discovery and engagement.

3. Embrace the Virginia Tech Family [...] We are a unique, special family--more enduring and closer to one another than a typical university community [...] Assisting the families and friends of those injured and bereaved is our focus. We are also committed to the assistance and support of one another [...] We will nurture the legacy of the 32 Virginia Tech family members we lost. The Virginia Tech family will celebrate their lives and accomplishments. Our memorials to them, both public and private, will reflect those sentiments.

It is also our intention to do whatever we can to promote the healing process within our community. We consider our communications to be a critical element of that process. We are regaining control of the Virginia Tech reputation and legacy, and believe these messages are crucial to accomplishing that goal.

My students have talked to me about the interviews they have given, and I have encouraged them to talk to the press. If Virginia Tech is to become stronger from this atrocity, I think it will have to do so in spite of its administrators, not because of them. Clearly, the University is neither prepared to nor invested in changing its institutional structure to ensure that this sort of tragedy doesn't happen again. Until Virginia Tech acknowledges "this thing of darkness," it will be incapable of protecting itself and its students against further atrocities.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Upgrade Renegade

Sorry for dropping off the face of the earth. I've been working on a few posts related to April 16th, and they're taking longer than I expected. I'm also trying to finish up grading while ending the semester with grace, dignity, and a minimum of felonies.

While I'm working through a few demons, I'd like you to take a peek at this. It's one of the videos that my sister Ella did of her performance art. It's called "Upgrade Renegade."

All the best,


p.s. This isn't total nepotism. This little movie never fails to put a smile on my face. Maybe it's the background music she uses!

Labels: , , ,