16 August 2003


15 August 2003

Fair and Balanced Friday

Neal Pollack has declared this day, Friday August 15, to be Fair and Balanced Day. (Link via Jeff Cooper.) The idea is to shame Fox News Corporation for its ludicrous lawsuit against Al Franken.

I've already had something to say about this (see below a few posts) when I (jokingly!) threatened IA with a lawsuit since she frequently uses the phrase "Grad Student," a term I would like to think has come to be identified in the public mind with, well, me. Yes, I know. That's ludicrous, but so is Fox's lawsuit.

Pollack suggests that we should all Tell Fox News to take its Fair And Balanced slogan and shove it up its Fair And Balanced hole. Feel free to be more subtle than that, if you wish.

I think that says it all. I don't feel any need to be subtle about this.

"A Poisonous Divide"

Nicholas Kristof has an excellent column today about the growing influence of anti-intellectual religious fanaticism in the United States. He writes,

The result is a gulf not only between America and the rest of the industrialized world, but a growing split at home as well. One of the most poisonous divides is the one between intellectual and religious America.

Some liberals wear T-shirts declaring, "So Many Right-Wing Christians . . . So Few Lions." On the other side, there are attitudes like those on a Web site, dutyisours.com/gwbush.htm, explaining the 2000 election this way:

"God defeated armies of Philistines and others with confusion. Dimpled and hanging chads may also be because of God's intervention on those who were voting incorrectly. Why is GW Bush our president? It was God's choice."

Kristof further suggests we are in the midst of another Great Awakening. I think there's something to this statement. Awakenings aren't necessarily bad things...after all, the Second Great Awakening gave rise to some of the most powerful and lasting reform movements in our history--including abolitionism. But I don't see any similar reforms coming out of our current evangelical trendiness. Instead, I see bigotry. The same website Kristof links to in his column has a section on September 11th that says

Those who were Christians [who died in the WTC] were immediately delivered into God's welcoming hands. The others will forever torment the perpetrators of this evil for eternity in Hell, where there is no restraining love.

If that isn't self-righteous and bigoted, I don't know what is. One might also reference the recent right-wing Christian cries against gay marriage, also among the most bigoted rhetoric I have ever heard. Unfortunately these forces are in the ascendancy right now, and I'm not sure how this will end.

Squirrel 3, Grad Student 0

A phone call to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals revealed some interesting kinks in Massachusetts wildlife law. It turns out that it is illegal to trap and re-release wildlife in MA. You can trap a squirrel and kill it, but you can't trap one and bring it to the big park at Fresh Pond. I guess it is this kind of legislative insanity that makes MA famous the world over. So, I consider this a victory for Squirrel. After all, I can't stand the twitchy-tailed critter but I am also unwilling to murder him.

The friendly MSPCA folks suggested hardware cloth to block the screens, which I wedged into place yesterday, and a home-made squirrel repellent involving onions, jalapeno peppers, garlic, and cayenne pepper, which is currently bubbling away on my stove and filling my tiny apartment with an ungodly stench. After it has cooled I'll be spraying it all over the window screens. I promise an update as soon as I have an idea of how effective these remedies will be. Perhaps I'll be able to declare Squirrel MIA and a Grad Student victory???

13 August 2003

Squirrel 2, Grad Student 0

Well, this morning I walked into my kitchen to find my fat furry antagonist calmly seated on the counter, right in front of the sound repellent thingie, munching on my last cinnamon donut. To add insult to injury, the damnable creature peed all over my placemats. And he didn't run when I walked in, he just sort of waddled back to the window and out a new screen hole. Good grief. There's nothing like having to breathe in Lysol fumes while disinfecting one's kitchen before 8 a.m. Why me?

I am now in consultation with my landlord for getting the little bastard trapped and removed. I'm thinking Harvard Yard as a removal point. He could grow even fatter on student leavings and on crackers thrown by bemused Japanese tourists.

I'll sue, I swear

Following IA's lead, I think I will hearby declare that "Grad Student" is a registered trademark for this blog. Anyone who uses it, I will sue.

I mean really. The phrase "fair and balanced" is often used, generally speaking, to refer to the ideal journalistic endeavour. Just because Fox News wants to use the phrase to refer to itself does not mean that it becomes off limits to everyone else. What would happen, I wonder, if I wrote a work of history entitled "Fair and Balanced: Anglo-Dutch and Anglo-Swedish Trading Practices in the seventeenth-Century Chesapeake." I don't know why anyone would write such a book or even title it that way, but you see what I mean. This trademarked Grad Student hopes Al Franken wipes the floor with the neocon freakazoids over at Fox News.

12 August 2003

Squirrel 1, Grad Student 0

Late last week I went into my kitchen for a glass of OJ and saw that my floor was strewn with unwrapped pieces of chocolate knocked from my pantry shelf. Panic set in. Visions of mice, even rats. (I like mice and rats in the abstract. Mrs. Frisby, Stuart Little, Nichodemus, and Templeton are among my favorite rodents ever. I just don't want them in my kitchen.) I promptly summoned my boyfriend to take me to his place for the evening. Yes, I remember the part in Little Town on the Prairie when Pa's hair is partially removed by a mouse. I didn't want to be bald for the beginning of the school year so it seemed like a good idea to sleep elsewhere.

The following morning featured frantic calls to my landlord, who promised to send an exterminator but also filled my head with visions of traps, rodents with broken backs, and desperate squeakings in the night. I don't want them in my kitchen, but I don't want them dead either. But, all this worry turned out to be unfounded. For that morning I noticed a hole in my window screen that hadn't been there previously. And sitting smugly on the window sill, on the inside that is, was a fat gray squirrel. It eyed me curiously before leaping down onto my pantry shelves, securing a piece of Toblerone chocolate raspberry, and disappearing back out the hole in the screen.

I was relieved, to say the least. Squirrels seem a lot more harmless than mice or rats. And this one could be kept on the outside, right? I patched the screen and disinfected the entire kitchen (having to throw away plenty of food the squirrel had raided: cheetos, tortilla chips, goldfish crackers, packets of cocoa, a bag of flour).

Squirrel chewed a new hole in the screen.

This time I heard him knocking around in there and rushed in screaming like a banshee. Squirrel darted out the window, leaving a somewhat smaller mess in his wake. I shut the window.

Squirrel chewed a hole in the screen of the other window and made off with parts of a rum-filled chocolate bar. Two things are certain here: one, this squirrel is a stubborn little bastard, and two, he has a monumental sweet tooth. I shut both windows, but with the heat and humidity and the wiring in my building being too ancient for air conditioning, the kitchen quickly became unbearably hot. My solution was to open the windows, repatch the screens, and sit quietly in the other room doing dissertation reading, with one ear pricked for kitchen sounds.

This time all I needed was a slight rustling to leap up and bound into the kitchen yelling. Squirrel didn't even make it in the window that time. Ah, victory. Ten minutes later I beaned him in the head with an oven mitt. The evening was calm, quiet, and squirrel-less.

I went to bed last night leaving the windows open only a crack. I was awakened this morning at around 6 to the sound of something crashing in the kitchen. Yes, not only can Squirrel chew through screens, apparently he can push the windows open enough to actually get in under them. He was in the process of chewing through one of my amaryllis bulbs when I burst in, sticky with sleep, to hurl the salt shaker at him. I missed. He leapt out the window, and I am back where I started, with a messy kitchen and closed windows.

My landlord has promised to have the miscreant trapped and removed. Removed to where, exactly, I don't know. But in the mean time I am off to purchase yet more screen patches and perhaps one of those thingies you plug in that emits high-frequency sound to repel rodents. Squirrel might be winning right now, but as John Paul Jones would say, "I have not yet begun to fight."

04 August 2003

Amused by Silly People

It has occurred to me that the title of this blog might be more appropriately (out)rages of a grad student instead of (a)musings of a grad student, since it seems that most of the time I am outraged rather than amused. But in the case of this story, I find myself more amused than outraged.

One California parent is refusing to abandon her campaign to have sexually explicit books removed from classrooms in her school district. Pamela LaChappell has been calling on the Modesto City School Board to drop the offensive literature from its required reading list.

For months now, LaChappell has been warning parents, grandparents, and taxpayers in Modesto that some of the literature being used in the city schools' advanced English classes is sexually explicit and so offensive as to be considered X-rated. She has taken her concerns to the school board, which so far has refused to drop books containing graphic details of child rape, incest, and necrophilia. Instead, the board has released an annotated list providing brief summaries of each required reading selection.

Naturally I thought Playboy must be available on the magazine rack and there must be video porn on the shelves of Modesto's school libraries. Not so.

The works that have La Chappell so upset are Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits and David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars. Both are suggested reading in the school's International Baccalaureate program.

I have not read Guterson's book but Allende is one of my favorite Latin American writers. Building on the tradition of magical realism embodied by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez (another of my favorite writers), her books are stunning meditations on the violence of Latin American military dictatorships, with more subtle themes about colonialism, racism, and sexism mixed in. Yes, there are rapes in her books--truly horrific ones. It is disturbing to read about the rape of a young Indian woman by a powerful white landowner, or to read about the rape of that landowner's granddaughter in a military internment camp. But these scenes speak to readers metaphorically as well as literally: the highly stratified class systems of Latin American countries and the power of the military "rape" entire countries and this rape is symbolized in the violation of individual characters. It is no accident that Isabel Allende writes about these topics: she is the niece of Salvadore Allende, the elected socialist president of Chile, who was killed in Pinochet's CIA-backed coup d'etat. For students in the IB program, understanding the history and literature of other cultures is key. Reading Allende's work is one way of accomplishing this, and getting students to think about tough issues.

I am amused by LaChappell's inability to see into this supposedly "x-rated" material's true meanings. I know I should be more concerned, especially since my own school district went through a spasm of book banning with similar allegations when I was in high school, but it seems the issue is getting very little attention in Modesto (a quick search of the archives in the Modesto Bee revealed no recent stories about obscene reading material). Interestingly, Mrs. LaChappell's children don't even attend public school: she home schools her children.

Which of course begs the question: why does she care so much what other children read? Beats me. It has always been a mystery to me why people line up to denounce obscenities in books they've never read, and why anything foreign to their own experience automatically becomes filthy, evil, and corrupting. But there you have it. When I read stories like these one, at first I laugh. But then the sadness kicks in. The imaginations of Pamela La Chappell's children must be barren indeed.