Wednesday, June 23, 2010

TED: Charles Leadbeater on education innovation

I got this via Twitter. (You're right, I never thought I would say that.) The "money quotes" start at about 15:00 to the end, but you'll lose some context. Do yourself a favor and just watch the whole thing.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Toy Story 3: Does "all other persons" include movie toys?

Someday, I will thank my friend at aftertheflood for introducing me to Crooked Timber. You don't need a hit every day (more like weekly), so you don't quite believe it's an addiction. They also have enough variety in the voices to keep me from staying mad at the entire blog for any length of time.

I direct your attention to the June 21 CT post Stinky Pete as Existential Hero. Here's a snippet:

Haven’t seen the new one yet (it will be the four year old’s first movie in the theatre, so we are trying to figure out a family expedition, so that everyone can enjoy him enjoying it), but its arrival reminds me that I’ve been meaning for ages to post on how Toy Story 2 maps out the major themes of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. They both are driven by the same basic idea – of highly intelligent, potentially autonomous creatures who define their happiness entirely in terms of the happiness of others. In Never Let Me Go, this makes the (liberal) reader quite queasy. In Toy Story 2, this is treated as an entirely happy and natural state of affairs.

The comments at the above post are a full day ahead of me and they're holding their own. So I will just note that any thread on a non-sf blog that references Gene Wolfe, Brian Aldiss, Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny without condescension can't be all bad. Eventually someone uses the "S" word (slavery) and the Stockholm syndrome in describing the Toy Story characters, and that's the other thing that caught my attention. As of this writing, no one has mentioned Al Capp's two self-sacrificing species, the Schmoo and the inexorably multi-racial Kigmy, but they're slouching towards such mention in the later comments.

The comments also link out to a related article at Overthinking It.

Have fun!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Be nice to your dad

Whether your father is still with us or not (mine's not) you can still be nice to him. Think about it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Blogging While Brown 2010

JJP reminds me to remind you that the Blogging While Brown 2010 conference is June 18-19 in DC.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Quote of the Week (June 13-19, 2010)

In honor of blog fuzziness, which seems to have infected me and several other bloggers (those I faithfully follow and those I just check on now and again), the following:

"And though I have now learnt that a garden is always in the throes of becoming something else, I still haven't come to terms with it."
     --Mirabel Osler

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A summer project of sorts: saving racist e-mail

Having spent a previous life in the U.S. military, I had to get pretty good at navigating institutional racism, and figuring out when people were being racist racist, being ignorant of history, or just occasionally pushing my buttons. (The last is actually a type of testing boundaries, of acceptance, of letting you into the club/treehouse; the first two are a type of rejection of you and your identity.)

I'm still in touch with some people I served with, all races, ethnicities, genders, creeds and orientations. I would go to the mat for a few of them to this day, and vice versa. Others, I wouldn't give a Heimlich to if they were choking on a salmonella-infested chicken nugget at the next table.

Anyway, there are a few who can't quite leave the military life behind, and their e-mail proves it. They rarely if ever update you on themselves or their families. They forward a lot of kick-ass photos of tanks, carrier landings, missile firings and such, as well as jokes that may have once evoked a chuckle in the geek's row during a middle-school assembly. All in good fun until they go political, then it gets strange.

There used to be a rule: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and especially Saturdays-- no, sorry, that's an old Woody Allen routine about a moose--

There used to be a rule: Pick on Democrats as weak on defense, suck up to Republicans because they'll always increase the defense budget, no questions asked, and don't acknowledge third parties at all unless fronted by verified ex-military guys like Ross Perot. Be courteous to a Democratic Commander-in-Chief because you honor the office, but that's as far as you have to go. They picked on Carter, even after living with Nixon. They picked on Clinton. So it's no surprise that since January 2009, ex-military folks whose bell-curved lives peaked when they were on active duty are picking on President Obama.

What has changed is that they can't help but bring non-political factors into the criticism. So the occasional e-mail about our current CINC is colored by thinly veiled remarks and asides, undue emphasis on the Hussein in Barack Hussein Obama, and questions about patriotism and citizenship that never would have arisen in previous Democratic administrations. (To be fair, there was a brief kerfuffle in the early '90s about a young Clinton visiting the Soviet Union as a student, but it was so darned minor as to be a non-issue.)

So this morning I was about to put one of my former colleagues on notice. Did he, a white veteran, forget I was black, or did he just think I was right of center? I wanted to tell him to cut the crap with his mass e-mails, or just not say anything to him and send everything from him to my spam folder. Then I realized that in an election year it would be nice to track what he was sending, to see if it really went over the top and pegged my race-ometer. So I'm not going to call him on it just yet. I'm going to track the mail over the summer and separate the merely patriotic and "support-the-troops" items from the treasonous, seditionist, anti-Presidential items. If it turns out there's a substantial amount of the latter, I may put my students on the case as part of their fall election-tracking. If there's a teachable moment in there I will call it making lemonade out of some quite racist lemons.

Everybody needs a hobby, right?

Friday, June 11, 2010

In case you forgot what month June is

As is every month, it is once again "America Has a Black President" Month, so get on with the celebration...

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2010 as African-American Music Appreciation Month. I call upon public officials, educators, and the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate activities and programs that raise awareness and foster appreciation of African-American music.
Hat tip to Bob Davis at!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Ghosts would be easier to handle

Two friends committed suicide this spring, and I just heard about the second one a few days ago, on June 1. Oddly, this has me thinking not so much about mortality, but rather about the relative immortality of our memories of those who have passed on.

Both deaths are relatively recent. One made the papers and one didn't. One had a memorial service and one didn't. I haven't been able to process much except that there are two people I will still expect to see around town or hear from, but it won't happen. A kind of circular thinking keeps me more aware of both than I might otherwise be if matters were normal-- i.e. if everyone were still alive and going about their daily affairs. Although I've gone through the motions with work and social activity, and continued posting in the comment fields elsewhere as if I didn't have a real life, some of it has been sleepwalking.

One person was a mentor and friend I checked in with and had dinner with now and again. We would talk academics and film history, and I have him to thank for my pristine copy of Donald Bogle's Toms, Coons, Mullatoes, Mammies & Bucks. Being able to call or e-mail in either direction was a given, as was receiving the occasional e-card on holidays.

The other was more of a business acquaintance, but our exchange of niceties had begun to include the personal over the past year or so, as can happen in business relationships. So we had started to discuss family ups and downs in the small talk that accompanies repeated meetings.

In suicides, the survivors (that would be us) tend to wonder whether they could have said or done anything. I am pretty sure the answer is no. This is retrospect, reconstruction of jigsaw puzzle pieces in each case, but direct knowledge is limited to what people actually say and do. When someone tells you that they're depressed, you should probably believe them. That was the case for one of my friends, who already had treatment in progress. Apparently it wasn't enough.

So the double whammy this spring will take me a while to process. I don't even do well when death is by natural causes.

My next post will be upbeat and, I hope, uplifting and on topic.

Quote of the Week (June 6-12, 2010)

Ordinary adults don't like children to speak of things that are denied them by their own gray minds.
     --Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair