Saturday, January 30, 2010

Queen City

Is it wrong to take pride in one’s hometown? What if outsiders imply that one’s hometown has nothing a rational adult could possibly consider prideworthy? Not that this is in any way a fair characterization of my own childhood home, Lakeland, Florida – the Queen City of Western Polk County.

Well, I mention this because I did feel a slight surge of pride when my sister Betsy sent me a Ledger article on Doc Dockery, one of the prime movers behind the high-speed rail line that President Obama promoted in his Tampa speech last week. Mr. Dockery was relentless in following through on the high-speed rail issue, taking on more than one recalcitrant governor and various other politicians in pushing this idea through the Florida legislature.

This is what my Grandmother Yost used to call “stick-to-itiveness,” and Doc isn’t the only Lakelander to exhibit this quality -- as was evident in a hometown-relevant article sent to me last week by my friend Rachel under the cheery greeting, “Lakeland Drama!”

Rachel’s story was about the murder of Abraham Shakespeare, a Lakeland man who recently won an 11-million-dollar payout from the Florida lottery. Mr. Shakespeare’s body was found Wednesday under a 30 by 30 foot slab of concrete on the property of Shar Krasniqi, the boyfriend of Ms. Denice “DeeDee” Moore (no relation -- really), a woman described as a “person of interest.”

Anyone reading the article is likely to get the impression that the “interest” of the police in Ms. Moore is more than casual. In fact, she reportedly told Mr. Shakespeare that she would help him, “come up with a plan to drop out of sight to get away from people who were constantly asking for money and so he could avoid child-support problems.”

Once again the stick-to-itiveness of a fellow Lakelander shows its stuff. Think about it: If in fact Ms. Moore turns to out to have been behind the interment of Mr. Shakespeare, she can unabashedly say that her “plan” did everything she said it would for him:

Drop out of sight – check (!)

Get away from people who constantly ask for money – check

Avoid child-support problems – check

Admittedly there may have been some aspects of the plan on which Mr. Shakespeare was not briefed.

But here it is necessary to raise an ethical issue. No, not the impropriety of making light of a situation that, for at least one individual, can surely be considered a tragedy (guilty). I’m thinking about the child support matter. Was Mr. Shakespeare, with his 11 million dollars in the bank, seeking a way to avoid child support payments? If so, shame on you, sir. And if not, let me offer both condolences and apologies right here and now. As a fellow Lakelander, I can do no less.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

And the NTB Award goes to...

So it’s my birthday today and from my daughter Grace Marie I got two CDs (Spoon and Ben Folds Five) that I hope will help me seem hip. From Darla I got this great new jacket, deep navy blue in color and just the right weight. It also has some cool, secret inside pockets, but the less said about them the better. I wore it on my walk to school this morning and discovered when I got here that two big store tags were still attached and had been dangling merrily in the breeze as I was walking. Another Alzheimers-like moment.

I have to report this incident to my family since we have an annual NTB (i.e., Not Too Bright) contest in which the person who does the dumbest thing during the year is given an award and has his or her name inscribed on a plaque for posterity.

You may think my NTB jacket action this morning makes me a contender, but you would be wrong. I can readily fess up with little fear of winning this award, knowing the great capacity for spectacular nincompoopery that flourishes in my family. A much more impressive screw-up is certain to take the 2010 prize.

Some examples of NTB winners from previous years: Once my Mom continued watering a plant for a year, marveling at the beautiful blossom that never seemed to wilt before noticing it was made of plastic. My brother-in-law Bob once glued his foot to the floor by accidentally stepping on a tube of glue that he had just used to fasten a fitting in a bathroom he was remodeling. Since he had to stand still holding the fitting in place while the cement dried, it was some time before he discovered the glue in the tube under his foot had also had time to dry. Bob is so ambitious with his fix-it projects that we can often count on him botching something up in grand enough style to grab the prize.

My Dad once won by coating his face with what he thought was sunscreen during a sunny day on the golf course but discovering at the end of the match that the white crusty coating on his face was actually from a tube of shampoo.

I confess I did win one year for driving Grace’s car around with the cap off the oil pan so that oil spewed all over the engine creating a veritable smoke screen around us. I might have avoided the award, had I not been so foolish as to repeatedly assure her that the smoke was undoubtedly from excess oil that I had accidentally spilled on the engine block. That was too bad because that year my nephew Brett had what seemed like a sure winner: Dissatisfied with his job as a salesman at a sports shop, he had announced over the intercom while his boss was in the store that said boss “ate boogers.” I still think Brett should have won that year, but sometimes justice is not in the cards.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why Blog?

I am discovering that blogging is kind of fun. It has been said that most bloggers are just self-promoting egomaniacs taking advantage of yet another medium in which to indulge their narcissistic impulses. But I don’t see how this could apply to a guy of such extraordinary modesty and humility as myself. There must be another explanation for enjoying blogging. Maybe it has to do with voice.

Voice is an academic word that refers to the ability of someone to be heard. A famous article by Professor Gayatri Spivak called “Can the Subaltern Speak?” was influential in promoting the idea of “voice” as a source of power. I can’t recommend that article as an easy read though, since it isn’t one. It suffers from an all-too-common academic disease, obfuscitis, which is recognizable from such symptoms as dizziness, feverishness and an enlarged vocabulary.

Anyway, voice is the other side of audience, and audience is something that pretty much all of us want to some degree or another. There are people with an inherent capacity to be heard, people like the late Michael Jackson. In fiction people with loud voices include bold, domineering characters like Shakespeare’s King Lear famous for shouting in the face of a raging storm:

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!...
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!

But while Lear, brimming with self confidence, bellows out a challenge to nature to smite the world, there are others of us who, when faced with a Katrina-like hurricane, would feel more comfortable staying indoors and sending Mother Nature an email encouraging her to maybe calm down just a little. A blog offers the perfect voice for us.

I got the idea to blog from my former student Xiaolin Lu, Esquire, and from my friend Rachel whose Japan blog I followed with interest. Rachel also showed me how to set up a blog (I am, after all, going on 63), so if you don’t like something I write, you should blame her.

I wonder if this medium might be a good place for trying out jokes before I give my students the opportunity to enjoy them in class. Of course my wife, Darla, assures me that many of my jokes are not at all funny. But I’m not sure she’s the best judge of this. After all, people do sometimes laugh at my jokes. Admittedly these people are mainly students who have been told that laughing at my attempts at humor is a good way to earn extra credit. But I am certainly not so cynical as to believe this is their only motivation. Conan O’Brien hates cynicism and I am convinced of his wisdom on this point.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Don't Bring It

So, I wrote an article for my hometown paper, The Ledger of Lakeland, Florida

What I wanted to say was that the bloody attacks in downtown Kabul this week seem designed to discourage Americans and their allies in the same way that Tet was designed for that purpose in Vietnam in January 1968. But this aside, Vietnam in 1968 and Afghanistan today present two very different situations.

In both cases, however, we are engaged in wars which more intelligent policies could have helped us avoid. George Bush and Lyndon Johnson both seem to have had inadequate appreciation for the bloodletting that wars entail, and neither was honest to us about what each of these wars required.

I would like to see a law that requires us once again to have Congress declare war before we actually go to war. Secondly, in asking Congress to declare war, a president should be required to make a public presentation in which he or she discusses in detail the brutal and bloody deaths of innocents, including innocent children, that are inevitable in war. After the president talks about families being blown to bits by bombs in their living rooms and babies mauled by shrapnel in their cribs, assuring us that these are unavoidable aspects of every war, he or she should then turn to the public and say, "Knowing this, I nevertheless believe it is necessary to request Congress to declare war."

No more of this adolescent "Bring it on!" b.s.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

iPod World

OK, so my Beloved Darla gave me an iPod last Christmas and my dear friend Deb Bennett chided me for being so excited about it. Deb's exact words: "Well good for you! Reaching out to the 21st Century. Even I've had an iPod for three years."

I'm still loving it. This morning it occurred to me that I may be in some danger of being picked up by a passing squad car since I may give the impression that I'm a cognitively impaired homeless guy while listening to it. I say this because I sometimes involuntarily shout out an artist's name as his or her song hits my ears while I'm strolling down the sidewalk. This morning, while walking to school, I found myself shouting "Tracy Chapman!" when the opening notes of "Give Me One Reason," came pouring out of the little gadget. It was great because I love that song and I had forgotten that it was on my playlist. Then I remembered a similar thing happening yesterday: Just as I was walking into the Cornell Social Science Building I cried out "Bach!" I couldn't help it. At that moment a wonderfully sweet melody of Bach's had started playing, the one that's called "Jesus, You Are So Cool," or something like that.

Deb is right, I should have been doing this years ago.

Footnote: Tracy Chapman - anthropology major extraordinaire.

Help for Haiti

On finding ways to help Haiti, here is what my friend Rachel says about Partners in Health:

Partners In Health ... is another excellent organization based in Haiti, with an infrastructure already set up and ready to deal with the crisis ... PIH is an organization in Boston/Cambridge that has worked in Haiti for decades. It was co-founded in 1987 by Paul Farmer, medical anthropologist and MD who has worked tirelessly with others to alleviate suffering at the grass roots level and to bring attention to the global, structural problems that create these conditions of local suffering.

For up to the moment updates, and to donate, they've put up a secondary website here: