In which I have Things To Say.

This is not a post about the Triangle Fire.

This is not a post about suffrage, or equality, or family history.

This is not a post about the perils of unrestricted capitalism, of individualism run amok, or of anti-labor sentiment spilling into violence.

But all of these things are part of it. I am part of it.

This is a story of what unions mean to me.


My great-grandfathers and their fathers worked union jobs, in union shops, while their wives ran the farms, raised the children, made ends meet. They came to this country, all of them, hoping for more. And many of them fought for unions, for socialism, for their children, for the rights that every person deserves. With grade-school educations, they watched their children finish high school. That's what unions gave them.

My grandfathers both worked railroad union jobs. Their pensions are union-won pensions, and their politics are Labor Democrat, with the flaws and the triumphs that label implies. Unions have given them a political identity that has outlasted the strikes, the jobs, and over half a century of history.

My father was a trucker, and then a shop steward, before becoming a manager who wears a uniform and works the factory floor as much as any of his employees. Every day, my brother works a union job. Every day, my husband works a union job.

Unions built my hometown, and when the union jobs started to disappear, so did the city I remember. It's dying, fading away into history, cracking into a shadow of what it was. It is the Rust Belt, writ small.

But my grandmothers worked union jobs, driving a school bus and serving school lunches. My mother worked a union job for twenty years, taking care of other people's newborn children.

My sister's first job was a union job. She finished graduate school, working a union job. Her son went to daycare with the money from a union job.

The women I come from didn't ask for leisure or extravagance or special treatment. But they expected to have enough if they worked a fair day's labor, and when they didn't, when there were layoffs and cutbacks and excuses, they expected the union to help.

They expected more, whether it was the right to vote or equal pay or family leave or the choice for themselves to raise children or wait. Each of them, each generation, wanted things a little better for the next, and for as long as my family history goes back, unions have been a part of that. We are union, even when we aren't.

My first paycheck job included union dues. So did my second, and my third. Since then, I have worked for a city, a state, and the federal government. Every job I have, union or not, is better than it would be if unions didn't exist.

Every time I hear (or see) someone complaining that unions don't do enough, that unions aren't needed, that unions are obsolete, that unions interfere with business, I know that whatever we have done, my family and millions like it, whatever we have whispered, argued, shouted, it isn't enough. I know that not everyone knows Lowell, Centralia, the Haymarket, the Triangle Factory. That not everyone remembers Gompers, Debs, Moyer, Robins. That not everyone can tell the story of American labor in a hundred years of fighting and working and sweating and reaching, always, for a better life, for more, for fairness and justice and enough to survive.

There is no union for my profession, but I still reap the benefits gained by union members, benefits that spread out into the system until we think of them as constants, as natural rights. Unlike cutting taxes for businesses and the rich, union successes really do create gains that trickle down. Unlike natural rights (or perhaps exactly like them) these are gains that require our repeated, vocal commitment.

Unions are not supposed to give us everything we want. They are not supposed to overthrow the system. They are not supposed to do all the work, while we reap the benefits. Like any other social entity, they will only accomplish the goals for which we are willing to speak, to stand up, to take to the streets and the squares and the state capitols to defend. Unions are us, the people who labor and hope and ask that a country be more than profit and ledgers and the shiny trappings of capitalism.

Unions are supposed to get us what we need, if we give them our full support. Union demands gave my grandfathers and grandmothers schooling, instead of factory work. Union demands gave my father unemployment insurance when the economy tanked and there was no other money to pay the mortgage. Union demands gave my parents health insurance, to keep me alive when my lungs drew tight and every breath whistled like drafty windows.

Because of unions, I can choose to work overtime for more pay. I can choose not to work overtime. I can expect my workplace to be safe on a daily basis. I can expect a contract that lays out my rights and responsibilities, and those of my employer. I can expect days off, and regular breaks. If I get sick or injured or fired I can expect help from my government, even if it isn't enough to be comfortable. I can expect a minimum wage. All because of unions.

I can expect that my nephew will not have to quit the sixth grade and go to work. I can expect that my parents won't have to choose between working until they die and starving.

I can expect fire alarms and escape routes and enough light and ventilation and space to walk from my desk to the exit. I can expect that if the building catches on fire, the fire doors will not be locked. The fire doors will not open inward. The fire doors will exist.

And so we return to the beginning. One hundred years ago, 146 people died horribly, jumping from windows and tumbling from a fire escape, toppling into elevator shafts as the flames roared close, burning to death where they stood. They died because they were locked into a factory that demanded the exclusion of the union in exchange for employment.

But it isn't the fire that makes those 146 lives important. The fire, the tragedy that has littered my feeds today (but not enough, still not enough), that fire was only the tipping point, the moment that everyone realized unions were only asking for the bare minimum, for the things that anyone had a right to expect. Those balls of fabric, flame, and fear were people, women and girls and children and men. They were horrible, and galvanizing, and the coda to the story we ought to tell.

The year before, garment workers from the Triangle Factory started a picket line that grew into a strike that became thousands upon thousands of workers, all asking for more. They stood in the cold and the rain, against beatings and lies and imprisonment. They stood, and they demanded, and they were heroes in that moment, worth remembering for that bravery. For claiming for themselves, as workers and as women, some measure of justice.

We wouldn't have remembered them. Not for that. But we should.

That should be what we remember—that they stood up. That they fought, and the longer they fought the more the city stood with them. That when the bosses paid thugs to beat the strikers, when the police watched and allowed it, when the arrests and the workhouse and the supercilious magistrates didn't end the strike, other women joined in. Women stood on the picket lines and they spoke to the papers and they were more powerful, together, than they perhaps imagined. It was a strike begun by a woman, championed by women, for women's rights and workers' rights.

And we should remember, we should never, ever forget, that months later, when those women went back to work, the Triangle was one of the few shops that wasn't union. The locked doors, the empty fire hoses, the useless buckets of water in a cramped tinder box of a factory, the bent and broken fire escape, were all the result of someone cutting costs. Of saving money, at the expense of lives. Of the bottom line.

Unions are in my bones, my history, my identity. They are wound so tightly though the roots of my family tree that there's no difference between the labor movement and the names I've been given, the names of my great-great-grandmothers and their daughters.

Everything I am, I owe to a union. Everything I've had the chance to do, the education and the thinking and the writing and the teaching, has happened because somewhere, years ago, someone decided that the time had come to take a stand. To make demands. To say, as loudly as possible, that good intentions are nothing, absolutely nothing without contracts and solidarity and the will to walk out. Even if it doesn't always work. Especially then, because if it doesn't work this time, maybe it will the next. Hope, more than anything, is what unions mean to me.

Don't tell me that the days for collective bargaining are past. If workers don't stand together, then they won't stand at all.



Tammany Hall Redux?

I've been watching, reading, and listening to a lot of the discussion going on with regards to the primaries. And I continue to be certain that it's one huge nightmare that I'm sure we'll all wake up from at some point.

But until that time...

There's a lot of stuff going on that has me scratching my head and going "Huh? Haven't we already learned about this from...oh...history class?"

The plan is simple…and oddly, has been out there for those who are paying attention to see.

I missed it for a while. Then I heard about it. And as soon as I heard about it, I started getting flashes from my HS/undergrad history classes and discussions of Boss Tweed, Chicagoans voting twice—even the deceased, and Eleanor Roosevelt’s New York Committee for Democratic Voters.

Here’s the plan as reported by Politico:
Senator Barack Obama’s campaign is steering the candidate’s wealthy supporters away from independent Democratic groups, calling into question what had been expected to be the groups’ central role in this year’s Democratic offensive against Senator John McCain.

Obama’s national finance chairwoman, Chicago hotel mogul Penny Pritzker, told supporters at a national finance committee meeting in Indianapolis May 2, and in other conversations, not to give money to the groups, people familiar with her comments said.

“From the beginning of this race Obama has told supporters that if they want to help his effort, they should do so through his campaign,” said Obama spokesman Bill Burton, who confirmed that Pritzker has told donors not to give to the groups. “And he means exactly what he says.”

Most presidential candidates say they don't encourage the outside groups, and donors are accustomed to taking those words with a grain of salt. The candidates' words are typically seen as mere legal defenses against allegations that the campaigns are illicitly coordinating with outside groups.

Organizations like VoteVet, ActBlue, EMILY’s List, and others are about to feel the chilling effect of a political cold shoulder as the campaign seeks to take more and more control of who gets what money and why. Stoller points out that
"I'm also told, though I can't confirm, that Obama campaign has also subtly encouraged donors to not fund groups like VoteVets and Progressive Media. These groups fall under the 'same old Washington politics' which he wants to avoid, a partisan gunslinging contest he explicitly advocates against."

Ummm…gunslinging, Matt? VoteVets is an advocacy group that seeks to help veterans. It’s currently involved in trying to help Senator Webb pass a GI Bill that will help vets afford to pay for their college education—something that both the recent plan (intended for peace time soldiering) and Sen. McCain’s bill do not do as well.

And while I get the “grudging respect” that seems to be handed to the Chicago School of ‘Old School’ Politics graduate, Sen. Obama, with regards to his organizational style, I am pulled short by the shades of machine/boss based politics—Tammany Hall and Chicago Politics—and how quickly these machinations spiraled down from “ward based politics” into the “patronage driven” system that allows only the “approved” to have access and the very entity that Jeff Smith stood up and railed against in his filibuster—GRAFT.

Senator? If you want to take us back to the fine old days of Boss Tweed, say so. Don’t try to candy coat it with soaring, yet triangulating, rhetoric about “being above politics”…cause you aren’t.

Is this a path we want to go down...again?

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This is not something I ordinarily do, but...

The original post is specifically labeled as being link-friendly, and it's a conversation that goes on in lots of different places at lots of different times, usually with a great deal of handwaving and very little real discussion. So. A livejournal guide to not being That Guy.

(Whoops. I meant to add in this, which both neatly summarizes and links to several related discussions, including the blog post that started the whole conversation. Again.)

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So that was a nice little break we had. And Priya was absolutely right in pointing out that I (for a number of reasons, none of which are important here) have been gone for quite a while.

However. New things are afoot, and the posting around ptsd is about to become, if not frequent, at least intermittent and sometimes topical.

Anyway. Watch this space.


Always hated goodbyes.

Especially since, for me, that means no more family get togethers for years (rather than months) and not much in terms of being spoiled by/getting annoyed by family on holidays. It sucks.

But, sometimes, it's necessary. And what better time than now? I reckoned I might as well make it official--PTSD was supposed to be E and I and since neither of us is doing much writing here, it's probably best we (well, I) lay it to rest. Fear not, those of you ("Hi Sis!") who read this for my repeated whinges can find it elsewhere. Teaching experiences and odd stuff about books, comics, politics and films will continue. And, E might want to keep writing here. PTSD'll be around but probably not very active (not much change then :))

Oh, yes. Before I go, one bit of news: Australia elected a Labor PM for the first time in over a decade. A chap who'd snuck out of a UN meeting* to visit a New York strip club (where he was warned for "inappropriate behaviour"--good on you, Mr Rudd!) and whose party has Peter Garrett (yes, that one) as its environmental spokesperson.

And, thank you readers. It's been fun.

* I can speak from experience and say that I am not surprised at his wanting to duck out of it.

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teaching, conferences and rats

Took over Prof P's class during Karin Fierke/Discourse Analysis session. Half the class was missing so turned it into a Q&A session in which I asked questions and expected them to answer/elaborate upon points we were making. The students didn't seem to expect the Q&A and took a while to start responding and asking questions of their own but it went off well.

Today, I had one of those classes when you know it's one of those days in which you'd rather not teach but just take things as they are and see how they go. All a rather fluffy way to say we sat and chatted about development, colonisation and globalisation--all in one one-hour session.

Why was I substituting for Prof P yesterday, yous ask (or, let's presume you do). Well, because he's off at SmallRegionalConference. I, on the other hand, am not. But, if I were, here's what I'd be doing.

Yesterday's Pearls Before Swine. Go here and check Rat.

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sometimes i want to throw the book at the wall*

As I sit here, flipping through the (required) text book for my class tomorrow, I come across this:

"This is the century in which desperate African states will be able to press their demands with weapons of mass destruction, and in which fanatics may destroy cities with nuclear weapons" (IR textbook)

Right. Exactly. Those African states. Huh.

* Though, with this book, it will probably bounce back and hit me on the head.

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one of those posts which will piss off everyone (except my Mum)

This is actually a self-congratulatory, "oh look how brilliant I sometimes am" post.

I just had an email from a former student from my Introduction to International Relations Research course from last semester. This student is currently in China (along with another of my students) for a semester abroad programme and he wrote an absolutely lovely email about how useful my class had been, how he had enjoyed actually doing research in my class and how some of the ethical issues we had grappled with had come up in the course of his current research. He gave examples of how the research tips we had talked about in class are helping him now.

Since I've spent a lot of time this semester agonising about whether how I am teaching my students World Politics is actually helping them*, this was a great email to get right now.

It's a few weeks to Thanksgiving, but I feel I can't take all of the credit for this. So, yes, thanks to Weberman and Prof P whom I nicked my syllabus from and to all those who had to listen to my stories about my class.

It's also one of those "oh so this is why I do what I do" moments and, yes, it feels fantastic.

* Especially in view of a recent conversation in which I was told that to expect "them" to have "sophisticated views" is to expect too much of them. "What do they know?" was the question I was asked. My response at that time was silence. Now, I'd say it doesn't matter what "they" know--it's more important to see what "we" can figure out in the course of a 75-minute class session.

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teaching and television shows

Today, I had a guest lecturer in my class. In terms of figuring out different teaching styles, it was a marvellous experience to watch someone else deal with my kids. To watch someone else perform.

I've more thoughts about teaching (and learning) styles and about how universities should really make junior instructors sit in on each others' classes so we can all learn from each other but shall save those for a later time as I am in need of sleep.

In the meantime, keep yourselves entertained with these: a couple of shows about fairly similar subjects ("race relations") and targeted towards a "tween" audience. I've only watched two episodes of one ("Life is Wild") and one of the other ("Aliens in America") but that (obviously--I mean, this is what academics do) will not stop me from writing about both from time to time.

If yous are interested-the first is an American version of a British show and features an American family who has moved to South Africa to run a lodge. The second is about a Pakistani (I think?) exchange student who has moved in with a typical (Midwestern) American family. Hijinks (presumably) ensue.

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some random thoughts about groceries, mimes and teaching kids

A day in which I spend nearly two hours walking to and from the grocery store, get honked at by folks in a car* and learn that most people I know in Pakistan are okay. Which is a good thing considering over 500 have been arrested and emergency rule established. With friends like these...

I also finally caught up on my students' online discussions--it's pretty encouraging how they have started becoming more confident in their views through the semester and how they are all bouncing ideas off each other. Online. In the class itself, it's less dynamic though the security simulation last week went well. I've also got a few fairly difficult cases and am slightly worried about what to do with them. On the one hand, it's their first semester so I don't want to crush their spirits. On the other hand, if they slack off, they should get penalised. I'll see how things go.

I'm still horribly behind on my grading. So far behind that I've papers from early October as yet ungraded. Between being ill and suddenly acquiring a tendency to fall asleep at odd hours of the day, things have not gone brilliantly this semester. I'm eagerly looking forward to its end.

Oh, and I made $7 as a mime during the time of a metro trip. That's $7 in less than 20 minutes. I suppose I can supplement my (future) pay by being a mime on my days off teaching.

* Thought that only happened in my part of the world. I also think it's because I was wearing a "I'm a Berkeley grouch" t-shirt (with a Sesame Street character on it) and carrying a couple of rather dodgy-looking BigNameConference bags, overflowing with groceries. The bags were free and are very convenient for grocery shopping (especially when the grocery store I like going to is half an hour's walk away). One of the bags had "Power Reconsidered"--in bold blue writing--on it.

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A Mime For A Day

Proving there is a little bit of an exhibitionist in all of us (or, maybe just in the quiet ones), tomorrow I plan to embark on a journey. It will be a soul-changing pilgrimage in which I wander along the routes that many have traversed and, yet, received little in return from and will search for the essential "me" which I'm sure is well hid within.*

Or, to bring us all back to earth, I shall be a mime for a day.

Why, yous ask? Why not, I reply--mainly because I'm rather keen on seeing how it'll all work out. I'll update yous after the grand event. Oh, and Washingtonians, if you see a mime out and about in town, do say Hi.

* What about that, eh? If pushed, I'm sure I can churn out more along those lines--big words saying little making no sense.

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South Park and PhD Defences: Disturbingly Similar

I just finished watching the final part of South Park's Imaginationland episodes. If yous have not seen them yet, go find them and have a look. They're all about terrorists taking over Imaginationland and the events thereafter--lots of people from pop culture and "reality" show up, the US military tries to nuke Imaginationland and Mel Gibson proves surprisingly useful to the boys.

I won't say more since yous really have to watch it. One thing though--today's final part had discussions about imaginary and real things and whether things in our imaginations can also be real (or, what is reality really?)

Surprisingly (or maybe not so much), a similar concern was raised during an event this afternoon--a dissertation defence* of one of TUWSNBN's PhD-ers. In terms of ceremonial pomp, the defence was quite different from South Park. In terms of some of the major issues raised, it was rather similar.

* It was definitely a defence--questions flew around the table, assertions were made and countered, heavyweights such as C. Wright Mills, the Monthly Review and Ralph Miliband--but not his more famous sons--made cameo appearances, the popcorn gallery (such as we were) was ruthlessly marginalised as we sat and watched and were silenced from speaking but the outcome was the production of a successful doctor of philosophy.

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The mandatory Halloween post (but with not much to say)

Happy Halloween, folks!

I spent most of it being fairly intimately acquainted with the loo and cursing the 3-day old prawn sandwich* I scarfed down yesterday.

All in all, a pretty scary Halloween.

* Like Keane (see no. 4) I should have distrusted prawn sandwiches (yes, well, this will only make sense to PTSD's one football-following reader!)

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The "burn those heels! " post

Today, I actually did my usual walk to uni (well, half way there since I catch a bus part of the way) in a pair of shoes with actual, proper heels. If yous are interested in seeing what they were like, go here*

That meant I had them on all day.

During the course of the day, I managed to (literally) bump into practically everyone I know at TUWSNBN, was late to teach so had to detour through a floor I usually don't walk on (and tripped and almost fell on my way out a door) and actually did fall backwards while climbing stairs. The last could have been nasty but I was prevented from falling all the way to the floor by a rather helpful kid.**

I do have more classroom stories to share but am now sat at home, recovering from the shoes of horror so yous will have to wait till tomorrow.

* No, those are not the actual shoes I had on--mine were not "open-toed" and actually have lower heels. Still, for me, they were not low enough.

** Who commented, "I was scared you were going to fall on me"--well, so was I.

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what's the deal with this robert cox fellow?

I'm grading papers at the TUWSNBN's pitiful excuse for a PhD office. I'm also listening to some of the freshers discuss Critical Theory as they prepare for their presentation for IR Theory.

A couple of points: the ongoing debate about whether a "discussion of Marxism" is necessary when describing Critical Theory

and, "this is absolutely great. I love it. I want to know it inside out"* followed by "did anyone criticise this? I mean, how can they--there's nothing to say"

* Somewhere, many Critical Theorists (those who are still alive) are jumping about in joy.

For me, it's rather interesting just how much these people seem to know compared to how little I knew that stage. Perhaps that is why I am still here, even after all these years, plodding away at this whole dissertating/teaching gig.

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"we" the people of wherever...

A round-up of a few things since I don't have time for much else:

1. The class is going okay. I wouldn't say (write) it's going brilliantly but it's not going too badly. Another instructor and I had a long talk a few days ago and we both agreed that we hated the text book but we have been dealing with it in different ways. I have used it as a "reference" and assigned articles to the kids. He is using the book and realising it is not ideal. Hah.

The thing we both are having issues with is: how much is enough? Or, when I get one class session of just over an hour to cover "terrorism", what do I talk about? The problem I've been having (and my colleague agreed) was that we both tend to think we should cover a set amount of stuff and we end up talking too much. It's bloody frustrating.

2. Life: Life is not going okay. I mean, it's going but it's not great. I'm sure yous don't need to read all about that here so I'll save it until I see/meet some/all of yous in Real Life (if I do).

3. Midterms: I'm actually amazed that almost all the kids seemed to have understood most of the concepts well and can apply them on various occasions. The most popular section was my "self-made" section, in which I gave them two assignments.

In the first, they had to read a "foreign" newspaper for 5 days and answer a list of questions based on what they read. Then, they had to discuss how that country's "interests" were defined and communicated and, finally, relate what they read to concerns here in the United States.

In the second assignment, I proposed that Iran "was actively seeking to improve its nuclear capabilities" and then asked what different actors would do, in such a case. I then listed a few questions (Including: "Where would Iran acquire nuclear material from? Justify your answer" and "how would daily life for Iranians be affected--provide evidence from online sources")

For both these questions, the students spent a lot of time speculating on various actors, the differences among various actors and a few of them even proposed elaborate plans for what would happen. I enjoyed reading these.

Things I didn't enjoy reading? Well, the many, many common grammar mistakes that native English speakers made. During my undergrad, there was a class called "Effective Writing" which all students had to take. Most of my students here would greatly benefit from a similar class instead of some of the classes they are required to take.

The highlight (as a learning experience for me, too!) so far? One of my essay question asks: "Is democracy-promotion a policy worth pursuing? Why or why not?"

Almost half my students answered this question, including some international students. All the American students answered it as "Should WE (i.e. the United States) promote democracy?" but without specifying this. They then used "we" liberally throughout their answers. None of the international students did so.

I wonder why? I've noticed that I, too, don't talk about "We" (the Nepalis). Even when the discussion is about Nepal, I say (and write), "they" or "the Nepalese people".

Saying "we" automatically gives a kind of legitimacy to what is being said especially in view of the person speaking being part of the "we". It is difficult to argue against statements like "we believe in democracy-promotion". Though, does "we" have a place in an academic essay? I say No. Not just because it's "unacademic" (whatever that may be) but because it is unreflexive.

But, I think it needs a different person than me* to explain the relations of power-knowledge inherent in identifying oneself with the dominant global power. Or, behind using terms such as "we" and "we promote democracy" while blithely unaware of the assumptions underlying such usage.

Right. Off to grade some more midterms. Hopefully it won't be a week before yous have to read all about my oh-so-exciting life again.

* Again, an "effective writing" course, which discusses issues of power (as mine did!) and the concept of reflexivity would be fantastic.

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the week so far (or, how I learnt to stop whingeing and love grading)

Monday: Finished grading one section of a graduate-level course I'm TA-ing for. Happened at 4am. Slept.

Tuesday: Got up at 7am. Thought that there was something that I needed to do. Ah yes, the lecture for my own class. Contemplated calling in sick. Realised it was "security" day and decided to ad lib.

Class went surprisingly well. We talked about issues of "traditional" security and "human" security.

Wednesday: Ditched the Dalai Lama to have lunch with two out of three dissertation committee members and a rather nice globalisation scholar (NGS). Wore a proper shirt (with jeans and a pair of red shoes) as a concession to formality only to find NGS was one of those typically-casual and amusing European types who wouldn't have cared if students had shown up in flip-flops. Joined 3 other TUWSNBN's PhD-ers in listening to said scholar's talk. It was all about how the state is now obsolete.

Felt rather miserable since my dissertation is all about the state. Wondered how to inform it that it was irrelevant and useless as various "transboundary" stuff was going on.

Graded. Unendingly. Still haven't gotten to my own class's grades yet. Slight panic.

Thursday: Only day off. Threw some more stuff at the floor, messed up the desktop even more and spent much of the day (you know what's coming up by now) grading. Still not even half-way done for the graduate class. Panic increased.

Decided to quell disaster by wandering off to the Verizon Centre to watch the Caps. It was "Student Rush" day (hence cheap tickets) but the Caps lost (as they tend to do when I watch). Displeased.

More grading. More last-minute lecture-writing. Realised that "following the text book" would have made for a much easier class. Instead, read the articles on "Security on Film", cobbled together a quick lecture (with a few pictures) and started off class discussion with this question:

"Why are we quite happy to celebrate the Dalai Lama and give him medals while worrying about Islamic theocracies?"

Got dirty looks for being a Conservative nutter type. Was informed the DL was "all about peace" and "looked harmless" (good way to get into issues of representation here)

Then, asked them whether the US would see it as a security threat if Gov. Arnold decided that California should secede from the United States and then establish his own "Terminatorland" where everyone would have to follow some odd religion*. Got them to think about this for a while...then discussed representations and contexts.

Finished up with a (slightly militant) commentary on representations replicating power relations in the world. Talked about the film Bridge on the River Kwai (which was mentioned in their reading) and about media ownership (Rupert Murdoch).

Not quite sure how all this went--was too tired to think. Went home, graded some more.

Blogged. Just to show how incredibly dreary and without-much-spare-time the life of a postgrad student/teacher is.

* One student yelled out "Jedi" at this point--led to another tangent about quite a lot of people picking "Jedi" as their religion in the last British census and speculation about the outcome of a fight between the Terminator and a Jedi.

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Oh, New Zealand!

NO, I'm not about to talk of rugby but of this: "New Zealand police hold 17 in terror raids".

Read the article further and you'll realise the operation was "reportedly targeting Maori sovereignty and environmental activists - not foreign groups".


"The North Island raids were the first use of the country's Terrorism Suppression Act"

The reason why I find this interesting?* Well, take a look at what I've put up--this is the first time the Anti-terror law has been used and its been used against citizens rather than foreigners.

Keep in mind that New Zealand has, traditionally, been represented as a small power state in the international system which cares more for socioeconomic development and environmental concerns, provides foreign aid to regional countries (including Nepal) rather than for its military activities. In fact, most military activities rely upon joint alliances with Australia and the United States. Its Prime Minister is a former anti-war campaigner (during the Vietnam war) and fought against establishing foreign military bases in New Zealand.

New Zealand was seen to be in the forefront of economic growth, strong relations with Asia-Pacific, forward-looking immigration policies and, compared to other Western countries, fairly good relations with its indigenous community.

Now, this. I'm not saying these people weren't planning whatever it is they were supposed to be planning when practising during their "military-style training exercise". Merely that the use of Anti-terror laws and the identification of local people as terrorists is likely to lead to a dangerous area where the state can label any group they do not like as "terrorists". I guess my concern is this usage of "terrorism"--why weren't they arrested for "setting up military-style camps" (if that is illegal in New Zealand) or for "acquiring firearms"? Why weren't they (merely) criminalised instead of being called terrorist? Aren't we expanding the definition of terrorism to incorporate any and all types of illegal activities by doing this?

And, yes, getting back to the personal--it's New Zealand. A country of sheep and friendly people and a love of sports. Not terrorists. But, then, I thought the same thing about Nepal (well, apart from the sheep bit--we have mountain goats and yaks).

* apart from the purely personal reason of LilSis1 living in the country--in one of the cities where they carried out the raids.

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The 9:30 Club: Still Awesome

I'm thinking of turning this "academics should have hobbies" thing into a series. This time? A little DC live music review.

Even if they're getting a slightly wider variety of acts in these days, it's still absolutely worthwhile to head down and see a show at the 9:30 Club. I wasn't overly pleased with finding out that Josh Ritter wouldn't take the stage until 10:00, but between the bar and the crowd-watching, we managed to keep entertained.

Not the sort to sit around on the balcony, we scoped out a space on the right side of the stage, a few feet from the dreaded speaker towers. I work on the assumption that if you can't feel the bass in your sternum, you might as well stay home.

Old School Freight Train, the openers, had an alt-country/rockabilly set that was impressively well done. They played like a band used to much smaller venues, sticking to the center of the stage, and not really playing to the balcony at all. But they sounded good, and seemed to be having fun. There's not much more you can ask of an opening act.

Well, that and a fiddle player who clearly thinks he's the cool one of the group.

But this is where my first irritated observation of the night comes in--how hard is it to stop and listen to a 45 minute set? We had no trouble with it even without knowing the band, and yet during every song break the dull hum of conversation was clear. If, as an audience member, you're planning to hang out and chat until the headliner goes on, wouldn't it make more sense to grab a seat at one of the local restaurants until 9:45 or so?

Still 10:00 rolled around, and we had a small debate about whether the crowd was bigger than the last Josh Ritter show we saw, in February at the Birchmere. (Turned out it was--Josh said it was his biggest crowd stateside, which earned him a lengthy round of cheering.)

The last tour was acoustic, and if the change in openers hadn't clued us in, the first set of songs would have--"Moons" and then a lot of other new stuff, broken up with older favorites like "Girl in the War" and "Harrisburg." The new album is fantastic, different from his old stuff and really well suited to the livelier crowd that was there to hear it.

Well. Most of the crowd, which is where we come to my second complaint of the night. I have a little problem with people coming in late and pushing to the front of the crowd. But I put up with it, figuring that I'm easily tall enough to see over, and if somebody loves the music enough to be seriously rude and push in front of people, I can cut them some slack.

But when four girls, all dressed for a dance club rather than a concert, push themselves and their drinks through the crowd to the front and then proceed to text message and talk for most of the show, I find myself strangely unperturbed by the knowledge that in ten years they'll probably be deaf from standing directly in front of the speakers.

Seriously. It was rude to the audience, it was rude to the band, and that little hair-flip thing? Did not endear them to anyone. Nor did the random efforts at dancing, which seemed to involve trying to strike down anyone nearby with a well-placed (if unrelated to the current song) back-and-forth shove of the shoulders.

Given the situation, I felt absolutely no guilt about screaming in the nearest one's ear at every opportunity. Or about singing, probably off-key. Given that none of them knew any of the songs, I doubt it did much to lessen their concert experience.

(And although, yes, I am a music snob, in this case I feel justified. On three distinct occasions, I heard one of them point out that they didn't know what was going on, didn't know why certain bits of patter were funny, and didn't know the songs. Just...if you have to be ignorant about something, try to pretend to care about what you're hearing. It's not difficult. It involves standing there and keeping your mouth shut. And not having your phone out to send text messages during the set.)

Anyway. Despite the minor annoyance, the show was brilliant. Josh seemed to really be having fun, feeding off the energy of most of the crowd and the harder sound of the new record (which is wonderful. Have I mentioned that? Because it is and you should go buy it right now) and the band. His stories were just as wandering as ever, funny and a little odd, and the love for what he does was obvious.

His bafflement at the presence of actual people from North Dakota was sweet, and he gave a quick reference to the live webcast of the show on NPR. After that, it was mostly music, from the rock beats of "Rumors" to a rousing rendition of "Kathleen."

And the encore, which featured an acoustic song and then a quick joint number with Old School Freight Train (both of which I really ought to be able to pin down, but it's late and I'm tired and my brain has decided to call it a night) was a great way to round out the evening. All in all, every time I see him in concert I like Josh Ritter more, and this was no exception. He seems comfortable with the new songs, and although he was lovely to meet last time he came through and charming in a completely different way, he just seemed to be having more fun this time around.

And now I just have to remember to buy a ticket for The Academy Is... next week. They sound nothing like Josh Ritter, but it's looking to be a great show nonetheless.

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the Daily Show, "Dark Liquid" and details of a field trip

is the Daily Show "borrowing" Dark Liquid off us?

Or is it all a coincidence that Mr Riggle's fake film script on a charismatic leader who established a private army had the same (fake) name as the place-I-visited (and wrote extensively about) last year?

Does this mean I can have an alternative career as a writer/presenter for the Daily Show (they do need more women, in my view).

The PhD gig is not going too well--call me, please Mr. Stewart.

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