In Tunis, it seems that everyone speaks French, and if they don't speak French, they speak Arabic with accents out of the tenth arrondisement. I, misnamed as I am, do not, so communication could at times be dicey. I understood our cab driver when he told us (en Francais), as he whizzed an inch by the fender of the car stopped in the fast lane (they're all fast lanes), that he was the Schumacher of Tunisia, and was tuned-in enough to pun (in English) that I'd almost rather he be Willie than Michael. (Shoemaker, you see.) But I was much less confident that any understanding was reached when we asked him if he would return to the Bardo Musum at five o'clock. Partly this doubt was due to my confusion over whether our proffered "cinq heures" would lead him to arrive not at 5 p.m. but after five hours, but mostly I was worried that we should have mangled "dix et sept" instead as the twelve-hour clock might be to him nothing but a long-abandoned anachronistic chronometer.

See, I'd been reading Charles Stross's Singularity Sky, and I'd gotten to the bit where Martin Springfield is being held by the secret police for committing a political infraction the nature of which no one will tell him. Stross writes, "Outside the skylight, it was a clear, cold April afternoon; the clocks of St Michael had just finished striking fourteen hundred [ . . . ]" For some unlikely reason, my mind stretched back to the opening line of Orwell's 1984, which was always an eerie and ominous annoucement to this American reader, the clocks striking thirteen carrying a sense of otherworldly strangeness, plain wrongness, and invoking a hint of triskaidekaphobia. But had I grown up with the twenty-four hour clock, I may not have noticed any peculiarity.

I have no idea when the United Kingdom or the rest of Europe adopted the twenty-four hour clock for civilian time, so I have no idea whether Orwell intended the reference as a frightening anomaly, an allusion to the weird way they do things on the Continent, a symbol of the regimentation of Oceanic society, or an only slightly futuristic bit of realism. Britain, though, has a history of resistance to such government imposed rationalizations. Famously, for a hundred and seventy years it regarded as suspicious popishness. I remember as a child encountering generation-old Punch cartoons lampooning the opposition to decimalization of the Pound, and I think the metric system was rejected for some time as being too closely associated with the French Revolution. My ignorant impression is that the British, or elements of British society at least, look at government-imposed rationalizations as perniciously continental. Then a generation grows up with the new system, and people are incredulous that their elders could ever have been such paranoid, parochial provincials.

Over here in America, we have a civic ethos built on our inalienable right to be paranoid, parochial provincials. We're lucky that the Revolution took place after the UK adopted the Gregorian calendar, or we might have obstinately stuck with the Julian at least until the Red Scare. We still treat applications of the metric system as a Euro-weenification roughly tantamount to letting the UN land black helicopters on our front lawns and force us to listen to Robbie Williams. And though we've since relented, we initially regarded one of the most widespread government-imposed rationalizations as a Wilsonian internationalism as threatening to the American way of life as the League of Nations. I speak of daylight savings. )
A few entirely random thoughts:
  • Libertarian-standing-tall Jim Henley calls "libertarian"-on-his-knees Eugene Volokh out for his complaint that the Supreme Court has created the possibility that "our enemies may use our freedoms against us." At the end of his post, Henley refers his readers for more to presumptive neoliberal Brad DeLong, the Social Democrats and academic Marxists over at Crooked Timber, and that extradimensional crustacean with plans for world domination, Fafblog's Medium Lobster. Politics really does make for strange blogfellows.

  • While driving down a rural highway in Michigan today, I saw a rickety shed made of saplings strung together with a hand-painted sign attached to it. I only read the top part of the sign, which must have read in full "Hunting blind for sale," but my urban/suburban conditioning led me to expect from the first lines that the complete message would be "Hunting blind can cost lives. Be sure to hunt only with a properly trained guide dog." I suppose, though, that the sign would be effective only if it were in braille.

  • The top story in the Arts section of Wednesday's New York Times treats the new bevy of skyscrapers going up over London. In my last couple of trips to London I've been flabbergasted by the new arrivals on the skyline -- I had thought that there was a municipal regulation preventing buildings from standing taller than the city's most famous and revered landmark. The article is accompanied by a spectacular computer rendering of the Thames behind Tower Bridge, surrounded by all the proposed new skyscrapers (though the Vortex, my favorite of the batch of unrealized buildings, is not to be found, the Times taking a more skeptical view than the Guardian on this issue at least).

    Walking between [ profile] rahael's house and her local supermarket, one must take a pedestrian bridge over one of the major motorways. This bridge affords a great view of the Gherkin, London's most recent hot skyscraper; on a clear day I could see even St. Paul's and the Millennium Eye. Rah and I got into an unintentional habit of timing our return from grocery shopping to coincide with sunset, though our last shopping expedition had us leaving the store just as the summer rainstorm ended and the sky was filled with a gigantic double rainbow, arching clear and completely across the eastern sky.
This, if true, is disgusting:
Bill Nevins, a New Mexico high school teacher and personal friend, was fired last year and classes in poetry and the poetry club at Rio Rancho High School were permanently terminated. It had nothing to do with obscenity, but it had everything to do with extremist politics.

The "Slam Team" was a group of teenage poets who asked Nevins to serve as faculty adviser to their club. The teens, mostly shy youngsters, were taught to read their poetry aloud and before audiences. Rio Rancho High School gave the Slam Team access to the school's closed-circuit television once a week and the poets thrived.

In March 2003, a teenage girl named Courtney presented one of her poems before an audience at Barnes & Noble bookstore in Albuquerque, then read the poem live on the school's closed-circuit television channel.

A school military liaison and the high school principal accused the girl of being "un-American" because she criticized the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's failure to give substance to its "No child left behind" education policy.

The girl's mother, also a teacher, was ordered by the principal to destroy the child's poetry. The mother refused and may lose her job.

Bill Nevins was suspended for not censoring the poetry of his students. Remember, there is no obscenity to be found in any of the poetry. He was later fired by the principal.

After firing Nevins and terminating the teaching and reading of poetry in the school, the principal and the military liaison read a poem of their own as they raised the flag outside the school. When the principal had the flag at full staff, he applauded the action he'd taken in concert with the military liaison.

Then to all students and faculty who did not share his political opinions, the principal shouted: "Shut your faces." What a wonderful lesson he gave those 3,000 students at the largest public high school in New Mexico. In his mind, only certain opinions are to be allowed.

But more was to come. Posters done by art students were ordered torn down, even though none was termed obscene. Some were satirical, implicating a national policy that had led us into war. Art teachers who refused to rip down the posters on display in their classrooms were not given contracts to return to the school in this current school year.

The message is plain. Critical thinking, questioning of public policies and freedom of speech are not to be allowed to anyone who does not share the thinking of the school principal.
(Bill Hill, writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, May 15, 2004. Stolen from a commenter in [ profile] marykaykare's journal.)

I attended a high school so liberal that I believe one could have been disciplined for praising President Bush. (Admittedly, times were different then, as were Bushes.) The concept of a school having a military liaison is so foreign to my experience that were the idea to be included in a nostaligic, corny film looking back at the 1950s it would would strain my credulity. Yet the idea that high schools contain martinets whose first impulse is to censor seems as natural as apple pie. Even my touch-feely principal, dedicated to letting his students learn in their own ways, once seriously suggested that he preapprove stories for my school newspaper. Of course, we had spent a fair amount of time in journalism class going over the relevant Supreme Court decisions, and weren't that happy with either Hazelwood or prior restraint. (Of course, the large majority of the newspaper staff had lawyers in their families.)

I still wouldn't describe my high school as censorious, though. This was in the days before the world wide web, when if someone had something he wanted to say but no one particularly interested in hearing it, he could still type up four or five pages of blather and masking-tape them up in inappropriate locations. They'd usually stay put until the janitor got around to cleaning the walls, and occasionally they'd even garner comments. It truly was the poor man's LiveJournal, at least for rich kids with an unbounded sense of privilege.

I had been occasionally expressing myself in this way as early as Junior High School, where I do remember running into one actual martinet who decided that my anarchist placards for the "Lunacratic Army for Penultimate Societal Emancipation" (always proceed from acronym to nym) was an incitement to communism, although I was a fetal capito-anarchist and my exemplar at that point was Thomas Jefferson (and the whole thing was a complicated jape at my Latin teacher anyway). Much of my eighth grade year was spent in shouting matches and this was no exception; I engaged this self-appointed bulwark against the forces of anarchism in a loud discussion of free expression and the First Amendment. I was for them. He taught social studies, too. Oh well, I have been led to believe of late that a few bad apples do not indict the entire institution.
Speaking of the Department of Defense taking steps to control the free flow of information, Mark A. R. Kleiman points out that the Pentagon has forbidden employees from reading the Taguba Report.

Basic math

May. 8th, 2004 07:30 pm
I might be getting transferred within the next week to anotehr post. At the very least, KBR is not allowing any private computers on their system for the next ninety days. There might be one other option, but if you don't hear from me for a while...God, I don't know what I'll do about the kitty.
Many of the incriminating photographs appear to have been taken on a digital camera by a soldier in the 372nd Military Police Company who is now facing a court-martial. From there, they appear to have circulated among military personnel in Iraq via e-mail and computer disks, and some may have found their way to family members in the United States.

[ . . . ]Digital cameras have become so ubiquitous in the military that many relatives of personnel in the 372nd and other units in Iraq said they routinely received photographs by e-mail.

Update: This may be overblown. [ profile] ginmar explains.
Fred Clark, the Slacktivist, makes me laugh quoting the results of a poll of Delaware residents:
The poll found broad support for full-day kindergarten for all children, which is available in only a few Delaware school districts. But the consensus broke down when it came to paying for all-day, with some saying they wanted "government" funding, others saying the "public or taxpayers" should fund it.
Bwah! I assume that far more people would prefer that the government pull the funds from its magical dragon hoard of dwarven gold than that the taxpayers should have to pony up the cash.

To be fair, in Delaware, as Clark alludes to, "the government" may be equivalent to "people driving through the state on I-95."

And also "the estate of Al Lerner," which I have long (since 1995) felt has a lot to pay for when accounts come due.

(ETA: Yeah, I feel no compunctions about going back and correcting my stupid spelling errors after people point them out to me.)
I lost a filling today. Wahhh!!! So tomorrow, I have to not only say goodbye to [ profile] rahael, but say hello to the dentist.

From the first political preference quiz disguised as a first-person shooter:

This is very inaccurate: I am not a typical Democrat, I'm the very atypical Libertarian who votes Democrat a lot. I love the idea of Starbucks, but their coffee is ditchwater compared to Caribou's. I consider The New York Times my Zend Avesta. And I only think less of some people from the South because we're directly related. Family reunions were often emotional hellholes.

And, yeah, I'm most likely voting for Kerry.
From, in rough order of appearence on my friends list, [ profile] gehayi, [ profile] scrollgirl and [ profile] londonkds: do I believe . . .  )



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