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Monday, August 31, 2009

Madder Men

So last night we learned that Don is from Pennsylvania by way of Illinois.  Hey, I know that road!  For more about Don and the gang, check out Lauren Goodlad’s essay in today’s Chronicle of Higher Ed.

I’d do some Monday-morning Mad Men-blogging myself, but I’m tired.  What’s worse than housepainting?  Cleaning the garage, of course!  (It’s basically a big storage shed—you can’t get a car in there, or, if you did, you wouldn’t be able to get anything else in there.) And what’s worse than cleaning the garage?  Why, cleaning the garage after workmen have torn up your rotten parking bay that was full of pits and undulations that filled with water after every rainfall and turned into treacherous ice patches in the winter, replacing it with a gently sloping surface that drains water into the backyard, in a process that left every single thing in the adjacent garage/shed—rakes, brooms, bicycles, lawn mower, gardening implements, containers of motor oil and Armor All, stray golf clubs, assorted boxes and plastic tubs—covered with a layer or two of fine concrete dust.  So every last item had to be taken out and wiped down before I could get to the fun part, namely, sweeping a garage/shed floor covered with the detritus of many rains (because everything used to drain into the garage after a rain, see “rotten parking bay,” above).  Removing the two bags of concrete and the shattered remnants of the soapstone basement sink—approximately one trillion tons, give or take a pound—was a bit of a strain on ye olde neck bones, but it had to be done.  Though I admit I did, once or twice, think back to the conversation I had about eight years ago with the elusive Janet Lyon, in which I said “um, the house doesn’t have a functional garage, and that parking bay is a mess, and it’s really going to suck when it snows,” and Janet said, “oh, don’t worry, it won’t snow.” This being central Pennsylvania and all.  Oh, and the three steps leading down from the rotten parking bay to the backyard consisted of rotting railroad ties with large metal spikes sticking up through them.  I do wonder who thought that was a good idea.  But it’s all fixed and safe and sane now, and I will get some rest.

Posted by Michael on 08/31 at 10:04 AM
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Friday, August 28, 2009

Arbitrary and only slightly painful Friday

Well, the MRI was approved, though nobody called me on Monday or Tuesday to let me know.  So I simply showed up at the MRI door Wednesday at 8 and asked if I could come on in and have one.  After a little paper shuffling and a phone call, I got the thumbs-up, whereupon I put my keys and glasses in a locker and got ready to drink a tall glass of MRI juice.  Silly me!  I didn’t have an MRI before my appendectomy, I had a CT scan, and had to drink contrast dye.  You don’t drink contrast dye for an MRI.

Janet warned me that the MRI would be totally weird—loud and long and creepily claustrophobic.  But I thought it was cool.  It sounded a little bit like the opening of that NEU!* song “Negativland” followed by Einstürzende Neubauten’s “Autobahn.” So that’s today’s Arbitrary exercise!  What medical procedure have you undergone that reminded you of (a) German protopunk art/machine music (b) raga (c) reggae (d) kwassa kwassa (e) show tunes?


* Even though I hung out in the mid-80s with people who considered Einstürzende Neubauten good bedtime music, and even though I always did all my Kraftwerk, somehow I never heard of NEU! until the spring of 2008, one evening when I got into a cab at O’Hare Airport.  The driver was listening to some socialist “public option” station that happened to be playing a tribute to NEU! drummer and co-founder Klaus Dinger, who had recently died; the song they were playing as I got in was “Hallogallo,” the first song from the first album, and after a few seconds I asked the driver, “um, could you turn that up, like, loud?” (If you click on ye link you’ll find out why!) He was most pleased to do so.  Apparently, Dinger and Michael Rother were trying to compose a song that sounded like speeding along the autobahn, with the white lines and signposts flying by.  Suffice it to say that it was the best. cab. ride. ever, and I promptly bought two NEU! albums from the Internets when I got to my hotel.

I am, however, still waiting to find out what the MRI! says.  I was teaching two classes yesterday and then attacking a dissertation (thereby compelling the candidate to “defend” it), and didn’t have a chance to call.  This morning, I spent twenty minutes on hold before being told that someone would call me back.  So I’m just sitting here waiting for the phone to ring, listening to “Hallogallo.” Well, there are many worse ways to spend one’s Friday.  Have a NEU! weekend, everyone.

Posted by Michael on 08/28 at 09:29 AM
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New guest blogger

Hello, “blog” readers.  I’m David Broder, Dean of the Washington Press Corps and holder of the Vital Center Chair for Advanced Consensus Studies at the Institute of Moderation, and I’m filling in for Michael while he goes for his MRI.  Here’s my column for today:


The word this week is that leading Democrats are thinking about trying to pass health care reform without Republican support.  But if they remember their recent history, they’ll think twice before adopting the politics of rashness.

The year was 1993, and a charismatic outsider came to Washington with a plan for reform.  But not long after taking the oath of office, he embarked on a path of destruction that shredded the bipartisan comity this city had enjoyed for the previous twelve years.  By proposing a budget that increased taxes in a recession, Bill Clinton lost any hope of picking up support from across the aisle—and, sure enough, his budget passed by the narrowest of margins, with Al Gore, divisive as always, breaking a 50-50 tie in the Senate.  In the House, the “budget reconciliation” passed by a similarly unimpressive 219-213.

The rest, of course, is history.  Clinton’s budget bankrupted the Treasury, stifled growth, and led to massive unemployment, just as his critics claimed it would.  The “great leap backward,” as Newt Gingrich called it, returned America to the dark days of the late 1970s, with runaway inflation, skyrocketing crime, and disrespectful young people listening to their grungy “music.” Within a year, Americans turned on the man who had promised them “hope” but gave them only partisan warfare and gridlock, and Republicans took control of Congress after decades in the minority.  With them came a renewed, and badly needed, commitment to civility in national politics.

It is said that history repeats itself—louder the second time for those who weren’t listening.  The record is clear that “Democrat Only” bills are a recipe for disaster.  On a day when the nation mourns the passing of Ted Kennedy, Democrats would do well to heed the gracious words of John McCain: Kennedy, the lion of the Senate, “had a unique way of sitting down with the parties at a table and making the right concessions.” Indeed, without Kennedy’s sense of bipartisan good will, we would not have the landmark No Child Left Behind Act today.  Now as in 1993, Democrats stand at a crossroads: they can play the kind of slash-and-burn politics that will turn America into a one-party state, or they can do the right thing—and make the right concessions.

Posted by Michael on 08/26 at 08:56 AM
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Monday, August 24, 2009

Extra short-form mild neck-injury blogging

Mad Men as the antidote to Hollywood’s women-get-in-the-way-of-male-bonding-especially-when-they-do-that-castration-thing-they-do narratives.  (Yes, I saw The Hangover.  The zither soundtrack was unbearable.  But at least the misogyny was fresh!  And there was even a prostitute with a heart of gold.  Didn’t see that coming.)


Posted by Michael on 08/24 at 06:13 AM
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Friday, August 21, 2009

Screen test

Just got back from seeing the no-longer-new Star Trek movie with Jamie at the discount theater.  I kinda liked it.  But it was so much like Galaxy Quest!  It had Sarris, torturing a guy strapped to a table, and it had Crewman Number 6, who dies, and it even had the Omega-13 lava-lamp device.  So that was cool.  It had everything but ducts!  Also an interracial kiss that updates the first-ever interracial kiss on teevee back in ‘68.

And the Uhura-Spock kiss reminds me that I forgot to give “mad” “props” (as the kids say today) to Mad Men for that mankissing scene on Sunday night, which, thanks to the geniuses in marketing, was simulcast on the big screen in Times Square.  At last!  Same-sex making-out returns to Times Square after being banned by Giuliani!  And that kiss (good for Sal, who was visibly crestfallen last year when Cosgrove revealed himself to be a raging homophobe who’d never even considered the possibility that he might have gay coworkers) reminded me in turn that I am so old that I can remember the Rock Hudson TV-biopic which centered on Hudson’s homosexuality but would not show Rock kissing an actual man. This was in 1990, people.  Rock Hudson was gay—OK, this we could finally acknowledge.  But Rock Hudson kissing a man—too ew ew ew for the teevee only 19 years ago.

And reminders of my age remind me in turn that I forgot to tell you all that I came back from vacation with a wicked muscle spasm that eventually forced me to pull over somewhere in Virginia and find a 7-11 so that I could put a bag of ice on my left shoulder and numb myself.  Turns out it’s not the shoulder at all.  I went to see a physical therapist on Tuesday, bright and early at 7 am (the same one who fixed my elbow in January so that I could resume my hockey season), and learned that I have a pinched nerve, probably around C5.  Apparently, when you spend 10-20 hours twisting your neck at the top of a ladder to paint the alcove, and you’re old, this is what happens to you. The giveaway—today, at least—is that I have one of those classic neurological systems, the Tingling in the Arm.

So my MRI is first thing Monday morning, and lemme tell you, brother, I am very happy I have health coverage for this kind of thing.  It would be really nice if everyone had health care for this kind of thing, though of course I feel that way only because I am a card-carrying member of the Liberal Fascist party.  Needless to add, I should limit the number of hours I spent hunched over a laptop (in fact, I’m writing this on the elevated computer table we bought after Janet’s neck surgery).  I don’t think ye olde slipped disc is that severe—right now it’s merely annoying.  I expect they’ll give me a bunch of exercises and stretches to do.  But I think I should probably cut back to something more like a Poor Man Institute publishing schedule for now.  Besides, a new semester is beginning, with all the madness that entails.  So: no surgery and less blogging!  I’ll drop in with an update when I know the results.  Can’t wait to drink that yummy MRI juice!

Update:  Whoa, spoke too soon!  The moment I posted this the phone rang.  It’s Nittany Medical telling me that the insurer has not yet authorized this MRI and it has to be postponed until Wednesday.  I mentioned the ominous Tingling in the Arm and suggested that they pass along the information to whatever insurance-company bureaucrat is looking for a promotion by denying me an MRI, and perhaps that will move things along.  Well, it beats being euthanized by a seekrit Muslim death panel.

Posted by Michael on 08/21 at 03:26 PM
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Exclusive interview exclusively here!

Hey folks!  It’s time for another Chávezian Airspace exclusive: I’ve landed an interview with the whole entire American mass media!  Here it is in real blog time.


Chávezian Airspace: Good morning, American mass media!  Thanks for visiting my humble blog.

American Mass Media: Our pleasure to be here.

CA: I have to ask one thing at the outset—people say you’re huge and bloated, but you look quite trim in person.  Have you lost weight?

AMM: Why, thank you!  Yes, yes we have.  Like a lot of people, we’ve been cutting back in hard times, getting leaner ...

CA: But we hope not meaner!

AMM: Ha ha!  Yes, we still do the heartwarming inspirational piece now and then.  But we’ve gotten rid of a lot of investigative journalists and boring “international” correspondents, so you could say we’ve lost a lot of the “baby fat” of the industry.

CA: Well, whatever you’ve been doing, you look great.  To get serious for a moment, can you explain what’s going on with this crazy health care debate?

AMM: It is crazy, isn’t it?  So many people saying so many things, and so many issues to keep track of!  It kind of makes our heads spin.

CA: Uh, I was hoping you had some insight into why it’s gotten so crazy.  I mean, now we’ve got people showing up with firearms to Presidential town halls and people screaming “Heil Hitler” at Jews and ...

AMM: Yeah, isn’t that great?  Ratings are through the roof!  You can really feel the excitement.

CA: Pardon me?  People are threatening violence because a Democratic administration might be considering public health insurance?  That’s not exciting, that’s lunacy.  Why doesn’t anybody explain the “public option” to these nutcases?

AMM: With all due respect, Michael, that’s not really our job. 

CA: ...

AMM: No, really.  We’re not in the business of pushing some President’s agenda, unless it’s a war.  We’re in the business of reporting what people say.  And if some people say that Obama’s plan will feed your grandma to the wood chipper, and some people happen to disagree with that, then it’s our responsibility to report both sides fairly.  That’s all part of democratic debate, and we’re proud to play our part!

CA: So, so you’re actually saying it’s your job to report complete falsehoods without challenging them?

AMM: That’s basic journalistic ethics, yes.  Besides, even if it was our job to choose sides, which it isn’t, we’re just not well equipped to handle this kind of thing.  Health care involves very serious policy issues and complicated stuff about money, and everyone knows math is hard and policy is boring.  So we try to concentrate on what we do best.

CA: Which is?

AMM: Determining who won the week!  This week, we think it’s Chuck Grassley.  The big loser?  Anthony Weiner—or is it “whiner”?  That’s a joke.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!  But if you’re looking at the long term, then the person who definitely won the month is Sarah Palin, whose “death panels” remarks were a real game changer that really forced the Obama people to play defense.  That totally changed the game.

CA: You know, you’re reporting on serious national issues as if this were some kind of sport.  It’s all horse-race fun and games for you, isn’t it?

AMM: A horse race!  We didn’t even think of that.  We love a horse race.  We can see Kent Conrad in kelly green and gold, with Dick Armey closing on him in black and silver....

CA: Stop it!  Stop it right now!  You’re completely insane, you people. It’s infuriating even trying to talk to you.

AMM: Oh, calm down.  Here, have a Mad Bitch beer.  We hear that Hillary loves this stuff.

CA: See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.  You really don’t have a single meaningful thing to say.  Not a single damn thing.

AMM: Well, that’s the kind of complaint we tend to get from the left of the left, so we’re not surprised that you feel this way.  The point remains, however, that conservative critics of the Democrats’ health care plans have good reason to worry.  Under the Obama plan, life-and-death decisions could be made by government bureaucrats trying to pull the plug on someone with an “advance directive,” all because of some “quality of life” consideration.  Even the phrase “advance directive” is scary!  It’s directive, and what’s more, it’s directive in advance.  That sounds very much like a death panel to us!

CA: Oh.  My.  God.  Didn’t you people learn anything from the Terri Schiavo case?

AMM: I’m sorry?

CA: Terri Schiavo.  You don’t remember Terri Schiavo?

AMM: She’s one of the desperate housewives?

CA: No, you numbskulls, Terri Schiavo was at the heart of a debate over the maintenance or withdrawal of health care for people with no reasonable hope of improvement.  She died four years ago after nearly a decade of legal wrangling between her birth family and her husband.  And believe it or not, most sane people would like to have some degree of self-determination when it comes to difficult end-of-life matters, so that they don’t wind up in a nasty tug-of-war between family members—or don’t wind up having their lives “sustained” for as long as some zealot demands.  That’s why it makes sense to encourage discussions about advance directives—so people can make their wishes clear to their own goddamn physicians.  I even wrote about advance directives back then, when the Schiavo mess was turning into a complete media circus…

AMM: Oh, yes, the Schiavo circus!  We remember that circus.  All the clowns came!  It was so much fun—we love clowns.  You could really feel the excitement!

CA: OK, this is a difficult decision, but ... it looks like you’re totally and completely brain-dead with no reasonable hope of improvement.  I think I’m going to have to convene a death panel after all.  I’ll be right back with our determination.

AMM: Happy happy clowns!

Posted by Michael on 08/20 at 06:39 AM
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