Support MAP funding (an Open Letter to the Illinois legislature)

Also sent snail mail to Rep Karen A. Yarbrough, Sen. Kimberly A. Lightford, and Governor Pat Quinn.

I am writing to ask for your help in supporting the Monetary Award Program (MAP) during the second half of this year. It’s my understanding that MAP has been funded at only 50%, and without your intervention, it will not provide the remaining funds to students in the program.

As I’m sure you know, students receive MAP funding based on need, and rely on that funding as an essential part of their tuition package. Without it, some students will be obligated to take on even larger loan obligations, and many more will be forced out of school for lack of funds. When we fail to provide higher education access to students from modest backgrounds, we betray our country’s founding notion that everyone should have a chance to succeed.

MAP plays an essential role in our state’s higher education infrastructure. Failing to fully fund it will result in fewer students pursuing college degrees at a time when our information economy desperately needs smart, educated workers. Funding MAP means funding our future. Our students need you. Please don’t fail them now.

Brendan Riley
Assistant Professor, English Department
Columbia College Chicago

Seeking: better angels for congress

I was working at home, preparing to leave for a seminar in Turlington hall, when Jenny called from the radio-station where she was working. “You have to turn on the TV,” she said. Both towers had been hit by planes and were on fire. As I watched, trying to understand what was going on, I saw the crawl across the bottom of the screen mention THE PENTAGON IS ON FIRE. There was no more news about the Pentagon fire for 10 minutes.

We’re often not rational beings, and the months after 9/11 involved some of the worst reactionary thinking we’ve seen. Like “Remember the Maine!” war hawk politicians used the rubble in New York to lead us first to Afghanistan (rightly, I’m still inclined to think) and then uranium cakes to lead us to Iraq (wrongly, though obviously the benefit of deposing Saddam muddies the water). When I think about the train wreck that our country’s response has become; in thinking about Iraq, where we’re sweeping up the mess like a clumsy antiquer who missed the “you broke it, you bought it” sign, I remember how my gut churned when THE PENTAGON IS ON FIRE crept across the screen with no commentary from the talking heads. I think some part of that roiling-belly feeling continues to haunt us; we see the threat irrationally, in the same way we worry about airplane crashes much more than car crashes.

People said 9/11 changed things, but of course it didn’t change much. We went back at one anothers’ throats as soon as we could, squabbling over the correct response in Iraq, how long to stay, who’s to blame for Katrina, and most recently, Health Care. Andrew writes:

What is health insurance for if not to treat your body as it is, not as it should be? As a nation, we should make a commitment to care for each other….
Universal health care is not communism.
Universal health care is not fascism.
Universal health care is common decency and real morality.

He wonders how people might suggest that universal health care ought not be policy. He breaks ranks with the shouters, with the people screaming about socialism, about high taxes, with knee-jerk reactions to anything Obama.

We Are All One by kalandrakas
We Are All One by kalandrakas

I find myself longing for the comeraderie of the immediate post 9/11 America, when we were still shell-shocked and we conspired to be good to one another for once. What if the health care debate were predicated on that specific approach? Abe to the L said:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

What might the Health Care debate, or our response to 9/11 look like, if we actively sought to be governed not by the silent crawling message that THE PENTAGON IS ON FIRE, but by the better angels of our nature?

Norm Coleman is a Big Fat Idiot

Senator Franken
Senator Franken

Okay, he’s not fat. But I wanted something to give it this post a bit more pizzaz.

So Al Franken is Minnesota’s senator. He should have been serving for six months already, but because Norm Coleman continued pursuing legal challenges, Al was only just declared the official winner. A couple thoughts:

  • My instinct early on was that one challenge, a faithful and fair recount, and we’d be all set. I am all in favor of taking a little extra time in order to make sure the person who got the votes gets the job. I’m all for that.
  • But it also became pretty clear very early (within a month, I’d say) that after that recount was finished, Franken would be the winner. After that, Coleman should have stopped. It’s especially egregious that he continued this fight after Coleman urged Franken to concede to save the taxpayers the money of a protracted fight.
  • And then it became evident around the country that the courthouse shenanigans were not about winning the election (he’d lost), but rather about denying the Democrats a clear majority in the Senate. When political party gamesmanship leaves one state a senator short for six months, we’ve entered THE BELTWAY. And that’s where I got pretty disgusted. Shame on you, Norm.
  • I suspect we’ll see a lot fewer swearword-ridden goofiness from Al Franken now that he’s a Senator. I would love it if his first bit of legislation were a proposal to name the third millennium the “Al Franken Millennium.”

Most importantly, perhaps, is that Franken really cares. While his comedic style has always been sarcastic and sometimes mean, he’s also strongly committed to truth and honesty and his values. After his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them came out, I remember reading a conservative pundit who complained that the book is so heavily footnoted that it’s nearly impossible to criticize. Yep, that’s the point. But it’s also funny. Franken joins a small cadre of left-wing folks who understand that you can’t use the same tactics as the Right (fear-mongering, loud radios) to argue for progressive politics. Like Ken Keasey and the Merry Pranksters in the 1960s, he saw that humor was the way to lead people to a new and better conversation. Let’s see if he can keep it up in the Senate.

Good luck, Al. I hope you do well.

On The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid

Avery’s been watching The Little Mermaid a lot lately, and I’ve come to notice a few things about it, nearly all of them bothersome and disturbing.  But first, her observations:

  • After Triton destroys Ariel’s humania collection, Avery turns to me and says “Her daddy broke her stuff.  She’s sad.”
  • Avery correctly identifies Ursela as “The Bad Guy.  She’s mean.”
  • Avery has started dancing to “Under the Sea.”

Okay, now my observations:

  • Ariel is shockingly thin. Anorexic even.  Look at those bony arms.  Ugh.  Add to that her shockingly reckless behavior (things work out okay, but not for anything she did) and her defiance of authority, and I’m pretty frightened of the message Avery gets from this film.
  • The film enacts a classic political marriage.  Triton and Prince Eric’s father certainly must recognize the political value of this wedding: an alliance between the Mer-people and the sea-faring folk of Eric’s kingdom.  Can you imagine the situation if Eric’s folk got in a war with another country?  “My father-in-law controls the ocean. Good luck with your shipping.”  It appears even more feudal when we realize that King Triton and Eric appear never to have spoken to one another (hence that creepy bow at the end of the film).  We can also see that Ursela was right — Eric did fall for Ariel without ever hearing her talk.
  • Ariel got pretty damn lucky with the way things worked out.  If she had enticed Eric to kiss her, she never would have gotten her voice back.
  • Speaking of politics, Sebastian’s jolly “Under the Sea” song reflects the myopic view of the courtly life.  He sings about how the sea is better than being on land, because being on land means fish get eaten.  What? How does he think the majority of fish in Triton’s kingdom get their sustenance?  He lives a pampered life in Triton’s palace and imagines the sea to be a safe wonderland.
  • The love story in this film is really a Romeo and Juliet ripoff.  Eric wants to marry a peasant girl, Ariel wants to marry a human.  They don’t actually know one another enough to really be in love.  They’re in the throes of passionate lust, and the lust of youth too–remember that Ariel is only 16.

Zombies are democrats

Photo by clarkmackey, CC attribution license
Photo by clarkmackey, CC attribution license

A feature story in the San Diego Union Tribune suggests that horror movies, particularly zombie and vampire films, oscillate in popularity depending on the political attitudes of the nation. In particular, zombie movies appear a lot when Republicans are in office, and Vampire movies appear when Democrats are in office.

“Democrats, who want to redistribute wealth to ‘Main Street,’ fear the Wall Street vampires who bleed the nation dry,” Newitz argued, noting that Dracula and his ilk arose from the aristocracy. “Republicans fear a revolt of the poor and disenfranchised, dressed in rags and coming to the White House to eat their brains.” (by Peter Rowe)

So to be clear, when Republicans are in power, zombie movies are scary because they represent Democratic uprising; when Democrats are in power, vampire movies carry more weight because they represent the return of the junk-bond trader.  The article also suggests an alternating theory of affinity rather than fear, that Vampires are an inclusive political body (and zombies are, um, thoughtless followers?), but I prefer the first interpretation.

Thanks, Mike.

The Wordy Shipmates

The Wordy Shipmates The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Vowell does a nice job of contextualizing the sometimes strange, sometimes familiar events of the early Calvinist settlers who arrived and settled Boston in the 1630s. As usual, she peppers the casual and entertaining discussion of history with witty, biting remarks. As usual, it’s comedy gold.

She also does a lovely job of connecting the worldview and attitude about their country to the contemporary American perspective. I particularly like the connection she draws between the “city on the hill” metaphor often used by contemporary politicians and the way it was used by John Winthrop in his speech to the Puritans before they sailed for the New World in 1630. She writes:

The thing that appeals to me about Winthrop’s “Christian Charity” and Cotton’s “God’s Promise to His Plantation” from this end of history is that at least the arrogant ballyhoo that New England is special and chosen by God is tempered by the self-loathing Puritans’ sense of reckoning. The same wakefulness the individual Calvinist was to use to keep watch over his own sins Winthrop and Cotton called for also in the group at large. This humility, this fear, was what kept their delusions of grandeur in check. That’s what subsequent generations lost. From New England’s Puritans we inherited the idea that America is blessed and ordained by God above all nations, but lost the fear of wrath and retribution. (71-72)

Vowell draws stinging criticism of our own imperial moves that are grounded in this “we are the chosen ones” attitude. The section on Anne Hutchinson also sings with sadness and dark humor.

Another piece of the Puritan story that I particularly liked was the story of John Williams, the upstart soon-to-be-outcast who believed that the magistrates should not be enforcing the edicts of religion. He was the first separator of church and state. Williams argued that having the state sponsor a religion poisoned it, and made it more likely that the enforcers of that religion would abuse that power. Vane, a governor of Massachusetts, commented “…Christianity is inherently divisive, and when it is the statereligion, the Christians in power tend to persecute other kinds of Christians with whom they disagree. (218)”

In all, the book is darker and a bit sadder than her previous books have been (even the inevitably grim Assassination Vacation). In part, this is because Vowell has more direct connection with the tragedies she’s writing about. Her empathy for the Native American victims of the pilgrim aggression and the abusive treatment of Anne Hutchinson gives the last half of the book more heart than her previous writing has usually had, but it means the humor doesn’t work as well either.

Obama’s Race Speech

If you haven’t watched Obama’s Race Speech yet, you should. I had my Introduction to College Writing students watch it for class today and then we talked about it. Now that’s a speech. Here’s my favorite bit:

“For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

“We can do that.

“But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

“That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

“This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

“This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

“This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

“I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.”

Hell yeah.

Edit: The Daily Show’s response: