MASTER'S OF DISTRACTION

Master's of Distraction provides a forum for CSUN master's students who are writing dissertations. Come here to vent, provide support for other master's students, trade tips and coping mechanisms and just generally screw around when you are supposed to be working on your thesis.

Monday, March 14, 2005

I'll Finish it Eventually, God Willing

Rewriting sucks! Why can't professors recognize my perfection the first time around?

So, I have several chapters to write of my thesis before moving onto new chapters. And, within the rewriting phase, I have more reading to do as books/articles keep coming up that, in some way or another, relate to my topic. I suppose it's all about making it better, but I just want to be done with it.

An interesting book that was recommended to me by my thesis committee chair is God Willing?: Political Fundamentalism in the White House, The "War on Terror," and the Echoing Press by David Domke. I haven't read a lot of it yet, but it does have some interesting ideas, about how the Bush administration was able to use 9/11 rhetoric to gain unflinching support and how the mainstream press just echoed his ideas.

"The administration's political fundamentalism did much more than offer familarity, comfort, and a moral stance; it also closed off a substantive societal - and international - conversation through a set of politically calculated, religiously grounded communication strategies. Instead of opening up the discourse and allowing a democratic dialogue to take place, Bush's rhetoric hijacked the discussion about the significance and implications of September 11, thereby denying to U.S. citizens important opportunities for national self-examination and a wide public hearing of diverse viewpoints - and also shutting out the world, much of which was extending unprecendented sympathy for U.S. citizens and the nation."
- D. Domke

Saturday, March 05, 2005

LA POESIA DE JOSE MARTI

DE VERSOS SENCILLOS

Si ves un monte de espumas
Es mi verso lo que ves:
Mi verso es un monte, y es
Un abanico de plumas.

Mi verso es como un punyal
Que por el punyo flor:
Mi verso es un surtidor
Que da un agua coral.

Mi verso es de un verde claro
Y de un carmin encendido:
Mi verso es un ciervo herido
Que busca en el monte amparo.

Mi verso al valiente agrada:
Mi verso, breve y sincero,
Es del vigor del acero
Con que se funde la espada.

Quien es Jose Marti? Se dice que el es George Washington de Cuba. Marti fue escritor, el autor, el guerrero, el poeta. Este verso es muy famoso y se cante las palabras el canto "Guantanamera." Marti muere en 1895 en Cuba, saltando de los espanyoles.

(Sorry about my lousy Spanish. I'm trying to learn, so bear with me while I butcher it.)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

THAT'S WHAT'S GREAT ABOUT THE SOUTH!

A FEW INSPIRING THREADS FROM THE VERSIMILITUDE OF THE AMERICAN TAPESTRY

It threw the negroes into a very ecstasy of panic to see these sheeted "Ku Klux" move near them in the shrouded night; and their comic fear stimulated the lads who excited it to many an extravagant prank and mummery ... it was lawless work at best. They had set themselves after the first year or two of mere mischievous frolic had passed, to right a disordered society through the power of fear ... Reckless men not of their order, malicious fellows of the baser sort who did not feel the compulsions of honor and who had private grudges to satisfy, imitated their disguises and borrowed their methods.

- Woodrow Wilson, future president, A History of the American People, 1901

My friends, I want to share with you something of the history, the glorious history, of the Klan. The Klan was born out of bloodshed, out of a real need to protect the Southern white man from the carpetbaggers - the Jew Carpetbaggers. You know, of course, that the carpetbaggers was Jews, and they come down here and teamed up with the Niggers and tried to take away everything that the white man had. But they learned that the white man would not take all this lying down. He organized. He organized into Klans. He rose up to defend his honor and his interests. And, I'll tell you that to this day, the Jews, the Niggers and all the rest of the colored people are not afraid of anything else, but they are afraid of the Klan ...

Now, some of you say, "But Jesus was a Jew." That just goes to show you how these cotton pickin', half-witted preachers has fooled you. Jesus wasn't no Jew, he was a white man. I'm speaking for God, and you'd better hear what I say ...

Not long ago, a man from the F.B.I. - you know what that is, the Federal Bureau of Integration - come down to talk to me ... "Now, you don't really advocate violence, do you?" And I said, "The hell you say. The Niggers has declared all out war on the plan of God, and on God's family, the white man." They said to me, "Do you know who bombed the church in Birmingham?" And I said, "No, and if I did, I wouldn't tell you."

But I'll tell you people here tonight, if they can find those fellows, they ought to pin medals on them. Someone said, "Ain't it a shame that them little children was killed." Well, they don't know what they are talking about. In the first place, they ain't little. They're 14 or 15 years old - old enough to have venereal disease, and I'll be surprised if all of 'em didn't have one or more. In the second place, they weren't children. Children are little people, little human beings, and that means white people. They're little monkeys. There's little dogs and cats and apes and baboons and skunks and there's also little Niggers. They're just little Niggers. And in the third place, it wasn't no shame they was killed.

Why? Because when I go out to kill rattlesnakes, I don't make no differences between little rattlesnakes and big rattlesnakes, because I know it is the nature of all rattlesnakes to be my enemies and to poison me if they can. So I kill 'em all, and if there's four less Niggers tonight, then, I say, "Good for whoever planted the bomb! We're all better off."


from a Klan gathering in Florida, 1963, reported in the Newsletter of the Florida Council on Human Relations, October 1963. Cited in The Ku Klux Klan: A Century of Infamy, by William Peirce Randel, 1965.

This is the kind of stuff I come across when I'm researching Mississippi history. It's very enriching to learn other people's views and opinions. I just wish a few more of those other people would make the same effort.

A person who shall remain anonymous once said, "The NAACP are just as racist as the people they're against." I would love to see him prove that. Examples, please! Liberals like examples.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

New Zealand? Does it really exist?

It turns out that all the history written about New Zealand is really, really boring. It is basically all written for New Zealanders, and virtually none of it places the islands in a greater global, or even Pacific context. Its relevancy ends when you get north of the Tropic of Capricorn. Thus raising the question: Does New Zealand really exist? Do we have any accounts of the place from outsiders? Until I start to see history written about it that aknowledges that it actually exists in the same world as the rest of us, I am afraid that I must doubt the existance of New Zealand -- or, as I will now refer to it, Kiwius Terra Incognita.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

TAKE A REALLY DUMB "L-WORD" QUIZ!

Um, this is seriously a shameful time waster, but I did it anyway.

It's the Quizilla "Which character from "The L-Word" are you?" Quiz.

I'm Jenny, the Mia Kirshner character! Which is okay by me.

(I'm probably going to regret posting this.)

RECONSTRUCTION JUNCTION, WHAT'S YOUR FUNCTION?

(DON'T WORRY IF THE TITLE DOESN'T MEAN ANYTHING TO YOU. IT'S A JOKE FOR THOSE OF US WHO WATCHED TOO MUCH SATURDAY MORNING TV IN THE '70s. THE 1970s, THAT IS.)

So I had to put aside my thesis for a few weeks because I signed on to present a paper on the Reconstruction press in Mississippi. The Southwest Conference is in New Orleans at the end of March and the papers were supposed to be done several weeks ago and I haven't done mine yet. But I have a good excuse. Usually, your paper is based on your research. But my research only covers the period up to 1865. So for the conference, I have to do a certain amount of research and writing that has little (at best) to do with my research.

Why did I agree to this? A very good question. Let me think about a way to answer that without any name-calling. Hmmm. Mmmm. Er, uh ... mmmm. Sorry, can't be done. Dr. Davis and I are both raving lunatics. And Sheryl too. Sheryl organized the panel and asked me to be on it, and when I tried to get out of it, she started bawling and I had to say yes so we could all get back to work without everyone thinking I was a terrible person because I made Sheryl cry.

So, I'm digging through old Natchez newspapers from 1865 to 1877. I don't know if I will ever stop hating the South. Not only am I sick of these people and their lies and their hypocrisy and their racism, but I am now being forced to study a period of history that I have always tried to veer away from.

Reconstruction is so depressing. The antebellum period and the Civil War have a lot of awful incidents, but it is all very interesting and it seems to be headed somewhere. I love the suspense of the 1850s especially, as the tensions between North and South almost reach crisis point, but then they subside as more and more Southerners eventually realize that war is NOT in their best interests and war is averted. The Secession Crisis of 1850, Bleeding Kansas, the Dred Scott decision, John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry and the election of 1860 are all incidents where the war almost happens and then, until the Spring of 1861, somebody blinks. And then the war comes and everybody runs around in the latest fashions of blue and grey and there's a bunch of cool battles and the slaves are free and Lee surrenders and Lincoln is shot and the war is over.

Except it isn't. For the nexy twelve years, the Federal government works hard to secure freedom and security for Southerners, black and white, but most of the Southerners are not having it! They enact restrictive codes on the newly-freed slaves and then they get all whiny when the Federal government steps in and says, "Alright, guys, these state governments are bullshit! If you can't play fair with the black man, then you are forcing us to abolish your racist governments and to come up with a new plan." And the South acts all innocent. "No, we were dealing with the lazy negros in our own way and we understand them and everything would have been peachy if you had let us handle it but, no, you had to come in and let the negros take over the government and ruin the land and try to be equal and rape all the white women." And then the Southerners started the Klan and attacked and harrassed the freedmen and the carpetbaggers and the teachers until the North got sick of the South's bullshit and pulled out in 1877. And the new rights of the black man disappeared real fast and there wasn't much progrss until almost a hundred years later.

It's so anticlimatic. If somebody was making it up, the editor would say, "You know, this Reconstruction part, get rid of it. Nobody wants to read this, unless you punch it up a bit, find some more colorful heroes. Like the Ku Klux Klan fellows. Make them the heroes. They're like the Knights of the Round Table or the Justice League. Yeah, there's your second half, how the Ku Klux Klan saves the country from the negros and the evil careptbaggers."

Which is how the story was told for a hundred years, and even longer in some places. Even though this version is easily proven to be bullshit by a cursory examination of the primary sources, this is the version that the South liked, the version in several novels of the late 1800s, in history books like those written by Dunning and Woodrow Wilson, in Thomas Dixon's "The Clansmen," and, most notoriously, in D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation." The North didn't really care enough to protest too much and eventually, the South's version was the one taught in the schools until the 1950s and 1960s, when a lot of people started saying, "This is fucking bullshit!"

Which is what my presentation is about, how the Reconstruction press laid the ground work for this little fantasy in the 1860s and 1870s, by exaggerating the sins of the freedmen and the carpetbaggers, rationalizing the virulent racism of the South, denying or minimizing the excesses of the Ku Klux Klan, and a general campaign of anti-Negro propaganda.

America needs to get into a 12-step program and start making amends for some of her bullshit. It is the only way to ever make any progress.

"Hello, I'm America, and I'm an empire-oholic."

Maybe some day, I'll get back to my thesis. "Grumble, grumble, stupid Ku Klux Klan."

Saturday, February 26, 2005

"THE L-WORD"

THE LATEST IN A LONG LIST OF GUILTY PLEASURES

Yes, I admit it. I have spent too much of my "free" time lately watching a TV show. A TV show! TV is truly horrible, the time-killer, the mind-killer, one of America's worst enemies, in so many ways.

But I can't spend ALL of my time reading about the racist, greedy, ignorant pigs that grew cotton in the 19th century, ruled the South, and believed that the most important component of freedom is the freedom to own, abuse, torture, rape and kill other human beings. (Kind of like today, when a major component of freedom is the freedom to threaten and intimidate people you don't like by imposing fines, calling them traitors, and shutting them up by the abuse of various legal means. And believe me, the rich Southern planters were just as good at playing the victim as today's conservative cry-babies.)

So I've been watching the new show on Showtime, "The L-Word." I don't have cable and my reception is really terrible, so I haven't watched TV for months, literally, not since "The Simple Life 2" ended. And I don't miss TV. At all! But I do have a DVD player, and I watch a few movies now and then, when I take a break from reading all about the slave-lords of the South. I was talking to my neighbor Glenda last week and she told me the first episode of the second season of "The L-Word" was starting soon, so I ran down to watch it.

I'd heard about the show. I knew it was about a group of lesbians, living in West Hollywood, and there's a couple of them trying to have a baby, and there's a straight girl about to get married to a guy, and the straight girl meets another girl she likes, and starts to have doubts, and stuff like that. I knew enough about it to be curious. I heard there were some interesting sex scenes. I also know who some of the actresses are - Mia Kirshner, Jennifer Beals - and they are hot! (That's why I ran down to watch it - even though it wasn't on for another hour.)

It's a great show! Since I saw the first show, I've been watching the first season (it's on DVD now) and I like it even more. I've mentioned to several people that I really like it, and a couple of people (who haven't seen it) said, "Yeah, it shows that homosexuals have the same problems as you or me." Which is kind of a baffling response. Duh! Yeah, homosexuals, blacks, Asians, women, they have some of the same problems as straight white men! Wow! How progressive! Anyway, I knew that, but you wouldn't figure it out from "The L-Word"!

Here's some of the problems faced by these totally normal lesbian women who have normal problems like you or me! They are all really beautiful, and they are all millionaires! The latter is not specifically stated, but they live like kings, queens? no, kings in huge houses with swimming pools. All the extras are really beautiful, too. All the main characters are writers, coffee shop owners, museum curators, tennis stars, just like you and me, right? This is not reality. It's something else again.

But the actors are all great, and the writing is great, too. Even if its not always believable. Episode Eight has a lesbian yacht party that was about as realistic as some of those battle sequences in "Return of the King." Hundreds of really gorgeous, skinny, toothpick, lipstick lesbians had congregated at the yacht, and they were drinking and dancing and smooching and making out and shedding their clothes to hop in the hot tub. Maybe this kind of thing happens all the time. To be honest, I wish it did happen all the time, in my neighborhood. But it had a very unreal, epic quality to it. Very entertaining, very amusing, a beautiful scene, kind of like the Cloud City in "The Empire Strikes Back." Except it's more like The Festival of the Floating Dyke Orgy. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

I don't want to give too much away or ruin it for anyone, so I'll restrict my comments to the earliest episodes. Yes, there are lesbian sex scenes, but there is a lot more to "The L-Word" than carpet-munching. All the actors are great. Jennifer Beals is Bette, the museum curator, and she is in a long-term relationaship with Tina (played by an actress whose name I don't know) and they are trying to have a baby. This particular sub-plot definitely has its moments, but its not my favorite. However, many of the best scenes have revolved around Bette and the CAC, the California Arts Center, where she works. Bette books an exhibit that shows some provocative work, and the fundamentalists descend on the museum, and then they harass her at home. I was yelling at the screen. I hate the fundamentalists. They are agents of Satan, because they twist the words of Jesus and make Him look intolerant and silly. I love stuff like that.

Tina is very excited about having a baby and is not really very well-developed outside of her role as Bette's partner. And Bette's sister Kit is played by the great Pam Grier. I found Kit a little annoying at first, but I began to realize that this is her character, and she does it very well. She is a recovering alcoholic and she is not on good terms with Bette or the rest of the family. (And after meeting their father in one scene, you begin to understand the family dynamics that may explain a little about Kit and Bette's personalities.)

Shane is the fucking coolest person on television. You have to see her to believe her. Alice is a writer for LA magazine who is really clever, really snoopy, really neurotic. Alice is great. And Dana is a professional tennis star who has become my favorite. She's kinda goofy, kinda clueless, and one of the favorite pastimes of Shane and Alice is making fun of Dana. All of my favorite scenes revolve around Dana. She came out to her conservative parents, and it was a very funny scene ... until the moment of revelation actually came about and they stormed out, in that intolerant conservative way. The look on Dana's face as she beat on the car. Again, I was yelling at the screen. (How could they do that to Dana?)

As much as I like Dana and Bette, the real heart of the show has to be Mia Kirschner as Jenny. She's such a delightful sprite, full of wonder and energy and magic. She can't help herself when she sleeps with Marina, she can't help hurting her fiance Tim. (He is so lucky to have her! I just don't see what she sees in him. And Marina is so fucking hot! Who could resist? Tim needs to get over himself and realize how lucky he was that Mia ever liked him at all! How could he be so mean to her!?) There's one scene where Mia starts crying, by herself, confused and upset with the realization that life is far more complicated than she ever dreamed. I was just about to cry with her.

The show works on many different levels. It isn't reality, but sometimes, it captures real tears, real happiness, real heartbreak with some great lines, great situations, great acting. Sometimes it is goofy, sometimes it is about relationships, sometimes it's about gay culture, sometimes it's about Hollywood. It works on so many levels. It doesn't always work on every level that it's attempting, but it works anyway because the viewer is so mesmerized and entertained and willing to smile affectionately at some of the unbelievable stuff.

Lesbian sex, great writing, great acting, a fun hour where you don't have to think too hard, and right-wing nutjobs being put in their place. Anybody who is asking more than that from a television show does not understand this medium. Bravo, Showtime!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

An excerpt from "THE LETHAL EFFECTS OF EATING CHERRIES, CUCUMBERS AND ICED MILK ON A HOT DAY"

CHAPTER ONE

In which Lewis Cass is introduced, and many lies are told, but just as many truths, and the phrase "dough-face" is thrown in and explained badly

"Those fucks," said Lewis Cass, adding, after a moment of agitated reflection, "Those fucking fucks!"

"Why are you angry, Lewis?" asked Homer Bright, a Senator from Indiana who never existed. The author had written the wrong name for Jesse Bright. By the time the author noticed his mistake, he was too lazy to change it. "No one will notice except obsessive history nerds. Fuck 'em!" the author wrote on the manuscript.

"Those fucks are such fucking fucks!" repeated Lewis Cass, mostly to return to the narrative.

"Calm down, Lewis," said Senator Bright. "It's 1847," Bright continued in an expository tone. "You are the junior Senator from Michigan, but you've been Governor of Michigan Territory, Secretary of War and US Minister to France. You will probably be the Democratic candidate for President next year. Unless the opposition comes up with another real, live war hero to run for them, you will be the next candidate. What are you so angry about?"

"It's those damned Whigs," said Cass. "They're a bunch of fucks! Here we have a perfectly good war going on with Mexico, and we're in a position to annex the whole fucking isthmus - I like that word, isthmus - ALL of Mexico, and those bleeding-heart, pantywaist liberals in the Whig Party are all upset about the rights of the Mexicans! Boo-hoo-hoo! Who gives a shit about those beaners! Fuck Henry Clay and the horse he rode in on!"

Down on the street, a crowd gathered. "Dough-faces," they shouted. "You're a bunch of dough-faces! Like, you're faces are made of dough, and you can make cookies out of your faces. Because they're made of dough. Hahahaha!"

Cass, high on arsenic, became highly agitated, jumping to his feet, running to the window and making obscene gestures he had learned from the Piskiotomi Indians. "Lousy Free Soilers! Stick it up your anus! And fuck the Wilmot Proviso!"

After regaining his composure (somewhat), Cass looked at his colleague and asked, "What does 'dough-face' mean, anyway?"

"Well, I think it's a Northerner who is always perfectly willing to bend over to Southern bullying on the issue of slavery."

"I know that," snarled Cass. "I mean, where does it come from? What does slavery have to do with having dough on your face, or with having a face made of dough?"

Bright shrugged. "I don't know. We're quaint 19th-century politicians. We say a lot of things that don't really make any sense. Remember when the Democrats divided into Hunkers and Barnburners?"

Cass laughed uproariously. "Yes, you're right. Good point. It was only a few years ago, and I can't remember if I was a Hunker or a Barnburner."

Lewis Cass was a rather generic 18th-century American politician. He was of average height and exceedingly dumpy, with a most-dourishly dour and very seriously serious look on his face. He had warts and a mole. In old photographs, his hair looks weird because he always wore a wig; he had lost all his hair when he was afflicted with fever during the War of 1812. He never drank alcohol, but he was addicted to arsenic and Canadian pornography, which crossed the border at Detroit in disturbingly large amounts.

Publicly, he avoided controversy as much as possible. Except when the Limeys were involved. His colleagues would tease him with lines like, "Oh, I think we should just let the Brits do what they want in Central America." To which Cass would respond with a string of obscenities. At the end, he might pull off his bright red wig and point to his bald head as he shouted, " I didn't lose my hair in the service of my country so the fucking Limeys could take over the Yucatan and start building pubs! There will be no tea drinking or cricket playing in the Yucatan if I have anything to say about it! Fuck the Limeys!"

(Author's note: Lewis Cass probably never said anything this extreme. But he did hate the Limeys. The British, I mean.)