January 10th, 2004

Parent Watch

The last 24 have been filled with intense, interesting conversations about both parenting and pedagogy, as well as the relation between them. I'll probably be drafting something on the conjuncture this weekend.

In the meantime, inspired by cpratt's account of his parents' visit to his and Dan's home and my own feelings about our trip to stay with my parents in early December -- held in abeyance during the holiday madness, at least until the turkey tantrum -- I've decided to showcase another item from my archives.

I think this one came back with me from Maryland. But I can't be sure, since I didn't see it while I was sorting my things back there or when I was unpacking here. It just materialized on the floor of my office.

Thinking this might be something deeply significant? Sorry to lead you on. There's always the hope, however, that it will signify deeply in its very insignificance.

It's a non-Holiday UNICEF notecard my mother sent to me while I was at a Talented and Gifted (TAG) summer camp at Western Maryland College over the summer between 9th and 10th grade:
June 30, 1983
Dear Charlie,

I love your long netters.

Your biology achievement test results came and I couldn't resist opening them - 690. Not too bad, I must say.

Daddy talked to ACS types about the computer. As far as I can figure out there doesn't seem to be any advantage to the Rainbow, though they didn't seem to be aware of the interfacing device you were telling us about. There is a possibility that Columbus might be able to get us a 30% discount on the Rainbow. That's under investigation.

Your slides came. Them I won't look at.

Don't forget to save $7 for next Friday if you're taking Japanese.


If nothing else, my comments about the importance of family slide-viewing during our recent trip should resonate through this missive. What is regarded as most preciously personal here? My slides: "Them I won't look at." Test scores on the other hand are family property.

The thing is, I would have agreed with this distinction back then and am still inclined to agree with it still.

The fact that the camera I took those slides with, painstakingly saved for by me as a junior-high student, just went the way of the passenger pigeon makes reading this letter all the more poignant.

I should clarify two other points.

First, I can't believe I got a 690 on the Biology Achievement Test. I was so miserable in 9th Grade and had no interest or feel for science. The only thing I enjoyed at all was my alternative Science Fair project, in which I wrote a rudimentary computer program on a Commodore PET in our rudimentary computer lab. It was my first hands-on computer experience of consequence and remains an oasis of mild pleasure in a sea of painful memories.

Second, I'm so embarrassed to recall -- I hadn't repressed the fact, but avoid thinking about it -- that I actually advocated that my parents get a Digital Equipment Corporation Rainbow instead of an IBM PC. They had a VAX at the American Chemical Society, where my dad worked. That was part of the DEC's appeal for me. But the main factor in my preference was the Rainbow's sleeker lines. Yes, it at 400K DD disk drives instead of 360K DD disk drives, yet that's hardly an argument in its favor. There was almost no software of consequence for it, since Intel 8086 machines were incompatible with each other, unlike the older 8080 ones that ran CP/M. Windows was a distant ship on the horizon.

We got the IBM PC and I was happy until school started.

More Instinct

I guess we should be grateful that Buddy, a.k.a. Thing One, weighs under fifteen pounds:
The first victim, Mark Jeffrey Reynolds, 35, a competition cyclist who worked for a sports marketing company, was found dead and partially buried under sand along a quiet stretch of rocky, hilly trail in the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Foothill Ranch.

The second rider, Anne Hjelle, 30, a former Marine who works at a health club, survived after being rescued by four or five other cyclists who pummeled the lion with rocks and even a bicycle, forcing it to flee. She was airlifted to Mission Hospital in Orange County and was listed Friday in serious condition with lacerations on her head, neck, arms and back.

Officials described it as an exceptionally unusual attack by a type of animal that, while savage when provoked, rarely comes near humans and even more infrequently attacks humans for food. But the people who rescued Hjelle and witnessed the encounter said the lion had locked its powerful jaws around her head and was dragging her steadily into the brush before their shouts and battering forced it to release her.

"This was a predatory attack," said Jim Amormino, the spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department. "It's just so out of the ordinary."

The lion suspected of being responsible for both attacks, a 2-year-old, 110-pound male -- which is not large for an adult -- was shot around 8 p.m. Thursday night by two sheriff's deputies, just 40 yards from where the first cyclist's body had been discovered. The lion had been spotted by deputies in helicopters using infrared scopes, then pursued by officers on the ground.

"He was definitely stalking the deputies when he was shot," said Amormino. "There's no doubt that lion was threatening."

Amormino said that an autopsy had been completed on the first victim, Reynolds, with gruesome conclusions.

"The autopsy concluded that he died from the removal of organs in the chest and abdomen," said Amormino. "It seems he was partially eaten."

The lion's strength also stunned some officials, since it attacked two strong and fit adults and apparently had no problem overpowering them. The lion would have easily killed Hjelle, an Orange County resident, had it not been for several other riders who pulled her away and smashed the lion with rocks.
Death by organ removal sounds very unpleasant.
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Story, First

When I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley, I regularly attended demonstrations on Sproul Plaza. I had mixed feelings about the value of the spectacular approach to political activism. What had worked in 1960 or 1970 seemed to have become an impediment to working towards something useful. But I still turned out for most major protests and quite a few minor ones, out of respect for the history of the place. I felt like I was continuing the tradition of the Free Speech Movement, even if it was a tradition in crisis.

One day, as I was walking towards a demonstration on the steps of Sproul Hall from Bancroft and Telegraph, a large, elderly gentleman stopped me. He had seen the FMLN armband I wore -- one I'd actually designed, believe it or not -- and various other politically significant buttons and ribbons that festooned my decaying gray "elephant" jacket, famous for the holes in the lining that allowed one to store pens, pills, and pennies inside it for later extraction.

"Let me tell you something, sonny," he began. "I remember the protests here against the Marines going into Nicaragua, back in the early 30s."

I experienced the same strange sensation in my limbs that came over me when my German grandfather used to tell me about his experiences at the Battle of Jutland in 1916, an emotional electricity. I stopped my forward march, waiting for the pleasure of the old man's tale.

"I have something I need to ask you," he continued. I was feeling nostalgic, at ease. "What do your parents do?"

I answered without hesitating. "My father works for the American Chemical Society. My mother is a freelance editor."

His face darkened with blood as he pitched forward.

"Your blood won't be pure for generations."

At first, I didn't know what to say. I was dumbfounded. But I eventually regained enough composure to ask him what he meant.

"Your family is corrupt. Even if you went to work in a factory for the rest of your life, you'd still be part of the ruling class."

I tried to argue with him, to no avail. When I finally abandoned the effort, leaving him to stumble towards the next unsuspecting undergraduate, I consoled myself with the thought that he was probably insane.

Nevertheless, his prophet-like declaration clung to me, like the bad air from a nightclub that no amount of starlight walking will wear off. I've come back to his words over and over in the fifteen years since then. As much as I love the work of Pierre Bourdieu, for example, a part of me remains disturbed by my sense that Bourdieu's analysis of taste is a distant cousin of the old man's doom-filled pronouncement.

What I wonder, when I'm in that space of reflection, is whether the old man believed that the process worked in reverse. Would it also take generations for the blood of a working-class man or woman to become impure?


I was just lying on the sofa in the front room, reading 100 Years of Solitude to prepare for my first graduate class on Wednesday, when my mind drifted to the content of my previous entry.

It would be nice, I mused, to write that sort of thing as fiction.

But there are massive roadblocks impeding my progress towards that goal.

Principally, I can't seem to shake the feeling that it's important to be as truthful as possible in this forum, even though my mind is content to regard everything as fiction.

Then I had an inspiration.

What if my commitment to a veracity I believe to be impossible functions as an enabling constraint?

If Georges Pereç can compose an entire novel in French without using a single word that contains the letter "E" -- read about the Oulipo writers for other interesting examples of self-limiting -- why can't I produce a journal founded on the illusion that it's possible to represent the world truthfully?

Maybe I need the limitations imposed by my sense of how things really happened in order to write anything at all.

Truth is better than speed.

Not to mention that it's less likely to make eating Ethiopian food a hellish experience.
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