Sunday, January 31, 2010

What Remains

(With apologies to photographer Sally Mann and gratitude to the former student and FB friend who recommended Mann's extraordinary exploration of mortality, love, and grief.)

I told you Moose was digitizing me. To honor the one-month anniversary of my slipping of the mortal coil of the body (which was yesterday), she offers this bit of canine ephemera from the Refrigerator Art Division of the Roxie Electronic Archive (TM: RW Enterprises, LLC):

Lovely, isn't it? And how marvelous that the world's most famous beagle would recognize the capacity of my own delightful breed to make humans happy. Believe me, darlings, we WFTs earn our breed description as playful and friendly, making us excellent companions for children (and aging lesbians, though for some strange reason the AKC omits that particular detail in enumerating our many virtues).

How are the moms doing? you may be wondering as they mark this sad milestone, because you are caring people and you know how much they doted on me. That is a hard question to answer, even when it is posed by you, my legions of loyal and trusted readers. I feel protective of the moms right now, gazing down upon them tenderly -- as we might imagine I do -- from my new post here in heaven, right in between Spike, the butch gray tabby I never met, and Lily, the trans girl tabby who taught me early that cats rule the world, no matter what dogs or humans think. I watch Moose and Goose move, separately and together, through the early stages of their grief, and I long to lick away the unexpected tears that spring to their eyes in odd moments. I want to help them adjust to new routines or perhaps do something goofy to distract them from an unremitting sense of something missing, something silent, something painfully out of balance. Turns out, though, that my powers as Universal Dog are pretty much limited to sending out beams of all the love that was left in my mighty heart when it beat its last. The cats assure me the moms feel that sometimes, and I think they do, like when they tell the tale of one of my exploits and then start laughing. Or when one reaches out for no particular reason and squeezes the hand of the other. See, the cats say at moments like that, they're doing all right, Rox. They're doing all right.

Even though, from the moms' perspective, the world has become a minefield of heartwarming stories about dogs, humans, love, loss, and inter-species heroism, any one of which might produce some of those unexpected tears referred to above. Their in-boxes are full of such stories, and they read them eagerly and with gratitude for the kind thoughts that inspired the sender to pass them along:
  • A long New York magazine feature on "The Rise of Dog Identity Politics," which explores how the increasing intimacy of human/canine relationships in urban settings and in households with fewer children has produced something of an existential crisis for dogs. Moose preferred the part of the story focused on recent studies showing that dog ownership produces an increase in the social-bonding hormone, oxytocin. She figures that anything that increases the human capacities for empathy, trust, and social affiliation has to be good.
  • A touching story from the New York Times about two elderly dogs, Harry and Bix, who lived in the same New York City apartment building and died recently within twenty four hours of one another. I am enormously grateful to have spent my earthly life in a nice house with a ridiculously large back yard rather than in an apartment in the city, but I have to admit these two fellas seem to have had a pretty good thing going. Their humans got together after their deaths and shared a bottle of champagne. That sounds like a fitting ending to a happy story of urban canine life.
  • An amazing local news story about a 4-month-old chihuahua who saved his owner's life by barking his tiny head off to alert his human that the big rig they were sleeping in at a Frederick, MD truck stop had caught fire. Coco saved the day, but he suffered severe smoke inhalation and racked up some hefty vet bills. Click on that link if you'd like to find out how to help defray the costs of this little hero's care.
Heck, Moose even found herself choked up over a story about the keeper at the National Zoo who is facing separation from the giant panda, Tai Shan, whom she has cared for for the past 4 1/2 years. (Tai Shan, in the extremely unlikely event that you haven't heard, is leaving Washington this week to enter a breeding program in China.) And both moms got a little choked up when they went to the movies this afternoon. They went to see A Single Man, the marvelous adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's 1964 novel starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. Contrary to what you might have heard, this powerful film is actually a story about the devastating consequences of unexpected pet loss, featuring a couple of very handsome smooth-coated fox terriers. The moms agreed that the main character's life might have been marginally improved by the sex/gender revolution that would transform Western civilization in the years just after the film's 1962 setting, but they thought what he really needed was a new animal companion. As Snoopy notes above, there is just nothing like a terrier to cheer a guy up when he's down.

Meanwhile, in Roxie's World, there are as of yet no new dogs sniffing the grounds of my ridiculously large back yard. No dogs or plans for dogs -- just longings and memories and scraps of poetry like this one from Ezra Pound's "Canto 81," also featured in Mann's book:
What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov'st shall not be
reft from thee
Indeed, darlings. It is true. Don't ever doubt or forget it. Dogspeed.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Lines Almost Written Upon SOTU

There are plenty of English profs in Roxie's World, but, alas, no poets, which explains this bit of doggerel (if you'll pardon the expression) found on a crumpled yellow sticky in a wastebasket somewhere deep in the bowels of our global headquarters early this morning:
What's up with the POTUS,
Insulting the SCOTUS
And failing to quote us
While stealing our bestest idea?
This mercifully thwarted attempt at political poetry was inspired by my typist's long reflections on the president's brief remarks on higher education in Wednesday night's State of the Union address. (Paws up and a well-worn copy of Paul Fussell's Poetic Meter and Poetic Form to anyone who can come up with a rhyme for "idea," by the way.) In the speech, Mr. Obama, you may or may not have noticed, came out strongly in favor of Excellence Without Money (TM: RW Enterprises, LLC), which is this blog's way of describing the cynical or delusional notion that you can have quality, affordable higher ed with little public investment or support. He called on Congress to pass a bill that would, according to the Chronicle report linked to above, "eliminate the bank-based federal student-loan program and use the billions of dollars in projected savings to expand aid to students and colleges." Fair enough. We are certainly with the president in believing that, "In the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college." We fully support tax credits for college tuition payments and expansion of the Pell Grant program. Then, however, the president offered up this snarky little aside:
And by the way, it's time for colleges and universities to get serious about cutting their own costs -- because they too have a responsibility to help solve this problem.
Okie-dokie, Mr. President, we'll get right on that. Let's see, hmmm, cutting costs on campus. What can we do? What can we do? Gosh, well, maybe we could freeze tuition? Oops, sorry, Mr. President, but we're in our fourth year of a freeze in the QTU system, and even MD Gov. Martin "You, Sir, Are No Jack Kennedy" O'Malley admits it's time to lift the cap. Trim program budgets? Oh, please, please, please, Mr. President, the itsy bitsy teenie weenie super cool queer program Moose directs has never, in its eight year life on campus, had a budget increase. Never! Indeed, its budget has already been cut several times, including a 10% cut earlier this year. Prick us anymore, and I guarantee you you will see some serious bleeding, even if we do have a supportive dean who gives back in soft money much of what gets taken away in hard money. Fine, then. Let's look at salaries. Gulp. Yeah, been there, done that, Mr. President. QTU is on its second round of furloughs this year and faces the prospect of a third round in 2010-11, depending on how much flexibility the state gives the university in handling a budget recall of $10.2 million. (Gov. Not Jack Kennedy calls for up to 10 days of furloughs for non-university state employees in his 2011 budget proposal.)

Here's the thing. Obama's little admonition to universities to "get serious about cutting their own costs" is itself not the least bit serious. It is a throwaway line, much like his proposal to freeze non-defense discretionary spending. In today's column, Paul Krugman borrows from the Center for American Progress in describing that proposal as the gesture of a "deficit peacock" -- i.e., someone who resorts to gimmicks as a way of scoring political points by merely pretending to address budget problems. Krugman goes on to take the president to task for indulging in a specious analogy between governments and families that has always made our skin crawl. Obama justified the spending freeze by saying, “Families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same.” Krugman points out that House minority leader John Boehner used the same analogy last year and was widely ridiculed for it. We've taken Gov. Not Jack Kennedy to task for hiding behind that very analogy in his effort to justify this year's round of cuts and furloughs.

The problem, of course, is that the current economic crisis has turned the chronic underfunding of higher education into an acute, even urgent, condition. It won't be solved by cynical rhetorical gestures or short-terms gimmicks. The belts on campus are already so tight that many of us are damn near choking for breath. We don't need to be scolded by a peacock president. We need a serious conversation about how to assure that the "world-class education" you say citizens need is affordable and available. Serious leaders can get voters to recognize the need to take serious steps to address such problems. Need proof? Voters in Oregon this week easily approved two measures to raise taxes in order to protect public education and other vital services. (H/T Chris Newfield.) You read that right: They voted to raise taxes -- in a state where voters hadn't approved an increase in the state income tax since the 1930s. Perhaps if some courageous, visionary leader in your adopted home state of Illinois had the guts to support such measures the state wouldn't be hundreds of millions of dollars in arrears to its flagship university for this year.

The choice is yours, sir: Will you truly be a president, or will you be content to be a peacock? A year into your term, an anxious nation longs to know the answer to that question.

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto, via)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Reading Obama

"I told you so" is no doubt fairly low on the maturity scale when it comes to political emotions and reactions, but, as we watch the world spin out of control over the astonishing news that born again deficit slayer President Barack Obama is apparently not the ideological soulmate of Che Guevara, we have to admit to feeling a powerful urge to climb up on the nearest rooftop and shout at the top of our collective lungs that we told you so, because, well. you. know. we. did. repeatedly.

(Image Credit: Picked up here.)

We're in good company, though. In the wake of Obama's proposal to freeze non-defense federal spending, Paul Krugman can't resist pointing out to progressives who are frustrated with his failure to challenge conservative ideology that the president is actually being the "same as he ever was" and that the evidence of his centrist inclinations was there for the seeing -- or not seeing -- all along. Melissa McEwan ends a scorching denunciation of Obama's embrace of "classic starve-the-beast conservatism" with this sardonic glance back at 2008's contentious Democratic primary race, in which she herself was excoriated for refusing to jump on the Obama bandwagon (Shakesville stayed admirably neutral as the battle between Obama and Hillary Clinton wore on and defended progressive, feminist values rather than a particular candidate):
You know, it's almost like progressives should have had a serious conversation about what kind of president Obama would really make, how he would really govern, when he kept telling us over and over and over that he wasn't a progressive.

But getting shouted at that I was a stupid, racist, man-hating traitor was fun, too.
That was fun, wasn't it, Liss? And the truth is it is not as fun as we imagined it might be to sit back and feel smug about having judged Obama correctly early in the game. (Our position, you may recall, was that Clinton and Obama were both centrists, so why not support the centrist with enough Washington experience to understand the scale of the challenge and the nature of the [implacable, uncompromising] opposition?) The stakes are too high. The political cost for the country if Democrats spend the next year cowering in a corner rather than producing results that will make a difference in people's lives is too great. Obama won because he inspired a lot of people to believe that voting mattered and government could work on their behalf. He and the Democratic congress have to start making good on some of their promises in order to turn back the rising tide of skepticism and fear that our political system and government are irreparably broken, paralyzed, unequipped to respond to the many urgencies facing the country.

Steve Pearlstein has a great column in today's WaPo on what the president would say in tonight's state of the union address if we lived in a more honest world. And Timothy Burke, over at Easily Distracted, has a moving, if dispiriting, account of the political malaise he senses in the midst of the Democratic meltdown, especially around health care but around much else as well. It's definitely a glass half-empty piece, and it ends with a confession of helplessness. We don't usually traffic in helplessness here in Roxie's World, but Burke is a smart guy and his reflections resonate with a lot of conversations the moms have been having lately with friends and fellow travelers horrified by the Democrats seeming to fall apart over the loss of a single senate seat. It's worth reading as you formulate your own assessment of the state of the union. (Secretary of State Clinton will miss Obama's speech, by the by, on account of she's got some serious world-saving work to do in London, at meetings on Yemen and Afghanistan. Girl's too busy to be jumping up and down over ideas that probably make the back of her throat burn.)

Honor bright, kids, there is little satisfaction for us in having been right about Obama all along. There was no joy at all in Moose's voice when she turned to Goose in the car last night and loudly whispered, "But it beats hell out of having been wrong, doesn't it?" No joy. None at all. Srsly.

Monday, January 25, 2010

POTUS Reads Blogs

(Barack Obama, as a presidential candidate, on his BlackBerry, 2008. Photo Credit: Jae C. Hong, Associated Press, via)

Note from the Office of Chopped Liver and Potted Plants

The "first truly wired president" reads blogs. Gay blogs even, apparently, but he prefers this one to this one, apparently. Are we bitter? Nah. Who's got time for that? We were tickled pink to stumble across this little nugget in a WaPo front pager this morning on what influences President Obama's decision-making:
As for what Obama reads online, his advisers said he looks for offbeat blogs and news stories, tracking down firsthand reporting and seeking out writers with opinions about his policies. Obama was particularly interested in Atlantic Online's Andrew Sullivan's tweeting of the Iranian elections last year, said an aide, who requested anonymity to discuss what influences the president.
Hmmm. Offbeat blogs? And a blog on politics, pop culture, and basketball written by a dead dog hasn't managed to catch your attention? Srsly? All due respect, Mr. President, but we've got it all over Mr. Andrew Sullivan when it comes to offbeat. It's true we don't have a snooty British accent, but we also don't have a history with the Republican party and a deeply obnoxious tendency to sound as pontifical as a big gay . . . pontiff. We realize there may be lingering sensitivity in the White House over our stubborn refusal to endorse you in the 2008 campaign, but if, as the Post story says, you are actively seeking "rival views" and enjoy "the rigor of having a conversation with someone who's going to push [you,]" well, then, you really might consider clicking. in. here. from. time. to. time.

Just sayin', Mr. President.

Your sincerely,

Friday, January 22, 2010

Planning Update: MLA 2010

The convention is fake, but the fun is real!

Get in on the action, kids. We are still accepting proposals for sessions you will never see, keynotes that will never be delivered, workshops that will never be facilitated -- at MLA 2010, the best conference that never was nor will be, the conference lost to time through a brutal rearrangement of destiny. Imagine the free drinks you would have cadged at the book exhibit, the paradigm-shifting question you would have asked at the packed session of luminaries in your field, the world-transforming intimacy you would have enjoyed with someone whose eyes met yours as you asked that question . . . .

Some of you have already submitted multiple proposals, and we commend you for that. Since it's a fake conference, there are no limits on the number of insanely funny ideas you can put before us. Our partners in parody, the mysterious Photoshoppers over at MLA 2010, have already whipped up a fine image (above left) to go along with Julie Enszer's idea, posted here the other day, of a keynote address by Harold Bloom called "I Was Wrong: We Should Include Women and People of Color in the Canon." (The image was originally posted here.) Their design department is promising more book covers and fabulous convention swag for the best proposals submitted, so put on your (not) thinking caps and give it your best shot.

For the benefit of those who are too cool or too busy to venture into comments, we thought we'd pull a few examples out of what's already been submitted to inspire the slackers and the shy kids among you. You really should go back and look at the whole thread, though, so you can get the full effect of Prof. Manson Mingott's richly detailed proposal for a paper on the semiotics of bacon in Big Love, not to mention Julie's pitch for a new dramatic series called The Department. Julie also had a keynote idea for Donna Haraway -- "My Dog Died and Became a Cyborg." Moose liked that, though she thought "My Dog Died and Kept Right On Blogging" sounded like a more interesting talk. Blog pals Historiann and Dr. Crazy both weighed in with some fine suggestions. We were especially impressed with Historiann's idea for a roundtable for current grad students called "Forecast: Awesome! Your Employment Prospects As Soon as all of those Tenured Lesbian Baby-Boomers Retire." (She has such razor-sharp skills in professional prognostication, don't you think?) But we were ready to pack our bags and head for the airport when we saw Dr. Crazy's idea for a roundtable called "I Came for the Drinks." The proposal elaborates:
This panel would include everyone from graduate students to Eminent Scholars in the field who have attended one or more MLA conventions without a) interviewing (whether for a job for themselves or interviewing candidates), b)presenting a paper, or c) attending panels. Where are the free drinks to be had? What cash bars are not to be missed? Is there something wrong with enjoying crappy cheese and crackers and rotgut wine in a hotel room if you are over the age of 18? What do you do if you run into colleagues from your field or institution who ask you what you thought of a panel that you should have attended? These questions and more will be answered by our esteemed panelists.
Finally, the kind of professional advice a thirsty girl can actually use! Keep the ideas comin', kids. We need the laughs, and we're betting you do, too. Helluva week, eh? Oh, and just in case you wandered in here looking for information about the next actual meeting of a little organization called the Modern Language Association, you might want to click here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

CFFP*: MLA 2010

*CFFP=Call For Fake Papers,
for the Conference That Time Forgot

(Image Credit: Those clever kids over at MLA 2010)

Roxie's World has officially joined forces with the intrepid if mysterious wits behind MLA 2010, the best conference that never was nor will be (because the next convention of the Modern Language Association will be held not in some frigid Midwestern city in December, 2010, as the lord clearly intended it to be, but in January, 2011, in Los Angeles, where no one will be able to bitch about blizzards preventing them from getting to early morning sessions). For those who simply cannot bear such an egregious violation of the order of things, we offer this virtual conference as a way of bidding a fond farewell to all those holidays brutally or fortuitously interrupted by the inflexibility of the MLA calendar. Never again will you be able to say, "No, Mom, I am terribly sorry that I cannot attend Uncle Harry's post-Christmas Vienna sausage and eggnog party, but I must iron my black jeans and get to the airport. It's time for MLA!" C'mon, admit it. Won't you miss having an excuse to escape from familial dysfunction into career dysfunction? We sure as heck will!

We invite your participation in MLA 2010, the conference that time forgot. The mystery kids are working on the book exhibit and have already come up with several titles and covers that we are certain will have Duke UP's super cool Ken Wissoker quaking in his black boots. A couple of those titles riff on a comment left here the other day by a new reader and blog pal, Bardiac, so we figure we might as well drag the rest of you into this monumental effort at faux-organization. We've agreed to take fake proposals for non-existent sessions at the conference that will never be, and so we invite you to leave your proposals in comments. We tossed out a few diabolically clever suggestions at the end of Friday's post, but we have a hunch that most of you spent the MLK holiday doing the actual work of syllabus design and pencil sharpening in preparation for the new semester and may not have had time left over for fake work. (And yet, my still-on-leave typist wonders, aren't there days on campus when it's hard to tell the difference between the actual work and the fake work? Alas.)

All of you are tagged to submit proposals, from the most oppressed grad student to the most furloughed faculty member, from the feminazi Shakespearian to the queer as pink ink poetry geek, but we're putting super-powered tags on our English prof blogging pals, Bardiac, Dr. Crazy, Kate, and Undine. Heck, since it's a fake conference, we figure there's room on the program for a few historians, so we'll tag Clio Bluestocking and Historiann, too. They both read books, closely even. All you have to do is dream up the name for a session you know you will never see in a conference program -- like, you know, "To Hell With PowerPoint: Singing, Dancing, and Success in the Literature Classroom." And/or, come up with a title for a paper that some ridiculously famous academic will never give -- Um, how about, "Oh, Crap, I Really Am a Natural Woman" by Judith Butler?

Leave your ideas in comments, and with any luck we will all spend several happy moments laughing our a$$es off while not worrying about Haiti, health care, or the Massachusetts senate race. Doesn't that sound like a good idea to you, lovelies? Get cracking. You've got some fake work to do! Peace out.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Something for Everybody

It's Friday, darlings. The embodied me has been dead for a little more than two weeks, and countless thousands are dead or missing in Haiti. With all due respect to the grim reaper and the souls of the departed, can we agree that some healthy distraction is in order? Good. I thought so. We've racked our very small brains and trolled the interwebs, trying to come up with tasty treats to appeal to a number of the different demographic groups who hang out here. Even if you don't fit precisely into one of these groups, we hope you'll find something that will burn a few of the seconds that stand between you and happy hour this afternoon. And don't worry -- We'll save you a prime seat at Ishmael's, the seedy yet cozy bar around the corner from the global headquarters of RW Enterprises, LLC. Barkeep Peter Coffin's got half-price specials on rum drinks today, because there's a warming trend happening in our neck of the woods. Come by for a tropical beverage and a towering platter of nachos. Order your own extra queso sauce, though, because you know Moose won't be sharing hers. Love you, darlings. Mean it. Play on.

For the Big and Tall Girls: Put down your hankies and pick up your pom-poms, wimmin, we got us some basketball blogging to do! We apologize for the deplorably late start on this season's worshiping at the Shrine of the Holy Round Ball, but it's taken us some time to get to know Coach B's band of mighty women, a team so new and young that the players have training wheels on their athletic shoes. How young is the team the moms have taken to calling the Baby Terps or the Littlest Turtles or the Terratots? Well, in last night's win over Boston College, the Terps had three freshmen in the starting lineup. This team is so young that sophomore Lynetta Kizer is considered, like, a tribal elder, unless you count guard Lori Bjork, a grad student who joined the Terps last season after three years at Illinois but couldn't play until this year because of NCAA transfer rules. (And you should definitely count Bjork, by the way, who has been rocking the house from 3-point land in the last couple of games and seems to be a calming presence on the floor.) The team seems to be finding its groove after some early losses away from home, including a Tobacco Road meltdown against NC State last week. We're hoping that last night's win, coupled with a squeaker in Charlottesville on Monday, will earn the Baby Terps a spot in next week's top 25. The moms haven't picked a favorite yet among the Terratots, but they are keeping a close eye on 6'3" forward Diandra Tchatchouang (pictured above left; photo by Jonathan Newton, Wa Po) who scored a game-high 18 points against BC. At first they were amusing themselves by trying to come up with nicknames more pronounceable than Tchatchouang. They liked both "Ka-ching" and "Szechuan," but Moose felt so guilty about seeming to mock someone with an unusual name that she started cheering in Tchatchouang's native French. Yep, Diandra, that's us right there at mid-court -- the crazy old broads with the hand-painted signs shouting "Allons y!" every time you touch the ball. Bonne chance, petite tortue!

For the Queer Law Geeks Ambivalent About Marriage But Unable to Stop Paying Attention to the Issue: Big doings this week with the start of the federal case on the constitutionality of California's Prop 8. Perry v. Schwarzenegger may ultimately give the Supreme Court of the United States a chance to weigh in on whether marriage inequality is compatible with those four little words conveniently carved into the frieze the justices see on their way into work each morning. The law prof bloggers have been on this case like white on rice, so click over to see what Katherine Franke has to say about Judge Vaughn Walker's apparent willingness to entertain the idea that the state should get out of the marriage business altogether. Or consult Nan Hunter's list of recommendations of where to go for the best coverage of the trial. Tenured Radical, who is back on native soil and has returned to blogging with a vengeance this week, has a good analysis of the testimony by sex and marriage historians Nancy Cott and George Chauncey.

For English Profs Who Still Can't Believe There Will Never Be Another MLA in December: The backlash is organizing. It's virtual, it's viral, it's as full of irony and wit as a blog written by a really funny dead dog! Inside Higher Ed is already reporting on it. You can follow it on Twitter! Join a Facebook group! Steal cleverly Photoshopped images (as we did, at left) from the blog that's been set up for "MLA 2010, the best conference that never was nor will be." (With the shift in schedule, there won't be a convention in 2010. The next meeting will be in January, 2011 in LA.) We're impressed with this effort and encouraged to see other humanists becoming humorists. (Hey, maybe that's what post-humanism is! Haven't you always wondered?) We think they need some help, though. A virtual mock conference is going to call for a massive effort of faux-organization. (Thought: Here's something Bush could do with his post-presidency!) Roxie's World would like to offer our services to MLA 2010. We'll task our pack of loyal, exceptionally clever readers to help come up with session titles for the conference that shall never be. So far, they've come up with "Teachers Travesty: The Best of Professorial Invective from 2010." That's a good start, but let's keep the ball rolling. Try these on for size:
  • When Species Tweet: Dogs, Humans, and the Tools of Social Petworking
  • Excellence Without Money: Or, Lies My Provost Told Me
  • Reading Gawain in the Age of Obama: Srsly
  • "You're dealing with children. They need to be terrified. It's like mother's milk to them": Lessons in Pedagogy from Sue Sylvester
  • The Age of Obama or The Obama Era: Which Makes Literary Critics Sound Hipper and More Politically Astute?
  • To Hell With PowerPoint: Singing, Dancing, and Success in the Literature Classroom
Hey, it worked for these guys, in a slightly different context:

Your turn, kids. Special session titles due by noon on Monday. Get cracking! Best proposal wins one of those cute mankinis they're flacking over at MLA 2010. Peace out.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Helping Haiti

We had another post in mind for today, one that involved high degrees of snark regarding the decline and fall of NBC and the epic knicker-wadding going on between Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien, two individuals about whom we could not care less if we tried. (Steve Pearlstein has a good piece on the brouhaha in today's Wa Po, arguing that NBC's "late-night farce is emblematic of just about everything that is wrong with American business these days." Meanwhile, in the Times, Maureen Dowd proves she was always cut out to be an entertainment reporter with a column focused on the burning question of how NBC president Jeff Zucker manages to survive, given the amount of damage he has done to the peacock network. Here's hoping MoDo will keep her jaundiced eye more on Hollywood in the future. Jeff Zucker deserves her. Hillary Clinton and the rest of the nation's grownups do not.)

Anyway, we were going to propose that Wanda Sykes be brought in to broker a peace deal between the warring tribes of aging Leno-ites and Conan's vengeful barbarians. We think NBC would do well to fill its entire prime-time schedule, five nights a week, with the wit and wisdom of Wanda Sykes. We'd tune in, and so would every other vagina-equipped person in America.

The terrible news from Haiti today has diminished our appetite for snark, however. As the dimensions of the tragedy there begin to emerge, we pause to send good thoughts in the direction of the island nation and our deepest condolences to those who have lost friends and family. We also urge readers who can to make a contribution to the earthquake relief effort being organized by Partners In Health, the international health and social justice organization founded by physician and anthropologist Paul Farmer. It's super easy to give. Please do so if you can.

Peace to those who are gone. Love and healing to those who remain. Dogspeed, friends.

(Photo Credit: Ivanoh Demers, Associated Press, 1/12/09. New York Times caption: "A man carried a child outside the Hotel Villa Créole on Tuesday evening. Haiti sits on a large fault line that has caused catastrophic quakes in the past, but this one was described as among the most powerful to hit the region.")

Monday, January 11, 2010

Arranging Grief

(With apologies to Dana Luciano, whose brilliant book you should buy right now.)

Moose is digitizing me.

(Roxie explores the ridiculously large backyard, June, 1994. Photo Credit: Moose.)

She doesn't know what else to do. Her brain refuses to focus on any of the ten thousand things she ought to be doing now that the holidays are over and the second semester of her leave is about to begin. She has an article to write and a mountain of footnotes to scale on the Most Overdue Project in the History of American Publishing. Meanwhile, here at the global headquarters of RW Enterprises, LLC, the political team thinks we should be blogging about Harry Reid. The committee to save the humanities is begging us to jump into the post-MLA debate about why the humanities is in such desperate need of saving. (You can tune into that debate here and here.) None of that, you may have noticed, has been getting blogged in Roxie's World.

Since Friday, what was the embodied me is a box of ashes sitting untouched on the love seat in the living room. Goose picked it up at the vet's that afternoon. She and Moose examined it briefly and then raced off to Best Buy to get a new TV for their bedroom. Later, Moose made a funny joke on Facebook about consoling herself with a TV rather than a puppy: "Low maintenance, reasonably good company, minimal risk of heartbreak if it dies," she quipped.

(Rastafarian Roxie, c. 1995. Photo Credit: Moose.)

She spent much of the day Saturday going through a large box of photos from the Gutenberg era of our family history. As she pored over the envelopes full of pictures, she was overwhelmed by a flood of memories. Grief compelled her to search for images of me, but the search not surprisingly exposed how deeply the story of my growing up is interwined with several other stories that unfolded during the period of my earthly life: the story of the moms as individuals and as a couple, their changing bodies, clothes, and hairstyles as they move through middle age; the story of the home they bought in 1994 and loved enough to re-imagine and rebuild in 2003; the stories of all the friends and relations who have have passed through their lives, my life, this house -- the English profs and lawyers, poets and gadflies, grad students and toddlers terrified of dogs, aging parents and beloved nephews become beloved nieces. Moose gazes at the pictures and feels slightly unhinged, pulled toward a past that suddenly feels more vibrant and real than the present.

That, perhaps, is why we feel so compelled to arrange grief -- because it is so painfully good at re-arranging, or dis-arranging, us. "Life right now is a series of double takes and disappointments," Moose wrote to a friend last week, "as I imagine I see and hear Roxie everywhere." Goose walks in the door and can't not pause on the threshold to listen for a bark or a whine. Moose still feels as if she is forgetting something when she heads upstairs at night without an old dog in her arms, ready for bed. Out in the world, they have to remind themselves, "Oh, no, we don't need to worry about getting home to tend to our girl." Arranging grief is a way of assuring ourselves that we are still here and our memories of the dearly departed are sufficient to the task of keeping something of them with us. Something -- as if memory were material.

(Note left on the refrigerator by Roxie's sitters during the moms' first trip to Europe together, 1995.)

A photograph is in effect a memory made material, as is a smudged, wrinkled square of paper that somehow managed not to get thrown away in nearly fifteen years. It's funny, though, that now, for Moose, the impulses to "arrange grief" and preserve (queer/family) history combine to produce this effort to "digitize me." She goes through the box of photos and memorabilia and scans a selection of pictures and objects because she knows she will never make a scrapbook like the ones lined up in a row (and crumbling) on a basement bookshelf. Her notion of an archive is now saturated with assumptions about electronic textualities. An "archive" is a collection of objects turned into images, a set of data that is searchable, mineable, and broadly accessible. Of course, Moose's digitization of me will not for the most part be an archive in that public sense, beyond the few pics that are likely to show up here. She will use these newly scanned images to augment a lachrymose iPhoto slideshow played against the background of James Taylor singing "You've Got a Friend" to which only the nearest, dearest, dog-craziest, and drunkest will ever be subjected. Nonetheless, her building of a mostly private electronic archive is informed at every point by the post-Gutenberg understanding that what gets digitized is now the stuff of memory, history, and meaning itself. It's telling that it never occurred to her to memorialize me by printing out copies of the digital photos she has taken in the past several years. It seemed far more important -- and more permanent -- to create digital versions of the old prints gathering dust and moisture in a box downstairs.

Moose's weekend project is a modest but revealing example of the knowledge-world we now inhabit, in the wired, wired West. In an odd way, it might even help to explain why the MLA, a professional organization not generally thought of as cutting edge, was going out of its way to raise its digital cred this year -- awarding its prestigious Prize for a First Book to QTU's own Matt Kirschenbaum for his amazing Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination and hosting a tweetup, through MLA exec direc Rosemary Feal, who twittered her way through the convention and invited followers to a party in the penthouse of the Loews Philadelphia hotel on the last night of the convention. (Inside Higher Ed has a report on the tweetup here. ProfHacker has a round-up of commentaries on the Twittering of #mla09 here.) If the MLA has jumped on the digital bandwagon, it's not really a bandwagon anymore, kids. It is just the way we think.

Digitize me, Moose, or I shall be more than dead. I shall be lost to cyberspace. And so she stands at the scanner, arranging grief, imagining heaven, dreaming a new humanities -- with bigger budgets, plenty of room for "post-," "trans-," and "inter-" disciplinarities, and critters, of course. Lots and lots of critters.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Turtles Soar, For Less!

Queer the Turtle U Rises to 8th in Excellence Without Money Rankings!

Oops, I mean, of course, in Kiplinger's Best Values in Public Colleges Rankings!

How'd we do it? Why, by slashing budgets and raising class sizes and furloughing employees!

Oops, no, I mean, of course, by eliminating waste and implementing a courageous 4-year tuition freeze at the behest of Gov. Martin "You, Sir, Are No Jack Kennedy" O'Malley!

That's right, kids! You can have your cake and eat it, too! You can drastically reduce levels of state support for higher education, artificially hold down the cost of tuition, and never in any way undermine the quality of the educational experience! Not only that, but then you can run for reelection as a progressive Democrat on a spooky-scary platform about how terrible it would be to let a Republican back into the governor's mansion -- because you are cynical enough to believe that no one will remember that the state's last Republican governor actually boosted support for higher ed with a record-breaking budget increase.

Don't misunderstand us, darlings. Affordability in higher ed is important, and we are tickled pink that QTU is getting props for "combin[ing] outstanding education with economic value." But we are sick and tired of Democrats aiding and abetting the public's delusional sense that you can offer public goods -- such as education, health care, roads, and a cleaner environment -- without significant investments of public money. We get a burning in the back of our throats every time we hear Martin O'Malley brag about his administration's commitment to fiscal responsibility. O'Malley has opted to balance the state's budget on the backs of 70,000 state employees rather than advocate for a tax increase that would have more equitably distributed the sacrifice necessary to weather the storm of the recession. Democrats are furthering the cause of privatizing everything and still trying to pass themselves off as the last best hope of people -- and turtles -- on earth. We're not buying it, and we hope you won't either.

Go read Bob Herbert's column from earlier this week. It puts our crankiness here in a broader context and raises alarms about how utterly inadequate the remedies being proposed are to the social and economic crises we face. We need leadership, language, vision, and political will commensurate with those crises -- and suddenly Democrats are deciding they'd rather quit than fight.

You get what you vote for, fellow citizens. Do you think maybe it's time we started voting for something else?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Long Overdue Postmortem on the 00s

A Highly Unsystematic Look Back at the Decade Lately Concluded

Postmortem -- Get it, kids? I promised you there'd be laughs after death, didn't I? And you know I always keep my promises. Postmortem!


I do sincerely apologize that my untimely, though not unexpected, demise last week threw a monkey wrench into all our year-end blogging plans here in Roxie's World. I mean, heck, you all count on us to keep a paw on the zeitgeist, and here we let a new year and a new decade break out without even a token attempt at a summing up or a looking back, no snarky lists of Best Ofs, Worst Ofs, and Why Oh Why Did We Let That Happen? Time waits for no blogger, though, and now such a feat feels so enormous and belated that my typist's grief-addled brain can barely imagine it. She had scribbled down a few notes before she and Goose took off for the MLA convention, but they barely make sense and have a slightly, um, idiosyncratic feel to them. See what you think.

Epic Fail of the Decade, From Which So Many Avoidable Catastrophes Sprang: Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore, which handed George W. Bush the presidency of the United States on December 12, 2000. John Nichols identifies that appalling act of judicial activism as "the root cause of what made the Noughties such a miserable decade for the republic." Sounds about right.

Why the Decade Would Just Flat-Out Suck Even If Nothing Else Had Happened: September 11, 2001. 'Nuf said.

Album of the Decade: Raising Sand, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (produced by T Bone Burnett). Why? Because it was released in 2007, and it's still in heavy rotation here in Roxie's World. Sorry, Mr. Springsteen, but nothing you did this decade even came close to this extraordinary collaboration.

Film of the Decade: There Will Be Blood (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson). Why? Because qta declared it so in the incredibly thorough and thoughtful review of films and performances he put up on Facebook. The truth is, if we had seen more movies and considered them with the same diligence qta did, we might have come to a different conclusion, but we didn't, so we will happily defer to his judgment.

Best Meal Moose and Goose Ate in the Decade: Alinea, Chicago, December, 2007. The moms still talk about the course that was delivered to the table on little pillows inflated with a nutmeg-scented steam that gently wafted out as the dish settled onto the table.

Most Thrilling Athletic Moment of the Decade: We deny any QTU bias in declaring the winner here to be Kristi Toliver's 3-point shot at the buzzer to put the final of the 2006 NCAA women's basketball championship into overtime -- Sports Illustrated called Toliver's cool-handed move "the shot of the decade." It set up QTU's stunning 78-75 victory over a Duke team that everyone in the country but Moose, Goose, and upstart Coach Brenda Frese had picked to win.

Book of the Decade (Nonfiction, Theory Geeks Focused on Critters Division): When Species Meet by Donna Haraway. A witty, profound analysis of dogs, people, and what they become by being in relationship with one another -- What's not to love?

Book of the Decade (Fiction Division): It's a tie between Marilynne Robinson's Gilead and Marilynne Robinson's Home. Why? Because they are glorious books, and we are just thrilled to see the author of 1980's Housekeeping publishing novels again. Oh, and we haven't finished Toni Morrison's A Mercy yet.

Feel-Good Moment of the Decade: Watching Barack Obama take the oath of office on January 20, 2009. Y'all know this blog never harbored great exuberance (critical or uncritical) about Obama's candidacy, but we readily admit that his inauguration was a thrilling spectacle and a milestone for the nation he leads. We are still waiting to see whether the feel-good presidency will turn into the lead-with-courage-and-tactical skill administration, but we'll take that up another day.

Most Succinct Statement We've Stumbled Across About What a Sour, Disappointing, Generally Sucktastic Period of Time it Was:
. . . [F]rom an economic point of view, I’d suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true.
From Paul Krugman, of course.

Poor little 00s. You're gone, and we still don't know what to call you. How about just calling you -- mercifully, finally -- OOver? And not a moment too soon.

(Photo Credit: "Dog Funeral: 1922," from Shorpy, the 100-Year-Old Photo Blog)

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Remembering Roxie

Should auld acquaintance be forgot? Heck, no!

* * *
As a New Year dawns, the nation mourns the passing of the embodied inspiration for America's favorite dog blog devoted to politics, pop culture, and basketball. 2009, the year of celebrities dying quicker than you could say "Michael Jackson" (!?!?), ends with one more megastar biting the dust!

Tributes pour in from fellow bloggers devastated by Roxie's death but inspired by her example. See what Historiann and Kate have to say!

Facebook nearly collapses beneath the weight of the encomiums to the most famous wire-haired fox terrier since Asta. She was "noble," declared one pal, even "magical." She was "mischievous," recalled another who knew Roxie as a leaping, barking, high-speed maniac known for eating socks and tearing the shirts of poor grad students. Also on Facebook, a caretaker from Roxie's last months reveals the only known video of Roxie, which depicts her drinking water in the submarine/snorkel style of her final days.

Here, alas, is the final, poignant photograph taken of the embodied Roxie, on the last night of her earthly life:

(Photo Credit: Geoffrey [enhanced by Moose using Camera Bag], 12/29/09)

And below, for the benefit of new readers and fans who never knew Roxie in real life, is a reprint of a post we ran back in February when the universe of Facebook was consumed with the "25 Random Things About Me" meme. The list recounts many of the stories the moms have been telling over the course of the past few days, as they celebrate a long, joyous life and try to adjust to being without an animal companion for the first time in their nearly 26 years together. How are they coping? Goose is sleeping a lot, Moose hardly at all. They are talking about getting some new fish for the pond in the ridiculously large back yard. They are as grateful as it is possible to be for the love and kindness of friends near and far, which is the best cure for heartache on dog's earth. Thank you, everybody, and happy new year.

* * *
Randomly Roxie
(Originally published February 6, 2009)

Not that anyone tagged me or anything, but I figure if both NYT and Wa Po have pieces on some cultural phenomenon on the same day, then in effect we’ve all been tagged and I should probably get in on the action. Both of the moms devoted significant chunks of last weekend to composing their lists of “25 Random Things About Me,” the meme that has been spreading like a virus through Facebook (who knew randomness could take so much time?). They then spent what was left of the weekend reading and commenting on other people’s lists to see if theirs were as clever and creative and charming and poignant as everybody else’s was. A week later, the nation’s papers of record weigh in to help us figure out if we are a nation of narcissists or a nation of strangers desperate for any way to connect with others – as long as we don’t actually have to, you know, interact with them. Third possibility: We are a nation of fiddlers frantically stroking our violins while the global economy goes up in flames all around us and our charming young president tries to figure out how to play hardball. Fourth possibility: People are stressed and looking for ways to laugh and decompress. If you don’t like the lists, then for dog’s sake don’t click on them.

We digress. Go read Krugman if you feel a need to get your knickers in a wad over the economy. We’re here to bare our souls, to share all that you’ve longed to know about us – and then some. Here, as randomly as my control freak of a German typist would allow me to make it, is my list of 25 Random Things About Me. Drum roll, please? Thank you!

1. I was born on Andrews Air Force Base, which is why I’ve always felt a cozy sense of familiarity with the military helicopters that regularly fly over our house. The moms were born in hospitals, which perhaps explains why they are less fond of helicopters and make frequent jokes about hand-held rocket launchers when there’s a chopper in the neighborhood.

2. In keeping with a tradition in Goose’s family of naming dogs after dead relatives, I was named after Moose’s maternal grandmother, Roxie Irene Brown.

3. My birth parents, a handsome pair of AKC-registered WFTs named Samantha and Gilligan, were named after protagonists of 60s sitcoms that the moms both watched and loved in their separate childhoods in Texas and Indiana.

4. I spit up on Goose in the car when the moms were driving me to my new home with them. She snuggled me closer and said it smelled sweet. I had a hunch I had stumbled into a pretty good deal when I leapt into her arms as they came through the door that beautiful May afternoon in 1994.

5. I’ve explained this before, but newer readers may not know that Moose and Goose got their names as a tribute to their different styles as dog parents. “Moose” is short for Mussolini, and “Goose” is short for Mother Goose. Guess who’s the disciplinarian and who’s the one we call the Freedom Schooler?

6. To Moose’s shame and considerable chagrin, I was an obedience school dropout. I got into quite a showdown one night with Renée, the rather formidable black dyke who ran the class, when she was trying to teach me the “down” command. Needless to say, though I understood it immediately, I did not cotton to this particular command, so I tried to bite Renée to convey my displeasure. Renée got down on her knees, put her hand around my throat, looked me right in the eye and thundered, “Bite or breathe, Roxie!” We never went back, and to this day I have never gone into a down for anyone, anywhere. I will, however, sit for treats and come, if it’s convenient.

7. Because it often wasn’t convenient for me to come when called, the moms would try to lure me inside by offering me favorite foods. Many an evening, they would find themselves on the deck singing out into the darkness, “Roxie, do you want some couscous?” or, “Roxie, do you want some cake?” depending on what was the most effective treat at the time. One of the most embarrassing moments of Moose’s life was when a neighbor asked her at a party, “Why are you always yelling ‘couscous’ into the back yard?”

8. My first dog pal was a German Short-Haired Pointer named Jazz, who made me think I was a very big dog indeed. I have never been given any reason to believe this is not the case.

9. The only thing I ever met that intimidated me was the Atlantic Ocean. When the moms took me for a walk on an ocean beach, I looked up at them as if to say, “Do not under any circumstances let me off my leash! What the heck is that?”

10. Of course, the moms would never have let me off my leash. When I was a speedy young cuss, though, I made a couple of great escapes out our front door. One time, Moose chased me barefooted through a neighbor’s back yard in the middle of a barbecue. “Excuse me!” she shouted as she raced after me. “She went thataway,” the bemused neighbor said.

11. Rather than chasing me, Goose would sit on a curb and pretend to cry when I got away. “Oh, boohoo-hoo, Roxie, please come back!” It actually worked, once, but then I figured out the trick and went on about my adventure. The best way to capture me was to get close to me in the car and say, in an exceptionally cheerful voice, “Roxie, you wanna go for a ride?” That’s an offer I never could refuse. My Aunt Margie caught me that way once when she joined in a neighborhood SWAT team that had been put together to find me.

12. Just last week, to prove that I am still an adventurer and still capable of mischief, I walked out the front door when no one realized it was open and took myself down to Sligo Creek Parkway, close by the trail where the moms and I used to walk miles and miles together. Some very responsible neighbors saw me and were concerned because of my shaky gait. They called the number on my tag and a grateful Goose came and picked me up. Both moms were impressed with my stamina and my instinct to return to the scene of so many long happy walks. “I’m still the mayor of this trail,” I reminded them.

13. The regal profile photograph of me up at the top of the sidebar was taken on my very first boat ride. We were visiting the Carolina Moosians at their vacation home on Smith Mountain Lake. Moose took the picture and titled it, with a hat tip to the Boss, “Let the Wind Blow Back Your Ears.

14. How weird are the moms? Part I: Moose has spent much of the week feeling that the 14th item on her list of “25 Random Things About Me” got her into some kind of karmic trouble. What was her 14th item?
My mother is a hypochondriac. My wholly rational reaction to this fact is that I don't believe in germs, allergies, flu shots, herbs, or doctors. If it can't be cured by Tums, Motrin, a stiff drink, or a long walk, I just don't want to mess with it.
And what has her week been like? She has had two doctor’s appointments, spent $300 on an anti-viral medication (because she refuses to pay for prescription drug coverage, convinced as she is that the pharmaceutical industry is more evil than the Taliban), and is spending Friday night in her red leather chair wondering what weird, unpleasant thing is going to happen next. She believes she tempted fate and that fate decided to kick her in the pants. (Don’t be alarmed, kids. You know Moose gets dramatic when she doesn’t feel well. She’s got chickenpox for grownups, which isn’t pretty but also isn’t fatal.)

15. How weird are the moms? Part II: Goose has spent much of the week trying to figure out just what to say or do for her grouchy, uncomfortable partner. “I wish I could fix it,” was met with a surly, “I’m sure you do.” “How ‘bout a drink?” “No, thanks. I’m watching my lips swell.” One minute Moose declares she is untouchable. The next Goose is summoned to the bathroom to put lotion on her back. It’s hard to be a ministering angel when the devil’s moved into the house.

16. One of my earliest fond memories is of running around our ridiculously large back yard while the moms were playing croquet with some friends. (This was their first season as homeowners. They were experimenting with different styles of suburban lesbianism.) I raced up and down the yard until I exhausted my tiny little self, at which point the croquet players started passing me from hand to hand so they could coo endearments into my ear. Someone started calling me “baby dog,” a term the moms still use when I do something exceptionally cute.

17. I have to confess that sometimes I have taken my job as security manager a little too seriously. On three occasions I have gotten into fights serious enough to draw blood while guarding my home territory. One of those fights was with my best dog pal, Chance, the high-strung but good-hearted border collie. We remain excellent friends to this day and blame our humans for the altercation.

18. My most selfless, heroic act ever was trying to save my trans-girl cat sister, Lily, who lapsed into a diabetic coma while the irresponsible humans were off at a concert. When they finally got home, I barked hysterically until they found Lily and then climbed up on the dining room table to watch over their efforts to resuscitate her. When she was better, I licked her face until it was clean of every trace of honey they had smeared on it. For the one and only time in her life, Lily reacted to my devoted attention with gratitude rather than feline contempt.

19. Like Goose, I have had two near-death experiences, one when I went into congestive heart failure not long after my mitral valve prolapse was diagnosed and the other when I had a vicious bout of pancreatitis in the summer of 2006. Moose set up my blog after the first incident and nearly shut it down after the second. Drama queen!

20. Humans will do amazing things for animals they love. When I went on a hunger strike after I started my heart meds, Goose cooked all my food for me – goulashes, meat loaves, grilled chicken. I lived like a queen! You all know about the liverwurst they use twice a day every day to get me to take my meds. Oh, they are clever, diabolical women.

21. I wander a lot these days inside the house. Sometimes I end up in corners and am not sure how I got there. Usually one of the moms comes along and turns me around. “Silly old girl,” she’ll say with a gentle rub behind an ear. Or at least I think that’s what she says. My old ears aren’t as sharp as they used to be.

22. A mystery: If humans are, for the most part, so kind to animals, why are they, too often, so unkind to one another and so terribly cruel to the planet that gives them life? I’ve spent many a long nap pondering this great conundrum and have never gotten anywhere near understanding it.

23. A dream: The three of us on the trail again, on a perfect afternoon in June, deciding to go all the way to Wayne and making up a song to sing on the long walk home.

24. If I could, I’d tag Chance and my pal Foxy, way out in the remote kingdom of Illinois, for this exercise. As it is, I’ll tag Historiann, because she hates Facebook, and my fellow WFT blogger, Buster. Keep it goin’, kids!

25. Here’s what Moose listed as the last of her “25 Things”:
Blogging will either be the ruin or the salvation of my academic career, but it gives me such profound creative, intellectual, and interpersonal pleasure that I honestly don't care where it leads. Note to students: Follow your bliss.
That sounds about right. Except for the blogging part. What the heck does Moose know about that? ;-)

Follow your bliss, beloveds. It’s the only thing that makes sense.