Monthly Archives: November 2007

In French

This evening our art show opened in Lafayette. I got lost along the Bayou Grosse Tête on the way and it was very interesting. There were high cane fields, a little ridge which I believe leads to Grand Coteau and beyond, small almost Caribbean style plantation houses, large trailers, and a genuine Bengal tiger in a gas station. Tigers are like cats.

People in Lafayette do not speak French but people from Mamou do. I have learned to speak New Iberia and Pont Breaux Creole but not Cadjin French. This does not matter because it is much easier to understand than Creole. I understand the prairie Cajuns very well and they understand me if I speak with a Spanish accent. “Nous-autres des bons rien,” stated one artist, referring to the Cajun cultural identity which, like the French one, appears to involve drinking wine. (In this sentence note the omission of the verb. Creole does that too.)

There were many Cadjins at the art show. Before my hair turned brown it was golden blond. My mother said that this combined with my brown eyes was very striking, and that I looked French. The prairie Cadjins have golden blond hair and brown eyes and they are very striking and look French.

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James Baldwin

James Baldwin died November 30, 1987, twenty years ago today. I was having a traumatic semester and I did not take note of his passing, but he has always been one of my favorite writers, so I will take note of it today. This post is intended as a James Baldwin Video Aggregator.

CSPAN Baldwin Video Clip List
GLBT James Baldwin (ad for GLBT History Month)
I Am Not a Nigger. I Am a Man (PBS American Experience)
James Baldwin (short overview of his life with jazzy background)
James Baldwin on Malcolm X (live interview 1 – key archival footage)
James Baldwin: They Don’t Think I’m Human (live interview 2)
James Baldwin: Urban Renewal is Negro Removal (live interview 3)
Letter to My Young Brotha (by bygINCpresents)
Me and James Baldwin: Down on the Cross (also by bygINC)
The Price of the Ticket (description of complete video program)
The Price of the Ticket (buy from California Newsreel)

Audio Lagniappe:

Baldwin at Berkeley High and at UC Berkeley, 1974 and 1979
.

Do you know of any audio or video to add? Did you know Baldwin has a MySpace page? Here is what the New York Times has written about Baldwin over the years.

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On Fascism

This article is of interest. For instance:

Fascism creates confusion through “facts”. It relies on junk science, revisionism, the elimination of cultural records/treasures and obfuscations to create its case and gain acceptance. Fascism can also combine Marxist critiques of capitalism or faith based critics of the same to re-define middle class perceptions of democracy and to force its issues, confuse logic and create majority consensus between targeted groups. This is also referred to as creating a state of cognitive dissonance, the mental state in which human beings are most easily manipulated.

and:

Fascism is an extreme measure taken by the middle classes to forestall lower-working class revolution; it thrives on the weakness of the middle classes. It accomplishes this by embracing the middle class love of the status-quo, its complacency and its fears of: a) generating a united struggle within the working class, b) revolution and c) losing its own power and position within society.

In more simplistic terms the people currently in control fear that if they allow equal rights and equal consideration to those being oppressed, they will become oppressed and lose everything.

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An Academic Culture

If your parents believe that you can pass 15 credit hours’ worth of college level work by merely attending class, they can insist that you also work full time, because 40+15=55. If your parents insist that missing class to drive them to the doctor or babysit your sister’s children should be an “excused absence” from school, you will miss class. If your employer will fire you if you do not take overtime when requested and you need to keep your job, you may miss class to work.

If all of these situations are taking place at once, you will already be failing by the time the drop date rolls around. If, however, you have accepted financial aid and you resign from the university, you must repay this aid. If you have already spent it on the car you need to get to class and therefore cannot repay it, you cannot withdraw, so you must continue to attend and continue to fail. If, however, you are taking courses in departments which need to produce a certain number of student credit hours to keep themselves afloat, you may receive more passing grades than you deserve.

If, furthermore, many of these courses are taught by instructors and assistant professors who need high teaching evaluations to keep their jobs; if they have discovered that serious teaching is impossible in the situation we are describing; and if they have realized that a fast route to high teaching evaluations is high grades, you may receive grades high enough to keep you off probation enough semesters so that you can continue to receive financial aid.

The key to all of this, however, is the endemic belief that mere attendance should mean passing, and that multiple absences should be “excused” if they are undertaken to help the family with some form of housework. I also note that it is as though we and the students were all on welfare. I am opposed to this system and attitude – I think school should be free, and we should also be free to fail more people – but the students and their parents feel entitled to welfare in this form. At the same time they are Republicans opposed to Welfare Queens.

Axé.

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Anschluß

Now I am going to give back one of those exams, on which once again every one has made, essentially, either an A or an F. It is depressing. People with F’s will, as usual, have a great deal to say about how it is the fault of the textbook or other materials, or my fault. Their “learning styles,” which are sacrosanct, have prevented them from being able to absorb this particular material.

Since I cannot imagine being in school and not studying at all, and trying to get away with it by being disingenuous, I am willing to entertain the idea that they are disabled, need help, and so on, and that I am just so educationally privileged that I cannot understand their problems. Earnestly I try to give as much latitude as I can, recommend tutors, insist they actually get tested for their disabilities and be placed in programs which will help them learn how to learn. Finally I discover that it is simply that they do not study. I think that once again I am allowing myself to be abused.

It is odd to me how, rather than admit they do not study, these students are willing to make speeches which come down in essence to saying, “I am very deeply learning disabled and perhaps also mentally retarded – seriously enough so that I should really be in a training program for a routine trade requiring no analysis or thought of any kind.” These people by their own admission would not be competent to run, say, a lawn care service, since this does involve some planning and thought. I have described them to my neighbor the Marine.

He has a small trucking business on the side and he says many of the people he employs are similar to these students: dependent. They do not read, so they cannot read maps or directions, so they can only be sent to places they have been before. They do not do arithmetic, so they cannot figure out whether the cash they have is enough to buy the amount of gasoline they need.

The man in the paint store says he has found he needs college graduates to work as clerks because college students do not have the requisite arithmetical skills. So I am not alone in this problem, but I feel very lonely in it since this is supposed to be a university. One can extrapolate from this situation, however, why the country is as it is and why it reproduces what it does.

Axé.

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On Grading

Unless you are in the honors program or a graduate student, in which cases situations vary, you can tell me your class and a little bit about your life; I will then guess what your grades are and be right. I hardly need to see your work, because I have diagnosed you by class and situation, to wit:

Freshman/Sophomore:
A, D, or F. A is a result of studying. F is a result of not studying. D is a result of not studying, but still listening in class.

Junior/Senior: B or C. At this point those persons making F have either flunked out dropped out. Those making D have improved to C, because a 2.0 is required for graduation. The A students, meanwhile, have moved to B because they are working too many hours and also because their sisters need babysitters and their cousins need sudden rides to Westwego, Harahan, Gonzales and other tenebrous places.

Some senior and graduate stars do still get A, however. This is very fortunate because the quantity of D and F people I have at lower levels are making me feel like a true failure. My grades at this time are A in alienation, confusion, longing and nostalgia. These four subjects constitute a full load.

*

Earlier this week I gave a ride to a colleague in another department – a rather fancy professor I do not even know, but who is also on the relevant committee and needed a ride – to a system meeting across town. We had civilized, collegial conversation on the way and on the way back, without having to watch our words or translate ourselves to the other person. It was like alighting in reality. For more than a day afterward I was in a state of exultation about having had the chance to experience reality for a few moments.

Axé.

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Two Games from Redstar

1. Play this vocabulary game and in the process, donate rice at no cost other than the time you spend playing. Via the Redstar Perspective. You can tell I am grading, because I am looking for games to play. This is the best game yet, and it is virtuous besides.

The highest I could score was 47 and I couldn’t maintain it – I would make a mistake and be cast down again, as low as 41 or 42 until I could build again. This game is most instructive, as it contains very esoteric words.

2. I am still grading, and I have not taken enough exercise in days, and there is no really good reason for that although there is an explanation. Anyway, Redstar has another game: what year do you belong in? I belong in 1998. This means that I fluctuate in terms of fashion – fancy grunge one day, fancy ghetto the next.

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Charming News

One is advised against repeating the news in one’s blog, as this merely turns the ether into an echo chamber. However there is so much news, and each piece of it is so overwhelming, that I cannot refrain from pointing out that there are now veterans who, having accepted enlistment bonuses and now having been wounded before their term of enlistment ended, are being asked to return a prorated portion of their bonuses, and that several European countries have been complicit in secret renditions to Guantánamo by letting us fly through their airspace or, in the case of Spain, land there on the way to Cuba.

Check out Stephen Gray’s GhostPlane (cited in the Times of London), which links to source documents on the Turkey – Greece – Spain – Portugal – Cuba route: a fascinating one for travel, it must be said, although not in these circumstances. This website also permits you to see a photograph of the inside of a transport plane, loaded with hooded and pinned-down prisoners.

Finally, do not forget to learn how manhole covers for New York and other U.S. cities are made by barefoot workers in at least one Indian foundry. Impeachment will not remedy all of this, but it is one excellent place to start. My student says the only way to remain calm is not to know the news, but I favor spreading it.

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Reassigned Time

Last month Reassigned Time was called “selfish” for planning to go on the market for a job she may like better than the one she has. I find it is very strange how often professors are told they are selfish, arrogant, or childish to want other jobs and/or other careers. But it is true. The reasons I have been given why I should stay in academia, or in particular academic jobs I have had, include the following:

+ I should be grateful to have a career and no children, and I should therefore suck up whatever my current job dishes out;

+ I have an academic job and not everyone who wants one does, therefore I should keep mine whether I want it or not;

+ I am good at this, so I am probably not good at anything else.

I also note that the words selfish, childish, and arrogant are typically those used to shame women into relinquishing independence.

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Globalization

The New York Times 11-26-2007

FOLLOW LINK TO FASCINATING PICTURES AND AUDIO

Workers in Haora, India, have few protections while making manhole covers for Con Edison and some cities’ utilities

By HEATHER TIMMONS and J. ADAM HUGGINS

NEW DELHI — Eight thousand miles from Manhattan, barefoot, shirtless, whip-thin men rippled with muscle were forging prosaic pieces of the urban jigsaw puzzle: manhole covers.

Seemingly impervious to the heat from the metal, the workers at one of West Bengal’s many foundries relied on strength and bare hands rather than machinery. Safety precautions were barely in evidence; just a few pairs of eye goggles were seen in use on a recent visit. The foundry, Shakti Industries in Haora, produces manhole covers for Con Edison and New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, as well as for departments in New Orleans and Syracuse.

The scene was as spectacular as it was anachronistic: flames, sweat and liquid iron mixing in the smoke like something from the Middle Ages. That’s what attracted the interest of a photographer who often works for The New York Times — images that practically radiate heat and illustrate where New York’s manhole covers are born.

When officials at Con Edison — which buys a quarter of its manhole covers, roughly 2,750 a year, from India — were shown the pictures by the photographer, they said they were surprised.

“We were disturbed by the photos,” said Michael S. Clendenin, director of media relations with Con Edison. “We take worker safety very seriously,” he said.

Now, the utility said, it is rewriting international contracts to include safety requirements. Contracts will now require overseas manufacturers to “take appropriate actions to provide a safe and healthy workplace,” and to follow local and federal guidelines in India, Mr. Clendenin said.

At Shakti, street grates, manhole covers and other castings were scattered across the dusty yard. Inside, men wearing sandals and shorts carried coke and iron ore piled high in baskets on their heads up stairs to the furnace feeding room.

On the ground floor, other men, often shoeless and stripped to the waist, waited with giant ladles, ready to catch the molten metal that came pouring out of the furnace. A few women were working, but most of the heavy lifting appeared to be left to the men.

The temperature outside the factory yard was more than 100 degrees on a September visit. Several feet from where the metal was being poured, the area felt like an oven, and the workers were slick with sweat.

Often, sparks flew from pots of the molten metal. In one instance they ignited a worker’s lungi, a skirtlike cloth wrap that is common men’s wear in India. He quickly, reflexively, doused the flames by rubbing the burning part of the cloth against the rest of it with his hand, then continued to cart the metal to a nearby mold.

Once the metal solidified and cooled, workers removed the manhole cover casting from the mold and then, in the last step in the production process, ground and polished the rough edges. Finally, the men stacked the covers and bolted them together for shipping.

“We can’t maintain the luxury of Europe and the United States, with all the boots and all that,” said Sunil Modi, director of Shakti Industries. He said, however, that the foundry never had accidents. He was concerned about the attention, afraid that contracts would be pulled and jobs lost.

New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection gets most of its sewer manhole covers from India. When asked in an e-mail message about the department’s source of covers, Mark Daly, director of communications for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, said that state law requires the city to buy the lowest-priced products available that fit its specifications.

Mr. Daly said the law forbids the city from excluding companies based on where a product is manufactured.

Municipalities and utility companies often buy their manhole covers through middlemen who contract with foreign foundries; New York City buys the sewer covers through a company in Flushing, Queens.

Con Edison said it did not plan to cancel any of its contracts with Shakti after seeing the photographs, though it has been phasing out Indian-made manhole covers for several years because of changes in design specifications.

Manhole covers manufactured in India can be anywhere from 20 to 60 percent cheaper than those made in the United States, said Alfred Spada, the editor and publisher of Modern Casting magazine and the spokesman for the American Foundry Society. Workers at foundries in India are paid the equivalent of a few dollars a day, while foundry workers in the United States earn about $25 an hour.

The men making New York City’s manhole covers seemed proud of their work and pleased to be photographed doing it. The production manager at the Shakti Industries factory, A. Ahmed, was enthusiastic about the photographer’s visit, and gave a full tour of the facilities, stopping to measure the temperature of the molten metal — some 1,400 degrees Centigrade, or more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

India’s 1948 Factory Safety Act addresses cleanliness, ventilation, waste treatment, overtime pay and fresh drinking water, but the only protective gear it specifies is safety goggles.

Mr. Modi said that his factory followed basic safety regulations and that workers should not be barefoot. “It must have been a very hot day” when the photos were taken, he said.

Some labor activists in India say that injuries are far higher than figures show. “Many accidents are not being reported,” said H. Mahadevan, the deputy general secretary for the All-India Trade Union Congress.

Safety, overall, is “not taken as a serious concern by employers or trade unions,” Mr. Mahadevan added.

A. K. Anand, the director of the Institute of Indian Foundrymen in New Delhi, a trade association, said in a phone interview that foundry workers were “not supposed to be working barefoot,” but he could not answer questions about what safety equipment they should be wearing.

At the Shakti Industries foundry, “there are no accidents, never ever. Period,” Mr. Modi said. “By God’s will, it’s all fine.”

Heather Timmons reported from New Delhi and J. Adam Huggins from Haora, India.

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