Ready... aim...

This story of an uncontacted Amazonian tribe being photographed is fascinating. But traca and I were talking last night about the fact that in the first round of media stories, most (not the one linked there) didn't mention the glaring facts that 1) the plane likely scared the living bejesus out of these people, and 2) they are aiming their weapons at the photographer. "It must have been like their War of the Worlds," T said.

There are more isolated tribes in the world than I would have thought, including the Sentinelese in the Indian Ocean, who have killed people who were trying to contact them and were once left a pig to see if they would eat it -- they shot and buried it instead. They also buried a doll that was left for them. The Indian government has decided to leave them alone.


New stuff at plz

A bunch of great new content (again including some goaty varietals) over at please-dont.com along with our new design.

Find us on facebook if you want to be cool!


go poets!

Jon Thirkield wins big! Go team! Go poets!

Here's the link.

(i think), and here's what that link says, among other things:

Born and raised in New York City, Jonathan Thirkield graduated from Wesleyan University and the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop where he was a Truman Capote Fellow.

In 2008, his collection The Waker's Corridor was selected by Linda Bierds for the Walt Whitman Award, presented by the Academy of American Poets.

His poems have appeared in WebConjunctions, New American Writing, Colorado Review, 1913: a journal of forms, American Letters & Commentary, Verse, and other journals.

So, congrats Jon, on winning the Whitman award!


Adjuncts Policing the Gates?

Just in time for all those end-of-the-semester grade disputes, a pseudonymous intro comp/lit adjunct assesses the state of adult education. Too many people are too unprepared to get a college degree:

Our textbook boils effective writing down to a series of steps. It devotes pages and pages to the composition of a compare-and-contrast essay, with lots of examples and tips and checklists. “Develop a plan of organization and stick to it,” the text chirrups not so helpfully. Of course any student who can, does, and does so automatically, without the textbook’s directive. For others, this seems an impossible task. Over the course of 15 weeks, some of my best writers improve a little. Sometimes my worst writers improve too, though they rarely, if ever, approach base-level competence.

How I envy professors in other disciplines! How appealing seems the straightforwardness of their task! These are the properties of a cell membrane, kid. Memorize ’em, and be ready to spit ’em back at me. The biology teacher also enjoys the psychic ease of grading multiple-choice tests. Answers are right or wrong. The grades cannot be questioned. Quantifying the value of a piece of writing, however, is intensely subjective, and English teachers are burdened with discretion. (My students seem to believe that my discretion is limitless. Some of them come to me at the conclusion of a course and matter-of-factly ask that I change a failing grade because they need to graduate this semester or because they worked really hard in the class or because they need to pass in order to receive tuition reimbursement from their employer.)

. . .

There seems, as is often the case in colleges, to be a huge gulf between academia and reality. No one is thinking about the larger implications, let alone the morality, of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass. The colleges and the students and I are bobbing up and down in a great wave of societal forces—social optimism on a large scale, the sense of college as both a universal right and a need, financial necessity on the part of the colleges and the students alike, the desire to maintain high academic standards while admitting marginal students—that have coalesced into a mini-tsunami of difficulty. No one has drawn up the flowchart and seen that, although more-widespread college admission is a bonanza for the colleges and nice for the students and makes the entire United States of America feel rather pleased with itself, there is one point of irreconcilable conflict in the system, and that is the moment when the adjunct instructor, who by the nature of his job teaches the worst students, must ink the F on that first writing assignment.

. . .

For I, who teach these low-level, must-pass, no-multiple-choice-test classes, am the one who ultimately delivers the news to those unfit for college: that they lack the most-basic skills and have no sense of the volume of work required; that they are in some cases barely literate; that they are so bereft of schemata, so dispossessed of contexts in which to place newly acquired knowledge, that every bit of information simply raises more questions. They are not ready for high school, some of them, much less for college.

The essay is good and any former or current college comp instructor will be entertained. Someone feels their pain. Professor X diagnoses the problem but steers things neatly away from offering any solutions: admit fewer students or better prepare them? Both? More vocational colleges? How do we de-romanticize the very American notion that everyone should get a 4-year liberal arts degree? Should we? Is Professor X the problem, is he just not good enough at his job?

Thoughts? End-of-term grading complaints? Anybody tell you that you've ruined his or her life? That's always fun.


In Defense of Rabbit

Maybe I'm wrong or exaggerating or misremembering, but I recall Updike having a bad reputation around the halls of the Dey House. Not from the older crowd. Frank admired him more than once. Ethan, too, methinks. But I remember, specifically, complaints about Updike's ubiquitous and forgettable appearances in the New Yorker. Those I won't defend. Really, I'm not interested in defending anything but the Rabbit tetralogy, which I recently finished.

I say this despite many, many annoyances: some the protagonists's fault and some the author's fault and some indistinguishable. I'm thinking of the casual misogyny, the tiresome wife-swapping, the indulgent exposition, etc. Furthermore, none of Rabbit's worlds--in his twenties, thirties, forties, or fifties--are mine. Still, the guy can write. Sentence by sentence, scene by scene, he's both in control and surprising. His use of the third person present tense is a worthwhile study. The four novels blend together a bit, though not in a bad way. The second, Rabbit Redux, strikes me as a singularly brilliant novel. I'd recommend it to anyone. It manages to be introspective without being condescending or boring, socially conscious without being trite or placating. Buy it for a penny on Amazon marketplace.

I'm curious what others think of the series, if not necessarily Updike.


I'm going to bed

But if you've ever driven through Gary I think you'll agree that it's a poignant place for an election to come down. From the highway, my eye is always drawn to this old, Federalist dome. Maybe it's city hall, I don't know. It just peaks up above the side of the ramped highway--right up against the road--and it's caked in solidified exhaust. Whatever purpose and glory it once had, continues to have, is now secondary to the Skyway. But it's a beautiful building seen from an improbable angle.


In case you were thinking about buying me a gift:

As some of you know, I got a drumset for this Christmas. This is what I would like for next year (I especially like the production value of this ad -- you'd think this guy could afford to look even partially professional -- but he has more cymbals than Neal Peart, which the camera drifts away to show you). I also like that this is his way of "giving back to the community" -- in today's slumping economy, endless war, and batshit real estate market, we need "The Nookie" now more than ever.