Trends in Gasoline Production and Price
The first chart below, derived from data provided by the Energy Information Administration, shows the weekly history of domestic production of gasoline in the U.S. from 1983 through last week. The second chart is a blow-up for the period from April of 2006 until April 20, 2007.
The next chart plots average U.S. gasoline prices, again courtesy of the Energy Information Administration, over the time frame of the second chart, above.
The very first chart presented, the one that shows U.S. gasoline production over the past nearly 25 years, is informative. Probably its most obvious (and maybe even reassuring) feature is its upward trend, principally the result of steadily increasing demand for gas, as can be seen in the graphic at right, which shows year-by-year vehicle-miles driven from 1995 through 2007 (with 2006 and 2007 being projected from existing data).
However, that gasoline production graph at the top of this article is dominated by another feature: high volatility in the production levels is clearly not merely an occasional phenomenon, but a persistent characteristic. But, whereas that striking up-and-down pattern has always been there, a more careful look at the graph reveals something troubling about the roller-coaster of the cycles: the downward stroke in each cycle is getting stronger. In fact, the deepest down spikes were generally hitting their low points at higher and higher production levels until the output trough in February of 2000, which appears to mark the start of the current era of declining output levels at the low points of the strongest production plunges, as seen in the zoom-in graphic at left, which covers gas production during the period from 2000 to present. The 2005 cycle had a lower low than the 2003 cycle, the 2003 cycle had a lower low than the 2001 cycle, and the 2001 cycle had a lower low than the 2000 cycle. Worse, the 2005 cycle could be considered a double low spanning the last half of that year and the first half of 2006, a proposition that seems (and the operative word here is seems) to be supported by the emergence of the 2007 downturn now beginning to cause rising gas prices at the pump.
It does not take an economist to figure out where gas prices are headed either in the short or long run. The exact price drivers will be paying by this Summer is somewhat hard to predict, but a fair estimate would be in the range of $3.50 to $4.00 per gallon for regular unleaded. If another war breaks out in the Middle East, multiply those prices in that range by two to three.
As far as the longer term outlook is concerned, after going into nose-bleed territory long enough for consumers to have wholly unproductive fits and Congressmen to hold equally unproductive hearings, gas prices will again settle back, although probably not down to where they will be as low as they were several months ago.
In the much longer term, the economist John Maynard Keynes succinctly summed up the situation: "In the long run, we're all dead." The only issue in that inevitable event, then, is the cost of the disposal of your carcass should you choose cremation using fossil fuels as the accelerant.
The Dark Wraith bids motorists many happy trails over the coming driving season.
Why Math Teachers Deserve Better Pay
(No, this isn't one from my own stack: there would have been a justifiable homicide involved if it had been.)
"Irresponsible students," I thought to myself, half grinning about the prospect of teaching in a room where I was the only living soul. It wouldn't be the first time; and besides, this wasn't really my class, anyway. I've sort of ended up adopting it because the regular professor has been absent quite a bit.
This particular class is the last pre-calculus ("pre-calc," we call it) course. The few young people who take the "hard science" track and make it this far are going into the heavy-hitter fields: one student wants to be a physicist; another plans to go into computer science; a third sees astrophysics as the way to go; two others want to be engineers; and the sixth isn't sure, but he thinks he'll go into physical chemistry.
That's all: six young people, five males and one female. Not very many, considering how important their technical and theoretical work will be to the world of tomorrow. This course has the content they should have learnedor should have been taughtin their Junior or Senior year of high school. Some of them did take higher algebra and trigonometry, but the knowledge was not imparted in such a way that it infused to their minds to become the set of routine thinking and symbolic manipulation skills necessary for survival in the rigors of the calculus. Several of these kids had even taken a "calculus" course in their last year of high school, a choice that almost invariably leads to an entering Freshman college student who has nothing other than the ability to say, "But I took calculus in high school. How come I'm having to take pre-calc here?!"
The much-vaunted "No Child Left Behind" ruse has done nothing to bring us better-prepared students. It has made them unable to comprehend why most professors won't teach to their tests. Some students are bitter about this. They think we're trying to blindside them with unfair questions; they rightly claim that we have questions and problems on exams that we "didn't cover in class"; and some believe we waste a great deal of time on material that never shows up in assessment instruments. However, all of that being the fact of the matter with respect to the way students are these days, it's always easy as a long-time teacher to fuss about how students were better in some grand time of yesteryear. A whole lot of that is nothing more than an application of the fantasy about the utopian past that never really existed even though everybody is absolutely convinced that it really did.
These kids are no stupiderand certainly no brighterthan the kids I taught in 1981. At the same time, I'm no betterbut fortunately no worsethan I was in that same year, the one when I began what would become my lifelong, enduring profession among the many pursuits I would engage as I tried to earn enough to keep body and soul together in the scholarly ghetto of non-tenure track higher education.
Sure enough, Room 1302 was empty when I walked in. I flipped on the lights and headed over to the behemoth of a computer/audio-visuals console, which in that room is situated on the far left side at the front. In many classrooms, those awful monstrosities are plopped right smack in the middle at the front of the room, serving as beastly, low-lying fortresses for the teachers who would prefer not to interact at close, unprotected range with their audiences.
I sat down and started shuffling through papers to find the pile of exams I needed to grade before Monday. If I got through that mess, I'd have more time to spend on a stack of essays through which I would have to force myself to plow, a chore that always takes hours and hours because I cannot keep myself from meticulously addressing the atrocious grammatical errors that pervade student writing. We professors are being flogged into a big "writing across the curriculum" fad. To my misfortune, having been trained in the old-fashioned notion that a cogent thought cannot be conveyedindeed, cannot quite existwithout a structured, consistent framework of exposition, the essays I read are simply awful, and it's because the students cannot write worth a damn. Still, if I could get those remedial algebra exams graded, I'd have the whole evening to sit in the coffee shop and delight in cursing comma splices, sentence fragments, and utterly incoherent chains of unshaped thought striving to pose as college-level writing.
I hadn't even so much as opened my plastic fold-over case when I heard approaching voices echoing in the hallway outside the classroom. I absently thought that it must be a couple of ne'er-do-well students who hadn't quite figured out they're not supposed to be in the building when it's 76 degrees outside.
The voices got louder. I heard laughter: several male-types and a female.
More yakking. They were almost to the door.
"You have got to be kidding," I thought to myself.
Yes, it was five of the six students in that class. They had shown up, all of them rolling in, talking, laughing, heading to their usual seats.
The young woman, her long, curly hair wet from having just been at the pool, was grinning from ear to ear, protesting, "Look, so I've lived a sheltered life. I've never even heard of these groups."
The young men were having a heyday. "So you're saying you've never heard any of their music?" one of the boys insisted.
"No... maybe. I don't know!"
Another of the young men said, "This is tragic, man."
They bantered back and forth as I sat there staring at them. That flash of mild exasperation I had felt a moment before was gone. I just stared at them. Three of the four boys were dressed in baggy clothes. Their hair was long. The fourth boy, who always sat on the side opposite the others, wore a crisp sport shirt and had a slightly nerdy, John Edwards-style haircut. He, too, was smiling at the exchange going on, but he said little other than to nod in agreement with what the other boys were saying.
I wanted to keep looking at them. My God, they were so... beautiful. It was as if I were looking at a timeless antique, still perfectly new. They were so modern, but at the same time, they were the very embodiment of something so old, something I almost forget sometimes, something I almost forget to love sometimes.
"Awright," I huffed in the best snarl I could feign, "what's this all about?"
The one young man, slender, with a wild mane of red hair tied back as best he could, turned around in his seat and said to me, "She is so out of it!"
"Okay! So I've lived in a cave!" she interrupted. "I admit it!"
"She's never heard of Nine Inch Nails, Professor."
"Can you believe that?" another of the boys said as he shook his head.
Knowing very well that this whole conversation was not going to take the class in the direction I wanted it to go, I still gamely turned my attention to her and asked, "Well, I'm sure you've heard of, say, Barry Manilow."
"Well, duh," she answered as she put her head down and looked up at me with a grin of exasperation. The young men started hooting and howling.
I started naming groups, mostly from the '70s and '80s, that she might recognize.
Pink Floyd. ("Yeah... I'm pretty sure.")
The Police. ("The who?")
No, that was another group. More guffaws.
Grateful Dead. ("That's creepy. Didn't he, like, die or something?")
Okay, moving forward, Metallica. ("Their music is supposed to be evil, isn't it?")
REO Speedwagon. ("Yeah.")
Aerosmith. ("Duh. Who hasn't?")
Devo. ("Never heard of them.") The young men surprised me by having a fit about that. They started talking about the hats and all that strangeness. I made a minor point about the explosion of talent and different directions music took in the 1980s. I mentioned the Eurythmics, Sting and The Police, and other extraordinary individuals and groups. When I got to Klaus Nomi and some others in the hard-core avante-guard movement that came out of the '70s, the boys got a little quiet. I let it go, knowing I had slightly opened a door I could push open further a little later.
The young fellow with the fiery red hair fumbled with his portable CD player, finally managing to get the CD out. "Would you play just one track from this so she can hear Nine Inch Nails?"
That computer/audio-visual workstation had been used for quite a few presentations over the course of the semester, but I was pretty sure it had never been put to a task like the one it was about to take on. The stereo speakers in that room, crummy as they are, were certainly mounted high enough to ensure that the sound would practically rip the drywall down were I to leave the volume up where most professors like to have it to play educational videos.
I opened the CD drive on the computer and put in the latest Nine Inch Nails album. Windows Media Player came to life and offered me fifteen tracks of what to many would not qualify as "music" in any classical sense of the word.
"Play track 3. That's a good one," the redhead announced.
"Track 3 it is, then." A flurry of track requests followed: track 7 was "totally awesome"; so was track 10; and she'd have to hear track 15, which starts out with vocals but then goes into a long, instrumental second half.
It was only when I hit the faux play button on the Media Player that I realized I hadn't adjusted the volume control. The sound that issued forth from those speakers could have awakened the dead. I scrambled to bring down the volume as the room instantly filled with raw noise.
I got it under control and said, "I have to keep it down because I'll get my ass kicked if anyone else hears what we're doing in here."
"I can't understand anything they're saying," the young woman protested as she walked a few steps at a time toward the speakers. Two of the boys started singing with the music. The lyrics contained words like "bomb" and "nation," and she quickly got the idea. "This is, like, social commentary, isn't it?"
"Some of it," I volunteered. "At first, this sounds like nothing but loud, awful noise; but once you get used to it, the words start making sense... although no one seems to know what some of these groups are saying in their songs. Nine Inch Nails isn't like that at all, though."
She sat down on a table at the front and just looked at the speakers as the music played.
We all started talking. First, it was about horror movies. We went from lame Stephen King stuff to violent but artful movies like Sin City and Pulp Fiction. I brought up The Mariachi Brothers trilogy, something no one was familiar with. I suggested the Evil Dead trilogy, along with Bubba Ho-Tep, which got roars of agreement that those were some of the best. One of the young men asked me if I knew about Dark City, and I affirmed that it was a classic, except for the corny final confrontation scene. We all agreed that trying to make Dune into a movie was a wrong against nature.
"Of course, the movie that defined science fiction movies ever after was Blade Runner," I declared to enthusiastic agreement.
One of the students asserted that the last truly classic science fiction movie was Chronicles of Riddick, and I told him he was right.
We kept talking as the music moved from track to track. Several times, I asked the young woman if she was getting used to the music. The last time, she said, "Yeah. It's pretty cool. I guess this means I'm not living a sheltered life anymore, right?"
We all talked some more. Science stuff. Several times before in that class, I had made passing mentions of where technology was going and what they'd see during their lifetimes. Teleportationthe Star Trek stuffreally fascinated them, especially since they were hearing me talk about it as an engineering problem rather than as a wildly silly science fiction idea. It's all about extremely high-speed information storage, transmission, and retrieval, really. Data compression. Quantum entanglement. Plasma fields.
Beyond teleportation lies true star navigation, sort of like how it was portrayed in Frank Herbert's Dune, except that it won't be drugs that will turn people into star navigators. At least I don't think that's how it will be done; but who knows?
The fractional quantum hall effect gets them excited, especially since the hunt is on to find minerals that actually display this odd, non-standard state of matter. Maybe we've found one, maybe not. String theory is cool, too, especially since it's all based on equations some guy did over a hundred years ago that were pretty useless until someone noticed that the sub-atomic universe behaves just like in that dead guy's equations, which had to do with how springy things like rubber bands work.
The class was supposed to end at ten minutes to the hour, and I had maybe ten minutes left when track 15 was finishing up on the CD. I had mercifully skipped some of the songs that would have gotten us behind where I wanted to take the students before the end of the period.
I fired up the overhead projector so the computer screen would display on the front whiteboard, and I said, "I'm going to turn you people on to something really different."
Rare is the time when something so brazen could be done to kids that age; but I had a moment when they would not just listen, but maybe even buy into the possibility that they could get something totally new into their repertoire of cultural standards.
"Back in the 1930s, there was a really great singer named Billie Holiday, a woman who sang a lot of different songs that made her about as popular as an African-American could be in that time. One of the songs she did, they made her change some of the lyrics because the song was so depressing. There are stories that, even with the less depressing, sort of upbeat ending of the song, people committed suicide and left notes quoting some of the morbid lyrics that were still there.
"What I'm going to play is a YouTube of the song, done with the original lyrics, from a performance by Diamanda Galás, a modern performance artist whose voice can go from the stunningly operatic to the utterly frightening. The video is really disturbing, so sit back and enjoy."
I had managed to find the YouTube video of Diamanda Galás doing "Gloomy Sunday," and I launched it.
During the runtime of almost five minutes for the video, those young people in that room didn't move a muscle, nor did they say a word. They all stared at the screen, just like their classmate had stared at the speakers when she was listening to Nine Inch Nails.
I had so much to tell them about what they were seeing, especially about the face of Galás contorting, looking almost masculine, and how all of that was related to the theatrical devices of "burlesque" and "travesty" from clear back to ancient Greek performance traditions. I wanted to tie that in to the cycles of plays in Medieval England and to the Shakespearean devices that captured audiences, and how modern performers from Kiss to Snoop Dogg use burlesque and travesty, as have comedians like Milton Berle and Benny Hill and political pundits like Ann Coulter.
I especially wanted to tell them about how Diamanda Galás is famous in her performances for unintelligible vocalizations, which are part of an expressive tradition called "glossolalia," which connects unbelievably diverse human behaviors ranging from shamanistic ululations to evangelical Christians speaking in tongues, and along the way picks up the cadenced non-word sounds that make certain old Blues music so interesting and that was embraced in some early Rock-and-Roll songs. This is the stuff of "signal processing theory," a really intense mathematics field. We can find ways in our minds to discern meaning and value in what sounds at first like the sheer, random noise of Nine Inch Nails and other auditory and visual artists who are inviting their audiences to use the power of consciousness to reach for and acquire meaning in the chaos that isn't chaos to those who are willing to let their senses adapt, just like I want my students to do when they learn math. We can write computer programs that tease out and reconstruct human voices with nothing but zeroes and ones. This is the same idea behind the brutally complicated math of handing off a cell phone signal from one tower to another as a person drives down a highway, and it's the same idea behind how we'll eventually understand the way millions and millions of patterned firings of brain neurons create consciousness and construct representational reality. And someday, long and far into the future, it is these same ideas we'll use to build the tools with which the star navigators will cast our descendants across the universe.
I needed to be quiet, though, and let my students take in something they'd never before seen but were in the frame of mind to accommodate.
The song ended, and the screen went black. After a brief, dead silence, the nerdy-looking young man mumbled in a small voice, "Shit... That was awesome."
The girl said, "I'm so depressed, now," as she and the others got up to leave. She kept going on about the lyrics and the visuals and how she couldn't tell whether Galás was a man or a woman and how she was wondering how she'd ever catch up with all the music and movies she's been missing.
I shut down the audio-visual console and killed the lights as I left the classroom behind the others.
We got to the lobby area. The students all headed out the main doors, and I went up the stairs, back to my office where I could spend an hour grading papers before going somewhere to get a fresh cup of coffee.
By the time I finally left the building, it was almost dark, and I was tired.
It had been such a good day at college.
The Dark Wraith still has papers to grade for Monday.
The Right Way for a New World
Kids can watch Internet videos of people beating each other to bloody pulps, and people just go, "Tsk, tsk." A substitute teacher didn't know how to stop pornographic pop-up spam on a school computer kids had been playing with, and that teacher is facing 40 years in prison.
We have theme parks, tournaments, and weekend camps all over the country where people can use each other as human targets for laser tag and paintball. The White House pressures U.S. Attorneys to use vital resources to doggedly prosecute companies that do interstate sales of obscene literature.
We reduce nations to anarchy and rubble; we have our puppets hang their leaders like dogs; we kidnap, torture, and terrify people on suspicion and rumor; we have our police unload dozens of rounds into drunken men on a bachelor party outing; we build weapons to induce searing pain in protesters; and we incarcerate millions of our own citizens in prisons where we ensure they will be beaten and gang-raped.
Then we are shocked when someone murders little Amish school girls in their one-room schoolhouse and when someone else murders college kids in their classrooms.
Is something wrong with this picture? No, not really. It's just another day of programming on Channel America. Just sit back and enjoy the show.
There's no channel changer, so quit bitching. The commerials are pretty funny.
Blogging the Code
With such a cast of luminaries leading the charge to determine and enforce "civil behavior online," resistance might seem, at first blush, simply futile.
As a point of terminology, it should be noted that the word "conduct" is not quite appropriate: "conduct" and "speech" are distinct acts in law. Private speech is broadly protected under the Constitution, and its commercial cousin is also protected, although not quite as broadly. Conduct, while sometimes difficult to distinguish from pure speech, does not have such blanket immunity from control by the government. It would appear, by virtue of the obvious fact that the Blogosphere is principally a venue for speech, that what this new push for civility is offering is not a "Code of Conduct," but instead a "Code of Speech." That doesn't sound quite so benign.
But that's nothing more than semantics, and we all know that precision in word usage is, like good English grammar, just so old-fashioned, so let us move on to more worthy topics.
To begin, I might, in my typical modesty of commentary, point out that The New York Timesthat civility-minded, monolithic institutional bulwark of East Coast Liberal Media elitismhas not yet found within its editorial intestines the wherewithal to finally, once and for all and without a shred of self-defense, apologize for being the information mule for the propaganda machine that brought about the American-Iraqi War that is now in its fifth year. This, by the way, is the war that has turned just about the entire world against us; it is the war that has turned budget surpluses at the end of the Clinton Administration into hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars in federal budget deficits that have made us a pathetic debtor nation to every manner of wretch from mercantilist-Communist Chinese thugs to smirking, two-faced Saudi game-players; it is the war that has turned a savage, little band of murderous, criminal maniacs into a world-wide army of savage, murderous, criminal maniacs; and it is the war that has debilitated our military to such an extent that, for perhaps the first time in modern American history, we are not only incapable of projecting war-level force where necessary on the globe, but we might not be able to defend even our own homeland (unless, of course, it is from our own citizens who might oppose the President).
Yes, it is The New York Times that now promotes the idea of civility in the Blogosphere. Having gingerly purged itself of a reporter who used the front page of the rag to make it look like independent investigative journalism was uncovering the same facts as were being claimed by other promoters of a worthless, irrelevant war, The New York Times now features a call to civility in the Blogosphere. Having deliberately, knowingly silenced other journalists at the paper who were trying to warn that the drumbeat to war was a lie, The New York Times now features a call to civility in the Blogosphere. Having admitted that it was sharing pre-publication news story with the Washington Post, which then made it look like the "information" about Saddam Hussein's mythical weapons of mass destruction was coming from multiple, independent, private sources, The New York Times now calls for civility in the Blogosphere. And having finally gotten so busted by the actual facts on the ground, which revealed the so-called "journalist" as a liar (and, to some extent, added fuel to the rumors that she had for years been an asset of a foreign intelligence service), The New York Times now calls for civility in the Blogosphere.
Well, goodness. Right there, with The New York Times on board, it looks like a slam dunk.
To be honest, I really don't know anything about the A-listers who are vaunting themselves with their little seals of approval. I can say that I am impressed by that Tim O'Reilly fellow, whose subdomain, radar.oreilly.com, seems to show his familiarity with the boundaries of the so-called fair use doctrine or perhaps the Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music [(92-1292), 510 U.S. 569 (1994)] Supreme Court decision, what with the association he's making between himself and the famed character Radar O'Reilly in the movie and television series, M*A*S*H. I can also say that I have to bring up Jimmy Wales, not by name but rather by his Wikipedia site, at least several times every semester when I counsel (actually, when I roar at) students who are under the misimpression that they can use Wikipedia as a legitimate citation in a college-level term paper.
It's all just enough to take a blogger's breath away. And then The New York Times trots out some blogging group called BlogHer as a paragon of civility, what with the principals' stated policy of deleting inappropriate comments, which is apparently an act of civility. In the context of representing comment deletion as something other than censorship, we get a quote from that promoter, Mr. O'Reilly: "[It] is one of the mistakes a lot of people make — believing that uncensored speech is the most free, when in fact, managed civil dialogue is actually the freer speech... Free speech is enhanced by civility."
Yes, down really is up.
But, of course, the one-track not-really-dialogue wouldn't be complete without using the victim of a real, awful (and on-going) crime: Kathy Sierra, a technology writer, has been plagued by a sicko bent on wrecking her life for no apparent reason other than that she's a woman who had the gall to make herself a public figure by publishing online content. Even Ms. Sierra, herself, states that the matter is being investigatedand, we should hope, dealt withby law enforcement authorities, although it is most troubling that "local" police are handling the case, when what is happening to her is almost assuredly a federal matter that should be addressed and resolved with brutal efficiency by the FBI.
The cyberviolence being committed against Ms. Sierraand no less against other women, like Melissa McEwan of Shakesvillehas nothing whatsoever to do with "civility" in the Blogosphere. It is way on the other side of a line between nasty commenters on blogs and criminal acts. It is a case study in how far behind and completely clueless about the Internet our legislatures, justice system, and law enforcement mechanisms are. Police departments all around the country show off how with it they are by getting newspapers to run stories about police investigators posing online as tempting little girls, and the media eat this up as proof positive that the cops are on the cyberbeat. No, they're not, not when people like Kathy Sierra are being terrorized by dangerous predators who operate with impunity and anonymity, and not when women like Melissa McEwan are being terrorized by religious hate-thugs who actually appear without fear of arrest on television.
And while we're at it, where's the civility in the Julie Amero case, the one about the substitute teacher who had a computer in her classroom suddenly go into porn pop-up overdrive, probably because a couple of little snots in her class (who didn't have the guts to admit what they had been doing) were surfing naughty-little-boy sites before she got to the class. Ms. Amero, having been convicted by an ignoramus jury, an incompetent judge, and a vicious prosecutor, is facing 40 years in prison for corrupting the tender, virginal youth under her temporary care. (O! the horror of 12-year-olds seeing porn for the very first time in their otherwise innocent, unworldly lives!) Where's the civility? Will Messrs. O'Reilly and Wales be giving The New York Times CyberCivility Badge to the people who, in the on-going quest for the Righteous Web, have wrecked Ms. Amero's life?
The point of that diversion is that "civility" is not the biggest issue vexing the Web. We have major problems that are not being even so much as recognized by the mainstream media, the anointed Internet gurus, the legislatures, and the courts. Instead, we have promoters pushing this new gadget, that new seal of approval, and some other great enforcement hype that erodes privacy while doing nothing about the real pools of personal destruction.
For my own part, I can deal with trolls. Not only do I ban them when they cross a line that I, as the editor and publisher, understand quite clearly, I send them packing with one of my famous, belt-to-the-butt-cheeks lectures. On the other hand, I really could use some help dealing with the mess of commercial spambots; and I could use some aggressive laws to help lame, we-can't-do-nuthin' backbone servers understand their role in choking off DDoS attackers and IP flippers. The problem, of course, is that the federal government has become an enormous, growing threat to my privacy, and it is quite likely that any effort the government would make in pretending to get anonymous attackers into jails would actually be to the end of getting me fully under surveillance, just in case I went all subversive or something.
On the other hand, the cry for "self-policing" embedded in this new "code of conduct" smells suspiciously like the very same whine that persistently pours out with the crocodile tears from overburdened corporations that want to run amok without government regulators to worry about having to abide, bribe, or otherwise control through elections of the appropriate types of Presidents and Congressmen.
Solutions do exist. They really do, and I could offer some; but I won't, not now, anyway. The situation isn't quite bad enough yet, and far too many people, even bloggers, honestly believe that a systematic, deep solution isn't necessary since a solution requires a substantive problem. Even those who honestly say, for example, that the government is watching everything we do on the Web don't believe it enough, or don't see it as sufficiently dangerous, to require extraordinary measures. Even those who believe that entrapment is outrageous cheer every time some law enforcement group trots out their latest sting that nailed a bunch of miserable pervs who never actually chatted online with anyone other than cops posing as tarts. And even a few bloggers who have had annoying trolls slither onto their sites do not understand the difference between a whiney, garden-variety, Right-wing or Leftist windbag and the kind of deranged criminal who writes death- and rape-threat e-mail messages.
For the time being, I can take care of myself out here on the Web. As such, I shall, in the spirit of civility so lacking in this harsh, modern world simply advise Messrs. O'Reilly and Wales, together with their new buddy, The New York Times, that they can bite me.
Having done so, they can then, at their earliest and most frequent convenience, take their seals of approval and stick them up their self-anointed asses.
The Dark Wraith has spoken.
Have your own official Dark Wraith Blogging Code of Conduct Seal of Approval: Click here for the transparent dark background graphic or here for the transparent light background> version.
The Dark Wraith hopes you enjoy.
Censorship from the Left
In response to Jersey Cynic's article, I offered commentary that I herewith republish in edited and substantially expanded form.
Swarming by defenders of Israel was going on long before the Internet became widely used. In recent history, people who were on the 1990s message boards (we called them "bulletin boards" back then) would get hammered when they had the temerity to even so much as suggest there was something wrong with Zionism. I know about that from personal experience, and I saw it on huge display when, for example, veterans of the attack on the USS Liberty dared to open their mouths against the outrage that happened to them and the serial whitewashing our own nation did over and over again in "official" reviews of the incident.
The intellectual and physical violence that has been carried out over the generations—starting with acts of terrorisism before the state of Israel was even born—by some defenders of Zionism will not end with one or a hundred editorials, cartoons, or message board rants. To carry on excessively about how Zionists are manipulating the whole world is an exercise in futility that can turn an otherwise relatively pleasant person into an annoying conspiracy theorist unworthy of being invited to dinner, much less to a decent discussion over coffee.
Let us be clear on one point concerning Benjamin Heine's cartoon conflating a drawing of Hitler with a caricature of the average Jewish person: it is revolting; but more to the point, it is a lie hidden in a cartoon. The typical "Jewish face" is not that of Adolf Hitler and has nothing whatsoever to do with Adolf Hitler. In fact, it might be argued that the very device of depicting in a negative light some average Jew's face passes uncomfortably close literarily to the lurid, awful descriptions Adolf Hitler, himself, used in Mein Kampf to describe what Jews in the Germany of his time looked like.
Herr Hitler was the leader of a hateful political theory animated to genocidal expression by virtue of a powerful, hegemonic military capacity lashed to a comprehensive, highly efficient, domestic bureaucracy focused on surveillance, repression, and propaganda, all supported by overwhelming weakness in opposition and revulsion to its systematic excess. Instrumentalities of the Third Reich willfully, in machine-like fashion, killed millions of innocent people the regime had confined without valid cause to concentration camps. It was a slaughtera calculated, premeditated slaughteron a scale that defies imagination, except in the mind of a cartoonist who would imagine that an average Jewan average anyoneis somehow the same as the leader of one of the most monstrous sovereign nations in human history.
Mr. Heine's work needs to be defended only because hyperbole is often the target of censors, most of whom might excuse their actions on some technical grounds while nevertheless being nothing more than the pawns of one pressure group or another. The censors of greatest concern are the ones who find deep internal justification for silencing those with whom they disagree. At least in the case at hand, it would appear that the ones at Daily Kos are merely weaklings bending to the will of those with the loudest (and perhaps the most frightening) voices.
Bullying is a tool of Zionism's apologists. It is a tool of modern, extremist Christians in this country, too, as Melissa McEwan, the blogmistress of Shakesville (formerly Shakespeare's Sister) found out quite personally. But bullying is also a tool of Leftists, as those who opposed the "Reds" in early 20th Century Russia discovered as they died, many in simply horrible ways; and modern Leftists can pound blogs, too, especially when they read something on a liberal Website that just isn't extreme enough to fit their world view, as could be seen (albeit in tediously tepid form) when a small swarm of anti-factory farming advocates serially ranted about "frankenfood" and "yucky tasting milk" as they whined about and attacked an economist who had published an article on hormone-free milk labeling at The Huffington Post.
The note about the popularity of ideological thuggery having been made, Zionism does hold a notable place in the rogues' gallery: it, like other virtually single-minded political expressions, is a cancer that has fully infected our body politic; and our current crop of ostensibly "salvation" candidatesparticularly Hillary Clinton and John Edwardsare thoroughly, inextricably beholden to the money and power the Israeli lobby offers. In a recent post here at The Dark Wraith Forums, I made passing mention of the fact that John Edwards had joined John McCain and Mitt Romney for a live telecast in suburban Tel Aviv, where they oratorically fell over one another and themselves in their efforts to show their worthiness for the support of the people of that foreign nation.
That we have Americans running for high offices of the United States campaigning in a foreign country is outrageous beyond words. On account of that incident, and on account of that incident alone, John Edwards will not receive my support, and I shall expend no small effort lambasting him, not just for that campaign swing through Israel, but for his other policy offerings, which I otherwise might have been willing to address critically in far more diplomatic language.
But again, and this is so unfortunate, anti-Zionism gives comfort to anti-Semites. The world is full of Jew-haters, and they use whatever excuses avail themselves to promote their centuries-old hatred. That the Zionists hand them a choice cut of red meat with which to slap world Jewry in no way diminishes the damnable nature of hatred against those of any religion.
Jews have been persecuted throughout their history. So, too, have others. It is writ large, that black, black heart of human nature; and the scroll is filled not with tales of people at their worst, but instead of people in their gleeful, willful choices. It is, then, incumbent upon those who would condemn Zionism for its means to understand the difference between means and ends; and it is no less incumbent upon even the fiercest of Israel's critics to speak out no less forcefully against all ideologies that hide hate-driven violencebe it intellectual, physical, or spiritualunder the banner of something else.
That goes for Iran and, no less, for Turkey, two Persian states that, each in its own way, beg for condemnation that must, at the same time, take great care not to drift into a general hatred of the Persian peoples, themselves.
It goes for Russia and China, as well. It goes for Venezuela and Cuba, too.
And it goes for the United States, which has, through its history, committed unspeakable acts and pursued monstrosities of policy that have caused untold death and suffering, even as its people, in the good and bright side of their ways and spirits, have done so much that is praiseworthy, just as the Jewish people have done in their typical course.
We must walk with great care along the line that separates legitimate, reasoned criticism from bigotry. Even as we would benefit greatly from far harsher dialogue on what Americanism means, we must commit no error of excess and generalization when we discuss what Zionism means, for in the course of either discussion, we are sure to draw the outrage of those who would defend their respective nations while, far worse, giving comfort to those whose hatred of the nations transcends worthy inclusion.
The sword of righteous outrage must never be traded for the useless bludgeon of all-consuming fire, for while the former, properly used, may separate right from wrong, the latter will surely engulf its source more thoroughly than it will silence its intended victim.
The Dark Wraith has spoken.
The high school students who enroll in our ACT test preparation program are generally in their junior year, mostly 16- and 17-year-olds. They can be rambunctious, especially when there are a lot of them in one of the sessions; but in general, they get pretty serious as soon as I start speaking. For many, I'm their first experience with being taught by a college professor.
That's unfortunate. As readers here who have watched my YouTube video lectures well know, I am most decidedly not the shy, quiet, reserved type when I'm at the lectern. I bellow, I growl, and I thunder; sparingly, I use the words "ass" and "damned"; and I conjure the occasional, very odd example to make a point. My students in regular college classes, be they held in a rough urban school or at a nice suburban college, get used to my ways pretty quickly, and although I do have the rare student who makes a meager complaint about me to someone in administration, most students enjoy and appreciate my style. It seems to me that I can make that statement with some degree of certainty considering I was just named Faculty Member of the Year.
I ought to be concerned about how my style plays with the high school students in those ACT prep classes, but I'm not, this despite the program coordinator's rather timid mentions of a "few parents" who have called her to condemn me.
Whatever. The program coordinator cannot find many people who will blow whole evenings prepping kids for tests, and she knows very well that the overwhelming majority of the kids write post-program reviews in which they rate me highly; thus have I always been pretty sure that my over-the-top, hard-driving, arrogant style would not cause the directors of the program to tear up my $210 contract.
Until, that is, this time.
I swear, I didn't see it during the first prep session for the science component of the exam. Only in retrospect do I vaguely recall what was going on, so I was a bit blindsided when the program coordinator mentioned (again, quite timidly) that a "group" of parents had called her to complain about me. She cited a cluster of problems, all of which had been stated by each parent. While I just smiled and laughed while she was telling me about this matter, in my head I was trying to recall if there was anything during the session under discussion that I had done differently.
Readers must understand that, although my stage behavior appears to be wholly extemporaneous, it is, in fact, a highly structured, polished act. I change the jokes, the silly references, and the allusions to pop culture, but the framework is identical from one session to the next, from one year to the next. It's how I teach college classes, too. So what could have gone wrong in such a big way that a "group" of parents, rather than the usual one or two, had called?
The second session of the science review provided the answer, confirmed by seeing it again in the last session of the entire program, the session where I actually administer to the students a miniature version of the entire ACT and then give them some last-minute advice.
At that second session of prep for the science component of the exam, the room was not nearly as crowded: 20 students, clustered into three groups. The students wanting to show their sincere dedication were sitting at the front. Most of them were girls. Another group was scattered about the middle seating in the lecture hall. This group comprised an eclectic mix of kids, some of whom sat near the middle, othersthe more reclusivehuddled against the walls. It occurred to me that some of those types of kids would be more likely to choose seats at the rear of the classroom, as far away and as symbolically detached as possible. That they were not sitting at the back of the class didn't make sense, since only five students, all sitting in a row, were occupying rear seats.
Those five back-benchers were wearing shirts that all looked exactly the same, with the color combination of one of the local high schools. "Ah," I thought to myself, "jocks." It made sense that the more reclusive kids, and most certainly the others who wanted to display for me their high motivation by sitting right at the front, would want to be as far away as possible from the prized, pampered athletes.
It was only when I had been in my lecture for about 15 minutes that I noticed something wasn't quite right about my assessment of those boys at the back of the room. I had made it to the part of my speech where I had to explain to the students that, when taking the science part of the ACT, students should not use prior knowledge or beliefs about science. While it's important to have a solid, albeit basic, understanding of certain terms (their prep book has a glossary of terms with which they should be familiar), they must use only the information provided in a given passage for answering questions about that passage.
"For example," I always say, "you might very well have a problem with discussing the evolution of a certain species or about the lineages that have led to the modern forms of certain animals. Now, you might believe on religious grounds that evolution is wrong, but your beliefs are irrelevant when taking the test. You are being assessed on your ability to read, understand, and then use information given to you. That's what we at the college level need to know about you to assess whether or not you'll be able to successfully complete dozens of college courses, where you'll have massive waves of information poured into you from every direction."
As I was nearing the end of that little rant, I noticed that those five young gentlemen sitting at the back were no longer leaning forward, taking notes; they were, instead, all sitting straight up in their chairs, arms folded, scowling at me.
I walked back and stood in front of what appeared to be their ringleader, and I said, "Unfold your arms, son. I want to see what your shirt says." Some of them were visibly uncomfortable with the turn their display had taken, but they all unfolded their arms. The fellow to whom I had addressed my order proudly withdrew his arms, puffed out his chest, and pulled at the bottom of his shirt to make the graphic as legible as possible for me.
There they were: five shirts, all identical, complete with the colors of their high school, emblazoned across the front with a giant, three-dimensional, faux relief, white cross.
I just couldn't help myself: "JESUS!" I exclaimed, and then I walked back up to the front of the classroom and finished the seminar, complete as it was with a blistering example of a problem involving the evolutionary history of a group of vertebrates falling (loosely) under the taxonomic classification Creodonta.
I have just sent my letter of resignation to the program coordinator. I figure that will save her the aggravation of having to figure out how not to offend me when she tells me about a group of parents who have called her demanding my head.
Besides, whether I'm teaching at a rough urban school or in a nice suburban college, I won't teach gang members who wear their colors in my class.
I'm quite a bigot that way.