Archives for April 2011

Random fragments of my week

Farewell to a colleague

A colleague of mine from Criminal Justice, Michael Blankenship, died suddenly on campus last week after teaching a class.  I didn’t know him well, but we had a couple of nice chats, and I read his blog.  Today the campus held a funeral for him.  I couldn’t attend because I had to teach, but I was delighted to find the campus had roped off a small parking lot for what looked like a large biker gang’s worth funeral cortège of motorcycles.  And lo! there was definitely a chain-smoking, bandanna-wearing, leather-clad biker gang vibe among the people returning to their hogs.  Alas, I wasn’t brave enough to snap a photo, but I love the idea of a professor with a posse.

The campus PR folks had this to say about Michael:

Mike had an amazing personal story from GED to Ph.D.  A native of Asheville, N.C., he served as a police officer for seven years before earning a bachelor of science in criminal justice and a master’s in public affairs from Western Carolina University and a Ph.D. in criminal justice from Sam Houston State University.

He came to Boise State in 2002 from East Tennessee State University. During his tenure as SSPA dean, he initiated new research centers focused on urban and regional planning, aging, and Idaho history and politics. He also helped launch graduate programs in urban and regional planning, gerontology and anthropology. His research focused on capital punishment and white-collar crime. Mike regularly was quoted by local media as an expert on crime and social justice issues.

If you’re interested in criminal and social justice, you might check out his blog, The Justice Gambit.

Criminal justice among the preschool set

When I arrived yesterday to pick up Lucas from preschool, he informed me that he wanted to finish coloring a design for his teacher.  So I settled in at the table where he sat with four other boys, three of whom were building a house from plastic panels and playing with little figures.  I listened in:

“Nooooo! Don’t send me to juvie!”

“You’ve been bad.  I have to arrest you!”

I’m beginning to think Fang is onto something with his repeated references to Lucas’s schoolmates as proto-thugs.

Abuzz, thanks to Shiva’s stuckness-destroying powers

Now that summer is on the horizon, my mind is completely abuzz with all kinds of possibilities. . . Grants to write, articles to polish and send off, that writing guide to finish, a book project to revisit and another to doodle around, a lightning-fast U.S. history survey to teach (three weeks for 1877 to the present–yes, I’ll be embracing the uncoverage model, which really is sort of my modus operandi anyway, but this takes it to a new level).  Plus: novels to read, trips to take to visit family and archives, art to be made–and a five-year-old who needs to learn to ride a bike, dammit.

Maybe I should stop with all the Shiva Nata, which I’ve taken to doing in short bursts (5 minutes!) at work.  It’s causing too many moments of bing, and I can’t keep up.  I’m in the middle of reading Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose, which addresses the advantages and liabilities of what Sher calls “scanner personalities”–people who can find themselves interested in (maybe too) many things–and I’m trying to keep a “scanner daybook” handy where I can jot down all my ideas so that I don’t lose any that might prove useful after they’ve marinated a bit.

I did some Shiva Nata with my senior capstone writing seminar students last week, and they played along nicely.  I saw a big improvement in some of their papers this week, and one student did indeed chalk up her new way of thinking about her paper to Dance of Shiva.  She totally rewrote what was mostly a plain-vanilla, not particularly thesis-driven biographical paper of Pamela Colman Smith (illustrator of the twentieth century’s most popular Tarot deck), and reworked it into a fairly well-argued paper that opens with the metaphor of how reading primary sources in relation to one another has parallels with reading Tarot cards.  It’s a nice meditation, and she’s totally psyched about Colman Smith now, so much so that she’s trying to find a way into the Huntington Library to look at her papers.  So yay for that.

What are you up to these days?

Baratunde Thurston speaks my mind

. . .but much more eloquently than I ever could:

Whining, in stereo

This little drama is repeated, oh, five evenings every week when the dog thinks it’s time for his walk and the boy wants some iPhone time. Multiply the length of this video by 30 to get a sense of how long such a scene might last, and you have some idea of why I don’t get as much blogging done as I used to.

(For those keeping score at home: Jake is 1 year old, Lucas is 5 years old. In this video they appear to be a similar size, but Jake weighs more than twice what Lucas does. They can, alas, match one another in volume.)

Welcome to Helena Elise

. . .and congratulations to Stacy and Pete!
My niece was born yesterday–20 inches and 8 lbs 15 oz.

Things I don’t have time to think about

#1: Pointless counterfactuals.*

Get out of my head, old man!

So why, all day, was I haunted by the fact that today is the sesquicentennial of Robert E. Lee resigning his commission in the United States Army? I think it must have been the papers I should have been grading–procrastination created a vacuum, and in rushed Marse Robert.


Because honestly, there are few things less interesting to me than military counterfactuals.

And I am so very much NACWH.**

*Are there any other kind?
**Not A Civil War Historian

Four twenty

I still remember watching the events at Columbine High on April 20, 1999 on the tiny TV in the tiny storage loft newsroom where I worked at the time, and heading down the stairs to share birthday cake with the odd art director dude in the graphics department. I couldn’t believe he was 37–he seemed much younger.

Sweetie, were we ever really this young and skinny?

Today (April 20) Fang turns 49.

I’m so very lucky to have him in my life. He’s funny and smart and politically savvy and interested in topics adjacent to what I’m interested in. (He asked for Foner’s latest Lincoln book for his birthday, as well as for a once-a-year cholesterol splurge at the Cheesecake Factory. That’s my kind of guy.)

We always sort of draw into ourselves and cringe during Fang’s birthday week. After all, the Revolutionary War started on April 19, so all kinds of lovely people are drawn to take all kinds of lovely action on that anniversary. We’re talking Waco big. Oklahoma City federal building big. But we appear to have made it through April 19, in the States at least, without incident. Still, April 20 is not only Fang’s birthday; it’s Hitler’s birthday, too–which brings out wackos like the Columbine High School shooters. (See also.) Robert E. Lee went over to the Confederate side when he resigned from the U.S. Army on April 20–it’s the sesquicentennial of that one. The Ludlow Massacre took place on April 20. The Bay of Pigs Invasion failed on this day. More cheer: Billie Holiday recorded “Strange Fruit” on April 20. Plus, it’s an unlucky day. Last year we “celebrated” April 20 with a particularly sick kind of fireworks—the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

Things have been looking up for Fang lately. He’s been dealing with a lot of. . .well, let’s just say stuff, so it’s nice to see him start to flourish again in so many different ways.

Let’s hope, then, that today is a good one. Like the April 20 that saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. Or the day Pasteur and Bernard completed the first tests of pasteurization. Or the April 20 that Apollo 16 landed on the moon. Fang may not know that he shares a birthday with George Takei and John Paul Stevens, as well as a Fang favorite, Crispin Glover. You’re in good company, Sweetheart!

Fang’s celebrating not only with us, but with a marijuana legalization rally at the statehouse, because it is, after all, 4/20.

Here he is as I’d like to remember him on this day–wearing his worn “Black Expo” t-shirt, playing the guitar he first picked up a couple years ago:

Happy birthday, Fang! Here’s hoping your day is more Civil-Rights-Act-of-1871 and Apollo-16-landing than, well, the alternative. I’m so glad we found each other. (Kindly stick around for another 49, OK?)


Alas, what he’s (not) saying applies to the Idaho legislature even more than to the U.S. Congress.


Image by Laura Favrow, and used under a Creative Commons license


I’ve written before about the interesting conversations Lucas, now age 5 1/2, and I have had in the car on the way to preschool.

I enjoy seeing how his neurons are firing on any given day, and since he can’t see my reaction to what he’s saying, he tends to prattle on.


First, you should know that Fang has been absolutely maniacal about exposing Lucas to a variety of music. The boy regularly hears (mostly American) music recorded anytime from the 1940s through this year. His favorite song at the moment?

This one:

(I opted not to embed the “official” video because the imagery may be a bit disturbing to some folks. If you’re all about vaginas, skeletons, and decapitation, however, by all means click through.)

Meanwhile, Fang is also showing Lucas lots of music videos. The video for Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” appears to have really made an impression on Lucas. This image in particular resonates with Lucas as being emblematic of bad guys:


We were listening to “Born This Way” on the way to preschool yesterday. I asked Lucas if he knew what the song was about; he said he didn’t know. So I explained it, touching on many of the themes of our previous conversation.

Lucas especially likes the line, “Don’t be a drag—just be a queen.” It’s repeated three times in a row, and it’s one of the only portions of the song he remembers. So he kind of fixates on it.

I ask him if he wants to be a queen, and he says yes, he would, and that he wants his (male) friends Dallas and Marcus* to be queens, too.** He told them they should pretend to be queens so that they would have the autonomy (my word, not his, I assure you) to leave school whenever they wanted.

“Why do you want to leave school?” I asked. “Isn’t it fun?”

“It’s fun,” Lucas said. “But we want to go home and turn our TVs into Ultrons.”

Alas, Dallas and Marcus didn’t want to be queens. So they tried to become Bobs instead. (Bob* is the preschool’s director, and if you knew him, you’d find this hilarious.) However, apparently that subterfuge also didn’t work, so they’re still hatching new plans. (I told Lucas to try the queen thing again. He’s drawn to glittery pink craft supplies and brightly colored feather boas, so he could probably pull off that look.)

Once we arrived at school, I chatted with Lucy*, my favorite teacher’s aide in his classroom. Lucy said Lucas had started walking slowly up to the other kids and saying, rather mysteriously, “capital H-I-M.”***

He also started enthusing about marching hammers and Nazis. And all the other kids were all excited, and began asking more and more insistently, “What are Nazis? What are Nazis?”

I think Lucas might have just slipped a bit on Lucy’s most-favored children list.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking Fang and I need to have some conversations about appropriate pop culture for five year olds.****

* Names have been changed.
** For so very many reasons, I would be delighted if Dallas indeed became a queen.
*** The phrase is from the beginning of “Born This Way.” And no, Lucas has no idea what it spells.
**** Fang assures me he’s never watched the Lady Gaga video, which means Lucas hasn’t either. Would give the boy nightmares, probably.


Mi familia–plus a guessing game

I’m conferencing, and my attention is scattered right now, plus it’s icky humid here in Pensacola and I can’t think when the weather is like this, so all I’ve got are random items o’ famille.  (. . .and a couple of posts about the conference; you can read them over here.)

Detail of an Image by ezioman, and used under a Creative Commons license.

ITEM 1: I soon will be an aunt.  (Bonus: Guess the baby’s name!)

My sister is having a baby.  Yay!  Alas, the baby has not yet turned, and attempts to turn her did not work.  On April 21, she’s having a C-section, which, she explained to me last night, kind of makes those ELEVEN WEEKS (33 hours!) of childbirth class seem like wasted time.  Kindly keep your fingers crossed for her, send good vibes her way, or whatever else you typically do to wish someone well.

My sister isn’t revealing the baby’s intended name, though she did say they think it’s a stubborn girl and her name will start with H.  She said it’s a name that evokes the nineteenth century, and that she and her husband saw the name on the back of a boat.

initial H + 19th century + likely boat name = ???  (Hazel, Hannah, Harriet, Henrietta? Hermia, Helena, Hepzibah? Hypatia?!?)

Leave your guesses in the comments, and I’ll let you know what she names the baby.  (My sister’s last name begins with an H, and she’s looking for an “R” middle name, so that the baby’s initials will be HRH, which would be an awesome monogram.  I suggested that there’s a better middle name–the one we were going to give our child had he been born a girl: our grandmother’s name.)

ITEM 2: I need to write a difficult letter.

To my ill grandmother.  A kind, loving thank-you note.  I’m not sure what to put in it.  I need to finish it soon.  Ideas?

ITEM 3: DNA from Danes and Scots

My dad has pale olive skin, and before his hair went gray, it was black.  Did I inherit his awesome melanin and coloring?  No.  And thanks to an Idaho winter, I’m paler than I’ve ever been.  Yet did I remember to bring sunblock or a hat on my trip to Pensacola this week?  No.  Did I get a sunburn on the back of my neck today, despite my collared shirt, the fact that my hair was down, and it was foggy most of the day? Oh yes. Have I found anywhere within walking distance to buy sunblock?  sigh.