Tag Archives: WTF

Really, we’re calling adjuncts “whiny” and “entitled” now?

Been watching this unfold in my inbox on WPA-L all day. As one such adjunct, I have not the words yet, but eventually I expect I will, once the anger dies down about how the people who are actually entitled, or lucky enough to be secure, or secure enough to not have to recognize that sometimes there are no other options, are always going to exist, say shit like this, and completely ignore the fact that if all adjuncts had other (emotionally, physically, etc.) viable options? The machine, sans cogs, would stop working.

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Regression is realizing there is no escape.

Last year, a 20-year-old man named Michael Israel committed suicide after battling addiction to painkillers. His father, Senator Tim Kennedy, and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman blamed the system, ultimately proposing a legislative package to “Save the Michaels of the world.” Thus, in an effort to crack down on prescription drug abuse, namely over-prescribing on the part of physicians, New York State enacted the I-STOP (Internet System to Track Over-Prescribing) Act one year ago. It takes effect on August 27th, along with its Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP), which apparently insecurely records, tracks, and transmits patients’ medication histories, dates of attempted and dispensed refills, and so on.

Somehow I missed this memo until yesterday, when I was confronted with the ugly reality that, thanks to I-STOP, I can’t get a refill prescription until after the new system takes effect.

In its overzealous quest to save the Michaels of the world, the State has blatantly chosen to ignore the undue burdens placed on those who medicate responsibly, and with all the hardships it already places on patients and providers, why am I surprised?

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Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Current priorities: 1) Organize image folders and blog about the process of said organization, 2) prep for HOPE No. 9, 3) apply for a transfer of credits, 4) continue reading and assembling a lit review, and 5) turn around edits on a book chapter on lulzy tactics and the Joker.  You’ll notice that “ragequit over Before Watchmen” is not mentioned in this list at all.  And yet, given the fact that angrily producing scholarship on the failings of the 2009 film adaptation of Watchmen spurred me to pursue a Ph.D. program in the first place, it seems fitting that I privilege a similar anger about Before Watchmen.

Before proceeding any further, I offer this disclaimer: I acknowledge that I have a reputation for being a bit of a purist, and mildly inclined to hate almost everything; however, I did my best to dispel my preformed assumptions and, two weeks after Minutemen #1 was released, I began purchasing and perusing with an open mind.  I just finished Ozymandias #1.  And I find myself as angry as I was 2009.  I may have been unable to argue with Snyder’s (albeit ineptly executed) passion for Watchmen and his adaptation of it, but—as was anticipated by a community of fans—Before Watchmen indeed reeks of the attempt to capitalize on the success of Moore’s graphic novel and the (questionable) success of Snyder’s 2009 film.

If you’ve been living in a hole in the ground for the past twenty-six years, Watchmen was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons in a 12-issue limited series in 1986.  Moore, renowned for his deftness as a writer and proficiency with the comics medium, upped the ante by producing a groundbreaking story that deconstructed and satirized the superhero genre itself.  In its most basic sense, Watchmen (1986) transpires in an alternate-timeline 1980s universe where America won Vietnam with the aid of masked crime-fighting heroes and Nixon remains president.  The world is on the brink of nuclear crisis, with the Doomsday Clock fast approaching midnight; and in New York, an unbridled cesspool of corruption and debauchery, The Comedian is murdered, launching an unofficial investigation by other costumed heroes, who have since been deemed vigilantes in the eyes of the law.

The novel is creative in a technical manner as well, as revealed in its use of reflexivity, recurring signifiers that accrue various meanings, and the interplay between juxtaposed imagery and dialogue.  The layout consists of a nine-panel grid on most pages, and chapters such as Fearful Symmetry (Ch. V, 1-28) are arranged in a “supersymmetrical” reading, where every row or panel literally and/or thematically mirrors its counterpart on the other side of the centerfold.  This chapter stands in for the center of the novel, albeit a center that arrives too soon, earlier than the mathematical center, which as Moulthrop suggests, is not the actual center.  Moore supplements the primary narrative with intertextual elements: epistolary fragments, psychological case files, excerpts from an expose “book-within-the-book” and a “comic-within-a-comic,” either shedding light on the main characters or symbolically indicating where they lie on the unequivocal spectrum from human to monstrous.

What follows is a story too brilliantly and tightly woven for me to sum up in a handful of sentences.  There are the characters themselves, inverting or challenging superhero stereotypes.  There is the layout.  There are the intertextual elements, the inclusion of song lyrics, or the drowning Doomsday Clock, the iconic smiley face, the paralysis of past-present-future like the crossing of two streams like an X, the number of issues it takes to reach the end of Rorschach’s journal, and what Moulthrop suggests could be the geometric map of Watchmen, just as “V,” a single convergence point, may be read the symbolic map of V for Vendetta.  There is the absurdist if exceedingly macabre plot to ensure world peace.  The ease with which nearly every character relinquishes their integrity, save the one who is seemingly the most conservative and bigoted, the one who at no point tries to impose his beliefs on anyone else.  Watchmen is about crossover, convergence and continuance, though that continuance may or may not be for the better.  This was not a series that one picked up at the comics store, idly flipped through, and deemed read.  It required close, careful, repeat readings, and the nature of the narrative encouraged such an approach.

Then, in 2009, the un-filmable graphic novel was adapted and released, polarizing fans.  Arguably, it is possible to evaluate a person’s tastes based on whether or not they liked the film, a positive response being mitigated—maybe—by a particularly insightful and (self-)critical rationale.

So the fears of fans were fairly transparent concerning the release of Before Watchmen starting this summer.  DC was going to produce a series of travesties that would fall far short of Moore’s genius.  The characters would be flattened rather than fleshed out further.  The layout would be simplistic.  They would hire all-star writer/artist teams, and it would still suck.  Alan Moore would still spit venom all over it for months to come.  My critique is, surprisingly, not based on these fears, or fears expressed by others that Before Watchmen would “just be another comics series” with none of the landmark brilliance of the source material.  It’s based on the fact that, by and large, the series is lacking in narrative depth and originality.

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What you think of pain is a shadow. Pain has a face. Allow me to show it to you.

In my life as it was prior to my diagnosis, in the course of my usual exploration of the Internet, I came across the Schmidt Sting Pain Index.  It is an imprecise but admirable attempt to catalogue and describe the pain caused by Hymenopteran stings.  I possess an amateur fascination with entomology and herpetology and with Schmidt’s original paper, which assigned a perhaps inexact number to each sting but accompanied each with a refreshingly creative description of the pain.  An entomologist, Jason O. Schmidt was inadvertently stung by several members of Hymenoptera in the course of his research and realized the the potential uses of quantifying pain.  Though it wasn’t his primary research, he didn’t waste the data; instead, he created a five-point scale from 0-4 to classify the kinds of pain one receives from being stung (The Straight Dope).  Archetypal representatives are listed below:

0: Imperceptible.  The stinger doesn’t penetrate the skin.
1-range: Sweat bees (light, ephemeral, almost fruity); fire ants (sharp, sudden, mildly alarming); or the bullhorn acacia ant (someone has fired a staple into your cheek).
2-range: The bald-faced hornet (mashing your hand in a revolving door); or the yellow-jacket (hot and smoky, like W.C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue).
3-range: The red harvester ant (bold and unrelenting, like someone is drilling your ingrown toenail); or the paper wasp (caustic and burning, with a distinctly bitter aftertaste: like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a papercut).
4-range and higher: the tarantula hawk (blinding, fierce, shockingly electric, like a running hair dryer dropped in your bubble bath); or the bullet ant (pure, intense, brilliant pain, like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail grinding in your heel).

In my life post-diagnosis, this scale has taken on new meaning.

Fibromyalgia (FM), a chronic systemic pain condition that is especially heightened by pressure, can range from a 1 to a 4+ on Schmidt’s scale but rarely, if ever, is it a 0.  The symptoms are unique to each sufferer, but in my experience the pain has ranged from acute and persistent, like clasping a lit electric bulb between your bare hands, like blades sunk deep in a flexing muscle, like pricking, itching needles, noisy on the skin, like a sweaty fist working your heart, like vivisection, no sleep agent, no anesthesia.

This piece is for those medical professionals who wrote me off as healthy because I was professionally dressed, “I looked too good to be unwell,” or who asked me, point-blank, “And you’re sure it’s not all in your head?”  It is for the people who tell me, with a tired, tolerant patience they don’t deserve to have, that “pain is largely psychosomatic, you know?  Just stop thinking about it and it’ll go away.”  It is for the countless, awkward Schmidt 4.0+ days I’ve had to dodge a well-meant hug, or flinched at a touch I couldn’t avoid.  It is for Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, which has conferred upon itself the godlike ability to decide whose pain is deserving of extended outpatient treatment.  (Hint: mine no longer is.)  It is for the people who sympathize but do not or cannot understand because I appear more or less functional.  It is for the Schmidt 0.0 days, when I lull you into thinking I’m “better,” or the predominant and tolerable 2.0-3.0 days, when controlling my outward response can be performed through sheer will.

Mostly, though, it is for all the times you have not seen me break down and cry, on the subway, in line for a bus, on the NJ Transit stairs, on the walk from the train station to campus or from one classroom to another or in the bathroom during class breaks.  It is for all the times I couldn’t take it, and you never knew.

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Anonymity as Control Mechanism: The Secret Censors of the MPAA.

Let me begin with an anecdote.  I have recently been obsessing over the 1997 film Event Horizon, a sci-fi/horror flick described by its director as “The Shining in space.”  For those who haven’t seen it, the basic premise is that the Event Horizon, a spaceship capable of “jumping” through space simply vanished and then reappeared seven years later; thus, a salvage crew, led by Laurence Fishburne and aided by engineer Sam Neill, are sent to rescue any surviving crew members as well as the Event Horizon.  The ship, however, has come back unspeakably alive.  The film unfolds slowly and then blossoms into a veritable Hellraiser homage, replete with a chaotic entity, extremely fleeting sadomasochistic imagery, and notions of pain, nothingness, and hell.

I often work best to the soothing sounds of tortured screaming, so I looped this film in the background while revising final papers and conference presentations last month.  After the semester ended, I idly checked YouTube for extra footage and discovered that whole sequences had been deleted.  Paul Andersen removed segments that actually helped the narrative make sense and restricted the gore to frames lasting 1-2 seconds each, in addition to radically trimming the orgiastic distress call video that motivates the salvage mission.

So then I looked at the original script.  The changes made from script to screen were fairly radical.  Images such as a son cannibalizing his still-breathing mother and violent, cannibalistic sex were omitted or heavily, heavily modified.  A sex scene between the hallucinating Dr. Weir (Neill) and his dead wife Claire, during which he overcomes his loneliness and she tears out his eyes at climax, is also omitted.  These scenes did not seem overly long or gratuitous, instead contributing to the development of a character on the brink of madness.  Similar scenes made the cut in 1970s and 1980s horror films.  So why this film, and why these scenes?

Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you the arbitrariness of the MPAA.
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Haddi-man Declares War.

You don’t know it, he says, but you’re an object to be revered.
He says, I’m going to change the world.
He has seen you at your most vulnerable,
too cold to think, tired,
head stuffed with the mucus of a thousand tears.
He is frustrated too.  He believes
that what lives behind the headaches, the runny nose,
is more precious than agate, the nurturer
of ambitions, the only stone
that clears the foggy path between you and realization.
He insists that you do the talking.  Say
to those who stand in your way, I am not
here for one side or the other; I advocate peace,
something as simple as the basic human right
to live under a roof, to not be shot
in the back of the skull, to not
be raped.  It’s on these people
that Haddi-man is declaring war.
You will cover him with your words
as he waddles into the jungle.  He is large with hope.
Dry your eyes.  He trusts
that when you go out, you transfigure the world
into something full of meaning
that ultimately makes sense.

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This work by V. Manivannan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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There has been a lot of turnover at my nonprofit site.  A longtime staff member left two weeks ago, leaving me the only remaining member of last year’s personal statements team.  Our most accomplished and well-connected advocate has been driven out by incompetent bosses who couldn’t seem to see the good he was doing for the kids.  Our education coordinator is leaving, and supposedly her spot will go unfilled because “it was like that for a year and it was okay then.”  Actually, no.  I worked that year.  It was not okay in any sense of the word.

None of this is actually why I’m posting.  I’m posting because of 1) Wednesday’s site visit, the first one I was present during, 2) the ludicrously careless actions of a coordinator, which could have seriously threatened a kid’s life, and 3) my first time witnessing police brutality based on race. Continue reading

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We can’t teach them if we don’t know where they’re coming from.

There seems to be an unspoken law, at my nonprofit organization at least, that as the kids grow more and more chill, engaged, and cooperative, the higher-ups grow more and more unreasonable and, if I may be politically incorrect for a moment, completely insane.  Today there was one classroom incident—a group of kids were bullying one of our 3 IEP kids, Ethan, by calling him “retarded”; he tried to ignore them and then finally snapped, though we managed to talk him down—but besides that it was a good day.  I coaxed 5-7 sentences out of each of them, with the exception of Shaun (more on this in a moment).  My coworkers got them to participate in all the icebreaker activities.  They barely dragged their feet.  After the class we decided that it would be best to address the incident in a future session.  However, the word from above is that, instead of directly addressing the incident, we are to talk about diversity in general (ethnicity, religion, and so on) because we aren’t allowed to single out any one kid with any one problem. Continue reading

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A typical good day.

Shelonda is a junior.  She’s buff, easily twice my size, with the kind of face that says, I grew up hard.  She’s assertive but soft-spoken, and, like most of the bigger kids, great to work with—sure, they clown around, but they respect the teachers and will usually pull it together after being coaxed.  Shelonda was self-motivated; she brought her essays to me without me asking to see them.  I had to lean in to catch her words as she handed me her two attempts at a personal statement.  What she was saying was, “This is all I got right now. I don’t think it’s any good.”

The main issue is that she, like most of these kids, talks around things rather than illustrating them directly for the reader.  But after reading a half-page about her drug-addict mother, abusive foster parents who used her to get money, beat her, and worked her like a slave, a mention of being raped, a hint that she became pregnant and had an abortion, and the violent death of her father before she could be reunited with him, how am I supposed to tell her to write more?

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This work by V. Manivannan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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First blood.

Wednesday was my first day with the rising 9th grade (the students who have just completed 8th grade) at the nonprofit organization where I teach full-time during summer academics.  I have them for 2 hours Mondays and Wednesdays for essay writing.  It’s their last class for the day.  I have all 16 kids in one group, which presumably would be similar to last summer, where I had 2 classes of 15 kids each, though each class was 1½ hours instead of 2.

These kids are angry.  They are hot.  The air conditioning in the school is often broken or barely effective, and the past couple of days have peaked at 102 degrees.  The last time I worked with this group, during ELA prep in afterschool program, DeVon threw a metal folding chair at me, or at least in my direction.  I’m still not sure how it just barely clipped my shoulder, when I was too startled to really move all that much.  I’d chaperoned this group on field trips before too, and witnessed Shaun shaking hands with the skeletons at the Bodies Exhibit.  My first class with them was on a 101 degree day, for 3 hours, from 1:00 to 4:00.  I know some of them by face but I haven’t earned their respect yet.  They don’t know me as someone who will stick around, or someone who gives a damn.  Mainly, all they’ve seen of me is that I can’t command their attention in the classroom and I can’t project my voice enough to drown them out.

So I wasn’t entirely surprised when, after I was left alone in the room with them, DeVon and Shaun, who are friends, started play-fighting.   Continue reading

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