December 2008


Shoe fashion isn’t something I think about much from a personal standpoint. I have a collapsed arch and can’t wear anything but New Balance sneakers or equivalent dressier shoes that accommodate prescription orthotics. But, not to put too fine a point on it, I’m a guy, so while I don’t care much about shoes, I do examine women, who care about shoes. Some of the fairer sex care very, very deeply about shoes, so much that there’s a store named Shoegasm.

It’s winter again and fashion still dictates that most of the ladies dress in boots. Not just any old boots but only certain kinds. If you peruse that page you will see, among others:

  • There are boots that look like something last worn by Charles I and the Cavaliers (or Errol Flynn).
  • There are rubber Wellingtons (gotta be hot).
  • There are jackboots—styled like 19th Century riding boots—with or without stiletto heels.
  • There are the pseudo-barbarian “chick from a Deathstalker movie” boots.
  • Then there are the 21st Century suede moon boot, Uggs.

As I’ve not been able to get an answer that makes any sense from the women in my life—none of whom wear Uggs—I’m going to throw this open to speculation.

What the hell is it with a suede moon boot?

Black or brown jackboots I get, and they can be downright sexy on the right woman (though stiletto heels not so much IMO). The cavalier boots look silly, whatever. The “chick from Deathstalker” boots bring back, well, memories of the chick from Deathstalker.

But Uggs?

WTF?

Mildly Piqued Bemused Academician

P.S.: I’m fully willing to believe that no answer that would make sense to me exists.

P.P.S.: The “chick from Deathstalker” was the late Lana Clarkson, who was possibly murdered by famous ’60s record producer/prize psycho Phil Spector.

P.P.P.S. As you all know, fascists are fond of jackboots.

Update: Turns out they are really comfortable, or so says a lady of my acquaintance who is a fan of Uggs.

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As Fitzmas 2008 draws finally to a close, at least for now, it seems fitting to commemorate the past days with a rousing Fitzmas carol:

By the Twelfth Day of Fitzmas, Fitzgerald gave to me:

Twelve Days of Laughing,

Eleven amusing reasons,

Ten quotes of Blago’s,

Nine tainted planners,

Eight weeks of silence,

Seven Blago Questions,

Six AM Waking,

FIVE SENATE CANDIDATES!

Four Blago Rules,

“Three Day” Harris,

Two Main Counts (PDF)

…And a Governor in a Crime Spree!!!

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As Fitzgerald might say (and John Kass did):

A Merry Fitzmas to all…Except those I indict!

[Editor’s note: Though we’re still all celebrating Fitzmas here (as even the Angry Biologist hates Blago—though perhaps if Rod were a little less like a pufferfish and a bit more amphibian in his appearance things would be…different), we’ve decided to take a break to express our ongoing anger at, well, everything. Don’t worry, if there’s breaking news about Blago, we’ll be right back to kicking that dog while he’s still down…or perhaps we’ll just throw a shoe! Anyway, without further ado, here’s MPA ranting about a topic near and dear to his heart:]

OK, I haven’t out and out ranted for a while, but it’s after the fall semester as the days get shorter, along with tempers. Of course, I’m not really going to rant, I’m going to lecture-rant, as is fitting and proper.

One of the joys of teaching a technical subject is the fact that it’s necessary to teach intro classes, far more than most people in higher education. I use “joy” completely sarcastically, these are something that most of us find about as pleasant as a root canal. I’ve never had a root canal and hope I never do. but I have had enough other notoriously painful medical procedures (e.g., traction), so I’ll extrapolate. All jobs have their pain and drudgery component and this is one of mine.

Kudos to people who do them well because they are hard. There are two big problems. First, unfortunately, the large lecture doesn’t match up with the personal characteristics for which the job otherwise selects, i.e., an ability and willingness to pick apart the details of things, an ability to concentrate on details for long periods of time, etc., all components of introversion. (My particular line of work frequently involves working and reworking mathematical proofs and derivations for hours on end, or doing the same with computer output. It’s like sudoku on steroids.) Running a small class is easy and some classes of highly motivated advanced students go on their own almost without the need for an instructor at all. Running a medium sized (15-20 person) class is a bit harder but well within the reach of most people with some practice. That I do very well (based on my efficiency ratings, not my opinion). The big class… ugh, there’s just too much “room” to cover, too many fragile egos—intro classes are taken by noobs (freshmen, first year grad students, etc.), after all—and so on, and given how students have been educated these days, the overwhelming sense of entitlement too many have. And sad to say, overly investing in noobs is dumb because a good percentage of them won’t be there in two years no matter what you do, often for their own good. Intro courses, especially ones with “objective” content like science and math, are used as weeders.

The second problem with classes like these is the fact that the students are very heterogeneous, so you can’t count on much background knowledge. (In a smaller class this can be remedied more easily one-on-one or by encouraging a peer “buddy system.”) Sadly these days, a fair number can’t even do algebra competently, regardless of what they claim to know. Some know how to buckle down to make it through class, and, most importantly, aren’t so afraid that when you say “do the homework and you’ll get it,” they do the homework and find out that, indeed, they get it. A small, vociferous minority of these always seem to want “big picture” or “conceptual” understanding of the material essentially for free (with a nice grade to go along, naturally), without any sweat equity in their own educations. Unfortunately, these are usually the ones with the least ability to comprehend the concepts and not happy when you tell them “Look, you have to learn the details before the big picture will make any sense and that comes from, you guessed it, doing the homework.” Worse yet, they need a lot of hand holding and many feel sufficiently entitled to expect you to drop whatever else it is you’re doing (e.g., your other classes, working with the too often horribly neglected advanced students, serving on academic committees, doing your research, trying not to go insane in the short days of December, etc.) to accommodate their schedules. Inevitably you end up trying to teach to the middle but because the class is so variable, you get wild-ass questions that translate to, essentially, “I already know all this, why do I have to take this course?” and “We’re going too fast, why can’t we do the material from two weeks ago again?”

If you’re a mathphobe and you hated math and science classes—something I hear all the time in conversation is, “I hated that course!” or “I’m hopeless at math!”—guess what? The feeling is mutual, both as regards your particular fragile psychology and the giant intro class we are both stuck in. Sit down, shut up, get to work and we’ll make the best of it.

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The totally bizarre thing is, like Dr. Johnson’s view of second marriages, the triumph of hope over experience hits again next semester. Fortunately there’s a good six weeks off between. Everyone needs it. 🙂

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ObBlago: Ah, to be the professor in his intro classes and be able to flunk his punk ass right out of Northwestern, which should be ashamed to have him as an alum. My messy office for a Tardis….

For all of the tongue-in-cheek approval of Chicago and Illinois corruption that we are going through, it should be reminded that, free from any romantic notion of crooks being “Our Crook“, this is the actual Chicago way.

But Democrats, fearful they might lose the Senate seat if it was put up for a vote, essentially stalled talk of a special election. They cited concerns about the multi-million dollar cost of holding the election with state finances in shambles. The lack of action means that Blagojevich still retains the power to appoint Obama’s successor.

From the Chicago Tribune — who has good reason to be the loudest anti-Balgo voice in the world.

That’s right — despite having the most obviously corrupt official in decades, the party with a massive majority both in Illinois and national government is still too afraid of losing a Senate seat through the democratic process it loudly champions when no opportunity is at hand, now turns tail and lets its elite choose another of its elite. This shirking of manly virtue, ironically, demonstrates Blago’s statement about who is packing the proper testicular fortitude to make the right decisions. It wasn’t Blago, and it isn’t the Illinois Democrats.

Their argument about a special election being prohibitively expensive is especially transparent, since there will already need to be a regional special election to replace Rahm Emmanual, who is shirking his elected duty to wield Obama’s Rod of Power as Chief-of-Staff. A Senate run-off will be more expensive than a Representative election, but given the circumstances, (and the golden child of light who vacated the Senate seat when he was bodily assumed into Office), they ought to open that seat up to an election as well.

Truth be told, sending the decision to the Lt. Governor is the constitutional process in Illinois, but notice that is not one of the arguments forwarded by the Illinois Democrats. When Illinois corruption makes the news, it makes it big. But it’s the spineless, worthless, neutered corruption which never makes the news that is the real Chicago way.

Time for the occasionally awarded prize “Douche of the Week.” Like you couldn’t see this one coming. Well, a Merry Fitzmas to all, and to Rod a “Good Night (you Douche).” For those who have simply been hiding in a hole and wonder what the fuss is about, here’s what make this Chicago Pol unlike any other Chicago Pol:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chi-fournier-blagojevich-tapes-html,0,3993637.htmlstory

This artist’s interpretation of Blago’s infamous phone conversations shows why, even by the extremely generous standards of Cook County, this guy was considered somewhat over the top. Even for a City whose graft, corruption, and patronage led directly to a major flood, Blago was a bit, well, open about his auction of state services and offices.

And the news just gets better and better. Gosh, Blago’s really raised Illinois’ visibility around the nation and the world. Thanks Rod!

Seriously, this is a guy who somehow got re-elected (mostly due to the abject stupidity of his opposition), and yet seems to have not one single supporter across an entire state containing every sort of ideology and ethnicity. He’d already had an approval rating below that of George W. Bush (down over just a few months from a respectable rating), and I can only imagine what it is now.

So, for what he’s done, what he’s tried to do, and, almost certainly, for what’s yet to come, we the Angry Men salute you, Governor Rod Blagojevich, with the one fingered salute of the Douche of the Week!

Hate the game, not the players. —A colleague of mine’s favorite saying

addendum_2

The absolute ludicrousness of the above disclaimer should be evident to anyone. I don’t mean what it says but the fact that it needed to be issued at all is what’s ludicrous. The great State of Illinois needs to issue bonds and, because of the absolutely shameful activities of the governor, it also needs to issue disclaimers about the bonds themselves, saying that the chief executive of the state has no involvement with them.

To quote Keeanu Reeves: “Whoa!”

The fact that Illinois governors get in trouble is not terribly surprising just based on their records. George Ryan, Blago’s immediate predecessor in office, is currently in the Federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. Governor Dan Walker did time for bank fraud, which at least he had the decency to commit after he left office. It goes on: All told, six Illinois governors have been charged with felonies, mostly related to tax evasion. Three have been convicted of felonies and served time. Let’s hope(?) that a fourth is coming soon. If Blago’s really lucky he can get tips from George Ryan over in Terre Haute and maybe even share a cell.

Illinois is not alone in having crooks in the governor’s mansion: Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards comes to mind as a rogue in office. He is currently doing time and due for release in 2011; perhaps he too could give Blago advice. And everybody’s favorite, Sarah “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly” Palin seems to be up to some Alaskan adventures, though these probably don’t rise to the level of actual crime. However, Sarah and Blago do share a general, ah, idiom of hairspray populism, delusions of grandeur, general dislike for their current offices and willingness to play fast and loose with the rules.

I don’t even think Illinois is the most dysfunctional state. The system works in some respects: The current budget shortfall in Springfield looks nothing like the insanity coming out of Sacramento these days, such as the mind-blowing $41 billion deficit and need to write IOUs starting in February. I should note that the system works in no small part because the 1970 Illinois constitution expressly forbids most deficit spending, though of course that didn’t stop George Ryan and the legislature from spending like drunken sailors because the state was running a surplus back at the end of his tenure in office.

In every government on earth is some trace of human weakness, some germ of corruption and degeneracy, which cunning will discover, and wickedness insensibly open, cultivate, and improve. —Thomas Jefferson

I have no particular reason to believe that people in politics are especially clean, but Blago—and too many of his predecessors in office—are something special. There are plenty of Illinois politicians who have been dedicated public servants not cut from the same bolt of cheap, tawdry and rat-gnawed cloth as Blago. I believe President-Elect Obama to be one (let’s hope so), and politicians such as Ray Lahood, the late, great Paul Douglas, and former Governer Jim Edgar were.

The problem is precisely the fact that too many of Blago’s predecessors are special too, which makes me think there’s got to be something bigger going on. When the same problem shows up time and time again, as Larry Sabato says it’s not the individuals, it’s the system.

In fact, the entire point of a democratic republic as set out by Jefferson, Madison, and pals back in the late 18th Century recognizes this fact and puts restraints on the power of one individual. The English system they saw themselves reforming indeed had restraints on the power of the king—a matter settled during the century preceding starting with the execution of Charles I to the supremacy of Parliament established by Sir Robert Walpole, just not enough.

Scott Turow, former prosecutor, author and, ironically enough, appointed the Chair of an ethics board by Blago had this to say:

Even by Chicago’s picaresque standards, Tuesday’s developments are mind-boggling…. All of this news comes with personal chagrin for me because I was Governor Blagojevich’s first appointment to the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission, a body created his first year in office. (For the record, I have never made a campaign donation to him.) The commission judges ethics complaints against state officials, supervises ethics instruction, and tries to carry out an overall mandate to improve the ethical climate in Illinois. … Ethics reform in Illinois is often regarded as an oxymoron, and I admit that the commission’s arduous efforts to strengthen our ethics laws have met with little success. Speaking solely for myself, I hope the governor’s arrest galvanizes public outrage and at last speeds reform.

First of all, gee thanks Scott, for forcing me to take all those stupid mandatory “ethics tests”! But that bit of pique aside, what would it take? Turow goes on:

One change that is obviously indispensable is overhauling the campaign contribution laws in Illinois, where there are literally no limits on political donations — neither how big they can be or who can give them. The lone exception is a law, passed over a Blagojevich veto, that takes effect Jan. 1, prohibiting large state contractors from donating to the executive officer who gave them the business. Otherwise, anybody — union officials, regulated industries, corporations, lobbyists — can throw as much money as they like at Illinois politicians.

In short, the Illinois political system at the local level is awash with money. In fact, it’s the money in the system that let Blago, given to him by his now-estranged father-in-law, Chicago alderman Richard Mell—defeat his vastly more qualified 2002 primary opponents Roland Burris and Paul Vallas, by buying lots and lots of ads downstate that the relatively poorer Burris and Vallas simply couldn’t match. So take that conservatives next time you oppose campaign finance reform!

Most local politics is subject to a relatively constant level of corruption of the beak-dipping variety. When the money’s floating around the way it is in Illinois, where the name “pay to play” is commonly known, you have to expect a higher level of corruption. If the system gets to to the point that you have to expect heroic virtue—I’m talking the “wins the Medal of Honor, saves kids from burning building, donates kidney to a stranger” kind—to resist not just beak dipping but wholesale feasting on carrion, third world land is not far behind.

OK AM, I’ll agree, it’s completely transparent, in that everyone who knows much of anything knows that state politics runs the way it does. Everyone knew Comrade Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist, too. I’ll even agree that other states run this way, to varying degrees, but that particular argument is no different than the one used by corrupt pols to justify their behavior: “Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?” Since when does other people’s bad behavior excuse your own? That is the argument of a moral coward deluding himself about things he damn well knows are wrong but wants to do anyway, or his enabler.

And so what about transparency? What’s NOT transparent or accountable is decision making because they are basically made by a cabal of a small number of party leaders, we’re really never sure why they do what they do and can’t do anything about it even if we did know because you can darn well bet their districts are solid. I could go on but in short, Illinois government has all the worst features of a parliamentary system—heavy duty party control with its attendant lack of individual accountability—without the best part, i.e., the no confidence vote and clear party accountability, which would solve this whole damn problem right now. Blago would simply be gone and ready to face the music. In fact, he would have been gone a while ago when it became evident that the Democratic caucus lost faith in him.

This is serious shit and hopefully the fact that Obama knows this, much like FDR with respect to Tammany Hall in New York City, will help concentrate minds in Springfield wonderfully, but I suspect that it’ll take a more than a few Patrick Fitzgerald-provided hangings first and, sadly, have deep faith in the resiliency of the Illinois machine pols, even for whom Blago is an aberration.

I linked the nice post by Larry Sabato above, but here’s a summary of five “principles” of corruption:

  1. Corruption has no ideology, no partisan coloration.
  2. While corruption is inevitable and a constant, its precise manifestations are ever changing.
  3. Corruption flourishes in secrecy and wherever the people and the press tolerate it.
  4. A system of government or politics can be at least as corrupting as human nature itself.
  5. Any crusade to eradicate corruption is naive and doomed to failure, but corruption can be controlled and limited.

This is the kind of thing that I think frankly separates the men from the boys in leadership. Do you have the testicular virility to make a decision like that knowing what’s coming your way? I say I do.”
-Rod Blagojevich

I think the quote speaks for itself. No wonder he got arrested.

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