Archive for March 21st, 2004

Low Blow?



Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, right, makes a joke about a rumor that Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry had a plastic surgery, holding photos of Kerry, left, and pop star Michael Jackson during the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in Boston, Sunday, March 21, 2004. The breakfast, which gave President Bush and Kerry the opportunity to engage in some lighthearted, long-distance one-upmanship, has been a tradition for more than 50 years, and is a prelude to the annual South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino is seen laughing in the foreground.

from AP

No Cure for the Common Cold


head cold.  We discovered it upon
being awoken from our afternoon nap on Friday, just in time to make dinner
with the Cyber-Mom and Executive Brother, as well as three nieces and
a step-Dad at the Japanese steak house attached like a gastronomic cyst
to the side of the Sheraton 4 Points Hotel at Logan Airport.

The Dowbrigade doesn’t often catch colds, but this one
is a doozy. It wasn’t too bad at dinner, just a nagging sore throat and
anticipatory aches.  Mom, a regular reader of the Dowbrigade, has
just decided that she wants her own blog, a development we thoroughly
endorse.  The world needs more 72-year old retired businesswomen
and master chefs to start blogs! We will read it for the recipes alone
(Mom has published 5 cookbooks), not to mention the fact that we get
whatever literary skill we can muster from the maternal side of the family.

But that night the cold really took hold, with chills,
cough, congestion and that all-over, shitty feeling that even soaking
in a hot tub won’t cure. The mind becomes completely pedestrian, content
to trudge from one obligation to the next without looking down any side
streets or exploring interesting tangents. And the timing is perfect;
in the
middle of a major house move(cardboard boxes everywhere), preparing for
a prolonged foreign expedition (suitcases, too) and days away from an
important presentation at an
conference (still working on the paper).
This too will pass.

Back in the day, we would treat a head cold with massive
doses of LSD. Our theory was that we, our integrated normal mental and
physical being, was much more able and ready to handle the acid than
the inexperienced invading cold germs, which would pretty much pack up
and head for greener pastures in the face of such savage chemical warfare.

Whether this worked or not is open to question, as we never
got as far as double blind clinical studies, but we don’t remember suffering
too much from colds back in those days. Come to think of it, we don’t
remember too much at ALL about those days, and maybe that’s for the best.

So today, which according to our personal historical cold
trajectory should be the worst day, we hauled ourself out of bed exactly
twice.  The first time was to stagger down to the MIT Tennis Bubble
for doubles with Jon the Architect with whom we have been playing weekly
for 35 years, as well as Polite Bill, who apologizes when he makes a
good shot, and apologizes when he makes a bad shot, and Max the Mad
Russian. We played real good the first set, and then ran out of gas.  Hit
the wall. Slunk home and back to bed until about an hour ago, when we
dragged out sorry carcass down to the local Super Stop and Shop for
what passes in this puritanical society for self-medication.

After wandering the aisles in a daze for a while, we got
in empty checkout line 13, interrupting an intense conversation between
the cashier and her bag boy.  She was a stunner, coffee colored
skin and thin features with penetrating eyes.  We found ourself
wondering if finding skinny noses attractive on women regardless of their
color was a sign of hidden racism.

In another life we would have told her how exquisite she
was. The bag boy was as hopeless as he was chinless.  He
was hanging on her every word as though she were Halley Berry, whom she
did in fact resemble. She was speaking in a delightful island accent,
more Creole than Spanish Caribbean, but he couldn’t understand most of
what she was saying.  She prattled on about why she needed another
"part-time job".

The bag boy looked confused.  "Parking job?" he asked.

The channel changed as we grabbed our bag and headed for
the parking lot.  We had purchased Alka Seltzer Extra-strength Night-Time
Cough and Cold Relief, which is about as close as we get to hard drugs
these days. In fact, this may explain, at least in part, the convoluted
narrative of the present post. What were we writing about? Perhaps we
had better climb back into bed.


Intellectual Child Abuse?


illustration by Aaron Meshon

In spite of the impression the Dowbrigade may have given
in his slashing
condemnation of the practice
, home schooling is making
inroads not only in the heartland, but even in liberal Massachusetts,
and not only at matchbox colleges like Patrick
Henry University
, but
even at the "World’s Greatest University" (no, not BU). Take a look at
this description from today’s Boston
Globe Magazine

Maureen Carey’s
Cambridge living room looks more like a teenage slumber party
than an
English class.
kids sprawl
the faded Oriental rugs and overstuffed armchairs in various degrees
of slouch. Two huddle under blankets, and several wear knit hats, even
though the room is comfortably warm. One ponytailed boy sits cross-legged
on a trunk. Toe socks poke out from blue jeans and sweats, while a
pile of shoes waits at the door.

Despite the blankets and the posture, this is not a sleepy bunch. Fueled
by tea and homemade challah, the teens – who hail from Cambridge, Newton,
even Reading – are 300 pages into Umberto Eco’s weighty novel The Name
of the Rose, and they’re slogging forward, undaunted by the dense, medieval
mystery. In this class, students never take a quiz or write a report.
They don’t even have homework. All the reading happens here on the
second floor
of Carey’s multifamily house, where she’s led literature classes for
home-schooled students for eight years.

Well, all we can do is express our condolences for these poor kids.
We can’t imagine having to work all the way through Ecco’s unreadable tome
"The Name of the Rose". Normally a fan of conspiratorial, convoluted
fiction, the Dowbrigade made several attempts to tackle this bestseller,
but repeatedly found it more useful for pummeling students about the head
than for enjoyable or illuminating reading.

It can’t be the lenght or opaquity of the prose, since our all-time
favorite novel remains Thomas Pynchon’s "Gravity’s Rainbow", which we are
planning on reading for a personal record sixth time during our upcoming
South American expedition, thanks to a timely heads-up from our "Cyber-vecino"
. Copyright issues aside, GR is now safely stashed inside our iBook,
awaiting the balmy beaches and uninterrupted hours that beckon from south
of the Equator.

Why then did we have such trouble with Ecco? Perhaps because, between
the lyrical riffs and overlaid themes, counter-themes and sub-themes
of Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon makes us laugh, consistently.  Humberto
Ecco seems, to this reader at least, completely devoid of a sense of
humor. Our heart goes out to Maureen Carey’s students….

from the Boston Globe Magazine

Power Point Chart Art


Powerpoint presentations have been described as the means
of communication with the highest noise to signal ratio known to man.  In
their defense, they are not really designed to communicate anything;
rather, they exist as calming eye candy to channel and focus attention
as the speaker tries to communicate using the tried and true tools of
oral persuasion.

At least this is the charitable view. The uncharitable view is that these visual aides serve as a sort of academic prestidigitation, diverting the audiences attention from an almost complete lack of coherence or scientific rigor in the presentation itself.

The Dowbrigade likes to keep this in mind at times like the present,
when we are preparing an important Power Point (actually Keynote) presentation
for the 38th Annual
TESOL Conference
next week in Long Beach, CA (nothing
like leaving the prep til the last minute).

Considering this lack of content communication inherant in Power Point,
we are quite pleased to find that at least one academic presenter has
into creating
Power Point artwork, completely devoid of communicative content, other
than artsy commentary on the absurdities of the thinking life in Cambridge.

The artist in question is Michael Lewy,
whose day job is at the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems
at MIT. He has just published a book
of his Power Point art, consisting mainly of angst-encumbered charts, titled
"Chart Sensation"
(J &L Books). Below are a few of our favorites:

single one of these images is a protest against the brute fact that I have
to work for a living"

Quote and images from "Chart Sensations"