Wednesday, May 31st 2006

Don’t Close Camp Algiers
posted @ 8:43 am in [ ]

The below comes from a colleague, New Orleans native, contributor to the effort, and generally good guy. Please spread the word around, and help out however you can.

Don’t Close Camp Algiers By Christopher Malone, Ph.D.

June 1st marks the beginning of 2006 hurricane season. Still reeling from the effects of Katrina and a recovery effort that is moving at a snail’s pace, the people of New Orleans are courageously bracing for what will come this summer.

Yet, June 1st is notable for another reason. At the very moment that hurricane season commences, the Bush Administration has decided to cut off funding for a facility that has been a lifeline for dozens of relief organizations and thousands of volunteers who have given their time and compassion to help New Orleans get back on its feet.

That is the day FEMA will discontinue funding for Camp Algiers, a temporary, full-service base camp located in the New Orleans neighborhood of Algiers, run by Deployed Resources.

Camp Algiers is one of the few things FEMA got right in the wake of Katrina. Situated just across the river from downtown New Orleans, the camp opened on September 27th, 2005 and received its first volunteers the next day.

Camp Algiers can house up to 1600 volunteers a day. It comes equipped with linens for the beds in air-conditioned tents, hot and cold personal showers, and laundry tent with washer/dryer units. There is a recreational tent with a large screen color TV. There is also a football field and running track on the premises. The dining hall serves three square meals a day, including a “to go” lunch for volunteers who are working in the city during the day. It also has bottled water, soft drink fountain, coffee, hot water for tea and hot chocolate and fresh fruit out at all times.

The camp is open 24 hours a day – and the entire enterprise is funded by FEMA.

How important has Camp Algiers been to the recovery of New Orleans? Since it opened, Camp Algiers has housed over 11,000 volunteers. Nearly 40 relief organizations have used Camp Algiers to conduct their operations by housing staff, volunteers and contract workers there. Most of the nearly 4,000 college students that traveled to New Orleans for spring break stayed at Camp Algiers. In late March, I went home to New Orleans and brought fifty of my Pace University students with me who stayed at Camp Algiers for a week while we worked with ACORN to clean and gut homes.

Quite simply, my students would not have been able to make the trip if Camp Algiers was not available. The same could be said for thousands of others.

The cost to maintain Camp Algiers is but a drop in the bucket of funding already allocated in the wake of Katrina. Consider this: Congress has allocated some $80 billion for recovery and rebuilding along the Gulf Coast. FEMA pays $116 per person per day to keep Camp Algiers open. The average volunteer or contractor stays at Camp Algiers for 5 days. Thus, by even the most liberal of calculations, FEMA has subsidized the army of volunteers which has descended upon New Orleans these last 8 months all for less than $10 million. Talk about getting the most bang for your buck.

If FEMA discontinues funding for Camp Algiers, thousands more who may want to go to New Orleans to help out this summer will be faced with the unfortunate choice of either paying for housing for themselves or not going at all. Given this choice, we know the outcome: the river of volunteers will simply dry up.

I know this because I plan to go back to New Orleans this August with a group of my students. Many have said they simply could not afford staying in New Orleans for a week if they had to pay their own way for housing and food.

George W. Bush came in to office in 2001 promising to unleash the power of the “armies of compassion” upon the country’s social ills. In the wake of Katrina, an army of compassion materialized and descended upon New Orleans to help her people; for the past 8 months these loyal foot soldiers called Camp Algiers home base. Abandoned once, New Orleanians need not face this double humiliation.

Christopher Malone is Associate Professor of Political Science at Pace University in New York. He is a native of New Orleans.

Contact FEMA and tell them to Keep Camp Algiers Open!! Main Number (available 24/7): Telephone: (202) 646-4600

Media Desk: E-mail:

Kathy Cable, Media Monitor E-mail: Telephone: (202) 646-7917

Barbara J. Ellis, News Desk/Preparedness E-mail: Telephone: (202) 646-4021

Tuesday, May 30th 2006

Preview of coming attractions
posted @ 9:38 am in [ - ]

As you know, I normally don’t blog about work. However, I have been prodded by my clients to do so, and I’m making an exception. One of the courses I’m teaching right now is a graduate writing course. It has two parts: workshops, and having professional writers come to the class to talk about their work and the craft of writing in general. The students all have those twin key components of being real writers: proficiency and compulsion. They’re good, which is a treat for me.

The students are producing two fabulous end products: a short fiction manuscript and a “manifesto,” or statement of why they write, ideally with a glimpse of process. I’ve tried to make the workshops better than the ones I had to deal with in school, and give lots of suggestions and feedback without trying to direct someone else’s process. During the last workshop class I took, my teacher sort of pushed my story along in a direction she found pleasing, and it stopped being my story. That is, it was a good story — it just wasn’t mine. Consequently, I keep my creative control mitts off my students’ stories.

As for the manifesto piece, a few weeks ago, one of the students piped up and asked me if I had a manifesto. I didn’t. I take her point, though: if I’m saying that sitting down and articulating why you write and how is important, it should be important enough to do it. So that’s what I’m working on at the moment, and I’ll have it up in the next day or two. While I’m at it, I invite all of you who consider yourselves writers or bloggers to join me. Why do you do it, and what do you do?

Friday, May 26th 2006

So how do I know if I *should* go to grad school?
posted @ 8:33 am in [ ]

A fine question, and as a few of you pointed out under my last sarcastic top-10 list, it’s hard to tell when you can’t ask the people who are embroiled in doing it and get a useful answer back. Well, since I’m too much of a bitter husk to give good advice right now (I’ll try to get more serious in the near future), here’s a fluffy quizlet I took that turned out surprisingly accurately for me. Why not base your entire future on it?

You Should Get a PhD in Liberal Arts (like political science, literature, or philosophy)
You’re a great thinker and a true philosopher.
You’d make a talented professor or writer.

Wednesday, May 24th 2006

The magical world of clever pranks Part V: The Great Barber Pole Hack
posted @ 6:22 pm in [ ]

In my opinion, the greatest hack of all time was the Great Barber Pole Hack. It was well organized, well executed, included a cast of hundreds, and pissed off the Cambridge Police, so all in all, a smashing success and a marvel of political organization. Ya gotta love it.

Two students approached a local barber and asked if they could buy his striped barber pole for $200.

“Sure,” said the barber–adjusted for 2006 dollars, it was probably like offering him a G-zer for it.

“The only catch,” they told him, “is that we can come take it whenever we want.”

“Okay,” said the barber, and they happily concluded their transaction.

The time the students chose to come get the barber pole was in the middle of the night. They sawed it off and began furtively sneaking through the streets of Cambridge with it. It wasn’t too long before a police officer stopped them and questioned the students’ legal and moral integrity.

“Honest, officer,” they told him, “it’s our pole.”

The police officer got the barber on the phone (undoubtedly getting him out of bed at that hour), verified that it was indeed their pole, and sent them on their way, at which point they resumed furtively sneaking through the streets of Cambridge with their perfectly legitimate striped prize. They were of course repeatedly stopped and questioned, with each successive officer getting the hapless barber out of bed to verify the students’ story.

After the barber lost patience with this arrangement, the police put a general call out on their radio band, saying something like, “If you see two young men sneaking furtively through the streets of Cambridge with a barber pole, don’t stop them–it’s their pole.” It was at this point that the student sitting in a dorm room with a police radio confirmed that the call had gone out, and 200 guys with hacksaws swarmed into the streets, cut off all the barber poles in Cambridge and piled them up on the Cambridge Common.

Tuesday, May 23rd 2006

The magical world of clever pranks IV: While You were Sleeping
posted @ 11:18 am in [ ]

Then there were all the times some hapless person actually got some shuteye and awoke to alarming things. In some cases, these pranks were private: some dude would doze off on the couch, and his friends would put ketchup in one hand, mustard in the other, and begin ever so gently tickling the sleeper’s ear, or his eyebrow… and he’d eventually wake up with a face full of condiments. If your roommate was a really heavy sleeper, though, you could go public. You could, for example, get a few of your friends and place the couch, sleeper and all, directly on Memorial Drive…

Next, the greatest hack I ever heard of…

Monday, May 22nd 2006

The magical world of clever pranks Part III: Revenge on the T
posted @ 4:24 pm in [ ]

I begin today with the Red Line. The Kendall station of the T’s Red Line is closest to M.I.T., and therefore an irresistable target. I distinctly remember two opposite incidents that were particularly entertaining. In the first, some young hackster put a great deal of graphite on the tracks, causing the approaching train to whiz right through the station as it tried to brake. In the second, thermal powder was placed there instead, causing the friction of the train’s brakes to weld its wheels to the track. The station’s roof had to be cut open so the train and its newly-acquired appendages could be lifted out.

Saturday, May 20th 2006

The magical world of clever pranks II
posted @ 8:23 pm in [ ]

Then there were the facilities hacks. The Kresge building, for several years in a row at Halloween, had its dome lit up with orange gels to make it appear to be The Great Pumpkin. A few resourceful hacksters even painted the access nub at its apex green to look like a stem.

My favorite facilities hack, though, has to be the one where a telephone pole was wedged into a classroom, corner to corner (as in lower northeast corner to upper southwest corner, with no discernable room to spare). It took a while for anyone to figure out how it was done. Eventually, it came to light that the chalkboard had been removed — and presumably the one in the next room as well — and a large hole cut in the wall between them to facilitate the cramming of the telephone pole from the next, and larger, classroom over.

Friday, May 19th 2006

The magical world of clever pranks
posted @ 2:47 pm in [ ]

Since I was a kid, I have been delighted by accounts of famous M.I.T. “hacks,” or elaborate pranks. Recently, an article appeared on about them, entitled, “Comedy on campus: MIT takes on Caltech for prank distinction.” The teaser announces, “When MIT students recently heisted a cannon from archrival Caltech’s campus and transported it cross-country to Cambridge, the pranksters weren’t the only celebrants.” You can read the article here. It inspires me to do a short series about some particularly amusing “hacks” over the next few days.

There were of course a number of the standard sorts of elaborate pranks perpetrated on dorm rooms. Leaving town was perhaps the stupidest thing a student could do. Multiple air-cooled Volkswagens were reassembled in dorm rooms. Students would return to their rooms to discover they had been lined with plastic and filled with water (and perhaps a few goldfish).

But that’s just the beginning…

Tuesday, May 16th 2006

Top 10 questions about getting a Ph.D. to which I am just polite enough not to give obnoxious wiseass answers
posted @ 5:02 pm in [ - ]

Now, I know some of you out there are engaged in the same interminable, frustrating process of getting a Ph.D. that I am, so please feel free to add to these. For the rest of you, I apologize in advance for any offense you may take. You see, getting a Ph.D. — in oh, so many ways — sucks out loud. Apparently having a Ph.D. is pretty cool, but the amount of intellectual hazing one must complete first is, in my opinion, pretty excessive. So often, when perfectly nice people ask perfectly reasonable, interested questions about our processes, we want to hurt them, and that’s not really fair to them. I’d like to think I’m too nice a person to say these things at all, but obviously, that’s not true. I’m just barely nice enough to settle for saying them here so I can answer politely to the next 50 nice people who make me want to slap them, through no fault of their own. It’s a public service, yeah!

10. When are you going to finish? When the sun goes super-nova! I dunno, I could be somewhere in a home with my teeth in a jar still working on this thing. Anybody’s frickin’ guess! I’ve been trying to finish in the next few months for, like, three years now. Tellyawhat: what kind of odds is Vegas giving me? Let me know when it’s 50:1 and I’ll place a bet and then finish up real fast, okay? When is your mom going to stop dressing you funny?

9. What’s your dissertation about? You don’t really want to know the answer to that. You’ll get fish eyes inside of 3 minutes. I don’t care whose dissertation you ask about — by definition, it’s unbelievably detailed and it’s about something only the person writing it cares about. Trust me, this is not the interesting small talk you think it’s going to be. Pick something else.

8. How come it takes so long? Well, if you’re in the oh-so-special hard sciences, it doesn’t. You can’t always pick your exact topic (which can be a blessing), but in many cases, you can get paid to write your dissertation as your job. It also doesn’t take long if you’re independently wealthy, if you married for money, or if you are working your way through graduate school as a high-priced escort. For the rest of us, it takes a long time because we have to write a book and somehow make enough money to keep the electricity on. It powers the computer. And the emptyass fridge with a stick of butter and a lemon in it.

7. I’ve been thinking about getting a Ph.D. How’s your program? Nobody in this stage of the program can really recommend theirs. If we say what’s on our minds, we’ll say things like, “My department chair makes Robespierre look like Jean Valjean,” “Thanks, it’s like being bitten to death by ducks,” or, “It makes my rectum hurt.” Most of us are bitter husks of our former selves at this stage. Give us a couple of years to forget (at least in the Nietzschian sense) before you ask this, okay?

6. How long does it take to get a Ph.D.? Why, about as long as it takes your mom to @#$%^&*^%$ a *&^%^ing #$%%$#$! My advisor in my master’s program suggested to me that it would take about 7 years, even if the brochure said it was a 5-year program. She later told me she wasn’t sure why she had told me that, since hers took 9 years. At the time, I thought, “Oh, 7 years. That’s not so bad. I just did 4 years of undergrad and 2 years of grad school right in a row, that’s 6 years. I could do 7–that’s not so long.” Ohmigod, it is SOOO LOOOOONG! It takes forever, okay?

5. So what are you going to do with that? Why, I’m going to roll it up into a tube, dip it in a vat of Mrs. Butterworth’s (TM) and stick it… Okay, I’m not going to do that. What most people do with that is teach. What annoys us about this question is the implication that the thing we’ve spent the last lifespan of two consecutive guinea pigs doing is so worthless that you can’t imagine what the hell it might be good for.

4. So, you must be smart, huh? Hey, I’m not stupid; I’m just a masochist. There’s no way to answer this question and not feel like an a$$hole. Figure out for yourself what you think of our intellects.

3. Are you going to work for the government when you’re done? Not likely. You see, the government doesn’t like educated people. It considers us ivory tower idealists or troublemakers, and if it did like us, it would give a rat’s ass about funding education so there would be more of us. Also, international relations is not the same thing as American government, so in the strictest sense, it’s not really my area. In any case, this government has shown nothing but contempt for most Americans and for the constitution it swore to uphold, and I’m only going to help it as much as I absolutely have to in order to stay out of jail.

2. So obviously, America is a violent society, right? Sorry, no. I’m defining “violent society” as one where the governing body doesn’t hold a monopoly on violence, so the facts that we like guns here and that in the media, “if it bleeds, it leads,” are not indicators of actual violence, and I don’t care if you’re from Canada and have some kind of axe to grind, eh? Also, humans have gotten less violent over the ages based on vast piles of data such as murders per capita, and America is a relatively safe place to walk the streets compared to many countries. Yeah, just not Canada. Fine.

1. Are you done yet? Is your mom done %^&^%ing my ^#%#@ yet?! Yeah, I’m done. That’s why I’m still here and why I still look like this. When I’m done, the heavens will open up and present me with a beautiful job in a beautiful place and a makeover, and I will be unable to contain myself. Don’t worry, you’ll know. Until then, stop asking. Don’t make me hurt you.

Monday, May 15th 2006

The Adventures of Conecat
posted @ 2:45 pm in [ ]

As you may remember from previous posts, I have two geriatric cats, striped spinster littermates. One of them had emergency surgery late last week. She’s doing extremely well: resting, eating a lot, and more or less back to her old self. She did however come home with a long stapled incision in her belly and a conical collar to keep her from messing with the staples.

Now, dogs don’t like having cones around their heads too much, but cats really hate it. They don’t like hats, they don’t like it when you put something on their heads to balance it there for comic effect, they know when they look silly and it offends them when you make them look silly, and they use their peripheral vision and hearing a lot, so they don’t like having the radius of those things significantly shrunken down. Plus, cats are generally pretty meticulous about cleaning themselves, and cones make all that impossible. Fortunately, now that Titania is doing so well, the cone has also become comical (I’m sorry, that pun is just too terrible. I can’t bear to make it any more explicit).

One of the funniest things about the cone is the way it bobs along as my cat walks. I had no idea Titania had such a funky walk until the head-bobbing was made more obvious by white plastic conical action. It’s very Saturday Night Fever now that I get a good look at it. The cone is also easier to spot than a well-camoflaged cat head, and occasionally scrapes noisily along corners, presumably because it interferes with the whiskers that tell a cat where nearby objects are. It also gets food in it, both in the bell where cat tongues can’t reach and between its layers where nobody can. I’m trying to stay on that.

I got smacked pretty hard in the face with the cone, too, and that was damn funny. The first day she was home, my precious little wounded kitty was going to jump up onto the bed, so I hurried over to help her. As I leaned over to pick her up, she leapt up and I took a catcone to the side of my nose. It left a mark that’s still there, and it stung like a baahstid, as we’d say in New England. I thought at first I had gotten a cone-inflicted bloody nose. Kinda knocked me on my ass, there. That’s when I knew Titania was going to be okay. At this point, I think the cone will probably be off her before the evidence of my assault with a dangerous cone heals completely.

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