Sunday, February 27, 2005

miscellaneous items

I had a difficult time explaining to my Mom why we were going to see The Vagina Monologues. She hadn't heard of it, and she didn't seem to grasp the concept. Before I read or saw any of it, I thought it was at least a good concept: interview hundreds of women about what is clearly a taboo subject, then turn that material into a series of performance pieces. It had one flaw I thought it would: the more distressing stories verged on (okay, into) being emotionally manipulative. Then again, I know I'm biased toward funny things happening in theatrical productions, so this could be a prejudice.

That capped an active day that included the purchase of a tin of Velamints. I haven't had a Velamint since I was maybe 15, and they're new to Lauren. But how lucky we are to have them! Why, just read:

Embrace the taste of life

Pamper your mouth with the smooth, indulgent flavor of vanilla mixed with subtle mint. Take a moment to enjoy the relaxing times of life as you place a vanilla mint into your mouth. Its unique square shape fits perfectly in your mouth. Relaxing flavor gently melts leaving behind a light feast of vanilla and mint. Say hello to Velamints Vanilla Mints. Experience a world of smoothness in a little vanilla mint.
Yeesh! I mean, yeah, these are in fact tasty little mints. But I don't know about the soft-core pornographic description. I had thought that, generally speaking, one uses mints to freshen breath. Perhaps I've been missing out all this time.

And finally, it dawned on me this morning, reading an excerpt from an anti-gun-control pamphlet reprinted in Harper's, just how inane these arguments are. It's commonly pointed out by gun control detractors (and is featured in the exerpt) that disarmament has historically preceded genocidal atrocities. I don't know about the historical truth or falsity of this claim, but I can tell how much argumentative merit it has: zero. It commits the fallacy whose Latin nickname is post hoc ergo propter hoc: "after this, therefore because of this." The mere fact that something preceded another event doesn't mean it was even a proximate or contributing cause. (This was a pamphlet published by a Jewish organization, which makes this special pleading all the more disgusting.) Then it occurred to me that gun control proponents make a similar fallacy when they point out that gun violence is frequently within households that own guns, and overwhelmingly most common between people who know each other. While this is supposed to make a case against the old saw that we need to own guns to protect ourselves from random violence from strangers, it is also used to imply that owning a gun is causally related to domestic violence, or violence among acquaintances. Again, that's post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Seek the cause underlying, folks. I suppose in the end it's true, but not very useful or relevant, that "guns don't kill people; people kill people." Doesn't that imply that people intending to do harm to others will find some means? Is violence something we can't understand? I think the gun control arguments on both sides fatalistically suggest it is.

Friday, February 25, 2005

more food porn

Long day, long week. To top it off, the entry I just wrote, which was quite pretty, inspired as it was by Lauren's reading to me from Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street, was just deleted because of network/web server snafus.

We had bought white shrimp on sale. We had bought thick sliced prosciutto to feed Jen and Andy, who didn't come to visit. We had bought asparagus. We had on hand risotto rice and all manner of other goodies. So I made truffled risotto and broiled white shrimp and asparagus, both wrapped with prosciutto and cooked en brochette. While I stirred risotto and checked the shrimp, Lauren read Cisneros. Then we chowed on this gorgeous stuff, dipping it into little puddles of fine balsamic vinegar to accent the sweet ham and shrimp.

This topped off a long day after a long week. The CFA meeting, classes I think are becoming more and more convinced I'm a lunatic, and the IRB faded into mists. I mean, just look at it.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Shanks for the memories

This is quite probably the most embarassing fact about me: Sometimes I think it would be cool to have a restaurant. Almost immediately upon thinking this, I come back to my senses. People who run restaurants must be fascists. People who own restaurants must be masochists. What the fantasy is really about is my constant desire to cook for and feed people.

This afternoon it's lamb shanks. I've managed this once: braised lamb shanks, served with a syrupy sauce, steam rising from a shallow bowl that would be the required vessel because of the quantity of sauce. It's to my way of thinking one of the sexiest food images, especially when it's complemented by a good dry pinot noir, a plate of thick slices of good bread (for sopping up sauce), and something green to eat. The variation I'll aim for today: roasted garlic mashed potatoes, with the shank resting against the heap of them, the sauce dribbled over the top and around.

I love the idea of someone coming into my place and saying something like, "geez, Doc, I've had a hell of a morning. I need one of your shanks."

This fantasy is frequently lamb-related, for reasons I shouldn't really have to explain. Few foods are sexier - bloody beef tenderloin filet mignon comes to mind, and maybe wild salmon. Lamb is also font of many weird puns. I once made a potato and summer squash side dish for lamb that I decided I had to call Shari Lewis. If I came up with a cream sauce that worked for lamb I'd have to call that dish Shanks for the Mammaries, of course. The purest of such puns is Lauren's habitual greeting to any roadside grazing sheep we happen to see (called out in a cutesie baby-talking-to-yer-pets kind of voice): "Hello! Hello sweeties! Chop! Chop! Chop!"

Grrrr! Grrrrr! Yep, gotta go get some shanks.

Edit at 10:32 pm: Some pics

Sunday, February 20, 2005

I don't know - "Death to Gonzo" is too good for him

Just checking in for the last time tonight, I caught the Yahoo newsfeed headline Writer Hunter S. Thompson Kills Himself - Police. So it seems, as of this writing.

I can't encapsulate what Thompson's writing has meant to me. I learned everything I know about US electoral politics from reading Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, and a great deal else I know about writing from that and his other books. There's probably only one author who has meant more to me.

But what the hell - a self-inflicted gunshot? Drunk, stoned, cleaning one of his many dangerous weapons? Or a last realization of how decadent a sellout he has always been? Who the hell cares? Ah, perhaps that's it: who the hell cares?

Then there's this: New Tapes Say Bush May Have Smoked Marijuana. Now I get it. Thompson was definitely a suicide, provoked by this item (whatever else may have been true of Thompson's self-presentation, I believe with all my heart he was at bottom the most irresolute news junkie in the world). If someone like George W. Bush could truly have smoked pot, drank himself stupid, and been, in Thompson's phrase, ripped to the tits on cocaine, yet still turn out to as he did, then at last we have to admit that anything is permissible - not because God is dead, but because screwheads run amok.

And I'm angry, much like I was at Spalding Gray. Goddammit, Thompson.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Corrupting the youth

I overheard Tammy, our department secretary, complaining to someone on Friday that the first week of class was a full week this term - which is unusual, and, in her estimation, cruel. I hadn't thought of it until then, but it does explain why Lauren and I have been so tired, actually physically dragging ourselves out of bed Friday morning for our 9:05 classes.

Maybe it was the fatigue, or maybe I've just been extremely efficient this long first week, but I believe by the end of the day Friday I had convinced at least half my students that I'm at least half mad. This is an important step in my pedagogical practice, or as I prefer to call it, corrupting the youth. As long as they continue to believe that I can be trusted, or that anything I say could be important, they won't get the point.

One handy way to achieve this I learned from my pal Jim "The Most Optimistic Freedom Family Restaurant Patron in America, in Charlotte" Williams: cussing. I don't mean (and I don't think he advocates) spewing a continuous stream of obscenity so much as being loose-tongued. It promotes a relaxed atmosphere, or undermines the conceit of my authority, or something. Anyway, I think it's a good idea occasionally to conclude class, as I did yesterday, by announcing something like "Now I'm going to IKEA, and there's not a damn thing you can do to stop me!"

Indeed we did go to IKEA, and indeed there wasn't a damn thing they could do to stop us. Mainly we just wanted to go out someplace for cheap thrills. Strolling IKEA provided. We also had need of a stand for the TV. IKEA provided. Halfway through the trip we were hungry. IKEA provided. I thought it'd be fun to get involved in a stampeding riot of cheap-furniture-crazed shoppers, but IKEA didn't provide.

I would like at some point to write about the IKEA experience. But today's agenda is already full.

Friday, February 18, 2005

I've never done anything like this before

Rachelle had the following in her blog:

1. Grab the nearest book.

2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.

So I'm a-gonna:

"The utterly pure reason of those who have divested themselves entirely of the ability 'to conceive of an object even in its absence', converges with pure unconsciousness, with feeble-mindedness in the most literal sense, for measured against the extravagantly realistic ideal of a datum freed of any categories, all knowledge is false, and only true where the question of truth or falsity cannot be applied." (Theodor "Don't Call Me Sweetie" Adorno, Minima Moralia)

Don't say I never did anything for you.

What is there to say?

Dunno. So far this week I've got a large proportion of students in my three MWF classes stewing. I have half a mind to walk into class today and tell them to continue stewing, and walk right back out again. There's a great and sometimes unrecognized value to it.

But I won't. I'll try to walk my students in Intro to Philosophy through the first few turns of the Meno, then try to get the Pro Ethics folks thinking about professionalism as an approach to work that has probably faded away, then tell the honors students more lies.

The fact is, we're tired. Desperately tired. It's been a long week, and getting up before 7 am is, frankly, ridiculous. I hasten to point out that this is not our fault.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Will someone please tell me what the deal is with the missile defense system mania?

When Ronald Reagan announced plans to design and deploy a missile defense system, the ridiculousness of the venture was intimated by its nickname: "Star Wars." It seemed clear to everyone involved that it would never work. Twenty years, numerous failed tests, and billions of dollars later, it still doesn't work, at least, on the level of seeming to have the potential ever to provide protection from missiles aimed at US territory.

That's assuming the goal of the program is to protect US territory from missiles. Other than what people in these two Administrations have told us, there's no further evidence to support that this really is the goal of Star Wars. I don't mean to suggest Reagan and Bush are unconcerned about protecting the US, nor that they have a perverse and morbid desire to put the nation in danger. I mean that the program is easier to explain as having a domestic (and perhaps international) political goal than a defensive one.

Exhibit A: By any cogent interpretation, Star Wars would violate the decades-old Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) the US signed with the Soviet Union as a key feature of Mutually Assured Destruction. In order to prevent either adversary from having a strategic advantage that would lead to greater confidence that a nuclear war could be "won," the ABM Treaty banned precisely the kinds of missile-destroying systems Star Wars is purported to be.

Placed in the context of Reagan's foreign policy, this makes a great deal of sense: Reagan consistently played the political game of saying the US should stop coddling the "Evil Empire" and basically ignore treaties in order to pressure the Soviets enough that they'd collapse. (I call this a game because the collapse of the Soviet Union seems to have had much more to do with fiscal policy and their habit of dabbling in too many military dalliances at once. Thank goodness the US government would never do that.)

Exhibit B: GOP=Tough Party; Dems=Weak Party. This has been the GOP's formula for Presidential politics since Eisenhower. Star Wars gives the GOP another way to pose as the Tough on Defense Party, just like the War on Drugs lets them pose as the Tough on Crime Party, and the Defense of Marriage business lets them pose as the Tough on Gays Party, and the new budget cutting 150 domestic programs while still adding close to $300 billion to the national debt lets them pose as the Tough on Spending Party. Whether the poses match the policies, and whether the poses or the policies match reality, is beside the point. Politically, it forces the Democrats to come up with a "positive message" that is so far notforthcoming.

And what could be a better use of $50 billion over the next five years?

Monday, February 14, 2005

Valentine's Day

I started my online journal for a host of reasons a couple years ago right around the beginning of Spring semester. I started it in large part to give vent to a ton of emotional crapola that I had been misdirecting, stifling, repressing, and in general badly coping with. I think the online journal helped. I needed to face certain realities about myself, and for whatever reason doing so in a candid (many would say too candid) fashion was important.

I'd been thinking about that today, in my office on the first day of the Spring semester, Valentine's Day, with Lauren and I both dressed up (she all in red and white, myself in grays and a pinkish floral tie, both of us wearing fresh red carnations). The fact that I am actually celebrating Valentine's Day is a testament to the changes in my life.

I've felt like changing the way I do the journal, motivated by how much life has changed in all ways for me. When I saw Rachelle Loyear's blogger-blog go up, I got to thinking I could make my own. So here 'tis. So far, I like the simplified interface. I was getting a little tired of writing everything as HTML code.