Sunday, October 30, 2005

Porn in convenient mint form

From a package of Velamints:

Go ahead, enjoy a special moment

Indulge yourself with rich, smooth chocolate, kissed by a refreshing breath of cool mint. Its unique square shape fits perfectly in your mouth. Feel it glide across your tongue and glide back again. Now, just sit back, relax and enjoy your smooth, chocolate mint experience.

Welcome to Velamints. Experience a world of smoothness in a little chocolate mint.

And don't forget to experience a world of smoothness in a cool and refreshing Velamints Peppermint.



I still think I'm missing something about Velamints. I try, but somehow, I dunno, I just can't seem to get turned-on.

Anyway, one quick Google search later, the phrase "glide across your tongue" appears on numerous wine-tasting humor sites, where the joke is the same - wine-tasting as porn. There were also a few other blogs whose auteurs felt the Velamints box wrapper merited digital posterity.

Grousing about daylight saving time

Allegedly, daylight saving time (and it is daylight saving, not daylight savings time) serves the purpose of preserving hours of daylight around workday clock time, and a modicum of energy, at least in the summer. But I don't believe it, and I especially disbelieve claims that a majority of Americans like daylight saving time.

I don't know of a single person who likes daylight saving time. It's a nuisance to have to remember, more of a nuisance if you forget, and losing the hour of sleep every Spring is terrible.

Alternative sources of information suggest that daylight saving time was always the sick underworld conspiracy most clear-minded individuals believe it is. A cursory Google effort yielded no online source to cite here, but what I understand the theory to be is that manipulating clock time permitted a timing advantage for commodity brokers. I would also be inclined to believe it's a conspiracy to keep working people off-kilter. It's hard enough to organize, let alone when we keep having to change our clocks.

Oh, and by the way, the Bush adminstration has apparently decided to extend daylight saving time. Soon, we'll spend less of the year in "standard" time than in daylight saving time. Doesn't that mean we've just decided to make daylight the standard?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

One of the great paradoxes about students

Tonight I've been reading 1-2 page responses I had students in my Philosophical Inquiry class write to Book III of Plato's Republic. Not every student wrote a response (a chronic problem in this class, which may be another student paradox to discuss later), but of the 15 or so I did get, every one of them had an interestingly different take on the reading.

Book III is where Socrates discusses the "myth of the metals," which is the "necessary lie" told to the people of the ideally just city in order to let get the people to accept the system. Socrates further explains the social status and role the ruling "guardian" class will have, and the communal focus of the entire effort. The ideal city is ideal in its overall justice, in Socrates' argument, and every group must play its appropriate role. There's a discussion of natural predisposition to certain tasks or traits, and the development of those traits, but this is only the beginning of Plato's long discussion of proper education for just leadership.

The papers have challenged the lie, challenged the restrictive class system, questioned the communal conception of justice. They've delved into the strange minutiae of Socrates' argument, asking why it would be necessary to exert such firm control over musical rhythm, for instance, or why only telling stories where the gods are good helps the guardians understand justice.

Now, here's the paradox. These engaged, interesting, provocative, thoughtful response papers have so far not corresponded to engaged, interesting, provocative, thoughtful class discussions. Unless I'm horribly mistaken, I don't behave in a way that discourages contributing to class discussion. In fact, I encourage it. I ask at the beginning of class what surprised them about the reading, what their impressions were, what they found important, but with few exceptions, despite their evidently having found something surprising, impressive, and important, they don't tend to speak up.

So I need to develop a further element to the response paper technique, and move from those papers into finding ways those papers can structure class discussion. Partly, I am absolutely sure, this is a matter of experience: students in my upper-division general ed classes, particularly Professional Ethics, make this connection and jump into discussion on this basis.

Friday, October 21, 2005


It seems like I do a lot of stuff - all that teaching, university service, and union activity seems like a lot to do. I feel busy. Yet from one standpoint, I'm not working at all, because I don't have a lot of scholarly and academic writing coming out. This is a complex matter, for me.

I know what I value in teaching, university citizenship, and union activism. They are intrinsically rewarding to me, and I think they're important contributions to the university and the community. I try to teach well; I'm certainly motivated by a firm conviction in the value of the classes I teach and the validity of the curriculum and methods. I think universities are vital social and cultural institutions, far beyond their purely economic purposes of producing new tax payers and generating commerce, and so I place a high value on being an active member of the university community. Being involved in faculty governance and policy-making is for me an expression of commitment to the democratic ideal of education. As far as union activism goes, I don't see any substitute for it to protect the rights and interests of faculty from an administration that most often confronts the faculty as an adversary, instead of honoring faculty as knowledgeable and concerned experts.

The situation is different when it comes to scholarly and academic work. I spent a few years trying to fit into the academic philosophy world; I presented papers at conferences, published articles, pursued the most remote arcana, and above all else, maintained a continuous presence in what some people in my field call "the discussion." It was fun for a while, but the more deeply I got involved, the more removed from the everyday, the more I felt that there wasn't much point to a great deal of "the discussion," other than the rather arbitrary value placed on it by academics. I saw and heard a lot of weird behavior, from shrill denouncements of others as idiots, to the widespread problem of general social dysfunction. I watched what academia turned some acquaintances into, and how unrecognizable they became as the people I used to know, after, say, spending a year as a research fellow, or while they pitched their manuscripts to publishers.

This might seem like sour grapes, but I have to confess, I cooled to academic philosophy before it cooled to me. I had never had the most positive attitude toward it in the first place (ironically, I can at least partially blame a philosophy professor I had for that attitude, for it was he who convinced me that academics use jargon as a weapon and as a barrier). Not all of it, but more than I'm comfortable with, strikes as fiddling while the city is in flames.

I've been wondering lately if I shouldn't return to that kind of work to some degree. I do sometimes miss getting highly charged email, from people I don't really know, arguing forcefully on one side or another of some ongoing debate, and being part of it. For all their dysfunctions, academics do tend to care deeply about their fields, and jump into them with gusto. It's good for renewal.

The practical problem, for now, is that I can no longer leap into it as a purely intellectual and academic exercise. It has to be integrated into my life, which means into the everyday reality of being a teacher of general education classes, of being a citizen of the university, of being a union activist, and of course a private person. I want to find a way that the academic, scholarly work remains within the sphere of relevance of my daily life, and of the lives I come into contact with daily. I think that means, in part, that I don't want to get involved in writing something if I can't see why what I'm writing about would make a difference to my neighbor Marty, or would be significant to someone cooking risotto with morel mushrooms, or would reflectively inform my teaching practice, etc., etc. This is not easy, because the academic philosophy world tends on the whole to neglect, if not actually to dismiss, everyday life. In fact, academia tends to reward people for performances that require them to be neglectful of everyday life, or of teaching, or of being good citizens of the university. (This is something bell hooks wrote eloquently about in Teaching to Transgress.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


The Senate Energy Committee tacked an amendment onto a budget bill that would open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. This is after the Senate as a whole failed to pass a bill to do that, and it seems to be amended to a budget bill only for the sake of avoiding debate - the budget bill can't be filibustered. If that's not charming enough, consider this:

Under the drilling plan, ANWR's 1.5 million-acre coastal plain would be opened for energy exploration. As much as 10.4 billion barrels of crude could be recovered from the refuge's coastal plain, according to government estimates.

10.4 billion barrels of oil is nothing. Domestic use of oil was over 20 million barrels per day in 2002. (See the chart from the department of energy.) At 2002 levels of use, we'd burn up all the oil in 520 days. This isn't a terribly far-sighted policy, even if environmental damage is ignored. But there remains a large sector of US policymakers, and I suppose of ordinary folks, who have yet to accept the notion that there is a limited amount of oil, and that we're running out of the stuff we can get cheaply. If we factored in all costs related to preserving access to oil, it wouldn't seem that cheap, either.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

News from the rear

Somebody hit my car. It happened over a week ago, overnight, in the parking lot outside the Apartment of Earthly Delights. We were walking off to campus, and passed Mr. Car, with his left tail-light broken and the bumper out of skew. It's nothing terribly serious; the turn signal and backing lights still work, the bumper sticks out by the left wheel about half an inch. But this morning at 9 we had an estimate done. 1200 bucks.

My collision deductible is $500, and since this was a hit-and-run situation, I doubt they'll let me out of that. What bugs me is it's somebody who lives right near me who did it.

So I don't know whether to get it fixed. Pending some fascinating litigation, I might be in the market for new wheels, and it makes little sense to me to put money into this repair. It's just a Neon, for crying out loud.

The 9 am start time for the estimate - half an hour away in Modesto - is significant because I taught in Stockton last night, after getting back from the CFA Assembly Sunday at 2 pm. Since Friday afternoon, I've been unrelentingly busy, or asleep. That used to be normal for me, but not in a while, and I've gotten used to treating myself better than that.

Anyhow, the Assembly was a good gig. I met with the subcommittee on faculty governance and lecturer recognition, chaired a productive meeting, and got some good ideas for the next moves in that biz. Saturday Lauren came to the Lecturers' Council meeting, which was interesting. Sunday she came to the Assembly general session, at which I was elected to the elections committee (they run the union's elections, which seems like a fun gig).

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The new phone book's here! The new phone book's here!

My friend Jim "Pericles Was A Schmuck" Williams will remember, since I won't, the origin of the running gag between us (running gag #308, I believe) of calling one another on the phone to announce "The new phone book's here! The new phone book's here!"

As a rule, I recall nothing. Life's easier for me that way. It's not a very useful interpersonal skill, but it provides terrific plausible deniability and is sometimes the source of a nice cheap joke in class. But I have vestiges of memory, and as far as that goes, I think the "The new phone book's here!" gag began when a new phone book actually arrived at someone's premises - and here I'm already hazy, but I think it was after moving in.

In any case, it's actually true: the new phone book's here. This is auspicious, we're hoping, because for 15 months Lauren and I have fielded approximately 5 calls on an average week asking for the Hilmar Portugese Fish Market, or its apparent proprietor, Carmen. It seems our number used to be theirs. Lauren went so far as to look up their new number, and we've both memorized it, so when the inevitable call comes, we can helpfully provide the proper info. It's a public service we provide at absolutely no charge.

Once, someone informed Lauren that she had found the number (our number) in a current edition of a phone directory for Turlock and vicinity (it's about an inch thick), including Hilmar. On another occasion, the phone company called us to see if we were interested in adding new business services to our account.

(Way back in Pittsburgh days, I had a problem with calls asking for a woman who apparently owed a number of people a significant enough amount of money that they pursued her for it. This has been less unpleasant, but more persistent.)

In any case, the new phone book, indeed, 's here, and we're hoping that the corrected number will reduce the hours we spend trying to explain the switcheroo.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Here, chickies chickies chickies!

I roasted our first chicken of the fall season last night. We've gotten into a habit of buying only organic and/or free range chickens to roast. The fowl processing industry is notoriously - well, foul, and for this reason I avoid birds from the major processors. I don't know if there's any guarantee that a free-range or organic chicken hasn't been left to soak in a vat of chicken blood, guts, feathers, and excrement, as is apparently often true at large processing plants. On the other hand, I do feel confident that an organic chicken hasn't been fed in a way that is likely to lead me to have, say, an extra beak.

I should make chicken stock this evening. I should be doing that now, instead of wasting my time writing this. But I should also be preparing for classes tomorrow, too. I've got Plato to teach in my Philosophical Inquiry class, and we all know how difficult he is. He never listens. It's so tediously typical of the dead.

I've read all my Pro Ethics students' response papers, which were uniformly good. I should, if anything, be writing about what's going on in class. But no: chicken.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Brain like oatmeal!

It started on Saturday morning. I woke feeling lightheaded and slightly feverish. By the time we left for the campus unions picnic in the afternoon, I just about pulled over so Lauren could drive. But the picnic seemed to restore me, and I felt like all would be well...

until Sunday, when I felt much worse. I spent most of Sunday with my head lolling around on my neck like it was on a slinky, and my consciousness barely connected to my head. But I didn't decide to cancel classes Monday until Monday morning, and I didn't decide to cancel Monday night's class until Monday afternoon. Thus I probably inconvenienced all my students to the maximum extent possible.

They could hardly have been more discomfitted that I, however, because throughout this spell I've had the weirdest dreams. Last night it was trying to get off a plane in Pittsburgh, but somehow leaving behind all our stuff, then heading to a cheap hotel that had no bathroom, just the facilities right there in the room, in the kitchenette. Almost every dream I remember had to do with travel or performing, and several of them were lucid. Perhaps I've gone mad. How could I tell?