Monday, January 23, 2006

Bolivia's new president

The new President of Bolivia is Evo Morales, the first indigenous person elected President, and the first in decades to form a majority government, his election not requiring ratification by their parliament.

A couple different takes on Morales' election and inauguration:

Walter Mingolo, in the Orlando Sentinel, assures us that Morales' election is anti-colonial, rather than a vote in favor of alternatives to the dominant economic and political trend of globalization of capitallism.

But the New Zealand alternative news source Scoop tells us that Morales is head of the Movement Toward Socialism Party.

I just heard on NPR that Morales' inauguration featured several indigenous languages, and he was wearing an alpaca garment. I think that's the coolest thing about it.

Imagine the odds of an indigenous person being elected President of the United States!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Absurdity in everyday (consumer) life

Like everyone else who will read this, I use electricity. Like nearly everyone who will read this, I get my electricity from a utility company. Like nearly everyone who buys electricity from a utility, I don't choose the utility.

Turlock Irrigation District is that utility. As I understand the history of the Central Valley irrigation districts and their development as electric utility companies, the connection between irrigation and electricity has to do with hydro-electric dams. It's simple: dam the river to supply water to farms and people, and meanwhile stick a turbine in it and generate power.

There's two basic models of hydro-power: large dams and small dams. Large dams are fairly destructive of ecosystems, and are not considered "renewable" resources. Small dams are less destructive, and are considered "renewable." (Of course, with any hydro-power, a lot depends on whether there's actually a renewal, to wit, snow during the winter.)

T.I.D., and I believe all the other electricity suppliers in California, prints the sources of power on the back of the bill every month. This month's "power content label" informs us that 6% of T.I.D. power this month comes from renewable sources - 3% each from geothermal and small hydro. 29% comes from large hydro; 19% from coal, 46% from natural gas. At present, natural gas prices worldwide are ridiculously high, so it makes little to no sense to rely most heavily on that, unless you're so short-sighted about energy policy that you're finding the easiest source (the one that requires least change to the way you do business), and are willing to pass on the cost to consumers, no matter how high it is. At this rate, it will have to come to a point that people just can't pay, or won't pay, the higher rates for gas-derived electricity, for T.I.D. or any other utility to stop using it.

But that's not why I'm bothering to write. I mean, corporate short-sightedness and profiteering on that basis is commonplace.

Take another look at the list of sources. See something missing? Go ahead and look; I'll wait here...

Dum-de-dum-de-dah... Whiw-whew-whoo... Oop-bop-sh-bam.

Spot it? Yep: no solar! And no wind! Ta-da! Yadda-yadda-yadda dum-ba-dum-dum! Yuppa-de-da-de-da-dum! (That's supposed to be the Looney Tunes coda.)

Now, I'll grant, in the winter months, the Central Valley is cloudy most of the time. But it's California, as in sunny California, and the power company chooses to get exactly 0% of its electricity from the sun. And when we don't have sun, and often enough when we do, we have wind. Once again: zippo.

So here's the dilemma. As a consumer, especially one in an apartment, I have just about no chance whatsoever of choosing the source of my electricity, but I'm basically dependent on it, like everyone else. The only leverage I have with the power company is to use less (and we do, down more than 10% from last year at this time - plus, of course, not running a TV at all hours, and what with me being one of the world's great light-turner-offers) or to write them letters of protest. Now, imagine the response I'd get from T.I.D. - "thank you for your interest..."

There is one other option that I've got that most of you don't: T.I.D. is an old-fashioned public utility (they're privatized in most parts). That means an elected board directs its policies (more or less). I can run for the board. Of course, if it becomes evident I'm a Green, in this district, that could be troublesome.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Ten great reasons to hate me

My pal Imj (aka Bobo the Wandering Pallbearer, aka The Most Optimistic Man in America, Inc.) recently blogged concerning ten great reasons to hate him. It's not a list I endorse, because it's not my list of reasons to hate him. Him and his damnable Miata.

So, seeing as how I've already bathed, and am waiting to become sufficiently dry to clothe and oust myself into the wide world in my spanking new Jetta (probably to be named "Fast Eddie," mainly for the nickname "Eddie Jetta," based on a private joke between my loveliest and self, to wit, the Weird Al Jankovic song "My Baby's In Love With Eddie Vedder"), and seeing as how I can't make this sentence too much longer without completely bollocksing the syntax (frankly, I think California's syntax is way too high, but I'm also against regressive taxation schemes in the first place), I thought I'd make my own list, about myself.

There follows then Ten Great Reasons to Hate Doc Nagel

1. I don't look my age. I don't act my age. I don't live my age. In fact, I don't know my age. I have to consult my driver's license. Hold on... No, that can't be right. Forget it.

2. I am a spectacular cook. I mean it, really, fan-freaking-tastic. I specialize in French food, mainly provençal, because it's got spices in it. My favorite sauces are two I've created and one of the grand old Frenchies, called sauce Robert (you say it without the t, you know, to appear sophisticated). Tonight, I think I'm gonna cook boeuf bourguignonne, one of our faves, as my loveliest is coming home from a visit to LA while I've been trying to write the confounded food paper. I now am in a spot in writing the paper where I literally must cook boeuf bourguignonne to be able to continue.

3. I do what I like for a living. I teach philosophy. You have no idea how much fun that is. I grouse about grading, about administrators, about the occasional crummy student, but basically, every day I go to work is playtime.

4. I'm hilarious. That's not really a reason to hate me, but my knowing I'm hilarious might infuriate some people. In fact, the occasional crummy student despises the fact that I'm funny, especially in class. See #3.

5. I am happy. Again, you'd have to be fairly unpleasant, or hold a massive grudge against me, to hate me for being happy. Those people exist, and it is in part to give them something to take away from this list that I include being happy as a reason to hate me. Then again, they're probably mostly angry about the reasons I'm happy.

6. I have cool stuff. Not only the spanking new Jetta, but also an almost as spanking new iBook, and a USB-port pre-amp and software to record my own tunes. Those are the coolest things I own, with the exception of my 12-string Seagull (whose name is Maggie).

7. I am personally acquainted with four people who live in Finland. That's no reason to hate me, either, but it's true, so I thought I'd toss it in here. Only two of them are Finns, and one of the two Finns is half Swede (I think it's his left half, but I'm not sure; it's kind of a personal question).

8. I play guitar. I dunno; some people just hate that about a person.

9. I have long hair. Lauren just cut it for me a couple weeks ago, which was the first time it was cut in two years. I always used to have long hair, then I cut it short while I was finishing my dissertation, under the absurd assumption that having shorter hair would make me more marketable. It might, but frankly, I always wanted my hair long. It's a very sensual thing.

10. I am in love. My lover/girlfriend/partner/s.o./shorty Lauren is beautiful, sexy, talented, charming, sweet, sensitive, kind, and a host of other superlatives. In fact, the main reason people hate me is that I'm in love, and that she's in love with me. Or, more to the point, that we so thoroughly enjoy being together, and are happy together. (See #5) She likes my cooking, too. We eat practically every meal together, sitting at a table, conversing and sharing food. We play music together, sometimes playing guitar, sometimes I play and she sings, sometimes we work out changes to songs we like on piano and guitar. We spend every possible instant together (including stuff like union meetings and conferences), which is a wonderful way to live.

But wait! Here's two bonus reasons to hate Doc Nagel

11. We have quite possibly the world's greatest cat. His name is Lancelot, though he's most commonly called by one of his indefinitely many nickmanes, e.g., "Stinkertoy" or "Lanceapotamus." He doesn't act his age, either - nor does he know it. He thinks his age is "one," but that's because his only number concept is "one." He's not brilliant. But he does know how doors work.

12. I'm having peanut butter toast and an orange for breakfast. And you're not, are you? So there.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Ongoing saga of the United States of Wal-Mart

I'm fairly gratified that Maryland's Senate voted to override a veto and enact a law requiring large employers to provide health care benefits for workers. Wal-Mart, the world's largest corporation, is a wonderful example of how the blind pursuit of profits, or of cheap consumer goods, works. You can't make goods cheap enoough to undercut all competitors without underpaying someone somewhere, and Wal-Mart is a well-known offender, costing states billions of bucks every year in public-funded medical coverarge. It gives me a bit of satisfaction that a handful of elected representative assemblies are actually representing the interests of their constituents and not paving the way for a bigger, more powerful Wal-Mart. (Turlock has been fighting Wal-Mart's plan to close its current store and open a gigantic one a half-mile away.)

I have not made a purchase from a Wal-Mart in more than 18 months - probably much closer to 2 1/2 years. My reasons do include my objections to Wal-Mart's business practices, but that, as I've mentioned elsewhere here, doesn't mean I'm somehow a moral paragon. Moral paragons don't shop at Target. No, I have to say, I'm driven more by a visceral disgust of Wal-Mart that overtakes me any time I enter any Wal-Mart. I want, immediately upon entering, to leave. In fact, I've more than once turned right around and walked out again, even in situations where there was something I really needed, and knew that the Wal-Mart in question was going to be the easiest place to get it. I hypothesized for a while that Wal-Mart must have a brain-eating machine installed somewhere in each store. That explained my disgust, and also the way people in a Wal-Mart become zombies. Later I realized that a simpler explanation would be that people turned themselves into zombies in order to numb themselves to the Wal-Mart experience. Possibly they're all on drugs, which seems like a viable strategy as well.

Members of the Maryland Senate said they intended to make large corporations behave themselves (an odd thought for anyone who's seen The Corporation), and denied any deliberate attack on Wal-Mart. Personally, I have unfathomable ill will for Wal-Mart, and would really like a legislative body or court someplace to kill it.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

T'ain't all work and no play

As rumor has had it, I've been working intensively on the food paper, and teaching class. But if all I did was work on papers and so on, I'd make myself crazy. I know this, because I've done it. It may actually make me busier, but sticking time into my day to do other stuff has become vital to my well-being.

I decided, for instance, to make a few recordings of songs I've written in the past year. To that end, a few weeks ago I got a pre-amp gizmo that patches into a USB port, and came with this weird German software package for recording. I've been fooling with it a very very little, just enough to get it to make decent, though rather crude, recordings (or, really, if we're being precise about it, digital samplings). I've only begun to play with the various effects, including some truly freakish pre-sets for the reverb effect that can make an ordinary 12-string guitar sound like circular saw blades cutting through steel.

Anyway, this one is a tortured thing called Very Much Like Three-Tenths of Torqeumada's Blues, and this other number, meant to be much sweeter, is called A Piece of Pie. With any luck, the links'll work.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Not actually funny, in fact (well, maybe it is)

This morning's Yahoo news feed included the headline "Turkey battles to weaken grip of deadly bird flu."

Sunday, January 08, 2006

An as yet unnamed lasagne

Some time ago I wrote an entry about a lasagne I made and named Steve. I'm making another lasagne tonight, this time with greater reflection, because of the food paper I'm writing, but this lasagne is nameless.

It's a fairly sexy lasagne, I must say. The sauce is béchamel, which is basic white sauce, except I always stuff if with nutmeg and white pepper. The noodles are between layers of cottage, goronzola, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese blended together, and mushrooms, artichoke hearts, a little onion and garlic that I sautéed, to which I added a couple spoonfuls of chopped black olives.

I had the revelation I needed to make the next step in the food paper this morning as I rose. If you consider the sense of taste, you'll notice that it tells us a lot about sensation in general. For one thing, it shows us the synaesthesia of our sensoria - we live in whole sensory worlds, not individuated sense data that we compose into a whole. It's just about impossible to ignore this regarding taste, but we (and by "we" I mean primarily Modern philosophers) have done a great job ignoring it regarding vision, the sense they took as the model of all senses.

Right now I can only express the idea in phenomenological jargon, so pardon that. The basic notion I've hit on is that taste is the exemplary sense because tasting is the most intimate - what we taste becomes us, quite literally. This demonstrates that the alleged subject-object division, that bugaboo of Modern western philosophy, can't hold. We can't taste unless what we taste and our tasting become intimately conjoined.

That led me to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, whom I spent three hours reading this afternoon, to pull together a few more ideas about what I've ended up calling the "founding intimacies" of perception. And with no undue modesty, I gotta say, I think "founding intimacies" is a damned nifty expression for it.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The dilemma of consuming

I took my new Jetta to the VW dealer today, to have them correct a couple chips of paint and a ding in the trunk lid. I half expected them to tell me to get lost, but perhaps part of the reward of being a conspicuous consumer (or at least the purchaser of a new car) is that you get good treatment.

I've been preparing for my second class session in Professional Ethics this evening, contemplating Anthony Weston's A Practical Compantion to Ethics and considering his take on what it means to value, and how little we tend to consider this in its depth. For instance:

I'm opposed to the current US military involvement in Iraq. I have suspected from before the beginning that it was for the sake of advancing a capitalist economic agenda, specifically the petroleum economy, and that the various pretexts presented by the Bush administration for invading Iraq (all of which have now been abandoned) were always nothing more than that - pretexts. My general reaction to news stories related to Iraq and the Bush administration's policies and statements about Iraq rests on the assumption that the war is really for nothing more noble than oil.

But of course, I'm implicated. I drive a car; I use electricity; I throw away plastic bags. I buy stuff - lately, in fact, I've bought a lot of stuff. My pretext for this behavior is that it improves my life in ways that are practical and worthwhile. The new car replaces a probably dangerous and probably (monetarily) worthless vehicle. The new laptop replaces a generally unreliable and frustrating machine - although I retain the old one, because it contains files I will likely need, and a PC hockey game I still may play from time to time. It all seems reasonable, and not at all objectionable, from the narrow standpoint of my own individual life and system of needs and desires.

Nonetheless, by choosing to consume, I'm choosing to contribute in my own way to the petroleum economy and the US and global capitalist policies that this entails. Now, my dropping out wouldn't make a noticeable difference, but my remaining within the worldwide economic hoohah means I don't have the legitimate right to pass moral judgments on IT. I am part of it. And I didn't buy the hybrid.

Is it a hand-wringing bit of hairshirt self-flagellation to say that there's no such thing as a conscientious consumer? Am I using guilt as an excuse for continuing to live the way I please? (Well, on that point, let me be frank: I gave up guilt about 18 months ago, by deciding that, right or wrong, I would make moral and life decisions of my own, stand by them, and deal with their repercussions.)

In a very practical sense, there are few options for a person in this society to act on the basis of objections to the way corporate capitalism dominates the world (regardless of whether such a person is a socialist, Marxist, anarchist, or just finds CEOs kinda stinky). In this society, YOU are GOING TO CONSUME. I think it doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of difference how you consume. Go ahead, buy nothing but organic fruits, veggies, and cotton fibers. But don't buy your own bullshit: they still use trucks to bring in the food, and they still use oil to make the plastic or the wax-covered cardboard cartons for your soy milk. Unless you're growing your own, or are running naked and eating nothing, you're part of IT too.

I don't mean that consuming is bad. Consuming is necessary and human. What I mean is that because we consume in the way we unavoidably do consume, in the current economic and social-political context, all of us are implicated. None of us has moral high ground on this. And that's very interesting, because it may be the one area of life where we can't stand on creed or culture like a soapbox and make pronouncements against one another.

Except against SUV drivers. We still get to loathe them, never fear.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Il pleut comme vaches qui pissent

It has been raining for the better part of the last three days, including strong wind all day yesterday. This usually has meant flooding here in Speedbumpville, but so far there hasn't been any.

After a fairly thorough search of sources available to me through the university library and the Internet, I can safely say hardly anyone has pursued a Husserlian phenomenological account of taste. There have been mentions of taste in plenty of discussions of Husserl's discussions of perceptual experience, but I have found nothing that extensively considers taste. I spent several hours working on it yesterday, developing a bit from Husserl's analysis of "sense-bestowing" intentionality in Ideas I. It's been long enough since I last slogged through Ideas I that I hadn't quite remembered what a slog it is. Next up is a similar slog through Ideas II.

Then I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening under this apocalyptic weather. By bedtime I was wondering about the future, specifically, whether it makes much sense to go on under the assumption that life in 20 years will be much like it is now. The trends seem to be toward (a) extremely limited and fantastically expensive energy resources, (b) rapidly changing, more volatile, more destructive weather patters, (c) more expensive, poorer quality food, (d) more expensive, less reliable, possibly dangerous water, and (e) a more dangerous, warlike world. I started to feel like a dope for buying a car whose gasoline I may not be able to afford in 6 or 7 years. I started to feel like a dope for buying a laptop whose usefulness is contingent on something like the status quo of available resources. Heck, I started to feel like a dope for drinking coffee every morning. In sum, this is some nasty weather to feel oneself to be under.

Then I had nightmares through the night (which I've forgotten). I woke around 7, absolutely freaked out. I tossed, turned, hid my head, and fell asleep again, to dream of visiting Pittsburgh and driving around the city streets and parkways on scooters - which is at best a foolhardy proposition. But at least we got to Duquesne in one piece (or, if you're thinking about this clearly, two pieces), to look down off the Bluff at the river and watch people stroll along the (nonexistent) white sand beach in the rain.