Monday, February 27, 2006

Things I don't recommend

My friend Bobo the Wandering Pall-bearer, aka The Most Optimistic Man in America, aka Jim, has just written a brief account of things he doesn't recommend. He picked three, but I think he should've picked four.

It's a nifty idea. If everybody posted three things they don't recommend, maybe fewer of us would engage in foolhardy and self-destructive pursuits. Maybe not. Who knows? Who cares? In any case, herewith...

Doc Nagel's Things I Don't Recommend

1. Sticking your finger in a light socket.

In fact, I didn't do this. What I did do was this: curious and experimental a lad as I was, I decided to investigate electricity. I did this by tearing a paper clip in half, inserting each half into one of the two slots in an outlet, and then carefully completing the circuit with a lockblade pocket knife I had. Despite holding onto the wood portion of the knife handle, I felt a surge of current and was more or less pitched backwards, while the circuit breaker did its job and shut down the whole demonstration. I was about 14. I don't think my parents know about this (or knew about this; I suppose the cat's out of the bag now. Any by the way, bagging cats seems like a phenomenally bad idea).

2. "Drafting" behind semi trucks on the freeway.

I didn't do this either, but I was complicit. Back in college, I took a couple trips up from Charlotte to Greensboro (about 90 miles) with my pal Doug, in his 1980 Honda Accord hatchback. Doug had developed a skill at semi-truck drafting.

Drafting is a term from bicycle racing. Cyclists conserve their energy by getting into the vortex of wind formed by cyclists in front of them. The advantage is that you get pulled along by the other cyclist, and use less of your own power. It takes steely nerve and steady hands - you have to place your bicycle within a few inches of the bike in front of you, hold on tight, move in synch with the bike in front, and meanwhile watch the road ahead of you.

With cars and semis, you have one advantage and one disadvantage. The advantage is that, with the much larger semi drawing in wind, you have a fairly big chunk of space to stick your car. The rather obvious, in fact frightening, disadvantage, is that semis, being huge honking beasts, could crush your 1980 Honda Accord hatchback instantly.

We also used to drive with Doug leaned all the way back in the driver's side, working the pedals, while I steered with my hand under the dash, simulating a car driving with no driver. This is, without doubt, extremely and ludicrously dangerous.

We also used to drive around the campus area playing a tape of ourselves screaming at full volume, with all windows rolled down.

We also drove to a rural area and performed a violation of social norms - Doug giving someone the finger - and were chased through the region by a presumed redneck in a pickup truck.

I can't say I recommend any of that. Damnation, it was fun.

3. Relying on posted tabulature of Paul Simon tunes

I know, it's not important to you, but it is to me.

I have yet to see anything posted to any guitar ripoff site that gives any reliable account of any Paul Simon tune. Jim's explanation of this is soothingly and benignly simple: any account of a Paul Simon tune, but especially one endorsed in some way by Paul Simon, is purely fictional.

Like I said, not necessarily for mass consumption. Nonetheless, beware.

I get back from San Diego, and this is the best the news can offer?

I was surprised to read that US-India relations are hunky-dory, since while I was in San Diego the news was that the US had denied visas to three scientists from India. Indeed, one of the conference participants couldn't get an entry visa from India. Three others were denied visas as well.

This was more than a little annoying. It was potentiallly embarassing while the President was trying to strike a deal with the Indians that would effectively share US nuclear expertise. And what with the Prez having to rely on Indian security (to the tune of thousands of troops) during his visit. But luckily, a quick deal was made, to allow one of the three scientists in. One out of three ain't bad.

I can but hope that the US Olympic hockey team will be denied re-entry into the country.

(Oh, I shouldn't say that. They tried. Sorta.)

Monday, February 20, 2006

Update on the Habermas paper

I spent a few more hours this weekend on what has come to be named, in my consciousness at least, "The Goddamn Habermas Paper." Not that I have anything bad to say about Habermas at this point. Reading Theory of Communicative Action again has been something of a revelation, and a renewal of philosophical investigation. Plus, I like how it feels to think through Habermas. But I have a hard time setting down in words any of the ideas that this has sparked.

I should perhaps point out, for new readers of this blog, as well as for anyone who happens across it, that I have philosophical training in phenomenology, existentialism, Hegel, and Marx. My dissertation was on the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and how his philosophical perspective arose from his appropriation of Hegel (especially the Hegel of the Phenomenology of Spirit).

During grad school, I started into a serious project investigating phenomenologically the experience of media. I had the idea then that typical "media studies" perspectives had given short shrift to the fundamental issue of how we perceive and how we live through and in media. By focusing attention on the content of media presentations, these perspectives basically ignored the perceptual aspects.

Often, media studies approaches imagined an audience duped by media into buying things - products, political candidates, etc. - on the basis of misleading, or on the more subtle basis of soliciting agreement, by speaking to the audience as a member of the group addressed as buyers of those things. In short, media presentations don't persuade us to buy things, they persuade us that we're people who buy things, and then the images of products/candidates simply offers us something to buy at that moment that we're considering ourselves buyers-of-things.

It's cute. But here's the thing I thought I'd discovered: those analyses miss out on the way media trains our perception to be the perception of one buying (for instance). The problem of media (so to speak) is not deliberate manipulation of the dumb masses, nor ideological solicitation of an audience you produce as consumers, but the habituation of modes of perceiving that undermine looking deeply into - well, into anything.

Exhibit A was the way television prompts us, 10 times an hour or so, to watch television. On one level, this is obviously in order to get us to watch that channel, so that network can retain advertising dollars by selling our eyes to someone. On another level, television tells us to keep watching, and thus to continue to learn the habit of watching. Television moves in to our perceptual schemata, constructs our ways of perceiving, and becomes a model of how to view the world itself. This, I felt, was the real meaning of the old CBS (I think) slogan "We Bring You The World."

Now I'm reading Habermas, and finding that all the meaningfulness of media - ideologically or perceptually - could be ancillary to its main achievement, which is the coordination of social action. For example, television has not only constructed my consumer identity, not only trained my perception, but has regulated time in accordance with a rational order whose purpose has nothing whatsoever to do with the sense I make of the images on the screen. As an element of the communicative action of contemporary bureaucratic capitalism, television is part of a system of economic forces, part of the media of money and power, which affect how I live my everyday life regardless of what I perceive or understand the images on the screen to be. In fact, television has this mediated effect even if I don't watch.

So, now what do I do? I'm writing a paper in which I am planning to tell the Society for Phenomenology and Media, of which I'm the current president, for crying out loud, that phenomenological analyses of media make no difference, because "experience" of media is only one part of the situation. Difficult task.

And by the by, it was only last week that Lauren and I were in transit, for 21 hours, home from New York. And we leave for San Diego Thursday.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Don't &*^% with Dick Cheney

So, the guy Dick Cheney shot has made his first public appearance since the incident, and since he had a mild heart attack while in the hospital recovering. According to this AP news story, however, his main concern seems to be to apologize to Cheney for all the trouble he caused by having the temerity to get shot by the Vice-President.

I'm speechless.

CFA roadshow revelations about collective bargaining

I've had a long day. I've had a long week. I've had a long month, and it's only getting longer. Luckily, being February, it can only get so long.

Today was the CFA roadshow visit to our campus. The roadshow initiated, I believe, in the 2001 contract bargaining, when the union and management reached an impasse. CFA decided urgent organizing was needed, and before long they were able to hold public protests of 800-1000 faculty members outside a venue in San Francisco where the CSU Chancellor, Charles Reed (salary: $362,000 per year, plus car allowance, plus housing allowance) was speaking.

A lot of faculty look at the world in such a narrow and logically coherent way that they can only see their being underpaid and overworked as the result of somebody (i.e. their union) not informing management of this fact. When they are told how irrationally and bizarrely the CSU negotiators behave, they can't understand it. They also don't understand how it would help if a handful of faculty writing about their working conditions and showing up at a meeting with the campus President to inform him of it, and asking the President to bring their descriptions of their working conditions to Long Beach to present to the Chancellor.

The thing is, going to the President is an exertion of moral pressure. Sure, he can ignore it, but the physical presence of 20 or so faces of faculty in his office - faces he has seen before and will see again - makes it uncomfortable for him to deny their request. And the President could be resisted by the Chancellor, sure, but the Chancellor will have to talk to the President again someday - this is how moral pressure works.

And moral pressure is a biulding block for creating conditions that allow us to morally shame. The demonstration in 2001 in San Francisco involved puppets, pickets, chants, songs, marching - a display calculated to embarrass Reed, a prominent man, a man not used to this kind of treatment. Without the step of creating the moral pressure (and the organizing), the chance to morally shame wouldn't exist.

From that point, political pressure, or maybe I should call it moral insistence, is the next step. Say the Chancellor isn't that easy to embarrass, or finds in himself the ability to dismiss faculty complaints as unimportant, or as a bunch of whining. (We could imagine a scenario, for instance, in which Reed would say, "Bunch a babies! So we've cut more than 200 tenure track positions, increased enrollment, and hired 40% more administrators in ten years - so what? If they were professionals, they'd do their jobs!") Go to the legislature, and show them how Reed and the CSU administrators have essentially failed to negotiate in good faith, and have stonewalled. They pay the bills; they'll put some pressure on. This is insisiting you have a legitimate complaint.

That builds legitimacy for the next steps: collective action, civil disobedience, and direct action. Unless you've built the case all along, step by step, from moral pressure on up, and organizing all along the way, your collective actions won't be successful.

I frankly didn't get this until today. I understood why moral pressure was important to apply - especially as a legitimating narrative so you could go back later and call people jerks. From the other standpoint, I understood why it would be potentially uncomfortable to flat-out deny someone's claims about their working conditions. Collective bargaining seemed to me to be a game of Blackjack - either you have the cards or you don't. (In our collective bargaining situation, if we can't reach agreement, we go to impasse and fact-finding, but ultimately the CSU can impose working terms on us - so on this level, bargaining seems like it always puts labor in a distressingly, desperately weak position.) But today, in that room full of faculty, I started to see the moral reasoning at work in labor organizing, and how bargaining happens. It's not entirely a question of whether you have the cards, whether you have the legal authority to do what you like. Power is not the same thing as legal authority, and comes from many sources.

One of the key sources, it turns out, are those baby steps that we take when we do what seems to have nothing to do with bargaining power - for instance, meeting the President and asking him to listen to us.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Total and complete exhaustion - luckily, the semester is starting, and I'm going to San Diego next weekend

We were in New York for the blizzard. Actually, it wasn't an official blizzard, it was just two and a half feet of snow and 20 mph winds. In any case, it was enough to cancel our flight out of LaGuardia Sunday, and to propel us onto an aeronautic adventure through Washington, Charlotte, and finally San Francisco. We finally arrived home after twenty and a half hours travel.

It was a little disorienting. In fact, I double-checked my class time for today last night upon arriving home, to set an alarm, and mis-read the online schedule. I read that my class (the honors class I designed a few years ago) started at 11:15 am, in contrast to all previous years, when it has started in the afternoon. But apparently I misread this: the class started at 9:40, which I learned at 10:15, when Teresa Berry, our fabulous department secretrary, called to find out where the hell I was. I was at home, waiting to go to class.

Anyway, I got to class. I was a little surprised to find them there, and told them so. They were, for the most part, good sports about it. My confusion isn't really excusable, except insofar as I was coming off a 23 hour day, following a very stressful day dealing with heavy snow in New York (where, it turns out, they don't really deal with snow - go figure). I spoke a bit about the course, gave the students the course syllabus, and came home. After that I scored some Valentine's Day items, and we went erranding into the wilds of Modesto (aka Funkytown, aka "No Me Modesto"), since we lacked any of the essentials of daily life (to wit: fruits and vegetables).

And lo, I was suckered in by the damnable servants of Demon Capital, and I did go into the dark world that is called Guitar Center, and lo, there I did play many instruments, and was made weak in spirit; and there did I find a Cordoba classical acoustic-electric guitar half off, and it was good. And yea, verily, did I play upon it, and found its tones lovely and seductive; and its performance amplified sonorous, fat, and toothsome; and yea, verily, did I succumb to this lust in my soul, and bought it, and brought it home, with an amp, and &$*$!#*@#$$$, it was good.

Note that I haven't described either (a) why, or for what purpose, I bought this guitar; (b) the nature of our errands in Motown; nor (c) our trip to New York. That will all have to wait. I'm exhausted. We're going to have ice cream.

Monday, February 06, 2006

I asked for it

I don't eat fast food as a rule. This is a lifelong habit. As a kid, my parents (who, especially in the last 5 or so years before leaving Ohio when I was 13, went out to eat with incredible frequency) nearly forbid fast food in our diets. The occasional Wendy's burger was a treat, maybe twice a year or after a long drive. I literally never had a McDonald's burger as a kid.

In fact, as you happy few who read my blog know well, the last time I had fast food was for research purposes. The results were predictable: I got sick.

But since we're leaving for New York, beginning tomorrow night, and we have scarce little food in the house, we decided this weekend that today, after I turned in my final grades for Winter term, that we'd go to In and Out for burgers, fries, and a milkshake.

I hit the campus early this afternoon to turn in grades. I also had to complete a travel request for our trip to San Diego for the Society for Phenomenology and Media conference. We plan to drive the new Jetta, and as I still didn't have a license plate, I had to use the temporary identifying number on the travel request. That got me thinking that it's been plenty of time for the DMV to receive, lose, find, misfile, identify, wrongly process, re-process, re-process again with the right names this time, and issue plates and mail them to the dealer. I called; the plates were there. So we drove up to Modesto to get the plates, and stopped off at the In and Out up there.

It was okay. It wasn't up to our expectations/memories of what an In and Out burger should taste like. In any case, the predictable, once again, transpired: I was ill. I'm not doubled-over in pain or anything (as I often am after eating anything from Mickey D's), but I don't feel right. Sour stomach; too much salt and fat.

I only mention any of this because it's become such a reliable pattern in my life. Fast food literally makes me ill. Weird.

But the important thing is, we're going to New York!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Busy day

I've finished grading papers, and also had some time to spend playing. I'm putting together a few tunes that I think will be a suite, and I've started to write another song.

Over dinner we talked about Neil Young and Bob Dylan, and after putting on Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home, by the time "Mr. Tambourine Man" came on, Lauren was inspired, and ran off to write a poem. She likes it; I think it's beautiful. She posted it here. Her Deviant Art page is here.

Ah, the Muse. And we're not even football fans.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Target bag

Lauren and I went to Target. We also went to Kohl's. We were in search of a coat for her, a jacket and gloves for me, a can of spray waterproofing stuff, and Simple Green cleaner. The Target in Turlock, nicknamed the Target of Death, has always been trying to undermine me. It worked, to an extent: we were absolutely thwarted in our attempt to locate either Simple Green or waterproofing stuff. We also couldn't find Lauren a coat, nor indeed any coat.

We left with a small bag of stuff, including two pairs of gloves for me (they were on clearance, and I routinely lose gloves, so buying two copies seemed prudent; we'll be in New York in a couple days, where it'll be in the 30s, and men wore gloves in the 30s. HA HA HA HA). Anyway, the bag contains the following notice:


1. Tiny Trashcan Liner
2. Doggy Duty
3. Water Balloon
4. Roadtrip Rubbish
5. Soggy Laundry
6. Ice Pack For Head Lump
7. Toiletry Tote
8. Kitty Litter Liner
9. Tomorrow's Lunchbag
10. Care Package Padding

I have such mixed emotions about this. On one hand, maybe it's good to remind Target shoppers that the plastic bag is redeemable in these various ways, and needn't be considered trash as soon as you remove your Odor Eaters and canned ravioli. And I wouldn't have thought of using a Target bag as a water balloon (although frankly I have my doubts as to its serviceability in that respect). But the cutesiness of it is over the top. Target is not in the business of being good to the environment. They sell cheap crapola. They don't have any motivation for anything they do but profit. So "Ice Pack Head Lump," cute as it is, is part of a marketing ploy. I'm meant to respond to it by going, "huh, kinda cute." And I almost did.

I like to use Target bags for emptying the cat box, because they tend not to tear.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Return of the Native

Man, I hated that book. I still do, in fact. I read it in high school, absolutely loathed it, could barely get past the endless descriptions of that godforsaken heath, and then the characters' utter ineptitude and insouciance drove me batty. Years later, I re-read it, during a spell of dipping into the Classics, because I figured it couldn't have been that bad. Yick. Goddamn Thomas Hardy.

Anyway, the reason for that title to today's little entry has nothing whatsoever to do with Hardy and everything to do with the apparent re-emergence of my long-lost pal Doug. Doug was my college roommate and partner-in-crime. We spent a great deal of time together violating social norms in a fashion that can be described as "inimitable," but which most of the people around us would have described as "obnoxious." But that's okay.

I haven't heard from Doug since I sent him, as a Christmas gift, a clay bottle labelled "Butt Raisins," filled with Raisinettes. That was, I think, just over 5 years ago. (And no, I don't think it was the gift that led to our not being in contact. In the context of our friendship, that was quite the tasteful memento.) Much has changed.

Apparently, he's married and has a kid. Now, I was married, but no longer am, but never had a kid, and now won't. This is one way to detect the difference between us.

But now, soft, the b├ęchamel and gorgonzola sauce awaits the roasted chicken and linguine, to be made into tonight's gastronomic adventure.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Yep, been sick. Last Thursday, we drove down to LA for the CFA Lecturers' Council Spring Planning Meeting (a day early, since there was no way I could teach class Friday and make it in time anyway). Thursday night we played cards with Lauren's mom. Friday we spent the better part of at the Long Beach aquarium with our friend Raechel and her boy toy Phil, then zapped out to Manhattan Beach for the Friday night show featuring guest speaker Joe Berry. Saturday morning I was back in Manhattan Beach for the main program, including training in civil disobedience and direct action techniques (i.e., how to get arrested) from a group called the Ruckus Society. I don't think we plan on getting arrested any time soon, but it was interesting anyway. (Incidentally, I've never been arrested. It's not something I'd enjoy, but our Ruckus Society trainer claimed that some lefty movement demonstration folks seem to get their kicks out of it - pun fully intended.) Saturday night we went out to Long Beach to visit with Lauren's grandmother and aunt Leslie, then came home and played more cards.

Sunday morning I woke at 3 am, sick as a damn dog. (I've never known a dog that was "sick as a dog," so I'm really not sure where this saying comes from. Perhaps I'll look it up. Perhaps not.) I slept not a wink the rest of the night, had my usual panic reaction to sudden illness (which doesn't help when you're nauseated and feverish already), finally got a little dozing in before waking up at 9 am, my first thoughts being "I've got to get together with the lecturers in Department X and figure out what their beef really is." I ended up driving us home that afternoon, despite being barely conscious, because I figured if I had any chance of teaching Monday afternoon, I needed to be closer than 320 miles from campus.

Monday, I didn't teach. I had my students discuss the essays and issues in my absence. Yesterday I did teach. Today I've got a dentist appointment. A week from today we'll be in New York!