Wednesday, March 29, 2006

holy sociopaths, batman!

I suppose I could sit back and be amused about the War on Christians conference. After all, if a group of people can say (with straight faces and without their fingers crossed behind their backs) that Christian politicians are persecuted in this country, well, there's something mighty silly about it. Especially when it leads them to say things like:

"I believe the most damaging thing that Tom DeLay has done in his life is take his faith seriously into public office, which made him a target for all those who despise the cause of Christ," Scarborough said, introducing DeLay on Tuesday. When DeLay finished, the host reminded the politician: "God always does his best work right after a crucifixion."

I mean, not only is that preposterous on its face, and factually screwy (DeLay's big mistake seems to have been taking bribes), but it's also blasphemous. And in the proper frame of mind, it would be incredibly funny that the self-righteousness of proselytizing propheteers leads them to such delusional states.

But mainly, it makes me want to rant and rave, because the people who lately have been assuming this position are not just ridiculous bozos. They're Majority leaders in the US House of Representatives and the Senate, and ranking members of both houses of Congress, and legislators and governors of states, and members of boards of education. Unless the whole thing is a cynical posturing to garner votes in their rabid districts, these people might actually believe some of their nonsense, and that's not funny, it's terrifying.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

desk cleared

I did a modicum of research on the next paper - on Hunter S. Thompson and the ideology of objectivity in journalism. But before long I had an uncomfortable feeling, a feeling like something was wrong, something needed to be done. I looked elsewhere in the room, at Lauren looking up how to make her own skin-care stuff from household ingredients, at the guitars, at the cat sleeping peacefully, at the stack of ungraded papers.

Then I realized what it was that needed doing: my desk needed to be cleaned off. The need arises largely due to my method of keeping organized, which I call the "stacking method." In the stacking method, I put long-range items (like proposals for conferences in 8 months) in one stack, and urgent items on top of those items. Then there's things I've just finished (like conferences a month or two ago), which I put - um, let's see, uh - on that stack with the long-range and urgent items. Receipts go... on the stack, um, with grocery lists and bills - bills?! Is that the gas bill? Shit.

The stacking method is excellent for putting in front of me everything I need to be concerned with at one time or another. But it sometimes makes for unwieldy stacks of things that have little in common other than geographic location (it's sort of like Yugoslavia used to be). It becomes necessary, from time to time, to go through the stack and sort things out.

I do this just about every three months, usually when I have papers to grade. One might imagine a correlation.

In any case, I spent about 45 minutes going through the stacks today. Notable discoveries:

  • a half-roll of Tums
  • 5 guitar picks, including two medium picks (I don't use medium picks)
  • the plastic cap for the power cord for my iBook
  • a Stockton Thunder inaugural season program, from the game we went to in January
  • four pens, two pencils, four pads of paper
  • a library book on Habermas that I forgot was there
  • my attorney's itemized invoice statement
  • cordial invitations to have TurboTax do my taxes this year, to a conference I already went to, and to a CFA meeting I can't make it to, and to support Capital Public Radio
  • another stack of papers I haven't graded

So, dammit, I should read the papers.

Ooh! Guitar!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

student fees

The California Public Education Commission is studying student fee structures for higher education, specifically the CSU and the UC. Their press release details the dramatic rise in student fees at the CSU over the last few years - a time period when the CSU Board of Trustees has voted repeatedly to raise the fees rather than press the legislature or the public at large for full funding. CPEC points out that these shifts in costs represent a historic withdrawal of the State's commitment to broad access to public funded higher education.

I have thought for a few years now that during my young lifetime I have been a witness to a remarkable undermining of public institutions of all sorts. I can't immediately account for it. Critical social theorists I've read have tended to discuss it in terms of the crisis in capitalism at the beginning of the information age. Their analyses have ranged from powerful elites taking cynical advantage of shifting relations of production and imposing the costs of their doing business on the society at large, to failure of the will of governments to maintain social programs under the threat of capital expatriation. Habermas explains, usefully, that social welfare and educational policies serve to legitimate capitalist economic policies, basically by salving the wounds and ameliorating the pathologies arising from the contradictions of capitalism. In his discussion in Theory of Communicative Action, Habermas notes in passing that the devolution of social welfare would undermine the main political legitimation of capital. But he doesn't, to my way of thinking, say enough about what happens next.

Apparently, what happens next is that those with power keep shifting burdens onto those without power, and those without power keep taking it.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

In the newz

In the ongoing in-depth media coverage of the six-year campaign of blatantly obvious deception and egregious policy moves, AP reporter Jennifer Loven has discovered that Bush's speeches are full of argumentatitve fallacies. Great scoop, Jen.

It sure would have been helpful if the US newz media had reported some of this stuff before. A well-informed populace might have found it relevant to know, for example, that the stated policy objectives of the war on Iraq are basically impossible to realize. One might recall that the stated pretexts for war in Iraq included introducing democracy to Iraq. If democracy means self-destruction of the people, by the people, then we've done great. But hey, we got rid of Saddam. So it has to be better, despite there being no functioning infrastructure, let alone government.

And extremely long-memoried folks (who can remember, say, 2000 and the campaign for President) might recall Bush's abusive rhetoric about the wrongheadedness of "nation-building" overseas. He claimed the Clinton-Gore administration (as he called it) had followed in this futile and hazardous course, and that he wouldn't. Obviously, this makes perfect sense: the US has indeed a terrible record when it comes to intervening in other nations' governments. We supported Marcos in the Phillipines, and Pinochet in Chile. Oh yes, and back in the day, we supported Saddam Hussein in Iraq. And sent arms to Afghan rebels who became the Taliban. (Compare to the relative calm of those nations whose governments we haven't attempted to remove, replace, or simply destroy: Canada is doing quite well, for example. Knock wood, Canadians!)

Ah, the glory of the free press. Where would we be without the fourth estate? Lost! Lost in the dark, in a wilderness of misinformation, lies, deceit, and total confusion about who really seeks our best interest. Oh, wait... damn.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

going to The City

Ah, The City. San Francisco. The City so full of itself that they call it The City.

We're going to see Eartha Kitt, who is 78.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Proof that if you beat Americans over the head for six years, they'll get the point

Apparently, Bush's poll numbers continue to plummet. This pleases me, not because I hold our President in such low regard, but because of the way voters chose to elect him, to wit, because of the campaign's assertions that he had a set of characteristics that his actual behavior demonstrates he lacks, honesty and integrity chief among them. And it only took six years.

Meanwhile, the serious issues of the national import continue down the same path: making sure we get plenty of oil. The Iran project has already begun in exactly the same tone as the Iraq project. The Multiple Pretext Model (TM) is being employed, to offer several reasons why we should fear and loathe Iran: they have a nuclear program (allegedly); they support terrorism (allegedly); they are committed to the destruction of Israel (allegedly); they oppress their own people (allegedly); and we want to bring them freedom (allegedly).

Monday, March 13, 2006


I don't subscribe to a newspaper any more. I once wallowed in the daily self-destructive habit of reading the Modesto Bee, which is like watching paint dry on a train wreck - endless, boring, and horrible. The Bee is a family-oriented newspaper, which means they print a constant stream of letters by people who say brilliant things like Democrats cause abortions or that the US constitution is a Christian document. They also print a comics page that is entirely useless. Although they print Boondocks (which is often mordantly funny and generally somewhat offensive, both of which I like tremendously in a comic strip) and Doonesbury (which used to be funny and topical, but now Trudeau only seems capable of one at a time), they print them on a page buried inside the classifieds, so their brilliant subscribers don't accidentally run across them. This doesn't work, of course: they turn immediately to them, and then write letters complaining that Aaron MacGruder causes cancer and that Family Circus prevents terrorist attacks. (I wrote that to be funny, but now that I consider it more carefully, Family Circus sort of is a terrorist attack.)

Lately I've discovered and have taken to reading a blog called "The Comics Curmudgeon." Yesterday's entries included a nice bit about the aforementioned Family Circus. I'm pleased to find someone else who shares my repulsed loathing for Family Circus. I love Pope jokes, too.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Inordinate desire - for guitars?

I've been having fun with my Intro to Philosophy class lately, reading Augustine's dialogue "On the Free Choice of the Will." An important part of the dialogue tries to define sin, as "inordinate desire."

As long as I've been reading this with the class, I've been thinking about inordinate desires of my own, specifically, my inordinate desire (or maybe not) for guitars. In the last couple months, I've gone from interest to desire to lust for amplified guitars, and after buying a 40% off classical-acoustic-electric Cordoba last month, and nearly buying a hollowbody electric instead, today I went and did the deed, picking up an Ibanez AG85 for about 40% off list price. And, you know, hubba hubba hubba. (This is an update to the entry: I had originally posted a picture of the AG86. Turns out, the AG85 is no longer in production, which could explain the low price. Frankly, I like the look much better.)

I took the pick guard off, so the f-holes on both sides are visible in all their loveliness (I'm a sucker for f-holes; they're unbearably sexy to me). Actually, the guitar on Ibanez's site isn't as nice as the one I picked up. The grain on mine is much prettier.

So, for anyone keeping score at home, that leaves me with my old Takamine classical, my Seagull 12-string, my Cordoba, and the Ibanez. In my office I keep a crappy Greg Bennett Samick just to noodle with to restore calm.

Can a guitar be the object of lust? Can it be the object of "inordinate desire"? If one intends to play this guitar, and if, instead of the $3500 Gibsons and $2000 Gretsches offered by one's local guitar shop, one seeks out a $350 Ibanez, is one truly inordinately desiring?

Friday, March 10, 2006

cool it

It's Friday. It's time to get the Led out, as they say.

This has been, not to put too fine a point on it, a hell of a week. Just since Wednesday, I've been in meetings as a CFA rep presenting testimonials to the campus president, as an IRB member and CFA representation committee member in a meeting about research protocol compliance, and a meeting of the IRB, in addition to classes. Maybe that doesn't sound like a lot. But it is. And the kind of energy and attention it takes to talk about Augustine in my 9:05 Intro to Phil class, to talk about forming ethics rules in my two Pro Ethics classes, to talk about Borges' "Library of Babel" in my Human Interests and the Power of Information class, and then shift into two different modes of committee-speak, back and forth, repeatedly, is hard to explain.

Academics don't work more or harder than anybody else. If they say they do, they're lying. But I think a reasonably committed academic works in more mind-bending ways in an average week than most people do.

So, Led.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Buying meat online pays off

The stuff arrived yesterday before noon, while I was on campus. Lauren signed for it, put the bulk of it (two London broils, three packages of lamb chops, and two filets mignon) in the freezer, and left out two filets.

I decided to keep it simple. I baked potatoes. I cooked broccoli. I sautéed sliced mushrooms in butter. I seared the steaks in a sauté pan, then poured red wine over them and deglazed the pan, tossed in two ice cubes of demi-glace, and covered the pan. I turned the steaks a couple times, tossed in the mushrooms, heated them, then added a little butter - simple pan sauce, nothing fancy at all.

Unlike industrial beef, which when treated this way can be cut with a spoon, the grassfed beef maintained muscle fibers even after cooking. It's denser, more muscular, and consequently doesn't melt apart. But it was still incredibly tender.

The package, and the web site, and the shipping notice, all informed us that grass fed beef takes less time and less heat to cook. This seemed true enough, although the thickness (about 1.5") of the steaks left them pretty much uncooked on the inside, the way we like them. (That's another difference, maybe due more to aging than feed: these things are purple before cooking, and the interior remained deep red.) There's frequently something a little metallic tasting to not-actually-cooked industrial beef, but despite having a similar raw taste, these didn't have that metallic aspect.

I was awestruck at one point during dinner. Lauren wasn't sure what my face meant when I just sat there, looking stupid. It was this: the beef tasted more animal than I was expecting, or used to. Even though this is prepackaged, even though it had been deep-frozen prior to shipping, something about it was fleshier than other meat. I can't quite put it in words. I suppose we'll just have to eat more of it.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Buying meat online is weird

I bought a new watch at Target yesterday. I lost my watch over last weekend, and spent the week out of synch with my life and the campus (which is out of synch with itself already, so it's hard enough when you can time it). I had been thinking of buying one, but this felt stupid, because I have an old watch with a dead battery and broken band. Isn't it more sensible to get a new battery and band? Well, no, because (1) the band and battery together cost 75% of what a new watch would cost, and (2) the new battery made the watch run for ten seconds before it revealed that it's broken.

But then I bought meat today online. This isn't something I think of as normal. Books or CDs, sure. Guitar strings, definitely. Meat seemed a little too, I dunno, perishable.

The story is, Lauren and I have decided that we're meat-eaters, since we're omnivores, since we're humans. But being meat-eaters doesn't, or at least shouldn't, mean that we willingly support the practices of the Big Food industry, which are too often harmful to the environment, cruel to the animals, and unhealthy for consumers. We've switched to free range organic chicken, which is worlds apart from those bizarrobirds Foster Farms sells. But range-fed, grass-fed, humanely-raised beef is rare to find. We've seen it exactly twice at Trader Joe's, bought it both times, and decided that this is what beef really tastes like.

I used meat production as an example in class earlier in the semester, having found some interesting facts online that might be the basis of a moral judgment that eating meat is a terrible thing to do. One page had a link to a company selling the genuine article, even emphasizing the butchering and dry-aging techniques that are critical to good beef production.

Today I found several others, but then bought from US Wellness meats, because they had lamb as well (this ain't an endorsement, obviously). It should ship out tomorrow, and be here by Thursday at the latest.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Random thought of the day

A cockroach once wrote a terrifying short story about waking up to discover he'd transformed into Franz Kafka.

I have no idea what made me think of that.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Shock and Outrage!

Months after Hurricane Katrina broke levees, leading to the inundation of New Orleans, news-media stories about government ineptitude continue. What's remarkable is not that government officials couldn't handle the emergency. There was no will to do so.

No, what's remarkable is that the press has ignored the real story here, which is that for years the Army Corps of Engineers, who have the task of maintaining the levees in question, had budgets for construction in southern Lousiana and Mississippi woefully inadequate to the task. It was foreseen, for years, that a hurricane could destroy the levees and flood the region, causing billions of dollars in damage, to say nothing of the toll in death, destitution, and homelessness. But the money wasn't spent in a critical area.

Priorities, it would seem, lie elsewhere.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The conference

My loveliest has already wrtten about going to the conference (the pictures sometimes don't load, and we're not sure why), but what the heck. I was president, after all.

Amazing as it seems, I was let to be president of something, in this case the Society for Phenomenology and Media. I'm a founding member, the only person to have attended all eight of the annual conferences. I hope I was a good president, but I think that despite my leadership qualities (which it turns out, always to my surprise, I have), I couldn't actually do much presiding. Organizing academics to get things done is a lot like herding cats, I like to tell people.

In any event, as a conference of a society for phenomenology and media, the conference was rather lacking in a couple of key elements, namely, phenomenology and media. There were a number of very good papers on media, mostly not involving phenomenology at all, except as an afterthought, an excellent paper on media making no reference to phenomenology at all, two or three goodish papers that involved phenomenology and media to some degree. There were also a large quantity of papers that didn't involve phenomenology or media, and many of those weren't any good, either.

Part of the problem is that the conference was a joint venture of two groups, the other being directed toward deception. But the conference program seemed to mix these indiscriminately, if not actually randomly. I spent a lot of time wondering why presentations were being made in this forum. Phenomenology and media are both broad fields, but not without some distinctness. I would imagine that, generally, presentations that discuss media (as relation, as artifact, as social system, as anything, as long as it discussed media) would seem like a good half-fit, at least. Likewise papers that discuss phenomenology (whether in the transcendental Husserlian, existential Heideggerian, French, or some other mode, as long as it discussed phenomenology) would also seem like a good half-fit.

I don't think there's a lack of interest in media among phenomenology folks, nor lack of interest in phenomenology among media folks. But those with an interest in either would have been puzzled.

By the way, I presented a paper challenging the very notion that a phenomenological investigation of media experience (i.e., the research project that has consumed me for the last 8 or 9 years) is fruitful at all for developing critique of media. I received no comments or questions, because there wasn't time in the schedule.