Sunday, April 30, 2006

may day

Tomorrow is May Day, or International Workers' Day, or whatyoumaycallit. It's also going to be an interesting day of protest actions across the country. Especially in California, there are several mass actions planned to speak out against the crypto-racist discussion of the new legislative priority to fight illegal immigration.

The most egregious, uninformed, and frankly stupid comments on this issue have distinguished between true immigrants and false immigrants. The very distinction is so absurd, so intellectually dishonest, so historically ignorant, that it's hard for me to address it without feeling physically ill. I can hardly be bothered to offer any counter-arguments. In fact, I won't. If white people can't tell they come from somewhere in Europe, and can't comprehend that when Europeans arrived here, there were other people living here, logic is not going to impress them.

Illegal immigrants from Mexico, with few exceptions (with fewer exceptions than the legal immigrants from other parts of the world) have no more dangerous or subversive intention than to make some money and help their families rise out of poverty. This is what motivated German, Irish, and Italian immigrants 100-150 years ago. They make their money providing cheap labor to the food industry or the euphemistically-titled hospitality industry. They get paid dirt-cheap wages to do work nobody wants to do, that make hotels profitable and make your grapes affordable. They work damned hard. Leave them the hell alone.

If you want to bug somebody who's stealing jobs from Americans, go and stop multinational corporations from outsourcing.

(On a side note, if we could really do the impossible and "seal the border," but did so in a way that also sealed jobs in, that might be an interesting proposition. I have no idea whether it would be plausible as a national economic strategy, but it would at least be consistent.)

So I plan to support the boycott, in my way. I'll probably mention these events in my classes, and I'll walk to school. It's nothing: I'd walk to school anyway, and I mention this kind of stuff to my classes without stop.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

nose to the grindstone

"Keep your nose to the grindstone" doesn't make much sense to me. It's kinda disgusting to think about.

We are in fact back in Speedbumpville. Lauren is slightly ahead of me in recovering lost sleep, because I have the pointless habit of getting out of bed 2 hours before my classes start, for reasons, as the man says, surpassing understanding. It has been difficult to get into the groove, but as of today there are only 3 weeks and 3 days of class left, so even ungroovy as I am at the moment, I could muddle through.

Hell, it wasn't until last night that I got sufficient guitar playing time and actually played all the guitars on the premises. It's all left me feeling a little out of sorts, a little down, which is unusual for the last two years.

But I wake up every morning here with Lauren, in love. We'll soak up the warm sun and the allergens together. We'll have breakfast together. I'll come home from work, and we'll head off to pick up a new grill, upon which to slightly warm beef for dinner. I'll play guitar(s), she'll sing, the cat will complain we're not paying attention to him. We'll play cards, or read together. We might even dance a little.

And that's just so much better than being a member of the Bush administration.

Did I telegraph that too much? Oh well.

Tony Snow as press secretary? Have they no shame? No sense of propriety? No sense of political finesse? Oh, oh yeah, this is the Bush administration. Home of the snow job.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

binghamton, then pennsylvania

We've had absurdly warm, sunny weather here, until today. Today we received the gift of typical Pennsylvania Apriliana - rain, mist, fog, wind, and chill.

The conference went okay, even though Paul and I had an audience of 3 (we were up against 3 Certified Academic Big Shots, so I figured). Our papers were still good. So there.

We were in a one-star HoJo's in Binghamton that had a whirlpool tub. Tonight we're in a three-star Holiday Inn near the Pittsburgh airport, and the wireless internet can't seem to withstand uploading any of the pictures we snapped today on the drive from Binghamton. The HoJo's also had the OLN network, which is the cable channel with the NHL contract this year, and the Holiday Inn doesn't. And the HoJo's was more expensive. All of which proves I have no idea what the star rating system for hotels means.

Blogger finally successfully uploaded this picture, from Hughesville, PA:

Res ipsa loquitir.

More snaps later. The Holiday Inn internet hates me.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

south side, the strip, and other points of interest, then the road to binghamton

So, we're in Binghamton, the town so nice, they named it once.

We split the Holiday Inn Greentree before 10, to book it to the South Side. My first major mistake of memory: the South Side doesn't open for business until 11, except for a few joints. Our first destination was open: the Beehive Coffee House, where we sat, took int the ambience (the walls and ceiling are festooned with art produced by locals, largely out of junk, and is hyper cool). By the time we had done a circuit of Carson Street (while I noted the subtle shift toward faux Mexican [can you say "faux Mexican"?] restaurants, South Bank Galleries was open, and we toured that. I noticed another subtle shift there: they've expanded.

That was the keynote of the day: there's a subtle, but definite expansion happening in Pittsburgh. Sometimes it's not so subtle. PNC Park and Heinz Field, for instance, are enormous structures. The subtle changes are happening all around. An old abandoned warehouse adjacent to Union Station just where Downtown opens onto the Strip District is being torn down; more shops, and way more upscale joints, are open already in the Strip. The North Side, alongside the new ballpark, has sprouted restaurants galore. On the way back across the 7th Street Bridge, I was struck by a new PNC structure, built in a curved, wavy way. If I had to guess at all, I'd say there are about a dozen substantial new buildings in the city, centered around the new ball fields, but extending across the Alleghany.

The day was also marked by my strange memory for geography. I unfailingly steered us all around the city, even to places I didn't go that often, finding routes I knew were there. When I drive a city, or really anywhere, I learn it, and henceforth I know it.

I also found myself not wanting to leave, which I never wanted to do the first time, eight years ago. But we did, and we drove out PA 28, along the Alleghany, up to Kittaning - a route I drove dozens of times to get to Clarion or Punxsutawney to teach. It felt so familiar, and I remembered driving it and thinking to myself how great and lovely a city Pittsburgh is. Again, people don't seem to know this.

From PA 28 we grabbed I-80, pounding east toward Williamsport to pick up I-180, eventually on up to US 220 to head north into New York. US 220 follows the Susquehanna River, crossing over and back up to Sayre, where it turns sharply right, following NY 17, all the way to Binghamton. There I got frustrated, knowing there was a quick route south to Vestal Parkway and our lovely HoJo room, but we hadn't a map. We drove a handful of miles out of the way - dammit, dammit - because I didn't trust my instincts.

Pictures will arrive later. We've got in just a little before 9 pm, and the conference starts tomorrow, early.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

we came to Pittsburgh for a little sun

Pittsburgh is not known by many people who haven't been there for its beauty. This is because they haven't been there.

I came to bring Lauren and show her this lovely place that stole my heart away when I first started graduate school at Duquesne. And today has been a rare day in the city - 75 degrees, sunny, perfectly blue skies. I've actually gotten a sunburn today, driving around and walking around to visit. We saw...

the city skyline burst upon us as we exited the Fort Pitt Tunnel and began to cross the Fort Pitt Bridge (the glass castle thingy is the headquarters of Pittsburgh Plate Glass, designed by Philip Johnson, who also built the AT&T chippendale top thing in Manhattan),...

the first place I lived in, on Nantasket Street, on top of Greenfield hill, overlooking the Parkway East (but I took the picture vertically, and I can't get iPhoto to save it rotated properly)...

... the house on La Clair Avenue (or Street, depending who you ask or which sign you read), where I finished my dissertation in the second-floor flat, and where Lancelot first came into my life. This is in Regent Square, on the eastern edge of Frick Park, however, I also lived off the Norhtern edge of Frick Park...

... in the carriage house of the Card mansion, on Card Lane. Card was Henry Clay Frick (aka Frickin', or something much worse, a financial henchman of the robber barons whose extraction and production industries made them filthy rich and made the city what it was and is)'s man-who-does, and this place was part of Card's own mansion, a modest affair, three stories of stone...

We went to the East End Food Co-Op, where I spent a lot of time, and which has changed from a hippie quasi-collective natural food store into a fairly yuppie Whole Foods wannabe (I don't think there's anything wrong with Whole Foods, actually, but there had been a place for the Co-Op, and a battle over its future when I was around. It's plain who won). We then zipped back through Schenley Park again to drive circuits up and down the hills, and to see vistas like...

... this. Is your city this pretty? No, it's not. This is Pittsburgh.

Then we went to East Liberty, on up to Highland Park, back down to East Liberty, found that the government housing complex that had been built over a major roadway has finally been torn down, whence up to Lawrenceville, to go to...


yep, the Church Brew Works, which is in fact...

... a brewery built inside an old church. We drank samplers, then ate at Mallorca, a Spanish restaurant on the South Side I never thought I'd get to again. There, I overheard two extremely typical Pittsburgh conversations: explaining to someone why Pittsburgh is the greatest city. It's not quite apologizing, it's not quite defending, it's not quite civic pride. People here are used to Pittsburgh getting a bad rep, and they hate it. People I knew who lived here gave it a bad rep. It doesn't deserve it. It's historic, extremely livable, lovely, and even if a day like today is rare, they're better than anybody else's best days, at least I think so.

Anyway, we finally went up onto Mount Washington to take in the view from there at night, and with the flash off, my cheesy digital camera came up with this:

Ah well. That's the postcard picture you can get anywhere.

It felt good to be here, as it always did. I needed to recover some memories, and make new ones, and I did that.

Monday, April 17, 2006

we're off!

24 hours from now, we'll be in the air on the way to O'Hare, hence onward to Pittsburgh. And hence (on Thursday) to Binghamton for the Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture Conference, to give the paper on Hunter Thompson and the ideology of journalism, hence back (on Saturday evening) to Pittsburgh. Incredible.

I'm excited as hell. Partly, this is a trip to restore a past I had to give up a couple years ago. I lived in and loved Pittsburgh for eight years, but those memories have been tainted by the end of my marriage. I have many lovely memories of Pittsburgh, and I want them back.

I read the paper through one last time this afternoon, after lunch. What I finally ended up with is, um, well, it's a vicious, brutal screed on the corrupting influence of professionalism in journalism and academia. I almost can't believe I'm going to present this at an academic conference, but, as Lauren suggested when I read it out to her, this has become my schtick. I suppose so.

It's incongruous, isn't it? I teach Professional Ethics for a living. And I'm at least marginally part of the academic profession that I'm saying such ugly things about in this paper. Aah, what the hell. This is a Postmodern Age, an Age of Irony. Plus, as the US Food and Drug Administration tells us, we should have 10-18 milligrams of irony daily. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! WOO-HOO! IT'S A JOKE! DON'T YOU GET IT??


I've been playing the various guitars for a couple hours since then, because I won't have a chance to while we're away. I'm still half contemplating bringing a guitar with us, but most of what I've read online about it amounts to the warning that you should expect to be delayed, interrogated, searched, scrutinized, searched again, and maybe not get to bring the instrument onboard anyway. But I also read a lot of crap about the kind of work it takes to be a professional musician. I am sure I don't aspire to be a professional musician, where "professional musician" means someone who plays a guitar for a living. I have similar feelings for professionalism among musicians as among academics and journalists.

So, all there is left to do is pack, assemble a soundtrack for the trip, play guitars a little while longer, talk myself into or out of bringing one with us, and play Scrabble.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

update on the Thompson paper

I'm having a hell of a time concentrating. Aside from the pitched excitement of flying to Pittsburgh Tuesday, and the constant distraction of guitars winking at me, I'm having some difficulty taking seriously the idea that I'm taking this idea seriously. After all, not only am I about to go to an academic conference and propose that people concerned about journalism and the social construction of reality should pay attention to a known drug-addled freak who never met a rule of journalism he didn't flaunt, and not only am I going to propose that Thompson's writing should be considered a better model of journalism than mainstream "objective" journalism, and not only am I going to lambaste academic/ethical critics of journalism for legitimating what boils down to a self-serving ideololgy - not only that, but I'm thinking I'll relate that interpretation of the professional journalism establishement to the professional academic establishment.

As these various ideas have been swirling in my head, and I've been muttering about them, Lauren has asked a couple times, "Is this still what your abstract said the paper was about?" I'd been saying yes, and talking through how it would fit the abstract, which was about the ideology of objectivity and Thompson's counter-model of expressly subjective journalism. But the last time she asked, I think I said something like "I don't know. Maybe. I'm not sure it really matters."

That's true, in fact: I'm in. No one will stop me, shout me down, or come after me with a big hook. At worst, they'll talk about me in ugly tones in the hotel bar. What the hell. I've had worse.

Today I wrote a couple pages, setting up the question of whether Thompson's work can be thought of as journalism, and discussing briefly some critical accounts of Thompson's approach and the notion of objectivity, and then a little more on the origin of the standard of objectivity.

So who knows? I've got a couple more days to work on this before we split. I hope to have the paper done, but frankly, it'd be okay if I'm still writing it during the next week. I know what I need to do, if I continue to intend to do what I've skecthed out here.

Is it philosophy? Is it academic? Is it valid? Hell if I know. But there's still something in my head that's bugged by these questions. Too highly trained, I guess.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

one can probably guess

I bought another guitar.

I will say this again, like I did after the last one: this is absolutely the last guitar I can imagine needing or wanting for the foreseeable future. Come to think of it, that's what I said about the one before that, too.

It's a Takamine acoustic-electric 12-string. Her name is Guenevere (a song which, incidentally, no one guitarist can play). The Tak 12-string was a finalist last summer when I ended up buying my beloved Maggie, my faithful Seagull 12 string acoustic. Neither of these, and none of the others, are top-of-the-line professional guitars. But I'm not a professional guitarist. Nor do I play one on TV.

Anyway, it's a jumbo, which means it's a guitar with a big ass, which I love, for lots of reasons, many of which have to do with the gorgeous fat sound they give you, especially acoustically. Maggie the Seagull is a dreadnought, which gives you a ton of volume and a crisper tone, so basically this provides me a cheap rationalization, to wit, that each of my guitars is unique in its tone, construction, woods, etc.

There's a very good reason guitarists acquire multiple guitars, and it's this: guitarists are crazed fetishists. No, no, no, that's not what I meant to say. No no no no. Wait.

Well, okay, sure. This isn't a problem, though, because (a) I can afford these guitars and I'm not into the hard stuff, like $2500 Taylors, or worse [the store had a $55,000 Strat for sale], (b) I play them, every day, with love and affection, (c) they're different, they inspire different kinds of playing, and in fact I've written something new on each guitar I own that somehow belongs to that guitar, (d) I learn more about playing with each new instrument, because they each demand a different way to play. Without going into much detail, let me give a f'rinstance: I've written a handful of songs on Maggie, folky bluesy things (music I'm occasionally calling anti-folk, though I'm deeply suspicious of this label, but otherwise can't account for); these songs don't play well on the new Tak, which has a neck that works better for rocking numbers and (incongruously) fingerpicked tunes. (I recently read a review of a guitar that described the neck as being built for folk "grab a handful of chord" playing. This is how the Seagull plays, but the Tak simply can't play that way.)

You see how deeply this rationalization has already set.

Anyway, we're spending quality time with the guitars on a nightly basis. Most nights Lauren sings and I play, largely folky stuff, on one or another, or indeed several of the guit-fiddles (my brother's word). The place is full of singing and music and love, and, as previously and continuously noted, good cooking. What could be better than that?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

time to bathe

I'd committed some time ago to presenting a paper at a conference with a grad school buddy on Hunter Thomspon and philosophy. This, already, should scare away just about anyone with a serious interest in Academic Philosophy, Journalism, or Hunter Thompson, and for good reasons: If you take any one of these seriously, that's reason enough to regard you as a werido, but to try to pull them all together, make coherent sense of them, and do this with any seriousness - well, you'd have to be out of control to consider it.

And for myself, I'd given up on Thompson some years ago, because he'd clearly gone off the deep end and given up, himself, on writing, coherence, and the human race. And I'd given up on Academic Philosophy for largely the same reasons. As for Journalism, I never had much faith in it to begin with, from age 9, delivering the Toldeo Blade and occasionally reading the thing I was stuffing into boxes in suburban Maumee.

But when Thompson offed himself a while back, and my grad school chums circulated to me the euology written by fellow Duquesner Paul Swift, I bought into the idea to toss off a panel on Thompson and philosophy, with the notion in mind that an anthology might follow. I still don't know if that's a good idea, or whether the world could possibly benefit from it, let alone ourselves. But it has propelled me back into Thompson, for good or ill.

So, I found myself buying Kingdom of Fear today at our local ChainBookStore, and zapped through the first 70 pages tonight. Turns out Hunter decided to write again, at the end of his life. And he had something to say, too. And it's filthy.

Typically, he makes broad, unsupported, suspect leaps of analogy between such fare as a youthful arrest of his own, a sad and twisted case of a woman in Colorado arrested for a murder her friend committed without her knowledge, and Moussaoui's connection to terrorist acts. Bad analogy? Probably. But that doesn't matter. Thompson points out, without saying so, that what we're doing, what we're underwriting as a society, is guilt by analogy. And the whole thing - America, the Global War on Terrorism, Thompson's own writing - is so filthy, so dreadful, that my only recourse at this point is to bathe to the furthest extent permissible under the law, or even a little further.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

not so fast

Lauren fasted Monday and Tuesday, until about 5 or so, when she declared herself needing to eat. Her will is strong, but during the day on Tuesday food was literally jumping into her hands to present itself to be eaten! How long could anyone withstand such an assault?

So she broke her fast, we ate one of our favorite simple meals - black beans and rice - and that was that. Wednesday we'd already planned to devour one of two grassfed beef strip steaks we picked up at the Trader Joe's down in LA. So it was that, following the Penguins' 6-4 loss to the Devils, we tucked in. I had succeeded in browning the exterior of the steak (cut into two approximately 6 ounce pieces) without letting the interior really cook at all.

Today, we're both fasting. I'm also grading papers, which could very well ruin my appetite anyway. I've dreaded grading papers this semester, much more than usual. It's practically never fun, with the extremely rare exception of papers that do something uniquely strange or profound. I suppose that reflects an inability on my part to provoke a level of creative and critical thought and writing that would produce such works of genius. On the other hand, I teach exclusively general education classes, and the level of student interest is always a little on the weak side.

Oh, alright! I'll start grading! Quit shoving already!

Sunday, April 02, 2006


Cow State Santa Claus, in common with (I believe) all the other CSU campuses, observes Cesar Chavez Day on March 31 by closing the campus. This year, Lauren and I took advantage and drove down to LA for a visit, including taking in a Long Beach Ice Dogs ECHL hockey game. (ECHL stands for "East Coast Hockey League," which indeed is how it started a few years ago. Now about half the teams are on or near the Pacific Coast, including our most proximate Stockton Thunder, who lost in overtime, 5-4, to Long Beach on Saturday night.)

Anyway, it was an excuse to get away from the 110 papers I have to grade, the paper I'm working on before the conference in three weeks, and the other excesses of work I'm doing lately. PLPLPLPLBBBHH!

On the way down, we saw

Clouds and hills on the road out of Bakersfield and up over the Tehachapi mountains,

snow on the tops of the hillsides,

a series of ridiculously picturesque train snaking around the hills and through tunnels,

the desert on the other side of the Tehachapis, near Lancaster, and

the sunset on Interstate 5 pounding into the San Fernando Valley. Lauren took all these, and especially the sunset turned out wonderfully. As you can tell, she snapped that in a moving car through the passenger side mirror.

It was good to get down there. I needed a break before the coming two weeks of unrelenting toil. And, oh crap, I've got to file taxes in the next week and a half, too.