Monday, July 31, 2006


Mostly, the move is over. All the stuff is out of the Apartment of Earthly Delights, and in the new, as-yet-unnamed place. As of this writing, the only contender for the name of the new place is The House About Town, which is of course an allusion to Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein. As a handle, that's not bad, but it's also not in keeping with the Harry Potter theme of the other place names already installed: the study is the Room of Requirement, the half-bath where Lancelot's catbox will be is called the Chamber of Secrets, and there's even a cupboard under the stairs, which is the Harry Potter Memorial Cupboard. Then there's the unnamed Music Room, and so forth. I took the usual pictures of the usual wreckage and general tumult of moving, but I don't see any reason to post them, because it you want pictures of the usual wreckage and general tumult of moving, you can find them elsewhere, I'm sure. All such pictures look more or less the same.

I've moved, let's see... (not counting dorms) 11 times. I kept recalling past moves while carrying boxes of books around, and also remembering the good times we all had in grad school helping each other move. This was the shortest and just about the easiest move, despite the facts that we hauled almost all our stuff in a Jetta, and the first two days it was well over 100 degrees by midafternoon.

That's not to say we're not exhausted. Cuz we are.

Today we surrender the keys to the old joint. A week from Thursday we're off to Canada.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

this is no time to blog

We're moving tomorrow!

I woke at 3 am, because the phone rang, and couldn't get back to bed. I recently unearthed a receipt from June of 2004, from a trip to Target to buy basic stuff for this apartment. It's made me think a great deal about how I ended up moving here, and I had to write it all down, especially all that I didn't say at the time. I haven't decided to post it, obviously, or you'd be reading it instead of my unedifying account of what I wrote.

But as long as we're here:

We went to the mall yesterday, then to the Pirates of the Caribbean flick, basically in order to escape the oppressive heat. (It's only going to be 107 today, so that's not too bad comparatively.) The flick was okay; I didn't think it was nearly as fun as the first one, but not as dreadful as critics seem to think. It was what it was. However, I came away with the powerful reminder that movies suck. They're just terrible, all of them. Everything that Big Movies touches turns to dreck; it's all advertising for what sort of spectacular crapola the movies can generate. The mall was a mild success. I bought much-desired cotton handkerchiefs, at Penney's, which seems to be the only place in the region that sells handkerchiefs other than seasonally.

We're leaving in about two minutes to go sign the lease on the new digs. Huzzah!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

book order

I just ordered a textbook for my fall Contemporary Moral Issues course. I feel a little guilty about it.

For one thing, using a textbook feels like a cop-out. The text is an anthology, with one section devoted to moral theories, and another dealing with different issues. It does include a decent number of different issues, but, like practically every introductory ethics textbook I've come across, it mainly repackages the same handful of standbys. For instance, the environmental ethics stuff always includes Garrett Hardin and the animal ethics stuff always includes Peter Singer - both authors whose positions are, as I understand the current debates, at least a little behind the times. I'll feel less than genuine using some of it, because I'll know when something is outdated or half-thoughtful.

Standarization of textbooks also implies that there is a determined set of things that should be thought about the issues at hand. To a very limited, in fact superficial degree, I suppose I accept the notion that a class covering contemporary moral issues does suggest a certain range of topics, and that within those topics there are certain ideas that one should probably consider. I mean, if we're going to talk about environmental ethical issues, one idea that seems like something you'd want to think about is whether we're using up the planet's resources. But when every anthology covers largely the same topics with largely the same articles, it conveys a false impression that these are the only ideas to consider on these topics. I was expressing this aloud the other day, after spending hours hunting for a book for another class, and Lauren said it suggests teaching philosophy is like teaching math.

Even that doesn't go far enough, because there can be different ways of teaching mathematical concepts. Standardization presents a false view of learning, and maybe a dangerous one. Learning isn't the absorption of pre-digested bits of information. Textbooks have broken things down too much. Textbooks are full of spit.

For another thing, although this is one of the cheaper textbooks I could find, it's still 75 bucks. That's disgusting to me. I don't relish putting my students' money into the publishing companies' bank accounts, because as I believe (and as I think almost everyone in academia tacitly recognizes), textbook publishers are greedheads. They churn out edition after edition, making minor or even merely cosmetic changes, increasing their prices, and in effect bilking students. I used a very good anthology from a Canadian company in previousl Contemp Moral Issues courses, one I liked, one that had some different stuff in it, but this year they've taken it off the market. The book was $60, and when I used it I apologized to the class for the price, only to be told it was, for most of them, the cheapest book they bought for the term. But now the company has divided that one book into three, which contain the same content, with one or two more essays in each volume, each volume costing about $30.

I guess the challenge will be to find ways to give my students more to digest, or somehow induce indigestion in them, something like that.

Monday, July 17, 2006

interesting indymedia news item

I started to read alternative news media like Indymedia because I'm an alternative-media, don't-be-caught-in-the-mainstream kinda guy. But I've developed a crush. The way this joint works is, just plain ordinary people write their own items and post them, complete with photos with captions. It looks like a regular news feed, but it's utterly grassroots, with all the good and ill that implies. Even when it's terrible, it's a hoot to read. People doing their own thing, journalistically speaking.

Anyway, this evening the RSS feed popped up news of Jewish protests of Israeli military actions.

hide the salami

I'm reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, a book about how we eat, by Michael Pollan. The first chunk of it details what I mainly already knew about American industrial production of corn and beef, which is a harrowing and disgusting tale. Basically, in order to deal with the overproduction of second-grade corn, a practice of agriculture virtually demanded by government policy and industry profiteering, every single commercially produced piece of beef you buy anywhere in the United States is the result of cows being trained to eat a diet that would, without massive ingestion of drugs, kill them. (I remember vividly, not to say viscerally, reading The Jungle. This isn't quite that sort of thing, but it's awful in an entirely more realistic way. It's journalism, after all.)

Some people would, I suppose, simply dismiss what Pollan says about the industry, but he's not making this up. In fact, his information comes from the industry. For instance, the FDA tells the beef industry that they can't use antibiotics on animals that aren't sick (just to increase growth, for instance). Beef in feedlots, however, are practically by definition sick, because eating corn will make their rumens acidic, and this will lead to infection. The reasons they're fed corn are that we grow an enormous surplus of corn every year in the United States, which makes corn the cheapest commmodity to feed steers, and we can control corn feeding on a factory model to increase "efficiency" of the production of meat - i.e., in order to increase growth. One of the most astounding ironies of it all is that the meat produced is less healthy and less nutritious.

By engaging in this charming practice, we also expose ourselves to the risk of E. coli infection (since the feedlot cattle literally live on enormous piles of feces, and are generally contaminated at slaughter), and the development of new strains of antibiotic-resistance bacteria. This is a simple evolutionary process: by constant use of antibiotics, we act in ways that select for resistant strains, since they're more likely to reproduce. And voila! Cheap beef makes us sicker, and will continue to make us sicker. But damn, it's profitable.

I especially dig a remark Pollan makes at the end of the section: "Eating industrial meat takes an almost heroic act of not knowing or, now, forgetting." This isn't literally true, of course: most of us have no idea how meat is produced, since meat, for almost all of us, simply comes from the grocery store or the butcher. You can't, you are simply prevented, from choosing the source of meat you buy commercially from these kinds of outlets. That choice is made by an industrial capitalist machine seeking to maximize profit, regardless of health, environmental, or other costs to third parties.

For myself, personally (and this is the limit of my argument: I'm not about to proselytize), this amounts to an overwhelmingly convincing argument that I would be much wiser to avoid industrial meat. In any case, this is a book people who eat should read.

Friday, July 14, 2006

one reason I don't write fiction

I'm a fairly imaginative and creative person, especially in classrooms, kitchens, and with a guitar in my hand. But I don't write fiction. For, no matter how imaginative and creative I may be, sometimes reality impresses upon me sillier things than I could concoct.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

13 more days... and a couple news items

We're moving in under two weeks. It's a little stressful, but on the whole, a very good feeling. It became an especially good feeling yesterday.

After a walk a couple days ago, heading back to the Apartment of Earthly Delights, I noted that it's been good to live here. In general, it's well run, and we've enjoyed the heck out of our place. But the change will be good too. Then, yesterday, my sentimentality was struck down completely when we found the Jetta vandalized. It wasn't just ours, either: our neighbors, who park next to us, and who also have a Jetta (though older), also had their car vandalized - keyed, basically. (And "had their car vandalized" sure sounds weird, like they hired it done. But that's how we articulate that in English. "Hey, Earl, what the hell happened to yer face?" "Ahhh, I had my nose broken." "Really? Do you think it's a better look for you?")

This morning, we had an appointment to get an estimate on the damage: 1400 bucks. I'll pay the $100 deductible.

So the excitement over moving has escalated, since in the new place we'll have a garage for Eddie Jetta, which will make it harder for random passersby to damage it. Over lunch we were looking at the astoundingly inaccurate floorplan in the brochure, trying to remember what the townhouse really looks like, and figuring where to stick our stuff. We've already named the new study "The Room of Requirement," and the downstairs half-bath, where Lance's catbox will be, "The Chamber of Secrets." We do these things, you see, because we're silly people.

Meanwhile, our county is on fire. I noticed a strange haze on Tuesday morning, checked the weather on the Modesto Bee site, and found that the forecast was for "smoke." That seems more like a prediction of armageddon than a weather forecast - you know, "partly brimstone Thursday, with a 50% chance of hellfire by afternoon" - but it turned out to be accurate. On Wednesday the smoke was so thick that the sunlight was, at best, a dim melon-orange glow. Today it's clearer, but that's really only because the wind isn't blowing the smoke our way.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

more music

We're trying to get together some good versions of our recent songs (some old songs with new lyrics, some new songs), and in the midst of this, I found Soundclick, where I posted a few of our things. It's a nifty site; people are posting their stuff, for good or ill, and so am I.

I want to be able to put together about 45 minutes of stuff before we move, in two weeks. I don't know why. It just seems like a good idea. In any event, there are things of ours on the site now. Lauren came up with a band name for us: Paper Cats. I like it.

And we've uploaded 6 songs so far. The latest include Uncle John's Blues, which isn't done yet, and Gilroy Was Here, which is fun as heck to play. Of course, we have some of Lauren singing, including our current chart topper, Late Afternoon Lullaby.

It's good fun. We haven't had feedback on our stuff yet, but the site is a blast to look through. So many people out there are playing their own music, itching to be heard, if that's the expression. Check it out.

So I suppose we're now Paper Cats!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

it just doesn't sit well, somehow

I don't know much about art. But there's something, indeed several somethings, disturbing about this article about building a Guggenheim museum in Abu Dhabi (lifted from a New York Times article that you need to register to see here).

For one thing, the article emhasizes the economic and tourism boost a musuem will provide - not the art. (In the SF Chronic version, the art isn't mentioned; in the NYT piece, it gets 2 paragraphs.) The purpose seems to be to extend a sort of Guggenheim empire into the Middle East. Are they sure that if they build it, anyone will come?

Which brings up the second disturbing thing. Like I said, I don't know much about art. I had assumed, for instance, that art museums were primarily cultural institutions dedicated to preserving masterworks and presenting them in a context for aesthetic enjoyment, study, understanding, juxtaposition, and so forth. But what the Guggenheim folks seem intent upon is having "an outpost" in the Middle East. What is this, a foreign embassy for modern art?

But the most deeply disturbing thing took me a while to recognize, and in fact it wouldn't have become entirely clear without Lauren's help. The other non-New York Guggenheim museum is in Bilbao (where it has been a boon to the local economy, the article explains). Guggenheim-Bilbao will now be joined by Guggenheim-Abu Dhabi. "Guggenheim" isn't silly-sounding enough for these people? "Guggenheim-Bilbao" didn't satiate? They had to start building "Guggenheim-Abu Dhabi"? Why not "Guggenheim-Winnemucca"? "Guggenheim-Cucamonga"? "Guggenheim-Wagga Wagga"? (Cuz we can't leave out our Antipodean friends.)

Friday, July 07, 2006


Wednesday was the two-year anniversary of Lauren moving in.

I had had a meeting on campus in the morning, but came home with flowers before we set out for a romantic excursion to Pet Extreme for stinky cat food, and to the Target of Death to find a pair of walking shorts for Lauren and a phone with caller ID (since, at our new digs, we're getting caller ID service). Maybe that's not your idea of romance, but I think even a trip to Target can be romantic, and pet stores, don't get me started!

We came home and, while Lauren baked mint-chocolate froggies (a cookie spiked with creme de menthe and green food coloring, cut out with a frog cookie cutter), I read aloud to her. We've been reading together for almost the whole two years, mainly light fun things - at present, it's Harry Potter, so that's what I read to her. Maybe that's not your idea of romance either, but whatever one reads, reading aloud together is a very cozy way to spend time.

Later, she read to me while I cooked a romantic anniversary dinner, which consisted of broiled marinated portabella mushrooms, salad, and fresh corn on the cob. Maybe that's not your idea of romance either.

I don't know what most people's ideas of romance are, or if they even have ideas of romance. We're not living in a romantic age, it seems, and like everything else, romance has been transmogrified into a commodity. Romantic love and passion are ways of being, rather than particular acts or sentiments. It has everything to do with imagination and enjoying one another.