Sunday, August 27, 2006

goats, anyone?

I was looking up cities, whimsically, on Wikipedia, and found this fun fact about Modesto:

Modesto's official slogan is "Water Wealth Contentment Health," which is emblazoned on a large arch uptown that has been immortalized in many photographs. A contest was run in 1911 to determine the slogan. The original winning slogan was: "Nobody's got Modesto's goat". The second place entry was the final winner.

That would about sum it up, except that the article also notes the Modesto is basically a crime-ridden commuter town. That, I think, does sum it up.


Today is the birthday of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the German philosopher best known for a system of dialectic (in which a thesis encounters its antithesis and the two transform progressively into a new synthesis according to a universal and absolute law) that he never espoused or even discussed. This is typical of Hegel's reception among most people, many of whom never bother to read him. And those who do don't get him. Vocally.

For quite a while, I was very heavily into Hegel. Reading him is like reading an extremely complicated mystery novel, full of suspense and dramatic tension, surprise plot twists, stunning conclusions. He has the reputation of being boring, overly abstract, hopelessly arcane, blinkered in his assumption of the ascendancy of this thing called the Absolute no one can quite identify, and in all, useless. I've always thought this was because no one realized how simple the story he's telling really is - or no, not simple, down-to-earth. Then again, anything I say or write about philosophers should be regarded as suspect, because my interpretations are usually outside the mainstream (especially with Hegel, now that I think of it).

Anyway, here's to old Stinky Buckets Hegel on his 236th birrthday! Coffee all around!

In other news, whew. The new place is more or less in place, and we're doing finishing touches: Lauren has sewn curtains for the Music Room and is working on pillows for the Nook in the bedroom; two guitars are hanging next to the Picasso "Violin and Guitar" poster in the Music Room. This is the first weekend we've had to relax and do very very little since moving, and I'm finding it difficult. I'm frustrated by the lack of normal rhythm. The Music Room faces west, so by the time I've become used to playing, around 4 or 5 pm, it's too warm. It's also a strangely shaped room that doesn't ventilate well. It's just gonna take some time to work out how to use the space. I've also got the Canker Sore From Hell right where my gum meets my lip.

It's Sunday. We've got watermelon. Tonight we're making a pizza. With any luck, I'll find a bridge to the song I'm working on.

Monday, August 21, 2006

hopeful pessimism

In "The Myth of Sisyphus," Albert Camus argues that living in hope is what makes life not worth living - that is, hope leads to suicide. His reasoning goes something like this: if you hope for something, and this hope is the central meaning of your life, then you're not living to live, and the worth of life is subordinate to something unreal, something that doesn't literally exist. Only life without hope is lived for the sake of life.

I used to buy this, or at least, used to believe I bought it. But the other morning I woke up thinking Camus had a view of hope I couldn't accept, or that needed more nuance.

I am a hopeful person. This is not to say I'm an optimistic person, because I'm not. Hope, I think, isn't an expectation that everything will turn out right, nor is it the perception of the good or bright side of everything. Hope is active and transformative, leads to a commitment to change something, or to be part of a group committed to try to change something. For instance, my hopes for the future of the CSU drive me to be a faculty union activist. I don't see much reason to be optimistic about the future of the CSU, or of faculty, but I have hope that working with these people will be worth it, no matter what happens in the long run (in fact, I suspect the long run will be awful).

That same morning, I woke up from a very strange dream. I was participating in a direct action campaign (a protest, but also a meeting with the campus president) at CSU-East Bay. Mark Karplus, the CFA lecturer rep at e-Bay, and Steve Wilson, the rep from Sonoma State, were there as well. Eventually we ended up suspended on a clock tower on the campus (I don't think e-Bay even has a clock tower). As the police and CSU officials started to climb up to drag us down, Steve and I saw a kitten on the top of the tower, and we grabbed it, to turn the whole event into a weird melodramatic spectacle and photo op. Lecturers save kittens!

I think that would be a great slogan. We could make t-shirts with a two-panel cartoon. The first panel would depict CSU chancellor Charles B. Reed with a bag of kittens, right on the shore in Long Beach, about to drown the poor dears. The second would show CFA activists seizing Reed's arm and wresting the kittens from it, presumably to bring to a vet for shots, eventually to be spayed or neutered and brought into loving homes. (Perhaps a third panel, on the other side of the shirt, could show this.)

Monday, August 14, 2006

one down, one to go

We got back from Vancouver about 12:30 this morning, after a long afternoon of air travel, most of which was, as usual, spent not actually flying. This was uneventful, except of course that six or seven planes exploded when several individuals, defying not only Homeland Security but also common sense, had the temerity to brush their teeth on the plane. After clearing security on the Canadian side (which is roughly 138% easier and less melodramatic than in US airports, especially SFO, of which more, perhaps, if you're good, later), we found food from a so-called "Asian cuisine" joint, where they pitched our food into styrofoam, poured us a cup of water - which, in compliance with new safety regulations, had no lid - and then handed Lauren a potentially lethal weapon: chop sticks.

Much will be written about the inanity of the new "safety" regulations. Lauren thinks the next thing to be forbidden will be teeth, since she was able to cut a strip off a band-aid to affix a breaking bit of fingernail to the remaining part. I believe the next thing will be identification.


TSA drone #1: Sir, is that your photo ID?

Passenger: Yes.

TSA drone #1: No ID, sir.

Passenger: What? Don't we need photo ID to get past security?

TSA drone#2: (shouting so that his voice echoes unintelligibly in the tinny security area) No PASSports, no DRIver's licenses, no photo ID!

Passenger: (to TSA drone #1, who has ignored the previous) Excuse me? Sir?

TSA drone #1: Yes?

Passenger: I have to throw away my ID?

TSA drone #1: Is it a photo ID?

Passenger: Yes.

TSA drone #1: (with increasing condescension) An ID, with a photo on it?

Passenger: Yes.

TSA drone #2: No DRIver's licenses, no PASSports. No one gets on the PLANE with photo ID!

TSA drone #1: Is it a photo of you?

Passenger: Yes, it's a photo ID card, so the picture is of me.

TSA drone #1: Does that sound like it would be a kind of photo ID to you?

Passenger: Yes, but my question is, do I have to throw it away?

TSA drone#1: Is it a photo ID?

Passenger: Look, what I mean is, if I need photo ID to get through security, but I have to throw my ID away, how do I get through security? And what if I need my ID again? Like, to drive?

TSA drone #1: Can't have it at the gate or on the plane.

Passenger: Yes, you said that, but my question -

TSA drone #2: (still shouting, but right at Passenger) No PHOto ID, no PASSports, no DRIver's licenses!

Passenger: Oh, forget it. (Tosses ID into trash.)

TSA drone #3: Can I see your ID and boarding pass, please?

Passenger: They told me to get rid of my ID, I just threw it away!

TSA drone #3: I'm sorry, sir, you can't pass to the gate without ID.


The other scenario would be that no boarding passes are permitted.


TSA drone #1: Boarding pass.

Passenger: Yep, here.

TSA drone #1: You're under arrest.


By the way, SFO sucks. New security, old security, no security, SFO sucks. No one there seems to understand why planes keep landing there and people keep showing up to get on planes there.

More on the Vancouver trip and the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labour (tee-hee! Funny Canadian spelling!) later. I'm brain dead, and I have to get my teeth cleaned, and I hope trade back in this awful rented Malibu for the repaired Eddie Jetta. I'd also list my complaints and grievances about the Malibu, but they're too many to list.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

o, Canada

Tomorrow at this time we'll be touching down in Vancouver.

I like Canada. The clichés about Canada and about Canadians are more or less accurate. Canada is cleaner than the US, and Canadians are friendlier. They're quite patriotic, probably more patriotic than most Americans, but not jingoistic the way so many Americans seem to be. There's something about Canadian cities that feels comfortable and just slightly not quite American, even though most things are culturally familiar. I decided this morning that it's a certain neatness to them, by which I don't mean cleanliness, but a sort of having-been-straightened quality.

I hope I like the COCAL conference. I'm pretty sure I will. We're going to be meeting Jonathan from San Jose at the airport and share a cab into town, so we've already got a sort of built-in Vancouver social life. That's so like Canada, isn't it? Setting things up for us like that?

Anyway, we'll be back soon. Don't worry; Christina is looking in on Lancelot. If you're very very good, we might bring you something as a souvenir.

Monday, August 07, 2006

a recommended way to spend a day in Modesto

As previously noted, we took Eddie Jetta up to the GEICO approved body shop in High Upper Freaking Northern Impassable Modesto, which is okay because it's the only shop in the area with GEICO's guarantee. They also work with the Enterprise rental joint around the corner, where we'd be renting a car to get us through the week without our ride. GEICO made us a reservation, Enterprise picked us up promptly, we got to their shop, and I knew when we walked in the door that we were in trouble.

How many rental car places have you been where there's a row of 20 chairs along the window? In how many of them were the chairs half-full or more? At 10:30 am?

You see, we had a reservation, but Enterprise didn't have any cars. There were about 8 people ahead of us, who had been waiting long enough that they had stopped complaining, and had begun to settle down and grow moss. They were getting cars from their downtown Modesto shop, and from Manteca, which is 30 miles away. They were shuttling people out to these places. After about 45 minutes' wait, we were approached by a poker-faced rental agent and office sub-manager named Rich, who offered us a cargo van for the time being, you know the type - the unmarked white windowless vans favored by child abductors.

So here's what you should do to while away a day in Modesto: set up an easy car rental reservation, and instead wind up with a pedophiliomobile to drive around on your errands, making jokes about who in the store would be a good option ("Hey, that mom isn't paying the slightest attention to her mewling brat, let's grab it!"). Then, having done all the errand-running Modesto can really accommodate (this is roughly three hours' worth, if you stretch it), run the sucker down the Crankster Freeway to Turlock, trade it in for a proper car down there, abandoning the van. Only 6 hours later, we're home from picking up a rental car. Voila! Day gone!

perhaps not the best approach to these matters

I ordered a poster of Picasso's Guitar and Violin to hang in the Music Room (yeah, we've got a Music Room - though it's also the sewing room). It was shipped via some strange arrangement called DHL Smart Mail, whereby DHL ships the package, delivers it to the post office, and the post office delivers it to your address. I was concerned, first, because this seems like a cockameme arrangement, secondly, because not only does DHL suck (of which more below), but our local post office has proven to be pretty bad as well. (Some of that depends on carriers; we used to joke about the carrier at Speedbumpville, who took about four hours to fill the boxes for the complex, that it took him so long not because he was slow, but because of the increasingly long martini breaks. But it seems like Turlock just isn't put together right, postally that is.)

But the main reason I was concerned is that although the company I bought the poster from had the right address, complete with apartment number, the DHL shipping address listed on their pop-up search window didn't have an apartment number. Plus, as regular readers of this feature will recall, DHL was who botched my order of grassfed meat in June, delivering it to the wrong apartment, claiming someone signed for it, when in fact the apartment was vacant, and after one weird evasion after another, eventually claiming they could retrieve the meat a week later and return it to the sender. So I sent a note to the poster people. I tried to be subtle, which is dicey because some folks won't take the bait.

I'm concerned about my order getting to me. DHL (who
are terrible, absolutely the worst shippers in the
world) does not list my apartment number in the
address. Can you verify that the address label on the
shipment of my poster included the apartment address?
(I know that sometimes people have scanned and saved
copies of shipping labels that they keep as records,
since shippers like DHL are always losing packages.
Did I mention that DHL sucks? DHL sucks.) When I check
order status on your page, it does show the apartment
number, but DHL's pop-up window doesn't include it.
I've had a lot of trouble with shipments not arriving
from DHL, because, as I believe I've mentioned, they

They responded this morning. They didn't take the bait.

Anyway, this morning we're off to take Eddie Jetta to have $1400 of damage repaired from someone keying him. The shop will have the car for a week, and we'll be in a rental, or else in Vancouver.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

pizza with crazy gorgonzola sauce

We rarely order pizza. When we do, it's almost always the veggie pizza with white sauce from Round Table (this is not a paid endorsement). That got me thinking, once, that I could make a white sauce. I make a mean béchamel as it is, and, I thought, I could augment said béchamel with cheese. Gorgonzola came to mind, I don't remember why. But the result is just about perfect. I've made this concoction tonight, because Raechel is coming up from Arizona to gather her things from storage, and is staying with us. So we're making her a pizza with this high-test sauce.

The sauce is easy. Melt two tablespoons of butter (has to be butter) in a saucepan. Add two tablespoons of flour, and whisk this together over low heat, whisking now and again to avoid it burning to the bottom of the pan. This is a roux. Cook the roux until it smells a little nutty rather than like raw flour. Then add a cup or so of milk, preferably warmed, but I tend to use it straight out of the fridge. Whisk this until smooth, and simmer as the sauce thickens. Add white pepper, a little salt, a little garlic powder, and the key ingredient to the whole thing, nutmeg. I grate about one-eighth of a whole nutmeg into the sauce. You may like less, or you may like more. Then crumble about a quarter-pound of gorgonzola into the sauce, and let the sucker thicken. You need it plenty thick for pizza, as you'd probably guess. Then add whatever you'd add to pizza. Ours is usually sliced tomatoes, black olives, green onions, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts. You might want broccoli and red onion. Or you might want ground beef and pickles. Or you might want diced duck liver, sprigs of fresh thistle, and strychnine, although I'd think you were a little weird if you did.

Off to pizzaland. And I promise, I'll post more songs to our soundclick page soon. We've been busy moving. Give us a damn break! Geez, you people! Can't you entertain yourselves for one lousy minute?!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

4 flicks

Raechel sent Lauren some kind of survey, one of the questions of which asked you to list four movies you would watch over and over again. I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean, if anything. The wording seems key to this, because one may have a favorite flick, which nevertheless one would not watch over and over (for me, Dog Day Afternoon would be such a movie).

Perhaps this is a trial for a new MMPI item. Certain conclusions could be drawn from such lists. If the four films are The Bad Lieutenant, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Mary Poppins, and The Exorcist, this is at least highly suggestive.

Anyway, for whatever it's worth, four movies I would watch over and over: Dr. Strangelove, Ocean's 11 (the contemporary version - sorry Frank), The Kids Are Alright, and The Maltese Falcon.