Thursday, November 30, 2006

all a-twitter

I've been busy again.

But two of this morning's headlines have re-affirmed my hope for humanity, so I thought I'd share.

First of all, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack announced that he would be a footnote to the 2008 Presidential race, by declaring his candidacy. It's so cute. But, ahem,... Hillary Rodham Clinton! Barack Obama!

Meanwhile, it turns out that the only sane course of action is to colonize another planet. See, because if we can't find somewhere else to befoul, we'll have failed to live up to our evolutionary destiny. Thanks, Stevie.

It may not be immediately clear why these two nooz items in particular re-affirm my hope for humanity. It's because it's impossible to take humanity at all seriously in light of them. The best thing about the human race is silliness.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

video from the CFA protest at the CSU Board of Trustees

Apparently, someone involved in the protest action organized by CFA at the CSU Board of Trustees meeting captured some video of the event. What you'd be seeing if you'd click the links, are the protestors making a hell of a racket, and then the more direct civil disobedience action, where some of my colleagues put a pledge* in front of each member of the Board, sat down, and the Board eventually left, leaving my CFA colleagues behind, to hold a shadow meeting.

I think the reactions of the members of the board and the chancellor (he's the - pardon me for saying - largish bald guy who keeps pretending there's nothing going on) speak for themselves.

CFA intended to prevent the Board from conducting business as usual. The video clips show us the Board calling the roll, and then abandoning the room when the protestors' chants keep them from doing anything. In other words, the protest worked perfectly. Whether this will help us is anybody's guess; in mediation, the CSU has already reneged on tentative agreements made this summer. CFA didn't fail to expect this, but in collective bargaining settings, taking back what you'd already tentatively agreed to is deeply weird.

*The text of the pledge is as follows:

“Pledge for the Future of the CSU.”

Our nation’s largest four-year system of public higher education — the California State University
— faces extraordinary challenges that threaten to undermine broad access for students to a
quality public higher education.

Every year 400,000 California students look to the CSU as their hope for a college education. The
CSU provides opportunity to vast numbers of students who might otherwise not be able to pursue
higher education.

The CSU fuels not only California’s economy, but also our quality of life and our democratic
institutions. This understanding was enshrined in 1960 in California’s Master Plan for Higher
Education, a document that set out the creation of our state’s public higher education in a new
way not before attempted by other states.

That goal means, among many other things, keeping the CSU affordable even for those with the
least means, and guaranteeing a strong, stable teaching force with effective student services in
an environment conducive to learning.

We pledge to preserve this vision of public higher education by adopting policies and acting in
ways that best serve this primary mission of the CSU – the instruction of our students.

We refresh our commitment by joining in this pledge to rectify the system’s inequities; we seek a
new direction that will preserve the basic concept of public higher education in the 21st Century.

We begin by committing to:

1. End immediately excessive perquisites for executives present and past;
return the money to the CSU

2. Roll-back student fees to 2002/03 levels

3. Negotiate a fair contract with the CSU faculty and all CSU employees

To accomplish these ends,

We will advocate persistently and devotedly for the necessary resources to fully fund the CSU.

We will seek to reach a fair and equitable contract with the teachers, librarians, coaches,
advisors, counselors, and all of the staff who make the university work every day.

We will adopt policies that protect California’s taxpayers from abuse, fraud or waste of the
precious dollars devoted to the CSU.

We will work hard to restore the trust placed in us by the students, faculty, staff, alumni and
people of California to ensure a well-managed university system able to guarantee a vibrant,
successful future for the CSU.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

the difference between normal people and the CSU Board of Trustees

According to police estimates, 1200 people - mainly faculty, but also staff, students, alumni, and other supporters of public higher education - spent several hours outside the CSU Chancellor's office in Long Beach yesterday. Meanwhile, inside, the CSU Board of Trustees was meeting, and moreover, meanwhile, the CSU and California Faculty Association are in bargaining impasse. CFA's position is the CSU refuses to bargain a fair contract, and has defrauded the public by misappropriating funds, in part to pay exorbitant raises and benefits to exectuives (including salaries drawn after leaving employment). So 1200 people yelled, chanted, sang, waved signs, and in general raised hell directly outside the building, and a smaller group of faculty inside the meeting raised a banner and chanted to disrupt the meeting.

Now I'd have thought that ordinary, normal people would find it disconcerting to have 1200 angry people yelling at them while they tried to hold a business meeting. Ordinary normal people would be curious why they were being yelled at, and might consider whether they were doing something to enrage all those people outside.

If, when you went to work, you saw hundreds of people carrying signs, marching around, and in fact telling you that you were making them furious, I think you'd take note of this. Really I do.

"Hmmm," you might, for instance, say to yourself. "That's actually a large number of people who are angry at me. I wonder why." You might contemplate your life, at least to the extent of comparing what's happening to you this moment - to wit, a crowd of hundreds of mad people making lots of noise right outside where you're having a meeting - to other times in your life, when things were going somewhat better, at least on the being-yelled-at-score. Perhaps you'd consider whether your policies were affecting them in this way, or something you'd said. You'd be motivated, if you were an ordinary, normal person, to create a situation in which 1200 people were not shouting at you for hours straight.

There is little indication that most of the members of the Board of Trustees has this kind of curiosity or takes this sort of interest in their surroundings.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

can't talk

Ah, to be alive and awake at quarter til 5 on a Wednesday morning in Turlock ("Land of a Thousand Smells")!

But we gotta go. More later, I am fairly sure.

By the way, happy birthday to Bobo this week. I never get birthdays quite right. I'm working on an I Don't Care package for him. More on that later too, I am fairly sure, though somewhat less sure, not because I have anything against Bobo (he's my pal, after all), but just because I'm not sure how much more I'll have to say about it, especially since it's supposed to be a surprise (like spring snakes out of a peanut can, or like flowers).

Key-rist it's early!

Saturday, November 11, 2006


My student, Joshua, asked a couple months ago about home-brewing beer. We brewed a batch of porter (my choice; sometimes you gotta make the big decisions) two weeks ago, and today he came over and we bottled it. Bucking years of tradition, I named the beer before tasting it, based on its fermentation location in the Harry Potter Memorial Cupboard Under the Stairs: Harry Porter. As we were rinsing the last of the bottles, I noticed a bit of Lancelot fluff on one of the bottle necks, so the name is now doubly à propos: Hairy Porter.

And indeed, it looks to be a fairly puts-hair-on-your-chest kind of beer. I love me a porter, I do. In its raw, unfinished, uncarbonated state, it had a good balance of malt and hop; the aroma hops we used (again, my selection), Fuggles, were a tad on the flowery side, but this will moderate. I think it's going to be exemplary.

We also played guitars a bit, and Lauren and I performed a couple songs of ours. After Joshua left, Lauren and I dashed hither and yon through the rainy afternoon, doing the odd bit of shopping (jeans for her, cloth to cover a wall and to make a tablecloth and placemats, fruitless bass shopping and a quick peek at the acoustics at Guitar Center for me, etc.), but mostly looking at the gorgeous clouds and pointing them out to one another. Then the Penguins lost to Carolina, rather miserably it seemed, taking penalty after penalty in the third period. But I'm roasting a chicken we may well call Fröderich, and I'm going to mash potatoes and cook green beans, and there's not a damn thing anybody can do to stop me, because this is America, where we roast chickens with impugnity. Okay, that's getting a little off topic, if not off kilter.

Last night, I gave up and tuned my Takamine 12 to open G major (DGDGBD), and started to write a (so far simple, but not likely to remain so) tune that I now officially have dubbed "Homebrew." If everyone's very very good, I'll post a recording of it soon.

And tomorrow is still only Sunday. Four day weekends are a wonderful idea.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

how to vote

Not everyone understands the steps involved in voting, so I thought I'd put together a handy-dandy guide on how to vote.

1. Be, or become, a US citizen.*
2. Avoid conviction for a felony.**
3. Register to vote.***
4. Go to the polls.****
5. Using whatever machine or other voting device is in place, vote for the ballot initiatives and candidates of your choice.*****

* Also, be sure to look like an American. And remember, although it's not a crime to vote if you're a naturalized citizen who immigrated from another country, you are subject to intimidation by people who would rather people immigrated from a different country than you did, or would rather no one immigrated at all.
** Also, be sure your name isn't like the name of someone who has been convicted of a felony. In many states, voters are purged from the rolls based on roughly accurate lists of convicted felons, and occasionally, mistakes are made. I recommend carefully reviewing all felony convictions in your state several weeks prior to Election Day, so that you have time to legally change your name and re-register to vote to assure eligibility.
*** See above. It may be necessary to register repeatedly. For instance, in some counties I could name in California (where there's a "Motor-Voter" act that gives people the option of changing their voting registration when they change their addresses with the DMV), voter registration can only be guaranteed by registering more than once. But this could also make your vote ineligible, depending on (a) whether you vote, (b) how you vote, and (c) whether elections officials want you to vote.
Also, remember that in many states, it becomes more difficult to register to vote depending on how you intend to register and how much like an American you look. In some cases, choosing a different party or plastic surgery may be necessary.
**** Generally, these will be conveniently close to your home residence. Some people have received notice that their polling places have been moved, when in fact they have not. Some people have been told their polling places are closed, or that they will open late, or that they have run out of ballots or machines. In some polling places, there are very long lines as a result. During the 2004 elections, voters in several precincts in Ohio and elsewhere were unable to vote because of such factors. But you have to expect some inconvenience in a democracy.
***** Some touch-screen voting machines are known to create inaccurate records of votes. This is only a problem when you want to cast your vote for a particular candidate, and the machine changes it to a vote for another particular candidate. In many places, the machines also produce a paper record of your vote that you can check against your intended vote, which lets you know right away whether your vote was counted as you intended it. Other voting machines can apparently be broken open or hacked into in a couple minutes and altered to change all sorts of votes. No technology is foolproof. And there is no evidence to support the rumor that some Diebold machines are armed with touch-screen tasers.

Friday, November 03, 2006

relief - for me at least

I finished the mid-term papers, finally, and returned the last class worth of them today. Wow, do I feel better.

Increasingly over the last couple years I've been disenchanted with the whole business of grading papers. I don't think it's due solely to the numbers and time (100 papers takes a loooong time to grade). It's also not boredom, although despite writing new assignments for each class each semester, the papers tend not to be terribly novel (this is largely because I mainly teach general education classes to people who don't at all necessarily want to take them).

Nah. It's because it's painful. And I am starting to think it's painful because, at the level of these classes, there's something deeply artificial about the whole process. I doubt that many of my students take up the spirit of the assignments when I pitch them as entering serious and live debates. Students also don't have the interest or experience to be self-starters in the field. This isn't thought through, but I wonder if it's something to do with the feeling of insularity I get from the papers, as though philosophical discussion belongs only in philosophy class, and is otherwise not very important, not part of the world. I resist this all the damn time, by showing the worldliness and everydayness of the concerns we discuss, but it is hard to translate that into paper assignments.

I had a couple nifty responses from Contemporary Moral Issues. An option for the essay was to take an online ecological footprint quiz, then discuss their results and the moral issues raised by their results in the context of our class discussions and course materials on environmental ethics. But in that case, it might have been a self-selecting thing: those with a particular interest in thinking about their environmental impact opted to do so, and because they were already interested, they wrote more self-directed papers. Some students probably chose the essay they could do with least trouble, and I don't see a way around that at the moment. I just know I want to get around that.

Anyway, at least I'm not Richard Pombo. Pombo is the US House rep from the district including Tracy and bits of San Joaquin and Alameda counties. He's a right-wing Republican, detested by environmentalists, and his seat was regarded as perfectly safe a few months ago. But he's having to spend a bunch of money this year, and he's even needing the help of Laura Bush, who came in to pinch-hit in one of the very few Congressional districts in the country where the Bush Administration is still popularly supported.

Oh! And we're having tilapia and black bean & jicama salad for dinner. Cazart!


Thursday, November 02, 2006

coupla items after long absence

If you imagine there's a direct inverse correlation between frequency of my posts and how busy my life is (as measured, say, by the number of student papers to grade, grievance meetings, union meetings, etc. I've had lately), then DING! DING! DING! DING! You win the prize!

And the prize is a pair of news items from the San Francisco Chronic-ill ("America's Sickest Paper").

The British government says failing to pony up around 1% of GDP to fight carbon emissions is likely to cost us a major economic depression.

Meanwhile, the international Slow Food movement has been having a confab in Italy. It strikes me as slightly ironic that people are flying from all over the place to go to a rather globally-pitched event as part of an anti-globalization movement. But the article also informs us that plans are in the works for a Slow Food dingus in San Francisco.