Sunday, February 18, 2007

getting my Schutz together

It's February, which means it's the season for writing a paper for the Society for Phenomenology and Media, something I've done each of the last 9 years. I am the only person to have attended every conference of the group, which I call SPaM.

This year I'm writing about Alfred Schutz's essay "The Well-Informed Citizen," which my honors Human Interests and the Power of Information class is reading. Not usually one to engage in critique (as a result of his commitment to a descriptive phenomenological method), Schutz concludes the essay by saying there is a problem posed by public opinion, especially when it guides political decisions in democratic societies. It's not that original a problem to pose (Walter Lippmann published Public Opinion in 1922, though he had a very different attitude toward it), but Schutz's call for the well-informed citizen to "prevail" over public opinion is a peculiar way of dealing with it, especially since Schutz doesn't tell us what that would mean. It's practically tossed off at the end of the essay, and it's not obvious how the essay as a whole helps illuminate the problem, or even how the problem is motivated by the essay or vice-versa.

I've spent a ton of time on this essay over the years, but for some reason this year it seems as if I have been able to get deeper into it. That has its good points and its bad points. I'm finding it very difficult to keep my paper within narrow enough parameters. It wants to creep all over the place. So I'm thinking my presentation this coming Thursday will be a little odd. We'll see. Perhaps I'll be able to get some of the other stuff out of my system in class on Monday, so the focus on public opinion can come back.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

landmark post #200

A few utterly disconnected items.

1. One of the aspects of popular fame that would really disturb me if I were popularly famous is that news services routinely prepare anticipatory obituaries for such people. I understand, they don't want to be caught having to write something appropriate, pithy, ironic, or whatever in the 3 minutes they have to scoop other news services on the death watch. But still, there's something very slightly ghoulish about it, and the notion that someone has already summed up my life and achievements in 300-500 words while I'm still alive strikes as judgment before the trial. Case in point, the clearly canned obit the San Francisco Chronic Ill just posted about Anna Nicole Smith.

2. I'm trying very hard to make the most of the break between Winter and Spring, by being On A Break. So far, this is working well, except insofar as I'm working on a paper and tracking down a few issues for lecturers. I think I've got four songs in the works now, though.

3. A few candidates for my motto came to me lately:
* I eat pipsqueaks like you for breakfast!
* I'm the philosopher-chef. I saute wisdom.
* Speak softly, and carry a big schtick. (an oldie from college days)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Ah, those wacky Senators. Mitch McConnell:

"The Republican side is ready for this debate," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "We're anxious to have it."

McConnell said Republicans were not resorting to any special tactics, calling it "ordinary" to require 60 votes before an item can move forward on the floor of the Senate and pointing to the Democratic use of the filibuster against Bush's judicial appointments when they were in the Senate minority.

from the San Francisco Chronic-Ill

Let me explain, Senator. A debate is when different views on an issue are aired, argued, and defended with evidence (sometimes; we'll even make this optional for y'all because y'all have such a hard time determining what evidence means. You gotta crawl before you can walk). When you filibuster to prevent debate, you're not debating.

By the way, remember when filibusters were uncivil tactics used by the desperate to avoid admitting they had no other options? Guess what? They still are!

Remember when the Republican majority forced a Democratic filibuster to end by threatening to eliminate the rules permitting filibustering altogether - and ending over 200 years of parliamentary practice in the Senate? Looks different to the minority party, don't it, Senator McConnell? Senator? Mitch? Hello?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

what I need: a motto

I came to the conclusion, as I recall, in the car, while running errands, just the other day. I'm pretty sure we were on Geer Road, heading south, dealing with typical Turlock traffic, to wit, gaggles of overlarge SUVs being driven very badly by soccer moms on cell phones, handfuls of little cars with loud mufflers and stereos that shake the whole car and the pavement surrounding driven very badly by 20-something underemployed guys, and Buicks being driven very badly by old people. (Not that I condone stereotyping. In fact, that could be a potential motto: "Officially, I don't condone stereotyping. Unofficially, guys with cars like that are idiots." Eh. Not so much.)

I'm pretty sure we saw a very inane bumper sticker, and decided that this was the (very bad) driver's motto. It might have been the truck with the little cartoon Calvin figure from the long-defunct Calvin & Hobbes strip, peeing onto the words "gun control."

Anyway, choosing a motto, I figure, would be a simple, effective way of advancing my life prospects. It has to be snappy, relevant, and encouraging of the kind of behavior that would advance my life prospects. So "I like cheese," though true, is not a strong contender.

I'll consider contributions from all sources, and meanwhile continue my deliberations here.

So far, I have only one candidate: "You gotta eat." More, I hope, later.

Friday, February 02, 2007

mythical guitar and demi-glace

Yesterday I made the beef stock preparatory to putting together demi-glace, the mother of all sauces. Today we zapped out yet again, to go on a series of errands, including a trip to Turlock's own Ingram Music.

I saw a guitar.

It was a Monroe-Moore (or Moore-Monroe; I'm not familiar with the brand) electric semi-hollow-body, with double cut-aways, like John Lennon's Epiphone Casino.

It was blond, too. It had an action like no guitar I have ever played, perfect balance, and frets so smooth they felt frictionless. The neck actually felt soft.

I tried to look the machine up online, to no avail. Moore-Monroe (or Monroe-Moore; see above; who knows?) doesn't have a website, it seems, and they're known for bluegrass acoustic guitars and mandolins. They also make a fair number of resonator guitars and, I kid not, an acoustic-electric bouzouki. But I didn't see this electric thing anywhere. But nothing on the electric guitar. Nobody has seen this beast, anywhere, except, it seems, Ingram, and me and Lauren.

I called Bobo, who not only owns an encyclopedia of electric guitars, but is also in many ways a walking guitar encyclopedia himself. To quote him: "I got nothing."

Horrors. A guitar Imj hasn't heard of is peculiar enough, nigh onto absurd, in fact. There can be only one conclusion: This guitar does not exist. I could go back to Ingram tomorrow (in fact, am sorely tempted), but it won't be there.

Anyway, I've made exemplary sauce Espagnole, the next step in making demi-glace. It's beef stock, a mirepoix of veggies sauteed in fatback, a roux, and good sherry, reduced down to 1/4 or so of its original volume, all the while skimming fat and other stuff off the surface. Tomorrow I'll be adding this to more sherry and the rest of the stock, reducing that to 1/2 or so of its volume, again with the skimming (always the skimming), and finally into ice trays to make demi-glace ice-cubes.

Demi-glace and electric guitars have a few things in common.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

back in the saddle

Despite tear gas, stomped vegetables, and general discombobulation, we're settling back into home. Our first full day back home since Saturday, or would have been, except we took off to Funkytown to re-stock the stores.

I'm settling back into myself, too. This morning I started the dough for rye bread. We hit the road to go pay rent and buy stuff to replace all the stuff we used up so it wouldn't get poisoned (see "tear gas," above), and on the way the subject of brewing a stout came up. We proceeded to the fermentation supply store for the necessaries, whence off to Trader Joe's. There, the idea struck that a pork tenderloin might be the thing to do, which brought to mind immediately (as it does, for me at least) sauce Robert, the ultimate French sauce for pork.

Sauce Robert requires demi-glace, the basic instrument of the hardest of hard-core French sauces. I make my own, a process that takes three days, but at the moment we're out. We'd anticipated this, and nabbed some bones the last time we trekked out to Marin County for meat. These I have roasted and am now simmering away to make the 3 or so quarts of stock that will eventually become a couple pints of demi-glace.

Meanwhile, the rye bread dough rises, and I'm listening to the Penguins game over the internets (as we say around here). Lauren is painting a yellow chrysanthemum-like flower onto the black cosntruction paper "fish tank" in the kitchen, inspired by the flowers we bought today.

Bread, beer, demi-glace, Penguins, art. I'm home.