Wednesday, March 28, 2007

brief update to the "no entry" list

As of last night, the list of people not allowed in the house has expanded by three:

* Kurt Russell
* Melanie Griffith

Both of them are very nearly terminally noxious to my loveliest. I confess to a higher threshold of tolerance for the Griffith, by which I mean I could probably permit her to use the bathroom on an emergency basis, if the only alternative was to have her avail herself of the mock orange bush in front of our place. Also, possibly, if lives were at stake, but I'm not entirely sure I want to be held to that.

* Quentin Tarrentino

Like some others on the list, I think this just makes good sense. I don't think he's necessarily a violent person, but that's not really the point. I believe he has an unhealthy fixation on - well, on lots of things it's unhealthy to be fixated on.


I have four somewhat strange predilections relevant this morning.

One is for mopey alternative music. I tend lately to rely on the very unevenly reliable All Music Guide to connect with music I haven't knowingly heard before. Following links from a band I like, say, Wilco, I end up finding bands somebody responsible for content on AMG thinks is "similar" or "influenced by," follow those links, and follow the links from there, until I end up with somebody really quite unlike the original band in most respects, say, [smog]. It's a game we could call Six Degrees of Michael Stipe if we were in a particularly jaunty mood, which, this morning, we're not.

Anyway, I found Grogshow through this method. I love me some Grogshow, I do. And through Grogshow to Winterpills, who are also pretty cool.

This music is not only a basic element to the soundtrack of my misspent youth, but also still musically potent to me, inasmuch as what I'm playing these days is often like acoustic 12-string folkized mopey alternative. I think so, at least. Finally, a label for my stuff!

Two is for conflict, especially of the fighting-the-good-fight variety. The CSU agreed to use the Fact-Finders Report as a "template" for 10 further days of bargaining to try to reach agreement with CFA on a new contract. Now, what could they do in 10 days that they couldn't have done in the last 23 months is not clear. And the Fact Finders Report includes not only the statement by the neutral third-party fact finder, but also CFA and CSU representatives. So agreeing to use the report as a template could mean that CSU is willing to continue to make their same tired baseless arguments as to why the $1.2 billion reserve they've built up can't be diminished by $100 million over 4 years to reach a settlement on faculty salaries.

This is a conflict I can feel really good about, because I have tremendous faith that CFA is right and CSU is wrong. In that respect, this conflict is rather like how I feel when the Pittsburgh Penguins play the Philadelphia Flyers. Whatever else I may or may not know about the world, I can say with certainty that the Flyers are wrong.

Which brings us to the third predilection, which is for playoff hockey. The NHL playoffs begin in two weeks, and for the first time since 2001, my beloved Penguins are going to be in them. They clinched last night by beating the Washington Capitals 4-3. Since January, no team has been better than the Pens, and their best players remain a core group that are all 24 or younger, which suggests that they're going to be at least this good for a long time.

The fourth? Extremely long road trips.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

strike vote resuits!

CFA announced today that 94% of members voted to approve job action in our ongoing fight for a fair contract.

It can't be easy being one of those CSU administrators or trustees who continues to assert that only a small faction of faculty are upset about the CSU's contract offer, or that students won't be adversely affected by yet another fee increase, or that the CSU is on firm footing, but is underfunded, but has an excellent bond rating because of reserve funds equalling more than one third of the $2.5 billion annual budget, yet doesn't have enough money to spend $100 million over four years to fund faculty salary increases. At some point, the sheer number of contradictions you assert and try to think are true must get overwhelming. This is beyond a question of guilty conscience now. I am seriously concerned about the continued mental health of these administrators and trustees. Something's gotta give somewhere, don't it?

Proceed with caution in Long Beach, folks. Psychotic breaks are not pretty.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

new recording

Last Monday I recorded an electric lead to a tune I've written for one of Lauren's mom's cats. I've been playing with the recording, moved the lead and rhythm parts around a bit, adjusted their tone, and posted it. I like it. It's named after my favorite way to greet said cat, which is Hey Stella!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

busy weekend of entertaining

Today we foraged for the stuff for a couple evenings' fun. Tomorrow night: Val for dinner, which will be on the opulent side, because it's been a while. Saturday: St. Patrick's Day traditional dinner, this year featuring Christina and Guerin as our special guest stars.

Menu for Friday:

Portabella mushroom ravioli
Kohlrabi greens ravioli
(both prepared by Lauren, the kohlrabi from the pot on the patio, in a tomato sauce I made this afternoon)
Rack of lamb in a modified Perigueux sauce (truffles, demi-glace, madeira, Grand Marnier, butter)
Mashed blue potatoes
Salad from lettuces and snow pea pods grown in the back yard
Strawberry tart (without so much rat in it)

Menu for Saturday:

Corned beef, boiled
Cabbage, boiled
Potatoes, boiled
Mushrooms, boiled
Irish whisky, either in Irish coffee (steamy, though not boiled) or straight, no chaser (hard-boiled)

Menu for Sunday:

Something light, like maybe a carrot

Monday, March 12, 2007

Forest Whittaker is not allowed in the house

Based entirely (not to say unfairly) on their performances, I have over the years decided that numerous musical and theatrical stars are not allowed in the house. I'm adding Forest Whittaker to the list after having watched The Last King of Scotland this weekend.

Obviously, I don't know Mr. Whittaker. He's clearly an intelligent and gifted actor, and I presume that he's not entirely miserable to work with (he's not famous enough to behave that badly). I also wasn't so entirely taken with his performance as Idi Amin that I gave in completely to the suspension of disbelief and was actually afraid. It's more a matter of the kinds of role Mr. Whittaker seems to choose, and in which he seems to excel. They bespeak, to me, a deep inner wellspring of violent emotion.

Forest Whittaker is under the total ban, along with many others. There is also a short list of famous people who are only allowed in subject to certain conditions, usually for our own protection. With that, let's revisit the list, accrued over time.

* Bjørk. Would she sit demuring in the corner, or dive for the liquor cabinet? Would she spend hours reading the titles of all the books in the place? Or break all the furniture just for the percussion? Would she steal the cat? Too unpredictable.

* Fred Willard. Actually, Fred is allowed in, but only in leg irons.

* Jeff Buckley. On a recent walk home, "So Real" came on my iPod, and as I entered I announced, "Jeff Buckley is not allowed in the house." Lauren's quick reply was to point out that, "Jeff Buckley is dead." "All the more reason," I said. He was weird enough alive.

* Robert Downey, Jr. This just makes good sense.

* Amy Sedaris. This was a controversial decision, because Lauren thinks Amy Sedaris is just about the cutest thing ever. But I know that's just another way she's incredibly dangerous.

* Alan Cumming. Actually, Alan Cumming is allowed in the house, but only on a short leash. Yes, I do mean that literally.

* Bruce McCulloch. This is probably an over-reaction, but especially in drag, Bruce was always the creepiest of the Kids in the Hall, and I've never fully recovered.

* Tim Curry. Clue almost restored his visa. Almost.

There are of course a number of other people not allowed in the house, and not all of them were born in either 1961 or 1965 (recurring dates in the list for some reason). Most of the others are less famous, with some exceptions. And then there are other people not officially on the list whom I would never consider letting in, some living, some dead (Augusto Pinochet springs to mind). I think it's good to maintain a list of this sort just in case.

life, liberty, and the pursuit of hoppyness

Lauren and I bottled the new stout yesterday. This is the beer that boiled over on the stove, twice. This is the beer that scalded Lauren when we poured the hot wort (unfermented beer) into the glass carboy through a funnel. We had three or four false starts siphoning the stout into a plastic fermenter we use for bottling.

It's also a dark, smoky tasting stout, at least at this point in its still raw state. Time will tell ultimately, but for now, this may either be called *^@#in' Stout or the Stout of the Apocalypse.

This weekend was also the date of a kitchen mishap involving a food as innocent as a portabella mushroom. As I was removing the mushrooms from the oven, I somehow burned my thumb on the baking sheet, through a pot-holder. It gave me a 1/2 inch square blister on right next to the little bulby pad part of my thumb. It's not very painful, but it's disconcerting to hold a guitar pick with it or shuffle cards (two things I do oftener than most people). I'm about to see how it might affect my teaching.

Later: Why Forest Whittaker is not allowed in the house, along with a brief current list of others who are either banished or who are permitted entry only under specified conditions.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


One of the issues under dispute between the CSU and the CFA is so-called "merit pay." It's a nice example of the whole dispute, and of the whole of the difficulties in the CSU-CFA relationship.

It begins with the language we use to describe it. "Merit pay" sounds innocuous at worst. It probably sounds like a way to encourage and reward good work. If you oppose a "merit pay" program, the very words make it sound as if you're against the idea of rewarding good work.

Among the many problems with what CFA prefers to call "discretionary pay" is that "merit" is not satisfactorily defined. What makes a good faculty member? What specific marks or characteristics would describe faculty "merit"? My view is that faculty work can be meritorious in many different ways, and that defining it in any set of terms narrow enough to work contractually would leave out a great deal of the meritorious work faculty do. (Not that the CSU proposal bothers to define "merit." Indeed, one reason CFA is so deeply opposed to it is that CSU won't set out the criteria contractually. It raises probably valid suspicion that what counts as "merit" is what some administrator decides is merit - hence our term, "discretionary pay.")

One of the main objections CFA has with "merit pay" programs proposed by CSU has been that there is no real recourse if a faculty member doesn't receive the additional pay. If you believe you're more meritorious than someone else, but that person gets the pay increase and you don't, perhaps you can appeal to the President of the campus, but that's the person who awarded the raise in the first place. The chances the President will reverse himself or herself and give you the raise approximate zero.

Another problem is that the previous "merit pay" programs have been disasters, both in terms of the impact on faculty salaries and morale, and as programs to administer. The CSU has agreed with CFA that previous discretionary pay programs have been unworkable. Once a faculty member's base salary is changed by adding discretionary pay, that faculty person is no longer on the regular pay scale, and all the calculations painstakingly made to produce predictability in faculty pay across the 23 campus system goes kablooey. There's 23,000 faculty in the CSU, and discretionary pay makes it impossible to keep track of how much they ought to be paid. (And of course, another one of the reasons cited for the unworkability of "merit pay" is that merit isn't defined. As Chico says of Harpo in Duck Soup, "he gets mad because he can't read.")

There's a myth of meritocracy in corporate models of labor and capital, and it makes no sense to believe it. Executives, whether because of their role or because of some genetic proclivity, value compliance and fealty. If given discretion to pay some people more than others, executives who have the opportunity to reward faculty with more pay will use that discretion to reward characteristics they value.

The oddest thing to me about all this is that what's truly meritorious, in the sense of what a person has earned, would seem to be what a person achieves through work. In other words, work is what is meritorious. I think that's a reason labor unions make sense to me: collective bargaining implicitly recognizes that work is what should be paid, and so people doing similar work should get similar pay.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

not something I usually mention

I didn't get to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Philadelphia Flyers today, to sweep the season series 8-0, because NBC doesn't think it's important to show a national TV audience the most exciting player in the league, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby. In fact, Crosby wasn't the star of the game. Erik Christensen was.

Christensen is coming slowly into his own as an NHL forward, and today he scored two goals in regulation to lead the Penguins to a tie, and overtime, against the Flyers. Each of his goals were quick snap shots, which is his best shot. It's vital to shoot quickly to score goals in the NHL, because almost everyone is almost always in ideal defensive position, and you get about 1/4 of a second to get a shot off. He does this consistently, when he's shooting and playing well. Fastest gun in the East.

But what really impressed me watching the highlights streamed from the Penguins website (click on "Game Recap" in the box on the right lower half of the page) was his shootout goal, where he made a move that, in the current argot, was "sick." It really was sick, by which I mean astounding.

Now I can't stop saying what a sick move it was, and I feel vaguely stupid about that. Strangely enough, "stupid" used to be the term for the kind of play that is now called "sick." I'm not sure which is worse: feeling stupid about calling a play sick, or feeling sick about calling a play stupid. But what really matters, for the time being, are two things: (1) Erik Christensen's sick move, and (2) death to the Flyers.

Friday, March 02, 2007

been busy; strike vote next week

A couple weeks go by, and it's like a couple weeks go by!

On one level, it doesn't seem like a lot has happened. We went to San Diego, I gave my Schutz talk, and we came home. It's been a regular week this week, meaning I've been at a couple meetings, done some organizing work, taught, and so on. I'm starting work on the big perception project that I hope will turn into something nifty for the Merleau-Ponty Circle conference. In any case, it's something I've been meaning to do.

Last night, however, what I really needed to do was to record some good demo versions of the new tunes, so that those can start building into actual songs. A couple of the tunes seem done to me. The one has a verse part, a chorus part, a bridge, and a second bridge/coda. It needs no new bits. The others might, but I haven't had much time or energy to play with them, which makes me feel bad. (My priorities in life do not give me pause. They just frequently leave less time than I'd like for playing guitar.)

So I set about to record some tracks last night after dinner, which seemed a perfectly fine thing to do. Lauren sat in the Room of Requirement with me, sewing and spilling wine all over her desk, which seemed a perfectly fine thing to do. Little did we know.

I record using a pre-amp plugged into the USB port of my laptop, with either a mic or a line from the amplifier plugged into the pre-amp. It's a simple setup and it gives decent results. So there I sat, making a couple takes each of the new tunes. I was pleased enough with the results. I listened to one of them on my iPod on the walk to school this morning, and it sounds just fine (its current working gag title is "Exorcise for your Health").

Meanwhile, the CFA strike vote is set for next week on our campus and a number of others. For some reason I don't know, the votes are being staggered, with about half next week and the other half the week after that. I don't know if the neutral fact finder's report has been filed, and if it was I wouldn't know anything about it, since it's kept under wraps for 10 days after it arrives. Last time, the fact finder's report agreed in every important respect with the CFA's positions on the issues.