Wednesday, December 31, 2008

new year's resolutions

You know why New Year's resolutions don't work. They don't work because momentous declarations of good intent fueled by nostalgia, and perhaps liquid holiday cheer, are flakier than my mom's pumpkin pie crust.

For instance, many years ago, I made a resolution not to make any more New Year's resolutions. So far, so good. It's been I-don't-know-how-many years since I made that resolution, and haven't made another one since. But I'm breaking it.

I resolve to live more joyfully. That was why the pram* I posted earlier.

* This use of the word pram is an inside joke between me and my pal Bobo, the Wandering Pall-bearer, from college nights spent watching Monty Python's Flying Circus re-broadcast on MTV. In one of the 1974 episodes, Graham Chapman, dressed up as some kind of aristocrat, and playing (perhaps) drunk, in a scene in which a poetry reading is being held in a backroom of a huge department store, refers to poems as "prams."

NOT the year in review, part 4

I'm thinking about joy and music today. So:

Shakespeare, Sonnet #8

Music to hear, why hear'st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy;
Why lov'st thou that which thou receiv'st not gladly,
Or else receiv'st with pleasure thine annoy?

If the true concord of well-tunèd sounds
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear:

Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering,
Resembling sire, and child, and happy mother,
Who all in one, one pleasing note do sing:

Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: 'Thou single wilt prove none.'

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

year in review, part 3

This morning I had an email message with the following subject line:

Tired of staying in a shadow because of your plain watch?

It came from one of those phony email addresses, but this one had the domain name

Sums it up, I'd say.

Monday, December 22, 2008

a quick one

And now, a seasonal entry from

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

14. Jazz versions of Christmas tunes. I just love 'em.

By jazz versions, I here mean a fairly wide swath in the territory from blues to swing to big band to crooner to hard bop.

A few of these are well-known, of course. For instance, I think most folks know (and if they don't they should) Louis Armstrong's Zat You, Santa Claus?". Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Eartha Kitt, Etta James, Ramsey Lewis, and dozens of other jazz or jazz-influenced musicians have recorded joyful, swinging, spiffy X-mas numbers.

We own copies of two of the best jazz holiday albums, Jimmy Smith's rollicking, and sometimes overwhelming Christmas Cookin' and Vince Gauraldi's soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas. I've yet to pick up a new Christmas jazz album this year, but I know which one I want: Joe Pass's Six String Santa. Might need to look that up on iTunes.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

year in review, part 2

A momentous, not to say fucking tortuous, 2008 is coming quickly to a close. Having graded all the papers I can for the moment, and seeing as how I'm waiting for the tomato sauce to simmer a bit longer, I thought I'd take this opportunity to look back on the highlights of the past 12 months. Plus, this is the traditional thing to do, and as everyone knows, I'm a stickler for tradition.

With no further ado...

2008: The Best Of The Year

False modesty aside, January was when I received the Cool People Special Award For Being Really Exzeptionally Cool. My loveliest was quite gracious in her introductory speech, especially since she had to compose herself quickly after having been surprised during the same award ceremony with the Cool People Award For Homina-homina-homina-homina.

We celebrated National Poetry Month in April, along with so many others, by burning copies of chapbooks by Billy Corgan and Billy Collins, and smashing copies of cds of the National Poetry Month celebrity poetry readings, held annually. We also ate crullers, but you knew that.

In May we threw a gala to commemorate the 5th anniversary of V-I (Victory in Iraq) Day, but no one came.

Christina and Guerin were also married in May. We were amongst the bridal party, and the bridal party. Before, during, and after the ceremony, the entirety of the party chanted in various ancient languages to give the occasion a sense of weird cinematic foreboding, but no one seemed to notice. In any case, we were somewhat rewarded for our efforts when the married couple suffered a freak Alpine skiing injury in Venice.

The university caught fire in July, and 23 of the 18 buildings burnt to the ground, only to be rebuilt at exorbitant expense by a private donor.

In October, Alexander and Arthur won the Nobel Prize for their General and Special Theories of Looney Tunes Physics. Unfortunately, they lost all the prize money on the stock market. They have no heads for figures.

November: Of course, we all marveled, and some of us marvel still, at the discovery that the number 3 is actually worth only 2. The economic turmoil aside, it's pretty cool to consider the more cosmic ramifications.

Now here it is, December, in the midst of the conversion of the entire US economy from information-based industry to a bailout-based economy, in which unfettered capitalist competition and the fantastic risk-taking behavior it impels leads to rewards for those willing to engage in the most incredibly insane risks. We're very hopeful that as this transition continues, Alex and Arthur will eventually make us incredibly rich. (Note to Henry Paulson: No, they're not available for consultation.)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

a good thing to do

Last night we had a little Christmas party with Lauren's boss Lee, and our buds X-ina and Guerin. I made - hold on to yer ass, kids - lamb shanks osso bucco style. This involves braising the poor little critters' shins in stock, tomatoes, garlic, wine, and then tossing in flageolet or cannelini beans. Total braising time: 2 and a half hours. I bunged all into a ginormous square white porcelain bowl we have. You dish up the shank, cover all with beans and braising liquid. The meat melts off the shank.

And I had the best version ever of the rustic Itie white bread I bake.

In the immortal words of my pal Dave "Dave" Koukal, come to poppa!

Anyway, lamb shanks cooked this way is something I think every right-thinking individual who is not a vegetarian should eat at least once in their lives.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

interview meme

I have been actually interviewed twice in my life. I like the idea of being interviewed, so when No Celery Please posted an interview meme, offering to ask questions of anyone who requests it in comments, I had to beg to be interviewed. Here are No Celery's questions and my replies:

Question #1:
Who was the first philospher you read that made you think... "hmmm, this is great! I want to do this for a living!"?

There are two, in two separate events, so I'm gonna pick the one that started me thinking I would enjoy teaching philosophy for a living. That'd be Karl Marx. I was turned on by the section of the 1844 manuscripts on alienated labor, where Marx defines human life in terms of working to produce the world we live in, and the main problem of labor under capitalism being that that work is taken away, divided up, and its worldliness corrupted. I still enjoy that bit of Marx's stuff.

Question #2:
You are having a dinner party at which you are going to present a 12 course meal. Money and FDA food import laws are not a restriction... what are you making?

Okay, this is really very complicated. I spent close to 10 hours figuring out the courses of my last big feed, and that was only 10 courses. The courses have to fit, they have to be at least somewhat seasonal, and they have to allow for a lot of improv. I'm grading finals. So I'll mention some things I'd definitely want to do as thematic elements to build the whole dinner around.

Caviar amuse, for sure, probably in some kind of creme fraiche sort of application, with chives.

Foie gras, which is now basically illegal to possess or consume in California. I had thought a beef Wellington entrée would fit the bill. But foie gras in some other context would also work.

Without doubt, a truffled potato dish, most likely a gratin with potatoes and truffles, seasoned and flavored delicately enough to bring out the truffles in their full glory.

I am fairly certain some kind of vegetable orgy would be one of the dishes. And a croquette of some sort.

Question #3:
If you could suddenly and effortlessly acquire one skill you currently do not have... what would it be?

I'll go with my first thought here: singing.

Question #4:
If you could be offered a position at any university in the world (tenured, of course) - where would you go? Or would you go?

Either San Francisco State University or CSU Long Beach. I want to remain a member of my union, and I want to remain in California.

Question #5:
What one ingredient can you absolutely not live without in your ktichen (OK, not literally - but, ya know).

Aside from mundane things everybody is likely to have? (Salt, pepper, etc.?) Nutmeg. Whole nutmeg, and my little nutmeg grater.

So, the drill, gentle readers, all 3 of you, is to request to be interviewed in the comments. Then I ask you the questions, and the tables will turn! Hah!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

year in review, part 1

There be memes for year-in-review posts. I follow one with this post, which has one gather the first lines of each month's first posts from the past year. Here goes:


Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

44. Primary seasons. I just love 'em.


I collected Lancelot's remains from the vet's office this afternoon.


It's spring here. Neener-neener-neener.

In any case, it's also the time of year when we celebrate a pair of

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things


The kittens now have names. They've also had their first vet visit.


My loveliest is off at some sort of bridal brunch kinda thing, so I'm here with the monster kittens (as of this writing, Arthur is in the middle of a freakout session; Alexander is eating us out of house and home) and a stack of papers to grade.


At some point, this blog will return to usual programming.


One lull later...

Been down to LA and back. We went down to LA for fresh air.


I don't want to tip my hand much about the plans for my birthday bash on Saturday.


The 2008-2009 academic year begins tomorrow, with a day of long meetings of university, college, and department faculty, when we'll all hear about the wonderful plan CSU has for our lives.


Is it just me, or does the constant repetition of "Main Street" in financial bailout nooz irresistibly compel thoughts of the Sinclair Lewis novel?*


So, Barack Obama.

And, so far, almost assuredly Yes on Prop 8 in California, denying the right of marriage to same-sex couples just months after the California Supreme Court ruled that such a ban was unconstitutionally prejudicial.


Dear Mr. Claus,

As you are no doubt aware, our Governor declared a state fiscal emergency today.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

what's good for GM is -
ahh, to hell with it

So, Ford, Chrysler, and GM walk into a bar...

No, that's not it. Or maybe.

Anyway, GM testified to Congress today that (1) if GM is allowed to collapse, there will be widespread damage to the US economy, (2) GM needs $12 billion to keep afloat, including $4 billion right away, (3) GM plans to cut 20,000 to 30,000 jobs, and (4) GM plans to get concessions from UAW. Like Ford, GM plans to pay its execs a buck as salary, and to quit flying corporate jets around. That, apparently, is management's concession.

Prior to 2005, GM employed 181,000 people in the US. Back then, if anybody remembers, GM had a problem because of rising oil costs and their ridiculous insistence on building gas-guzzlers. But they had a plan to correct their bad financial strain - laying off 25,000 workers. So now, the plan is, with $12 billion from all of us, GM will - do the same goddamn thing again.

In corporate America, incredibly bad foresight is always rewarded by somebody helping you out. It looks like good business, apparently, to cut jobs instead of executive compensation (if you pay your top exec 300 times what a line-worker makes, you effectively cut 300 jobs right there).

All this raises serious question whether the major premise of this (so-to-speak) argument is at all plausible. GM now employs far less than half the people it did when it was a significant part of the US economy. Now that so much of auto manufacturing has been outsourced, GM doesn't really contribute much to employment. Let's take the $12 billion GM wants to spend, while throwing an addition 30,000 people out of work, and instead divide the money among all the potentially affected employees, except executives, should GM go belly-up. $12 billion divided among the remaining 156,000 or so. In fact, I'll round that up to 200,000 people. That gives them all a $60,000 severance package, which they can use to go to college or trade school, live off of while they look for work, pay moving expenses, whatever. GM is out of the taxpayers' hair, no more corporate jet flights because there won't be a corporation, and a handful of failed execs in the street with tin cups.

Monday, December 01, 2008

another open letter to Santa

Dear Mr. Claus,

As you are no doubt aware, our Governor declared a state fiscal emergency today. This will prompt a special session of the legislature to find some solution to the current budget crisis. Unfortunately, as you know, the CSU is one of the few areas of the budget where spending discretion permits the state to slash budgets. The CSU budget represents less than 2% of the state budget, and the state's deficit is projected to be over $11 billion this year - or more than three times more than the entire CSU budget.

This urgent situation demands immediate resolution, and so I am writing to repeat and reaffirm my request for $6 bajillion for the CSU. The justification for this request was detailed in my previous letter. I shall only re-state here the most salient point, which is that the CSU does nice things for the state. I am aware of no reasons why the CSU should be regarded as naughty, and hence no reasons why my request, made in due course and within an appropriate timeframe, should be rejected.

I am sure that you are also aware of the recent decision by the CSU Board of Trustees to increase compensation for executives and hire additional executives. Although this is admittedly awkward timing, given the CSU's decision to re-open the salary article of the faculty contract, and given the shortage of funding in general and the threats of cuts, I categorically deny that this is indicative of naughtiness by the CSU. The university continues to educate hundreds of thousands of students for the good of the public, and this momentary lapse of good judgment is merely incidental and not pertinent. (See Moretti v. Templeton, Ca. Su. Ct. #1909-99-7134.)

Therefore, absent any finding or evidence provided to the contrary, I expect my request for $6 bajillion for the CSU to be fulfilled on or around 25 December 2008.

Chris Nagel

Friday, November 21, 2008

an open letter to Santa

Dear Mr. Claus,

I am writing you to request, as a Christmas gift, funding for the California State University in the amount of six bajillion dollars. It is my contention that this gift is well-deserved and needed, that the CSU collectively and I personally have met a reasonable standard of being good, and that supplying this gift will promote and provide the resources for the CSU and myself to continue being good.

First of all, it should be plain that the CSU is in dire need of six bajillion dollars. State funding has been decreasing in relation to real financial needs of the University for many years, due in part to the political climate in the legislature. Their intransigence and partisanship, clearly rising to naughty levels, have resulted in chronic underfunding of higher education.

Despite this, the faculty and staff of the CSU have continued to educate more students each year. Our dedication to students and to the cause of education are demonstrated by our efforts to support and defend the CSU. Personally, I have spoken out on numerous occasions and rallied with my colleagues in the California Faculty Association in protest against budget cuts and student fee increases. Meanwhile, I remain passionately devoted to teaching, as you are, no doubt, aware.

I freely grant that neither I nor the University are always at our best. I have made mistakes in the past year, but I maintain that at no time have I acted with malicious intent - not even that thing about the guy and the thing, you know what I'm alluding to. The truth is, I meant well.

Likewise, the CSU always aims at providing the best education it can. Some of our higher level administrators and executives act in ways that are hard to explain; however, I do not stipulate that these actions are in fact or intent naughty. Further, the University's overall level of niceness clearly and overwhelmingly outweighs the alleged naughtiness of a few (see Harper v. Delbon, Ca.Su.Ct. 2001-0104).

Six bajillion dollars is a very large gift, but it is neither excessive nor inappropriate. The University would use these funds to assure access to high-quality education for the public, and unused portions of the gift would be held in reserve to use for later needs. Apportionment and allocation of the gift would be regularly reported through the University's accounting firm, so there should be no question of the gift going to good use.

I advise you that the details, ways and means, and weights and measures of this request are still to be negotiated. I look forward to your reply.

Chris Nagel

Thursday, November 20, 2008

an open letter to the governor

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger,

I realize you have difficult choices to make during this fiscal and economic crisis. As a member of the California Faculty Association, and a member of the Alliance for the CSU, I have already let you know that I believe cutting the budget for the CSU is a shortsighted and ultimately destructive move. The CSU contributes to the state's economy. It's the best, most secure investment the public can make.

It's important that you have all the information pertinent to these decisions, and that is the reason I'm writing to you today.

I earned a PhD in philosophy at Duquesne University in 1996. I have taught philosophy at CSU Stanislaus for 10 years. Teaching philosophy may not make any direct, sizable contribution to the economy, and I can't say I'm responsible for much economic growth, but I am at least a marginally functional member of society, and a taxpayer.

Cuts to the CSU budget would threaten my job. Since what I teach is philosophy, I'm sure you'll recognize that I clearly have no marketable skills outside of higher education. Certainly corporate America has no place for me.

I would have no choice but to turn to a life of crime. I would be forced out of quasi-productive employment into anomic, desperate felony. From being somewhat-less-than-thoroughly-useless to the many students at the CSU, I would be thrust out into the world, totally unhinged, having utterly lost any sense of right and wrong, and with no prospects for any job (did I mention: philosophy), would simply have to begin burgling, thieving, and mugging.

I hasten to point out that, although I have no criminal record, I do have some relevant experience, particularly of picking locks, breaking & entering, vandalism, petty larceny, and loitering and vagrancy.

I don't mean to threaten anything, of course. I just wanted to make sure you were properly informed about the potential impact of the fiscal choices you and the legislature have to make.

Thank you for your consideration,

Chris Nagel, PhD

I mean, consider these options:


I don't want any of those. I'm not angry/crazy enough, for starters.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

an item from the ongoing series

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

15. Collective actions. I just love 'em.

I've spent the better part of the semester, and particularly the better part of the past week, involved in one collective action or another. Most of these were efforts to resist draconian budget cuts at the university - mostly in response to the local administration's decision to cut $1.5 million from the base budgets of academic departments to balance a budget they have been anything but forthcoming about. That effort has apparently led to the restoration of (at last count) about 80% of that budget.

Today I spent several hours helping to gather signatories to faxes to be sent to the governor and party leaders in both houses of the legislature. The university still faces the prospect of around $98 million in cuts during this academic year.

The faculty also face a re-opener of the contract we finally settled after 2 years, and the administration's opening offer was to eliminate the salary raises we spent so much time and effort winning. More collective action on that front, I figure, to follow.

Last Saturday, to take a break from all this, we went to a collective action in Modesto to protest Prop. 8. Apparently, it was the biggest such rally in Modesto over the issue of sex-based marriage discrimination. It seemed like the number of people honking car horns and yelling and whooping favorably was about two to three times higher than the number flipping us off or yelling insults.

We may lose all these fights. The Board of Trustees may vote to raise student fees, blame faculty raises (that we may not even receive) for the fee increase, and turn around and raise executive pay. Prop. 8 may stand, despite what seems like obviously unconstitutional discrimination. But what else can I do? Even if I'm going to lose, I have to fight, because there just isn't any other way to try to defend myself and what I value. Grim hope, I suppose.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

update on university budget cuts

Friday afternoon, November 7, I first heard about the local CSU campus administration's announcement of budget cuts, mid-year, that would cancel hundreds of classes and put dozens of part-time lecturers out of work. I assumed that this was related in part to the $31 million cut offered by CSU Chancellor Charles B. ("Chuckles") Reed, but it turns out that it really didn't have anything to do with that.

Our campus has been running a deficit, off and on, for several years, and the budget cut was to deal with about 2/3 of that deficit. Now, this seemed odd timing for dealing with a deficit that we've had for a while. Why take this moment, with the CSU system preparing to cope with, and to fight against, the Chancellor's giveaway? One answer that seemed plausible, and which I shared with several people, all of whom thought it was not only plausible but likely, is that the local administration was using Reed's action as a pretext. If that seems paranoid, then you must not be a faculty member at this university, where we have had, for a variety of reasons, an extremely antagonistic relationship with the provost.

[Side note to the provost, or to any of his agents: I acknowledge that I'm part of that antagonistic faculty. While the provost has publicly stated his resentment toward some oppositional action by faculty, and has seemed to me to take much of it personally, I do not acknowledge that anything I've said is meant as a personal attack. I don't know the provost personally. I know he plays the accordion, wrote a book about rhetoric, is good at word play, and has a predilection for suspenders. But I don't know what's in his soul, and wouldn't claim to. I represent lecturers on our campus. An adversarial relationship to administration sometimes comes with the job.]

Anyway, faculty were understandably upset by being told to cut classes from academic departments in the absence of any directly informative demonstration that this was necessary - either in general, or in the incredible urgency of the moment. Departments were given a directive to cut a certain number of dollars from their instructional budgets, given a week to do it, and that was the end of the story.

This is the same strategy employed at Humboldt State a few years ago - which I referred to on our campus as the "Blitzkrieg" model of budget management. (There's room here for using the metaphor of Poland annexation, but I'm not sure how to work it.) There was a big push by faculty, students and staff to demand the administration find another way to fix its fiscal problems, other than cut so much from instruction as to damage the institution's ability to educate, and to damage the institution's ability to make enrollment targets and thus to retain its budget allocation from the CSU system.

I spent a lot of time and energy in the faculty part of that effort on our campus this week. One thing I've done, which I always do, is inform my students what's going on and encourage them to get involved. I saw one of my students at a meeting our dean held, but otherwise I have no idea whether anyone has gotten into the push back.

One key difference between our campus and the Humboldt State situation is that our campus president announced to the meeting of the general faculty in September that the university had a $3 million reserve fund, and that a deal had been made with Clearwire to lease them our TV channels as broadband for a $4.5 million one-time payment plus around $1.5 million a year. At Humboldt, the campus president eventually "found" $500,000 to help reverse cuts. And what do you know, but since Friday our campus president has agreed to allocate an additional $500,000 from the Clearwire funds.

The committee that advises the president on budget issues met the first time in the midst of all this tumult, was given no real information about the budget, and issued a memo to the campus community arguing against the cuts and, especially, the do-it-yesterday urgency.

We still face the proposed cuts totalling $97 million, and a partisan legislature generally incapable of compromise, that must reach a 2/3 majority to pass either a budget or any tax increase (like the sales tax increase proposed by the governor). We also continue to face a university administration which seems hell-bent on acting unilaterally, and then, when faced with strong opposition from faculty, modifying or reversing itself - which strikes me as a very strange way to run a public institution.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Setting aside, for tonight, the tumult surrounding the quite foul budget slash effort by the Cow State Santa Claus administration, I shall provide, instead, a harmless goof of a meme.

If you saw ME in a police car, what would you think I got arrested for?

Answer me, then post to your own blog and see how many crimes you get accused of.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

CSU budget cuts, class cuts, faculty cuts, student cuts
won't somebody get that razor away from him?!

California's economy and state budget are in the toilet.

The CSU is facing midyear budget cuts, and the administration's response has been to freak the heck out. The Chancellor's office just announced last week that for the first time in its history, the CSU system will turn away eligible students. I think this means the CSU is violating the education code of the state, which specifies that the CSU's mission, as the people's university, is to teach the top 1/3 of high school graduates across the state. If CSU turns away eligible students, I think it could be legally liable. I'd be really interested to see someone sue over it.

Apparently the plan of action on our campus, presented by the administration, is to cut part-time faculty. The part-time faculty teach 315 classes this year, mainly general education classes required to graduate, rather than in majors. Furthermore, the plan is being hatched in secrecy, which is partly why I'm writing about it here. I figure there are CSU lurkers.

The administration has been holding meetings with department chairs to tell them to cut sections of classes and eliminate part-time faculty. But, and here's the tricky part, they have to keep teaching the same number of students. They'll achieve this by stuffing more students into remaining classes.

But there are freaking obvious problems with this plan. For one thing, many classes are being taught at capacity for the classroom. When everybody shows up for my morning Professional Ethics classes, there are no empty seats. I can't accommodate more students in those classes. Plus, as my colleagues Dan pointed out this afternoon, there are fire regulations at stake here too. If the room has a capacity of 45, it has a capacity of 45, period.

It also makes little sense to think that tenure-track faculty will really be able to teach more than they already do. In most departments, they teach 8 courses a year, which is really high for college teaching by tenure-track faculty (my teaching load is 10 per year, but CFA buys 1 of my classes from the university in exchange for the vastly more work than a course would require that I do for CFA).

And then the big one. Our students are not "traditional" four-year college students (almost no students in the US are, any more). They typically have work and family obligations, commute to school either 2 or 3 days a week, and need their class schedules to fit their lives' schedules as well as their academic needs. Cutting class sections will make it more difficult, and in some cases impossible, for them to continue to advance to their degrees.

Plus, plus, plus: While it's taking them longer to graduate, they may be asked to pay non-state-support fees for the same classes, taught off the state books. AND AND AND the longer they take to graduate, the more it costs them, and the longer the credit crisis goes on, the less access they have to student aid or even loans.

So there you have it. The university plans to fix their budget problem by way of an unworkable solution based on faulty assumptions about scheduling, the lives of students, the work of faculty, the ongoing state budget and financial crisis. Aside from that, of course, it's perfectly alright, provided you're completely uncaring about the people who work for you.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

post-election post

So, Barack Obama.

And, so far, almost assuredly Yes on Prop 8 in California, denying the right of marriage to same-sex couples just months after the California Supreme Court ruled that such a ban was unconstitutionally prejudicial. Simple solution: legalize discrimination. I can't say very much with intelligence for very long on this issue, before the rage overtakes me, and I've spent all my intelligence on it today talking with students.

It's intellectually so damaging and painful even to think through the arguments that I've blown a gasket. In sum: no one person or group's moral or religious conviction gives that person or group moral authority to impose their will. That's the tyranny of the majority, not democracy. Further: every argument for Prop 8 was both based on a false premise, and intellectually dishonest. To wit: the claim that Prop 8 was needed to avoid having clergy being held legally liable for choosing not to marry same-sex couples. (1) Legal same sex marriage does not impose legal demands that any clergy member marry anyone against his or her will. (2) Any clergy member could be sued by anyone for anything at any time, so Prop 8 will not protect them from this. In effect, then, Prop 8 does not do what the proponents claim it would do. Since it will not do this, it only achieves one, simple, legal effect: to discriminate against same-sex couples.

That's it on this one, for now. I'm done. Ask me again, and I'll start insulting breeders.

Back to Barack Obama. Aside from my feeling like he's going to be a good president, I'm proud we elected him. I think the effect on "race" issues is being overblown, but electing a black President is clearly historically important.

On the way home from night class, I remembered two presidential political comments I'd made in the past. One is that Obama fits the pattern of the last 48 years of TV presidents: better hair wins. (Seriously, somebody should be studying this.) The other is that I randomly remembered a satire I wrote November 7, 2000, the year Bush was not elected President, but later selected by the US Supreme Court. It was a satire mainly of US narrow-minded political life, and of US newz media. It was also, in the context of that year, a satire of the result of that election, to wit, that there was no result on November 7. It's titled White Guy Wins Election. And you know what? It's not going to be funny any more.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

spreading the good nooz

There is a rather polite evangelist* on campus today, urging people to come and pray with him for peace, tranquility, etc. One of his promptings was that people should come and talk to him if they wanted to "learn more about this Jesus."

I suppose it's part of the traditional patter of evangelists, the pose of being an apostle and bravely trekking out into unknown territory with an unheard-of message, that leads them to make ridiculous statements like this. You can't really be part of US culture without knowing who "this Jesus" is, or what Christians believe about Jesus. And this campus is in the Central Valley, in one of the most Christian and church-going regions in the US.

This also seems to presume that the primary reason people don't believe in Christian faith is lack of exposure. Most atheists I know were raised Christian. They didn't fail to hear about it, they failed to have faith in it.

Nor does it strike me as particularly likely that this will sell Christianity to religious non-Christians, though I can't be certain of that.

It's just odd, to me, to think of someone having the - I dunno, chutzpah? - to believe that he can just walk onto a campus and inform people about a 2000 year old religion, as though they've never heard of it, and sell it to them.

Plus, I'm always tempted to walk up to the guy and say something like, "oh, that Jesus! I thought you meant Jesus Gomez, and I was thinking, geez, I thought he was just a pharmacist!"

* As far as that goes. Some people would consider any evangelist to be rude as hell, because they believe religion is private and not something you should be yelling at people about, or even speaking calmly through a microphone at people about. I don't know from rude. I do, however, markedly prefer the obnoxious fire-and-brimstone screamer types, because it's so much more volatile and dangerous when they come around. There's a little bit of Nietzsche in me, too, that says "Yep, that's what it's all about" when they scream about everybody going to hell.

Friday, October 24, 2008

what's in a name?

Walking around town, I see a lot of signs urging people to vote no on Proposition 2 this November. Prop 2 would require farms to have enclosures large enough to permit hens, veal calves, and pregnant sows to stand up and turn around. Enclosures that tight make it easy to spread disease, and particularly salmonella in eggs is a concern.

The group opposing Prop 2 calls itself "Californians for Safe Food."

This got me wondering about other California advocacy groups, who they are, and what they stand for. Here's a short list:

Californians for Safe Streets. This group proposes to amend the constitution to eliminate and prohibit any law restricting, regulating, or licensing any form of firearm.

Californians for Yummy Ice Cream. As supporters of an assembly bill titled "California Ice Cream Quality And Distribution Act," they make the case that immigration should be completely restricted, and that ethnic or religious groups with a cultural proclivity to eat more ice cream should be ejected from the state, in order "to preserve the supply of this precious and delicious commodity for true Californians."

Californians for Public School Success. They support broad reforms of public schools. Primarily, they propose to eliminate the Department of Education, as well as funding from tax or other government-gathered sources. Instead, students or their families would directly pay costs of education, which will assure that they have more of a stake in education. In addition, all students would take a standardized test at the end of high school. Any student who does not pass the test would not be granted a diploma and would have no further opportunity to re-take the test. Also, schools where less than 75% of students pass the test would forfeit their funding to pay for a job-growth program of tax breaks on investments in corporations.

Californians for Family Values. They propose a constitutional amendment defining families as "children and their mother, under the unquestionable rule of the father as head of household." The amendment would further ban any legal restriction on the father's right to establish rules, and to punish violations, and prohibit any legal prosecution of any father whose actions in enforcement of his own rules lead to any injuries or deaths of mother or children.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

momentary lack of charity verging on Schadenfreude

In brief:* I find it hard to sympathize with the stock brokers depicted in so many recent media images, head in hands, pained expressions on their faces, phone headsets on, reacting to stock prices falling. I think it's because there's something about them that looks surprised.

If you play roulette, you can lose. It's part of the game.

* Recovering from Pittsburgh. Slowly. Tired. Teaching. Tired. Reading papers. And tired.

Monday, October 13, 2008

attack on marriage

I was just now innocently checking my Yahoo email, and there at the top of the page was an ad sponsored by a group called "Protect Marriage" - a group pushing Proposition 8, which would make same-sex marriages illegal in California.

The issue is simple. Advocates for Prop 8 are bigots who want to create new legal discrimination.

I've never been an advocate for marriage, but this round of brain-dead politics on the matter has got me thinking about it again. The main problems I see with marriage are rooted in its cultural history of sexism. Built into marriage are all manner of expectations and assumptions about people's relationships and roles, life stories, aspirations and goals, that are ultimately also sexist and heterosexist. When a man and a woman marry each other, they further this retrograde institution's hegemony.

So I've come to the position that only same-sex marriage should be given legal status, since that would help break down the terrible legacy of different-sex marriage.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

a grass-roots understanding of economic fundamentals

I would never be confused with an expert in finance. For one thing, on my campus, those people make waaaaaaay more money than I do. But I also have a very simple-minded conception of economic activity that has almost no relation to what goes on in The World Of FinanceTM.

Take this line from the Reuters story about the financial bailout summit held this weekend:

"The weekend produced the hoped-for result, a broad assault on the main problem, undercapitalized banks," said ING Bank economist Tim Condon.

See, I think the main problem is something different, not related to banks.

When John McCain was caught saying he thought the "fundamentals" of our economy are strong, and then later saying the economy was at risk, he had the story partly right, but as usual, didn't tell the truth about it. Mere hours after he said the economy was sound, the finance and credit universe was sucked into a black hole, and so McCain looked foolish. To cover up, his campaign started to back-pedal and say he meant that the basis of economic growth - labor, ingenuity, commitment, etc. - was sound. Obviously, that wasn't sincere. But more to the point, it was also false.

The economy is not what the Dow Industrials or the S&P 500 measure. They measure a large-scale high-stakes poker game that the vast majority of us will never, ever win.

The people with a stake in the poker game are trying to make large sums of money by tricking the system (that's what poker's all about), so they do things like buy companies, sell their assets, and hope to come out with a profit. They don't care about productivity or people eating. They sell loans to people in order to make money off of those people's productive labor. They don't care whether that labor really produces anything; they just want the profit from it. They're not responsible.

So, here in the US, this game has resulted in the systematic de-skilling of millions of people, the outsourcing of millions of jobs. Now that selling stuff to one another on credit is becoming a less sustainable form of employment, we all may have to start actually doing things, making things, growing things, and so forth. And we don't know how.

If, as no more socialist a thinker as Adam Smith theorized, human labor is the source of economic wealth, a workforce that has un-learned how to produce anything actually consumable simply can't create any wealth. If that's the "fundamentals" of an economy, then all the cash anybody wants to give to banks in the 1st world won't make any difference, because we can't make anything.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

meme: omnivore's 100

In part because of the parallelism to my list of top 100 things...

How the Omnivore's 100 Works:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.

2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.

3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.

65/100 My Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison

2. Nettle tea

3. Huevos rancheros


5. Crocodile

6. Black pudding

7. Cheese fondue

8. Carp

9. Borscht

10. Baba ghanoush

11. Calamari

12. Pho (never again!)

13. PB&J sandwich

14. Aloo gobi

15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses

17. Black truffle

18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes

19. Steamed pork buns

20. Pistachio ice cream

21. Heirloom tomatoes (but not inheritance tomatoes)

22. Fresh wild berries (picked myself from a hillside in Pennsylvania)

23. Foie gras

24. Rice and beans (frequently)

25. Brawn or head cheese

26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (I am all that is man)

27. Dulce de leche (WITH the Scotch bonnet. No, not really.)

28. Oysters (bleccch)

29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda

31. Wasabi peas

32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi

34. Sauerkraut

35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar (just a cigar)

37. Clotted Cream Tea

38. Vodka Jelly/Jell-O

39. Gumbo

40. Oxtail

41. Curried goat

42. Whole insects

43. Phaal

44. Goat's milk

45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth $120 or more (would that I could now... Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh)

46. Fugu

47. Chicken tikka masala

48. Eel

49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut

50. Sea urchin

51. Prickly pear

52. Umeboshi

53. Abalone

54. Paneer

55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (instant death)

56. Spaetzle

57. Dirty gin martini (from a quart-sized sport bottle, which is a PROFOUNDLY bad idea)

58. Beer above 8% ABV (I brewed it!)

59. Poutine

60. Carob chips (yick)

61. S’mores (sorry, folks, but yick)

62. Sweetbreads

63. kaolin

64. Currywurst

65. Durian

66. Frogs’ legs

67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis

69. Fried plantain

70. Chitterlings or andouillette

71. Gazpacho

72. Caviar and blini

73. Louche absinthe

74. Gjetost or brunost

75. Roadkill

76. Baijiu

77. Hostess Fruit Pie (thoroughly disgusting)

78. Snail

79. Lapsang Souchong

80. Bellini

81. Tom Yum (YEEEHAH! The hotter ones especially)

82. Eggs Benedict

83. Pocky

84. 3 Michelin Star Tasting Menu

85. Kobe beef

86. Hare

87. Goulash

88. Flowers

89. Horse

90. Criollo chocolate

91. Spam

92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa

94. Catfish

95. Mole poblano (the best single food dish ever conceived by man or god)

96. Bagel and lox

97. Lobster Thermidor

98. Polenta

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee

100. Snake

the market is always right, except when it isn't

A Reuters story this morning detailed the International Monetary Fund's warning of global recession. First of all, friggin' duh! Note to powerful/moneyed elites: stop saying we may be headed toward recession or we're on the verge of recession. It makes you look stupid.


"The world economy is now entering a major downturn in the face of the most dangerous shock in mature financial markets since the 1930s," the IMF said in its World Economic Outlook.

In hindsight, the IMF said lax economic and regulatory policies probably allowed the global economy to "exceed its speed limit." At the same time, market flaws, together with policy shortcomings, allowed stresses to build.

Now, the global economy is about to pay the price.

Turns out, the free market is self-correcting and always moves in the proper direction, and can be trusted to regulate itself, except that when you let it, it fucks up.

If a joke is in order here: Who knew the free market was built by Dodge?

But luckily, the market has determined how to fix the problem, which is the way it always fixes problems, by making all of us without any wealth pay for it. Ironically, to the extent there is any genuine wealth, we created it in the first place.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

real estate


I bought an iPod shuffle last December, to carry with me on my walk to campus and home (it's 3.5 miles round-trip). I figured it would make the time pass pleasantly, would give me some needed motivational/meditative tunes, and that I could play demos of songs we're writing during the walk, to see if any ideas came up.

After a couple months of smooth usage, it was time to change out songs and recharge the iPod, so I plugged in its little USB connector, set the iPod onto the plug on the other end, and it flashed its little amber light to tell me it was being connected... and then didn't connect. I tried again, and again, and again.

I looked up troubleshooting on the Mac site, which told me quite helpfully that if there are problems connecting the iPod to the computer, you may need to reset your iPod, and to do that, just connect it to the computer... I'm not kidding. Would that I were kidding.

I gave up. A couple months later, just for kicks, I plugged it in again, and it worked. I recharged it, changed tunes on the unit, and it was fine for two more months. Then it stopped connecting again.

Then it stopped working. My loveliest told me to send it to Apple and get a new unit (which was apparently how they were handling the problem - well, that and ignoring it). But it was past its warranty date by then. And then, of course, it connected to the computer again.

Tonight it failed to connect again.

I suppose I'll just have to learn harmonica.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Main Street

Is it just me, or does the constant repetition of "Main Street" in financial bailout nooz irresistibly compel thoughts of the Sinclair Lewis novel?*

It's just me.

* Main Street is a satiric novel, or else a mean-hearted screed, about the incredible wellspring of hypocrisy Sinclair Lewis believed he saw in small-town America in the early 20th century. Some of these small towns have been the targets of real-estate and mortgage speculation over 20 or so years leading up to this collapse; others have been utterly emptied as people moved to greener non-pastures. The conceit of calls for helping bail out Main Street is such a painfully transparent political ploy I can barely contain myself when I hear or read it. There isn't a really good response, either. What do you yell at your TV or radio when that happens? I mean, "screw Main Street!" isn't really the sentiment I have in mind. And I don't necessarily mean to accuse "Main Street" of electing politicians on the basis of the same narrow-minded and ultimately hypocritical worldview that Lewis diagnosed. Much. Such an outburst would really intend to express my final exasperation at the perfidiously voided rhetoric. "Shove Main Street up yer ass!" strikes a satisfyingly crude and violent note, but seems still less en point. "Main Street called. They want their houses back" is so 2001. Plus, they really do what their houses back, so it's too earnest.


Friday, September 26, 2008

guess we'll see how this goes

We're now former Washington Mutual customers, since they bit the big one last night and were forcibly sold to JPMorgan (as they call the conglomeration of former banks and financial institutions). It's the largest failure in US history as of 6:48 PDT today, but there's no really good reason at this point to believe they'll hold the record all that long.

So, the question I have is, how do I pay my rent? What happens to the automatic bills paid out of that account?

It's gonna be an interesting month.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

business as usual for Dow

Dow chemical got out of a lawsuit today that accused them of selling a pesticide that they knew caused sterility. They knew of the problems since the 1950s, continued to sell the pesticide in the US until it was banned in 1979, and continued selling it overseas until the mid 1980s.

The suit charged Dow with genocide and crimes against humanity, and the federal court ruling basically says the case doesn't fit the description of those crimes. It does not say what Dow did was acceptable, just that it wasn't deliberately genocidal. Dow's attorney claimed the ruling meant that Dow "is completely blameless, both factually and legally." He did not add "... of a deliberate policy of genocide."

All of which adds up to a new corporate motto:

Dow Chemical: Not As Bad As Mengele

Monday, September 22, 2008

my loveliest's birthday

This is for my love. This is the fifth of her birthdays we've spent together. It may not be high art, but it's meant.

impossible to contemplate
a thousand days without you
a century ago
the million hours
passed in the dark
uncountable dark

when I say you are a miracle
I mean you are the sun,
I mean you are
impossible to contemplate,
I mean you are the sun

impossible to contemplate
the dawn without you
or centuries, or hours
or anything,
even the dark

when I say you are the sun
I mean you are a miracle,
the centuries, the hours,
the miracle of light,
impossible to contemplate

some of these things are not like the others

Two timely items from the ongoing list of

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

18. Live theatrical performances. I just love 'em.

As advertised, we saw Cabaret in San Francisco Saturday night. It was terrific. At the end of August we hit the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for A Midsummer Night's Dream and Othello, which were also terrific.

But indeed, I have a history of enjoying theatrical performances even when they're not any good. Way back in college, UNC Charlotte hosted the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival every summer - the only free professional theater in the US at the time. Mainly the plays were excellent, the performances excellent, but every once in a while there was a stinker. There was a completely useless and bizarrely inept staging of a Tennessee Williams play one summer that I probably should have been thrown out of. It was great.

Live theater always gives you something. Sometimes it's of questionable intrinsic quality, but you still get it. And it's all happening right there in front of you, so if it's a train wreck, it's a train wreck, and nobody can stop it. That's thrilling.

17. Ironic political comeuppances. I just love 'em.

Turns out that John McCain's chief of staff is gay. So McCain, who is in favor of states passing constitutional amendments forbidding same-sex marriages, and whose choice for vice-president is a devotee of a bizarre hate-mongering religious cult, apparently either doesn't know, or doesn't mind that Mark Buse, his chief of staff, is gay. (It's unlikely he doesn't know, if, as has been reported, McCain has attended dinner parties thrown by Buse and his partner.) It's a level of hypocrisy that most people find objectionable, and frankly difficult to reach. But McCain is a talented guy.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

quick with the updatings, cuz tired

Back from a whirlwind trip to San Francisco to celebrate my loveliest's birthday. I had a sneaky plan all cooked up, to crash at an old teeny hotel and to go see Cabaret at the SF Playhouse. Cabaret was terrific. I think most people have only seen the rather tame movie version; this was something else entirely, and excellently done.

But I've still gots stuffs to do before class again on tomorrow morning. To read a blog with more actual content than this, do go check out my sweetest's entry concerning women's rights and the election.

Friday, September 19, 2008

morning constitutional

It's Constitution Day!

Please take a moment to reflect upon the Constitution, whether it's the constitution of meaning by an intersubjective community, or the constitution of fraud by a series of acts, or even just the reconstitution of lemon juice in one of those little oval squirt bottles.

Or, if you swing this way, you could celebrate your Constitutional rights by wire-tapping yourself.

EDIT @ 7:03 AM:

This just in from the Modesto Bee: Economy in crisis. I guess that when, finally, the Bee notices a news story, it becomes more official somehow.

Monday, September 15, 2008

fun and frolic in contingent academic employment

I subscribe to an email list for contingent academics. Someone on the list half-jokingly suggested that there should be an Exploitation Of The Week archive. It might be warranted, following the last week.

On Thursday, Inside Higher Ed published the story of San Antonio College administators requiring part-time faculty working full-time to sign a waiver indicating they are still part-time and won't be paid for additional work, or receive health benefits. The contingent academic email list went nuts. The comments section on the Inside Higher Ed story went nuts.

Almost immediately, San Antonio college officials said they'd restore wages and benefits, and that the whole policy would come to an end. It turns out, according to one dean, that nobody ever told the administration that it was wrong not to pay people for working. Some people need practical advice.

This morning brings the news that a long-time faculty member at Central New Mexico Community College has been summarily separated from employment, with apparently no notice, after hosting a Bastille Day event commemorating folkie/activist Utah Phillips.

(Neither college has a unionized faculty. I don't think that's a coincidence.)

What will tomorrow bring? It's almost as exciting as watching the finance industry collapse!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

what we have here is failure to communicate

One of the reasons I got into philosophy was a keen interest in communication breakdowns and meaninglessness (along with identity crises, personality collapses, world catastrophes). This led me to a nihilistic brand of existentialism, wherein hope for meaning or authentic communication between persons is always dashed because of a fundamental human incapacity for empathy. [As I think I've noted here before, I was a strange kid.] A few thousand pages of Pinter, Joyce, Nietzsche, Camus, de Sade, Stoppard and Beckett later, and I turned out to be a rather misanthropic and somewhat paranoid person.

Right about then, I ran into phenomenology, in particular the phenomenology of language and meaning as discussed by Ricoeur and Merleau-Ponty. Here was something entirely different. Directly challenging my sense of the meaninglessness of communication - and the communication of meaninglessness - these guys were saying that human life is meaningful, expressive and communicative from the level of speech all the way down: gesture, physical style, even the style of perception.

I had been thinking of the problem and tragedy of communication as the failure of language to express and to create intersubjective communion between persons. Pinter's plays, for example, are exercises in people speaking in ways that torture meaning and other people. Any time anyone in any of his plays says anything, they demonstrate the futility of communication - at least, this was what I thought.

But I had to re-appraise, because while speech seemed a hopeless avenue for communication, gesture didn't. I eventually came to feel that intersubjective communion is formed not through but almost despite speech, or, better, that speech is what we do when intersubjective communion can't go further. To put this another way, I was on the verge of the thought that intersubjective communion is silent sharing of present-tense living experience, and that we resort to language, to breaking that silence, only when there's a gap, a hole, or an obstacle to communion. Speech is what happens when shared meaning breaks down.

You get that in Beckett very nicely, I now believe. There's a whole heck of a lot of silence in Beckett's work, especially the novels. And in the novels, the torrent of words describing nothing serves as the background for the revealed meaning that silence has in relation to it.

Ever interested in pathology, I took up this silence project in order to ask whether the technical world of constant media bombardment could so overwhelm us that the silence is drowned out, obliterated - and with it, the possibility of meaning. This is all much more nuanced than I'm laying it out here, thanks to Dauenhauer, Merleau-Ponty, and other folks I'm reading, but the project is returning me to those old and fundamental stakes of my involvement in philosophy.

I'm working on what I'm calling for the moment the Strange Thesis, which is that communication always succeeds and always fails, in that it needs silence for speech to have a place, it needs speech for silence to have a direction and meaning, and it needs to be obstructed for there to be anything to communicate.

That's been my day. We also went to the post office.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

blogging for dummies

Tomorrow my classes start. It'll be 103, so I'm not walking to school, which is very disappointing, because I like walking to school.

In the meantime,
Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

19. Picnics. I just love 'em.

Food, the outdoors, people you like - what could be better? My favorite picnics involve fresh bread, cheese, fruit, and wine, but excellent results are obtainable with PB&J, a bag of mini pretzels and bottles of water, or really just anything that's eatable outside. A body of water nearby is a huge plus, and available shade, preferably from trees, is a sine qua non. Having hiked helps, too.

Saturday is the annual university labor unions-sponsored picnic. It's gonna be big this year, I hear: 250 or so have RSVPed. It's gonna be 103 Saturday, too. Apparently, CFA has rented shade for the day, and it's going to be near the pond on campus I call "Projectile-vomiting Goat-head Lake," but I think hiking is out.

I've picnicked in all kinds of weather, including some weather that strongly contraindicates picnicking, so this is nothing new.

20. Internet time-wasters. I just love 'em.

I'm always grateful when bloggers link to online quizzes, personality surveys, IQ tests, trivia games, and other goofy crap like that. I don't spend an inordinate amount of time on them, but occasionally one finds oneself enraptured by them. I think the most dangerous is Lolcats. Damn, is it easy to spend an hour on Lolcats.

I've also recently been digging image generators that let you do stuff like add cartoon speech or thought balloons to images, for instance:

Or book covers:

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

how can this be? tell me!! how??!!

The 2008-2009 academic year begins tomorrow, with a day of long meetings of university, college, and department faculty, when we'll all hear about the wonderful plan CSU has for our lives.

I start classes on Friday, which is completely ridiculous. It's not the first time.

So, although I regret the end of the summer, I do have that strange feeling of a new beginning that I often get at the start of a school year. Or is that heartburn?

Friday, August 29, 2008

love song

We've recorded some new stuff. Here's "Empty Midnight."


Purpose of trip: (1) To attend the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. (2) To catch up with my friend Nancy from North Carolina, whom I hadn't seen in around 6 years, and who hadn't met Lauren. (3) To see the Redwoods and the California and Oregon coasts.

Duration of trip: 4 days, as follows:
Day 1: Drive 360 miles from Turlock to Ashland, through the Central Valley and the Mt. Shasta region.
Day 2: Morning in Blue Moon Bed and Breakfast; wandering cute-cum-touristy downtown Ashland; A Midsummer Night's Dream at 1:30; move to Super 8 near freeway; return to downtown Ashland; Othello at 8; return to Super 8 for much needed cooling-off period.
Day 3: Drive 180 miles to Bullard Beach State Park, near Bandon, Oregon; meet up with Nancy; walk on beach; lunch in Bandon; wander cute-cum-fishy downtown Bandon; drive 130 miles down Oregon coast, with stops for gawking and road construction, to Crescent City, CA Travelodge.
Day 4: Drive 460 miles, down US 101 through Redwoods, dodging road construction until reaching Calpella, then on CA 20 past Clear Lake and over the pass into the Central Valley at Williams (pausing for road construction), then on I 5, suddenly realizing that Sacramento traffic would be in high dudgeon upon arrival and choosing a side-trip to Sacramento's Ikea store (stopping, then crawling, then stopping, then crawling, from 4:49 until 5:45, over a distance of 6 miles, due to an accident that occurred shortly after 4 pm, before reaching the appropriate exit), then on down I 5 to Stockton, then CA 99 (the Crankster Freeway), pausing for road construction, to Turlock, arriving home at 9 pm.

Assessment and evaluation:
(1) Drive to Ashland.

Mt. Shasta

(2a) Ashland.

View from Ashland

Pretty. Cute. Food. Blue Moon B&B was pin-neat, which worked. We suffered the Great August Kitten Access Scare. The next morning, after breakfast, the Great August Kitten Access Scare was resolved, just before we entered a cd shop.
(2b) A Midsummer Night's Dream. Pretty. Hilarious. They did the faeries as 80s "club kids," you know, fairies - which was completely goofy but somehow managed to be sexy. Actually, the entire production was archly ridiculous but also tremendously oversexed, which some of us like, a lot. They had musical numbers, there was a guitar solo by Bottom in the closing, just nutsy stuff left and right - the players were done as hippies, and they came out in a VW microbus.
(2c) Moving, dinner. Eh. We went to a pub that looked like just the thing (Guinness on tap, pub fare), but the food was unimpressive or odd. After running back and forth to the parked car twice in mishaps, Othello. It wasn't pretty. They played in totally straight, with costumes that could have been 19th century or 16th, weirdly. Iago was sometimes hard to hear, in the very back row of the bottom bowl of the theater. They played Iago as driven by irrational but uncontrollable envy and pride - a real seven-deadlies approach, which was good. I don't like the idea of a psychotic Iago or a jealous Iago very much, and although there is plenty of racism in the play, I don't like the idea of racist Iago either. We left at 11:15, got back to the fabulous Super 8 by 11:30, and by then, what with the Great August Kitten Access Scare, all that Shakespeare, and having finished our day with Othello, coming home with few wits intact, we needed serious downtime.
(3a) Driving to Bullard. Pretty. Oregon road signs are sometimes hard to read, very small, or misdirecting. Plus the directions I'd obtained from Google didn't direct us to the right place. But we managed. I was tired and a bit snippy.
(3b) Meeting Nancy, walking on the beach, eating lunch in Bandon. Nancy is the kind of person that is immediately comfortable to be around. She'd had a lot of trouble getting out of Charlotte for her vacation, but made it at last. It was wonderful to see her again. The beach was nice too. We probably walked a couple miles, and Lauren got to dip her toes in the ocean, which is vital to her well-being. We had lunch at a bait-and-tackle shop that sold fresh fried fish in various formats, and the ubiquitous clam chowder.
(3c) Oregon coast.

Oregon coast

Pretty. Rocks, water, fantastic views. We hit Crescent City by 6, got into the motel room, walked to the Safeway to buy non-fried, non-meat, non-restaurant, non-pub foodstuffs, which was perfect for dinner. Long period of decompression.
(4) Redwoods.


Pretty. I made the mistake of not taking an immediate side-trip to get into the woods, but as it turned out, that's for the best, since unbeknownst to us at 9 am when we left, we'd be in for a 12-hour day of driving. So instead of pretty hiking, we had pretty driving. And it was, very very. By the time we got to Laytonville (a tiny rural burg we suspect of being owned by Willie Nelson, since we saw half a dozen guys there who looked like Willie Nelson, and they had a biodiesel fueling station and what was probably a head shop), it was 98 degrees. The rest of the drive was very hot, over 100 all the way around Clear Lake

Clear Lake

and down into the Central Valley.

(1) We're going to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival again.
(2) We're going to tour the Redwoods in more depth some time.
(3) We need to get to the coast oftener.

Friday, August 22, 2008

interface u

With the new academic year fast approaching (all too fast approaching, but that's another story), I've been working on getting classes together, with the usual combined feeling of hope and anxiety, punctuated by bursts of rage when Blackboard does something stupid. Among the times of the year, this is one of them.

Blackboard, for those who don't have the pleasure, is a proprietary web-based course software package. Schools and colleges pay the Blackboard people (and a few others who offer similar packages) thousands and thousands of dollars for the licenses to run these, and spend thousands more on servers to run them. There are some extremely avid users of Blackboard among faculty I know - and by some, I mean, let's see... 2.

I use Blackboard, but I don't like it. I use it mainly to avoid having students pay a publishing company $100 or more apiece for a textbook that doesn't work well for my course.

Some people use Blackboard to "deliver" entire courses. I loathe this expression, and I don't even know what it's supposed to mean, unless a course is a ready-made package of material, and in that case, I don't think I know what "teaching" means, other than to be a delivery-system for information.

(What really surprises me is that some faculty seem to feel just fine about that model of teaching, and don't seem to recognize the implication of it that is glaringly obvious to me: ultimately, there's no way I can compete with digital media as a delivery-system for information. I create way more noise, am far less efficient, and I demand a higher wage.)

This year, I've decided to use Blackboard to "deliver" quizzes to my Professional Ethics students, as a way for them to gauge that they've understood a couple key points in the reading, and also as a bit of a prod to keep them up to date on the reading. I thought it was a good idea. Sometimes that kind of prodding is just what a student needs to keep from procrastinating too much. There are a lot of students like that.

But this requires that I use Blackboard's test creator function, which is the computer interface equivalent of tooth extraction via renal catheter. So when I think of my colleagues who enthuse about Blackboard, and who use it to "deliver" courses, which presumably these faculty have designed through Blackboard's various routines, I gotta wonder.

And is it just as wondrous an experience for students? Do major insurers cover this procedure?

Anyway, today I took a break from all that, and we walked around at Knight's Ferry instead.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

California, here we come!

I found out about a year ago that California's corporate law has some interesting features, for instance, that if a California non-profit corporation does something amiss, like failing to file taxes for several years, the State can suspend, or even revoke, that corporation's Articles of Incorporation. This effectively forces the corporation to re-charter itself under a new name, and if the State, which has no resources to dedicate to the task, somehow discovers the ruse, why, that corporation is subject to the ultimate penalty - you guessed it, not being permitted to contract.

So I wasn't that surprised when I read that two unaccredited colleges are moving to California from Idaho, to open doors along with possibly dozens more, since California now has no regulatory agency to oversee businesses operating as colleges.

[You know what's coming, don't you?]

So, we're pleased to announce that, as of August 20, Doc Nagel, Inc. U. has re-opened in California. And unlike Breyer State University and Canyon College, Doc Nagel, Inc. U. is accredited, just not by the usual agency. Plus, Doc Nagel, Inc. U. is the only entirely on-line college that offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in fields from A to Z, with no coursework, no exams, no needless paperwork, and all for no tuition or fees!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

birthday dinner

So, we threw the big birthday dinner party yesterday, starting around 3, and ending around midnightish. Ten courses is a lot.

My favorite item was the shrimp with saffron mousseline.
Shrimp with saffron mousseline

Outrageous. The mousseline is a sort of hollandaise, with whipped cream added. I added saffron to the lemon juice reduction that is central to hollandaise, also to the egg yolks, also to the butter, and also to the cream. I added a little sugar, because saffron suggests this. Completely, completely insane preparation. Utterly ludicrous dish. Ridiculously flamboyant. I was giddy about it, giggling the whole time I was whipping butter into the sauce. I mean, who makes saffron mousseline? Who would have ever eaten it? See? amuse gueule! Tee-hee-hee-hee!

The other amuse was melon, mozzarella, and prosciutto en brochette.

Melon, mozzarella and prosciutto en brochette

I made a sauce for these from balsamic vinegar reduced to 1/4 volume, with a bit of sugar, Kirschwasser, and a plum in it (then strained out). Madness. It was tart and sweet and tasty and loved the holy heck out of the melon, mozzarella and prosciutto.

The last dish we took a picture of was the first entrée, tilapia with a basil-spinach-lemon-butter sauce.

Tilapia with basil-spinach sauce

Hah! I read a recipe for fish cooked "chartreuse," which means braised in tomato, carrot, onion, and spinach (for the color, hence the name), and made something really entirely unlike that, thinking "Hey, green sauce on fish. Cool." It was, in fact: the fish was served cold, along with all the first several courses, since it was 100 degrees at 3 pm. So, complete menu:

shrimp with saffron mousseline
melon, prosciutto, and mozzarella skewers

toasts with Provençal tapenade

Portuguese consommé (cold, slightly spicy, tomato-infused consommé)

tilapia with chef’s chartreuse sauce


ratatouille (cooked by roasting rather than stewing)

basil and rosemary sorbet

herb-encrusted rack of lamb, with vegetables

fruits and cheeses

Everybody seemed to have different favorites. Everyone marveled at the sorbet, which was in fact pretty nifty, if I do say so myself. The ratatouille was perfect. The lamb was gorgeous. But nothing beats the satisfaction of the saffron mousseline.

Friday, August 15, 2008

happy birthday...

... to Napoleon Bonaparte, 239 years old today!

, and to Julia Child, who woulda been 94

, and to India, independent in 1947

, and to the Congo, independent in 1960

, and many many more! Turns out it's also Oscar Peterson's, Sir Walter Scott's and Thomas de Quincey's birthday (I didn't know that until this morning), Rose Marie's as well, and also the anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal. Also: Debra Messing (who was also born in 1968, but I don't think she's 26 like I am), Ben Affleck (meh), Flyers goalie Marty Biron. It's also the day Catholics observe the Assumption of Mary.

Us, we're going to Modesto. Ah, Modesto. Nothing more to be said, really.

Except this: Among these people whose birthday I share, Napoleon and Ben Affleck are not allowed in the house. Neither, also, are India or the Congo, or the Panama Canal. It's not that big an apartment. The Assumption takes up far more room than you'd probably expect.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

tax tip!

Looking to save on your income taxes this year - and next year, and next, and next?

Incorporate! Two-thirds of large corporations in the US avoid high corporate income taxes (among the highest among affluent societies) by simply not paying them! Think of the savings!

Why, if a couple earning $65,000 in joint wages were instead to file as a major corporation, their federal tax burden could be reduced from $8800 to $0 - almost 100% savings!

coming soon: birthday dinner

I don't want to tip my hand much about the plans for my birthday bash on Saturday. (My birthday is actually on Friday, but the orgy bacchanal dinner bacchanal will be on Saturday.) I want most things to surprise my eaters...

however, I can say the following.

Ten courses.
2 amuses gueules, one involving shrimp.
hors-d'ouevre to be named later
soup course: consommé à la portugaise (which means it's gots tomatoez innit)
a cold entrée
a salad festooned with flowers
a warm entrée
a sorbet
fancy main course with fancies
fruit and cheese

The precise nature of the dishes I intend to keep as secret as I can. One of the amuses will be quite amusing indeed, if I can pull off the preparation. And I can, because I am the philosopher-chef! I am saucier than thou!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

new song

Here's "Song of Salt and Clay," a thing of odd provenance.


Brought to you by random coincidence,

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

22. Jokes. I just love 'em.

Apparently, the world's oldest joke is a Sumerian fart joke, which I don't find particularly funny.

I just saw this this morning, which is timely, because last night my loveliest Lauren was regaling self, Christina and Guerin (on the occasion of X-ina's birthday) with jokes. She's a really good joke teller, and, when pressed, can dredge up absolute oodles of 'em. My friend Imj can also tell a joke like nobody's business, and, without any instigation at all, will launch gag barrages at innocent bystanders.

I cannot tell jokes. I have no head for them. I can write satire, but mainly I can interject what Imj described once as "cognitive dissonance." Still, I'm evidently funnier than the ancient Sumerians.

21. Multiple-course dinners. I just love 'em.

Speaking of birthdays, I'm planning a gigantic dinner party for mine, coming up in a couple weeks. At present, I'm sure of only one of the amuses gueules and nearly certain about an entrée.

I started taking cooking seriously years ago, to give myself something to make the world seem right when nothing else did. I've put together a handful of huge food orgies, including a 9 course dinner, that I'm going to try to surpass, at least in tastiness, this time. It takes hours and hours to eat that amount, so you really have to prepare people ahead of time and be realistic about the size of each course. We're starting at around 3, but I figure the main course won't be until 9.

But man, it's fun cooking that much stuff, matching dishes, giving the meal a real sense of direction.

Monday, July 28, 2008

and now, incivility

With any luck, Emerson was actually right about something when he wrote that "foolish inconsistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." After having written about civility (to be precise, calls for civility, that is, demands for certain critical ideas to remain unspoken, as though criticism was always uncivil), today I have a question sparked by two recent news stories about radio asswipe Michael Savage.

(Obviously, I'm not interested in being civil toward him.)

The stories both concern protestors calling for Savage to be fired or his show pulled off the air because of some hateful, badly misinformed, deliberately and idiotically outrageous statement of his. Most recently, he claimed autism is over-diagnosed and the real problem many of these kids have is the lack of an abusive father. (Really, I am not making it up. Savage's concept of fatherly guidance is to tell his kids to not be morons.)

The punchline is, the program is losing individual advertisers, but not losing revenue. He's very popular. The market, in short, has spoken, and what it is saying is: There's a whole hell of a lot of people in the US who really love being lied to, very loudly, by abusive shitheads.

Therein lies my question. Is this what people want in radio entertainment? Where is the fun in it? I'm tempted, but resist, imputing that the pleasure is in having someone express one's hateful, asinine urges, a sort of Two Minutes' Hate by proxy.

My other question is how I can get in on this kind of action, because for Savage and Limbaugh and Imus and O'Reilly (and a bunch o' others) it's quite lucrative. I'm qualified, too: I can yell, I have irrational hatreds (mostly of the Philadelphia Flyers, but we can build on that), I could even write my own material. I think I have the vocabulary down, too: "moron," "destroying America," "nutcases," "whiners."

I'll work cheap, too, to start. I'll take $100,000 a year, and be happy with it! That's a big savings over a lot of the professional screamers out there.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


I'm still more vaguely annoyed than analytically critical of the fact that Dauenhauer comprehends silence sub specie human signification and expression. I have to keep in mind that my annoyance has to do with the overly-rationalistic and cognitivist slant I infer or impute to this approach. First of all, I could be wrong. Secondly, it may not matter that much. Third, I may have to admit that the phenomenon he's describing and naming as silence simply isn't what I have in mind.

One sense of silence I find myself desperately resisting is the notion of silence as either refraining from entering discourse, or of being prohibited from entering discourse - where discourse is mainly political. For instance, in Art & Fear his bizarre screed on 20th and 21st century art, Paul Virilio tells us that:

Nowadays, everything that remains silent is deemed to consent, to accept without a word of protest the background noise of audio-visual immoderation -- that is, of the 'optically correct'. But what happens as a result to the SILENCE OF THE VISIBLE under the reign of the AUDIO-VISIBLE epitomized by television, wildly overrated as television is? How can we apply the terms of Paul Valéry's aphorism in considering the question, not of the silence of art so dear to André Malraux, but of the DEAFNESS of the contemporary arts in the era of multimedia? (p. 71)

Assuming for the moment that this isn't insane raving*, Virilio's point seems to me to be that silence has been stripped of its signification and power, stripped down to meek acquiescence. This seems to have happened as a result of the cultural, aesthetic, and perceptual domination of audio-visual media. In order to be heard, it seems, one must also be seen, and vice-versa. To appear to exist in the era of multimedia, one (something, someone) must be in multimedia.

Now, this last bit doesn't seem all that outrageous. Baudrillard says much the same thing (and while we're at it, cf. the character "Mike Teavee" in various incarnations of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). So the first question is how this has had the alleged effect on silence Virilio claims. And the second question is, what kind of a phenomenon is silence, such that this could happen to it?

That's where he loses me. At the level of mass media, I guess I can admit that silence has lost authority, power, cultural meaning, the capacity to mean. If you like.

I spend a lot of time with people, or more specifically, person: my loveliest Lauren. A lot of that time is silent, in more of the sense Dauenhauer gives it. Does that silence have only the character described by Virilio? I suppose that's for us to determine, isn't it? (Not that I think we individually command our own expressions' meanings, but simply that, in this case, we can express silence toward one another or with one another more meaningfully than Virilio's analysis of mass media and art seems to offer.)

So, if I don't want silence to be reduced to the realm of human expression, and if I don't think silence can be overdetermined by media culture, and if silence manifestly isn't the absence of sound (something that not even the most profoundly deaf experiences, since sound is also vibration), then what the heck is it?

There's a grossly semantic level to this. I can stipulate what I want to name silence and go about my business. But phenomenologically, if I aim to say what the phenomenon of experiencing silence means or is, I can't rely on stipulation. I have to evoke that experience as such - but as such a what?

*Virilio's text is written like that. I think it was the text of a couple lectures, so I can't be sure he wasn't actually yelling at the audience. In any case, that's how it felt to read it. I kept asking myself why he was yelling at me. Meanwhile: SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

quarterly results

Given recent troubling economic newz, I thought it would be a good idea to present Doc Nagel, Inc.'s quarterlies. This is important information for investors, because, obviously, if a corporation is profitable, stockholders' wealth increases, and if a corporation isn't profitable, the corporation lays off workers. The people who take the big risks in a market economy have to know whether they're going to be richer, or whether other people are going to be destitute. Without that information, it would be very difficult for extremely wealthy people to continue to balance their stock portfolios in order to make damned sure that they continue to be extremely wealthy. They would be more or less at the mercy of economic forces that they could not control, and which would determine their chances for a livelihood or a decent standard of living. Terrible to contemplate.


Doc Nagel, Inc.'s diversified industries remain fundamentally sound. Doc Nagel, Inc. U continues to offer on-line fake degrees in fields ranging from A to Z. Okay, so no one has matriculated at Doc Nagel, Inc., U in months and months, but considering the degrees are absolutely free!, we're not losing any money there. The political satire department has, as all our shareholders know, been closed since 2003, when the satire bubble burst. We are exploring options for starting that operation up again, with a more cautious approach to the market. And no more free massages and lattes. The outrageous perks of the satire boom are a thing of the past. Quit whining. Finally, we look forward to a strong third quarter from our music department. We can't say why.

I realize this looks more like a projection than a report of earnings. One might think I was evading the issue.

So I am proud to announce that we anticipate no layoffs for the coming quarter. Effective immediately, there will be temporary long-term across-the-board productivity-center personnel permanent-position scale-backs, from which we hope to attain a 40% reduction in costs associated with compensation packages. Because the scale-backs are temporary and long-term, we can anticipate no serious reduction in productivity, since the remaining productivity-center personnel will absorb tasks. As a result, we are now able to project a fiscal-year balance.

Printed, bound copies of our complete quarterly report and fiscal year projections are available from our finance department at the address below.

Finance Department
c/o Complaints Department
ATTN: Arthur
Doc Nagel, Inc.
Turlock, CA 95380

Friday, July 18, 2008

the animal world, the human world, and the philosopher's fallacy

This is starting to look like a theme.

Today I spent some time with Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception, tracking down the role of silence in his account of speech and expression. In this chapter, he performs his usual trick of interpreting as the imposition of a dualism two competing accounts of a human phenomenon (meaningful speech in this case). He presents on one hand, what he boils down to the mechanistic, causal account of speech as an objective phenomenon (neurological, biological, behavioristic), and on the other hand, a purely subjective phenomenon (a meaningful and internal process of the thinking soul). Then he shows that the phenomenon itself, the lived experience of our meaningfully speaking to one another, is accounted for by neither, and hence that speech, like all other human phenomena, is "ambiguous."

Along the way, Merleau-Ponty also addresses the human world as such as a world of meaningful interactions and conduct, rather than a world of causal relations or of thoughts, and expresses this ambiguous situation as follows:

Everything is both manufactured and natural in man, as it were, in the sense that there is not a word, not a form of behavior which does not owe something to purely biological being - and which at the same time does not elude the simplicity of animal life, and cause forms of vital behavior to deviate from their pre-ordained direction, through a sort of leakage and through a genius for ambiguity which might serve to define man. (p 189)

Speech is one of the ways in which human being transcends the given, the mechanical, the determined, but speech is also conditioned by the given, the mechanical, and the determined. In short, you can't speak unless you've got the brain, mouth, teeth, larynx, diaphragm, but you also can't speak unless you've got something to speak about, something to express. In this way, he says, we both transcend but do not elude "the simplicity of animal life."

In my opinion, Merleau-Ponty is not one of the worst offenders among philosophers who dismiss or ignore the animal world, or the animal in the human. But he is clearly stating that all human phenomena, to be human, cannot be reducible to the animal. That means animal life hasn't the expressive or transcendent character human life has.

The key significance of this distinction, and of the phenomenon of speech, is that

speech implants the idea of truth in us as the presumptive limit of its effort... Even if this is pushing the principle beyond its limits and reducing things to the absurd, even if a linguistic meaning can never be delivered of its inherence in some word or other, the fact remains that the expressive process in the case of speech can be indefinitely reiterated, that it is possible to speak about speech whereas it is impossible to paint about painting, and finally that every philosopher has dreamed of a form of discourse which would supersede all others, whereas the painter or the musician does not hope to exhaust all possible painting or music. Thus there is a privileged position accorded to Reason. But if we want to understand it clearly, we must begin by putting thought back among the phenomena of expression. (p 190)

First off, I think he's dead wrong about the impossibility of painting about painting. There are some obvious cases in modern art, but in a deeper way, isn't all painting also an essay on the possibility of painting, and in that sense a painting about painting? (That is, if it's the capacity for self-reflection and being-for-itself that he's concerned about - and he is, he says so - then painting seems clearly to engage in that project, thank you very much.) He's also wrong about "every philosopher" hoping to exhaust the expressive power of speech by uttering some final truth. No doubt many do, but it's a strained reading of many, and couldn't be more incorrect regarding, say, Nietzsche.

That said, there's two big chocolate chips of truth in this cookie:

(1) The obvious self-reflectiveness of speech, unique among human expressive activity, is how it is that Reason is accorded its privilege. This is tautologous, it seems to me, but not emptily so. Reason is here defined, or at least delimited, by its expression in speech; that is, Reason is here understood as rational speech. So this notion could be re-stated: Because we speak about the world and our experience of it, and because we speak in particularly structured ways, those structured ways of speaking are our constant template for speaking sensibly. (All kinds of Kant stuff happening here that I won't go into for the moment, except to say that the content of this tautology is different for Merleau-Ponty than it is for Kant.)

The phenomenon of Reason has to be explained in terms of Reason being a product of speech, not (only?) a presupposition or precondition. Hence, we can't understand Reason or speech without going back to their origin in expressivity - the meaningfully lived interrelations of self-others-world.

(2) Speech, if it projects us in the direction of truth, leads us into the temptation to consider truth as a final attainment one of us might someday reach. Our utterances never reach truth in that sense, and the principle of that pursuit may itself be absurd. This is because our utterances are always conditioned by the beings that we are: neither purely animal nor purely rational, neither biological beings nor spiritual beings. Consequently, our speech, like all our expressions, says more than it should say, more than it is at liberty to say, and less than it wants to say, less than it apparently says.

Now if this is how it is for us as animals of words - animals of expressions, of lived interrelations of self-others-world - then why in principle would it not be so for animals of other expressions? I think that implicit in this account of the human phenomenon of speech is a blurring or erasing of the line demarcating the human from the non-human realms of lived experience. There simply seems to be no distinction fast enough to separate forms of expression absolutely, unless we slip back into relying on the rationalistic, dualistic notion of consciousness as mental stuff.

I'm going to go talk to my cats now.