Wednesday, April 30, 2008

home sick

Not homesick, but unwell, and not teaching classes today. Bleh.

But I did have something to share:

How To Use The Litterbox by Arthur

Step 1: Hop into the box.
Step 2: Kick approximately 1/2 cup of litter out of the box, with 4 quick, deep kicks.
Step 3: Twist around to face the other way. Repeat 2-3 additional times.
Step 4: Kick approximately 1/4 cup of litter out of the box.
Step 5: Jump out of the box.
Step 6: Jump into the box.
Step 7: Kick litter into one corner of the box. If necessary, repeat steps 5-7.
Step 8: Do your business.
Step 9: Cover between 1/2 and 3/4 of your business by kicking litter randomly around in the box.
Step 10: Jump out of the box and run away.

Then there's:

How To Help Arthur Use The Litterbox by Alexander

Step 1: Watch for Arthur jumping into the litterbox.
Step 2: Run past the litterbox, either chasing Arthur out or feigning to.
Step 3: Return to litterbox, watch intently.
Step 4: As Arthur spins around in the litterbox, pace excitedly by the box. It may seem to irritate Arthur, but it's actually supposed to be encouraging. Enthusiasm is contagious, so if you display a lot of enthusiasm, Arthur will be enthused, too.
Step 5: Squeak at Arthur. (See Step 4.)
Step 6: When Arthur jumps out of the box, run to the box and either cover or uncover his business, by scratching litter around randomly.
Step 7: Run after Arthur.

And of course:

How To Use The Litterbox by Alexander

Step 1: Jump into the box.
Step 2: Scratch at litter once.
Step 3: Do your business.
Step 4: Scratch at litter once.
Step 5: Jump out of box, run away.
Step 6: Leap onto Arthur's head.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

laugh riot! or maybe just plain riot

Turns out that proposed Fed regulations of mortgages might cool down the subprime mortgage market to the dismay of mortgage companies. It might be hard to understand why representatives of a crumbling financial services infrastructure would want to prevent changes to the rules that made the crumbling possible in the first place.

It's not all that hard to explain. See, the mortgage company gets to keep the interest you pay no matter what, so there's an incredibly strong vested interest for them in being able to make loans to absolutely anybody. Continuing to make predatory loans to people who really don't have the means, and selling them on the idea that the housing market will continue to skyrocket, and all the rest of it, is was very lucrative.

Okay, I'll try again. After I finished my Ph.D., I spent two years teaching for per-class "adjunct"* pay - $1700 a course, $2000 a course, that kind of thing. One academic year I made about $10,000. My student loans were coming due. My (now ex-)wife was unemployed. And I had a credit card with a $28,000 limit.

What I figure is, the mortgage people took a long hard look at Citibank, Chase, Discover, and other credit card companies' business models, and said to themselves, "Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff." (They got me, too. By the time I made it to California, having been underpaid for my labor for four years - which is way under the standard for advance-degree candidates in the humanities - I owed north of $30,000 on credit. Obviously, more income would have helped, but that's another, very long and tedious story.)

It's not exactly creative genius, I'll admit. The mortgage people just took up the credit card plan, applied it to housing, convinced federal regulators to look the other way, created a huge inflation in housing prices by giving out absurdly large loans, and then sold the debt on an open, speculative market that everyone admitted nobody really understood.

You know, I quoted that line from Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, thinking it was just a funny way to express the epiphany mortgage lenders may have experienced, but now I think it has more parallels than I initially intended.

"Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed, but I do say no more then ten to twenty million killed, tops. Depending on the breaks."


*The term "adjunct," as a name for contingent academic labor, is regarded as deeply offensive by most in the contingent academic labor movement. It connotes being disconnected, non-essential, merely additive, when in fact the contemporary higher education system across the US, Canada, and Mexico absolutely depends on a large quantity of non-tenure-track, non-permanent academic employees. The most proper name for this class might be "faculty experiencing highest levels of exploitation and least rewards and security," but that's a bit unwieldy. I like to refer to us jokingly as "tenuous-track." How about "screwed"?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

even more disturbing evidence

The kittoises have doubled in size, and although I don't think they've doubled in cuteness, they've certainly taken to some extremely cute

mutual face-biting


waking up

and lens-cap attacking.

Friday, April 25, 2008

weekend & cross-posting
& kittens kittens kittens

In one of my classes, I'm requiring students to participate in an online threaded discussion board. We'd been reading about Foucault and surveillance, and a question came up about the adjustments people have made that allow them to relax about the constant surveillance we're under, especially in social networking sites.

I took it in this direction:

I'm not usually a fan of trend-thinking (identifying and analyzing passing trends), because it often seems to be either a kind of futurism, or else devolves into fairly obvious commentaries on something essentially already passé. In the case of social-networking sites and the mode of self-disclosure, there does seem to be a change in the way we deal with matters we keep secret and those we disclose.

An example of this is journal or diary keeping. The electronic language of on-line journals alters relationships between self and others, both known and unknown, both intimate and anonymous.

We could interpret this as a genre of narrative, as well, and track how online self-disclosing expressions operate as performances or constructions of self or of identity. I keep an online journal, in the form of a blog. It's fairly self-disclosive, but in the shape of a narrative of personal events, world events, ideas, and so forth, that are genuinely expressive of certain shapes of my identity. I even have a name for this identity (as do many online diarists - their handles or screen-names): Doc Nagel.

Am I Doc Nagel? At least provisionally, at least in some respects. That identity is located somewhere between/among my instructor-identity, my academic-identity, my activist-identity, my philosopher-identity, my gourmet-identity, my hockey-fan-identity, my kitten-obsessive-identity, and my private life. All those intersect, are played out, and are shaped and addressed through the journal. I'm careful about how I write in it, though not all that careful. (Then again, I'm not all that careful about what I say in any public forum or in any university venue.)

Exposure, surveillance, and discipline are decidedly at issue. At one point, I was asked by a university official to either take down or to eliminate a link to my online journal, because its contents were printed off and mailed to the university in order to try to get me into trouble (it's a long story, and no, I'm not telling). Some people have been fired for criticizing their employers in online journals, and a good friend of mine has changed journals three or four times to evade being identified as the blogger in question (though not because she's particularly critical of anybody).

In other news, I have completed 4 weeks of non-stop work, stress, and craziness. I am taking the (vast majority of the) weekend off. Penguins-Rangers in just over an hour. Woohoo!

Kittens kittens kittens kittens. Alexander is now 2.12 pounds, and Alex is 2.07. Pictures to come soon. Stay tuned. They'll get nipped in 3 more weeks. Meanwhile, total kitten insanity reigns.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

math problems

It turns out that abstinence-only sex education programs are, at best, worthless for reducing rates of sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy. The reason for drawing this conclusion is that the $1.3 billion spent on them since the late 1990s have resulted in no positive change in the rates of these.

Time to rethink the programs? Nah.

Rep. John Duncan, a Tennessee Republican, said that it seems "rather elitist" that people with academic degrees in health think they know better than parents what type of sex education is appropriate. "I don't think it's something we should abandon," he said of abstinence-only funding.

In other news, Rep. Duncan also questioned the judgments of his 9-year old son's teacher, saying it seemed "rather elitist" that the teacher claimed to know better what the product of 8 times 7 is.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I'm not hungry. Lots of people are. In fact, Reuters is reporting that the UN is concerned 100 million more people are deprived of necessary food as a result of shortages worldwide, the shift to growing crops for biofuels, and market shenanigans (i.e., profiteering, hoarding, manipulating markets, restricting exports).

The hunger is spread across all continents. And even here, food rationing is taking place at places like Costco. We're actually thinking of buying large sacks of beans and rice to store away, just in case, you know, things get even worse.

Up til now, the only real impact on our lives from all this has been the rationing of hops. Yep, farmers worldwide are switching from hops to our good friend #2 field corn to make ethanol. For those of us who enjoy massive doses of irony, here's a fun fact: to grow the #2 corn that is used to create ethanol, farmers use large quantities of fertilizer, herbicide, and pesticide, mainly derived from, uh, petroleum; they use great quantities of diesel to run machines to sow, reap, and move crops around; the mills use petroleum to run machines to process the corn.

That this is all driven by a policy (especially in Europe, where the EU has imposed targets for ethanol production) that is justified on basis of concern for the environment is another ginormous dose of irony. I suppose it demonstrates the ultimate folly of trying to produce and consume our way out of environmental destruction caused by production and consumption. Rather than work toward reducing reliance on the fantastic and utterly unsustainable use of resources, we're trying to make changes in which resources we exploit.

Michael Pollan notes, in Omnivore's Dilemma, that from a certain ecological interpretation of matters, we haven't domesticated and come to exploit #2 field corn. The situation is the reverse: it's exploiting us. (It's sort of like the relationship between humans and cats in most of the affluent parts of the world. I'm not sure, at this point, whether biofuel consumption or kitten consumption creates more pollution.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

happy, odd ending

After morning classes, I called the attorney who sent the notice of termination today, and also called the property management company. The attorney said (through his receptionist) that he'd contact me if he received further information, and to call the management company. I left a message at the management company, taught my last class, and walked home. On the way I imagined another possible scenario that made this less insane: an eminent domain seizure of the driveway area by the city, to do some kind of utility work or something.


I got home, opened the door, and Lauren greeted me with "that man is insane!"

She was referring to the lawyer. The property management company had called her (I left our number with my message) and told her that the person who sent the letters, to all residents in the complex, had previously owned it, and has for a long time been harassing the current owners. Apparently, the new tactic is to bother the tenants. It seems that the previous owner simply cannot accept that he no longer owns the property.

So the reason this seemed insane is that it was the work of the insane.

Now I wonder if the lawyer is also insane, or is simply carrying out the instruction of an insane client. Do lawyers have a responsibility to do whatever an insane client asks? I think there's a limit, and that no lawyer is obligated to fulfill requested services when there is no legal basis or when the client is deranged.

Then again, lawyers. I've been part of a legally baseless lawsuit, so it's not clear that they do think there's a limit.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

update on real estate madness

Our friends and neighbors, Christina and Guerin, also received a notice of termination, for the "common area" and driveway. Their garage is attached to their unit, and ours isn't. Could this be some weird seizure of the garages?

There's a backstory here. A few weeks ago we started having difficulty with our garage door opener. We used to be able to click the button and open the garage from the head of the driveway, at least 100 feet away. Suddenly we had to be right in front of it. The door also wouldn't close properly. Eventually it stopped working altogether. They changed the sensors, then the drive unit, and finally the remote.

Then the next-door garage door opener stopped working. Then two more. Then all them along that row. Last time the garage door guy was here (for the fourth time), last week, he said it had something to do with interference from the airport. I don't know what that really means or how it could be, but that's what he said.

So, scenario 1: The owners have realized that unlockable, nonworking garage doors are an insurance liability, and they're responding in the only way owners can think of, which is to take them all away. Why they would need to terminate our tenancy on the driveway and parking space, I don't know. It doesn't follow.

Scenario 2: The post office has only delivered the first round of letters, and everyone's tenancy is being terminated, because the dump is closing. That could be plausible, if, say, the owners are being foreclosed on, or if they want to take advantage of the high level of foreclosures and sell these as individual units, sort of condo-like (they once were, we've heard). This makes sense because people who are being thrown out of their $400,000 mortgages could still feel the pride of ownership of a $200,000 mortgage here. Perhaps.

We don't know. We've put in numerous calls to the manager, but it's the weekend.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

because we haven't faced enough stress lately

Arthur has spent two mornings at the hospital with difficulties urinating and using the litterbox. The vet decided today that he's got a urinary tract infection, has given him antibiotics, and he's probably on the road to recovery. So 48 hours of great stress was relieved.

The long weeks of overwork, worry about the kitties, difficulty with instructing Arthur on the finer points of eating, drinking water, using the box, and so forth, have finally come to an end. The end of the semester just 6 weeks away, there's time for a breath.

Except this:

Dear Tenant(s) in Possession:

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that you must remove yourself from and deliver up possession, occupancy and use of the premises described above... on or before May 19, 2008.

In fact, we received 2 notices today, one regarding the garage, the other regarding the driveway and common areas of the complex. I have no doubt the third will be in the mail on Monday, for the unit itself.

By the way, California's department of consumer affairs web site refers to 30-day notices for termination of month-to-month tenancy, not year-long leases. Termination notice does not have to specify a cause, and no violation of the lease by us is necessarily implied. But we're going to have to say why we're moving on our next lease applications.

And here's a charming fact: if you challenge an eviction and lose, in California, your social security number is entered in a database, called the blacklist, and any prospective landlord will consult this database in deciding whether to rent to you.

Also: We haven't violated the lease. We haven't paid rent late. We haven't violated complex rules.

And also: Most folks across the States assume the California is a liberal and enlightened state on all manner of issues - drug law, provision of social services, educational spending, consumer protection, etc. IT'S A LIE. California has one of the least helpful tenant laws on the books.

More later, without doubt. This fucking sucks.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

notes for a contribution to a campus dialogue

I'm about to head out for a 90-minute campus dialogue event, sponsored by the associated students and some other groups. I was invited to be a faculty panelist. The title is (I swear I am not making this up) "Generation Myspace: Does it give a damn?" My instructions were to come up with presentations of my opinions on the following questions, and to make them brief, memorable, and vivid. I took a look at the questions after the academic senate meeting, which was probably a mistake, since those meetings (especially yesterday's; more on this probably later) tend to bring out my earnest side. There's far too little facetiousness in these responses, so I'll have to gum things up some other way. Students are also on the panel, which is why the questions seem targeted at student life rather than faculty life.

How do social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace) keep you connected to the world? Are they just games or is there some serious social value to them?

My early involvement in the web was decidedly for the sake of direct communication with particular people – students in my class. Then I used it for self-publishing silly stuff.

Now I’ve got a weblog that I use not as a weblog at all, but as a publicly kept personal journal, because, likely, of some combination of mental illnesses and neuroses.

In your opinion, are student well-informed about the world around them today? Why or why not?

 What issues push your buttons? How do you find out about them?

Is it a good thing to be well-informed? If well-informed means being a consumer of news, then I would be rather worried if a the majority of my students were. Thankfully, it seems that most of my students are not consumers of news in any large capacity. However, they do eat too much sugar.

I was unsurprised to find that a minority of my students had heard about the proposed CA budget and $386 million cut to the CSU budget, along with 10% student fee increase, for 08-09. I was unsurprised to find that a tiny minority of my students report hearing about the situation from other faculty.

What does the up-coming election and all the primary election activity mean to you?
 Does your vote really make a difference or mean anything?

If voting were the only or the most significant part of political participation, we would all be doomed. We might be anyway, but voting is quite literally the absolute least any of us can do. The winner of the presidential election will be the candidate with the better hair.

What life skills are the most important for you to cultivate? Why those skills? Are those skills you need to go to college to learn?

Know how to grow vegetables. Also, it is profoundly life-altering to learn how to make soup stock out of kitchen scraps, chicken or fish carcasses, beef bones, etc. I mean this in all seriousness: the life-skills that are most important to cultivate are those that allow you to act independently, autonomously, creatively, self-determinedly, and outside the realm of bureaucratic, commercial, governmental, or other hegemonic control. Growing and cooking your own food can be as much an act of political and social resistance to oppression as making public speeches or demonstrating at protests.

The reason for any of this kind of activity is, ultimately, to preserve what freedom you’ve still got, to extend that freedom as much as you can, and to create ways to promote social justice and the common good.

If you could have your degree right now and NOT learn anything, would you take it? Why or why not?

 What’s the worth of a degree from the CSU?

I’m not a fan of degrees. If we’re in the degree business, then we’re competing in a market that rewards cost efficiency by both the institution and the students: the ideal is to obtain the best-reputed degree at least cost and least outlay of resources (including labor). On the institutional side, this encourages some of the worst practices in academia: faculty contingency, increasing class sizes, eliminating or limiting direct student-faculty contact by way of exploitation of electronic “course delivery,” unbundling of faculty labor (dividing up teaching from research and service). On the student side, it encourages a kind of bargaining or negotiating mentality, a gamesmanship, where the goal is to work out the simplest possible path to the degree. It discourages those things faculty do best and (IMHO) students could most benefit from: the time-consuming, interactively intensive, often exhausting effort to learn, that is, to articulate experience, the world, the social and historical situation, and to draw reasoned conclusions about all of this, relying on one’s own and one another’s imagination, memory, intellect, intuition, and passion. You know: education.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

caution: this could be very bad for your eyes

Colorless green ideas may sleep furiously (we may never know), but littermate tabby kittens sleep adorably. What you don't even see here are the variations on these poses, some of which are even cuter than these dangerously cute pictures (as always, I'm concerned about liability): Arthur sleeping lying across Alexander's middle, so that Alex's side looks like Arthur has grown a strange, bushy, gray and black striped beard; Alexander and Arthur sleeping tail-to-head like a ying-yang symbol; the two of them in the wicker basket in the kitchen where we keep extra placemats and napkins.

We keep nearly missing videorecording them playing in probably illegally cute ways, like playing swats through the open toe and heel parts of a sandal; or the sudden random leaps up to the second stair, followed by limboing under the stair railing and walking up the flat incline on the side of the steps, while playing swats through the railing bars.

In other news, I'm busy as hell, and the economy is going foom. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

starting tonight

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

29. NHL playoffs. I just love 'em.

Our beloved Pittsburgh Penguins begin the playoffs tonight in a re-match against the Ottawa Senators, who eliminated the Pens last year in 5 games. But that was last year. Both teams look and act a little different this year.

Actually, I both love and hate the playoffs. Hockey is a beautiful and brutal sport, and individual games, individual players, and individual plays can reflect either or both of those qualities. During the regular season, referees call penalties more carefully, but in the playoffs the mentality is to "let them play" (which has always struck me as idiotic, but that's another story). In any case, the effect of all this is that regular season games have more room for beautiful play, and the playoffs almost always immediately devolve into a cruel war of attrition. Nothing pretty happens. On the other hand, they reach a level of intensity that's just incredible. You can actually see the difference even on TV.

I realize this is the fourth-ish hockey-related Thing in a row. That's because other than kittens, kittens, classes, kittens, budget cuts, kittens, committee meetings, kittens, kittens, campus events, and kittens, life lately has had one main pre-occupation: kittens hockey kittens.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


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

The silver tabby is now officially Alexander (for Alexander the Great). The orange tabby is now Arthur (for King Arthur, Arthur Dent, and Arthur Pewtie). Alexander weighs 1.07 pounds, Arthur 1.01 pounds.

A quick peak into some of the action:

Arthur in deep thought, contemplating his next move.

Arthur and Alexander investigating the sliding door, with special attention to the track.

Establishing dominance over the fuzzy streamer toy. (Alexander made the revolutionary discovery that it's the stick that really runs the thing. If you dominate the stick, you dominate the streamer. Unless it's wrapped around your head. That's just confusing.)

Alexander exhausted from all the activity.