Friday, May 30, 2008

true and false things about me meme
me, meme-me-me-meme!

The rules of this game are very simple: list 10 odd true facts about yourself, along with 5 odd lies about yourself. Mix 'em up. Serve. Then let readers identify which are the true and which are the false. My loveliest done done it, so now I'm gonna done do it.

1. I became a philosopher in order to impress a woman.
2. I had a paper route in two different states.
3. I've never had a single guitar lesson.
4. I've never had a single cooking lesson.
5. I went to college by accident.
6. I don't really have any phobias.
7. I don't really have any fetishes.
8. My feet are size 13 A, with absolutely no arch.
9. An opthamologist once said that pictures of my astigmatism should be used in textbooks--as an example of just how bad it can get.
10. I never eat breakfast.
11. I dressed grunge six years before anybody knew there was grunge.
12. I loathe eggs but love a lot of foods/sauces made with them.
13. Chewing gum gives me a headache (nevertheless, I sometimes chew gum).
14. I go through periods where I really dislike chocolate--and others where I really love it.
15. I never lie about myself.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

where the hell have I been?

Our buddies Christina (alt. X-ina) and Guerin got hitched this weekend at Ironstone Vineyards up in Murphys, CA. After 100 degree days the week before, it was overcast and drizzly this weekend, so the weather was perfect for an outdoor wedding.

It had the usual snafus weddings have. It started about a half-hour late, which meant that the song we wrote for X-ina, "Christina Sorting Records," played 3 times. It was scheduled as the music for the pre-processional seating of VIPs. The DJ played it promptly at 4, but nobody was ready, so he played it again, and then again once everyone had finally taken their places.

Ironstone has a pretty joint, and they make a couple exemplary wines, from grapes that don't grow on the premises. Ah, the California wine industry. Nothing could serve as a better example of our state, which is actually a series of misconstrued legends, lies, deceptions, and cruel acts of hucksterism.

It was a gorgeous wedding. There was wine a-plenty. Underage drinking. Drunken passes at newly-met acquaintances. Dancing a-go-go. No cake for the bride and groom. Photographers and videographers scattered like bits of confetti all over the place. "Just married" paraphernalia attached to their car. The bridal suite decked out in naughtiness. Lost items. Items left behind and picked up by random relatives and friends. And when we got home, my loveliest decorated their front door with toilet-paper streamers and, I kid you not, toilet-paper bells with clappers and a toilet-paper flower.

Now I'm grading. I've read a handful of Contemporary Moral Issues finals today, their due date, and this is strange, because it's only a handful, and it is now nearly 6 pm and I'm missing around 2/3 of their finals. They also had a question-and-answer journal on the assigned articles, which was due last Wednesday, and I'm missing 2/3 of those as well. Students, notoriously, don't follow instructions. I've thought of simply no longer giving instructions, and taking the Zen approach of accepting as their work whatever they decide to turn in, and applying evaluation criteria to it accordingly.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

landmark 361st post

Last night, the kittoises slept almost through the night. When I woke to the alarm (a cd player alarm; the Monkees, I swear to it), they were curled up on us, sweetly sleeping. As usual, Alexander immediately woke when he saw me moving, and as usual, Arthur was the first one downstairs in the kitchen to beg for breakfast. But they didn't wake me up, at 5, or 4:30, by jumping up and down on top of us wrestling and biting each other (and us). This morning is also the first morning in the past week when it was actually chilly (we've had record temperatures until yesterday).

From this I conclude: the kittens are heat-activated.

But that's not what I meant to write about. No, that would be

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

25. Notes sung in the "dog register." I just love 'em.

Last night we went to the Cow State Santa Claus Chamber Singers (a.k.a. Daniel Afonso's Elite Republican Guard) concert. These are the top-shelf choral singers on campus, and they never fail to impress. Last night they were a little bit impressiver than usual, particularly the altos. Altos tend to sound weaker in choral groups, in my experience, but this group are quite strong. My loveliest (a one-time soprano-trapped-in-an-alto's-section) suggested that it's hard to find traditional college-age students who are strong altos, because altos develop later as voices deepen.

In any case, a couple of the numbers featured extremely high notes from first sopranos, which is just about my favorite thing that ever happens in choral music. The more the sopranos have to reach, the more I like it. They weren't hitting Ds or anything, but there were definitely a few As, and I believe a B or two.

I don't know what it is, exactly. I feel those dog notes in my bones. Perhaps I'm a dog. Perhaps, as Afonso once suggested to me, I have a sadistic urge focused on sopranos. Well, so did Mozart, so neener-neener, sopranos!

24. Musical dissonances. I just love 'em.

There wasn't as much of this as there sometimes is, but there was a smattering in Eric Whitacre's "Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine," an uplifting (hah!) modern piece in which the choir evokes dreaming, flying, wind, and machines, and the siren call of the will to fly.

Dissonance may not be a word Whitacre, or anybody who knows anything about music, would accept as a description, but by it I mean a tonal tension that sounds like something weird has happened to the piano. I love those moments because I love the feeling of being on the verge, or about to be shoved off the cliff, or about to let go of the rope. I only love that feeling in music, art, literature, philosophy, and theater, and I don't just love it, I have to have it, or I don't feel like anything very important has happened.

Like the Bach piece they did last night. Bach, it struck me, is just like Leibniz. Music is a universal language, Bach's concertos and whatnot are generated by a Leibnizian calculating machine, and each piece in Bach's Werke is the perfect solution generated by the machine. Bach is just the mechanic. Contrast Mozart, who is just like Kant: everything perfectly rational, but also sublime and beautiful, and he swears up and down that's the same thing, and he can prove it, if you'd only sit down and listen, honestly, he's got the whole thing worked out, it's, you know... this!

Okay, seem to have wandered a bit. Last day of classes. Wooo!

Monday, May 19, 2008

still further evidence

Oh, good grief! Do you have any idea how much strain seeing cuteness like this simply does not cause? Can you imagine the degree of pain and suffering we do not face as a result?

Then again, Arthur has developed a fascination and talent for attacking and biting hands, because he has not distinguished (a) human from kitten flesh, nor (b) calming petting behavior from exciting combative behavior.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

a good read

This afternoon I read a handful of the last response papers I'm getting from my two classes of Contemporary Moral Issues for the semester. The purpose of the papers is to have my students focus on the main idea the author develops, and to say what they think about that idea. Very frequently, the papers offer unsolicited commentary on the article's style.

My students apply a set of aesthetic criteria to the articles that are a little vague to me. According to these criteria, an article must be "a good read," which has characteristics like being simple, using a limited and familiar vocabulary and simple sentence structure, avoiding ambiguity, and being interesting or amusing. There's nothing necessarily wrong with these standards, even though some of them are totally subjective. Obviously an article has to be intelligible to its audience, and it certainly should make some kind of interesting point. Often, though, my students desire that everything they read be written in a style and at a level that will be immediately transparent to them, and that they will not have to strain to understand. It's "a good read" when it fits all these criteria.

I'm not saying my students don't care, or aren't smart. They try to work through essays that aren't "good reads," even if only because they're required to. They do learn vocabulary. But their judgments of what makes an essay valuable or worthwhile doesn't have as much to do with whether the argument is cogent or whether it presents a perspective or concept that's valuable, as that it be subjectively pleasing in all these ways.

Friday, May 16, 2008


People who read this blog (I could name approximately 3) know of my predilection for freshly-vacuumed carpets. With a fluffy cat and two long-haired hippies living in the house at the time, vacuuming was more than a hobby.

A couple months ago a pair of Kirby door-to-door hacks came by, gave us a demo of the honestly astounding cleaning power of the Kirby, and tried to sell us a Kirby do-it-all machine for the bargain price of $1500 $1200 $1000 cash. They were competing, they said, to try to win Kirby vacuums for themselves, to advance in their salesforces, and to compete for a vacation prize. This, it turns out, is a scam: the vacuums they sell door to door, the demo models, are generally rebuilts, and their stated sticker price, which ranges from $2000 to $2500 (our dudes said $2500), are huge premiums over Kirby's suggested retail of around $1200.

Anyway, the machine impressed, though we made a quick Google search of the vacs while the demo guy was shampooing our living room carpet, found out the scam, and didn't bite. We did, however, come to a chilling realization of the gross inadequacies of our Dirt Devil Jaguar. More research suggested that Dyson's machines are at least in the running with Kirbys for performance standards. My loveliest's family swears by them. So we've been talking about getting one.

Doc Nagel's Heap of Things

26. Dyson vacuums. I just love 'em.

Last weekend we saw the Dyson Slimline on big big sale at the local Kohl's, while there looking for something completely different (I wandered a bit). They were out. We got a rain check. I was disappointed, but whattayagonnado?

Today, I decided to bring out the ol' Jag to clean up while Alexander and Arthur were at the vet's being neutered (successfully; Arthur is, of this writing, woozy as all heck and complaining, and Alexander is, typically, resigned to the whole thing). I wasn't getting any suction, which is the whole point, if you will, of vacuum cleaners. So, as usual, I assumed that a clog of cat fluff and human hair, along with Arthur's kittie-litter-redecorating detritus, had developed in the beast. I cleaned all pipes, tried again, and still nothing.

What I wish I had said: It's dead, Jim.

What I actually said: Well, it looks like you and Lancelot finally got your revenge against the vacuum. Good boy, Lance. A posthumous kill.

So, we plied the Internets looking for someone who would sell us a Dyson on the quick, and found out, to my surprise, that Target sells them, for competitive prices. Gots it. And boy, howdy. This thing sucks.

I vacuumed the upstairs, and the stairs themselves, and overfilled the dust tank. The stairs look like they're coming out of a terrible dirt hangover, all kinda disheveled but managing to stand up on their own and smile wanly at the sun.

Perhaps I take vacuuming a little too... existentially.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

28. Elections. I just love 'em.

We just got the info packet from the State for the Primary Election on June 3rd. I don't understand this. The State held presidential primaries in February, but apparently we have to have another one. In any case, there's some interesting issues on the ballot.

There's a recall campaign against our State Senator, Jeff Denham. I don't know much about him, except that he stood steadfast against the state budget last year, along party lines, and that he voted to cut school budgets. He also apparently made a public show of not accepting a salary increase, claiming that he was protesting the state's budgetary priorities (i.e., spending money on education), but then, later, took the raise.

There are two initiatives, 98 and 99. 98 would make it more difficult for cities to make eminent domain seizures for private development, which I like, but also would phase out rent control and regulations about returning security deposits to renters, which is a horrible idea. I've had enough trouble with getting security deposits back, and rent control is vital in places like San Francisco, where it's already too damned expensive to live. 99 would undo 98, approximately.

This happens a lot in California: two ballot propositions that are directly contradictory (or nearabouts) to one another. Often, they both fail, which is why people work to put the second, contradictory initiative on the ballot. It confuses voters, and they end up voting no. (Also, many of the ballot initiatives approved by California voters have been overturned by the state supreme court for being unconstitutional. I don't think anyone's tried that with Proposition 22 - The Defense of Marriage Act.)

There's a primary for the 19th District US House seat, currently occupied by George Radanovich, who thinks we should pave Yosemite and turn it into a giant skate park environmental regulations should be based on traditional land use practices, which in the case of Yosemite would mean privatizing the park and running trains into the middle of the valley to reach vacation hotels. Obviously, he's a Republican, of the libertarian-except-for-social-policy variety. No one else has filed.

27. Wacky botanical facts. I just love 'em.

Turns out, according to Gardening How-To (my loveliest has a scrip), bananas are herbs. They're related to lilies, considered to be the largest herb plant. (No doubt we'll hear later of the discovery of some giant oregano covering 2/3 of Greece, since that's just how oregano grows, and this whole banana thing will have to be re-thought.)

I adore the fact that most "vegetables" are fruits or legumes. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, all squashes, beans, peas - all fruits and legumes! Hah!

And onions, garlic, and shallots are lilies.

And spider plants? No spiders involved at all.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

lyrics, but no tune yet

We're sure it'll be a monster chart-topper.

I'm not climbing any stairs
not vaulting any cross-bars,
not climbing any ladders,
saving all my mounting for you.

Won't take no escalators,
won't board no elevators,
won't catch a lift from no aviators,
saving all my mounting for you.

I'm not riding any horses,
not leaping any fences,
not taking any chances,
I'm just saving all my mounting for you.

From the new hit musical Filling Masie's Dance Card

Friday, May 09, 2008


This is a meme. This is only a meme. For the next thirty-six questions, this blog will conduct a meme. The idea is, you post replies to the following questions in the comments, then send the meme along, because the whole point of memes is to send them along to someone else who will continue to spread the meme. None of this bears mention. Memes aren't important. Occasionally they can be fun, and in some rare instances thought-provoking. (#32 took me a long time.)

I answered the meme on my loveliest's Livejournal blog.

Thirty-six things about you.

1) Are you currently in a serious relationship?

2) What was your dream growing up?

3) What talent do you wish you had?

4) If I bought you a drink what would it be?

5) Favorite vegetable?

6) What was the last book you read?

7) What zodiac sign are you?

8) Any Tattoos and/or Piercings? Explain where.

9) Worst Habit?

10) If you saw me walking down the street would you offer me a ride?

11) What is your favorite sport?

12) Do you have a Negative or Optimistic attitude?

13) What would you do if you were stuck in an elevator with me?

14) Worst thing to ever happen to you?

15) Tell me one weird fact about you.

16) Do you have any pets?

17) What if I showed up at your house unexpectedly?

18) What was your first impression of me?

19) Do you think clowns are cute or scary?

20) If you could change one thing about how you look, what would it be?

21) Would you be my crime partner or my conscience?

22) What color eyes do you have?

23) Ever been arrested?

24) Bottle or can soda?

25) If you won $10,000 today, what would you do with it?

27) What's your favorite place to hang at?

28) Do you believe in ghosts?

29) Favorite thing to do in your spare time?

30) Do you swear a lot?

31) Biggest pet peeve?

32) In one word, how would you describe yourself?

33) Do you believe/appreciate romance?

35) Do you believe in God?

36) Will you repost this so I can fill it out and do the same for you?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

exciting new wrinkle in cheating!

So, many of my students this semester did poorly on their first papers, around mid-term. I invited them to re-write papers, spent some time discussing what had gone wrong, had written notes on them to try to help guide the re-writes.

And yes, one of the re-written papers was plagiarized. For this particular student, the basic problem with the first version of the paper was that the student pretty much completely failed to follow directions. Consequently, it was low, even for an F. I noted as much on the paper: actually responding to the questions I asked in the midterm assignment is probably going to be important, after all.

Did this student take this opportunity to go back to the assignment and answer the questions? Nah, cheated.

I've mentioned before (time after time, I suppose) how incredibly irritating cheating is to me. I'm offended, I'm angered, and I resent the disrespect and disregard that egregious cheating seems in part to be motivated by. To me it's clear that if you're cheating in a philosophy class, you are not going to be getting anything out of the class, and so you're wasting my time and yours.

Plus, it's not as though I don't inform people, at the beginning of every semester, that cheating is easy to spot. I also tell them that every semester, someone does it anyway. Perhaps I should stop saying that. Maybe it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

home alone

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. I haven't quite started yet.

I'm listening to Winterpills, which I rarely do when Lauren is around, for some reason. My musical tendencies swing toward the mopey alternative, especially in mid-morning, and that's not as often her thing, I think. How that might affect my students' grades, I don't know.

Lately, we've been thinking about having green kittens. This turns out to be difficult to get solid information about, and in some ways difficult to achieve. The main thing we're concerned about, obviously enough, is kitten waste. It's startling how much waste two 3-pound kittens generate in a day (which I realize is hardly breakfast conversation), and for the most part, our options are to flush or to bag this waste. The State of California officially discourages flushing, but bagging means tossing away a plastic bag of kitten poop every day. Lauren looked up composting, and it does seem like it's feasible, given about a half-acre or so of land to give yourself some distance, and appropriate composting techniques. (Even given that, there's dispute about the presence of a toxin in kitten waste, if they've been eating mice or other wildlife.)

An article in the anthology I use for Contemporary Moral Issues cites the statistic that people in the US and the EU spend $3 billion more annually on pet food than it would cost to feed hungry people worldwide. I don't know whether that's true, or if true, a distortion, but in any case, a simple glance around your local big-box pet supplies store should give you a perspective on the amount of resources we do expend on pets. It's all gotta come from somewhere and go somewhere, but just like Target, the Pet Extreme (or whatever) doesn't at all show you what place in the resources-and-wastes chain you and Fluffy or Xerxes occupy.

On the other hand, there've been some incredibly idiotic eco-pets ideas, like turning your cats on to a vegetarian diet. As much as we'd like to have green kittens, there are few ideas we've found so far that aren't impractical for us or totally hare-brained.