Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

23. Heroes. I just love 'em.

George Carlin's death has me thinking about heroes, strangely, because in the grand scheme of things, Carlin wasn't a hero of mine, though he was close. I respected him a lot, and to me, he was incredibly funny. He was at the center of a landmark free speech/obscenity case, but wasn't really a participant - more the occasion or object.

I don't tend to regard heroes as paragons of virtue, or necessarily morally righteous. This is lucky for me, because I don't think any of mine would pass a virtue/righteousness test. I'm just whipping this out, so I might glaringly omit someone, but let's see if I can list them.

Lenny Bruce. Lenny was not only involved in a landmark free speech/obscenity case, but the only person ever convicted of obscenity in the US for any performance or publication not containing pornographic images (depending on your perspective, I suppose). His final appeal was granted posthumously. In any case, Lenny's act, and to a large degree his everyday behavior (if reports are, in the main, honest), focused on the moral contradictions of American culture and social life, by which he was in turns amused and horrified. And he made it all funny, until he stopped being funny. Lenny Bruce is such a hero to me, I even like his stuff after he stopped being a comic and became Lenny Bruce instead.

John Fahey. For my money, Fahey's guitar playing is the weirdest there could be, not because his playing techniques were particularly odd, but because his musical sensibilities and impulses were fundamentally crackers. I wouldn't say I aspire to play like Fahey. I don't think I'll ever be as good (even though Fahey wasn't really a technical virtuoso), but I'll never be that creative. Fahey also wrote bizarre, if not actually insane, rambling quasi-autobiographical screeds, some of which are published as a book called How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life.

Frank Lloyd Wright. Almost everything Wright said about architecture, especially his own, was either an outright lie or self-promotional puffery. I don't care. He was reportedly mercurial in his relationships with other people, often instantly enraged by loved ones, employees, and employers. I don't care. He blithely ignored clients' design requirements or preferences, and imposed his own style, proportion, and uncomfortable furniture on them. I don't care. His places are drafty and they leak. I don't care. I can't go near or into a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright without feeling whole, solid, ready, aware, lively, and inspired. They don't have to be particularly similar for this to happen, either: Fallingwater packs a huge wallop, but I feel much the same at the Marin County Civic Center.

Julia Child. I cut my teeth on Julia Child's cooking shows on TV when I was a kid. One of my earliest satirical ideas was a spoof of her shows, combined with Monty Hall's old joint, to be called Let's Bake A Seal. Her actual life story is pretty amazing. She was a defense intelligence agent after World War II, fell in love with another defense intelligence agent, who ended up stationed in Paris (I think under cover). So she played housewife awhile, got bored, and went to the Cordon Bleu cooking school. They came back to the states, and eventually she started teaching people to cook on TV. She made mistakes, she dropped stuff, and she wrote and showed you how to fix things when things went wrong. She was a brilliant cook, fearless but not flawless, and her recipes always work (even if they cheat somewhat).

John Meyer. After a year of being thoroughly bored in eighth grade, my junior high school put me in the higher level courses, which I think were called GT classes, for ninth. So it was that I had 9th grade US history with John Meyer, late morning, in a trailer out behind the main classroom building. In that trailer, he taught a lesson one particularly stifling hot, humid late spring morning, by turning the classroom into a sweatshop, dividing the class into production lines, and requiring us to manufacture "Happy Books." This was too much for the upper-middle-class white girls to handle, and the complaints came in from their folks. They hated him. I had a sudden realization that I wanted to teach for a living. I had AP European History with him in high school, which wasn't as revelatory, but was still one of a handful of classes that were taught by people who showed any respect at all for the emerging intellects of the students.

Tom Waits. If I could write lyrics like anybody I chose, it'd be like Tom Waits (and I suppose Kathleen Brennan, since they write most things together). If I could make music any way I liked, I would make music like Waits' - not the particular style, not all the racket, but the sheer fuckitity of his approach. He described what he started to do with music around 1990 or so as taking away all the stuff that's obviously musical, and making music out of what's left over. I admire the bejezus out of that. I wish I could do that. (Sometimes it happens when I teach, I think. It's cool as hell.)

Of course I've had other heroes, mainly hockey players like Mike Palmateer, but that was as a kid. I suppose some people outgrow having heroes at some point. I haven't, and I don't think I will (Fahey just became a hero a couple years ago).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

but now for some lighter news

People living under rocks may not have heard yet that California's Supreme Court ruled that everyone, regardless of gender or sex, should have the right to marry any other consenting adult. Same-sex marriages became legal as of 5:01 pm yesterday.

As a result, my loveliest and I have come out of the closet. Yep, we're married. We've been married for just over two years. Lauren tells the compleat story in her blog, so go read that. It's okay, I'll wait here...

Dum dee-dum, dumbledy dum... Hmm.

Hoo-hah shamma-shamma tiddle-ee-dah. Whum-pa pah-dee-oo-skiddly-doo-dat spah! Oobly-scoobly-oo-bap-sh-bim-

uh... Shit, I didn't expect you back so soon. It's so embarrassing getting caught in the middle of private scat singing.

I still have grave misgivings about the institution of marriage. I didn't think much about the discriminatory practice of legal marriage versus domestic partnership until about 7 or 8 years ago, when voters in California approved Prop 22, "The Defense of Marriage Act," which was a purely symbolic act defining marriage as between a man and a woman. No county in the state was permitting same-sex marriage, so the proposition didn't change anything. It just gave a bunch of assholes the opportunity to be assholes.

My long-term objections to marriage have been less related to justice. I have never wanted to be married, in part because of my iconoclastic allergy to social institutions generally, but in larger part because of what I regard as the baggage of tradition that comes along with it. Marriage is just too culturally heavy. When you are introduced as a husband, for instance, a whole string of additional characteristics, roles, attitudes, and ways of relating are presumptively attributed to you. Sure, some particular person, who knows us well, would know that we don't play our roles quite straight, but the cultural norm and the general expectation is that "married" fits both persons into neatly, unproblematically defined categorical boxes.

(As long as I'm confessing to being married, I might as well also confess that I generally take out the trash, pay the bills, file the taxes, and I'm the primary bread-winner. On the other hand, I'm also the primary bread-baker, as well as cook, kitchen cleaner, and vaccuumer.)

I resent being put in a box. (This is one of my most cat-like characteristics. If I want to be in the box, I'll go get in the box myself. I don't need the likes of you putting me in the damn box! Now gimme some damn catnip!)

Now that California isn't discriminating against people when it comes to marriage, there's less of a pressing reason to hide the fact that we are married, and moreover, there's an opportunity to make the point, again, that this discrimination is immoral. Plus, same-sex marriage isn't entirely safe yet. A group of maniacs is trying to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to ban same-sex marriage.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

horrible news item

Well, this is just unspeakably awful. I don't have anything to say about it, it's not about me in any way, except that I live in Turlock, and I'm not prone to fits of anonymous pathos in any case. But it's striking, and it's leaving a kind of rottenness in my head, and so, I decided to share this story of totally revolting inhumanity from the Modesto Bee.

Before you click on the link: this ain't a joke. It's just horrible.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

weather report

We have two side bets going on this summer's weather. We've each picked the number of days we predict the temperature to reach or exceed 100 degrees, and we've each picked the number of deaths that will be blamed on heat. I realize the latter is ghoulish, but it's a way of coping.

Historically, the Central Valley could count on around 14-18 days of 100+ degrees every summer. Last year there were 28. The year before there were around 25. This year it's looking like it's going to be the hottest summer ever recorded here. Yesterday was the fifth day of 100 degree weather already, and this isn't the hot part of the year.

Meanwhile, the Gov issued a drought emergency last month, after the driest spring ever, and has now issued a state water emergency. What this does is allow for quick transfers of water from municipal systems that supply residential drinking water into the aqueducts and canals that serve agriculture. So the "water emergency" plan is a plan to find ways to use more water, not conserve it.

If you think there's an ironic twist to this story that I'm about to reveal, then DING DING DING! You win!

The Central Valley is the agricultural heart of the state, and in some ways of the nation and the world. To achieve this, in what is basically an arid seasonal grassland, the rivers that feed the San Joaquin are all dammed to form a tremendous series of reservoirs. Those reservoirs feed canals, generally open trenches, that stretch down the hills into the valley, which ranchers and farmers tap to flood irrigate. Flood irrigation is an ancient, inefficient method of watering crops by, as the name suggests, flooding the ground with water and letting it seep in (in this climate, this means a whole lot of evaporation loss, but that's another story).

The irrigated water seeps through the ground, waters the parched roots of almond trees and tomatoes and whatnot, and eventually reaches the groundwater table. This used to be just a couple dozen feet down, but after droughts in the late 80s and early 90s, it fell to just above its record low, where it has remained, through wet and dry years, ever since (it recovered somewhat during the huge El Niño year, but has sank rapidly since). Up and down the Valley, municipal water departments dig wells to tap the groundwater to feed to residents as drinking water. So you see the pattern: dam the rivers, irrigate the fields, the water sinks into the groundwater, it's pumped up, and we drink it (the health implications of our drinking this water are another story).

In other words, the water emergency declaration allows rapid transfer of water from the municipal systems, pumping groundwater up from wells dug to reach the water table which is replenished by irrigation of crops from reservoirs, and we're doing this because there's not enough water in the reservoirs. Not only will we be depleting the groundwater by tapping it to supply agricultural irrigation that we rely on to supply the groundwater, but we'll be recirculating the groundwater through all the petrochemicals that the ag biz dumps onto crops out here!

This will all work out fine, of course, as long as we have 5 or 6 winters in a row of well-above-normal snowfall in the Sierras - a pattern of weather that we can count on every 50 or 60 years or so.

Monday, June 09, 2008

california [kăl'ĭ-fôr'nyə], n.

California is a series of paint spills and beautiful, opportunistic cruelties along the West Coast of North America.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

what's that thing?

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

24. Clean kitchens. I just love 'em.

We're down in LA to visit, just around my loveliest's ma Allison's birthday. I roasted a leg of lamb with some potatoes for a belated birthday dinner tonight, and just spent a few minutes scouring the roasting pan. Cleaning a kitchen is satisfying work, for me, because I spend a lot of time making kitchens need to be cleaned. But mainly, I love a clean kitchen.

The roasting pan in question I had propped up in the sink to soak several hours ago. While generally tidying up after our 6th pinochle game of the weekend, I decided to clean the last of the dinner stuff, including the roasting pan. I needn't have. But sitting there on the edge of the sink, it gave me a look that said "Tomorrow morning, I'll be sitting in this sink, and someone waking up - maybe you - will see me sitting here, and I will look so forlorn, so filthy, so recalcitrantly in the way of the faucet, that you'll regret ever having roasted that so-called leg of lamb in me." So I Brilloed the heck outta that roasting pan, leaving the sink, if not clean, at least emptied of dirty dishes and pans.

I especially love a clean kitchen as a thing to walk into in the morning, in search of some form of caffeinated beverage and some form of bread product to call breakfast. Things in place, things clean, things ready to go - this is a special kind of bliss.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

another silly meme

At some point, this blog will return to usual programming. The Pittsburgh Penguins lost the Stanley Cup Finals to the Detroit Red Wings, 4 games to 2, last night. Sad ending to an incredibly inspiring season for arguably the team with the greatest young talent in the NHL. They'll be back, in some different configuration. We're just hoping our favorites stay with the team. Some will.

Anyway, this meme has been stolen from No Celery, Please. It doesn't seem to have a title, so I'll call it

Yet Another List of Random Factoids About a Human Being,
In this Case, Me

Accent: Midwest/Northern, altered slightly by natural mimicry and living in North Carolina (8 years), Pittsburgh (8 years) and California (*GULP* nearly 10 years).

Bra size: I don't know. I'll wear a skirt, among friends, but I've never gone full drag.

Chore I hate: Dusting, especially books and bookcases (allergies).

Dad’s name: Carl Richard

Essential make-up: Everything I say is essentially made up.

Favorite perfume: Home-brewed bay rum after shave!

Gold or Silver: Silver.

Hometown: Born in Toledo, raised until 13 in Maumee, Ohio.

Interesting fact: I was, at the time, reportedly the youngest person to earn a Doctorate in Philosophy at Duquesne University.

Job title: Lecturer, Philosophy Department, Cow State Santa Claus

Kids: Pets: Two four-month-old kittens from the same litter. Alexander (Alex, Brutus) and Arthur (Bruno, Honey Bear), a.k.a., The Smothers Brothers, a.k.a., The Katzenjammer Kids, a.k.a. The Flying Kittois Brothers, a.k.a., Boodahs, Monsters, etc., etc.

Living arrangements: Rented town house, 4 litter boxes (trying to work that down to 2)

Mom’s Birthplace: Cincinnati, Ohio.

Number of apples eaten in last week: None. It ain't friggin' apple season!

Overnight hospital stays: None. Hah! Been in the ER a coupla times, once as a kid with a 105 fever.

Phobia: Lightning. Tremendously socially anxious from time to time.

Question you ask yourself a lot: What am I forgetting?

Religious affiliation: Joke answer: Recovering Catholic. Earnest answer: [empty set]

Siblings: One older brother, one older sister.

Time I wake up: Teaching days: 6:30 am. Non-teaching days: depends on the Katzenjammer Kids.

Natural Hair color: Brown.

Vegetable I refuse to eat: I detest Brussels sprouts and lima beans, beets.

Worst habit: Self-loathing

X-rays: Sure, what've you got?

Yummy food I make: How much time have you got? I make a ton of different dishes. Last night: pasta with tomatoes, cannelini beans, olives, fresh basil, feta.

Zodiac sign: Leo, of course.