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.