Friday, July 31, 2009

anxiety, doom, etc.

It looks, tentatively, like I'll have a full-time teaching job this coming academic year. It also looks like the CSU budget will be cut much more next year, so this could be my last year teaching philosophy.

In those circumstances, it's pretty difficult to avoid being terribly anxious. I get especially anxious in anticipation of something dreadful (as opposed to when it actually happens), when I have a pretty clear idea what that dreadful thing will be, when I can't control whether or how the dreadful thing will happen, and when those who do have that control I have good reason to suspect of working against me.

Let's run a quick check down this list, to see whether these conditions apply. Yes, yes, yes, hell yes.

Am I doomed? Experts disagree. I say I am. My loveliest says no.

I am easy to convince that I'm doomed. I have always been keen to conclude that I'm doomed. I've been right, in fairly serious ways, on a couple occasions.

So if I proceed to list a few of the many reasons I have to feel fortunate and rich in this lower-middle, working-class, renter's existence, it would be a transparently obvious effort to combat anxiety.

I am in love.

I am in a very loving, very supportive, creative, inspiring, passionate, steady long-term mate-ship. My love is a wonder to me, and the biggest wonder of all her wonders is that she loves me. I feel like that every single day.

I have been incredibly lucky to have the chance to do what I love for a living. Hardly anyone gets that chance. The only job I ever wanted other than teaching philosophy is being a rock star - and that seems unlikely at this point (people do start second careers, though).

I get to play guitars every day. I get to write songs, when I can. I get a lot of joy from that, and from music generally.

I am a really good cook. I've turned at least 3 people on to several foods that they previously either didn't like at all or would never think of eating, because I cook them just that well.

I am healthy. I'm relatively fit. I own three pairs of hot pink high-tops.

I can write. I have a PhD in philosophy, which I don't think can be revoked, so that has to count as both a lasting accomplishment and an opportunity I was lucky to have and take advantage of.

At this point, I'm not crazy, sick, homeless, or being shot at or tortured by anyone.

Okay then.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

X-ina's Birfday!

Happy Birthday Christina!

Here's a link to her song (I took out the autoplayer because it was playing two songs at once, very confusing):

Xina's Birfday

This is not the very first Paper Cats recording in which I sing. It is the first that has been made public, for the simple reason that I'm terribly shy about singing. I feel that I have about the worst singing voice ever. My love, who sings beautifully, and loves singing, encourages singing at all times and everywhere, but generally I cannot comply... unless I sing in this goofy voice I've compounded and developed from muppets, Bobcat Goldthwait, and Barney from The Simpsons.

The song is kinda cool, actually. And it's a birfday present, so what the hell.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

open mic night and fried things

Paper Cats rocks out!

We had our second public performance on Monday night at an open mic night at a bar in Hayward called the Bistro. Our friends Jen and Andy were going with our grad school buddy Paul, who is also a song writer and rock legend, at least to us. We hemmed and hawed, but in the end overcame our anxieties and misgivings and did a set. We played four songs: a new one that doesn't really have a name yet, and friend-favorites All The Quirky Singer-Songwriters You Can Eat, Fifth of July, and Lancelot's Song.

And we proceeded to close the bar, at close to 2, watching all the rest of the open mic-ers. I was glad we did. They stayed to hear us, after all, and the last two were terrific: a fingerstyle player who did excellent versions of two Beatles songs and a few other things, and a straight-ahead rocker with a vague resemblance to Jackson Browne. Of course, that meant we didn't get to bed until around 4-ish, and woke up Tuesday in less than ideal physical condition.

I'm so glad we did it, and now I feel a little more confident that we can play songs, in public, and not have rotting fruit, skunky beer, or broken furniture thrown at us.

The afternoon before, we went to the Hayward/Russell City blues festival, and heard some good Texas blues, ate some fried catfish and snapper, and generally enjoyed the heck out of ourselves. I forget to enjoy life sometimes, which might seem ridiculous, but it's nonetheless true. Especially this past year, I've been so focused on such awful crap, spent so much time and energy on it, that I was alienated from fun.

Plus, being around my friend Andrew, who is a psychology Phd and faculty at a junior college, is incredibly therapeutic. I feel mentally healthier after a couple days with him, always.

We came home to 100 degrees, and no Internet access. Something Happened to our modem and wireless router, both 6 years old, and no matter what I tried, they simply would not work. This morning I bought a new modem, which seemed to be the problem, but then when I connected the router, it came on, then sort of fritzed, and the router equivalent of dashboard idiot lights came on and stayed on. So we bought a new router - a much faster one, so in all this isn't so bad. It took 5 hours to get the damned things running properly, configured properly, hooked up to DSL line and through password gateways and all the rest of it. But now we're up. Now that I've spent 10 hours on this annoying, expensive problem, I think we're gonna watch something funny.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

ethics and the CSU budget crisis

The CSU administration and Board of Trustees come up pretty often as examples in my Professional Ethics course. Their ways of handling the CSU budget, personnel issues, and policies affecting students raise ethical questions. For example, the CSU administration's usual bargaining strategy is to say that whatever the faculty want - increased pay, job protections for lecturers - is entirely impossible. We spent 2 years bargaining our last contract, with our first raises in years (which we've stopped receiving as of last year). We settled mainly because the faculty voted to strike, and at about the same time, the CSU administration was publicly embarrassed by the revelation that they had a $2 billion reserve fund, while claiming they had no money to pay for faculty raises. This kind of thing raises some ethical questions for my students.

My students ask how ethical it is that the CSU administration and Board of Trustees continues to make them pay larger fees, while making it harder to get a good quality education. They ask how ethical it is for the administration to cut faculty and staff, raise student fees, and seemingly suffer less than anyone else. They ask why each of the campus presidents receives a housing allowance equal to my gross salary.

I tend to evade these questions. I don't think a Professional Ethics course should be focused on making moral judgments of people, and the tone of the questions always seems judgmental. I understand why my students would be upset to hear about the ways the CSU administration has handled budgeting of the university, even in relatively good budget years. I'm just not convinced we achieve very much by calling particular administrators unethical.

It's a different story this year, too. The budget problems are enormous. So, if I'm lucky enough to have a job teaching Professional Ethics this year, I think the questions will be focused differently:

What exactly are the ethical implications of having to make massive cuts to the budget, lay off hundreds of employees, turn away thousands of students, and essentially abandon the mission of the CSU? How to go about doing good in such circumstances? How to go about assessing the actions people take?

I'm going to set aside what I think is the obvious case of the Chancellor's Office refusing to offer any substantive details of the furlough proposal to address faculty concerns about its feasibility, or its beneficial effect in reducing layoffs, class cancellations, and other havoc. The CO routinely ignores calls for open discussion or cooperation. Instead, I want to ask, what would be a good way for the CO to handle cutting the budget, and why?

I have two basic impulses for framing this. One is to identify whose good we should be concerned with, and the other is to identify what kind of good we're talking about.

As a starting point, I'm gonna assume that doing good involves doing what one can not to cause avoidable harm to others. This is a fairly uncontroversial utilitarian position (I've stolen the phrasing from Gene James). I think we can also prioritize which others we want to avoid harming, by saying the most innocent should be spared the most harm. Innocent here means being most susceptible or vulnerable, having the least choice about the situation, and/or being to a reasonable degree ignorant of the causes and effects of the situation. In this case, that points to students - students, not taxpayers. This leads to an initial question: how do you handle a $583 million cut (on top of last year's $300 million cut), while avoiding harm to students?

Now, what kind of good is higher education? The 1960 Master Plan for education in California suggests that education is a public good. Well educated citizens make valuable and productive employees in information-based economies. The individual students who go to the CSU and get degrees benefit economically from that opportunity, but beyond that, their contributions to the economy of the state benefit everyone else as well.

I don't hear much in the current discussion that suggests these are central concerns. The bottom line appears to be the bottom line. Thus, it seems reasonable to the Board of Trustees, to many in the legislature, to the governor, to the chancellor, to add yet another student fee increase. Education is in the students' interest to pursue, so they should pay for it, is how the fantastically simplistic argument goes. Meanwhile, cutting employees' hours (or, effectively, their pay - since it is hard to see how faculty workload would genuinely be reduced) denies students a portion of the education that they are going to be paying more for. Add to that the havoc and disruption that would follow from current proposals to cut programs, merge departments, or possibly shut down entire campuses.

I'm not saying the state should absolutely not cut the CSU budget. Given the times, I would only be asking for someone else to suffer more. But the proposals floating now seem to cause a lot of avoidable harm to students, and to deny the public good served by education.

What other solutions are there? I don't have one in hand. For one thing, I'm not privy to the real budgets of the CSU's 23 campuses - no one is. So I don't know whether every resource is being used effectively. How much money could be diverted into educational programs if we suspend extremely expensive (and not well regarded) programs for outcomes assessment? Or halted expansion of degree programs, particularly graduate degrees? And could this be the moment to reconsider the top-heavy growth of management (expanding over the last 10 years at 15 times the pace of faculty)? Or to reconsider the fact that on most CSU campuses, only about half the budget goes toward instruction?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


No news is no good news on the CSU budget front. We're still looking at the same $583 million cut, and the word on the street is massive faculty layoffs are about to be issued. I know already that many of my friends and colleagues will be out of work, and I'm not at all sure I'll have a job this coming academic year, even though 9 of the 33 classes scheduled for fall by the department are, for now, being taught by people below me on the hiring food chain. Even if I knew that the department wasn't facing more than a 30% cut, this would obviously be an incredibly cold comfort.

And of course, the years to follow look as bad, or worse.

I'll omit the rant that I think should rightfully follow here, against short-sighted fiscal policy, terrible management, bizarre legislative priorities, and the crazed, ignorant public sentiment that taxation is extortion (especially given that California, despite all the protestations, imposes relatively light income and property tax burdens). I'm not up for a rant at this point.

When I was a kid in Ohio, about the scariest random occurrence in my life was tornado warnings. I was, and remain, deathly afraid of tornadoes, hurricanes, and thunderstorms (despite having lived a couple of the one, one big of the other, and innumerable of the third).

There's nothing you can do if a tornado is on its way. You go into the basement and hope it doesn't remove everything above your head. You listen to the scratchy radio Emergency Broadcast System announcements, and you wonder how long you might have to live on the big cup of water you've just gotten from the tap. You listen for the long uninterrupted blast from the old Civil Defense siren that warns of the twister on its way.

That's where I am right now, hiding in the basement. And about 13,000 other CSU faculty are there with me.

Monday, July 06, 2009

new song!

First time in a long time. I've been playing around with this for over a year, thinking I might write a lyric, but have never been satisfied with anything I've come up with. So I think it's just going to remain a tune.

I'm trying to get at a feeling of exhilaration and joy that I get only in large cities, and that I've mainly had living in or visiting people who live mainly outside their apartments - in the city itself. If the city is your home, you have the biggest living space you could ask for.