Saturday, August 29, 2009

one last summer feast

My loveliest is singing in a local production of a musical, and we invited our friends Jennifer and Andrew out to visit, see the show, and be fed prime rib. Then we invited our buddies X-ina and Guerin, and also Lauren's boss and our friend Lee. Then Jen and Andy changed plans.

Still wanting to celebrate the show, and cook something special, we decided to wait on the prime rib, and instead I started thinking about gnocchi. The first time I made gnocchi, I thought to myself, well, I'll never do that again. I thought that the second time, too. I'm still making gnocchi. I made an extra-large batch, so there'd be some frozen extra gnocchi (it freezes quite well, uncooked; I don't know about par-boiled, but I think that would make sense too), and it is a lot of work to do it at all, so what the heck.

Last night, I made two different sauces for it - a gorgonzola cream sauce with spinach, much like the version served at L'Osteria in North Beach (SF). I added nutmeg (which I adore) and Kierschwasser to the sauce, to give it a different twist. The other sauce was an altered version of Mario Batalli's lemon sage butter sauce. There's leftover of the gorgonzola sauce, but you can't have any, because I'm mean.

Then came a salad, then came the main course - roast pork loin, stuffed with shallots, fennel, sage, and breadcrumbs, with a pan sauce made with some vermouth, my own demi-glace, and the drippings browned on the pan, along with long fine julienned carrots and zucchini, which I also roasted. I wish now I'd snapped a picture. The presentation was pretty cool, with the slices of stuffed roast down the middle of our big white porcelain platter, and the heaps of vegetables on either side.

I mean, I knew, as this plan started coming together on Thursday morning, that fennel would stuff pork very nicely. I didn't bargain for this to go so tremendously well. This was one of my best efforts, I think. But on balance, I gotta say, people who cook, you should stuff a pork loin with fennel. Your mouth will thank me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

presidential imperial authority

I just heard a story from BBC news about the failure of the Obama administration to launch a criminal investigation into torture techniques employed under the authority of the Bush administration. Their various political and academic experts/talking heads came to the consensus position that there is every legal reason to go forward with an investigation, but every political reason not to.

The elephant in the room: presidents are effectively above the law. Now, progressive Bush critics have been saying for several years that Bush had placed himself above the law, on this and a host of other issues (for instance, the unprecedented level of his use of signing statements), but it struck a different tone for me after hearing this story.

For purposes of this little flight of imagination, suppose that torture is both morally wrong and illegal under federal and international law. Suppose further that some president - call him President Lush for purposes of illustration - had ordered that torture be used in an attempt to extract information about planned terrorist operations in the US (in this case, let's suppose further that we are referring to foreign terrorists, trained and motivated by a ruthless religion-exploiting leader who was in turn trained by the CIA - you know, just for the sake of illustration - and not domestic terrorists trained and motivated by a completely different ruthless religion-exploiting leader).

If you're following so far, the scenario is: (a) President Lush ordered torture to be done, and (b) that torture is illegal. What the BBC story made clear is that, under these conditions, no future President in his or her right mind would attempt to prosecute these crimes, because that future President's political viability would be instantly destroyed by the party of President Lush and their media blowhards.

This leaves no domestic avenue for criminal justice to apply to President Lush. Meanwhile, President Lush might be prosecuted by an international criminal court - say, a war crimes court. This might well work, except that the military power of the US makes President Lush above international law as well. It's unimaginable that any sitting president would turn over President Lush to the international court, and it's unimaginable that any international body would, or could, come grab him.

So there you have it: we no longer have a Presidency. We have an elected Emperor, whose domestic power is limited by Congress, but whose international, military and paramilitary power is unchecked, unlimited, and beyond any meaningful legal authority or oversight of any kind. Let me remind that the military budget of the US is 48% of all the world's military spending - and it's not clear that this represents the entirety of the military and paramilitary budget. That's trillions of dollars of unchecked power.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

file under: probably shouldn't mention...

I've been dealing with the fallout from the CSU budget cuts - specifically, the faculty furlough and the slashing of hundreds of lecturer positions. It hadn't occurred to me until now that I'm going through the stages of grief. Today I'm angry.

And this is what I think I shouldn't write about, but compulsively am anyway. The budget catastrophe is, actually, old news. The CSU has been under assault since the rise to power of Der Gropenfuhrer in 2001. Budgets have been cut four times, and Arnold has promised the citizens of California that he would "starve" the public sector. The public loved this, apparently, because they re-elected him, apparently not realizing that by "the public," he meant them, their schools, their roads, their cities. Funny, that. Apparently.

I've been telling people about this for, roughly, 7 years. I've been soliciting their attention and help for about five. Please, I'd say, write your legislator. Write a letter to the editor. Come to a rally. Tell your students. Help us elect education-friendlies.

I got a lot of thank-you notes. But other than the CFA activists on campus, and an effort this past year that students organized for our more local problems, not a lot of people got involved. Some faculty smirked at me. Some seemed to think I was overly paranoid, combative, harshly critical of the CSU administration, the Board of Trustees Saboteurs, or the political process.

Now, lecturers keep contacting me, asking what I can do to help them out. Part of me, today, is thinking that it would have been nice if they had joined the fight years ago.

Mainly, though, I'm angry at the smirkers. You disliked my belligerent attitude? You scoffed at my anxieties? Now, you'll have a lot more time to contemplate it. And I'll be paying for your unemployment insurance. You're welcome.

See, that's not fair. I realize that my anger is part of the grieving process, and that I'm not just grieving the jobs of so many faculty and staff, so many educational careers of our students, but also my own career. I know that this is a reaction to the anxiety - or perhaps certainty is the better word - that my career, my passion, the only meaningful work I ever imagined I could do, is going to end in a year.

In a couple weeks, the mushroom cloud will ooze over our students, and they'll be asking why their classes have disappeared, why their enrollments have been canceled and they have to try to re-schedule classes, with no spaces left in any of them. Most of them won't have any idea what's hit them. That's gonna be fun, too.

Friday, August 21, 2009

fantasy conversation

I suppose everyone has made-up conversations in their own heads, and I suppose further that they do especially with people they expect confrontation from: ex-lovers, parents, people in authority. I tend to have them with college administrators.

I had one today, in which an administrator on our campus (whom I shan't name, not out of fear but out of a random attack of discretion) asked me why I'm so repulsed by administrators, why I assume all of them are out to get us.

"Well," I said, in my head, "like managers and executives in corporate America, college administrators are basically unaccountable to anyone whose lives and careers they affect. For one thing, their incredible degree of vertical and especially horizontal mobility means that they move on somewhere else before they can be taken to account for what they've done. But perhaps even more significant is that the administrators who aren't overtly, gleefully malfeasant have a direct self-interest to protect - displaying total obedience and fealty to executives. The entire system of management rewards base aspiration and punishes moral autonomy."

To which, in my imagination, the administrator replied with portrayals of shock and dismay.

I put it differently in my head another time: "The basic problem is that the executive class bears no responsibility for its actions, relations with other constituencies, and so on. They simply move on, having 'fixed' (in a veterinary, not a mechanical, sense) the university, to 'fix' another one."

I just wanted to vent a bit. Thanks.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

pardon me while I have a strange interlude

I can't find a site that lets me upload a streaming mp3 large enough for this track. It's 13 MB. Sorry.

If you hit this link to Myspace (ugh), it should work. I hope. Dammit.

I'm not sure this is actually music. One might suspect I can't actually play a guitar (there are admittedly a couple minor flubs). But this is how I meant this to sound. Honest. This is a tune based on a scale I've been playing for years, and which isn't really a scale. All that I know about music tells me the intervals are totally wrong. It makes me very happy.

Working title was "Almost Music." Then I decided to name it after a weird bit of business in my favorite Marx Brothers movie. Groucho says, "Pardon me while I have a strange interlude," referring to the Theater Guild play titled Strange Interlude.

The tune is composed of chords and scales built on a scale starting at A and going as follows: A A# C C# E F G# A. People who know about music recognize the total wrongness of such a scale. Sorry about the flubs. Not sorry about the scale. Deal.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

are we gonna get sued?

Andrew brought it up, I think. The impact of the state budget cuts to the CSU, and of the furlough deemed necessary to achieve salary savings to make ends meet, is that the CSU is admittedly doing all that it can to cut enrollment and reduce class offerings. What no one ever seems to make a fuss about is that these budget-cutting policies probably violate state law and executive orders from the CSU Chancellor's office.

For instance, executive order 523 (EO 523 in pdf), issued in 1988, sets out formulas for determining eligibility for regular admission to the CSU. The goal of that EO is to create a policy that will permit the CSU to comply with California ed code sections 40753, 40754, and 40601 (at the time; I'm not sure the numbering has remained consistent).

Some deans have proposed shifting basic courses to extended education, across a number of departments. These are regular, credit-bearing courses, so shifting them over to extension would save some bucks - students would pay an additional fee per unit, and faculty would be paid much lower extension rates and receive no benefits. But the policy would also probably violate EO 804 and relevant ed code sections.

The furlough program will make it very challenging for the CSU faculty to comply with EO 79, Individual Faculty Obligation to Meet Classes. (This is one of my favorites. It's fun to speculate exactly what was going on in 1969 - when the EO was promulgated - that required this policy.)

This academic year, the entire CSU - 23 campuses, maybe 18,000 faculty when all the contingent faculty are caused to disappear, around 400,000 students - will almost certainly fail to follow its own policies, and may violate state law regarding higher education. So, does this possibly subject the CSU to a massive law suit, say, a class action, literally, on behalf of the students? Or a criminal investigation by the attorney general? (Is the CSU about to commit massive fraud?)

Sunday, August 09, 2009


So, the house my parents lived in in Ohio a few years back was firebombed this week. I hope the photos are large enough to show that the roof is, well, gone in the middle. The bomb was apparently through through a rear window, possibly upstairs. The master suite is was located in the rear. The bomb burned through that entirely, and also a bedroom in the front of the house.




I wonder what you do after a house is firebombed. Do you rebuild it? In this case, you'd be essentially rebuilding the entire place, so perhaps it's just as easy to raze the damn thing. And is it difficult to sell a place after something like that? Apparently, they're having a hard time selling a house in San Francisco that was the site of a triple murder a few years ago... I'd think firebombing would maybe lower property values.

Anyway, I didn't spend a lot of time there, but my recollection is that it was a really nice house.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Monday, August 03, 2009

back to things

12. Crosswords and other word games found in newspapers. I just love 'em. Back when I subscribed to the Modesto Bee (their motto: One Of America's Newspapers?), I did the crossword, the Jumble, the cryptogram, and the anagram games every day. Now that the Bee is far less a part of my life - which is almost entirely a good thing - I do the online crossword from the San Francisco Chronicle (their motto: San Francisco Is Hipper Than Anywhere Else, And Even Though There Is No Real Proof Of This, And Indeed A Lack Of Evidence Showing It's Any Hipper Than, Say, Portland, We Will Continue Our Policy Of Smug Use Of The Phrase "The City" To Refer To San Francisco, As Though No Other Place Even Qualifies As A City. I know - unwieldy, ain't it?). I've looked but cannot find any other of the daily word games online.

13. Strawberry tarts. I just love 'em. I happen to make a mean strawberry tart, and I happen to have made one yesterday, which we sampled last night as dessert. Boy, howdy. (I'd post a picture to brag and to create envy/hunger, but we left our camera in Hayward.)

Whenever I make a tart, we run lines from an old Monty Python sketch, in which a Pepperpot (a Python in drag) offers her husband a series of desserts all including rat as an ingredient, ending the list with "strawberry tart." It turns out the strawberry tart also has rat in it, three of them, so the husband asks for a slice "without so much rat in it." Subsequently, a church police officer (it's complicated) refers to it as "rat tart," which is funny, but also the more accurate description of any strawberry tart with three rats in it. Consequently, we refer to strawberry tart as "rat tart."