Friday, January 29, 2010

winter term

Todat is the last class day for me this Winter term, because I'm taking a furlough day on Monday. Which brings me to...

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

9. Winter Terms. I just love 'em.

A unique feature of this university has been it's unorthodox academic calendar, with two 13-week semesters (Fall and Spring) and a 4-week intensive Winter term between them. The Winter term changes the way one teaches and learns, or, if you are not assigned or taking a class during Winter, provides effectively (given when Fall ends and Spring begins) up to around 2 months' time between semesters for work, research, recharging, whatever. I've had some of my best teaching experiences and best periods of productive research during Winter.

Not only is tomorrow the last class day of this Winter term, but it's likely to be the last day of Winter term ever. The university president wanted to eliminate Winter term, so he formed a committee to conclude that it would save money during the budget crisis. That committee, illegitimately formed outside of normal channels, and ignoring processes and procedures in state law, CSU system policy, and local campus policy, concluded that it would in fact save money. There are really only two further problems with that committee's recommendations, namely, that it ignored the input of the many constituencies on campus that want to keep Winter term, and that their assumptions about cost savings ignored costs for changing all the courses in the university catalog (because we're shifting to an entirely different calendar).

So, the change eliminates a program popular with faculty and students, will make it harder for many of our students to graduate, will likely not save money, and the decision was made illegitimately. But that's not all. In fact, I'm disappointed that the discussion on campus of how bad this decision is focuses so much on the money it won't save.

The elimination of Winter term is part of the president's broad, unilateral restructuring of the university to emphasize non-state-support, for-profit units of the university and minimize the public funding for instruction at this increasingly allegedly public institution. Replacing Winter term in the new academic calendar will be a 3-week "inter-session" held through Extended Education (read: the for-profit unit of the university). This is part of a systemic effort, largely invisible to faculty, students, and most others who aren't looking extremely carefully, to phase out state-support academic programs that are less "efficient" and replace them with for-profit versions of the same course work. In addition, the effort is underway to turn away from our mission and toward technical programs.

Some faculty have decried this as a move away from the liberal arts mission the university initially had. Although that's true, and my own department - to say nothing of my own career - are targets for elimination as a result, I think this is driven not by some hatred of liberal arts. It's grasping for whatever might produce revenue most efficiently. Because the new mission of the university, the de facto mission, is just that: generating revenue, cutting costs. (I can see it in faux-Latin on an official crest: "ingenero vectigal , incidere sumptus.")

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

marriage ban

Proposition 8 is on trial. The judge in the case is asking its supporters for evidence that it will, as it was claimed, protect the institution of marriage from damage that same-sex marriage would cause. So far, defenders of Prop 8 have testified that same-sex marriage would be good for couples and children, and that there is no actual evidence that same-sex marriage will disrupt heterosexual couples. They just kinda know it will, they say.

Prop 8 supporters have also claimed that marriage is invalidated by couples who do not have biological children, since the sole purpose of marriage, according to them, is for sexual reproduction and child-rearing. These are obviously specious and intellectually dishonest claims, but hey, it's politics. It's not about telling the truth about your policy goals or motivations, it's about manipulating people to vote for them. However, the tide turned.

Today the San Francisco Chronic reported on the testimony of a long-time same-sex marriage opponent who claimed in court that same-sex marriage would increase divorce rates, again, without presenting any actual evidence. One might think you'd need evidence to support a claim like that.

One might be wrong! Face the facts: 100% of divorces are the result of marriages! Expanding marriage rights is going to increase the number of couples who divorce, because, as my statistics prove, marriage causes divorce.

The trial is making it increasingly clear that the only way to save the institution of marriage is to destroy it. Marriage is the leading cause of divorce. Therefore, marriage should be banned. T-shirts and bumper-stickers to follow.

Monday, January 25, 2010

new career options #3

I suppose an obvious new career option for anyone with a PhD in the humanities is to turn to crime.

I have some skills and relevant experience as a criminal. I can be very deceptive and sneaky (viz., PhD in humanities). I learned at a very young age how to move about the house without being heard or seen, at any hour I chose. Beginning in junior high, I taught myself how to palm things, hide them wherever I could, and how to use a credit card to break into doors or windows. [Incidentally, that's a skill I recommend to anyone. People forget their keys.]

Most of my criminal experience came during college - which I suppose is true for most college-educated people, of my generation at least. [College life has changed, and colleges have changed, and now there's far more surveillance and discipline going on for most students to get the full benefit of the opportunities campuses afford them.] A friend of mine and I started hanging around our campus late on Sunday nights during our freshman year. We spent a lot of time in the Art building, which was always open, legitimately or not, so some painter or sculptor or musician, or a pair of them, could get in to work or to meet for a tryst, or possibly both. It took a handful of Sundays hanging around there before we struck on the idea that other academic buildings could also be open - or made to be open.

We spent the next month of Sundays on nighttime prowls of the campus, checking every door to every building, seeing where we could go, what we could get into, mainly for the sheer hell of it. There were odd doors in odd buildings that people would prop open or forget to lock, and that gave us access to almost every building on campus over the time period of our crawls. We were experimenting on how far into any building we could get, and in the process learned a bit about what people were studying and researching.

In addition to our usual B&E activities, we would do whatever petty looting or stealing we could arrange easily. Because we had no money, we used to hunt under vending machines for lost change. One night my friend found a six-pack of generic orange soda behind a machine. We figured that meant the vending machine service people sometimes left surplus just lying on the floor, so that became a major target. Plus, he thought he knew how to use a wire hanger to yank stuff out of vending machines from the little doors at the bottom.

We took door signs from every building we could get into, as a kind of trophy. We glued them on the walls of our dorm: "Rm 218," "WOMEN," "Dr. Shepard," "NO SMOKING" and so forth.

One night we broke into a weird maze-like building on campus, and got completely lost in the hallways. We couldn't find our way out again. Eventually we found a stairway down, and tried to take that back to the ground floor. Instead, we ended up underground, in a series of catacombs under the campus. They seemed to lead in a spider web throughout the place - one thread stretching the quarter-mile to the quad, another 500 feet to the library, one locked and padlocked and locked again leading to the administration building. But one catacomb was open, and it led, we believed, in the direction of the student union. We followed that, trying doors and gates as we reached them, hoping to find our way back up to the ground to escape. Finally a door opened, to a small room with a mini fridge, microwave oven, another door leading somewhere else, and a table and chairs. Some kind of break room. My friend looked in the fridge (there was the foraging operation to think of, after all), found a can of Beanie-Weanie, and handed it to me just as we heard voices and footsteps beyond the other door in the room. We retreated rapidly.

I don't remember too clearly what happened next. Several blind turns and stairways doors later, we were back on the bricked sidewalks crossing the campus, on a part of the long sidewalk crossing the campus that we didn't realize we had been anywhere near. Instinctively, we walked away from where we'd been, doubled back, and then started back toward our dorm - which meant walking back past the scene of the crime. There were a handful of campus police roaming about near where we had entered the catacombs, through the unexpectedly open door.

We concluded we'd broken into the cops' break room, and consequently, stolen one of these cops' lunch for tonight's graveyard shift. "WHERE'S MY BEANIE-WEANIE?!!" he would roar, as we recounted the story to ourselves years later.

There's no way this kind of stuff will keep us afloat now in 2010, but I think I might be able to put a resume together - you know, puff this up into Professional Experience. Maybe I can track down that cop and ask him for a recommendation.

Friday, January 22, 2010


I've been a fairly public critic of my university's administration, and of the CSU chancellor, just about from the time I first set foot on the campus. It's built into my personality to do that kind of thing, so it surprises me, even now, when I'm reminded that most of my colleagues and most employees are fearful of management's power. Fear might be the biggest obstacle to labor organizing, in fact.

I don't experience a lot of fear. Even this past couple of years, with my job becoming increasingly precarious, and the local administration becoming more tyrannical, I haven't had very much fear of losing my job. I've had some, but I don't think it has really changed my behavior that much.

Why I don't let fear get to me, I figure, boils down to two key factors. One is that I don't have a mortgage banker or children counting on me. But more important, in day-to-day life, is the joy of the struggle and the solidarity and love of my comrades. Sincerely, when I'm about to protest one way or another about the CSU's management, fear dissipates on contact with enjoyment of the task and with community spirit. Organizers have to bring that to the workers they're talking to, and to actions, to be successful, and to make it worth the risks - whatever they turn out to be.

I've just finished reading Multitude, in which Hardt and Negri conclude that the way to counter the violence of imperial war is, in part, through joy and love. I thought that was fairly obvious, in my own life, so it was good to have that affirmation. They even have a formulation of something I've been telling students for years: "Another world is possible." My phrase is: The world is a built world; it can be torn down and rebuilt.

[Though often repetitive, I think anyone interested in contemporary political struggle might get something from Hardt and Negri. You could probably get away with reading just the last chapter, though the stuff on empire and war in the first chapter set it up well.]

Multitude was the politics book I picked up right after reading Cynthia Willett's book Irony in the Age of Empire, in which she argues that satire is the best way to expose the thoroughgoing political corruption, and the destructiveness of chaos capitalism, in the contemporary world. Bracing stuff for hopeful pessimists like me. It allows me to realize that, if the worst I have to fear is losing my job because of destructive management practices, then, big deal. I doubt the administration is going to order a beat-down of faculty or student activists any time soon. And if they do (as has happened recently in California), we'll do our best to enjoy that. Meanwhile, I can't help it - there's just something intrinsically hilarious about the arrogant excesses of managerial power.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

new career options #2

Today, I'll consider another potential career option, that my loveliest suggested during a discussion of CFA political endorsements. Just as we heard that a CFA staffer is doing well in his campaign for the California Assembly, she leaned over and whispered, "That'd be a good career move for you - you should run for office!"

Interestingly, many of the same skills are needed to be a successful Politician as for being a successful Cult Leader. Recent history suggests a Politician probably shouldn't be as articulate as a Cult Leader, so I'll have to try to tone that down a bit. It's also apparently tremendously helpful to have a few stock slogans, in particular moralizing ones.

A successful Politician needs the backing of a major political party, enormous quantities of cash, and a support system staffed by munificently-paid consultants, well-paid operatives, and unpaid volunteer grunts. Those will be tough to pull together. I've never been very good at raising money. Getting the endorsement of one of the two major political parties seems to depend on whether I can raise money for the party and come to the aid of other Politicians. Whew! I'm gonna be busy!

And I'll need your help. Please send your campaign contribution today. Join our fight in Sacramento or Washington or Turlock or wherever.

On the other hand, the response to my pondering being a Cult Leader suggests that I could already have a few unpaid volunteers lined up for stuffing envelopes and walking precincts. I think I could rile people up to the point that they devote their energies to the cause of not really doing much to change anything.

There are a handful of basic styles of Politicians. I don't think I could pull off "down-homey salt-of-the-earth" as my basic style. Y'all would see through my protestations of unsophistication. I'm more naturally like the "brainy policy wonk" style, but the problem there is that when the chips are down I might have to actually know something about policy. I think "tough, street-smart" is the easiest, because all you really have to do is be cynical about your opponent.

My opponent - easily the biggest threat to democracy we have ever experienced - must be stopped at any cost. And I need your help with that cost. Send your campaign contribution today. No amount is too small or too large. (There are donation limits for campaigns, of course, but these are easily avoided by contributing to "advisory" committees.)

Finally, as we all know, a Politician has to deny having skeletons in the closet. So: I have always lived a completely upstanding and moral life, and have never strayed from my basic principles of justice and ethics. There. That should handle it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

new career options #1

With all the uncertainty and potential doom I face in my current job, I thought it might be a good idea for me to consider alternate careers. Today, I want to take a look at whether Cult Leader would be a good career choice for me.

I have a lot of the basic skills needed to be a successful Cult Leader already. I'm fairly charismatic, and I have better than average leadership skills. I'm quite articulate, and can speak extemporaneously. I'm energetic and a hard worker, which I think has to be very important for a Cult Leader.

One thing I lack is a cult. I could try to get in on an existing cult - the Rajneeshee business, Aum Shinrikyo, or maybe the Jesuits - but most of their leadership positions are filled. I could maybe bring back a defunct cult, like the People's Temple or the Branch Davidians, or even the Whigs, but I'm guessing the red tape would be nearly intractable. If I were to start my own cult, I'd obviously have a lot of up-front planning and initial investment, but it'd be fully customizable and I could pick the pajamas color and everything.

Generally, cults have sacred texts. Here I've got a few options as well. I could pick a book that's already out there. There are excellent choices, like Plato's Symposium or Larousse Gastronomique, or possibly, copyright clearance pending, the New User's Guide for iPod nano. I've long considered finally sitting down and writing The Book of Dave, based on the life, miracles, and prophecies of my pal Dave "Dave" Koukal. But it's also pretty tempting to write one from scratch.

[Note to self: remember to include a good flood story.]

Turns out the distinction between a cult and a religion is somewhat hazy and fairly subjective. Sociologists and other folks who study cults tend to associate high degrees of mind control, personality-reverence, and aggressive discipline and efforts to retain members. But the history of the Catholic Church is full of that kind of stuff, and several major world religions today continue these practices (Catholics gave up discipline ages ago; they're much more into heavy petting these days).

In any case, I need a flock of the faithful to really pull this off and get any return on it. So I need a marketing campaign. It's gotta be the toughest part of starting a cult, when you think about it. Plus, obviously, you need to target the lost, confused, left-out, and un-culted 18-25 year-old demographic to pick up hip, cool cachet.


True story: A girl I knew in high school wrote a note in my senior yearbook predicting that she'd hear about me, 20 years on, having moved to California [done!] and, maybe, started a cult or something. [Aha!]

Thursday, January 14, 2010

csu, state budget, my future

The governor's January budget proposal stab in the dark ficción calls for a $300 million increase in funding for the CSU, and a further 10% increase in student fees (which is another $350 million or so in revenue, or, in other words, blood drained from our students). This, and other news, has shifted my CSU employment-threat status from "doomed" to "precarious." The governor (in his last year) also said that the state has to stop cutting higher education funding. He claimed it was because he recognizes the significance of education for the state's future, but I think his staffer admitted the truth to the newz media: the student protests got to them.

I'm so frickin' conflicted, it ain't funny. What should I do if one of these jobs comes in, but the likelihood of my current job remaining becomes more certain?

I love my stupid university. I adore our students, I adore the classes I teach, and I adore raising hell there when the opportunity arises. Although I don't love Turlock, I do love fruit, possibly more than is altogether healthy or sane.

I've lived in California almost 12 years, and I miss Pittsburgh and snow (one of which I might possibly get in a move). I've never had job security in any meaningful sense - i.e., tenure - and won't ever get it here. Besides which, the governor's budget proposal pipe dream lame attempt at generating a mass hypnotic spell ficción is certainly not going to come to pass.

Plus, at its current pace, my stupid university will be a broken shell of its former self within 2 years.

And ultimately, I have to face the fact that as long as I am in this position, not only will I be vulnerable to losing my job practically any time, but I will continue to have permanently degraded working conditions that I don't deserve.

It's all rather academic at this point, though, since at the moment I don't have a job offer to contemplate.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

on the road, perhaps, sometime

Job prospects are starting to begin to think about considering sorting themselves out. And we're contemplating what it would mean to move out of state.

It's bringing the reality of the situation into sharper focus.

I mean, I am likely to be making a decision soon to leave the university I have worked for and loved to teeny tiny pieces. I've been here almost 12 years, which is a year shy of the longest time I've lived anywhere. I know there's a certain degree of trauma involved in moves like this, no matter the circumstances. But I also know it's worse when it's coerced.

I've lived rough quarters of my life in four states: Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and California. About half of that was in suburbia (as a kid in Maumee, Ohio and in Greensboro, North Carolina, then Charlotte). In Pennsylvania, it was in the old, beautifully broken city of Pittsburgh. And now Central Valley overgrown small town California.

The two coerced moves (to NC and CA) were much more traumatic than the one move by choice (to Pittsburgh). Here we go again.

This time, it'll be with Lauren, who has never lived anywhere but California.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

movies - Clash of the Titans and the National Guard

We went to see Avatar last night. It was alright. I could have enjoyed it a lot more, I think, but the movie theater was insanely loud, and I had to wear earplugs just to tolerate it. That really shouldn't be necessary, and it pisses me off.

Anyway, at cinemas lately they're playing an ad for the National Guard. It's over 2 minutes of heroic imagery of the Guard doing heroic things, replete with captions that tell us that the Guard never leave a soldier behind, and so forth, and a freaking chorus singing mostly incomprehensible lyrics, but eventually dropping in the line about not leaving a soldier behind. It's bizarre, over-the-top, certainly jingoistic. I'm really offended by ads for the military, because of their portrayal of military service and all this heroic movie magic crapola they fuse to the image of the soldier. Plus, this one is way too long, and the chorus bit is hilariously high-concept.

Speaking of hilariously high-concept, apparently somebody remade Clash of the Titans, which some will remember as the cheesetastic 1981 fantasy flick starring Harry Hamlin as Perseus. Part of what made the old film so amusingly bad was the corny animation bits, but really, the overacting by the gods was pretty cute, too. Plus, it has the lovely irony of having old film stars playing the gods - you know, a clash of the (movie) titans. Ha ha. The new movie has got to be on any reasonable person's short list of recent Things That We Don't Need At All. It looks like it's virtual-cheesetastic.

This morning I woke up with the start of lyrics for a song in my head, and somehow that led immediately to imagining combining the National Guard ad with Clash of the Titans. Now that's the movie we need.

See! The gods bicker, as Guard troops stand by awaiting orders, fidgeting!

See! The Guard sweep in to stop Medusa's attack!

See! Perseus battle the Kraken while the Guard builds sandbag floodwalls on the Mediterranean coast!

Friday, January 01, 2010

what, no end of the year wrap-up post?


I tried. I did a "the good, the bad, and the crap" post. The crap, of course, was mostly related to the CSU. I ditched that one.

I wrote one that was just goofy. I ditched that one.

Instead, I ended up writing a song, that I might post later. The lyrics go something like this:

It’s the end of the year
Gonna party like it’s 2009


Whew! What a year!
We ate fried chicken
and drank beer and wine
like a big fried chicken party

Remember last spring?
It got all warm and sunny
birds flowers and bunnies
like spring during the early – uh – spring


We played lots of games
that one with the cards
and the other one with the cards
and the one without cards

Remember last summer?
Whew! Hot! It was hot!
Too hot! And then that one day
was really really hot.


Whew! What a year!
We still have all of our toes!
So that’s good! You gotta keep
track of your toes, you know.

I don’t really remember it much
to be totally honest with you
but there wasn’t a lot going on, I think,
so I don’t think I missed too much



Okay, time to call it a year
2009 is going away, for good
Flushed down the toilet of history
like a year or used cat litter