Monday, December 31, 2012

resolutions in the form of a resolution

RESOLVED: That New Year's resolutions are basically worthless.

RESOLVED: That forming new resolutions does nothing but perpetuate the absurd cultural trope that we can, in fact, change who we are overnight, as though having thrown a switch.

RESOLVED: That the tradition of New Year's resolutions does no one any good.

RESOLVED: That I should be more patient and kinder in the New Year.

RESOLVED: Oh, and floss more diligently.

RESOLVED: And stop punting puppies.

RESOLVED: And quit doing that other thing.

RATIONALE: It's the friggin' New Year. Evidently, this requires us to make resolutions we either won't keep or have no intention of keeping, and also to drink fizzy liquids, preferably with alcohol in them. Who am I to judge?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012: year in review in review

I've stumbled onto a handful of year-in-review stories published by major nooz media, as probably most of those stumbling here have done.

The LA Times published top ten lists (how extremely creative and unique!) of what we'll miss and what we won't miss from 2012. Genius!

National Public Radio spent listener contributions on reviews of the year in politics, music, and Twitter--in order to prove NPR has cultural cachet.

The New York Times presented 2012 in pictures, without a hint of irony.

I've said it before, and I'll repeat it here. What these all have in common is that they mean reporters don't have to report news during the end of December. This year, they are also benefitted from the actual events, in that right now a nooz story can be generated by an old BASIC program randomizing the words shooting, fiscal cliff, and drone attack. In other words, not much has happened this year.

Tuesday morning we start the whole damn thing all over again. Stupid Mayans!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012: the year in food

Sometimes, I cook. I cooked a few things this year.

I planned, and cooked a portion of, the big birthday bash/debacle/party, including beef Wellington, yet another sorbet, and the main course that roused an ovation--halved cornish hens roasted atop potatoes, carrots, and all kindsa other stuff. That was a weird event, because I had a panic attack halfway through preparation on the day, and felt sick through much of the night. My Loveliest got me through it, as she has most of this year, and our diners did their best to muddle through all of the obstacles. Really, who serves beef Wellington as a mere entrée?

I made an old stand-by for the first time in a while: prosciutto-stuffed chicken breasts. This time, with sides of Swiss chard and potatoes with additional prosciutto, cuz why not?

Butternut squash ravioli with sage butter sauce? Check. With local squash and sage from the back yard. (We don't churn our own butter. Yet.)

How about fusilli buco with shrimp and vodka sauce? Yip. This whole vodka sauce thing is a figment of American "Italian" food, but what the hell, it's tasty. (It wasn't really vodka sauce, but I faked it with lemon juice. We don't make our own vodka. Yet.) It's especially satisfying to make it from homemade tomato sauce. Fusilli buco is my favorite pasta.

Another thing to make with homemade tomato sauce is a meatloaf sandwich, in particular, if yer meatloaf, like mine, is made from ground pork, lamb, and beef, and spiked with cumin. Slice o' that, tomato sauce, mozzarella, melted in the oven, perfect. I recommend this heartily to people who eat animal flesh.

Iffen you don't, then, how about the notorious gorgonzola sauce pizza? Made about a dozen of them this year, typically with diced tomatoes, chopped kalamata olives, and a little chopped scallion (chopped artichoke hearts are strongly recommended). If you happen to be Xina or Che, and you happen to be reading this, and you happen to be wondering about New Year's Eve, you would be well advised to prepare for this pizza.

I already have plans for an Epiphany supper early this January. It'll be mind-expanding.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012: three differing views

Like any good parents, we would invade our children's privacy by reading their email, Facebook pages, and of course their diaries. Since we don't have human children, we practice our good parenting on the cats, with the help of cross-species linguists from Stanford whom we pay exorbitant sums. (It's worth it, and you'd know that if you were good enough cat parents to be suspicious enough to need to know what terrible things your cats did or were planning to do, so that you could steer them onto the path of righteousness. I digress.)

Like most Year in Review nonsense, this will focus on major events in 2012. For cats, these "events" break down into two fundamentally paradoxical categories: (1) immediate, urgent, random events of [a] noise, [b] lack of food, [c] lack of humans, [d] appearances of UFOs (unidentified feathered objects), or [e] things that need to be stalked and potentially started at; and (2) home invasions. We shall focus only on (1)[c] and (2).

Since we have invaded all three kitties' privacies, we'll be able to review the year's events from each document.


We intended to go to a conference in Canada in June, but my passport had run out. Nonetheless, we took a trip back East, visited friends and family, so the plane ticket didn't go to waste.

From Valentine's diary, Les passions de Valentin

They've left - Earlobe and Food. It's been -- it's been some time. I'm left with no choice now but to climb to the highest heights in search of something -- anything -- to eat! My great friends and I have already consumed every bit of food, and every gram of catnip, we could find. We are all out of our minds now, we the beautiful, we for whom there are no rules, no laws, no commandments! Now, what care have we for Food, or for Earlobe?! We are free! Come, brothers! There's catnip in the cupboard for us all!! Or maybe in the laundry!! It could be in the stuff in the triangle room!!!

My mind is reeling, my soul is afire!

From Arthur's Diary, Letter to his Father

I'm sure you believe this is some discipline to improve the condition of my soul. My soul! As though you cared for my soul at all, and not for your beloved discipline. And this is what the whole affair comes down to, does it not? With the cruelty only the devout can conjure, to treat their own, their flesh and blood, as sacrifices to an Order, a Matter, an Eternal, you abandon me to live among these wretches, and will refuse even the merest request for an allowance to find more suitable accommodations. HSSSSSSS!!!!!!!

From Alexander's diary, Scientifical Works

Those we call "the humans" have been away now for -- a time. (If only we had more reliable chronological instruments!) Valentine and Arthur have taken two distinct approaches in their response to these new stimuli. In my observation, while both of them seem to achieve equivalent results, their behavior diverges markedly. I took samples from each of the subjects after -- a time, and another time, and sometime after that. My results have been inconclusive. More trials are necessary, no doubt, but I believe there must be some connection between the absence of the tall, awkward, bald cats and the rest of us. In particular, Arthur's behavior has been altered, and aside from the sample I've taken, he has refused my repeated requests for a simple physical examination.

Oh, no, where's my daddy? where's mommy? where's mommy? (my other mommy?)

I have to keep myself together, maintain my objectivity.

Are they home yet? Brreoowww?? (I've trained them to respond to this for the desired result.)


Just before Thanksgiving, a shih-tzu showed up in the neighborhood, in the rather chilly November night. It was just before we planned to leave, and we had no option but to bring the dog in for a night, and another night on the other end of the trip. 

From Arthur's diary, Letter to his Father

Of course, you would bring in a stranger, treat him like royalty, appease him and give in to his every whim, before considering my own comfort, or even my future. This beast -- "animal" is too good for him -- you place above me in your moral hierarchy. I see what you mean, I must be a lowly and terrible thing, as you confirm for me every -- in every interval of time that I recognize. The stench of the thing! The horrible noise it makes! This is not even a beast, it is a creature of the lowest bowels of the earth, and you, yes, you, father, you bring this terrible thing before me, to what end? To prove to me again my inferiority, my unworthiness? Do I need yet another proof? It stinks. Is that the point? HSSSSSSS!!!!!!

From Alexander's diary, Scientifical Works

Those we call "the humans" have today apparently captured some poor creature and trapped it here in our manse. It seems to amuse them.

It is a pitiful thing, incapable of any form of intelligent behavior, and makes a repeated chirping sound, as if trying to mimic a bird and thus get my attention as a gentleman and hunter, rather than a scientist. It scurries without direction or purpose, and is obviously one of the lowliest and most worthless things in the world. Still, I approach with caution, for the sake of my own safety, but moreover, so that I do not interfere in this sad relic's progenitive destiny -- no doubt, to succumb to a superior species.

The whole incident gives one pause. Though clearly the entirety of creation exists for the sake of the advancement of our command of all in nature, the wastage of such as this debilitated unfortunate seems a heavy price to pay for our knowledge, our culture, and the rightful place of felinity.

Plus, daddy loves me. Mommy too. And mommy.

From Valentine's diary, Les passions de Valentin

He's there! I can smell his foul presence! Vile, despicable, hideous presence!

I would challenge this -- thing -- to a duel, but it is unworthy of my challenge, unworthy to exist, unworthy to breathe!

For no reason but to affirm the right of we who know how to breathe, who know how to eat, who know how to climb, and leap, and live -- for we, we few who are truly alive! For we, I smite thee! I smite thee!!

He's still there! I smell him! Horrid, repulsive, repugnant detritus and stain upon the world of brilliance and life!!

No, he's still there! Don't tell me he's not! EARLOBE! FOOD! Get him out!! Oust the blackguard!

Still here! I must have catnip. I will never make it through the night without --


Saturday, December 22, 2012

2012 in review: the 10 most

Another cheap trick of lazy media hucksters is the top 10 lists for a year: 10 Most Influential Bunnies of the Year, 10 Most Underreported News Stories of the Year, 10 Most Exciting Youtube Videos of People Flossing, 10 Best Looking Pasta Dishes, 10 Indispensable Teabag Tag Wise Sayings, whateverthehell. A main problem with such lists (aside from the minor ethical problem that, instead of doing their jobs, said media hucksters are yanking our chains), is that they get tedious, because each list is so exclusive and limited.

The great advantage of my 10 Most of 2012 is, thus, that it does not specify of what it is a list of the 10 Most. My list will also direct our attention to the capriciousness of similar lists. Like the media whores, I will begin with #10 (that's number 10, not hashtag 10, whippersnappers).

10. Most Drug Interactions. I got back on Wellbutrin in January, and as a result I've just about given up The Demon Bean. Caffeine and Wellbutrin do weird things to my brain chemistry. Caffeine, alcohol, and Wellbutrin do even weirder things to my brain chemistry. We're pretty sure brain chemistry contributed to the series of panic attacks I've had this year, but things are settling. Could been way, way worse.

9. Most Rain. It has been about the rainiest early winter I've seen out here, which bodes well for our having water next summer. The rain washes all the chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that major agribiz dumps all over the Central Valley, into the aquifers that are tapped for our increasingly allegedly potable water. The Turlock Irrigation District's annual water quality report detailed high, but legal, quantities of arsenic and various pathogens. Coulda been way, way worse.

8. Most The Tour de Turlock. I've never been so popular on Facebook. I have kept up a log of all the streets I've ridden my bicycle the length of. It's over 800, and I still have about 20% of the city to go, including some very unpleasant industrial tracts and some very undesirable residential tracts. Fully half of Turlock's streets are barely passable on bike. And the last time I was out on tour I thought I might get mugged. Coulda been way, way worse.

7. Most Flying Kittois Brothers and Valentine. Alexander the Great and Arthur, King of the Kittons, might be adjusting to Valentine's presence. I think they're suspicious of him because he hasn't a last name. Arthur continues to freak out and hiss at everything in the world from time to time--which he never did before Valentino's arrival. Then they all lie on top of us on the sofa at night in a pile. Coulda been way, way worse.

6. Most New Collective Bargaining Agreement. After a massive organizing effort, an overwhelming strike authorization vote, the usual failed negotiations, the CSU administration and the CFA agreed to a new contract. This contract is a win for faculty, even though it provides no raises for faculty for yet another two years (by my count, that'll make six years, the last four of which also included no cost-of-living adjustments, because alone among California state agencies, the CSU charges these as a real cost, despite repeated failures to pass the laugh test on this point with fact-finders). Coulda been way, way worse.

5. Most Not Going to Canada, After All. Packing the day before flying out to Detroit for the annual Canadian Smarties Confab, I realized my passport was expired. We decided that the risk of my not being able to return to the US was worth not going to Canada. We visited our pals Sharon and Dave, then my parents, and I was able to present a commentary on a paper about intrusive technology via Skype. Coulda been way, way worse.

4. Most Alleged Election. I don't do electoral politics stuff as a rule, and I never do the door-to-door stuff. Partly that's a social anxiety thing, but I also don't know how convincing a long-haired bearded atheist intellectual would be. We did our part calling folks to get them to vote for Proposition 30, against Prop. 32. We won on both counts. Coulda been way, way worse.

3. Most Strange Publication. I had put together a long, bizarre essay on phenomenology, fetishism, and embodiment, in a fit of pique against somewhat eminent French philosopher Michel Henry, in August of 2011. I found a random opportunity to submit that, in expurgated form, as an article for a peer-reviewed academic journal, something I hadn't done in about 10 years, for reasons many people should know. They accepted it, to my great surprise, since the article is an absolute scandal.  Coulda been way, way worse.

2. Most Gigs. We actually played actual music in front of actual people in actual public, twice. We're incredibly stage-frightful. I lost it completely on a song I know at the start of the second gig, abandoned the song, but basically recovered--although we haven't been invited back. Coulda been way, way worse.

1. Most Classes. It's all a blur. I've never taught ten classes in a calendar year before. It made me feel like I couldn't and didn't give any class the amount of energy I wanted to. Somehow, I made it. I still haven't been fired. I never said "fuck" in class, excessively. Only a scant few of my students are receiving treatment. Coulda been way, way worse.

Friday, December 21, 2012

2012: end of the end of the world in review

No matter what happens to the world today, I think all would agree that it's been a rough year for predictors of doom. One could explain all the technical errors that led to mistaken pronouncements of imminent doom, like that preacher dude from early this year I can't be bothered to look up just now. Like him, one could parse and subdivide and render each grave error innocent.

I would suggest a simpler approach, having more to do with observable astronomical and physical phenomena than with speculative numerology.* For instance, it's possible that the sun will start to become a red dwarf, and eventually suck up the earth, in around 7.6 billion years. To borrow the latest world-not-ending-after-all joke, I think that means it's safe to do your Christmas shopping.

What's really bizarre about all this is that, when I was growing up, it felt like there was a real possibility of the world ending--the human world, at least. I'm not certain, but I believe I am among the last generation in the US who had nuclear bomb drills in grade school. In retrospect, I imagine they were mandated by some profoundly ill-conceived law. From what little I know about nuclear combat, our hiding our seven-year-old heads under our desks, according to the class seating chart, would have the total effect of any survivors being better able to identify bodies. Words just cannot express how soothing that experience was for my seven-year-old sense of doom. Ronald Reagan was like that, too.

I presume there must be money in the end-of-the-world racket, although I never made any. People write and say all kinds of things for cash, and only 28% of them are pundits on TV.

Could it be, that what the Mayans and Nostradamus were really warning us about was the rise of the pundits? Is Glenn Beck the Beast mentioned in Revelation? And if only 28% of the people writing and saying all kinds of things for cash are pundits, then that has to mean 72% work in other bullshit industries. Maybe "lake of fire" was a metaphor!

Book it. The world will end today, the result of drowning in punditry, damn punditry, and statistics.

* I was so tempted to impute to Luce Irigaray having written a book called The Speculative Numerology of the Other Woman, but cooler heads prevailed. That's one of those deeply multilayered jokes that either precedes a spit take or does nothing whatsoever, and at this late date, I can't afford to risk it. Though I certainly agree with Steve Martin that comedy isn't pretty, sometimes the key is to know when to say no, or perhaps listen to other people who are telling you no.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2012 -- the year I forgot how to sleep

We went to bed at a perfectly normal time. I was extremely sleepy. I fell asleep. I then woke up at four AM, feeling a little sick, and somewhat anxious. I must have woken up my Loveliest as well, and we talked a bit about my condition lately.

I had seen my psychiatrist earlier in the afternoon, and that, I believe, got me thinking further about how I'm doing. I came to the conclusion I had fabricated answers on the little depression/anxiety inventory they give me every visit. What I said was that I had lied on the item about having normal interest in enjoyable activities. We talked about what we could do to help me with that. Lauren suggested that I email my psychiatrist to tell her that I retrospectively wanted to change my answer. I felt guilty about it, and not being diligent with my homework. But I also believe that the stress of the semester (including events like the election) has broken me down. I felt guilty about that, then noted that it's ridiculous, because everyone gets broken down by the semester.

I proceeded not to sleep for another hour and a half. First, because I resent having to do homework, I started thinking about my general resentment of (and resistance to) medical and psychiatric surveillance. Thus, of course, I ran through an interpretation of Foucault's work on power/knowledge as a way of having us pay attention to the cost of this form of social order and civilization. Then I imagined a conversation with someone who rejects what he considers postmodern thought without clear understanding of it.

I got out of bed, walked around, sat down to read a couple pages of The Art of Happiness, and came back to bed, with my brain suddenly running through causes and instigating events of the Civil War. South Carolina's secession weighed on my mind.

I lay in bed, now trying consciously to bring about sleep, by doing what Merleau-Ponty suggested in Phenomenology of Perception: people fall asleep by imitating the behavior and situation of sleeping people. The problem then was that I couldn't figure out what people who are going to sleep think about other than causes of the Civil War.

At 5:30 I gave up and got up again. I read more of The Art of Happiness -- a book I think is an excellent choice for that trick some people do of getting up and reading for fifteen minutes when they can't sleep (ironic, isn't it?) --, glanced at a couple news items, worked a relatively unchallenging sudoku, and have been working on my sneezing.

A week ago or so, someone asked me what my plans were for the break between semesters. I think I'm going to try to learn how to sleep.

Monday, December 10, 2012

2012 -- a year in eighteen words or less

Let's see (that's two four six already!)

Not too comfy. Lacking thematic coherence, yet stressful. Didn't like it.

Friday, December 07, 2012

2012 -- a year, or just a rumor?

This is the first in what I hope will be an increasingly irritating series of year in review posts. In this post, I will suggest that 2012 did not actually happen, but was only a series of badly contrived conspiracy theories.

First of all, there was apparently some kind of "election" going on. Oh, yeah, for sure.

Secondly, according to many unreputable sources, "events" happened. Come on. Really?

Then there was that whole thing with the thing and the thing and the guy with the thing. I can hardly believe anybody believed that at all. I, for one, was never duped. I knew the thing and the guy with the thing, and the chick that had the thing over the guy that had the thing with the other thing, was all a bunch of hooey. I mean, seriously, nobody can eat that much molasses.

The world ended, repeatedly, for most of this year. And yet I'm still paying rent. Coincidence? I hardly think so!

Some say it rained. I won't honor that with a response.

Look at where you are, now, as "2012" comes to an end. Remember how you were planning to clean up that garden plot? Remember how you intended to reduce your intake of various comestibles? Remember how you vowed not to think extraordinarily discourteous thoughts about your neighbors? None of that happened. (Damn those neighbors!)

Did you lose weight? Did you make that big career move? Was the best movie of the year actually memorable? Did you finally read Ulysses? Nope.

iPad 3? Same as iPad 2. iPhone 5? Bupkis. How's Facebook treating you? Made a killing in the stock market? How about your Prius?

That's what I thought.

Truthfully, isn't it as if "2012" never happened? Isn't it obvious that this is because "2012" never did happen?

Thursday, December 06, 2012


This has always bothered me. Is a good teacher a kind of actor? Is a good class a kind of performance?

First of all, and I would suggest obviously, we ought to be concerned about teaching being about the ego of the teacher. Our egos are involved. Our egos probably shouldn't be what most concerns us.

On the other hand, "the teacher" is certainly a role one plays, and a projection of the ego of the person playing that role. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, necessarily.

I think I want to ask whether "good teaching" requires this egoism/egotism.

The very best classes I've taught have not been theatrical, for the most part. They involved stunts, skits, and schtick, but in each session that performative aspect broke down almost immediately. (You'd have to be rather postmodern to think that personality and identity are performance all the way down.) The implications of this are kinda astounding: a class session could mean real, open exposure of ourselves to one another, and the boundaries and preconceived ethical limitations of this experience would be set aside. Let me emphasize this is rare, rarified, even magical.

The next best classes I've taught have been theatrical, maybe even thoroughly so. That's interesting to me.

Both the non-theatrical and theatrical great classes are as exhausting as they are exhilarating. I guess, or hope, that the non-theatrical are more genuinely life-changing, for all participants.

Some of the worst class sessions I've had were those I over-prepared for, but 1/4 preparation strikes me as absurdly hyperbolic. I've prepared to teach tomorrow's Bioethics class for around 20 years, in a way. (Thus do I write and bring copious notes to every class meeting and practically never look at them.)

It's a fundamental paradox of teaching: I and my students must both be prepared to be surprised.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

are students weird? -- an inquiry


I believe most faculty teach more than one section of a course in any given semester. This semester, I have had two sections of Bioethics and two sections of Professional Ethics. The two sections of each course are markedly different. Contrasting, you might say. Almost entirely unalike would not be overly hyperbolic.

One section of one of these courses has been among the very most open, receptive, and engaged I've ever had. The students took the material and issues all over the place, practically every class session. They were happy, I'd say, to be in the philosophically delicious state of mind of perplexity. Almost every class session someone raised a question that stumped us all. It is clear from class discussions that these students are seriously engaged with the themes and texts, and are genuinely facing the central struggle of ethics (for purposes of this discussion, I shall stipulate that the "central struggle of ethics" is "Shit! Now what?!").

Not the best writers, however. Somehow this serious play hasn't been translated into text.

Another section of the same course is, in a word, reticent. I have sometimes felt as if I've walked into a poker game, their faces are so inscrutable. A small group of sometimes unreliably-attending students carries the conversation. When one is missing, the class has slowed. When two are missing, the class has sometimes stopped in its tracks. I have let long moments of uncomfortable silence pass, hoping the awkwardness would provoke some hesitant comment. I have cajoled. I have joked.

And yet, their papers are pretty good. Somehow their grasp of the ideas and texts in the course hasn't prompted them to raise questions, or respond to questions.

Is one class thinking philosophically, and the other not? How shall I correlate the verbal engagement of one class with the clear writing of the other? Should I give more weight to the strength of each class? Why?

Shit! Now what?!

In the other course, the differences are somewhat less acute, and the less verbal class has become much more active in just the last third of the semester. It's just as puzzling, though. What's so different about the classes, the student population, or perhaps my own approach, in each class? Does a more reserved kind of student tend to select one particular time slot for a class? Given the impaction of our schedule and the difficulty students have getting into classes (or enough classes, i.e., to qualify for financial aid), is it even plausible that students pick a class time?

Excuse me, but I'm inclined to believe that I do not have sufficient power over my students or the classroom environment to be the main determinant of these differences. I am but one man, after all. Unless a faculty member treats every class the same way, by standing up and lecturing to them every session, the students have a great deal of responsibility for what we might call the class ethos. It develops very much as a habit, and I guess that the first half-dozen class sessions more or less ingrain this habit. In those sessions, tacit consensus is built regarding who speaks and when, about the tone of discourse. Roles become defined and assigned through this process.

The habits become a template of expectations for each session. If a contrarian or devil's advocate arises, it becomes part of the script of the class that the person in that role reliably and predictably does his/her (usually his) thing at some point in each session. Often a co-teacher sort arises, who either has or imagines he/she (usually she) has superior understanding of course material and provides it when the moment comes.

From time to time, a monkey-wrencher arises, whose role is to cause breakdowns in a discussion that make some issue problematic at another level than the class had expected. Rarely, someone like a sage arises, who is able, at certain moments, to crystalize an entire concept, and place it in front of us.

I place an arbitrary value of 10% of overall grade on class participation. Almost every semester I have a class whose participation demands far more weight, because they have taken over the class, made it their own, and gone in directions I could scarcely have anticipated. Are those classes "better"?

In short, this is one of the things I most hate about grading. It's repulsive to take a set of experiences like these and turn them into a score.