A Business of Ferrets

My mom and stepdad stopped by for a few hours this afternoon. We hit West Cliff again to see if we could spot any otters closer to shore than the otters we saw on Monday. Happily, a couple fuzzy critters were there, swimming around, being adorable.

On Monday my mom had informed me that a group of otters is called a "raft." I've always loved the nomeclature associated with groups of fauna, from "a parliament of owls" to "a murder of crows," so I decided to turn to the world wide interweb to find a few more. Here are my top five new ones:
  1. A business of ferrets.
  2. A crash of rhinos.
  3. A tower of giraffes.
  4. An unkindness of ravens.
  5. A shrewdness of apes.
(All from this page.)

On an unrelated note, here's a conversation between Becky and me earlier:

C: Have I been especially infuriating lately?
B: No, you've just been completely spacey.

And she's right! This whole Spring Break (Steve Holt!) has been one big mental nap for me. Here's hoping I wake up in time to resume trying to be a grad student.


Squirrels Gone Wild

It's Spring Break - take off your top. Hat. Do it, Abe Lincoln.

The "storm" that swept through Santa Cruz was as unimpressive as I knew it would be, although it was pretty windy yesterday. The sun was conducive to being on tour-guide duty, though, so whatever. Becky and I had a good time showing my mom, stepdad, and brother around SC. We ate burgers and pizza, drank a lot of Fat Tire, and played some rousing games of Ticket to Ride. We stopped by the bunker on the early part of my UCSC tour and discovered that A. There was a whole bunch of fancy new furniture and B. There was a whole bunch of fancy grad students working over the break.

So, perceptions. You know how every tinhorn atheist is a would-be Buddhist? It's because, first of all, we atheists of a cranky sort already think that Life Is Suffering and it's nice to hear someone famous say so, and (second of all), it seems to make sense that if we could just change our perceptions we'd be better off. I know I can't stop myself from hearing at night, but if I could stop caring about the sounds, I could sleep. I can't stop myself from needing to fly sometimes, but if I could stop worrying about plummeting to my fiery death, I'd be happier doing it. Etc. Here's me wishing it was a lot easier. I'm totally too busy to go to Nepal.

I miss everyone at school. That's the kind of dork/social whore I am. On the up side, Becky has a long weekend starting on Friday, so we get to have a little mini-spring break for the two of us. Off come the tops (hats).


Sleeping In, Wearing a Cool Shirt

Why didn't the "what I did over my vacation" essays make it past elementary school? I think all people in all walks of life should be required to submit descriptive essays about their holiday outings, travel adventures, or weeks they spend totally baked in their apartments watching Gandhi ("Gandhi is good baked. Except that I always feel bad because I get really hungry and poor Gandhi is there starving...")

So far, I've spent this break doing a whole lot of sleeping in. I'd be a more efficient person if my circadian rhythms adjusted such that I found it easier to wake up earlier as I get older, but there's no indication that I'm experiencing that. Instead, I'm never happier sleeping than at 9:30am.

ANYWAY, the important thing is that Becky and I went hog-wild yesterday, went downtown, and I bought a COOL SHIRT:

It's a sweet vintage Levis pearl-button snap cowboy shirt. I'll be the toast of the debutante ball this Spring. I also got a bitchin' pair of mirrorshade cop sunglasses. I'll be the toast of the gay leather parade this Spring.

In other news, we had a fine time hanging out with the Shirtless Canadian and his lovely wife last night. We had curry and several bottles of wine and talked a lot. Today Becky and I are going to get library cards for purposes of book-getting, then go out for pastries at The Buttery. This is part of a sacred marital vow Becky and I took almost four years ago: I will take her out on a cake-date at least once a year and in return she'll never stop wearing glasses.

Then, tomorrow, my mom, brother, and step-dad show up to hang out for a few days. The weather promises to make a liar out of me since a big storm is supposed to be here precisely when they are (I assured them that it would 75 and sunny the whole time.) Either way, we're heading down to West Cliff to look for otters and I'm taking them on a walking tour of the Ewok village that is UCSC's campus.

For those of you in school, here's hoping that you're having a lovely time not wrangling undergrads or stressing over research papers. For those of you in the world of gainful employment, here's hoping that you're making so much money that you're able to buy a solid gold house and a rocket car.


It's Been Summer Since February

...but that's ok. I had a notion of what I was getting into when I moved to California.

On occasion in the past, people have asked the question that only people who don't have any tattoos ask people who have tattoos: but what if you don't like them twenty years down the road? It's a silly question, because the whole point of getting a tattoo is its permanence. It ties you to a time-period in your life and it's always with you, no matter what else you lose or what else changes. I suspect that a lot of people who collect tattoos are people who have already lost things that mattered to them and/or who are given to anxiety about the future.

I bring this up because days like today remind me of the one thing I do dislike and regret about having a lot of tats: the sun. It's a complete fucking pain in the ass to avoid the sun for six months out of the year. Actually, that's how it went down in Oregon. Here, it'll probably be more like 8 months. I slather on the SPF 45 sunblock and then spend my days inside and/or running from shadow to shadow when I'm outside. I wear uncomfortable amounts of long sleeves when it's 90 out just to protect the colorful investment on my arms. I get really excited when it's cloudy and I can just walk somewhere.

Also, as some of you may have noticed, I am bald. So that's why I'm always wearing one of those Samuel L. Jackson hats. Sunburned scalps are painful and stupid-looking.

In other news, I've got about 200 more pages of Second Sex to go and then I can move on to History of Sexuality. Sex sex sex sex...gender. It's like duck duck goose.


Go Watch the Bunnies

You owe it to yourself to go and watch every single one of the 30-second movie parodies by bunnies. They're hi-larious. Fight Club is especially well done.

The bunker is having its new furniture installed today, tomorrow, and Friday. This means that were I to go to campus, I'd be homeless and alone, like a stabbin' hobo ("I'm not a stabbin' hobo, I'm a singin' hobo! (sings) Nothin' beats the hobo life / Stabbin' folks with my hobo knife!") This is a bummer, because my inner social whore thrives on seeing my impoverished homies in the bunker every day, and this further means that if I want to be social, I'll have to actually call people. What a pain in the ass.

In other news, I had a great time last night carrying on my life-long love affair with insomnia. For me, insomnia has absolutely nothing to do with worrying. It's just a built-in feature of my make and model. As free and easy as I am with better living through chemistry, it kind of sucks to need a chemical nudge to get to sleep, or else to oscillate between insomnia and exhaustion on alternate nights. I've never been able to identify a pattern with the whole deal, either: booze, no booze, excercise, no excercise, work, no work, it doesn't make a difference. I'll probably figure it out when I'm, like, 70: it turns out that days on which I wear brown and grey together cause insomnia, but I'm all set if I wear white socks with black shoes. Or a specific hat/pants combination. Something like that.


I Am the Kidney Stone Fairy

I send electronic hi-fives to my homie Chrissy, who shares my boiling, red-eyed hatred for people who scream "Wooooo!" Her man hit the street the morning after Paddy's day to scream Wooooo! in retaliation for nighttime woo-screams at the nighttime woo-screamers in their apartment building. I salute that decision, because it isn't sour grapes if it involves woo-screaming.

My standing policy, as you all know, is this: Scream woo, get a kidney stone. I don't make the rules, I just hand out kidney stones. You've been warned.

In other news, I talked to a prof today about possible research assistant stuff, reading up on anti-colonial discourse in France in the 50s and 60s from, of all places, the Catholic left. This would be right up my research-alley and would also be an interesting break from my usual existential pigeonhole. It would, of course, require me to read French faster, but I need to do that anyway.

Oh, also, I continued my 10+ year winning streak of hanging around with brilliant women by having coffee with aikido and tai chi this morning, which was great. I was reminded again that you always feel in over your head, no matter what level of the graduate gig you're at. I may as well proceed with everything without worrying about feeling like I ought to know what the fuck I'm talking about.

Political economy: it's what's for breakfast.


I Obviously Need a Flickr Account

...but in the meantime, here are fun pics of our birthday bash in SF. We totally rocked it in the Mish (-ssion).

I'm too sexy for my 8-track.

This is our homie Tim. He owns the house with all the rad stuff pictured here. Above, he demonstrates how one goes about whipping up an omellette, if one only had some eggs.

This is the totally savory oven. I'm pretty sure Sammy Davis Jr. once made a pumpkin pie in it.

The stereo setup. We rocked out a little Herb Albert + Los Tijauana Brass.

The mantlepiece, installed in person by Hugh Hefner in 1961.

The "Mobile Maid," which may or may not function.

And, finally, our homie Sandra blowing out her sparkler candles at Cha Cha Cha, where we had dinner. They were cool with us bringing in our own cake (courtesy of my lovely wife), which was nice.

So the crazy thing is that we witnessed a very intense, very right-in-front-of-us high-speed car chase just as we were arriving at Tim's yesterday afternoon. Becky and I had just crossed the street when this maniac in a white SUV that no longer had a front right tire caming blasting past at about 60. He was driving on the wheel rim, so it smelled like burning and destruction. Then no less than 20 cop cars came flying after him while Sandra, Tim, Becky and I sat there slack-jawed, watching. It reminded me of that part in Usual Suspects where the bearded guy is working on his car when the cops come to get him and he says "you think you brought enough guys?"

Now we're back in Santa Cruz and looking forward to a St. Paddy's day of hiding out in our apartment, because we've spent far more money than we had to spend in the last two weeks. Note to friends: we'd love to see you guys over final's week and spring break, but we ain't going out to the bar.


San Franciscian

We depart shortly for SF. We've got a 28th birthday to celebrate with our homie Sandra. We've got Sandra's boyfriend's sweet pad to stay at. This is the place that he inherited from his grandparents that hasn't been updated since the 50s or early 60s; the decor and the appliances are all rat-pack era old-school and they look amazing. I'm definitely going to get pictures. "Pardon me, Tim, but I must snap a photo of your refridgerator." That kind of thing. Last time we were there, he also had a pile of amusing mainstream music publications on the coffee table (Spin, Rolling Stone, etc.), from which I learned that Andre "Ice Cold" 3000 is a big fan of The Hives, which means that I have something in common with him. Now if I could just become an uber-sexy millionaire with washboard abs, I'd be all set.

In other news, I cannot express how impressed I was with the preparation that went into last night's birthday party for homie Lauren. There were balloons! The kind that float! And streamers! And a rollicking game of pin-the-tiara-on-the-princess (which The Shirtless Canadian won, because of his ability to employ echolocation.) I drank too much wine and not enough water, but a couple of ibuprofen, dayquil, cups of coffee, and the sweet sounds of heavy metal fixed me right up this morning.

Anyway, back soon with pics.



Is it any surprise that the intellectual historians end up in non-history departments? Isn't an intellectual historian really just a closet philosopher when it comes down to it? Does anyone have the first idea what we mean by "the history of ideas" anyway? Behold! I lament!

I've been looking for a MA thesis topic (wait a minute...didn't I already write a 120-something page MA thesis? Oh, that's right, I have to write another one anyway...) since I showed up in September. My last idea, Beauvoir's sociological/psychological sources on sexual attitudes and experience among women she used in Second Sex, is still a possibility. But then I got to thinking. What about a Beauvoir vs. Foucault grudge match to the finish? Let's take a look:

Beauvoir is very explicit in Second Sex that her perspective is inspired by the existentialism of Sartre's Being and Nothingness. * That gave her an ethic to work from. When she's discussing women in society, she can predicate her notions of injustice on a concrete ontological description of human life: to be human is to strive to transcend limitations. However problematic existentialism is/was, and however misguided the project of Sartrian Marxism that overshadowed both her and Sartre's political trajectory ended up being, Beauvoir's arguments about sex and gender are all the more compelling because she had an epistemological starting-point in existentialism.

Like all of you, I love Foucault. What one always runs into when reading Foucault, however, is the uneasy feeling that he was too careful about the context of ideas to endorse any political project. In the essays our reading group did this term, we ran across numerous areas wherein he seemed to be endorsing vaguely leftist liberation movements, but he refused to identify himself with any specific project. To his credit, he was always careful to explain himself; he viewed his role as elucidating power relations, not being a "piece on a chessboard."

That all being said, a refusal to engage is a choice unto itself (thank you Existentialism 101.) And when Foucault was talking about things like sex and gender, all he could really say is that ethics have changed, values have changed, identities have changed, and let's talk about some of the changes. I think there's tremendous utility in thinking of one's own identity in historical context, but I also think that Foucault would be unable to provide an ethic to any of the movements he would potentially endorse, because from his perspective it's very hard to arrive at an ethical foundation.

So, now I'm thinking about reading History of Sexuality alongside Second Sex and playing the intellectual history context game with the two of them (you know, post-liberation vs. post-May of '68, that kind of thing.) As ever, the question is "is that a history paper? Isn't that more of a philosophy paper?" I dunno. I'll just read a bunch of shit and figure something out, right?

* Yes, yes, I know. She either came up with most of the stuff in Being and Nothingness or she and Sartre both contributed to the finished product. The important thing for my purposes is that the philosophical framework she was working from is codified somewhere and she refers to it explicitly.


Mayhaps I'm Done

I'm always early to and for everything. I show up to the party five minutes before it's supposed to start, I'm the first one done on the exam, I turn in the term paper a week before finals week, etc. Please believe me that I'm not bragging here; being fast does not necessarily equate to doing well and I end up spending a whole lot of time waiting around feeling self-conscious. I also make a lot of dumbass mistakes that don't get caught.

Anyway, the stupid coffee website is, from my perspective, done. Behold, the boring prose! Behold, the purely-random google-images-gotten pictures! Revel in the brownitude! Stuff your cheeks with an economic history written by a would-be intellectual historian!

I'm going in tomorrow to turn in my Marx-on-IT paper, and then I'll be able to get back to, maybe, reading about the stuff I ostensibly study. Either that or playing Super Mario World: Yoshi's Island. Or eating Hummus: It's Good On Veggies. Or doing Push Ups: They Hurt When You Do 'Em. Or driving my Geo Prizm: It's a Sex Magnet for Sexy People. Or Spotting Otters: They're Aquatic Mammals.


Barrels Full of Wine (-o's)

We returned from scenic Sonoma County a few hours ago. Our yesterday was spent in the company of some good-looking kids tearing around from winery to winery, drinking the finest Zins, Pinots, Cabs, and Shirazes, all for 10 bucks! Every year the wineries in the Russian River Valley do two consecutive weekends of barrel tasting, in which you sample their stuff that's still cooling its heels straight from the barrel. We brought down the property values a bit while we were there, but most of the winery people were smart enough to just pour us decent-sized samples and send us on our way. And now, the pics to prove it:

This is my favorite picture of Becky and I anyone's taken in a long time.

Sarah-Jane and Dave, en repose. Dave was our driver (he doesn't like wine.) After we got back to Santa Rosa he made up for lost time with some delicious vodka drinks. He earned 'em.

Becky, Sarah-Jane, and Sarah-Jane's sister Carrie-Ann. They're just huge on hyphenated names in that family.

Many a free sample later, we were ready to head back to town to diversify our "things we drank today" portfolio.

The bitch of the whole thing is that I woke up sick on Friday. It takes more than a head full of mucous to keep me from the vineyards, however, so I've spent the last few days thoroughly medicated. I keep the good people in our nation's pharm industry in business, at least when I have the sniffles. Anyway, we had a blast this weekend and I expect we're going to make it an annual event as long as we live in Cali.

Side note: It was nice to hear from some of the usually-don't-commenters on my last blog post. I only wish I could join my good-looking friends up in Portland for an evening's festivities watching America's Next Top Model...together.


Ich Bin Ein Shitty Grad Student

I'm pretty sure that there's an inverse relationship between watching and enjoying America's Next Top Model and being a good grad student. Yet there I was, kicking back on the Ikea couch with Becky and a bottle of Chuck, laughing and laughing as the contestants called their parents crying because the other girls in the house were so mean to them. Here are other things that make me a lousy grad student:
  • No work after 6pm.
  • No gettin' up before 7:30am if I can help it.
  • With the drinking on weeknights.
  • I think monographs are boring.
However, I now refuse to watch Survivor. That's probably why I got into a PhD program in the first place.


Apocalypse Soonish

I'm almost done reading Marx. I've got chapters 8-15 of Capital Vol. III to get through today, at which point I'll be done with the term's reading and hopefully back to Simone, who misses me (and I her.) Volume III of Capital is where Marx claims that capitalism's immanent tendencies lead invariably and unavoidably to crises of overproduction and unemployment, which in turn (inevitably) culminate in the collapse of the system. It's one of those books in which a very smart person very carefully tried to predict the future.

Marxists have, ever since it was published, written all kinds of essays trying to explain A. why capitalism hadn't collapsed just yet and B. why it totally would real soon. It's weird confronting some of those essays, because they're often tinged with this kind of wild-eyed secular millenarianism, this earnest hope that the world order will collapse in the name of something better. (The great thing about millenarianism in any context is that it allows for infinitely-delayed satisfaction: Jesus isn't here, but he will be soon. Capitalism is still here, but it won't be soon. There are signs! There are indications! Lather, rinse, repeat, etc. etc. etc.)

All snideness aside, it does strike me that I'm afraid of the catastrophic collapse of the quotidian systems we know and rely on. The wealth gap grows every year, UCSC is overfilled with students and yet they keep admitting more, housing costs are absurd and getting more so, we're the first generation in recent American history that won't do better than our parents, finite fossil fuel resources, global warming is officially happening, Cheerios are now like 5 bucks a box, there is no God and no afterlife and holy shit is that scary, there are as many as 800 applicants for a tenure-track position in many American and European history positions at US universities, I still don't know German and my spoken French still sucks, despite everything a republican could very well win in 2008, outsourcing overseas, somehow attention spans are even shorter than they used to be, students can barely write their names, let alone an essay, my stomach's still flat but I haven't had a 6-pack since 2001, and we no longer believe in the existence of truth.

As a historian, I know that there's never been a good time to be alive. Right now is the same thing. So I suppose we're par for the course.



As lazy Sundays go, yesterday was productive. I've got some drafts ready for the term projects, some articles skimmed for the next World History seminar, and a freshly shorn scalp. More importantly, Becky and I got taxed. Or, did our taxes, as the case may be.

For some reason, every year I think that doing taxes is going to be kind of fun. We use software and we join forces (she reads numbers off of forms, I type) to get it all done. Every year, however, it pretty much sucks. We've owed the state of Oregon at least 40 or 50 bucks (usually closer to 200) every year since we got married, and this one was no exception. I think the central comedy of yesterday's taxation was when we discovered how much money we made (both of us put together) last year; I shouldn't say how much it was on the internet, but let's just say it was closer to 10,000 than to 20,000.

Anyway, now that we're shelling out sales tax along with our fellow Californians, we have high hopes that we won't owe the state when this time rolls around again next year.*

*Oregon, you see, has no sales tax. It makes up for this by having really high everything-else taxes, hence two graduate students owing money at the end of the year.


I'll Take It

This is a picture of me and a tiny monster that likes to ride around on my back.

This is a picture of my father in-law and his plane (he built it.) I'm demonstrating the "this is the cool guy" finger-pointing technique. Please note that my father in-law is one of those guys for whom the moustache makes the man.

Everyone knows that I hate sun and I heart rain, but yesterday was so nice out that even I have to take it. I almost finished my Marx-on-IT paper at Cafe Pergolesi with my homie Laura. Then Becky, Laura and I went down to West Cliff Dr. and went otter-spotting (t-shirt idea: "I'm An Otter Spotter!") Then Becky and I spent the evening in the company of booze, food and Netflix. Basically, it was the perfect day.

Today I'm off to a conference on campus about whether interdisciplinarity is "progressive, transgressive or regressive." I'm voting for transgressive in hopes of a cabaret act of drag queens.

P.S. They freakin' found Blackbeard's ship! How metal is that?!


What Was That Road to Hell Paved With Again?

I think we ought to assemble an elite cadre of smart people along these lines:
  • Dr. Sophie Draco, Psychologist. A specialist in human intentionality, black belt in Kempo Karate, enthusiast of experimental cinema.
  • Dr. Quintus Green, Historian. World's leading intellectual/cultural historian on conceptions of what it is to live a successful life.
  • Dr. Emma Macbeth, Sociologist. Able to predict what a crowd, nation, or continent is likely to do in the medium-term future with 74% accuracy. World-class pastry chef.
  • Dr. Jackson Thompson, MD, PHD, Biologist. MIT-trained neurologist, preeminent theorist of brain chemistry and its relationship to disposition and memory. Ballroom dancer, fencer, kick boxer.
This cadre would be brought together for one purpose: to figure out why it's so hard to do productive things in lieu of useless things and develop a drug regimen or meditational technique to enable all of us to match up intentions and actions at least 60% of the time.

Along those lines, besides getting school work done, I'd like to take a lot more pictures and put together a big list of authors I've read and what they wrote about. I'm terrible with the academic name-game. (I used to be contemptuous of the whole deal, but then I realized that there's a certain utility in summarizing a whole body of work and/or important argument with a proper name. Hobsbawm = Age of Revolutions. That kind of thing.)

Who's with me?!