Pain Is an Unavoidable Side Effect

The Far Side was one of the great comics that ended gracefully - the artist chose to stop doing the strip before it got stale and lame (Calvin and Hobbes was, obviously, the other great comic that did the same thing.) I went to the dentist yesterday to have some preventative fillings done and it was totally the tennis-ball-in-your-mouth-just-because scenario. At one point they actually brought in the front desk lady to hold crap so the dentist and her assistant could have both hands free to shove more probes, hoses, pointy-sharp things, and scrapey-hurty things in my mouth.

But the real event yesterday was my first French tutoring session. Holy crap, you guys. It felt like my brain was in a rock tumbler. I was so confused that I couldn't remember English after about 30 minutes. Still, it was really useful: it confirmed that I'm pitifully underequipped to conduct research in France, but it gave me hope that I'll be less so by the time I actually have to do it. There was an episode of Carnivale Becky and I watched recently (more on that amazing show in an imminent blog post) in which the creepy preacher character started writing a book whose first chapter was entitled "Pain Is an Unavoidable Side Effect." That's how I feel about language study.

Today, the lovely and talented E joins the cosmopolitan A (and us) for the best BBQ you ever been BB2. I predict a riot.


Debt Generation

I get mailings from my credit card company (which is also my bank) with "checks." You probably get them to. They're designed to look + act like "real" checks, but they simply charge whatever you're buying to your credit card. The verbiage that accompanies the mailings never ceases to amaze me. I paraphrase:

"Use the attached checks to PAY YOUR TAXES! NO, WE'RE SERIOUS!"
"Use the attached checks to BUY YOURSELF A BUNCH OF SHIT!"

The taxes one was especially amazing...right around tax time, they sent a six-pack of pseudo-checks and talked up paying any taxes you owed with them. Un-fucking-real.

This phenomena speaks to two things happening in American society that piss me off to no end. First is the general pattern of debt everyone, in particular people of my generation (b. mid-70s to early-80s) and younger, is embedded in. We're sold an image of the american lifestyle that involves new cars, new gizmos, 50-dollar shirts and 200-dollar pairs of jeans, and so on, but the opportunities to actually earn enough to buy into that lifestyle are all but nonexistent. Thus, millions of americans play the game of endlessly extending debt and deferring payment while maintaining an (ultimately unsustainable) lifestyle.

I'm less worried about that, because it's still possible to make ends meet and not go into debt if you just don't buy a lot of crap. A lot more threatening is the fact that it's nearly impossible to go to college without wracking up tens of thousands in debt. The whole point of public education is (in theory) leveling the playing field for people from different classes/income levels to have access to opportunities and societal resources. Now that college is mandatory, or at least sold as something everyone should aspire to, even as state funding is slashed and tuition climbs, an entire generation graduates with a B.A. in bullshit and 30K in loans to pay back.

(I was extra-depressed to read about kids going into comparable levels of debt in a vain attempt to be master chefs, thanks largely to the influence of the Food Network. As much as I enjoy Iron Chef and Alton Brown, it's unmitigated horseshit that food prep is now being sold as a kind of movie stardom.)


Immune to Jinxing, or, Car Trouble and a Steak Knife

I'm immune to jinxing. I can say things like "I sure hope I don't get run over!" and I walk away unscathed. Thus, it came as a surprise when the following went down on Highway 1 about 10 miles south of Aptos today:

Chris + Becky (paraphrased): "We are so smart for getting our car serviced before heading up to Oregon! It's purring like a kitten! My what a reliable car we have!"


We pulled off the highway to take a look, assuming something had wrapped itself around the front axle. Instead, we discovered that a strip of the belt that hooks the alternator to the engine (I think) had peeled away and was thus slapping against the engine while we were driving. We decided to perform roadside surgery rather than call for a tow, so I cut off the strip using the only thing we had handy: a steak knife that was supposed to be for slicing salami on what was supposed to be our picnic in Carmel today. Then we drove back to Santa Cruz, gently.

What's the moral of this story: there is none. We just have to call the car place on Monday morning and see how soon we can get it back in to get the belt replaced (we checked and they didn't replace it when we had it in for service, although they did "inspect" all of the belts.)

HOWEVER: You know how whenever you see people pulled over by the side of the road with their car hood up, they're just standing around looking bewildered, kind of half-heartedly poking at their engine? Well, despite a COMPLETE LACK of automotive knowledge, I did something halfway useful while standing by the side of the road with my car hood up, and I did it with a steak knife.

(When we got home, we went to Plan B and took the bus to Natural Bridges and had our picnic there.)

P.S. I'm still immune to jinxing.


1460 Days!

My homie the editor is back in the non-Livejournal blogosphere. To those of you reading who don't have a blog, why don't you take this opportunity to consider your terrible, terrible errors, and follow her example? We need to know what you're thinking, and to whom you're linking, at least two or three times a week.

Today is my fourth wedding anniversary. Among the many things this makes me think about is how subjective the perception of time is. In terms of feeling:

1. Becky and I got married on a funny, rain-then-shine day in the garden of a community center in Eugene oh, about a week ago.

In terms of actual objective fact:

1. She was 25, I was 24.
2. She was a kindergarten TA, I was a corporate IT guy.
3. We bailed on all of that and got M.A.'s in lit and history, respectively.
4. We went to New Zealand.
5. We lived in a collapsing, draughty house in Eugene for two years surrounded by idiotic screaming 19 year-old girls. But our new friends in Eugene were awesome, so the whole experience balanced out.
6. We moved to Santa Cruz.
7. She became a university administrator and launched a large-scale personal crafting project and I spent another year as a history grad.
8. She got even cuter. I'm not sure about me (although I do have this amazing new shirt.)

The only thing that has remained constant is that we have the same bunny.

Anyway, hi to everyone who was there and hi to everyone who we hadn't met yet at the time; if it was happening tomorrow, you'd totally have been invited.


What's Left?

My homie The Goat and I have been having an exchange about Santa Cruz on his blog this morning. He took issue with my assertion that SC is a nice community. Most of our exchange is in the comments following his post.

I'm not so much interested in rehashing my thoughts on SC and racism, inchoate as those are. Instead, I'm reminded again of how weird it is to be somewhere in the center-right vis-a-vis many (most?) of my friends here. I think back to when I worked at the free-market-gone-mad companies I used to be at, surrounded by ex-military guys who thought all environmental laws were ridiculous and who loathed the very idea of organized labor, where I was the pinko commie tree-hugger, and then I think to now, where I'm the reactionary. It makes me think Deep Thoughts about what it means to be Left.

To be left is to have a sense of indignation at social injustice. It's a refusal to accept that everyone in the entire world can't be equal, or at least can't have equal chances. It's a belief that the just society must do its utmost to protect not only the rights of its citizens (please note my nationalistic use of "citizens" as the default kind of human being), but their possibilities to succeed in achieving happiness and comfort.

On paper, of course, the Right largely buys that agenda, but it believes that the free market is the proper mechanism for bringing it about. Ideally speaking, it's correct (I think) that all people starting from the same place would arrive at their station in life according to an aggregate of luck and ability, but what makes the left take issue with that concept is that never in human history has everyone started from the same place, and it isn't "luck" that prevents people from having equal chances, it's structural factors like racism, (neo-,post-,whatever-) colonialism, sexism, etc. that limit the chances of the many so that the chances of the few are dramatically improved. While many of the overtly racist / sexist / etc. doctrines have been shelved, at least in official rhetoric, the legacies remain in all of the ways that people in academia are constantly pointing out.

The problem is that it's really easy to be right and really hard to be left. If all you have to do to live a just life is try to get rich while staying more-or-less honest and honorable, it doesn't take a lot of analysis. Look at all the mouth-breathing morons in business programs. On the other hand, if justice is only achievable after the most careful study of history, economics, politics, sociology, and psychology, who among us can really claim to understand the Big Picture? Marxism has had such a long shelf-life because Marx was very, very smart, and he offered a total picture of life that leftists could cling to; he had already figured out the whole fucking world, and marxists obstinately clung to his explanations over a century after they no longer described the world accurately.

Another reason it's easy to be right and hard to be left is that the right doesn't have to worry about fixing problems; the market will take care of them. All the individual has to do is worry about his or her own financial situation and the proof-in-the-pudding of living the good life is money in the bank. The left, on the other hand, has to figure out how to fix everything and by what means. This fact lends itself to the endless in-fighting and bickering among leftists, as they try to clarify their positions and champion their solutions, often at cross-purposes with people who agree with their principles in theory (which is what brought this whole thing up for me today: ok, SC is largely white and racism is bad. Now what?)

It's frustrating. I know what I believe: the unrestrained free market plunders the earth and mercilessly exploits human beings, so the proper role of government is the regulation of the market. The environment must be protected because human life, and quality of life, depends on its continued healthy existence. Religion is a matter of personal choice and must not be forced on anyone, particularly on children. A group of certain "rights" represent the best working definition of civil freedom and must be treated as legal and ethical absolutes. Violence is only justified in self defense. Etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

The problem is that, even if my "fellow" leftists agree with all of that, we'd still argue all night about the particulars, while the right is off getting rich and ruling the world.

In conclusion to a too-long blog post, I'll just say that "we" would do well to remember who are friends are; we have a lot of enemies, and we don't do ourselves any favors undermining and sniping at one another.


In Hiding

It's graduation weekend for UCSC and to celebrate, Becky and I are hiding. We stocked up on groceries beforehand in anticipation of driving precisely nowhere all weekend.

The one thing that got us out of the apartment was the Santa Cruz Boardwalk 100th anniversary, featuring canned tunes blasted over loudspeakers (weirdest song: Dani California by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I know that song because the video for it is really cool) and lots of fireworks. The music didn't bother us because we were up on the tressle bridge by the BMX park instead of down on the boardwalk proper. We had a perfect view of the fireworks and easy access to scampering home after.

The coolest part of it was the sense of solidarity in walking down to watch the fireworks - everyone who lives downtown was on the streets, tromping along with their kids or riding their bikes, looking for a choice spot to take it all in. What I feel most lucky about now that it's been almost a year as a California resident is that we ended up in a genuine community, not one of the endless strip-mall hell-holes this state is better known for. I feel like I'm allowed to represent some local pride since we've made genuine efforts to put down roots here. And I'm forced to take back some of the shit I talked on every place in Cali south of San Francisco over the years (of course, now I can just shift that practice to focus on everything south of Carmel, but at least I'm making an effort...)

I think a lot of people who live here do the same. Everywhere you go, you see cars sporting Santa Cruz bumper stickers and people sporting Santa Cruz (skate company) shirts, and you can tell that the people wearing them are locals. It's kind of redundant to brag about living somewhere when you live there, but I think my point is ultimately that it's nice that Santa Cruz is worth bragging about.


Turbonegro, 2007

Turbonegro was one of the greatest bands of all time. The question for me is whether or not they still are.

Turbo started in Oslo, Norway in the late 80s. They played dirty, blistering metal-inflected punk (they called it "deathpunk"), culminating in their triumphant single "Vaya Con Satan." The quintessential deathpunk album was 1996's "Ass Cobra," which featured rock n' roll's first crying baby solo, on the insanely-creepy-but-awesome "Midnight NAMBLA." In the mid-90s they picked up Knut "Euroboy" Schreiner on lead guitar, featuring wailing hot guitar licks. In this iteration they put out "Apocalypse Dudes," which Dead Kennedies' Jello Biafra referred to as the greatest rock album ever made.

Then, touring in support of Apocalypse Dudes in 1998, Hank von Helvete ("Hank of Hell"), the lead singer, had a heroin-induced psychotic breakdown in Spain and was interred in a mental hospital. The band broke up and went their separate ways. In their wake, the Turbojugend, Turbo's devoted worldwide fanclub, continued celebrating their favorite band's memory by eating a lot of pizza, drinking a lot of alcohol, and starting a lot of shit.

So, as of 2000, Turbo had followed the archetypical rock n' roll trajectory: start obscure, rise to underground stardom, fall apart at the peak of success in a blaze of drug-addled glory.

Then, in 2003, they got back together - Hank was off the smack and they had all belatedly realized how popular Turbo was, especially in Germany. Since then, they've put out three albums (the latest, "Retox," is coming out in a month in the US and is already out in Norway) which all sounded a lot cleaner, much more produced, and much less brutal than their pre-breakup output (although their song subjects are largely the same: anal sex and denim.)

So here I am, along with my fellow die-hard Turbo fans, wondering what to think about the situation. Turbo's music is unquestionably worse than it used to be, but it's not bad, exactly. It went from dirty deathpunk to dirty pseudo-stadium rock. I think it boils down to the question of whether or not you can continue to love a band for the memory of what they used to be; if I heard Turbo's latest and didn't know the history, I honestly don't know if I'd like it.

Practically every band and every band's fans go through this if the band stays together long enough, anyway. If the band stays the same, it gets stale, but if they reinvent, they risk self-parody. What makes it especially pronounced with Turbo is that their rise and fall was so perfectly orchestrated, and their reunion was a genuine surprise for everyone. That they failed to live up to the hopes of thousands of sexy denim-clad sailors is not, in retrospect, especially surprising.

Anyway, I'll stop rambling. Here's a clip of Turbo at their best, shortly before the breakup:


Sometimes, Santa Cruz is Like Vacation

It got hot. But here's the thing: here in SC, we're on the bay. The ocean, containing water, has air go over it, much of which stays relatively cool. When that air hits the town, it makes it less miserable. Even when it does get hot, it cools down as soon as the sun goes down and within a few hours (say, by 9:00pm), it's really nice.

Over the hill in the endless strip malls of Silicon Valley, it's 20 - 25 degrees warmer most of the time than it is here. It is fucking miserable, people. And there are a lot of strip malls too.

In California, Charles Shaw wine is genuinely 2 dollars a bottle.

My job is amazing. It's not constantly fun or anything, but it isn't horrible, which is the closest thing to great that any job is, anywhere. Every day I wake up amazed that I can afford things this summer.*

I caught the 19 on the way home today, which goes past the beach. The kids were out in force. I want nothing to do with beaches, but I understand and even support everyone else going there. On you go, kids.

Becky made these insane figs-wrapped-in-prosciutto-with-cheese maybe 5 months ago. It's friggin' FIG SEASON again. We might smoke out our neighbors too (i.e. with pork chops and the hibachi on the porch, granted.)

Two melatonin = sleeping.

* By "things," I mean the following: groceries, rent, bills, paying off some student loan, one tattoo, one shirt, one trip to Oregon and Washington.


Existential Pickle. That's What I Said.

I had one of those nights last night. A few random events coincided and left me in something of an existential pickle:

First, following the advice of this lady and this guy, I signed up to a few relevant H-Net categories so that I'd be helpfully spammed by groups of humanities scholars. 24 hours later, I was e-mailed by a French professor (from France) asking about my interests, in French. I am still reeling with intimidation and I have to get around to replying in my god-awful written French, probably tonight.

Second, an old friend from UO wrote to update a few of us on his comings and goings. There was nothing surprising: he's doing great, passed his QE's with flying colors, and is off to Europe to research. Reading his message, however, reminded me of everything I haven't done in my would-be academic career: been to a proper conference in my field, published anything, made any substantive connections with well-known scholars, done a damn bit of my own archival research. I feel like I'm perpetually spinning my wheels, reading books, writing reaction papers, and writing stuff on the same shit I've been doing since I was a senior in college.

In the end, I'm forced to confront the fact that I feel like I'm completely lacking the ineffable combination of drive, background, and luck that needs to coalesce to spawn a succesful academic career. This has nothing to do with so-called "intelligence" or writing ability or anything like that. I feel old to be doing this at 28 and I feel behind on jumping through most of the hoops. I know I'll pass my QEs next year, it's almost certain that I'll eventually get my PHD, but there's a snowball's chance in hell I'll get a proper academic job after that. That's ok with me on some level, since I'm pretty ambivalent about the long-term thing anyway, but it's still hard to come to terms with. I feel like I wish I'd done more as an undergrad all those years ago to prepare myself for what I'm doing now. What it comes down to is that this will all have been a long, weird trip to take to not end up a proper academic.

(The above is to be read as a position statement, not self-pity. I feel better for having thought through everything.)

(Anyone else watch the first two episodes of Hell's Kitchen this season? I'm all about Rock winning in the end. And I can't wait for Vinnie and Josh to be kicked off: they're assholes)


Flat Eric

Have you ever seen this little guy? He was a minor pop-culture sensation the year I lived in England. The techno video starring him is rewarding, like altruism.

I like living in the digital age because it's so much easier to engage in guerilla surrealism. When you think about it, a lot of famous 19th and 20th century avant-garde art groups weren't any funnier or more original than a guy who makes a techno song so that a muppet can dance around, it's just that there's so much stuff like that out there these days that its shelf-life is quite a bit shorter. It's too bad. Flat Eric is far cooler than the Situationists.

Here's the scoop on his origins.

And here's the video:

Becky has a Flat Eric...he perches over our tiny kitchen gazing down on the living room.

P.S. I thought the last Pirates movie was awesome to watch........drunk.


We Have The Technology!

Very briefly, i miei amici,

First, I'm happy to announce that my homie K is back in action with a frequently-updated, nicely appointed blog. She just didn't, you know, tell me. If we hadn't been long-distance best friends for 14 years and this wasn't our normally M.O., I might be crushed.

Second, I discovered a wonderful way to make time pass at work today: The messages that are INSTANT! So I invite anyone and everyone I know to get a gmail account and rock it out using the free-and-so-easy-a-wee-baby-could-configure-it google talk thing. 9-5, M-F, PST, I'm at kungfuramone at gmail dot com. I have to, you know, actually work, but I'll still be sitting behind the desk a fair bit of the time.

On an unrelated note, don't watch that new pirate reality show. It's like those stories you hear about what happens to new guys in prison. That's what it's like, watching it.


One Right Answer(s)

It was a frustrating, fizzling end to the quarter (in the not-with-a-bang-but-with-a-whimper sense of things ending.) There were four hours of presentations in the histcon seminar, which was a bit much. I sent an unmodified draft of my term paper in as my final, and enacted my usual end-of-term ritual: I created a new directory for the term on my laptop and put everything in there, moving it out of my active "school" directory. It wasn't as cathartic as it has been at the end of past terms.

Various things have been going on at work. I realized yesterday that I'm cut off from doing about 50% of the potential support stuff I could be doing because I'm not set up on a Mac. I'm going to see if they have an old beater G4 lying around somewhere that I can use to help my Hawaiin-shirt-clad officemate in his tasks. So far I've basically been building PCs and dismantling different PCs. Also, I have been forcibly reminded that much (most?) of IT is just brute physical labor. RAID arrays are heavy. So are CRT monitors from 1998. Good thing I'm 230 pounds of pure muscle.

One thing I've also been reminded of is the scientific worldview. Computer techs frequently have backgrounds in sciences besides C.S. Two of out of the three guys I work with have physics degrees, and I remember at my first long-term software job everyone had B.S.'s in math. They're thus kind of predisposed to expect a given question to have one right and many wrong answers, which is a funny thing to run into coming from a humanities background in which there are many kinda-right and many mostly-wrong answers to everything ("of course, fascism was a disaster, but one can still appreciate the power of the critique of liberal democracy it shared with various Marxist movements of the time, especially following the apparent political and moral bankruptcy of liberal democracy in World War I.")

In my experience, this leads computer techs to argue trenchantly and (usually) inflexibly in support of what are really just their opinions. The thing is, they're really good at it. Most of the techs I've worked with are excellent writers and interlocuters - they think logically and argue forcefully in defense of their positions. They're also much less willing to back down or seek a conciliatory position in a debate than most humanities types are. I think what it boils down to is that they're trained to not second-guess themselves nearly as much as we are; we're supposed to interoggate our own opinions and our own positionality in our writing, while they're trained to find solutions and fix things.

A good point the Sith Lord made during the world history seminar last term was that there's something to be said for the highly-charged, argumentative atmosphere in humanities seminars that exists in a lot of universities in Europe, because it forces you to interrogate your positions for the sake of defending them, not just conditioning them. I don't like arguing, but it's starting to occur to me that people are going to come after my writing, eventually, and that I should probably start thinking through how to defend my positions (better) as a result.


Hope and Expect, Two Times

I saw two of the old Oregon cohort over the weekend:
  1. Out of the blue, my homie Zapata called up Friday and informed me that he was in Santa Cruz. The missus and he and I went out to 99 Bottles and had delicious beer-battered onion rings, beer, and catching-up. I was delighted to see that he's forging ahead accumulating tattoos as the same rate as I did when I could afford it and that his PHD program in Minnesota looks promising.
  2. A premeditated visit from my homie she-should-have-a-blog-by-now L went off without a hitch yesterday. I whipped up some curry and we drank vino and verbally walked through solving all the world's problems.
It was also my father in-law's 60th this weekend, so we went to Golden Gate Park and rocked the paddle boats around one of the little lakes. There were turtles and baby duckies galore. Then we had a delicious picnic on the side of the lake, featuring tiny little wine bottles (my father in-law is no slouch when it comes to picnicing accoutrements.) Then we rolled back to Novato and spent an enjoyable afternoon rocking the croquet, eating the salmon, and watching Little Miss Sunshine. Hot damn is that a great movie ("You have taken a vow of silence because of Friedrich Nietzsche?")

And with that, I had better get my ass in gear to get to work. Power to the people.