It Makes Me Haaaaaaappy When Skies Are Gray

I'll return to my normal format of a picture and a short caption per post shortly. In fact, I'm thinking of doing a week-long "these are a few of my favorite clothes" thing, following the massive success of 2007's week of sweaters. In turn, I'm inspired by the amazing cardigan B got me for Xmas this year (as I said on Facebook: the perfect gift for the future unemployed academic on your list.)

Here's the latest on my end:
  1. My friend S hooked me up with a CD full of mp3s, which had been dumped off of a friend's computer such that there are no band / album labels. Based on my drive to the grocery stores and campus today, the tunes are great, and I wish more of this kind of thing went on among people I know. I was forced to figure out that my favorite stuff on the disc is by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. (This is in keeping with my important traditions: I love indie variations on synthpop and I am at least five years behind on cool bands.)
  2. It rained pretty hard yesterday. This was awesome except for the fact I had to drive my brother in-law back to San Jose airport, which involves going over Highway 17, which is scary as all hell at night in heavy rain. We both survived and he got home, so it's all okay.
  3. B got me a bottle of Tanqueray for xmas, because she loves me and wants me to be happy.
  4. I used Beauvoir's last (of the, like, six hundred she wrote) autobiography, Ceremonies des Adieux, to flesh out some stuff about Gorz and Sartre's relationship in the 1970s for Chapter 4 of the diss.
  5. Lately, I've imagined myself roundhouse kicking all kinds of things as I walk past them. Not people, just cars and stacks of stuff at Trader Joe's and so on.
  6. After the cardigan, the coolest gifts I got were the new CPU heat sink and the power supply for my computer (both from my in-laws.) They're incredibly quiet, rendering my desktop PC infinitely less aggravating to use for long periods of time, and probably saving my marriage.
  7. I need to stop coveting clothes. But I'd still like some off-white slip-on Vans, because my blue ones have served me so well since I got 'em at the start of summer.
It's been a really nice Xmas break, but I miss all my friends. If any of my SC buddies are back in town, get in touch so we can drink beers and/or play Mario Kart and/or eat food and shoot the shit.

P.S. The title of this post only makes sense if you sing it like you were singing "you're my sunshine."


Have a Very Classy Christmas

(Yes, I know it's a cheeseball pose...I'm just excited I finally have a good pic of the new suit. Courtesy of my lovely wife, who has lots of cute pics up on her flickr site right now.)

Happy xmas everybodies!


Introducing...Baby X

(That's his or her foot.)

We had B's 20-week ultrasound yesterday. This is the one at which it's possible to identify the sex of the baby...usually. Ours, however, was not having it and had its legs crossed the whole time. We also learned that it is healthy and developing normally and that it has very long legs (given its German - English - Danish - Norwegian - Scottish heritage, this comes as no big surprise.)

In short: we have a stubborn, long-legged kid en route.


Wilford Brimley LIVES

Pop quiz! When did Wilford Brimley die?
  1. In 1965.
  2. In 1988.
  3. He is STILL ALIVE!
The answer, much to my shock, is #3! He is in a stupid-ass new romantic comedy with the shockingly butt-ugly Sarah Jessica Parker and the completely ridiculous Hugh Grant! See below:

Butt ugly.


Now THAT is about which I talk!

Last night, when B and I made this discovery before a rerun of Iron Chef, she started doing creepy seductive things to my leg pretending she was Wilford Brimley. Then she told me that Wilford Brimley was going to "Haul my Oats."


Incredibly Stupid Ideas

I have these days during which I don't have to leave my apartment at all if I don't want to. Maybe 50% of the time, on days like that, I'll make up an errand, just to remind myself of why I don't ever want to leave the apartment in the first place.

Here are some incredibly stupid things in the world, inspired by my trip to Rite Aid.*
  1. Jethro Tull: a rock band with a lead flute player.
  2. Lowered trucks.
  3. Music in stores.
  4. Uggs with miniskirts in winter.**
  5. Retail cards that don't give you a discount, but instead produce printed-out coupons with your receipt than expire within a week.
  6. Cities designed with the idea that their inhabitants will get around everyday via a highway system.
  7. File format incompatibility between different versions of the same program (see: .doc vs. .docx).
  8. Road construction done in the mid-afternoon.
  9. The fact that water has to be shut off for an entire apartment building instead of individual apartments in need of repairs.
  10. Bad coffee sold at coffee shops.
* Having decided to boycott CVS permanently. In part because of item #5, above.
** A number of us were expressing incredulity lately that this still happens on campuses. What should have been a flash-in-pan trend has become an ongoing sartorial phenomenon of Satan.


College Without Students

I'm in the bunker on a beautiful rainy winter afternoon. Earlier, I dropped off some books at the library and soaked up one of the best things about the yuletide season: a college campus without any students on it. Campuses are beautiful places when there aren't any undergraduates stinking them up.

Last night was the third meeting of the UC to the SC Attractive Historians 2009 - 2010. This one was held in honor of our friends and colleagues N + M, both of whom got one year older this year. Also, I stole a pic off my homie J's Facebook:

He shares my great love of plaid shirts (and of awesome sweaters, great hats, and jeans that fit properly.) This was us doing one of our J-Crew poses.

On tap for the week to come: doing a registry for the (our) baby showers of ought-ten, ongoing teeth-pulling good times working on the dissertation, and entreaties to the sky gods for the continuation of soggy weather.

P.S. One of my favorite annual online events if the Onion AV Club's "Year in Band Names." While I am fully cognizant of its terrible taste, I am nonetheless delighted by "Magic Johnson and his Aides."



The academic rejections have been coming in hot and heavy lately. I got a particularly stinging one this morning, because when you have something peer-reviewed and your "peers" don't like it, you get to read exactly why.

How do I feel about all of this? I'll leave it to Murray to explain:


It's Been a Long Five and a Half Years

With the Yuletide season all up on's, I have been cast into a reflective frame of mind of late. B's now 4.5 months along the pregnancy process and my degree is due to be finished inside of six months. Big life decisions are upon us.

Of all my immediate academic friends (I'm thinking of both those friends and colleagues I know from my cohort at the UO who continued on as well as my friends here at the UC to the SC), I am the first to be finishing the degree. This is turning out to be a very big mixed blessing; I'm jumping off the sinking ship just the financial situation completely falls apart (good), but I'm also completing a dissertation with significant gaps (bad). As I completed research and writing this term, and as I worked with some other dissertators in a reading group, I found out about whole areas I needed to read about, new documents I needed to look at, and most importantly, major themes I needed to introduce in the text itself. I still have a lot to get done.

I'm also the first person among my core group of friends who has witnessed just how grim the academic job market really is. I applied to ten tenure-track jobs, most of which were on the eastern seaboard. I am competing for those jobs with literally every other European history PhD who graduated this year, as well as those from past years who were still looking for work. I will be the first to say that I am a dapper dresser and a good drinking buddy, but those are some long odds to get a job.

The process isn't over yet, so I don't want to get ahead of myself, but for now, I'm feeling very relieved and sort of "peaceful."* I've always said that I just wanted to finish the degree, that I wasn't sure that I was really cut out for the kind of competition and desperation inherent to an academic career. Now, confronted with the realities of the job market, I'm being forced to put my money (side note: what money?) where my mouth is.

* Normally, I only feel this way with the aid of prescription painkillers.


The Irony of the Horns

Here is a picture of me singing "we're not gonna take it" at this karaoke night.

The videos are still in production, apparently, but soon I should be able to link to vids of my performance, that of my homie J, and (again, apparently) some kind of dancing situation going down.

Right now, it strikes me that the point is the lack of irony involved in doing something like singing 80s hits. I remember that, years ago when the world was young, my friends and I did things out of an ironic sense of what was funny (disco, metal, "world's sexiest grampa" t-shirts.) The iconic thing was throwing the horns - at the time we started doing it, the memory of bad late 80s / early 90s hair metal was still fresh, and it was funny for punk kids to do it.

In our thirties, I find we all have a more complicated relationship with irony now. I mean, yes, I still dress like this, but I'm kind of sincere about the dapper old man look. When I play Yoshi's Island, it's because it is an excellent video game. And when I throw the horns, I mean it.


Here's How it Works

It's the start of December, which is a special, magical time in the life of aspiring historians. Hiring committees have to send out their interview notices before the start of the winter break. Every day is a fresh check of the inbox, to the sound of giggling elves and dancing fruit of some kind (I am kind of free-associating here, so bear with me.) Here's how it works:
  1. You, the would-be academic, wrap up six years of work in an application package (CV, letter, letters of recommendation, sometimes a statement of teaching philosophy) and send it off to places that are hiring.
  2. Somewhere between 50 - 299 other aspiring academics do the same thing for the same jobs at the same places.
  3. If you make it past the first round of cuts, you get an e-mail that yes, you lucky dumpling, you get to have a preliminary interview at the annual American Historical Assocation meeting. You put on your new 260 dollar suit (or the equivalent) and head on down there.
  4. You have something like 20 minutes to explain your entire life's work. You may or may not be asked to submit a chapter or two of your dissertation
  5. If you make it past that round of cuts, you are definitely asked for samples of your dissertation. Then, off you go to Panhandle State University itself, for the fabled Job Talk. You give a 30-something minute presentation of your most polished and emotionally moving research and writing. You field hostile questions from the entire department. Two other candidates do the same thing, although most places have enough discretion to schedule their talks on different days.
  6. If you make it past that round of cuts, you get the job. Then you're an assistant professor of history. Then you have six years to do everything in the world to be eligible for tenure.
Sound like fun? It's never too late to go to grad school!

(If anyone's wondering, I'm way back between steps 2 and 3: waiting to see if I made it past the first round of cuts anywhere.)


How to Install a Car Stereo when Your Old One Breaks

The short way: you go to some horrible store and have some guy do it for money.

The longer way: you buy it online and then install it with your father in-law over the course of about three hours in his garage.

B's dad was an engineer for a big corporate entity for many years. He's in the process of building his second plane from the ground up since retiring. The man knows his way around mechanics, electronics, and combinations thereof. Thus, when we need something fixed that isn't a computer*, we go to him.

It turns out that installing and wiring a car stereo isn't that difficult. It's supposed to be based on standard wiring, in which each color wire corresponds to something specific - yellow is always supposed to be the power, black is the ground, etc. The thing is, the '96 Geo Prizm** has its own made-up colors for wiring. So B's dad looked 'em up online. Then, whoever it was that installed our old stereo introduced a middle tier of wiring between the car end and the stereo end. The result, as indicated in the above diagram we generated over about 45 minutes of tracing wires, was general obfuscation.

That said, after a lot of clipping and snipping and splicing, we got the thing hooked up. We fired it up and it worked on the first try. A party of triumph ensued! This morning, B and I picked up a 7-dollar hot pink cable so we can connect our iPods to it. And now, for the first time in months, we have tunes in our car.

Around my apartment, this counts as big news.

* I can still fix those.
** It is a sexy car.


Baby is Nigh

Per B, I was to wait for her blog post before I did mine, and she found a few moments this morning, so here I go...

To everyone who doesn't already know: we are having a kid. Here are the FAQs and their respective answers:
  1. It is due in early May.
  2. Yes, we are going to find out what sex it is. That will happen late Dec. / early Jan.
  3. Yes, we will tell everyone what sex it is once we know.
  4. B's doing well. While the chance of her being laid off for the next budget year is all too high, she's got the job and the concomitant health insurance until after the kiddo is born, so she's getting excellent pre-natal care.
  5. We're doing the midwife thing and will probably have a doula as well. Look that up if you don't know what it is.
  6. Both of us have our H1N1 shots, finally. They were not easy to come by.
  7. I guess it goes without saying that this was thoroughly planned. We're the kind of people who thoroughly plan, like, dinners for a week in advance, so we certainly planned having a baby.
  8. Yes, I am excited.
  9. Yes, I am also completely terrified (and yes, this dramatically increases the pressure on the job hunt.)
  10. B is kind of hoping for a boy, I am hoping for a girl, but we're both cool with whatever happens.
That's all I can think of at the moment. Happy turkey day to everyone; I'll try to blog more often and with more creative / semi-interesting content when I get back from the in-laws'.


Got Me a Suit

I am the proud new owner of a charcoal gray two-button suit from Zara in San Francisco. It was fiendishly expensive by graduate student standards, but quite cheap by nice suit standards (about 250 bucks.) Thanks to the intervention of our homie S, I was also able to buy a really nice white dress shirt for about 30 bucks. I'm still determined to make some of my existing skinny vintage ties work with this ensemble for academic job interviews.

I was going to do a superbad internet fashion show, featuring videos of me hanging out with Tim Gunn, but I am too beat to do so at this time. I will do it soon, though.


The Best Season / Wherefore Art Thou, Gallows Humor

Part I: Let us join together in celebration of this, the best part of the year. November is the very heart of autumn, and as such, it features the maximum chance of true sweater weather. I'm finally not uncomfortably hot as I go about my quotidian rounds. Today, in fact, is supposed to feature a few drops of rain for the first time in weeks and the last time for weeks, so I'm in a better mood than usual.

Of course, the real cause for better moods than usual is that Thanksgiving is imminent. Both of the long-term readers of this blog know how I feel about Thanksgiving: it is the best holiday. Let's review why:
  • Not a holiday for teenagers to scream woooooo!
  • No fireworks.
  • No need to worry about presents.
  • Wine + tryptophan = sleepy.
Last year I managed two Thanksgiving celebrations, one in Paris and the other in Heidelberg. This year I get two yet again, one in San Francisco and one in Novato. Both will be staffed with friends and family and feature awesome stuffing.

Part II: It's been hard to keep up my sense of humor through all of the stress of job apps and future plans. ** It's just...not that funny. I spent the last five years telling myself that it was okay if this whole academic gig didn't work out, but now that I'm at the end of the degree, I would really like a job, please, and preferably one involving teaching history. That said, I am determined to find something funny about it. I'll be sure to let everyone know when I find it.

* Some people call it "dressing." My current theory is that it's stuffing in the bird and/or oven, then becomes dressing once it's on the plate. Or it's just one of those weird American English regional words, like soda / coke / pop. Anyway, I call it stuffing.

** I did make it past the first round of cuts at one of the places I applied to. Hope springs eternal.



Before, regarding the UC protests, I was equivocal. It is, in fact, one of the most pernicious aspects of the neoliberal (i.e. right-wing) shift of the last twenty-odd years that both the federal and state governments have gutted public education. It is, in fact, a bad, bad thing that fees and tuition go up by huge amounts each year even as jobs are slashed, class sizes expand, and so on. But: when you and your scruffy undergrad allies prevent people from coming and going to their jobs and classes, the only people who suffer are precisely the people you claim to represent.

After spending two hours in the car today to pick B up for her doctor appointment, which she missed, eventually getting waived through by some idiot 20 year-old at the west entrance only after he and his idiot friends conferred about whether I was legit, I am officially writing off the protest culture around here as a BUNCH OF FUCKING MORONS.

--end transmission--

Microfilm, PDFs

One of the big problems with writing a dissertation about a journalist is that he wrote a lot of articles. Yesterday I managed to crack a problem that had been hanging me up; I figured out how to download almost all of his articles from the 1960s from an online archive of the major journal he worked for. It's a tedious process, as I have to look through the sommaires one-by-one and then go after the specific pages I need, but it works. The strays are on microfilm, and I've summoned them from the one library in the UC that has them. If I had figured these things out a year ago, I could have done this while I was sitting around in my apartment in France instead of watching Vin Diesel movies on Chinese pirate sites. But then I wouldn't have watched so many Vin Diesel movies, which would be a major loss.

This part of the writing is a real slog. But I'm determined to have a finished draft by somewhere around mid-January, job prospects or no job prospects.


The Things I Hate: A Short New List

  1. When I can't drink any more coffee, because I'm too wired.
  2. When I can't drink any more wine, because I'm too drunk.
  3. When I can't eat any more cheese, because I'm too full.
  4. When I can't write any more diss, because I'm too lazy.
  5. When I can't stay in the apartment, because I'm too bored.
  6. When I can't behave like I'm 22, because I'm too old.
  7. When I can't stay in bed, because it's too late.
You get the picture.


I Sum Me Up

Each of the following pictures describes 50% of me. Combined, I am complete.

The bunny is not Pesto, but another bunny with a pancake on its head. Pesto just turned seven, though, which is awesome. The bottom picture is, of course, Wendy O. Williams of the Plastmatics and Lemmy of Motorhead. I have the mp3 of them performing "stand by your man" together, which is even more awesome than one would think. I wish I had the 7", so I could put it up on the wall somewhere (like, the bunker.)


"Indian" Food

On Sunday evening, homie A joined B + I to meet homies L + B, down from Salem for a long weekend. B is getting his PhD in American history at Davis. He was part of the gang at UO when I was getting my master's. His lovely wife is an architect. When they come down to Cali to check in with B's adviser(s), we line up some fooding, usually in the middle-ground of Berkeley.

We ended up at Ajanta, north of the UCB campus. The food was really good and really interesting; it broke with the usual fare that constitutes "Indian" food in Indian restaurants in the US, with the standard red curry for every dish at varying degrees of heat. Instead, there were a bunch of interesting proteins and veggies (scallops, lamb, these great little veggie ball things) in different kinds of curries that were more brown in color and complex in flavor than most of the standard-issue red curries I've had.

It made me think about what a misnomer the term "Indian food" is, anyway. It would be like having a restaurant that specialized in "European food." Ajanta had each dish listed along with its region of origin, which was neat. It was still a pan-south-Asian approach, but at least it gestured at the fact that there is no unified Indian food any more than there was a unified India before the Brits finished taking over in the mid-19th century.

In conclusion, I'd like to note that I would happily eat naan with every single meal.



Dissertation update time.

I'm in a dissertation reading group this term, sharing duties with three of my fellow UC to the SC history dissertators. One is writing on tourism in China in the early 20th century, one on hydrology in San Diego around the turn of the century, and one on Yellow Fever in New Orleans in the mid-19th century.

We talk about phrasing and organization, we call attention to the little grammar flubs everyone succumbs too once in a while, we discuss framing and argumentation. But the bottom line is that I understand all of their stuff just fine, despite not knowing a damn thing about Late Qing China, water management, or epidemiology. The background assumptions implicit in their respective works are evident to any reasonably well-educated person.

The same cannot, apparently, be said for the background assumptions in my work. For some reason, intellectual history is inherently more difficult for other historians to grasp than are other sub-fields (with the possible exception of economic history.) I write as clearly as possible and I try to announce the issues in the literature. I call attention to context and try to explain the nuances of postwar French history. I do my part for The Cause. All of it still leaves my friends and colleagues fairly baffled.

The problem is, I think that every intellectual historians finds him- or herself justifying the whole enterprise, arguing that in fact the history of ideas in context is a legitimate pursuit within the larger field. Yes, it strays across disciplinary boundaries, but after all these years, isn't that supposed to be (at least in part) a good thing? If I can be in conversation with philosophers and literary scholars, how is that a problem?

There is also the question of how much context is enough vs. how much is too much. If I copy out an entire textbook worth of fun facts about French political, social, and cultural history from 1945 - 2007, I don't think I will be doing my readers any favors, since the point of my project is Andre Gorz, his life and (especially) his thought. I guess I still haven't cracked the code on making this kind of thing transparent to people who aren't already interested in it, but it still begs the question: why is intellectual history more esoteric than other kinds of history?

Anyway, on the up side, I had a good meeting with the adviser yesterday, who suggested I take a thematic approach to Gorz's journalism, since there's just too much to summarize in an interesting way. This means that I'm on track with my finishing plans, at which point I can safely devote all of my energies to finding that barrista job in Fresno, Bakersfield, or Redding.


First to Show, Last to Go

Tonight was accidentally triumphant. Let me break it down for you.

It turns out the bowling alley / karaoke bar wasn't accepting any new songs after 7pm (!) because a live band was showing up to play background music to further would-be karaoke rockstars after 9pm. That's Item A.

Item B: a couple of sunburned scumbag Santa Cruz derelicts got in a serious fistfight at about 8:30pm in the bar, about eight feet from all of us. The little fucker in the orange shirt with the stupid mustache knocked the other guy out in the street, which we all watched in a state of "well, we live here, I suppose" disbelief. They didn't even bother and kick the winner out of the bar for the rest of the night - he ended up doing a perfectly respectable "sweet child of mine" with the band.

Item C: the important thing is that J, the birthday boy, got to do his song (that one Green Day song about being neurotic on the radio while making money) and that I got to mine: We're Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister. J being the salt-of-the-earth kind of guy he is managed to line it up with the karaoke jockey and it all came together. He: rocked it. I: also did some damage.

Anyway, I was there at 7pm, we closed the bar down after 1am, and now I'm home watching some terrible music video I had on a homemade DVD (I think it's...Rancid? Perchance?) and letting Pesto run around. I'm having some water. Good night.


Sideburns of Festivity '09!!!

Tomorrow features the second outing of the UC to the SC Attractive Historians 2009 - 2010. On tap? Karaoke, karaoke, and the concomitant mixture of triumph and degradation. As Social Czar, how do I prepare? By crafting my meager facial hair into Sideburns of Festivity!!! Check it:

Profile 1: Impassive.

Profile 2: Pensive.

La Visage Meme: Delighted to see you. Available for babysitting.

I'd welcome suggestions as to what I should sing tomorrow, as I want to move beyond Billy Idol or Monkees songs (my mainstays.) Think 80s, think limited vocal range.


Walk Down the Street at Night

This happened to me within two blocks of my apartment at about 6:45pm:
  1. Crazy sweating guy literally ran up behind me and spent four minutes shouting at me about how the full moon brought about bad spirits and strong emotions. This ended with him shouting "do you know about YAHWEH?!" as I used a Jedi mind trick to escape.
  2. Toothless guy shouting at me out of his car, then blocking traffic and demanding directions to "the McDonald's on 17th." I told him which direction to go (i.e. away from me.)
  3. Guy stumbling past, dragging his leg behind him like a zombie in a 70s grindhouse flick. At this point I was laughing out loud, but fortunately he didn't notice.
Later, as I was describing this to my (new) homie N, he interjected "and then someone takes all your money!" I realized, though, that this isn't the problem - I'm never worried that someone wants to rob me here. I just think someone will eventually stab me just because. This state is in the process of breaking off and sliding into the sea.

These days, living in Santa Cruz, I feel like Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver. Happily, I am not armed.


Nature: It Still Exists, Apparently

This weekend B and I went to Yosemite. It's about 4.5 hours from SC via a whole mess of highways that cut through the south and east bay. We realized on returning today that it's almost a straight shot across California west - east; you start at the Pacific Ocean (four blocks from our apartment) and end up within spitting distance of Nevada (imagine a gross spitting noise at this point in the paragraph.)

Yosemite was very nice. The weather, while banal and stupid in the context of civilization, was welcome in the context of big rocks and meadows - 70 degrees and sunny the whole time. We stayed at the Yosemite Lodge, which has not had updated decor since c. 1988, and got to see all of the essential pretty stuff the park is known for. We also added to our collection of funny cheesy magnets from tourist sites: "Speeding Kills Bears."

I have only two points to make. First, it was nice not being in SC during Halloween, a holiday normally celebrated here by a flurry of stabbings three blocks from our apartment. This time, the cops cleverly spent the evening literally annoying gang members all night (this strikes me as brilliant policing strategy; I would help shut down the local ACLU if it meant the cops could spend every day doing this.) Second, I got kind of choked-up and nostalgic on arriving in the park and seeing how beautiful the Merced River is. I hate that I never get to spend any time in actual natural settings living in California. Nature here is just squared-off little blocks of scrub surrounded on all sides by concrete. I miss the real stuff.


Hump Day Detritus

Settled in one's routine, one has less cause to blog...

That said, here's what I've got:

Item! I am getting a swine flu nasal spray tomorrow! I am delighted!
Item! For people like me who were part, in however small a way, of the Eugene punk scene in the 90s, be aware that The Readymen have a retrospective discography of all their old rad shit for 5 bucks!
Item! I am going to Yosemite with B this weekend, both because we have not yet been in our three-plus years in California and because we want to avoid SC on Halloween!
Item! I am officially on the slog portion of the dissertation. I am going through the whole thing and adding citations. It just occurred to me the other day to google "entretien Andre Gorz." That means "interview Andre Gorz." I hadn't thought of that yet. Sigh.

That's all I got. I'm off to the historical materialism seminar. I am still a rock n' roll party machine.


Post-Conference Report

Here's how it went:

  1. Didn't know anyone there on arrival, had nothing to do the day before it started, was bored.
  2. Incisive comments on my paper made me realize that I still have a lot of reading to do before I can consider the research phase done (this despite how much I have drafted - a lot.)
  3. Got two hours of sleep the night before I presented at 8:00am.
  1. Paper was well-received. The above-mentioned incisive comments, particularly regarding my treatment of Sartre as a kind of looming caricature compared to Gorz, were very helpful.
  2. Met a lot of nice people in my field. Was inspired to see how much interest there is in modern French intellectual history.
  3. Met a gang of UCLA French history grads, one of whom was my co-presenter. Really nice, sharp, cool kids.
  4. Did not die on the flights there or back, despite my strong belief that I would based on the turbulence.
There were a few moments during which I really got a taste of why some scholars are able to love what they do - the camaraderie of talking shop with smart people who know a lot about similar topics. That's the one thing I've missed at the UC to the SC - my cohort is full to the brim with brilliant kids, but none of them know a damn thing about what I study (and vice-versa.) I was also reminded of the basic fact that the average academic is a sympathetic, witty, fun person.

Finally, I will note that the younger scholars and grads were rocking some excellent fashion choices. I am going to start working on revised dapper outfits for the next conference based on my already-existing supply of vintage ties.

Now if I can just get reimbursed for the travel expenses...


Flying Academics

I'm a-bloggin' from the San Jose airport, an institution linked to the UC to the SC by way of constant superfluous construction - this place has been being (re) built since we moved here over three years ago and, judging by the enormous fields of mud full of heavy equipment, isn't going to be finished for quite some time. But they have free wifi and getting through security is generally pretty painless, so I can't complain.

Boulder, CO hosts the latest annual meeting of the Western Society for French History starting tonight and going through Saturday afternoon. At this annual meeting, I will present my first formal academic paper on Andre Gorz. This is indeed the first "real deal" presentation on my dissertation stuff. The concomitant terror is joined here by incredulous moping, since my talk is scheduled for 8:00am. Actually, this might end up being a blessing in disguise: almost no one will be there, probably, and I'll be so tired I won't notice that I'm presenting and answering questions.

My mom reminded me a few visits ago about how, when I was a kid, I hated not being good at stuff - I only liked to do things I was automatically and/or already good at (see: my love of books and writing, my loathing of mathematics.) This infantile complex has not changed over the years, and so I am mighty trepidatious about this weekend. But who knows. Maybe someone will walk up to me after the talk and give me a tenure-track job.

Ha. Ha. Ha.



Camaraderie, Stabbings

Good: On Friday, a group of UC to the SC history grads pulled off an entirely successful social outing. We had a bunch of the first-year cohort all the way up to my homies who've been in the program since 2003. We hit the Red, we hit the Poet + Patriot, and then we hit A's apartment for cookies, Wii, conversation, and more beer-drinking. The group was huge by our modest standards; unlike the half-dozen of past years, we had close to 20 at the evening's height.

Bad: While we were at A's, with the cookies and the Wii and the drinking, some poor 16-year old kid got stabbed to death by gang members about a block away. My hazy recollections of the post-1opm time period include several of my colleagues noting "there's some kind of big deal with cops over there" and me thinking "meh."

This brings to four, by my count, the number of people stabbed within three blocks of my apartment in the last month or so. I'm still trying to crack the code on SC as dangerous and sleazy, and my current hypothesis is sort of depressing: I think of SC as dangerous because it's less polarized / class-segregated than anywhere I've yet lived. It's so compact and so expensive that everyone lives cheek-by-jowl, from working families to retired people to grad students to, say, pit-bull owning, knife-wielding actual gang members. We're all stuck together. In the past, in Portland or Eugene, there was crime and violence, but it tended to be spread out and to happen largely in neighborhoods that I didn't live in.* I feel threatened in SC all the time because, A., actual horrible shit does indeed happen here regularly, and B., because I can't pretend that I'm not potentially in the line of fire.

In conclusion: thanks to the history kids for coming out. Also, we're intent on moving away within nine or ten months.

* Or at least I felt like it was happening in other neighborhoods, which isn't really true. This is a question of perception more so than fact.


Post-Storm Report

Over six inches of rain in Bonny Doon in 24 hours...

The storm was stormy but not too stormy. The extension cord that goes over the Santa Cruz mountains and provides all of the power for the Monterey Bay area has, apparently, been reinforced since the January storms of 2008, so there were only a few flickers here and there. The Bonny Doon house is still standing and there weren't even that many big branches to lug out of the driveway and chuck into the woods.

In unrelated news:
  1. We got to see our lovely friends E and A yesterday in Campbell. B's off to visit her brother this afternoon, so on the way back from the San Jose airport I get to hang out with them again. Friend Win!
  2. Tomorrow is the first 2009 - 2010 meeting of the Attractive Historians. I took over as social coordinator this year and I promptly scheduled a bar crawl for my cohort. I very much plan on keeping it to a dull roar, at least compared to the wedding last month...I'm still a little hungover from that.
  3. My dissertation and job applications have formed a satanic cabal and are carrying out horrific rituals to drive me insane. I failed my saving throw.


Typhoon Melor. Seriously.

You're a handsome devil. What's your name?*

Here's the official weather service bulletin regarding Typhoon Melor's expected impact on SC and the environs in two days. A typhoon is a Pacific hurricane (note: the phrase "pacific hurricane" is precisely equivalent to "peaceful drunk Nazi on PCP.") This one hit Japan a week ago and has been steaming happily across the ocean toward the west coast, way out of standard patterns of weather for this time of year. It's no longer a typhoon; rather, the remnants of the typhoon are hitting some kind of jet stream / low-pressure thing coming down from Alaska and resulting in an action-adventure situation for California.

This is a problem. First, we had plans to see our beloved homies E + A on Tuesday evening, but that's when the worst of the storm is predicted to hit, dumping up to 6 inches of rain in the Santa Cruz mountains, AKA Highway 17. Second, we're still in Bonny Doon, AKA the Santa Cruz mountains. I have visions of falling redwoods (possible), a major power outage (100% likely), and being trapped at the bottom of the very long and steep driveway (possible.)

My mom and stepdad have already canceled their trip to Yosemite and decided to scamper back to Oregon a day early. If there were hatches to batten down at chez adviser, I'd batten 'em, but there's really nothing I can do.

Report to follow in a few days.

* This is my favorite repeated phrase from Grosse Pointe Blank.


Funny Thing About Weekends When You're Unemployed...

...they don't mean quite so much.

That's from an old Primus song, off of (I believe) Frizzle Fry, their first major-label album. I listened to that tape a lot in the summer after my freshman year in high school, and I foolishly wasted about two years learning to play slap bass like Les Claypool rather than just concentrating on learning to play actual bass lines.


I have yet to find a metaphor, or even a general point of comparison, to describe what it's like writing a dissertation. I have days, days, during which I accomplish precisely nothing. Then I'll have a day during which I write pages of stuff or do the citations for a whole chapter or the equivalent. There is neither rhyme nor reason to the (lack of) productivity in this process. I have some vague hopes for today, going through some interviews with Gorz and plopping citations throughout the body of the thesis...

My mom and stepdad arrive this evening for a four-day visit. This is where the Bonny Doon house-sitting gig really comes in handy - our apartment is fine for friends, but there's something about entertaining the parental generation that just doesn't work in a small one-bedroom. Instead, we will kick it up here in the redwoods and all will be well, as long as the weird heating unit underneath the house doesn't blow up.



I have a few ill things to reference today. The point here is that the word "ill" is probably my favorite to emerge from the hip-hop lexicon of the early 90s. It's one of those ambiguous words that can be good and bad at the same time - something that is good and desirable is ill ("that is an ill ride, home boy. Let us procure an Orange Julius in said ill ride"), but bad things can sometimes be illin'. I quote the immortal Flavor Flav: "yo, Chuck. They be illin' while we be chillin'"

Ill things:
  1. My homie Chupacabra is ill in the sense of actually being sick.
  2. There was a flu hotline marquee up at the entrance to campus that starts with the phrase "Feeling Ill?" To this I reply: oh HELL yes!
  3. Please take in this completely ill performance on accordion by some kid at what I can only assume is a Bar Mitzvah linked to by my homie C on Facebook this morning. It's seriously amazing:

Now is that not ill? Answer: it is definitely ill.


I Wish There Was a Minor League

It's hard to know where I stand in the academic job market. Some of the profs I work with have reassured me that I've got a strong application, that I look good on paper and I write well. But then I have occasion to come across the CVs of other "young scholars" and I feel like I might as well dig a hole and lie down in it rather than send out any applications.

Here's the thing: I know lots of stuff about history, I'm a good teacher, I can write punchy little articles, I have an interesting dissertation topic. But I don't want to compete. I don't want to think defensively about my ideas and look for chances to take shots at other people. I don't like knowing that the Sword of Damocles will be hanging over my head even if I get a tenure-track gig, because then I'm fighting against the ticking clock of actually getting tenure. The problem is that there is no "minor league" in academia; even relatively crappy jobs in benighted regions have scores of people fighting over them. If there was a way to just get a teaching gig somewhere, I'd do it, but even to get a permanent community college job is a major struggle.

It's like B and I have been saying to each other lately: we just wish the bad news would stop getting worse. It's like, fine, things everywhere are absolutely terrible, we get it. Could it please just stay terrible and not get downright abysmal?


The Aggrolites: The Last Good Ska Band on Earth

Why did ska die after 1999? I have some theories. To save time, I'll put them in a list:
  1. Good ska is technically demanding, but most people in ska bands in the 90s were mediocre musicians - basically high school jazz combos.
  2. Ska's cultural referents, to Jamaica in the 60s or Britain in the early 80s, had nothing to do with middle-class white kids in America in the 90s. No new themes emerged though; self-imitation started as a badge of honor but ended up being an incredibly tired cliche (think of all the bands with "ska" in their name, etc.)
  3. Ska's major key, up-tempo sound can be energizing, but it can also just turn into a generic Disney Channel soundtrack. This is why ska lives on today primarily in commercials and as background music on TV shows (see: Ace of Cakes.)
  4. Ska-punk almost always sucks. Operation Ivy were amazing, and Oregon's own The Readymen were great, but that's about it.
  5. Finally, and most importantly, there was no edge to ska after about 1997. The punks and (anti-racist) skinheads who were part of the scene left because it got so lame - scrawny 15 year-old kids in their dad's ties tend to water things down a bit. I, personally, hate violence, but there's still something to the threat of rock n' roll or punk or hip-hop, the fact that you have to be a little crazy to be part of the scene. It keeps out the tourists, and that's why (for example) punk is still relevant after all these years. Without the edge, ska was just boring.
Anyway, that's all a very long-winded introduction to the last good ska band on Earth: The Aggrolites. Look at them:

See? They are tough! They aren't little kids! They look cool! They also happen to be fantastic fucking musicians!

The best of the third wave (i.e. 90s ska) were bands like Hepcat and The Slackers, who played updated takes on the original early - mid 60s Jamaican ska. The Aggrolites do that too, but they have the good sense to just refer to it as reggae, which never got watered down in the same way the whole concept / genre of ska did. It isn't reggae in the Bob Marley sense, however - it's the same sound as '68 - '69 British dancehall reggae, also known as skinhead reggae since it was the original (pre-racist, apolitical) British skinhead youth culture that packed the clubs in the late 60s to dance to reggae, get in fights, and have gross British sex in alleys.

Compare the Aggrolites to what was, for my money, the worst third-wave ska band of the 90s, the contemptible Regatta 69:

See? Dorks. Fucking dorks. And they couldn't play their instruments, and they sucked. Somehow, they were briefly on Moon Ska, the would-be center of the third wave record label.

In conclusion: if you have fond memories of dancing around in cool vintage clothes and hanging out with scary dudes called Red Dog, Oz, Caveman, and Smash*, check out The Aggrolites. They're keeping everything that was ever good about ska alive and have no time for the detritus.

* Actual dudes I knew (some fairly well, some barely at all).


Pseudophedrine Update

I have a cold. I was worried that it was strep, but a day after the sore throat the snot kicked in and verified that it was just a routine case of the sniffles. This is day three of the maximum recommended dose of pseudophedrine, the day at which cognitive functions start shutting down and nothing sounds like very much fun. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the first meeting of the latest radical leftism seminar is this afternoon, keeping me on campus until after 6:30pm.

I suppose this would be a natural segue into a comment on the current occupation of the grad commons by a pack of disaffected students (and, supposedly, staff / faculty, although I haven't heard anything to verify that.) They sent out a manifesto this morning that was reasonably well written, the occasional lapse into hyperbole and potty-mouthed nonsense notwithstanding. I actually find myself sympathizing with them a bit more; their means are confused, their goals ambiguous, but the point of the manifesto was that you got to start somewhere, and they're right that the situation, particularly in California, is untenable. Their biggest problem is that they're so used to steaming in the same teapot, hanging out with other fidgety radicals, that they have no way to reach out to the mainstream of the student / grad student / everyone else community. They forget that they're extremists, and they suck at building real dialogue.

Besides all that, I'm still busy staving off a complete emotional freak-out while I try to apply for jobs and figure out the next 1 - 45 years of my life. The house-sitting is still fun, although I would like to go on the record to the effect that I hate watering plants.

Next time on KFR: it turns out that there are still ska bands that A. exist and B. are great.


This Is Why We're Fat

The "Texas Benedict," courtesy of This Is Why You're Fat dot com. Hilarious.

Like most people who get their news from the interwebs, I read this Time article about exercise and obesity a few weeks ago. The article notes that obesity rates have climbed in the US at the same rate as exercise, and goes on to make the claim that the problem is that most people end up ingesting more calories after exercising than they burned while doing it. You work out for 30 minutes, then you reward yourself with a great big muffin. Or the equivalent.

I'm less impressed with that argument and more taken with the subsidiary one: if you take in more than you burn, you gain weight. It's one of those "no shit, Sherlock" points that the rest of us weren't clever enough to figure out in so many words. All of the obsessing over carbs and fats and trans fats and complex this and simple that, all of it is of tertiary importance compared to the simple number of calories balanced against actual energy needs.

I remain a pretty slender fellow. Like everyone else, though, I still wish I looked like I did when I was, say, 19 (the abs of yesteryear...) The calorie revelation led me to look up what I eat and drink and come to the irritating conclusion that 3 beers = 480 calories is indeed a good reason not to drink so much beer.

Just another reason we can't have nice things, you guys.


Buy Local, 'cuz You Have to

In two short days, my dear friend K is off for her 10-week research trip in London. I remember all too well the stress and anxiety associated with living abroad and I've done my best to convince her that it will all work out.*

K's major concerns are financial. For all of us who study Europe, the cost of jumping through the great hoop of research abroad is probably the single biggest obstacle, after mastering languages. As I've noted before, for decades the strength of the dollar and the flaccidity of most European economies were such that Americans could easily and comfortably spend as much time over there as they needed to in their studies. Now, it's a rushed death march through the libraries and archives before one's finances run out, going toe-to-toe with the Euro or, even worse, the Pound.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with Mr. Rich a while ago about music. Above and beyond the collapse of the music industry (no big loss), gas prices threaten the whole phenomenon of bands touring outside of their home regions. He pointed out that this could lead to local scenes getting stronger, but having fewer live connections with bands from other places since everyone would have to more-or-less stay put.

The idea is that with the contraction of the global economy and the only-going-to-get-higher price of energy, we're all obliged to limit ourselves to the local. The socialist version of this goes back to Proudhon, the idea of local communities producing most of what they need and exchanging what they had to exchange between themselves. Gorz's updated version was tied to his ecological concerns and his sneaking suspicion that capitalism was approaching a new crisis. Both are completely antithetical to the way the global economy operates.

I think my point is that another symptom of the fact that my parents' generation was and will be the last one to experience an increase in real wealth is that we all are forced to limit our scope and figure out ways of doing things within truncated horizons. That's depressing, of course, but so's everything when you look at it hard enough.

* I feel confident in this prediction largely because they speak English, albeit a weird version, in England.


Do These Jobs Instead

So there is and has been a Heat Advisory for the bay area for today and tomorrow. As of yesterday, it was supposed to soar into the 90s today, shooting closer to 100 tomorrow. Instead, it was, like, warmish. Maybe 80 at its peak. Forecasters are better here than they were in Oregon, but that is saying practically nothing at all about their abilities.

This gets me to thinking. What are jobs I wish I had done or could do in another life? Jobs that do indeed require training and dedication and esoteric skills, but which are also just really hilariously easy or involve an almost total lack of accountability, at least from an outsider's perspective? These jobs include:
  1. Meteorologist. Yes, they know a lot about weather. They also never really need to be right to keep their jobs, apparently.
  2. Marriage counselor. You can know, deep down, that 60% of your clients are going to split up anyway, but you tell them to stop being jerks and collect checks in the meantime.
  3. Any job that involves the word "consultant." These ass-clowns used to get paid 100/hour at the companies I worked at (for 30K a year) to sit in an office and think deep thoughts about how the company might be able to make more money.
  4. Big scary mega-church pastor. Wouldn't it be funny if they were all just kidding? If they were actually Jon Stewart fans who voted for Obama, but wanted to make easy money off of idiot hick rubes? Hilarious.
  5. Construction guy who holds the slow/stop sign. Self-explanatory.
  6. Evil ponzi scheme free-market investor who rips off other rich guys. As far as I can tell from the news, the trick is to never return to US soil once you get busted, and live in one of those "countries" (AKA "island nations") that doesn't enforce extradition treaties.
  7. Anyone who hosts reality television.
  8. Builder of big stupid motorcycles or muscle cars for celebrities.
Instead I am aspiring to be a professional historian. Ha. Ha. Ha.


Just Sayin'

  1. This evening, I was covered in chicken juice. It's a long story. I'm not making this up.
  2. The new LP (only sold on vinyl! How punk is that?!) by The Spits is just over 15 minutes of awesome.
  3. I'm going camping tomorrow. Everyone who wimped out from the history cohort: weak sauce, guys, weak sauce.
  4. After a while, the stress and terror just feel normal. Hopefully I get to apply for academic jobs again, year after year, because I am having so much fun.


How to Scare Your Bunny

So we're house-sitting now, up in Bonny Doon, California. My adviser lives about 3.5 miles up a windy mountain road from the coast, in a rambling wood house at the end of a very steep driveway, set in its own grove of redwoods. There are no curtains on most of the windows because there are no human beings who could possibly see in. The water is from an aquifer under the hill across the street, with PVC pipes draining into two tanks and then getting pumped into the house through a filter. There is cable and internet, but besides that it certainly feels like a kind of Henry Miller-esque Big Sur experience. It's quiet, man. For the first time in three years, I'm somewhere quiet.

That said, it's also a pain in the ass getting there and back. Yesterday was day two of hauling our stuff up from town, this time including the bunny. I felt like a very, very bad bunny dad cruising up and around the curves with poor terrified little Pesto in the back seat, hyperventilating and obviously quite sure we were taking her somewhere to be fed to coyotes. She still hasn't gotten up the courage to explore the rest of the kitchen she's staying in, instead running back and forth from her cage to a cardboard box we gave her to hide in. In short, I gave her post-traumatic bunny syndrome.

In other news, the academic job application experience is even scarier and more awful than I anticipated, which is definitely saying something. I'll save my extended thoughts on it for a near-future post.



Our homies SJ + D, immediately after successfully getting married on Saturday.
  1. We spent the weekend up in Santa Rosa, putting our weight behind the wedding of above-pictured peeps. It was great fun, featuring the (Star Wars) Imperial March, thoughtful and eloquent toasts, enchiladas, and me in a dope outfit. Unfortunately, it also produced the worst hangover I've had in three years; yesterday was lost. The whole day is just a big painful blot in my memory. Anyway, the important thing is that the wedding was really nice. Congrats, SJ + D!
  2. Today I'm driving my adviser and his wife to SFO, then carting stuff up to their place in Bonny Doon (the one that didn't get burned down in the recent fire.) For the next five weeks, I'm Dr. KFR, home-sitter! The logistics are going to be inconvenient, with a twenty-minute drive to town, but I'm extremely stoked about the peace, quiet, and ability to have two people in the same room without literally running into each other.


Two Post-Birthday Notes

Thanks to everyone who came out last night. I had a lot of fun. Two things I realized yesterday:
  1. Urban Outfitters is Hot Topic for grownups.*
  2. The reason America's Next Top Model is fun is that it is precisely equivalent to watching crazy people in a giant cage.
* I got a new dapper cap and B got me two new awesome shirts.


09/09/09: 31

Ten years ago I turned 21. A good-sized crew of Oregonian ne'er-do-wells gathered at the Vet's Club on Willamette and we all proceeded to drink all of their alcohol. If memory serves, I had something like three beers, twelve cocktails, and at least two Mind Erasers. I woke up the next morning completely un-hungover, having actually drank past the point at which my body had anything to say about it.

Last year I turned 30. An elite cadre of graduate students gathered in my tiny Parisian apartment on the Ile St. Louis and polished off a few bottles of wine. It was heartening to have a bunch of people to hang out with while I was missing B and swimming around in culture shock every day.

Today, I'm 31. Another elite cadre* is gathering at the Poet + Patriot for a few beers. It's a trite thing to say, but I'm stoked to be here, to have good friends, to be where I'm at, even though I'm still broke and maladjusted.

For next year, I'd like to request a rock n' roll birthday clown:

* Elite cadre = everyone's out of town or busy, so it'll be a strike team rather than a birthday army.



Yesterday was action-packed. I got a surprise "help us move" e-mail from my homie J, so I swooped in and lent my rippling physique to the task of carting furniture and boxes up a set of stairs. I fed my homie E's cat and finished a draft of the last chapter of the diss. I got supplies, then attacked my bathroom with white vinegar and baking soda (notes on that below.) I made burritos for dinner and watched some Netflix'd Mad Men with B. I was a special kind of robot designed for maximum productivity.

But I was left with a sour taste in my mouth. After helping J + J move, one of their friends stopped by and mentioned a big UC networking / job-hunt conference in about a week in Oakland that fellowship recipients are, apparently, eligible for. He also mentioned that it was a formal, suit-wearing kind of thing. Now, I have suits. But these suits look like this:

In other words, they're the kind of suits designed for martinis and Sammy Davis Jr., not academic networking.

I found something about the fact that I don't own a proper suit profoundly depressing; for some reason it's this iconic reminder for me of how intimidating I find the job hunt and the prospect of passing myself off as a real scholar. The suit is a symbol of that, of not being able to hide behind the "work in progress" status of a graduate student and of having to be ready to scrap to defend my arguments against real-deal interlocutors. I'm not looking forward to it.

Regarding baking soda and vinegar: in our ongoing attempt to use fewer toxic chemicals around the apartment, B and I have been using green cleaning products for a while. The ones we've tried don't do a very good job in bathroom cleanup, so I gave baking soda and vinegar (which is antiseptic) a go. The baking soda kicked the dirty tub's ass - a paste of 3 parts soda to 1 part water left for five minutes scrubs off to reveal extreme cleanliness in its wake. The vinegar I'm not quite as sure about, although I might just have been using it improperly. One note on the latter: one must not use vinegar without being ready to wipe it up, lest one's apartment stink of the stuff for days to come. Now I know that.


Summer Ought-Nine: Looking Back

It was a tricky one. We had a handful of hot snaps in SC, each one promising exacerbated insomnia and general misery, we had a big fire right outside of town, we had the usual ugly sunburned idiots on mountain bikes with plastic bags full of cans. The state's budget was dragged out behind the toolshed and shot, just about everyone lost their jobs, and we couldn't afford to move in to a two-bedroom apartment.

I really, really struggled to juggle teaching and working on my diss this summer. Now that it's over, I can look back and feel good about what I accomplished, but I feel like I lost access to my usual academic superpower.* I procrastinated a lot more than usual and suffered the predictable grad guilt as a consequence. I hate that getting things done is never enough; it's the knowledge that you could have gotten so much more done if you'd only kept it together somehow.

Anyway, just like that, it's job-hunt season in the wide world of academia. I've started bookmarking listings for ones I'd be remotely qualified for and I'm in the process of pinning down the people who will be writing me letters of recommendation. After the morning's toil of diss-writing and conference paper-citing I'm trying each day to get cover letters completed, my CV polished, and everything else I need to send out in a few weeks done. It's hugely intimidating. I will have spent six years doing this as the end of the coming school year, and I'm now facing the prospect of leaving the familiar confines of bad facilities and TA assignments and trying to be a real-deal historian. Dang.

* Writing fast and producing work of widely varying quality.


32! 31!

This weekend was B's 32nd birthday celebratory celebration series. We spent a few days in Novato w/ her folks, then hit the Academy of Arts and Sciences in San Francisco on the day itself. We spent the evening in the company of our homies S + T, who hosted some fierce backyard mini-pool and a delicious dinner. We got home way past our shared bedtime and we're both a bit ragged today as a result, but it was fun.

My birthday follows shortly. I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do for it, as opposed to having a grad student party in Paris, so if you live in SC, stay tuned for an e-mail.

I'll leave you with this, a shot of B about to sink one, guided by the lucky Indonesian penis of bottle opening and good fortune:


Hiding in the Bunker

SC is having one of its unwelcome two-day hot snaps (yesterday: 97, apparently), so I opted to spend the afternoon hiding in the bunker and watching Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job working on my dissertation.

This, the weather and the dissertation, makes me think about places B and I would be willing to move to if a job materialized. Let's see...
  • Nowhere too hot.
  • Nowhere too far from the ocean or at least some enormous body of water.
  • Nowhere in the deep south.
  • Nowhere too cold.
  • Nowhere so BFE that we were the only blue-state types in the county.
  • B would need some serious convincing to consider the eastern seaboard.
  • Nowhere with tornadoes or hurricanes as a regular weather phenomenon.
This narrows it down to, let's see, about seventy or eighty square miles of the United States, collectively. So we just need a tenure-track job in modern European history, preferably focused on intellectual history and/or French history, preferably with a heavy teaching focus, to open up somewhere in those areas.

P.S. This is why we have the "screw it, let's go to plan B" backup.


A Sonnet About Destroying All Acoustic Guitars

Stupid college student next door
Though you're a reasonably nice neighbor
Your acoustic guitar and singing would be no more
If I could sell you to a ruthless white slaver

Maybe that's a little extreme, though
You're not such a bad guy after all
Though I sit here thinking you're a bitch-ass ho
And giggling about homicidal fantasies - LOL!

No, wait, I'm more mature, older and wise
I don't need to want to exterminate your ass
You and the rest of those idiot guys
Razors, ropes, fire, bombs, and gas

I'll just destroy all acoustic guitars
Then give all their former owners SARS

(Yeah, sorry, but not bad for five minutes and some wine!)


Dork Cred

Of all the nerdy things I've done in my life, I never caught the Magic (i.e. Magic The Gathering, i.e. the card game, i.e. the thing that the kids in black trenchcoats played at lunch in high school) bus. Last night, homies K and L organized a "learn to play magic while you drink with other academics" party at the shared pad of a pack of astrophysics post-docs.* Many custom-built pizzas were prepared and more than several libations were enjoyed, and somewhere in there we kind of learned how to play Magic.

My initial reaction? It's a lot of math. I found myself ignoring the pictures of lightning bolts and dragons and so on and just trying to figure out what the cards actually did. It was also funny watching a bunch of people with PHDs in astrophysics pouring over the rules while L explained everything - middle schoolers can figure this shit out, but we can't?

Anyway, it made me reflect on my dork cred, because now I can say I know how to play Magic. Here's what I've got so far:
  1. Lifetime D+D player.
  2. Over four years as a computer tech.
  3. Devo fan with the tattoos to prove it.
  4. Academic.
  5. Have watched Lord of the Rings about two hundred times.
  6. Can't fight my way out of a wet paper bag.
  7. Simpsons quoting abilities (albeit rusty.)
But! I am missing things:
  1. Not a scientist, mediocre at math.
  2. Have never dressed up in a role-playing capacity. Really, seriously never intend to.
  3. Don't care about Star Trek. At all.
  4. Have never been to a con. Not a gamer, nor one of those media / science fiction / Joss Whedon people.
I am OK with missing those things.

* If you understood this sentence, good for you.


More Great Moments in Nineteenth-Century European Facial Hair

While teaching my intellectual history class last session, I put together an educational presentation on the facial hair of great European intellectuals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Here are some new faces, garnered from the politicos and assorted detritus (no offense, Rasputin) of not-necessarily-intellectual history:

The lovely and talented Otto von Bismarck, Prussian chancellor and unifier of Germany

Note just how much Wilford Brimley looks like Bismarck. Coincidence?

Karl Marx's BFF, Friedrich Engels. They had a beard-off in the 1870s. Guess who won.

Holy. Fucking. Shit. King Victor Emmanuel of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Accidentally unified Italy in the 1860s. Ladies man.

Napoleon III of France. Known to jab out the eyes of his enemies with surprise 'stache-stabs.

The beleaguered captain Dreyfus of the infamous Dreyfus affair. A mustache as French as bad plumbing.

And, of course, crazy old unkillable Rasputin. That's a look that says "illiterate sex monk" and MEANS it.


Standards of Living

(Random pic from the interwebs...I don't know that guy.)

B and I had a chat the other night about our ongoing project to not drive each other completely batshit insane living together in this apartment. We both have techniques; I work on campus whenever she is going to be around working on crafts, she visits family and friends out of town, we have an elaborate, dance-like choreography of not getting in each other's way as we get socks and cook food and do other living-related tasks.* After three years in this place (estimated square feet: 450 - 500), we're usually able to benevolently ignore each other when necessary before we reconvene for dinner.

So: we make it work, but there's no question that we're sick of it. The one good thing about my absence in Paris last year, per B, was that she felt like she had enough space all of a sudden. Our "move back to Oregon, like, tomorrow" fantasies are embedded in a lust for elbow room, with smutty fantasies of offices and craft rooms and other things that are completely unimaginable in cost-of-living California.

The question is this: are we spoiled? Did our respective middle-class upbringings instill in us an unreasonable standard of space and privacy, or is it actually crazy for two 30-something year-old people and a bunny to share a small one-bedroom apartment? I feel like if you move to New York or Paris or Stockholm, you know what you're getting in for, but it shouldn't be the same deal if you move to a crumbling seaside tourist trap south of San Francisco. The bottom line is that, whatever happens with my all-too-soon academic job hunt, we need to get out of here in less than a year, or all three of us (Pesto included) will be climbing up the nearest clock tower with hunting rifles in tow...

* Granted, we still get in each other's way quite a lot.


Don't Step Up to the Grad Students at Trivia Night. Also, Prozac in the Water.

This is a two-parter.
  1. Last night, an elite cadre of grad students (mostly history, one electrical engineer by way of software design by way of astrophysics) gathered at a ritzy joint for drinks, then on to a pizza joint (with beer) for a trivia night. I have never done a trivia night before, but I felt pretty good about our chances. Let's just say that team Buttered and Delicious (that was us) kicked that trivia night's ASS. How many people getting PhDs do you need to rule at trivia? Six, apparently. Well done, team.
  2. Hanging with my home girl K in the bunker today, we have concluded that we need to find a way to introduce a massive quantity of prozac into the water supply of SC, because far too many people seemed mired in despair these days. It's definitely not helping that the smoke from the big fire in the hills is, apparently, supposed to linger for months. Beyond that, however, the larger issue is just that we all need a higher degree of default spring-in-step fuck-it-all attitude rather than abject terror, world-hating withdrawal, or all-around glumness.
P.S. Seriously: check out this amazing Vanity Fair slideshow of "Colonel Qaddafi: A Life in Fashion." It is really fucking funny.


A Hive of Scum and Villainy

It's what Obi Wan said about the spaceport of Mos Eisley, but for me it's just a lot of Pacific Avenue, AKA, "SC's entire downtown." Having (another) one of those days in which I walk down the street trying to avoid eye contact, thinking "that guy looks like an asshole. That one, too. That guy? Definite asshole."*

Note sure if this is related, but my dentist told me today that I should get gum graft surgery. This is the surgery B had two years ago that turned out to be fucking-A horrendous. We were out 1600 bucks out of pocket (i.e. after insurance), they prescribed B about 1/3 of the painkillers they should have, and it took her months to recover. I don't like disagreeing with professionals doing their jobs, but I played the "we're broke" card talking to the dentist today after mentioning how miserable B's experience had been. I'm left kind of wondering what the deal is with our dentist, though...I had never heard of these things before we moved here, and she seems to think that everyone ought to have one by the time they're 30.

Dear Medical Professionals: a "routine" procedure is not routine for the person getting it.

Dear Santa Cruz: get your shit together. Love, -KFR.

* In my internal monologue, the voice in which I think these thoughts mutters. I silently mutter about how everyone's an asshole.


It's Hard to be Instantly Awesome...

...at disc (or, as I still prefer to call it, frisbee) golf. While I remember Ransom and I developing some pretty sick frisbee-chucking skills back at the dot bomb we worked at in 2000, hucking those things the length of parking lots during our repeated very-long-breaks every day, my skills have obviously atrophied. This morning I joined three formidable companions on the 28-"hole" course up in the hills over SC and discovered that it's really freaking hard to make one of those things go straight, especially between trees.

On returning home, I scrubbed down with alcohol so that B wouldn't have to spend the rest of the week in abject terror about Poison Oak cross-contamination.

It makes me reflect, again, on getting older. When I was a kid I couldn't understand why my parents wasted so much time doing yard work; why would they deliberately buy and bury and fuss over plants rather than doing something more fun, something more indulgent? I realize now that a huge part of getting older is the ability to derive intense satisfaction from time-wasting. What I love about settling in to my thirties is the ability to whole-heartedly abandon concerns about whether what I'm doing in my spare time really matters as long as I'm able to do it while drinking coffee or beer. Clambering over hills and chucking a borrowed plastic disc across a field definitely counts.


It's Mokey Out

I stole the pic to the left from the local rag's website.

The fire season has been mellow this year, at least by California standards, but it's kicked off late with a massive blaze just to the northwest of SC.

This really sucks...it's probably the first forest fire to affect me personally, for two reasons. First, the air is just nasty. Second, my adviser's house, the one we're supposed to house-sit at in a month, is right smack in the line of fire in Bonny Doon. I'm worried for him and his wife and I'm, selfishly, worried for B and I in that I am really looking forward to house-sitting and I want the house to still be there to sit in.

The smoke was an appropriate backdrop for my bullshit errand-y day today, which involved going to the F'ing mall to get my tires rotated by the listless young men at the Sears Auto place. I've been running around since before 9am and I haven't gotten any of "my" work done. The logical choice? Throw in the towel and crack open a cold one. I recommend all of you do the same.

P.S. The term "mokey" is what our nephew, Littlest K, says about fires.


Making Myself Useful

Today, I give the gift of links!
  1. My lovely wife wrote a very adorable consideration of the 31 things she hoped to do while she was 31 (she turns 32 in a little less than a month.)
  2. My lovely wife's new flickr site is full of amazing shots. What's funny for me is looking at events and places we were both at and seeing the grotesque dichotomy between her beautiful framing and use of color and my clueless point-and-shooting.
  3. My homie K has been running a funny, pithy (sub-) pop-cultural geek blog with lots of great pictures and comics and clips. It needs more readership love, so give it some.
  4. I don't know who runs this other geek site I found recently, but I like it. May I recommend the linked ninja movie trailer?
  5. My other homie K has been frequently updating his blog as well. It's kind of a best-case scenario of the "blog about something off of the top of your head" phenomenon.
In unrelated news, I'm getting very tired of three-hour lectures, my insomnia's back with a vengeance, but there are faint stirrings of Fall on the breeze in SC, and I couldn't be happier about it.


Hangovers Post-25

I'm not really sure what the deal is with hangovers as you get older. I don't actually believe that they're worse than the hangovers of youth - I remember plenty of hangovers when I was 20 - 25 that reached that incredible blood-shooting-out-of-your-ears, clawing-at-your-face exorcist level of agony and rendered me utterly incapacitated for a day or more. Probably what changes is that you become less willing to lose a whole day as you get older and you muscle through the misery rather than just lying on the couch sipping an energy drink, which is what you probably should do.

Anyway, all of this is by way of tribute to the brave clan of grads that gathered at my place last night, a gathering that swiftly turned into a passionate drunk-ass discussion of the philosophy of science versus the philosophy of history. It was great fun, but at the same time I'm sulking around like a guilty puppy this morning as I forgot to send my address to one of the would-be attendees, who apparently went around the building knocking to no avail. Poorly played, KFR.

'sides that, I'm wondering if I can kind of trick my brain into writing my whole conference paper today. I'm going to give it a shot and see what happens.


8:13am Coffee Post

  1. John Hughes is dead. I think Ransom is obliged to comment on this. For me, I'll just say that I will always love the Breakfast Club and I will always be that one guy who hates, hates Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which should have been subtitled "The Smarmy Prick Who Got Away With Everything."
  2. I'm taking a more relaxed approach to the iceberg of work.
  3. Just to take it to the next dork level, last night while we were playing Vampire, L put on a Sisters of Mercy album. All we had to do was swish around Paris sewers in a cape while weeping.
  4. T-shirt motto seen on a dude at the bus station yesterday: "Man Boobs Are Sexy."
  5. My lectures this session are tough. I'm an empathetic enough teacher that I adjust my pace and approach depending on the reactions of the students, and I feel like the only way I can consistently connect with them is to project a lot of caffeinated energy. I feel like I'm doing the Napoleon Dynamite dance for three hours, basically.
  6. Looks like we're going to be house-sitting for my adviser in September - October. He lives in a place up in the woods in Bonny Doon, one of the weird mountain towns above SC. While this will involve more driving and logistics, it'll also be a massive dose of elbow room and I am totally looking forward to it.