Let's Get Petty

Three things today:

1. My homie V sent me a link to this handy thing to see how much state employees make. This allows those of us who study and work at a UC school to find out exactly how much the profs and faculty make. My fellow Californians: indulge.

2. I had a negative experience the other evening after a certain lecture. I asked a question and got a bizarre, mean-spirited response. This made me think about that awful pettiness that lurks in the souls of academics, the house of cards built up over a lifetime of study consisting of equal parts of erudition and jealousy and, above all, the vulnerability almost every academic seems to feel about his or her little intellectual fiefdom. It reminds me of the famous thing Kissinger (supposedly) said: "Academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small."

3. I don't have to deal with it as much as a some people do, but I hate anonymous snipey comments on the internet. It's so cowardly, so mean-spirited, so small of someone to be insulting without having to deal with the consequences. I come from the school of "being afraid someone is going to beat you up for being a jerk," and I often wish computers had spring-loaded punching things for firing back at cowardly internet commentators. Thusly: on the rare occasions this shit happens to me, I'm just going to delete it. I'm going to delete it all to hell.


Items! Hot Off the Skiddle!

Item 1! Following the timely intervention of my internet buddy Count Fosco, please take 1.5 minutes to watch this rather bizarre video by hip-hop-cum-electronica impresario Kanye West:

A message from kwest on Vimeo.

I can't improve on Fosco's Write-Up of the video, but I would still note that what this really reminds me of is when my friends and I were about 14. For a class project involving architectural models, a group of my friends created "The Tom Selek Memorial Building, In the Heart of Costa Rica!" It featured "The Leather Dome: A Dome of Leather, With Nightly Def Leppard Laser Shows!" and "The Grease Vats: Bathe in Grease!" and "The Imagination Dock: Pretend You're Somewhere Else!" Don't forget that "The Backwards 'S' Stands for 'Quality'!"

In other words, when you're already rich and famous and bored, your sense of humor may shift to the kind of nonsensical cultural melange of clever high-school freshmen.

Item 2! Everyone ought to read Savage Love every single week. I agree with 90% of his advice and he's almost always hilariously on-point. Also, it's nice to read about people and their completely retarded sex problems.

More to the point, following Obama's use of Rick Warren at the inaugaration, Dan Savage ran a contest for a definition of "saddlebacking" (from Warren's Saddleback Church or Ministry or Temple of Doom or Mountain of Power or whatever...) After tallying the votes, the result is in:

"Saddlebacking: sad•dle•back•ing \ˈsa-dəl-ˈba-kiŋ\ vb [fr. Saddleback Church] (2009): the phenomenon of Christian teens engaging in unprotected anal sex in order to preserve their virginities."

Well played, Mr. Savage. I'm doing my part to up the google page rank of the definition site.

This makes me think of my blessed (ha, ha) youth. Simply put, none of my homies got pregnant, because all of my homies were raised in a left-leaning, educated environment with real sex education and we all knew that sex was a good thing but that teen pregnancies and the HIV were bad things. Hence, trips to Planned Parenthood at 16 for the free condoms.

Meanwhile, the Palin children are out there spawning and getting dumber by the generation.


Grad School? Really?

Discussion sections started for the course in which I'm one of the TAs last week. This one looks really good - all but two or three of the kids are history majors, many with a European history focus, and they seemed pretty together during our discussion. Somehow, in the course of the introduction ("Name, major, and any connections you have to France and/or French history! You in the stupid coat! You're first!")* I had occasion to ask how many of them were planning on going to graduate school at some point.

21 out of the 22 kids that were there think they're going to graduate school. What. The. Fuck.

There's something about this particular university, the UC to the SC, that seems to inspire every undergraduate to think he or she is a budding academic. None of them have any idea of what grad school actually entails, nor how to get into a decent program, and least of all why anyone should want to be a grad student.

In the ensuing chat I had with K, she pointed out that most undergrads who like school and think they're good at it think that "really liking history (or lit, or philosophy, or break dancing, or whatever)" is enough of a reason to want to pursue a doctorate in it. And it's totally NOT, guys.

Therefor! In an explosion of creative procrastination, I wrote a document I intend to distribute to undergrads I work with who claim they want to go to grad school. If any fellow grads feel like wasting a few minutes looking over it, feel free to give me suggestions on modifications/additions/deletions in the comments or via e-mail.

So here it is: so you want to go to grad school.

* I didn't really make fun of their clothes. Oh how I wanted to, though.


Now We're Having The Fun!

From my morning skim through the New York Times:

I think this is where The Beatles were from.

Bwah! I am scary Congoles rebel leader! I have a hat!

From the land of my ancestors. Spanker Lane edges out Crotch Crescent by a nose.

Also, from my homie C's Flickr Site, my favorite picture of me from last weekend:


Dissertationaly Useless

Clumsy analogy drawn from my adolescence:

My dad and I went backpacking quite a bit when I was in my late teens. We were sort of minor mountain-baggers: we'd hike out to some remote spot in the Cascades and climb as many mountains as we could in a few days. The biggest one we climbed was Mt. Jefferson, a respectable 10,000+ feet.

What I remember about climbing that bastard (the mountain) was that I'd look up at a spot that didn't look that far away and say "Okay. We are going to climb up to there and then rest a bit." Five rest-stops later, we'd finally get to the spot. And, the whole time, the summit never seemed to get any closer.

My experience with dissertating thus far is similar in that the end never seems any closer and the baby steps always end up being shorter than I'd hoped. I try to squeeze out a few paragraphs of writing, read an article, and make it through a few pages of the interminable phenomenological treatise (the IPT) every day, while keeping up w/ TA duties. A lot of the time, one or more of those tasks just doesn't happen.

Annoyingly, the one thing I think I'm good at (writing academic prose) hasn't been coming together as I'd hoped. The stuff I've written is pretty clumsy, and I'm not nailing down the concepts in Gorz's thought like I'll need to. On the up side, following a meeting with him last week, I decided that my audience is this guy, because he's both well-versed in the milieu in which Gorz wrote and will deliver punishing blows of critique when necessary.

The fun never stops.


Like a Bunch a' Goddamn Saudi Princes

R salutes the corporate art hanging in the house we stayed at.

I'll keep this brief: our trip to PDX and Lincoln City was at least as rad as we hoped and expected it would be. We saw a whole gaggle of our favorite kids, I drank like Rasputin and got away with only one hangover for the whole weekend (and I didn't get poisoned, stabbed, castrated, shot, beaten, and drowned!), and the house we stayed at was like that a (minor) Saudi Prince might own. I'm talking hugeness! And hot tub! And giant comfy stuffed things!

The key thing to do is to look at my flickr pics.

B and I are now crazy homesick for Oregon, but it was worth it. Now I need to get back to my so-called "work."


Paris, London, Lincoln City

This evening will witness the awesome spectacle of B and I departing from San Jose and landing in our beloved Portland, where our homie C will scoop us up from PDX and take us back to her place for a reunion with her dog Rosie, her man J, and at least one bottle of wine. The next day, we depart for pastoral Lincoln City, Oregon with an elite cadre of our P-town homies.

I predict this weekend will be the raddest weekend on record. There will be:
  • Hot tubbin'!
  • Beach Walkin'!
  • Every alcoholic beverage known to man and beast drinkin'!
  • Shit-talkin'!
Like I said, the raddest on record.

We return to SC on Monday. Then Obama gets sworn in on Tuesday. Dope.


Mid-January and the Livin's Easy

Taking a page from Count Fosco, I give you your SC weather report:

As you know, I live in stark terror of the effects of global warming, and I've long bitched, moaned, whinged, whined, and groused every time a week in winter goes by without a serious rainy day. Right now, I just don't have the heart for it; it's too much fun sporting snappy sweater vest combos to school and chuckling while watching news reports about blizzards in Chicago (note: I have nothing against Chicago.)

It did make me reflect on the bus today, however. There was an era from about 1946 - 1965 in which it must have been possible to really, honestly think that everything was pretty much okay, except for communism.* And I can't really blame people for having a similar sense of complacency when it's 70 in January in a place like SC. It's the equivalent of what Matt Groening described as the post-coital "momentary delusion that all is right with the world."

Whether or not you just got laid, let's all join together in that delusion for a few moments.

* If you were a middle class white American, clearly.


Entirely Decent Bars

My search for a half-decent bar in SC has been long, difficult, and basically fruitless. Spoiled by the amazingly bitchin' bars of Portland, and the entirely decent bars of Eugene, I was disappointed by SC's 6-dollar beers, annoying decor, and especially the prevalence of dives that aren't actually, you know, CHEAP.*

Happily, my homie J directed me (and B and homie C) to the Parish Publick House, a newish bar over by the scary and disgusting Safeway on Mission. The Parish Publick House, I am happy to report, is also entirely decent! Entirely decent bars have the following elements:
  • Good happy hours.
  • Fried pickles.
  • Several delicious beers.
  • People who work there that aren't assholes.
I realize that I'm still in my post-Parisian stupor in which everything that doesn't cost euros seems cheap, but it seemed pretty cheap.

* Honestly, this is the stupidest shit ever. The dives in SC are ugly, dirty, and poorly stocked, just as they're supposed to be. What they aren't is any cheaper than normal bars.

P.S. Unrelated addendum: pictures from the abandoned set of The Wire. Wire fans: these are cool; look at them.


California: 1, Paris: 1

I will write up France vs. US posts as they occur naturally in nature. Here's one now.


In Paris, your time at the checkout is between you and the person at the checkout. There might be a line twenty people deep, but that checkout person certainly does not care. One time at the awful Monoprix by the UC Center, a lady decided that, oui, she would indeed like to get a carte de fidélité, a process that took about a ten minutes while the other 15 of us stood there getting dumber and uglier. The checkout lady went off to get the form, they filled it out together, they slowly, slowly resumed the process of checking out. By the time they were done, I was 30.

In general, supermarkets are designed like that in Paris: they're like little labyrinths of inconvenience, overstaffed with people who get in your way but understaffed by people who actually let you buy things and leave.

In California, your checkout person is, you know, sane. At Safeway the other day, the lady in front of me had been unable to locate four blueberry yogurts. While the Safeway helper guy went in search of yogurt, the checkout person had me walk past the lady and promptly checked me through. By the time I was done, the yogurts were there.

This may not seem like a big deal to you. But after dealing with four months of contempt and indifference, having a nice checkout person is pretty rad.



This is a term my homie K introduced to me a few years back. A gentleman of southern-Californian extraction, K informed me that 'mad-doggin'' is when a man puffs out his chest and stares in an intimidating fashion at another man while passing him in the street. You have no doubt seen mad-doggin' in action; it arises naturally among Americans, who have somehow managed to never develop a basic set of rules for walking-down-the-street etiquette. There is always a very existential moment of anguish in walking past someone on the sidewalk, as you both struggle to pretend that you don't notice that they're there.

The thing is, Parisians are great about street etiquette, because their whole social persona revolves around being completely indifferent to one another. It's the same reason they go for such extravagant PDAs, openly making out on sidewalks and so on: the assumption is that you are to ignore everyone around you. While this means that they're also constantly blundering in to people, the advantage is that there is absolutely no social tension in walking past someone on a sidewalk; they are certainly going to pretend you aren't there, so you can follow suit. As far as I could tell, mad-doggin' is foreign to French soil.


One's Culinary Repertoire

The way it has usually worked around chez nous is that I make the basic stuff (noodles, grilled cheese, burritos, coq au vin [just kidding about that one]) and she makes the fancy stuff. Whoever makes it, I clean up afterward. B has a notoriously impatient streak* with foods, insisting on variety and quality to the degree that if I try to make her the same thing too often, she just won't eat. Thus, on my return from France I am determined to expand my repertoire in the name of greater depth.

On the sacred +5 Keen Battleaxe of Wounding, I swear that I shall master the following:
  • Risotto! I'm starting basic, with shallots and butter, but once I figure that out I'll start seeing about more exotic variations.
  • Roast chicken! Still trying to find a good, straightforward recipe that favors dark meat.**
  • A real proper chicken curry! The kind of hack I put together using Trader Joe's ingredients is fine, but it's time to stop kidding myself. If it revolves around something that comes out of a jar (i.e. pre-fab curry), it doesn't really count. I say: bring on the cardamom and coconut milk.
  • Maybe a fajita or something? Just to shake up the south-of-the-border styles around here?
That's all I've got so far. Anyone know any relatively straightforward recipes that a moderately intelligent kid like me could handle after a few tries?

* As opposed to the notoriously impatient steak, a special cut of beef for people with disagreeable personalities.
** One of those "I really, honestly will never understand" factors in my life is that most people seem to prefer white meat in both chicken and turkey. Are they completely batshit insane? Have they no taste buds?


Perspective, She Is an Elusive Hussy

I'm convinced that no one has ever actually been to Paris, because no one can believe that I'm happy to be back in California. I'm still working on a pithy phrase to explain it to people. I just don't think anyone who hasn't lived there can really get it (people who have may feel free to chuck the first and ensuing stones as they see fit.)

The term started today, although classes don't start until tomorrow. Today it was cool and misty all day, clouds of fog and drizzle wrapping up the redwoods and providing a pleasant drippy backdrop to my walks around the Humanities building and to and from the library. I got to catch up with my adviser (who spontaneously made me chat with him for a few minutes in French...quelle dommage) and a couple of my homies from the program. I got books, I read some of Gorz's interminable treatise, I "wrote" some "paragraphs" of my "dissertation," and I was loving every minute.

I don't want to belabor the point, but it took four months of me wandering around Paris like a headless yankee chicken, scratching and pooping in the yard of the BNF,* to really, really come to terms with how much I love the basic framework of being a skinny would-be academic on the radical fringe of blue-state America. I'm with B, I'm with Pesto, I'm looking forward to a week of sushi and beers with friends and the new D+D game, and I basically feel like I landed in a version of my life from six months ago with all of the consternation and whining lanced and drained.

* I mean this figuratively. Except that one time.


Coffee in Ought-Nine

Right before I left for France, I broke our trusty Mr. Coffee carafe. I was washing dishes and somehow I winged the top of it with a mug or something and it cracked. We have a couple of those little one-cup gold filter guys, so we were okay for brew, but I vowed to get a new one on returning home.

I brought this up back in November and B informed me that she had already gotten a replacement carafe for when I got home, so I didn't have to worry about it. Little did I know that this was but a WONDERFUL LIE! In truth, she had gotten me the above glittering spectacle of technology, a cuisinart coffee adonis with a timer such that it can have the brew going before you wake up, greatly softening the blow of having to get out of bed to a bloody alarm.

The new machine is symptomatic of how I feel about being home in general. All of the little pissant things I used to complain about with the quotidian routine seem completely manageable now. Life in California, with the essays to grade, the bills to pay, the busses to take, it's all so much easier than life in Paris, it feels like I'm getting away with something.