Formal report

Week 1 is over and done. I'm feeling kind of frustrated. Here's what I've got:

  • I am so fucking sick of people being dismissive about learning languages. The fact is, the vast majority of people I've known in grad school don't have the languages they need at the level they need, myself very much included. Faculty members, most of whom know several languages, act like learning a language is sort of like learning how to ballroom dance or how to play a new card game. There's this ridiculous dichotomy between "you should already know the language" and "you really need to learn it but there's no programs or grants to help". The only history program I know of that specifically funds and support language study is Harvard. And I ain't at Harvard.
  • It's really hard setting up social events, especially in a town like Santa Cruz which is on the side of a mountain and is held together by tiny little roads. I'm incapable of just letting things happen on their own pace, because "their own pace" still involves someone making the goddamn phone calls and organizing everything. And that's usually me.
  • It's tough getting back in the saddle, even though it's only been 3 months. I genuinely sympathize with my cohorts who have been out for years and/or are coming in straight from their B.A.s. That's tough.
The problem is that I'm a historian. There have been so many times in human history when the notion that "everything will just work out" was so bloody wrong (for individuals and for groups), it's hard for me to really ever feel like that.


Waitin' for the bus

There are two songs I think of when I think of waiting for the bus:
  1. Del the Funkee Homosapien's "The Wacky World of Mass Transit"
  2. The Violent Femmes' "Waiting for the Bus"
(Bet you didn't think I was down with Del, did you?! I was quite the little black nationalist when I was 12, so up yours. Although Del really isn't a black nationalist kind of rapper, but I stand by my original point.)

The Santa Cruz Metro is pretty outgunned when it comes to UCSC; there are about 14000 undergrads, 1100 grads, and thousands of staff and faculty, and we all get to ride for free. The metro tries to keep up, but it just isn't happening. This translates into long lines and long waits and crowded-ass busses. Fortunately, most UCSC students seem to have pretty ok hygiene, so when you're forced to dry-hump six of them on the way home, it's not a big deal.

In other news, today I finished reviewing the last five years of (the academic journal) History and Theory then wrote two things about Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. This weekend Ana and I are going for a hike, hopefully with at least a couple of our new cohort in tow. I'm still plagued by nightmarish anxiety and perennial existential crises, but we got our copy of Dodgeball from Netflix, so I'm ok for now.

"If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball."


Fat George Clooney

Becky and I watched Syriana last night. Fat George Clooney was pretty great; I wonder how he felt about being un-hot after the torture/beating scene where he's lying on the floor, fat, covered in blood and his big scruffy beard.

All I know for sure is that Netflix is the coolest, although I do feel bad about the latest nail being driven into the coffin of local video shops.

Pesto and the cat next door have a morning ritual now: they run up to the sliding glass door and touch noses through it. The cat rolls around on its back batting at the air. Pesto gets bored and goes to see what we're up to (making coffee, watching the Today show). The cat feels sad and lonely. Sorry, the cat.


With the hurting

100 pages of Tocqueville and 4 articles. And that's when I hit my intellectual glass ceiling for the day. The messy thing about this whole gig is that one can't really, actually read all day, unless one is possesed of a superior mental endurance. I've got about five or six hours of real, honest, solid reading and maybe one of writing (or the combination thereof; I just end up reading a lot more than writing) before ich bin kaputt. Und BIN ICH KAPUTT, believe you me.

On the agenda: go to Trader Joe's and buy another case of 2-buck chuck. We drank the first one, mostly during that long first week of living in Santa Cruz and being really confused all the time.

Please witness Plato sticking his finger up an invisible flying person's butt.

P.S. Is it just me, or does blogger really suck? I constantly have problems uploading pictures and/or posting posts. This crap never used to happen when I just updated my HTML file...


Getting the fuck lost: a proud tradition

As you can see here, UCSC is kind of a magical forest faerie-land as much as a major research university. It's surrounded on three sides by woods and the roads and paths between the 10 colleges on campus do a lot of meandering. I've quickly established a proud tradition of getting off of the bus and then getting the fuck lost. Today's magical faerie journey took me up to some apartments (I think they were upscale dorms of some kind) right on the northern tip of campus. I sort of stumbled down the hill a ways behind some big white buildings full of pottery until I finally figured out where I had ended up (i.e. Canada.)

In other proud tradition news, I had my first gut-freezing panic attack of the year after talking to the head of the graduate committee about my plans for the next two years. The short version is that my having a M.A. counts for precisely dick (no big deal; I like being a grad student, so I might as well stay one) and I have a lot (again in bold: a lot) of work to do. Like, perfect my French, stat. And read everything ever written. And write two major research papers. And somehow keep myself fed next summer with no money coming in.

Gut-freezing panic attacks are part of what this business is all about, so it's no big deal.

Flea Markets: Dens of Iniquity

In 1985, a group of racketeers launched a vast criminal conspiracy whose repurcussions are still being felt today. Through stealth, intimidation, and careful planning this network of darkness robbed thrift stores, second-rate hardware stores, dumpsters, and the garages of various grandmas, then put their loot into storage. Biding their time for 21 years, until well after the statute of limitations on their crimes had expired, they finally sought to capitalize and opened the Santa Cruz flea market. Today, unsuspecting shoppers from all over the central coast congregate on Soquel Dr. and browse the stacks for Mexican cowboy hats, broken toys, and low-riding jeans with embroidered butterflies on the butt, unaware that they are unwittingly swimming about in a petri dish...of criminality.

Anyway, we didn't find a bike for me. Becky called from SF last night and said she got a great haircut, though.


So much pailla. Also, Safety Dancing.

Last night was a veritable meeting of the minds. At my homie Ana's pad in Campbell, our homie Bob, another Oregon transplant heading in to his PhD program over at UC Davis, Bob's wife Leah, Ana herself, Ana's dude Jason, and the Becky and I all gathered for purposes of raising the level of discourse and eating a sumptuous Spanish feast which Ana prepared. My chilly British blood was warmed by the distinctly Iberian flavor of the pailla, and indeed, of the evening itself.

In other news, I received e-mails from both my homies Heidi and Cody, informing me that there had been some Safety Dancing going down in Portland last night, and that I was thought of. Thanks, guys. It's nice to know that my years of safety dancing up north made an impression. An impression, of safety.

Anyway, today Becky and I are going to this monster flea market across town to look for a cruddy old road bike for me, then she's going to San Francisco to get her hair cut. I guess it would behoove me to take a shower now.


Sweatpants and whiskey equivalent

My friend and ally E brings our attention to sweatpants this morning. She defends their utility and their comfort, but then concedes that the combination of sweatpants and whiskey may indicate a certain...defeatism, shall we say. She invites us to find our own equivalent.

My equivalent is definitely red wine and video games. Becky and I were talking the other day about how much we (especially I) like stuffing at thanksgiving, and then I came up with the bright idea that sometime I could just have a plate full of stuffing with a bottle of wine for dinner. Throw in a few hours playing Civilization and I'm all set.

Good luck getting a job, Elizabeth. It always sucks, so don't take the sucking as in any way exceptional or unexpected.


This is obvious

Jon Stewart should run for office. I'm thinking senator, then president.

I bring this up because of the utter lack of charisma of (most) Democratic candidates during most of the Bush administration. Kerry was a great person, but he looked and acted like a cardboard cutout. There's senator Obama, but he's not running until 2012 or something. Right now, here in Cali, the guy running against Schwarzenegger is this pencil-necked little dweeb with no wit and no eloquence.

Everything in the world will continue to suck until such time as a democratic majority returns to congress and a democratic president is back in the saddle. I'm saying, vote for Jon.

Learning French

This'll be the mother of all redundant posts. I received my copies of Beauvoir's La Force Des Choses I and II in the mail from Amazon yesterday; this year I'm writing a research paper on her. Excerpts of both have been translated into English, but I'm reading them in French. This will take me about six times as long and be about half as accurate.

When I quit computer hell and moved (back) to Eugene, I did a three-month intensive French program at the U of O, which I paid for out of pocket (ouch.) I read books in French with English translations and a dictionary handy as much as I could stand it. I spent about five months my first year in graduate school working off of French sources writing a paper, then the next year I spent another five months working off of French sources writing my master's thesis. Somewhere in there I tried and failed to learn to read German, which is infinitely harder than French.

Now I'm at the point where I have to take my French reading to the next level; I can't afford to read through things getting about 60% of the words and 90% of the jist (which is how I've done it until now; it's harder for me to understand short quotes in French than entire books, because the books I read have narratives and/or arguments, which I understand, while short quotes often have individual words I don't know.) Since I don't have to teach this year, this is me claiming that I will work even fucking harder on memorizing a goddamn language I started when I was 25.

Note from my brother: What do the popemobile and a pimpmobile have in common? They are both are owned by men with a love of extravagant clothes and big funny hats.

Well said, Adam.


Green slime in the 1980s

Ok. Remember Double Dare? Here's a picture of the host, Marc Summers:

Like the guy who played Macguyver (Macguever? Macgeyver?), it's nice to see that weird television personalities from the 80s can get jobs again, eventually. Marc Summers is now the host of the Food Network show Unwrapped, which is a fairly boring expose about how food is made. I think it's kind of the TV equivalent of bands that play the county fair + casino circuit. Sorry, Cheap Trick. Sorry.

On an unrelated note, Becky and I just returned from a
fiercly succesful grad student outing to the local Irish pub (which is three blocks from our apartment.) As far as I'm concerned, no one can replace my Oregon cohort. But these guys will do in a pinch.

Here he is again, in his current incarnation, people:

"Hi, I'm Marc Summers. I've got this show on Food Network. I'm a great big stud. Give me some candy!"

Heroes of the morning

Big ups to my homie KungFuKitten, who links us to this fantastic video, proving again that Weird Al is completely awesome. Every generation of 11-year olds discovers Weird Al anew. He's an industry. Weird Al, you're a hero of the morning.

Hero of the morning number two is Deb from Napoleon Dynamite. We watched it again last night; I had completely forgotten how funny it is. I'm not sure why I'm so sure Deb is the true hero, but I think it has to do with her stainless ethical track record and her innate ambition.

Pesto and the cat next door have become aware of one another, separated as they are by a mere sliding glass door. At first, Pesto was terrified and the cat was aggressive. Over the last week, however, Pesto has realized that the cat can't get in, and now she's poking her little nose up to the door and pissing the cat off until it runs away, frustrated and confused. Good girl, Pesto.

It should be noted that the cat does come back, the very next day.

Sorry about that.


"Student" athletes

During my lunch break here in the picturesque cubicals of the UCSC history dept. grad lab, I found this fantastic Onion article (FSU to Phase out Academic Operations by 2010). It reminded me of one of the constant irritations of being a UO grad student: the fact that the university's priorities were so clearly and so squarely focused on athletics.

At the time, it was annoying that the football players had custom Humvees and that the stadium was about as big as the rest of campus put together. Now, it strikes me as particularly appalling since it's so much better here in Santa Cruz: the academic departments can afford facilities and fellowships which better allow their students to do their work

Furthermore, you don't have waves of quasi-students who are really just sports fans who have to tolerate classes in order to scream "whoo" and slam Coors (which is not to say there aren't a bunch of those here, of course, just that the student body doesn't seem to be comprised almost exclusively of them.) This comment brought to you by my former neighbors. Burn in hell, guys.

Last I checked, the mighty UCSC Banana Slugs are best known for their ultimate frisbee team. Maybe I should start a Freestyle Walkin' team, too.

Try this again...

I'm trying Trebuchet now, since Becky said Courier was not going to fly...

I have nothing new to post about this morning, so about a picture of the Rat Pack? I mean, those guys always looked so happy. It's because they were all drunk on gin and were about to get laid. It's true!


The issue of sources

I'm trying out Courier on the blog. Microsoft popularized Times, and we can do better. Courier is fixed-width and resembles typewritten text. I'm in the process of vamping (this version of my blog is too young for it to be considered revamping) this for readability.

Here's the thing: there is peril associated with this brave new era of flickr and blogger, of livejournal and diaryland
. Whereas past generations kept records in hard copy, ours keeps them primarily as ephemeral digital copies. Even if you keep backups, the file formats change within a few years and they frequently become impossible to read (go back to something you saved in the late 1990s and see if you can read it on your current computer.)

The interesting thing about this phenomenon is thus that any attempt to access old information faces two issues: there's usually so much of it, and it's so poorly organized, that it's impossible to find anything specific, and the information itself is often either lost, inaccessible due to file format, or corrupted.

I'm thinking of this both because I'm a would-be historian, and as a result I'm supposed to care a lot about historical sources, and because I'm keeping a blog on blogger now, instead of adding to a big ugly HTML file and scp'ing it up to rackm0unt. That means that if I want to see what I was thinking a few years from now and blogger doesn't archive for longer than, say, 12 months (I honestly don't know if they do or not), I'll have no idea, just as people tend to lose their digital photos as they move between computers and cameras and memory cards.

The point is, will historians of the 21st century have blogs and flickr accounts to look through, or will the little piddly records of our lives vanish as hard drives die and backup copies vanish?

I mean, it would just be criminal if people didn't know about our blogs in 100 years.

Wait a minute....


The golden era of thrift stores was the early to mid 1990s. Back then, thrift stores were full of ironic t-shirts (Sexy Grandma, and so on), high-quality jackets for cheap, and pants that fit. For cheap. As my generation came of age, we started raiding thrift stores in earnest, and eventually the people who ran them figured out that we were loaded down with allowance money, and later with minimum wage money, and later with graduate fellowship money (or the equivalent.) You ended up with the Value Village phenomenon: a few decent things scattered across acres of utter crap, all at prices only marginally lower than at the mall.

Thus, it is with great pleasure that I note that the thrift stores of Santa Cruz are awesome. Suit jackets? Three bucks. Nice button shirts? Two bucks. For real. I can be dressed to the nines in no time. On Sunday we're going to an enormous flea market, at which we hope to find a ratty old road bike for me and whatever tickles Becky's fancy, for Becky.

The critical elements of thrift store success:
  1. Extant ironic t-shirts (a tradition, even if one is a little old for that shit.)
  2. Nice suits + suit jackets (for last-minute weddings and dissertation defenses.)
  3. Funny ugly home decorations.
  4. Likewise, coffee mugs.
  5. Nice button shirts.
  6. Most importantly: FOR CHEAP!
Oh, also, I should note that the lady at the Salvation Army called me "amigito," which, if my intuitive knowledge of Spanish is correct, means "little friend."


Helicopter Lops

When you're driving south on highway 280 coming out of San Francisco, there's a point right around the interchange with 380 at which you can look off to the left and see SFO. At night, you can see all of the planes in their landing patterns; they just look like glowing lights. It reminded me last night of various X-files episodes in which UFOs circled the desert while Scully stood around looking stern and hot.

A quandary for the morning: in My Own Private Idaho, how is it that Keanu doesn't ruin the movie? He ruins everything he's in, except for the Bill + Ted movies, but somehow Private Idaho survives unscathed. Is it just because River Phoenix is so good looking that everyone's distracted? Is it just because Flea playing yet another hobo is so funny that everyone's distracted? It's not for me to say for sure.

When Becky and I were visiting the Bunny Haven at the pet store the other day, we were introduced to the Helicopter Lop, so named for its helicopter-spoke-like ears (refer to image, above.) Just when you thought bunnies couldn't take it to the next level, they find a way.

A big bonne chance to my brother in-law Chris's family as they haul two kids, a load of reptiles, and a house full of stuff up to Oregon this week. Balance is restored in the force having half of Becky's part of the family in Oregon and half in California.

Hmm..various topics.



Couldn't...sleep. Possibility of flawed grammar...high.

Ok, Talk Like a Pirate Day is coming up again, blah blah blah, the point is to watch this hilarious video. It's informative; I particularly appreciate the syntax breakdown and the verb tenses, although I'm not sure about their conclusions regarding future tense.

We went to the Santa Cruz boardwalk yesterday, but didn't go on any rides. Why (and how) is it that every beach carnival in the world is the same? From Norfolk to Catalonia to California's central coast (those are just the ones I remember off of the top of my head), every seafront boardwalk with rides has the same bad food, the same ugly kids, and seems to be staffed by the same carnies. That said, I do need to go on the sinister, ancient, wooden roller coaster at some point as I have become convinced that I'm immortal and I need to test the theory.


The old blog

Looks like rackm0unt is live again. I'm going to leave my old blog there, should anyone have 36 hours to waste reading through it. For some reason, my immediate memory is a story of a guy trapped in a collapsed bridge after the earthquake in San Francisco in 1989. He was stuck in his car with the steering column shoved into his crotch for 16 hours until the rescuers got to him and got him out.

So, if you're in an earthquake and find yourself trapped in your car with the steering column shoved into your crotch and you have a laptop w/ a wireless connection handy, perhaps you can find a few things to distract yourself at kungfuramone.rackm0unt.org.

Side note: Becky and I just returned from picking up some timothy hay for Pesto from this enormous Pet Smart near where we live and they had an official "Bunny Haven" inside. So...many...bunnies.

Onwards to (free) commercial hosting!

It's 9:42am; do you know where your years-and-years of blogging is? 'tis unavailable, because my homie Brian's server is down. He and his lady Crystal have just moved into their new pad in P-town, and Brian had to transport the servers that live in his basement last night. For years, an elite cadre of kids have hosted their websites and e-mail addresses on the boxes in Brian's bunker, but as Brian's interest in maintaing a cheap-as-free web- and e-mail-hosting service has waned, so have the numbers of people that have maintained their stuff there. Brian, frankly, has better things to do (like have a job, and build awesome scientific ways to cool and distribute beer over wireless networks).

Thusly, it is with a somewhat heavy heart that I join the ranks of WYSIWYG web users. All of my vaunted cutting-edge (circa 1997) HTML skills are going out the window, and now I'm just tapping away in a little box that figures it all out for me. I'm going to see if I can upload my existing blog, but I'm sort of skeptical...

Remember, lists:
  • Rabbits
  • Linux
  • Graduate school
  • French
  • Nerdiness
  • Cheap red wine
  • Pastoral Santa Cruz, California