I Miss Punk Rock

Last night Becky and I had a succesful wine-fueled talk about money, or, rather, lack thereof. Her new job is awesome, but it's part time. Her plan to make crafts and sell 'em is on, but she's just starting out. My stipend is generous by grad-student-in-the-humanities standards, but that's like being the world's tallest midget.

The problem is that we were both raised resolutely (upper-) middle class, so we think that things like yearly vacations and dinners out and so on are "normal," despite knowing that most people on planet earth are still busy barely scratching out a living and/or field-stripping their AK-47s. So here we are, she's a burgeoning artist / academic adminstrator, I'm a would-be historian, and we're just as broke as we've been since early 2004.

Here's the point: I miss punk rock. I miss the music, the clothes, the tats, the flipping your friends off and being afraid of skinheads at shows. I miss favorite bands that barely knew how to play. I miss stacks of LPs and people getting scabies. I miss half racks of PBR and dirty Converse and thrift stores. I miss being drunk six nights a week.

Most of all, I miss the core of the PR ethic: there's no future worth looking forward to, so let's revel in some low-fidelity nihilism and have as much fun as possible before we all get nuked. I miss not caring. To me, that was the real point of the whole subculture; the incoherent politics and the vast range of music that fell under the punk umbrella was secondary to the sincere not-giving-of-a-fuck, ESPECIALLY about things like money and status and ambition.

Not surprisingly, I was a lousy punk at the time (i.e. I went straight to college after high school and drove myself as hard as I could). But I miss feeling like I could give up and have that be ok.


Query: Rusell Crowe

Rusell Crowe is notorious for being a hardcore method actor. He tries to live the personalities of the characters he plays. This is at least part of the reason that he's always in the press for, you know, punching people in the head.

Like anyone who was involved in the punk rock scene when I was a tyke, I was first introduced to Russell Crowe by his role in Romper Stomper, wherein he played a fairly terrifying and convincing white power skinhead. He's played various goons and soldiers and so on over the years, and every few weeks or so he punches someone in the head. Correlation? Quite possibly!

But here's the question: when Russell Crowe plays, say, the lead in an insipid romantic comedy, does he become a softy in real life? Does he go around giving people flowers and watching lifestyle TV? Does he stop punching people in the head? Quite possibly!

In other news, I had fun in Novato with the inlaws and the niece + nephew this weekend. Pictures of a kid in an alligator mask and an experimental prop plane (those are different pictures) to follow.


Now, Don't Get Mad, Baby

There's no point in getting mad at two things:
  1. Historical figures.
  2. Languages.
Getting mad isn't going to make Hitler or Genghis Khan any less of an asshole. Getting mad isn't going to make Finno-Ugric languages any less bizzare.

That being said, everyone knows that J-J Rousseau was a complete dick. I've always struggled with just treating him as a seminal figure in intellectual history, not as a seminal dickhead in intellectual history. Everyone is familiar with the "if I had a time machine I'd go back and kill Hitler when he was a weird Austrian baby" scenario, which I'm all for, but I'd also go back and just bitch-slap the living shit out of Rousseau.

But then there's Marx. I've got a better handle on Marxism than I ever have before and I'm working on putting together a coherent "stance" on political economy, thanks largely to the Histcon class I'm in, but as for Marx himself, I dunno. I love the beard. That's a given. But I can't figure out if he was as insufferable as Rousseau or might have actually been fun to have fun with. You know:
  1. Going on a paddle-boat...with Marx.
  2. Playing badminton...with Marx.
  3. Going to a Chinese buffet...with Marx.
  4. Going to the beach and looking for loose change with metal detectors...with Marx.
P.S. I just finished the ugly-ass rough draft of my coffee site. I should say: the prose is ugly (-ass); I think the color scheme is great. I'm leaving it as-is with a minimum of fiddling. The Sith Lord has asked for rough drafts of our term projects on the 1st; I figure I'll just leave it all hanging loose, get reamed, and fix it up, rather than trying to fix it up, getting reamed, and not knowing what to do. Comprenez-vous?


Quick Notations

First, they recovered an intact alive-at-the-time colossal squid off of the NZ coast! I only wish it had pulled the fishing vessel to the briney depths and devoured its crew. But you can't have everything.

Second, my homie the Hyperborean has joined the ranks. He just got an excellent funding package (or so I hear) to go to UCLA and get a doctorate in ancient history. Kid tested, Crom approved!

Third, I would like to point out that my homie Dr. Claps dropped some tasty logic about why hardcore (the genre) sucks, and my girl continues to update her crafty blog.

Finally, I will repeat my two favorite ninja haiku:

God and Superman
Stepped up to a ninja
And got the beat down

There would be problems
If ninjas were in porno
You couldn't see them

That is all.


Better Living Through Thaumaturgy

Last night, I took a sleep med. I slept like a baby for 8+ hours and I feel frickin' awesome today. Yesterday afternoon I finally taped a letter to my neighbors' door asking them to STFU after 10:00pm. I'm not sure if it had any effect yet, since I was too busy being blissfully unconscious last night to know if they kept up the usual banging and thumping until 2:00am.

But it gets me to thinking. We're all on drugs, all the time. Happiness is chemical, sleep is chemical, depression is chemical, anger is chemical, hunger is chemical, etc. Thus, I don't see any problem with altering the chemical composition of my blood stream and brain artificially, I just see a potential problem with doing so without due caution. Coffee focuses me and makes me happy. Alcohol calms me down and allows me to enjoy socializing without my natural-chemical prediliction toward panic and awkwardness. Pain killers make me feel warm and fuzzy. Apparently, sleep meds knock me the fuck out and insure that I'm able to concentrate the next day.

I guess what bugs me is the puritanism (and the associated hypocrisy) of American attitudes toward drugs; "drugs" is such a useless blanket-term anyway and the patronizing condescension of everyone from politicians to high school guidance counselors is so lacking in credibility because they don't acknowledge the uses of drugs, including pleasure and enjoyment. Alcohol is kind of miraculous: you can take a group of people with next to nothing in common, get them drunk, and the induced sociability can (I said "can," not "will necessarily") lead to connections that wouldn't have happened otherwise. Likewise, this stupid coffee project has made me realize what a revolutionary impact caffeine had on history and continues to have on our perspectives about work and concentration.

Speaking of the stupid coffee project, maybe I'll take a day off. So...bored...with...it.

Caveat: That all said, my family is as ridden with alcoholism as anyone's, and I respect the decision of my friends who clarify the issue for themselves by just rejecting the whole mess. I also appreciate that no one I've ever been friends with has been the least bit puritanical. I also appreciate how good-looking they all are.


It's, Like, A Million Degrees Out

Take a beachfront community, add a federal holiday, throw in some cloudless blue skies and 70-something degree temps in FEBRUARY, and you'll end up with crowds. We went for a walk to watch the surfers; they still look like bugs, floating out in the bay waiting for the waves to come in.

I've spent all day being really, deeply frustrated with my stupid coffee website. It isn't hard to write, it isn't hard to read about, it's just mind-bendingly boring. During the walk, I realized that I'm going about it all wrong: instead of sitting at my desk, mad, I'm going to sit at the couch, happy, because I now have a nice big G+T. So equipped, I'll continue my site design and my essay writing. At least until Antiques Roadshow comes on.

If you're really bored, here's the current version of the totally-unfinished site. It's missing little things like more than half of the text and all of the citations. And proof-reading. And, you know, accuracy.


It Writes Itself

It writes itself...or it gets the hose again. Ha ha!

No, seriously. Term projects. In a 10-week term with weekly readings and reaction papers and so on, you have to identify a topic by week 4 in order to be able to get any research done before you start writing. Yesterday I finally hit my breaking point of boredom with reading about coffee (most of the histories of coffee have been written by economic historians. They are not what we call "gripping prose") and started making the website. It turns out that HTML is like riding a bike: you will fall and hurt yourself before remembering how to do it right. Also, it turns out that it's really hard to find good copyright-free images online (I feel weird citing someone's flickr page or whatever as a source.) After that I wrote up a draft of my presentation of Marx-on-Information Technology (the Bureau of Labor Statistics is a goldmine for that one...) The good news there is that, well, it's easy to apply Capital Vol. I to IT.

My point is that I had forgotten the golden rule of writing: you're never actually ready to start writing. There's always more to be read, more to be found, more to be done, before you feel adequately prepared to dive in and do it. My advice is to do as much research as you can before you claw your eyes out, then start writing even if you know you're not ready. This will both prevent you from clawing your eyes out and make it possible to accomplish term projects in 10-week terms.

Hey, did you know that some funny guys made a Silence of the Lambs Musical? My favorite song is, predictably, "Put the Fucking Lotion in the Basket."

Happy Sunday, Sunday, Someday, everyone.


Watching the TV

Heroes: I finally got sucked in. Yes, it's fun. Yes, I like it. Yes, Hiro is the best character. What I appreciate about it is the relative lack of soap-operatics vis-à-vis other primetime science fiction/drama shows. That said, I'd like to see more frequent superpower use. NBC, you've been warned.

Lost: So far the season looks promising. I'm particularly pleased with the relative lack of bickering; the show has always been great in terms of intriguing mysteries on the island (which are explained every few episodes, which is also satisfying) but it has always SUCKED ON A BUTT in terms of boring chest-thumping and whining between the major characters. And any time that hot hunk of Scottish, Desmond, shows up is a-ok by me.

Antiques Roadshow: I'm pretty sure that the Keno twins eat babies.

CSI: I'm glad that Grissom has his big crazy mountain-man beard again. I'd like Nick to re-grow the silly cop moustache he had for one episode last season. Warreck always looks exactly the same, as do the women. I'd like to see Archie the computer guy promoted to main character status, perhaps piloting a giant robot by which to fight crime.

Iron Chef America: Mario Batali and Alton Brown are proof that there is yet hope for the human race. What I feel really bad about is Cat Cora: she always loses. It's very disappointing. I'm pleased to see that the secret ingredients are back on track: things like chocolate and tuna and so on are much more interesting than, well, peas.

Ace of Cakes: have you noticed that the cakes don't actually look very tasty? I mean, yes, they're amazing visually, but would you want to eat something made out of bent pieces of wire covered in fondant?


An Excuse for Chianti...and Bacon

Happy Valetine's Day, all. Despite my complete agreement with people like C that there is indeed a relationship between the "heteronormative script" and violence, I still think Valentine's Day can be really nice if you're lucky enough to be in one of those non-violent, mutually-supportive, hi-fives-and-hot-sex kind of relationships: hetero, homo, or whatever else you can come up with. Our plans for the evening involve some Tanqueray, some Chianti, and these crazy pork-chops-wrapped-in-bacon things we picked up at Trader Joe's.

More importantly, BECKY'S CRAFT BLOG IS NOW LIVE! Having secured the part-time job of a lifetime, she'll be spending the other part of her time making craftie things to sell on the interweb and putting pictures of them up in the meantime.

Um...besides that, I got some sleep last night. That was nice. Then today I got the watch battery replaced in my dad's old watch. I like that I have three permanent things I inherited from my dad that I plan to have with me for the rest of my run on this dumpy little rock: the hat, the late-60s Yale lettermen jacket (which I wear both to confuse people and because it's a rad jacket), and now the watch.

Anyway, remember: just because it's a made-up Hallmark holiday doesn't mean it can't be fun.


Insomni-MANIAC! YOW!

I stopped getting mad about insomnia a long time ago. I get mad about people making noise at night, I get mad about politics and environmental degradation and bad music, but there's just no point in lying there at 1:30am and being mad about it. Here's how the internal monologue would go:

"Shit shit shit! If I just fall asleep right now I'll still get 5 and a half hours! Sleep, damn you!"


"Shit shit...shit shit! If I fall asleep right now I'll still get the US Marine Corps requisite 4 hours..."

And so on.

So, anyway, I don't do that anymore. I just space out and try to figure out how a bed that feels like the most comfortable place in the world at 7:00am can possibly feel so uncomfortable just a few hours before.

The other thing is that sleep deprivation doesn't have to make you miserable...the trick is to treat it like a very cheap drug you bought from a guy in a 7-11 parking lot in Gilroy. You should be like, "hey! I'm high on this very low-quality drug! Isn't this something!"


Guilty Pleasures, Confusion

Ever since we got on our Arrested Development kick, Becky and I have had Europe's "Final Countdown" stuck in our heads. Becky, in fact, would not stop singing it all day yesterday. I feign annoyance, but secretly, I love that song! In an eerie coincidence, Jeff just dropped some logic about 80s tunes he rocks out, including the Top Gun "Danger Zone" song.* Just two days ago, I "acquired" the Top Gun soundtrack, slapped "Final Countdown" on at the front, and just like that, 80s dance party!

Here's where the confusion comes in: we like these kinds of songs because they're funny and ridiculous, and if I had been older than 5 when Final Countdown was rocking the airwaves, I would have pretended to hate it because it was weak-ass pop bullshit and I would have gone back to my Minor Threat record. But...it's such a great song! Can we like something ironically, yet not ironically at the same time? I mean, I do appreciate the irony and the absurdity of the Top Gun soundtrack, but it's also kind of nonstop awesome, 24/7, you know? It's like when we all started throwing the horns at each other in high school; we were like "ha ha, butt rock is dumb, I am ironic," but now we mean it when we throw the horns.

I also like everything by Cracker and the Paul Simon "Graceland" album. I'll just admit that now and get it over with.

*As you may remember, I have an ongoing obsession with the "danger zone," which appeared in something like 6 or 7 popular 80s pop songs, not just the Kenny Loggins Top Gun song. One of these days I'll spend some serious time in the internet and compile a list with lyrics.


The Grind

Term projects do an interminable workload make. The coffee book I just finished, Coffee: A Dark History, by Anthony Wild, was a lengthy polemnic in the best UK radical tradition. Free Trade coffee is not enough, Wild insists, as long as global capitalism holds sway. It's the revolution or...well, ceaseless complaining, actually.

One thing I'm getting from all of the far-left contemporary political/economic analyses I've read in the last few months is that they acknowledge that what really spelled disaster for the third world was the fact that the end of the Cold War obviated the necessity of the US worrying about the social welfare of anyone poorer than, say, Canada. During the Cold War the US certainly intervened militarily whenever a regime with the slightest socialistic tendencies came to power (see: 20th century Latin American history 1945-1989), but it also supported some kind of regulation to insure the basic subsistence of people in countries it feared might otherwise embrace leftist populist politics. This is the case with coffee, even: the US supported the International Coffee Agreement which helped regulate the ups and downs of the global coffee market. However, the US withdrew its support in '89, fatally undermining the whole enterprise and ultimately insuring that the worst effects of neoliberal economic policies spearheaded by the IMF and World Bank would be felt by subsistence-level coffee farmers (currently, coffee producers make about 13% of total coffee revenue, down from 40% in 1989.)

My point is that what changed were policies, not "capitalism." The faith in the free market and total deregulation led directly to economic disaster for all but the richest nations, and the richest people within those nations. Without communism as an ideological rival, (neo-) liberalism was unfettered and promptly set about restructuring things to insure that the rich got much richer and the poor got whatever they could scrape up. For me, this still suggests that the appropriate response is social democracy; if policies were aligned according to human needs and were enacted in line with the notions of justice that are currently only used as excuses for military intervention, we'd have a set of potential solutions to some of the worst socio-economic abuses in the contemporary world.

This lines up with my experience of the Perry Anderson lecture a few weeks ago: no matter how insightful radical scholars are about what capitalism is up to, they never have solutions worth a damn. They're so wedded to this manifestly impractical notion that it's revolution or nothing, that capitalism is so bad that ameloriation is useless, that they end up repeating the same stale formulae over and over.

In other news, I'm tired. I'm ridden with grad-guilt and feeling like I'm not doing enough. I nominate Sisyphus to be our patron mythical Greek guy.


News...News...News Has a Kind of Mystery

There was an opera written in the 80s called Nixon in China that has a song about the news media. I heard it once and it's stuck with me. You see, I have two term projects I'm working on: a website about coffee in world history (fun facts below!) and an analysis of the information technology industry using concepts from volume I of Capital.

In class the other day the prof warned us that, as humanities grad students, we knew nothing about contemporary politics and economics and that we were all obliged to start reading as much high-quality mainstream press as possible, all the time. It was actually a pretty compelling point. For years I've avoided the news because it makes me want to throw up hearing about the hijinks of the Bush administration. I've now resolved to shed the bad faith involved there and try to get and maintain a better idea of what's actually going on.

As an added bonus, I'm sure to encounter my favorite genre of news stories: pandemics! SARs, West Nile, the Bird Flu! Oh, how I love thee!

So: if anyone has any suggestions of free online quality news, please let me know. Right now I'm just rolling with the NY Times, Le Monde, CNN (not quality, but concise), and Google News. Suggestions, people!

On an unrelated note, we got the new camera and Becky is busily taking pictures of crafts and a certain bunny. Graphics to follow in a later post.

Coffee: caffeine exists in the coffee plant because it's a natural insecticide. The coffee bean is the seed, which is contained in a fruit that resembles a cherry. The Ottoman Empire banned coffee-drinking and coffeehouses on several occasions, punishing violaters with death by drowning, but people just kept drinking it anyway and the bans had to be rescinded. Coffee itself fueled most of the intellectual ferment of the Enlightenment in the 18th century, including the ideology behind the American Revolution (the Declaration of Independence was first publically read in front of a coffeehouse.) Currently, international coffee prices are as low as they have ever been following the introduction of Vietnam into large-scale coffee production in the 90s. Likewise, following massive deregulation and neo-liberal economic intervention on the part of the IMF and World Bank, millions of coffee farmers are out of work and/or living in utter poverty.

So, basically, coffee is the fuel of capitalism. But that's not going to stop me from drinking it.


Pain-Pleasure Ratio

There seems to be some kind of invidious built-in justice system in my body and mind as I get older. Or, I should say, the latent one from my youth is far more pronounced than ever. Here's what I mean:
  • If I drink a lot of booze, I feel like hell later. Sometimes it even kicks in before the next morning.
  • I I eat a lot of food, I feel gross and I can't move.
  • I I spend all day playing video games and staring at the ceiling, I am wracked with grad student guilt. And I was raised neither Catholic nor Jewish! I can only imagine what it must be like for my fellow grads who were!
  • If I sleep in late, I've got fewer hours in the day.
  • If I kill my noisy neighbors with a hatchet, I'll ruin a perfectly good shirt and feel vaguely bad about it.
And so on and so forth. At least sex just makes me sort of tired and dopey...I can live with that.

Anyway, today I'm staying home, working on my commodity-exchange website for world history, waiting for the DHL guy to come and deliver the new digital camera we bought to take pictures of Becky's crafts for her inchoate craft blog. As some of you may remember, DHL is the genius company that left my flat panel monitor on my front porch to be stolen (and signed for it using the name of the street we lived on as the signature.) I am less than thrilled about waiting for them, as opposed to FedEx or UPS. Either way, I should probably take a shower now.


Beauvoir Thought So Too

I've had a longstanding love-hate relationship with Reno, Nevada. I admire anything that goes all the way with a theme, and Reno is, in my reasonably wide-ranging experience, the sleaziest, stupidest town in America. For me, the essential Reno moment was when I went in High School as part of a jazz band festival (this one time at band camp...) and the enormous neon sign for Circus Circus was broken. In feebly flashing lights, it read "icus ircus." In went the teenagers, to sup on the E. Coli at the 5-dollar buffet...

I've been reading L'Amérique au jour le jour by Beauvoir as my bus book. It's funny and engaging and written in her wonderful, accessible French. Today I got to read about her arrival in Reno:

"All of America is a jack-in-the-box (boîte à surprise). But Reno is one of my greatest amazements. Associating the name with that of Hollywood, I imagined a luxurious Monte-Carlo, peopled with movie stars in pearls. And I fell into a rough village of the Far West...the streets are somber and deserted (and) the cafeterias and restaurants are miserable..." (205-206)

I'm just excited that I independently arrived at the same conclusion as Beauvoir: Reno is butt-ugly.


Syrah, Chiraz

So it turns out that there's a difference between Syrah and Chiraz. Who knew? I found this out earlier today accompanying Becky and my homies Kelly and Luke to Bonny Doon Vineyard. I liked the Syrahs. They rocked my palate.

Yesterday the clan of the young anthropologist came over and the 2-year old communed with the bunny again. We were so busy eating hummus that we didn't notice that it was past the 2-year old's bedtime until that bedtime had come and gone.

Later, I joined my homies Jeff and Lauren in coaching Tweak on how to beat her advisor's ass. Or, at least, get her to recognize that Tweak is going to be perched in a clock tower with a high-powered hunting rifle within a few short weeks if she doesn't ease up on the reading load a little.

Just now, Becky and I started setting up her typepad craft blog. No, it's not live yet. Patience, Willow. (Courage, Willow.)

Now I make dinner and start liberally pouring my woman glasses of vino. Over and out.


Atheism: Take it, Asimov!

I'm a pretty trenchant atheist. I just rediscovered two wonderful quotes from Isaac Asimov that I agree with 100%:

"Imagine the people who believe such things and who are not ashamed to ignore, totally, all the patient findings of thinking minds through all the centuries since the Bible was written. And it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes. I personally resent it bitterly."


"I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I'm a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time."

Both quotes are from this atheism site.

On an unrelated note, burgers and beers were had and fun was invented last night as an elite cadre and their hottie S.O.s went out to paint the town red. That's right: fun was invented.


Sinister Forces

This will be short. I realized while suffering through another hour-long monologue in my world history seminar today that the professor who leads it is the spitting image of Senator Palpatine from Star Wars: The Three Shitty Movies that Prove George Lucas is Now an Idiot.

See? There he is. Palpatine's nose is a little more regal, but besides that it's the same guy.

In other news, big plans for the weekend. Constant rocking. Burgers, beers, wines, everything you need for living. Also, I'm replacing my profile picture with the mascot shot of Pesto, because it's cute when bunnies drink cheap beer.


Powered by Antioxidants

Becky and I just hung our print of the picture to the right, which my brother in-law got us for Xmas. Becky had it framed. It looks rad perched over the bunny cage. If you're interested, check out the artist's website...he has a lot of amazing stuff, much of which makes a great desktop image for your computer.

In other news, here's how I like my day to go down:
  1. Huge quantities of black coffee.
  2. Fresh cold water.
  3. Red wine.
(In that order.)

I'm convinced that, as long as I'm not in a plane crash, I'll live to be 112 thanks to the constant stream of antioxidants coursing through my system. Take that, free radicals!

(No, not you A...you and C are the kind of free radicals that wine only makes STRONGER.)