Two Suggestions, Humbly Proffered

My spring break hanging out with B and Pesto was great fun. Yesterday we discovered a neat rocky beach full of tide pools about halfway between Ano Nuevo and the big lighthouse south of Half Moon Bay, and the break as a whole was full of good times. There are lots of pictures on my flickr site.

Based on two specific experiences yesterday, I wanted to pipe up with two related suggestions. One is local to the Santa to the Cruz, the other is universal:
  1. If you're going out to drink in SC, it makes absolutely no difference in cost whether you go to a dive (the Rush Inn, the Watering Hole) or a nicer bar (99 Bottles, Poet + Patriot.) Thus, I suggest you go to a nicer bar. And, following that, the only way you can even come close to drinking on a budget is to get those big-ass cans of Foster's. And, subsequently, the only kind of Foster's that actually tastes like beer is Foster's Bitter (the green can.) In conclusion, if you go out drinking in SC, go to the Poet + Patriot and drink Foster's Bitter. That is all.
  2. Never, ever watch Transformers. It falls right into that horrible spot between "just bad" and "so bad it's funny" - it's so bad it isn't at all funny. It's also a two-hour commercial for the American military (look! Big men doing things efficiently! Don't you want to sign up right out of high school, average American male? Of course you do!) If you're in need of a movie that's so awful it's completely uproariously hilarious, may I direct you to Transformers' contemporary Ghost Rider.
In unrelated news, I'm back on campus. Just read some articles. Loving every minute.


Things What I Like, Day 8: Passing Tests

I passed my freakin' Italian exam! Huzzah! What a bloody relief! There's a chance that it was the last test I'll ever have to take, depending on what I do when I grow up, so that's pretty sweet.

I've always been one of those freaks of nature who kind of likes tests, in a truly sick, perverse kind of way, but there was nothing about this one that I liked. The prof who ran it is a wonderful, sympathetic lady, but I was reaching all the way down for every cognate (in English and French) and every dirty grammatical trick I could think of to get through it. Praise be to Allah. It's over and done.

It reminds me of one of my real crossroads moments back in Portland, when I failed the CCNA exam. As far as I can remember, that's the only test I've ever completely bombed. Because I bombed it, I grew increasingly disillusioned with being in IT (a feeling exacerbated by hating being oncall as much as I did), and when B started talking about grad school, I was all for it. I wonder sometimes what would have happened if I'd passed that stupid test.

Anyway, who fucking cares. Now I get to just plow through a few more months of books and papers before the QE, all of them in languages I can kind of read.


Things What I Like, Day 7: Pesto the Bunny

Another obvious one, but one that needed to be posted: I am the proud caretaker, friend, and confidant of a tiny bunny named Pesto.

Why bunnies? Why, there are so many reasons...
  1. Easy to litter-box train.
  2. Cheap to buy, cheap to operate. They never get sick, they eat cheap food, and as long as you keep them from eating your electronics, they don't really destroy anything.
  3. Like to watch movies.
  4. It is a fact of science that bunnies cleaning their ears are cuter than any other thing.
  5. Make amusing little grunting noises while running around.
  6. Do bunny sprints.
  7. Are surprisingly good at traditional Chinese calligraphy.
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Things What I Like, Day 6: The Interweb

...yes, an uninspired topic, but it's been several days since an update and I'm low on ideas at the moment.
  • I still encourage everyone to have a blog. How am I to keep up with your goings-on if you don't have one? You have goings-on! I must know about them!
  • I am not the e-mail correspondent I once was. I vaguely intend to turn that around sometime soon.
  • IM'ing is more complicated. When you have an office job, you're in a good spot for IM'ing, since it looks like you're working when you're sitting there, diligently tapping away at your keyboard. The problem is, when I'm in front of the computer I'm usually supposed to be actually working on my endless pile of would-be scholarship.
  • How...how did we used to do things like know information, and, pay bills, and look at our apartment buildings from space? How?
  • The privacy issues: just create a persona and never use your real name or where you live. And try to overwhelm google by having too much information out there for it to be convenient to look you up. And discourse your friends from putting pictures of you online with a caption that's like "Tim Smith doing a keg stand naked while on meth," because you will never get a job.
  • Some day I hope that all documents in every archive will be scanned and put online, making it possible to do history research from home, just like those lit kids get to. Archives. Blegh.
"My friends are gonna be there too...I'm on the highway to hell...." (good timing on the mix CD.)

Happy spring break to those of you who get one!


Things What I Like, Day 5: Being Done With Stuff

This term, the class for which I was one of the two graduate teaching assistants assigned the following:
  1. Ten weekly quizzes, each of 5 short-paragraph-length identifications.
  2. Two map quizzes.
  3. Three 3-to-7 page essays.
  4. A long final.
This meant constant grading, all term long. Today I rocked a seven-hour grading marathon after spending another three hours yesterday having a "grading party" over at the prof's house.* I calculated all the grades, which involved a whole lot of spreadsheet action**, and now I'm done.

My point is this: the best feelings in life have to do with relief. Not being in pain, not being stressed-out, not getting screwed over, all assuming the possibility of pain, stress, and screwed are very real possibilities in a given situation, these are a few of my favorite things. A comparable state of being is the satisfying knowledge that I have every right to do absolutely nothing useful. Being done is awesome.

* Made less lame by the free Thai lunch.
** Or, if you prefer, hot spreadsheet-on-spreadsheet action. Which is sexy in a Microsoft kind of way.


Things What I Like, Day 4: Doing Dishes

As I was reminded by this lovely lady, just because I have a few days off doesn't mean I get to neglect blogging duties. Because duty! Must come before all!

Anyway, the point is, I'm a man that does the dishes. I'll try to keep this succinct. I do the dishes, every night, because of the following:
  1. Domestic relations. B does all kinds of stuff, like dusting, that I don't want to do. One way I hold up my end of the 50/50 distribution of labor in our marriage is that I do the dishes whether or not I also cooked.
  2. Fond memories. The best, happiest job I ever had was my year as a pearl diver at a now-defunct bistro in Eugene. One free tasty meal per shift, a cut of the tips (usually about 3 bucks a day), tons of hot punk girl co-workers to ogle, control of the CD player in the dish pit, across the street from my favorite bar...good times. B and I started dating when I had worked there for four or five months and I would bike over to her apartment after my shift with day-old pastries for her.
  3. It's nice. It calms me down. I'm an anxious guy.
  4. Our apartment is so tiny that if I don't do the dishes, there's nowhere for them to go.
  5. It's actually really fun to put on headphones and listen to good, aggressive music (allow me to suggest Grinderman) and do dishes. Drunk.
There are a surprising number of dish-doing tributes floating around in the zeitgeist, among which my favorites include:
  1. First and foremost, the Dishwasher Zine. I used to read it all the time when I was in high school. Dishwasher Pete, the man who roamed the 50 states knee-deep in suds, will always be to me more punk rock than Sid Vicious. The whole point of punk is the rejection, even inversion, of mainstream indexes of success and failure (see: people who can't play instruments in bands, the glorification of dying young, hating the rich, etc.) Dishwasher Pete was the avatar of punk, devoting his entire life to staying at the bottom of the totem pole in the food service industry, itself the bottom of the totem pole in the economy.
  2. The Pulp song "Dishes" off of This Is Hardcore.
  3. The Queers song "Born to Do Dishes" (itself written for a musical tribute album for the Dishwasher Zine.)
  4. The term "dish dog."
So, the next time you're grumbling because you have to do the dishes, consider this: maybe you get to do the dishes!


Things What I Like, Day 3: Not Doing Anything!

...maybe five or eight days a year, I don't have to do anything!

I'm going to go listen to Eagles of Death Metal and start thinking about getting a very serious pot of spaghetti sauce going.


Things What I Like, Day 2: What the Hell is Indie Rock?

Back in the late 90s / early zeros, people were pretty darn excited about something called Emo. No one was quite sure what it was. It had something to do with music that Fugazi invented, maybe. And it was like punk rock, but you could have melodic slow parts and it was more pretentious. The best description I ever heard was "well, they're fast and loud then they're slow and pretty. So I guess it's emo?"

A similar nebulous riddle of identity confounds the term "indie rock." In Britain, "indie" was one just garage rock on independent labels, but then "indie" bands got way too huge to be independent (Blur, Pulp, Oasis, etc.) In the US, it came to mean any kind of rock that wasn't metal and was kind of cool, pretty much. I mean, we know that The Pixies created it, and we know that Modest Mouse were and are perhaps its current figureheads, but we don't know much else. You know?

Whatever indie rock is, I like it sometimes. I like it when it has the following characteristics, in any combination:
  • Loud
  • Electronic bleepy-bloopy
  • Songs about alienation or sex, or combinations thereof
  • Kind of 80s-sounding
  • Cool basslines
I don't like it when it's:
  • Wimpy bullshit
  • Too poppy
Happily, there are quite a few bands that have combinations of the good and relatively little of the bad. Along those lines, my favorite new band that is almost certainly indie rock is Wolf Parade, who not only have bleepy/bloopy parts and kind of rock, but they're from Canada, which is to present-day indie rock was being from Seattle was to grunge (think Arcade Fire.)

In closing, I sometimes reflect on the mid-90s, when I was briefly playing bass in a high school indie rock band while also playing bari sax in a ska band. But for a few circumstances, I might have ended up super-into indie rock instead of super-into ska. And that would have changed my entire wardrobe from about 1995 to 2000. The whole thing.

P.S. Addendum: My Italian translation exam was brutal. I've never been less sure if I passed or failed something; the prof administering the exam is a wonderful, sympathetic lady, but I ran out of time before being able to copy over half of my incoherent chicken-scrawl into semi-coherent English. Think good thoughts for me, homies.


Things What I Like, Day 1: Media

Last night B and I had one of our patented "non-date nights," in which we pretend we're not having a date.* Over the course of the evening, we enjoyed some excellent media. And I'm here to recommend the following.
  1. First and foremost, it is very important that you Netflix or purchase the entire first season of Flight of the Conchords, if you haven't already. Once you watched all of the episodes, you're ready to move on to the TV special in which they go to South by Southwest and make literally half-dozens of fans. My favorite part of the TV special is when they meet the lady that has a picture of Gemaine's lips in her wallet at all times.**
  2. It is also good to remember that the best thing for watching fifty-two thousands times without it getting old is the Muppet Christmas Special. Oh how little you understand bears, Kermit.
  3. The latest Wes Anderson movie, Darjeeling Limited, is really good. You will enjoy it if you enjoy Wes Anderson movies. If you don't, you will completely hate it.
  4. You get the impression that Viggo Mortensen really enjoyed playing a Russian mob guy in Eastern Promises. I'm still not sure about the whole movie, but the Russian prison tattoo stuff is fun.
This morning I made a bunch of rather impressive pieces of French toast. After this, I'm off to grade a huge stack of rather unimpressive undergraduate essays.

Tomorrow: more things I like.

* This is to evade a curse in which something goes wrong, like B gets a tummy ache or something, if we call it a date night.
** My favorite lyric: she's so hot it's making me sexist.


Cheer Up, Asshat

I stole this picture off of flickr. I can't find the poster, otherwise I'd give linkage where linkage is due...

This post shall be the first of several having nothing to do with my rage and despair at the state of the world. Instead, I shall discuss things I like, such as otters, sweaters, and straight rye liquor from a still in the Ozarks. This is not out of some kind of would-be optimism, which would be impossible in my case, but out of the necessity of avoiding a descent into serious crankiness.


History in Real Time

Here we are in the decline of American hegemony. And it's kind of funny and also kind of a bummer. Because, as various clever folks pointed out back in the first OPEC crisis of 1973, is American-style prosperity really possible on the global scale? Our entire global economy is based on oil and natural gas; it underpins the 1000x increase in per capita energy consumption since the start of industrialism around 1800. Despite my tendency to blame everything on Dick Cheney, personally, the real culprit behind the price of gas is simply India (1.1 billion+) and China (1.6 billion +) wanting to get in on the a-turkey-in-every-pot and a-car-in-every-driveway action that Americans have taken for granted for nearly sixty years. And oil and natural gas are indeed, albeit slowly, running out.

For me, this comes back to one of the unanswered questions of the left: is the goal global prosperity, read loads of consumption for everyone, or is it some kind of more sustainable but less comfortable lifestyle, hopefully based on more efficient energy sources (eventually)? Because if we claim we're in favor of option B, we have to face the fact that no society has ever willingly given up prosperity in the consume-and-waste sense; reductions in prosperity have generally accompanied catastrophes like invasion and colonialism, plague, or war.

My point here is really that I'm amazed at how fast history happens. When we use the word "history" we think of Sumeria or the Ming Dynasty or Mughal India or George Washington. But, as everything I've been reading for my QE has really demonstrated to me, so much has changed so fast since about 1970. Hell, so much has changed since 1989! We live in a time in which massive, consequential change happens on an annual basis, and as we're seeing now with the economy, it's change that you feel.*

*Note that global economic shifts having concrete impacts at the local level is nothing new; I'm just interested in the the American self-image of prosperity vs. how fast its material base is changing.

Unrelated Addendum: I just realized why I've been in such a weird mood and why I've done so little work over the last 5 - 6 days: I'm worried shitless about my Italian translation exam this coming Monday. At least I know why I'm completely useless....


A Brief Report

Barrel tasting was a lot of fun, as expected. I posted a buttload of pictures to my flickr site. Highlights and observations:
  1. We totally saw Kari from Mythbusters at the pizza joint we went to in San Francisco on Friday night. I was surprised to discover that she really is that pretty in real life.
  2. My palette is so utterly unsophisticated. Anything north of 6 dollars a bottle is pretty much wasted on me, a fact that didn't prevent me from thoroughly enjoying the pinots, zins, and cabs we tried at the seven or eight wineries we managed to hit on Saturday.
  3. My homie D taught me how to play Guitar Hero. I did better on my first try than on tries two through five.
  4. The movie Hitman is exactly what you'd expect.* It was, however, great fun to see the guy who plays Bullock from Deadwood kill the guy who plays Desmond from Lost. Media cross-pollination, yes?
  5. California is too fucking big. It takes a long time to get around, even within the "greater bay area."
  6. Daylight savings is at least as dumb as trickle-down economics.
We were all pretty exhausted by this morning, but it was the happy post-rocking out kind of exhausted.

* As in, not very good.


Austerity Measures be Damned!

Last night was a second-V-Tine's Day celebration for B and I, courtesy of the 30 bucks my mom sent us to do something fun with. "Something fun with" clearly translates in our minds to "sushi," so we rolled out to the Sushi Garden and had three rolls, a gyoza appetizer, and a great big frosty Sapporo. Then we came home and drank vino and watched the last episode of America's Next Top Model, which we had taped.*

Next on the agenda: a weekend in Sonoma with our lovely friends S and SJ + D for barrel tasting. This is the scenario in which you pay a fee and then have about six hours to hit every winery you can get to and sample their samples straight from the barrel! We decided to invent winery terms to discuss the new vintages. Something like:
  • "Ah, the butt on this wine is nice and rumpy!"
  • "I'm not sure the dingus on this one is quite tight enough..."
  • "A pleasingly sharp and zippy nipple on this particular vintage!"
And so on.

Anyway, pictures to follow. Everyone have a super dope weekend.

* We totally still tape stuff on the VCR. Jet-age technology!


Why I Heart D+D; RIP Gary Gygax

Well, Gary Gygax is dead. He's the guy who invented D+D back in the mid-70s. A nation and, indeed, a world of dorks mourns his passing, because it is because of him and him alone that we were able to enjoy the following in our youth:

  • Sword, Frostbrand, +3/+6 vs. Fire-Using Creatures.
  • Meteor Swarm, 9th Level Mage Spell.
  • Blue dragons breathe lightning, black dragons breathe acid, green dragons breathe a cloud of deadly chlorine gas.
  • The monk: a cool multifaceted character class. The bard: less so, but still memorable.
  • Bag of holding.
  • The Drow: evil ebon-hued elves of the Underdark.
  • Demorgorgon: Demon Prince of the Abyss. Oh, also, Pit Fiends: Greatest of the Devils of the Hells (lawful evil.)

And so on.

Anyway, briefly, I will go on the record as a diehard defender and enjoyer of D+D. I started playing at about 11 and I'm still playing now (there were years off here and there, both when I started having sex and temporarily forgot about the 20-sided die and during those periods in which I wasn't able to find a group to game with.) Simply put, almost nothing is as much fun as a well-run and well-played game of D+D. It is a fact of science. With the new group here in SC, we also discovered that it has a huge payoff in that it's almost impossible to think about being in graduate school when you're busy slaughtering goblins.

Looking back, some of the best, happiest memories of my life involve D+D campaigns. The early years w/ my nerdy middle school and high school friends, rediscovering it at the Blitzhaus w/ my nerd-punk friends (and finding out that it was even more fun with alcohol and heavy metal involved), the amazing super-fun games in Portland, and the chips-and-soda campaign back in my mom's basement in Eugene while I was getting my MA. The fact that I consistently played D+D with my brother for more than fifteen years. All the critical hits, the treasure hordes, and the slayage.

Anyway, hopefully Gary's on the third layer of Elysium right now, swinging around a Holy Avenger and quaffing some mead.


Big Guns

It's the end of a long weekend of academic conference immersion. I have a few really exciting, completely engaging observations:

First, when a term like dialectic(s) is so ill-defined that the preeminent expert on it(them) in the English-speaking world needs to write more books on it(them) and lead seminars on it(them) with one of the major lefty think tanks and you still haven't arrived at a working definition, how does that really make you feel about the term itself? For me, skeptical. But then, it occurs to me that perhaps I'm locked in a hopelessly analytical approach and I really ought to think more dialectically (what's the plural of that? Dialecticsally?)

Second, everyone likes them some Foucault, as witnessed by the amazing cast of characters summoned to the Humanities Lecture Hangar this weekend. But you'd best be careful if you start runnin' your fool mouth about Foucault, Deleuze, and something as vague as "new media and politics," because the next thing you know, Paul Rabinow comes out of nowhere and takes you down, like a damn trapdoor spider! Ouch!

Third, I'm really pleased that we had some leftover beer and wine lying around the apartment. I feel better.

Fourth, and last, I'd like to mention that my friends here in the SC are beautiful, cuddly people, as witnessed by the Flight of the Conchords fiesta we had here the other evening.*

* Hey, did you know that Mel has a blog?

P.S. It turns out that Hayden White is a hilariously crotchety curmudgeon. Definitely the highlight of the Foucault conference.