Because It's There?

Have you ever watched the Discovery Channel Everest show? It's a really nicely done documentary / reality kind of thing about one of the best-equipped professional guide services that helps would-be mountaineers make it to the top of Everest in one piece. It's like Deadliest Catch in terms of the vicarious fun involved in watching people risking life and limb while you're sitting at home on the loveseat drinking 2-buck Chuck. The thing you really get from watching Everest is how stupid and futile the thing really is; 40,000+ dollars and the very real possibility of dying, along with weeks of intense suffering, all in hopes of having five minutes at the top of a big mountain.

That said, you can also see why people do it. In almost every case, the men and women who sign up feel driven to do it; they told themselves they'd push as hard as they can to make it and they don't want to back down. For me, at least, I feel a mix of admiration and bewilderment watching them sacrifice so much just to prove a point.

Then there's me. My housing thing in Paris fell through. The French visa process is the most insane tangle of red tape I've ever seen. What little money we have in the bank is going to get gobbled up very quickly unless I get one of the grants I applied to. My French sucks. I'm scared, sick of worrying, tired, and pissed off. But I will be damned if I don't make this thing happen. I will not back down until I get a fucking PHD. I may well walk away from this in a year or two flying a big fat middle-finger salute at academia and never returning, but not until I've got a bright and shiny stamped-and-approved doctorate with my name on it. I do love what I study, I do prefer this lifestyle to the alternatives, and I do believe in the utility of history as a discipline, but what I'm really doing is proving a point.


Rock Report '08

We've had the kind of weekend that makes you really tired when you're older than 25. Happily, it's a federal holiday, so I got to sleep in until after 8:30am again and I don't need to try to drag my ass up to campus until tomorrow. I have a few items to report on:

Item One!!! We saw our friends Ashtray play a fabulous show for an adorably all-ages crowd (little tiny punks! Like spikey little stuffed animals they were!) in Petaluma on Saturday night. I picked up my homie D on my shoulders and jumped around with him while he was singing, which was fun at the time but which had repercussions starting about an hour later.* Then we hit this amazing bar full of deer heads and funny old people and, get this, a 70-something brother-sister combo playing accordions and singing! In the bar! It was outstanding.

Item Two!!! Then we saw the Phenomenauts, who were headlining. And the thing is...I don't know. As our homie T pointed out, they're very Disney Channel. I appreciate the kind of polished, put-together thing with synchronized dance moves and matching outfits, but there's a line in the sand over which your kind of ironic, goofy schtick ends up looking like a Target commercial.** They sounded fine, but we bailed after a few songs anyway and headed back to San Francisco to crash at S+T's awesome pad.

Item Three!!! I have a dope new vintage leather jacket. I got it to try to blend in once I'm in Paris. Here I am wearing my new jacket, enjoying a soothing beverage and checking out some light reading.

Item Four!!! Our homies K and L came over last night for wine and delicious grilled meats before we went out and watched the new Indiana Jones movie. It was good. I recommend smuggling some vodka into the theater with you in a Nalgene bottle and mixing it with a soft drink in the bathroom, but even if you don't do that, you'll have a good time as long as you know exactly what you're there to see: a nicely made B-movie. Also, Cate Blanchett looks H-O-T-T with short dark hair, which is reason enough to check it out.

Finally, we made it home, B hit the sack, and I watched a rerun of Deadliest Catch and did the dishes.

Happy long weekend, tout le monde!

* D weighs at least 200 pounds. I didn't think about that before I scooped him up and started hopping about. My back informed me later.
** I should note that the obvious progenitors of Phenomenauts-style music, Devo, did indeed sell a song to Target a few years ago.


One Article Down

This and other highly historical documents available from LOLmanuscripts. Nice work, early-modernists...

I have officially begun my dissertation research. Which is to say, I read an article about my guy. In all seriousness, I figure if I read one article and/or a few chapters per day five or six days a week, I'll be pretty well on my way even before I set foot in Paris.

Tomorrow we're going to scenic Petaluma, California, to see our friends punk rock the fuck out, along with some other bands people we know like. It's been too long; I'm stoked.


Swearing and Boobs

One of the lifestyle upgrades B and I indulged in when we moved to SC was Netflix.* We burned through (no pun intended, MPAA) loads of movies we'd meant to see and/or wanted to see again. Then we hit the inevitable Netflix wall, the point at which you've watched all of your A-list movies and are wondering how to best spend your 16 bucks a month subscription. Urged on by our homies, we started in on HBO shows.

Now, I love me some HBO shows. The thing is, there are really only three things that they can't do on regular television that they can do on HBO:
  1. Swearing.
  2. Boobs, and so on.
  3. Really gnarly violence.
But the thing is, number three is questionable - there's tons of really gnarly violence on mainstream television.** What I find remarkable is that, along with good writing and acting, what really makes HBO shows stand head-and-shoulders above network television shows is really numbers one and two. People swear in real life. People get naked. The inclusion of those factors makes everything on HBO shows seem so much more real, especially when you're talking about a setting like the so-called Wild West, which takes on a distinctly un-wild demeanor in TV shows since everyone is basically going around screaming "darn you!" and keeping their pants on.

The best shows we've done so far have been Deadwood (yes, E, we made it all the way through and loved it), Rome, and Carnivale. The former two are well-known and did well in their day. Carnivale is, for some reason, much less-well known but is easily the equal of the other two. It was abruptly canceled after two seasons, so it kind of rushes to its climax, but it's still worth summoning via the interweb. All three benefit enormously from the inclusion of swearing and boobs.

Now we're on The Wire, which everyone won't stop freaking out about but so far just seems like a good cop show (with swearing and boobs, granted.) I'm keen on seeing Sopranos at some point, but B's hesitant. We'll see how that goes.

In other news, Tuesday is my 9am - 9pm day on campus and I've still got about 5.5 hours to go.

* The others were cable TV, cable internet, and me getting a cell phone.
** This is my longest-standing complaint about American culture and American media. Violence is bad and sex is good, but the logic of American media censorship implies the opposite; you can crack open a guy's head on primetime TV, but god forbid anyone takes their clothes off...


Kids As an Ethnicity

I don't wanna sound racist or nothin', but kids? I don't want their kind moving in next door. I certainly wouldn't want one to marry my sister.

I bring this up because of the kids (a group I quickly dubbed "Those Goddamned Kids," or TGK) we shared the campground with this weekend. We arrived Friday, cracked open the first of many frosty beers to come, settled in, and went for a hike. By the time we got back, the campground was overwhelmed by little bodies containing lungs and vocal chords and the will to use them at maximum volume for hours on end. Long story short, we finagled a deal with the rangers and got moved the next day to a beautiful remote campsite completely removed from the main loop. From there, we could still hear the screams, but they were safely removed by about a quarter mile of redwoods.

Anyway, the weekend as a whole was great fun. Hikes and tide-pools, good camp food, lots of games of 20 Questions (a game that becomes slightly more difficult as the beers come and go), etc. Now we're back in SC and I really need to (groan) read a book about history. What's the deal with that?!

Pics up on my flickr site.

Everyone associated with the UC to the SC, remember to wish K luck this Wednesday for her QE. She's going to kick its ass.



Thanks for all of the kind words after the QE. The post-exam celebration at the Poet + Patriot went well and everyone seemed to have a good time. I put pictures up on my flickr site, one of which is just too pretty to pass up posting here as well. C+C Awesome Factory! Everybody drink now!

The really bewildering thing is that I still have lots of work to do this term...two more essay cycles to grade, finals to grade, several articles to read, a reaction paper to churn out, and obviously, the goddamn commodities website isn't finished yet. The advantage to scheduling one's exam for the very end of the term is definitely being able to completely collapse afterward. But alas! I must press on.

Tomorrow evening B's brother A joins us from Portland, then Friday we're off to join her dad at Butano State Park, one of the hidden gems of the California state park system, for three days of doing what we always do when we go camping with B's family:
  1. Drink beer.
  2. Eat peanuts and throw the shells into the campfire.
  3. Occasionally walk around a little bit.
I'll probably get back to work tomorrow and then dive in in earnest again next week, but today I'm still kind of just sitting around drinking coffee. And it is good.



The affable gentlemen of my QE committee in repose.

Well, it's over and done and I'm ABD.* There were no big surprises during my exam - Gopal dropped some zingers but I think I kept my head above water.** The whole thing lasted a bit over two hours and the committee was pleased with my responses.

When I got home I discovered that B had stitched me up THIS little guy:

Is he not the most adorable of weiner dogs named after existentialists?!

Now it's on to the next thing. But I'm not going to start worrying about that until tomorrow at the earliest.

*That means "All But Dissertation," for you non-academics. As in, once the dissertation is done, so is the PHD.
** But what did fascism mean?! Former historians who have moved on to cultural studies / political theory are very big on interrogating the epistemological status of movements in history. But that's why I like talking to them.

If this were an e-mail, I'd end with a smiley emoticon.



I thought I'd roll out of bed tomorrow, have some coffee, go meet Tweak at 9:00am for the usual drive up to campus, hang out for a couple of hours and, you know, take my PHD qualifying exam. Just another big Monday in paradise...

On an unrelated note, I met the other UC to the SC grad who will be TA'ing in Paris this Fall. She has my name plus a "-tine." She's the same age, is also married, and is equally worried about the little details like having enough food to eat. Despite her year in Paris as an undergrad, she claims not to be really bilingual. Either way, it was nice to get a little solidarity going and nice to know that I'm not the only one who worries. I also got word from the travel ninjas employed by the system that I'll be able to return a few weeks after the end of the program, which means that B and I will be able to do Christmas in Paris. Neat, ne-c'est pas?

Anyway, if you're in SC, don't forgot to come out to the Poet and Patriot some time after 6:00pm tomorrow for purposes of drinking beers with me in post-QE celebration. If you're not, know that you are a very, very attractive person and everyone wants to give you a great big kiss.


(Super-) Freakin' Out

I'm not big on nervous breakdowns. I grumble constantly and drink too much, but I usually don't have climactic moments that involve me sobbing uncontrollably, moving into a van down by the river, or climbing a clock tower with a hunting rifle. I did none of these things the other night, either, but I was closer than usual.

Here's what B and I figured out: what I'm scared of is not failure. Failure, in my studies, my research, my program, whatever, would actually represent a net stress REDUCTION. What I'm scared of is the fact that to succeed at what I'm trying to do, which is research and write the fastest decent-quality history dissertation in the history of (academic) history, I must maintain the same level of laser-focus that I've been trying to keep up for four years already. This means that I must keep pushing as hard as I possibly can, to find the sources, to talk to the people, to read everything and write about it. The fact that I do intellectual history makes this possible; if I was doing a real archive-slog social history, it would be inconceivable. But the problem is that the pitch of stress I'm under is concomitant with the pitch of focus I need to maintain.

The funny manifestation of all of this right now is that I'm not one iota worried about my QE on Monday. I want to do a good job on it, I want to have a productive conversation with my committee, but the QE isn't even on my radar in terms of things I need to think/worry about in earnest. As K and I were saying to each other earlier (she's in the same boat), your QE isn't like reaching the summit of the mountain, it's like reaching the base camp. From there, you'd better hope you have some rad sherpas.

Super freak. The kind you don't take home to mother.


My Eye is Rotting Out of My Skull

Seriously. I've had this sty in my eye for about five months ago. The incompetent serfs at the health center told me to use a "hot compress" on it. I did, for weeks, which accomplished precisely nothing. These are the same people who told me to treat a wart on my hand with duct tape last year.*

It's one week until my qualifying exam. Having turned in my dossier, i.e. all of the written material, some two weeks ago, I haven't had a whole lot to do with it since then. I guess I'll re-read my own field statement a couple of times and try to memorize some people, places, and things.**

My homie Tweak showed me this rad website the other week: Cute Otters.

I applied for money for France. I'm too confused to find any big national (or regional, or what-have-you) grants at the moment, so I restricted my applications to university and departmental ones. If I get any, it would be rad because I could afford crepes and housing in Paris. Oh, speaking of affording things in Paris, it turns out that the European middle class is screwed, too! So much for progress and prosperity, everyone!

* That didn't work either.
** We're just whores for nouns in history.


Awesome Mix Tape

I discovered this website, Muxtape. It's a site people upload mp3s to.* They create mp3 mixes that are about as long as a standard album, 12 to 14 songs, and you can listen to the tunes in streaming audio format. So far, I haven't found any mixes that really jumped out at me as that perfect Awesome Mix Tape I really needed to hear today, but I still like the idea.

It brings me back. I know this is obvious, but mix tapes were rad. The thing was, you had to take time to make them; you had to put the needle on the record or the tape in the other cassette deck and listen to the mix as you made it. If you were using a 90 or 120-minute tape, that was a good couple of hours spent hanging in your room, listening to music, fantasizing about the hottie you were going to give the tape to. Because, the thing is, 85% of all mix tapes were made for current or prospective hook-ups.** They were a demonstration of taste and style, and a skillfully crafted one was almost as effective as a totally sweet dance move in making romance happen.

The fun of the cassette format, teenage make-outs to the side, is that you could toss tapes around and pile them up in boxes in a way that you can't get away with with CDs or iPods. A walkman was portable and durable; you could stuff it in your pocket or your back pack and not spend the whole time worrying that you were going to break it by accidentally applying two foot-pounds of pressure at the wrong moment.

The other great thing about tapes, something that sets them apart from records, CDs, and mp3 mixes alike, is that they started from where you stopped them. This led to actually listening to every song on an album, not just re-listening to the first few tunes after you put the CD in or start the mix. I still have tons of CDs from the last ten years whose latter halves I barely know compared to the former; in tape days, I knew whole albums all the way through.

So: mix tapes. They were awesome. Next, I'll discuss why the 8-bit NES was the best video game machine of all time. I'm showing my age a lot these days.

* Other ways to phrase this: "A site to which people upload mp3s." "A site up to which people mp3s load." "A site load up to mp3s, people!"
** This is also true of back rubs.


Happy May Day, Workers

The weird thing about studying the French new left is the fact that "the red years" in France, especially the 60s, were at the height of the postwar economic boom. Never before or since has the working class improved its quality of life more than it did during those few decades, from the late 40s until the early 70s. Instead of deprivation and oppression (although there was a fair bit of that), the radicalized workers were experiencing unprecedented comfort and opportunity; their kids were going to universities for the first time, they had the creature comforts that used to be reserved for the rich, and even when they "lost" a political struggle (May of '68), they still won concessions from the government and management.

In historical hindsight, two things really stand out. First, the material prosperity of the western world was underwritten by cheap energy and a third world hamstrung by the legacies of colonialism. As we're seeing with China and India now in terms of oil prices, opportunity and development in the non-western world translates into hardship in the west as everyone squabbles over the limited supply of energy resources. Second, the left was at its strongest when everyone still remembered the depression and the second world war. People had experienced what untrammeled markets do and what right-wing ideology run rampant leads to, and they didn't want it to happen again during their lifetimes.

There was a period when I was growing up, from about the mid-90s to a few years ago, when history seemed to stand still for a lot of Americans. Prices stayed put and the reason a drooling moron like George W. Bush could think the Iraq War was a good idea was the belief that no one could possibly resist American military might. If anything good has come or is going to come out of the collapse of American hegemony, I hope it's that more people come to realize that history is now, happening in real time, and acting like it's all sewed up is a profoundly imprudent thing to do.

If still another left emerges that's able to get anything done, I think it's likely that (unfortunately for "us") it will be based on our own economic problems, not the desire for everyone in the world to have "our" standard of living (nor will it be based on the ongoing culture wars against the Christian Right, although those are important too.) My point is that it looks like "we" will have to be reminded of why "the free market" is a blood-drinking beast that makes the rich richer, not part of a shiny happy natural order in which everyone prospers.

The sooner some very serious, cranky, draconian bureaucrats are unleashed on the hedge fund managers, the better off everyone else will be.