How Panel Went For Me Last Night

Tyra: Will SheeNaynay and KFR please step forward.
(We step forward, holding hands.)
Tyra: Two lovely models stand before me, but I only have one photo in my hand. This photo represents the model who will continue in the competition. The model who I do not call must immediately return to the bunker, pack their things, and go home.
(We shuffle uncomfortably.)
Tyra: SheeNaynay, the judges look at you and they see a model with so much potential. Such lovely eyes! Such an incredible walk! But for some reason, you can't make that translate in pictures.
(SheeNaynay nods sadly.)
Tyra: And KFR. The judges can't believe what they see. 6 foot ONE! So slender and strong! Such maturity and drive! But then they can't overlook the fact that you're a 30 year-old male, you're bald, and you're covered in tattoos. And that's just not what the industry is looking for.
(I nod, with a wry, understanding smile.)
Tyra: So who goes home?
(Dramatic pause.)
Tyra: KFR.
(I smile with disbelief, give SheeNaynay a quick, half-hearted hug, and take my picture.)
Tyra: You've still got it. You face a lot of prejudices in this industry, but the judges believe in you.
(Shot of Miss Jay nodding. Nigel looks on.)
Tyra: You're still in the running for becoming America's Next Top Model.


How to Read Dostoevsky

This term, my TA assignment involves between 125 - 350 pages of reading a week, a combination of secondary stuff (i.e. history books) and primary material: essays written in 19th century Russia and novels by Turgenev and Dostoevsky. Regarding the latter, we're dealing with D's Demons, which is almost 700 pages long. The students (and I) are supposed to read it on top of, besides, and diagonally from all of the other reading, bringing the total page count per week to something like a 290 average.

Now, I can handle this. The kids, not so much.

My point isn't to complain, however, but to share my breakthrough technique. As I mentioned a while ago, I've been playing an exciting new video game, Heroes of Might and Magic 5. It's a turn-based strategy game, meaning you do something then the computer bad guy does something. The latter takes a while, so what I do is play, finish my turn, and read Dostoevsky while the computer does its turn. Using this technique, I have finished about 340 pages so far.

Never have I been so happy to have not studied literature.

Next up: figuring out a way to combine Yoshi's Island with my dissertation.


Topical Haiku

Filthy Undergrad
You're Always Gross on the Bus
Don't Give Me Swine Flu


I Admit It

I am politically schizophrenic. I study these far-left intellectual nutjobs, I sympathize with historical radical politics in Europe in the postwar era, I know quite a bit about Marx and Sartre and Marcuse and Habermas and Gorz and, now, Herzen, but I find it really hard to stomach radical politics on the UC to the SC campus. The people who organize direct action here never seem to stop and consider the circumstances of the things they're protesting.

CASE IN POINT: how can you organize walk-outs and rallies around the theme of "stop the budget cuts"?! There isn't any money, you guys. This is not a case of a sinister right-wing conspiracy. For once, not even I think that Dick Cheney had something to do with this. They have to cut.

I know it's more complicated than that, that you can make a case for wanting more community participation in the question of what is to be cut, that the administration here has done some horrible, repugnant shit lately (see: family student housing), etc. Also, I will point out that B and I are, unlike these activists (who have stable grants and TAships), directly affected by the cuts. We honestly don't know if she'll have a job in a week.

That said, what I can't stand about the sound and the fury of all of this is that it's like the activist community here likes protesting, that they look for excuses to protest, that they're all entirely too cavalier and flippant about it. IMHO, if they were more selective about the issues they rallied against, they'd have a lot more credibility than they do hitting the panic button every week.

End rant.


Let Us Join in Celebration

I have only one thing to say this morning in my sleep-dep'd, back-aching delirium:

How totally rad is it that they voted off Natalie from Top Model last night?!?! She was such a nasty classist snob and she made the same face in every picture! She was totally worse than the weird Edward Gorey / Tim Burton / Anime girl with the huge eyes.

Good riddance, you guys.

P.S. I'm still pulling for Fo (whose name we prefer to pronounce "Fuh," following our homie J) to win.


Dragons! Dissertation Writing Grants!

First of all, tell me that shit doesn't look like a dragon! I know, commenting on clouds looking like things is actually even more boring than talking about your dreams, but I mean...it even has a clearly defined eye! With lids! Extraordinary!

More to the point, writing for grants is hard. You have this massive pile of work, full of its fiendish intricacies, and you have to boil it down to 1 - 3 pages for the application. You end up sounding either too vague or too specific, and meanwhile your whole (*cough*) career kind of hangs in the balance.

I'm trying to get next year off from teaching, you see. In history we teach two sections a term with about 60 kids to grade and cajole. I will get my diss done next year either way, but it would be ever-so nice to be able to do it at a sane pace, with adequate time to think deep thoughts and read the relevant stuff while I'm working on it.


Cold Hard Fact: The Bunker Sucks It

Here's a shot of me in the bunker preparing for my QE from about a year ago:*

It doesn't quite adequately capture the facts, though. The bunker is the sum total of our "facilities," on semi-permanent loan from the department and the division.** It's one medium-sized room below ground with bare concrete walls and an unfinished ceiling. The temperature is fairly comfortable in the morning, then gets colder all day until it's unbearable by mid-afternoon. Light is limited to big florescents and some meager, inadequate desk lamps. The computers are aging eMacs and a few beat-up old G4 towers, all of which are slowly dying. You get the point.

I bring this up because I avoided going up to campus and the 4:20 insanity today and instead worked at a local coffee joint for a few hours. I couldn't believe how much I got done. I've tried to turn the horrors of the bunker into a kind of virtue over the years, bragging about how I'll be the first person to have done 85%+ of his work as a graduate student in that awful little chamber and gotten a PHD out of it, but today I'm reminded of the kind of Stockholm Syndrome that attitude really speaks to.

I'm also just the littlest bit cranky because of the 90-something degree temps we're getting right now. Re: those, at the risk of repeating myself: I get to hate the sun. You get to like it if you want. But don't give me shit about it or I'll just tell you to fuck off again.

* Featuring my commie hat (I later removed the star, because it was just too hackneyed. Tweak took the picture.)
** We are reminded of its "loan" status whenever we complain about how awful it is. "Oh, you don't like it? Then maybe we'll justtake it away from you, you whiners!."


Not a Stitch to Wear

DANG, dude:

This is not good for kids like me who don't like it above about 70 degrees, let alone within spitting distance of 90 during friggin' APRIL.

The thing is, I just don't know what to wear! I have so many great sweaters, so many fine combinations of button shirts and jackets, so many snappy Fall + Winter outfits, that inclement conditions never bother me. But in the summertime, I'm constantly uncomfortably hot and I don't like how I look. I mean, I asked this on a blog post years ago, but I still don't have a good answer: is there any style of shorts that doesn't look lame on a tall skinny guy like me?

This summer, anyway, I'm going to be showing off the ink more. It's just too uncomfortable when I keep the sleeves incognito. I need to have a plan. I'll get a good bottle of SPF 400 sunscreen and, wear my hats, and if we have any money this summer, maybe think about getting a slightly less ridiculous pair of sunglasses.



Thing I miss about Portland #240,000 would be The Mercury, the best local rag on the planet. It's funny, it's acerbic, it's nasty, and it's usually really well written. It has good music reviews, lots of hilarious critique of local and national events, and plenty of 'news you can use' on stuff like thrift stores, sex shops, and sushi joints. I distinctly remember Thursday afternoons, getting the new issue and reading it on the bus on the way home from work, a fun alternative to looking at the stinky hobo three seats away.

Anyway, Portland has always been plagued by hipsters, and this is the best article I've yet seen about the whole phenomenon.

The short version: per the author, 'hipster' is not actually as meaningless and vague as it may seem. It refers to someone who sets up alternative hierarchies of values to mainstream ones based on money and careerism. The hipsters who give the term a bad name are the 10-something percent who are just garden-variety assholes, a statistic that's applicable to pretty much every other social category (much higher for republicans, obviously.)

My unsolicited two cents: the part the author leaves out is that, sure, it's well and good to set up a different value system (knowledge of obscure music, semi-ironic faux-nerd clothes, artsy friends.) If, however, that value system isn't more accountable to higher ethical standards than the mainstream, it isn't really any "better." I'm thinking of all the hipsters who may or may not be generic assholes, but whose standards are at least as exclusive and whose attitudes are at least as discriminating and arrogant as those of the mainstream. This would be the notorious record-store clerk who thinks you suck because you're buying, say, a used Sublime CD (I mean, he's right, but there's no reason to be mean about it.)

What I miss about my homies in Portland is that, for the most part, we were all variations on hipster, but we were really nice about it. Our alternate hierarchy of value was, I think, highly inclusive, so long as you weren't a dick.

Except that we were pretty hard on the Dave Matthews Band and people who like them.


When the Parody Is Better than the Real Thing

I mean...this song is catchier than 90% of the songs from the genre it's a parody of. What can't those guys do...


Happy Bunny Day

That's a good one of Pesto soaking up the sunbeam action from a year ago.

Amidst the early Spring term malaise, I'd like to wish everyone a happy bunny day. Hopefully you ate some chocolate, drank something with a sweet liqueur as a mixer, and didn't try to do anything productive.

As for me, B and I hosted her folks for a day of SC revelry: a pleasant picnic lunch at a delightfully empty Natural Bridges and then a stroll about the Neary Lagoon, which featured huge carp, sunbathing turtles, and adorable baby ducks.

I'm back in the mix tomorrow. My TA assignment, upper-division Russian Intellectual History, is sort of like the TA equivalent of a Stalinist labor camp, even though my beloved adviser is the prof. Also, work on the diss is feeling very much like the, oh, billionth time Sisyphus had to roll the stupid boulder back up the hill. So it's hard not to get a little worn down.

On the up side, I'm still high on the good food we had at K's Passover seder the other night and my D+D game is rolling (ha ha) once again. Oh, and B got me a 22 of Lagunitas IPA for bunny day. Maybe things are looking up.


The Most Depressing Things

I was early to a talk at the Center for Cultural Studies earlier and it looked like it was going to be really sparsely attended. Happily, I was just off by 15 minutes and plenty of people showed up. It reminded me, however, of the things I find most depressing in quotidian life:
  1. When a band plays to a nearly-empty venue. This brings to mind one of the greatest Onion headlines: "Ska Band Outnumbers Audience." I was in just that situation more than a few times back in the skinny-ties-and-bari-sax days.
  2. Those people who stand on streetcorners with signs for things. The most egregious example of that was the people who would stand on corners around tax time in Portland wearing Statue of Liberty outfits for a tax preparation place. I just...cringed every time I drove past. It also hits a new level of humiliation when the sign people DANCE. Oh. My. Dear. God.
  3. Social outings someone diligantly organizers to which no one shows up. A lot of that shows up on my new favorite website, Fuck My Life. Last night was a near-miss on this score, as B and I were the only people who showed up for tacos for what was supposed to be a history grads outing. Thankfully, we ended up having a fine time kicking it with the organizer, N, who was so ruthlessly betrayed by the rest of her first-year cohort. Shame on them.
All of the above are examples of one of my most deep-seated convictions: failure should be carefully hidden so as to not make me feel awkward.


We Come Bearing Drought and Unemployment

Last night, B and I were waxing reminiscent about our last nine years, as we do, and we ended up reflecting on the state of things in the states we've lived in. California's unemployment is over 10% and climbing and SC is going to be rocking out water restrictions this summer because it's rained, like, twice all "winter."

Of course, back in Oregon, it was the same story. After the dot-com bubble and 9/11 the tech-based economy of Portland had a stroke and never really recovered. Likewise, of the last eight years I lived there, we had a "normal" rain year once (I remember people marveling over how much it rained...I was like "IT'S SUPPOSED TO DO THIS.")

The logical conclusion? If B and I move to your state, get ready to get thirsty and get broke.

On a happier note, I wanted to draw your attention to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, a band that somehow makes being incredibly derivative of pretty 80s guitar pop sound completely fresh and great:

That's "Young Adult Friction," a song about getting it on in a library. They also have a song called "Tenure Itch" about nailing your students. Despite my general disdain for puns, I am all the way down with songs about hot academic lovin'. (Also, note that the female vocalist sounds great on the CD, even though she doesn't sound great in the above recording.)


This One's For J

I've had it stuck in my head for a day or so. Last time we were at grad karaoke, J did "Just a Friend" by Biz Markie, so it's important he's aware of this latest masterwork by Flight of the Conchords.


Notes on the Periphery

One thing I noticed about me-in-Paris (rather than just "Paris" itself) was my distaste for its centrality. Paris has (and has had) a reasonably good claim to being the center of the universe for a lot of people, French and otherwise, and I deeply resented that pretension. I didn't resent it because it was wrong, that is to say incorrect, but because its centrality called on everyone who was in Paris to live up to that vocation, to be worthy of living there. For various reasons, the most important ones lingual and social, I couldn't/can't do that very well.

This speaks to a larger thing for me: I've always like the second tier, the left of center and the periphery. I like being from Oregon because there is no possible pretension to being an Oregonian, a state that half of the people in the US mispronounce "O-ree-GON" and that the other half just never have a reason to think about. I like the inherent lack of seriousness in being peripheral, in having such easy access to irony, and to have any excellence come as a surprise to people ("you're from there but you can do that?!")

So, this relates in turn to two related psychological complexes on my part: fear of failure, with the escape option of that failure being expected and anticipated. In other words, if I speak bad French, if my dissertation isn't rigorous enough, if I do not get a tenure-track job, well that's okay, because I'm just a kid from Oregon who earned degrees from "second tier" universities.

That said, there is something to the periphery that I'll always stand by, even if I do succeed in some sense: I think it makes it easier to see how full of shit a lot (most?) people and things and ideas are from the "centers," and it makes it easier to imagine different hierarchies of value than the ones those centers produce.

(This post brought to you by having to re-read Gorz's torturous self-analysis in The Traitor. Envy my job. Do it.)