Hump Day Detritus

Settled in one's routine, one has less cause to blog...

That said, here's what I've got:

Item! I am getting a swine flu nasal spray tomorrow! I am delighted!
Item! For people like me who were part, in however small a way, of the Eugene punk scene in the 90s, be aware that The Readymen have a retrospective discography of all their old rad shit for 5 bucks!
Item! I am going to Yosemite with B this weekend, both because we have not yet been in our three-plus years in California and because we want to avoid SC on Halloween!
Item! I am officially on the slog portion of the dissertation. I am going through the whole thing and adding citations. It just occurred to me the other day to google "entretien Andre Gorz." That means "interview Andre Gorz." I hadn't thought of that yet. Sigh.

That's all I got. I'm off to the historical materialism seminar. I am still a rock n' roll party machine.


Post-Conference Report

Here's how it went:

  1. Didn't know anyone there on arrival, had nothing to do the day before it started, was bored.
  2. Incisive comments on my paper made me realize that I still have a lot of reading to do before I can consider the research phase done (this despite how much I have drafted - a lot.)
  3. Got two hours of sleep the night before I presented at 8:00am.
  1. Paper was well-received. The above-mentioned incisive comments, particularly regarding my treatment of Sartre as a kind of looming caricature compared to Gorz, were very helpful.
  2. Met a lot of nice people in my field. Was inspired to see how much interest there is in modern French intellectual history.
  3. Met a gang of UCLA French history grads, one of whom was my co-presenter. Really nice, sharp, cool kids.
  4. Did not die on the flights there or back, despite my strong belief that I would based on the turbulence.
There were a few moments during which I really got a taste of why some scholars are able to love what they do - the camaraderie of talking shop with smart people who know a lot about similar topics. That's the one thing I've missed at the UC to the SC - my cohort is full to the brim with brilliant kids, but none of them know a damn thing about what I study (and vice-versa.) I was also reminded of the basic fact that the average academic is a sympathetic, witty, fun person.

Finally, I will note that the younger scholars and grads were rocking some excellent fashion choices. I am going to start working on revised dapper outfits for the next conference based on my already-existing supply of vintage ties.

Now if I can just get reimbursed for the travel expenses...


Flying Academics

I'm a-bloggin' from the San Jose airport, an institution linked to the UC to the SC by way of constant superfluous construction - this place has been being (re) built since we moved here over three years ago and, judging by the enormous fields of mud full of heavy equipment, isn't going to be finished for quite some time. But they have free wifi and getting through security is generally pretty painless, so I can't complain.

Boulder, CO hosts the latest annual meeting of the Western Society for French History starting tonight and going through Saturday afternoon. At this annual meeting, I will present my first formal academic paper on Andre Gorz. This is indeed the first "real deal" presentation on my dissertation stuff. The concomitant terror is joined here by incredulous moping, since my talk is scheduled for 8:00am. Actually, this might end up being a blessing in disguise: almost no one will be there, probably, and I'll be so tired I won't notice that I'm presenting and answering questions.

My mom reminded me a few visits ago about how, when I was a kid, I hated not being good at stuff - I only liked to do things I was automatically and/or already good at (see: my love of books and writing, my loathing of mathematics.) This infantile complex has not changed over the years, and so I am mighty trepidatious about this weekend. But who knows. Maybe someone will walk up to me after the talk and give me a tenure-track job.

Ha. Ha. Ha.



Camaraderie, Stabbings

Good: On Friday, a group of UC to the SC history grads pulled off an entirely successful social outing. We had a bunch of the first-year cohort all the way up to my homies who've been in the program since 2003. We hit the Red, we hit the Poet + Patriot, and then we hit A's apartment for cookies, Wii, conversation, and more beer-drinking. The group was huge by our modest standards; unlike the half-dozen of past years, we had close to 20 at the evening's height.

Bad: While we were at A's, with the cookies and the Wii and the drinking, some poor 16-year old kid got stabbed to death by gang members about a block away. My hazy recollections of the post-1opm time period include several of my colleagues noting "there's some kind of big deal with cops over there" and me thinking "meh."

This brings to four, by my count, the number of people stabbed within three blocks of my apartment in the last month or so. I'm still trying to crack the code on SC as dangerous and sleazy, and my current hypothesis is sort of depressing: I think of SC as dangerous because it's less polarized / class-segregated than anywhere I've yet lived. It's so compact and so expensive that everyone lives cheek-by-jowl, from working families to retired people to grad students to, say, pit-bull owning, knife-wielding actual gang members. We're all stuck together. In the past, in Portland or Eugene, there was crime and violence, but it tended to be spread out and to happen largely in neighborhoods that I didn't live in.* I feel threatened in SC all the time because, A., actual horrible shit does indeed happen here regularly, and B., because I can't pretend that I'm not potentially in the line of fire.

In conclusion: thanks to the history kids for coming out. Also, we're intent on moving away within nine or ten months.

* Or at least I felt like it was happening in other neighborhoods, which isn't really true. This is a question of perception more so than fact.


Post-Storm Report

Over six inches of rain in Bonny Doon in 24 hours...

The storm was stormy but not too stormy. The extension cord that goes over the Santa Cruz mountains and provides all of the power for the Monterey Bay area has, apparently, been reinforced since the January storms of 2008, so there were only a few flickers here and there. The Bonny Doon house is still standing and there weren't even that many big branches to lug out of the driveway and chuck into the woods.

In unrelated news:
  1. We got to see our lovely friends E and A yesterday in Campbell. B's off to visit her brother this afternoon, so on the way back from the San Jose airport I get to hang out with them again. Friend Win!
  2. Tomorrow is the first 2009 - 2010 meeting of the Attractive Historians. I took over as social coordinator this year and I promptly scheduled a bar crawl for my cohort. I very much plan on keeping it to a dull roar, at least compared to the wedding last month...I'm still a little hungover from that.
  3. My dissertation and job applications have formed a satanic cabal and are carrying out horrific rituals to drive me insane. I failed my saving throw.


Typhoon Melor. Seriously.

You're a handsome devil. What's your name?*

Here's the official weather service bulletin regarding Typhoon Melor's expected impact on SC and the environs in two days. A typhoon is a Pacific hurricane (note: the phrase "pacific hurricane" is precisely equivalent to "peaceful drunk Nazi on PCP.") This one hit Japan a week ago and has been steaming happily across the ocean toward the west coast, way out of standard patterns of weather for this time of year. It's no longer a typhoon; rather, the remnants of the typhoon are hitting some kind of jet stream / low-pressure thing coming down from Alaska and resulting in an action-adventure situation for California.

This is a problem. First, we had plans to see our beloved homies E + A on Tuesday evening, but that's when the worst of the storm is predicted to hit, dumping up to 6 inches of rain in the Santa Cruz mountains, AKA Highway 17. Second, we're still in Bonny Doon, AKA the Santa Cruz mountains. I have visions of falling redwoods (possible), a major power outage (100% likely), and being trapped at the bottom of the very long and steep driveway (possible.)

My mom and stepdad have already canceled their trip to Yosemite and decided to scamper back to Oregon a day early. If there were hatches to batten down at chez adviser, I'd batten 'em, but there's really nothing I can do.

Report to follow in a few days.

* This is my favorite repeated phrase from Grosse Pointe Blank.


Funny Thing About Weekends When You're Unemployed...

...they don't mean quite so much.

That's from an old Primus song, off of (I believe) Frizzle Fry, their first major-label album. I listened to that tape a lot in the summer after my freshman year in high school, and I foolishly wasted about two years learning to play slap bass like Les Claypool rather than just concentrating on learning to play actual bass lines.


I have yet to find a metaphor, or even a general point of comparison, to describe what it's like writing a dissertation. I have days, days, during which I accomplish precisely nothing. Then I'll have a day during which I write pages of stuff or do the citations for a whole chapter or the equivalent. There is neither rhyme nor reason to the (lack of) productivity in this process. I have some vague hopes for today, going through some interviews with Gorz and plopping citations throughout the body of the thesis...

My mom and stepdad arrive this evening for a four-day visit. This is where the Bonny Doon house-sitting gig really comes in handy - our apartment is fine for friends, but there's something about entertaining the parental generation that just doesn't work in a small one-bedroom. Instead, we will kick it up here in the redwoods and all will be well, as long as the weird heating unit underneath the house doesn't blow up.



I have a few ill things to reference today. The point here is that the word "ill" is probably my favorite to emerge from the hip-hop lexicon of the early 90s. It's one of those ambiguous words that can be good and bad at the same time - something that is good and desirable is ill ("that is an ill ride, home boy. Let us procure an Orange Julius in said ill ride"), but bad things can sometimes be illin'. I quote the immortal Flavor Flav: "yo, Chuck. They be illin' while we be chillin'"

Ill things:
  1. My homie Chupacabra is ill in the sense of actually being sick.
  2. There was a flu hotline marquee up at the entrance to campus that starts with the phrase "Feeling Ill?" To this I reply: oh HELL yes!
  3. Please take in this completely ill performance on accordion by some kid at what I can only assume is a Bar Mitzvah linked to by my homie C on Facebook this morning. It's seriously amazing:

Now is that not ill? Answer: it is definitely ill.


I Wish There Was a Minor League

It's hard to know where I stand in the academic job market. Some of the profs I work with have reassured me that I've got a strong application, that I look good on paper and I write well. But then I have occasion to come across the CVs of other "young scholars" and I feel like I might as well dig a hole and lie down in it rather than send out any applications.

Here's the thing: I know lots of stuff about history, I'm a good teacher, I can write punchy little articles, I have an interesting dissertation topic. But I don't want to compete. I don't want to think defensively about my ideas and look for chances to take shots at other people. I don't like knowing that the Sword of Damocles will be hanging over my head even if I get a tenure-track gig, because then I'm fighting against the ticking clock of actually getting tenure. The problem is that there is no "minor league" in academia; even relatively crappy jobs in benighted regions have scores of people fighting over them. If there was a way to just get a teaching gig somewhere, I'd do it, but even to get a permanent community college job is a major struggle.

It's like B and I have been saying to each other lately: we just wish the bad news would stop getting worse. It's like, fine, things everywhere are absolutely terrible, we get it. Could it please just stay terrible and not get downright abysmal?


The Aggrolites: The Last Good Ska Band on Earth

Why did ska die after 1999? I have some theories. To save time, I'll put them in a list:
  1. Good ska is technically demanding, but most people in ska bands in the 90s were mediocre musicians - basically high school jazz combos.
  2. Ska's cultural referents, to Jamaica in the 60s or Britain in the early 80s, had nothing to do with middle-class white kids in America in the 90s. No new themes emerged though; self-imitation started as a badge of honor but ended up being an incredibly tired cliche (think of all the bands with "ska" in their name, etc.)
  3. Ska's major key, up-tempo sound can be energizing, but it can also just turn into a generic Disney Channel soundtrack. This is why ska lives on today primarily in commercials and as background music on TV shows (see: Ace of Cakes.)
  4. Ska-punk almost always sucks. Operation Ivy were amazing, and Oregon's own The Readymen were great, but that's about it.
  5. Finally, and most importantly, there was no edge to ska after about 1997. The punks and (anti-racist) skinheads who were part of the scene left because it got so lame - scrawny 15 year-old kids in their dad's ties tend to water things down a bit. I, personally, hate violence, but there's still something to the threat of rock n' roll or punk or hip-hop, the fact that you have to be a little crazy to be part of the scene. It keeps out the tourists, and that's why (for example) punk is still relevant after all these years. Without the edge, ska was just boring.
Anyway, that's all a very long-winded introduction to the last good ska band on Earth: The Aggrolites. Look at them:

See? They are tough! They aren't little kids! They look cool! They also happen to be fantastic fucking musicians!

The best of the third wave (i.e. 90s ska) were bands like Hepcat and The Slackers, who played updated takes on the original early - mid 60s Jamaican ska. The Aggrolites do that too, but they have the good sense to just refer to it as reggae, which never got watered down in the same way the whole concept / genre of ska did. It isn't reggae in the Bob Marley sense, however - it's the same sound as '68 - '69 British dancehall reggae, also known as skinhead reggae since it was the original (pre-racist, apolitical) British skinhead youth culture that packed the clubs in the late 60s to dance to reggae, get in fights, and have gross British sex in alleys.

Compare the Aggrolites to what was, for my money, the worst third-wave ska band of the 90s, the contemptible Regatta 69:

See? Dorks. Fucking dorks. And they couldn't play their instruments, and they sucked. Somehow, they were briefly on Moon Ska, the would-be center of the third wave record label.

In conclusion: if you have fond memories of dancing around in cool vintage clothes and hanging out with scary dudes called Red Dog, Oz, Caveman, and Smash*, check out The Aggrolites. They're keeping everything that was ever good about ska alive and have no time for the detritus.

* Actual dudes I knew (some fairly well, some barely at all).