Saturday, November 13, 2010

My wedding day.

Last night I dreamed that I awoke in a room, on a couch, surrounded by four or five of my lifelong friends. We had apparently been out drinking the night before. We were in my house (but, of course, it wasn't my house). As I rubbed my eyes, one of my friends grabbed me by the shoulders and excitedly shouted, "Today's the day!" It was my wedding day. I had to get washed up and ready for my wedding. I was elated and a little nervous about my wedding. I showered, put on a tuxedo, massaged some gel into my hair. The phone rang: it was my mother, calling to make sure I had remembered to shave. I hadn't. There was no shaving cream in the medicine cabinet, and only a leg razor next to the sink in the bathroom. After some deliberation, with time running out (I was reminded repeatedly by my friends that I was late), I decided to try scraping off my stubble with the leg razor and no cream. It didn't work, and I cut myself. Time was up. I had to go. I half-jogged out of the bathroom to the car waiting for me outside. It was a long jog--my dream house's driveway was enormous. As I jogged I tried to remember my fiancee's name, but couldn't. I started to get a little nervous, imagining how embarrassing it would be to show up at the church and stand at the end of the aisle if I couldn't at least remember the name of my very-soon-to-be wife. I imagined the scenario, but couldn't complete the image in my mind, because I simply couldn't remember what she looked like. Now I was worried. Getting into the car, I strained my mind as hard as I could but found it impossible to conjure even the most vague image of the woman I was about to marry. While my friends popped corks around me and passed flasks joyously, internally I found myself slipping into sheer terror. Trying to jog my memory, I thought of important moments in our relationship--the proposal! Yes, how had I proposed? But there was nothing. I had no memory of ever proposing to this nameless, faceless fiancee of mine. I started to sweat. What was I doing? Should I be getting married? How could I simply forget these things? I started to hyperventilate. My friends kept celebrating.

And then I woke up--in a very bad mood.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

One day you'll understand.

"No, truly, despair is not something which only occurs in adolescents, something one grows out of with no further ado--'as one outgrows illusion'. Though people don't do that either, even though they are foolish enough to think they do. On the contrary, one quite often comes upon men and women and elderly people who have illusions just as childish as those of any adolescent. But what is ignored is that there are essentially two forms of illusion: that of hope and that of recollection. The adolescent's illusion is that of hope, that of the adult recollection."

-The Sickness unto Death, Søren Kierkegaard

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Shit matters.

"See, I put it this way: for me, philosophy is fundamentally about our finite situation. We can define that in terms of--we're beings toward death. We're featherless, two-legged, linguistically-conscious creatures born between urine and feces whose bodies will one day be the culinary delight of terrestrial worms. That's us. We're beings toward death. At the same time, we have desire, while we are organisms in space and time; and so it's desire in the face of death. And then of course you've got dogmatism, various attempts to hold onto certainty, various forms of idolatry. And you've got dialog in the face of dogmatism, and then of course structurally and institutionally you have domination and you have democracy. You have attempts of people trying to render accountable elites: kings, queens, suzerains, corporate elites, politicians--try to make these elites accountable to everyday people. So philosophy itself becomes a critical disposition of wrestling with desire in the face of death, wrestling with dialog in the face of dogmatism, and wrestling with democracy--trying to keep alive very fragile democratic experiments--in the face of structures of domination."

Cornel West, interviewed in the film Examined Life

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The gift that keeps on giving.

Tea Party darling and Delaware Republican senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell denies any connection with the occult, which just makes it all the more impressive that she came up with an opening line this magical.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Two things I've learned in Spain.

1. I don't speak Spanish as well as I thought.
2. People are are really mean in Sevilla. They're disproportionately gorgeous, and their city is phenomenal, but Lord almighty are they hostile.

Granada, however, is nearly perfect. That's all I have time for now. I hope to update this soon, with pictures and all, but we're basically homeless and only have internet access in tea houses. Good times so far, though. Lots of seafood, nice people (except for the aforementioned snobs), etc.

Monday, June 14, 2010


I guess an update is in order: I passed my qualification exams.
Also, I'll board a plane to Boston in five days, and if everything goes according to plan, I won't be back until the second week of September. Stay tuned, because I plan to post updates and photos from the many stops on our trip (although we did get a creepy e-mail from one embassy demanding that we promise not to take any pictures).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Personal health care timeline.

December: I visit the doctor and tell him I have acid reflux and have had it since I was a teenager. I tell him I've learned to live with it and have improved my situation by maintaining a healthy diet, staying active, and taking Omeprazole. He says that's all well enough, but fifteen years is a long time to be suffering from the same heartburn. I can't disagree with that, and I'd really prefer to not have to take medication every day, so we schedule an appointment with a GI specialist.

January: The GI specialist tells me I should have an upper endoscopy done. United Healthcare tells me that will cost me $300 ($200 deductible plus $100 copay). I ask the specialist how necessary this procedure is. He says it's imperative that we get my quirky digestive tract figured out once and for all. Again, there's no way I can disagree, so we schedule the thing. Every step of the way I'm asking someone else, "So this isn't going to cost more than $300, right?" All answer affirmatively. At Hoag Memorial, I pay the $300 up front before they anesthetize me and shove a tube down my throat. A week later, the specialist calls me back to tell me my results. I have acid reflux, he says. I should continue my current dietary practices and keep taking Omeprazole. For a split second I consider channeling John Goodman's character in Barton Fink and exclaiming, "I said that already, you should pay me $300!" But I don't. I've learned to see doctors and hospital billing departments as co-conspirators in one big swindle, and largely consider my own interaction with them as a gamble. I treat it like blackjack in Vegas: I only took $300 to the table because that's what I was prepared to lose. At least I know I won't lose anymore.

March: I receive a letter from Pacificare telling me that they're denying payment of my January claim. Upon calling, I find out that the whole thing was somehow billed to a no-longer valid Pacificare account I had when I worked at a bank many years ago. I give them the correct account number and they tell me not to worry about it.

April: I get two new bills: one for the facility and one for the IV drip. The former is for $640, the latter for $212.10. I call on both in a panic, and the representatives tell me that--though they're now at least working with the right insurance company--they still have my account numbers wrong. I give them the correct account numbers and, again, they say it's all taken care of.

June: I get the same two bills. I call on the $640 and magically upon the customer service rep hearing my voice it gets reduced to $38. I don't understand how I owe $38, but at least it's not $640, so I just pay it. The $212.10 is more complicated. United Healthcare says they never received that bill, despite it saying in bold type "INSURANCE DENIES CLAIM." I call Newport Pathology, and am told that they did bill United, but that my account was canceled in 2002. That's impossible, I say, since I didn't even get this account until I started grad school in 2007. They ask for my account number. I give it to them. They say it's not valid. Yes it is, I say, and every other office has taken it except yours. Am I reading it off the card, they ask. Yup. Is that the policy number? No, it's my subscriber number--policy number is... Oh, well, that's the number we submitted before that got rejected. Makes sense, I say, since you're the only ones who ask for that number. They say I need to tell United that they actually did get the bill but that it was rejected mistakenly. So I call United again (each of these calls involves at least a ten minute wait) and they repeat that they never received the bill, adding that Newport Pathology probably doesn't know how to bill student insurance accounts, which have a different number of digits than regular ones. I get a fax number to give to Newport Pathology and call them again. I explain the whole thing, insist that the person on the line take down all the numbers on my card despite her insistence that I'm reading my card wrong and that there must be a nine-digit subscription ID or policy number somewhere (seriously?), and give her the fax number to contact United. She tells me I can call back in two weeks to find out the status of the claim. I tell her I'll be out of the country by that time, that the whole point of getting the fax was supposed to be that it would be taken care of immediately. That's the best she can do, I'm told. I grumble a halfhearted thank you and hang up.

Here's what really gets me: despite a persistent condition that requires minimal attention, I'm healthy. I don't think it would be right to whine that a visit to the doctor confirmed that I'm in good health, which is why I didn't complain about the initial $300. But I would not have agreed to the procedure if it had cost $1100, or even $500. Furthermore, this isn't the first time I've had to deal with this sort of thing. In fact, it happens more often than not with my insurance. This is an insurance plan, by the way, that doesn't cover physicals and whose doctors appear to have no interest in preventive care. Why does this bother me so much? Because cancer is extremely common among men in my family. As I approach my thirties, I would like to be able to get myself checked in the necessary ways before turning up with lumps and weight loss and lethargy. But in addition to not being insured for that sort of thing, I don't trust these glorified drug dealers, and I have neither the money nor the time to do this dance every time I have a question or concern. So I just don't go to the doctor, and though I know it will eventually bite me in the ass, I don't know what else to do.

image: Marriage à-la-mode III: The Inspection, by William Hogarth (1743)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fate is just Destiny with heartburn.

I'm not one to panic. I could draw up a long list of problems that I have in dealing with pressure, but freaking out is not one of them. This isn't a skill I ever acquired, it's a twist of luck and I'm thankful to the gods for blessing me with it.

For the past nine months I've been preparing for my qualification exams, which will take place starting tomorrow. All this time I've imagined that today would be hectic. I thought I'd be over-caffeinated, tearing my hair out, trying to get one last book in, reviewing and regretting every life decision that led me to this particular node on the historical continuum.

As it turns out, I'm either really good at facing down the inevitable or completely naïve about what I'm walking into. Right now I feel like a seventh grader who's agreed to a fight after school--it's going to happen, so fuck it. Let's get this over with.

If one can get into a certain mindset, inevitability can be comforting. Its restriction can be liberating. I can't do a whole lot now that will make me any smarter than I was twenty-four hours ago, and knowing that made today the most serene, contented day I've had in close to a year.

I'll tear out my hair tomorrow. Friday I'll over-caffeinate. Next Wednesday I'll try reminding myself of some theoretical detail that will add flavor to a conversation with my advisers.

But today I played racquetball and sat on a park bench watching a Labrador run in circles for an hour.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

...and then Just Do It.

I don't mean to endorse Nike, but this commercial (directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu) definitely succeeds in touching a nerve. I'll be in Portugal during the latter stages of the tournament, so the shots of flag-waving crowds while Ronaldo sets up for a free kick...

Q: How pumped am I about the World Cup? (scroll down for answer)

A: Pretty damn pumped.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Enjoy Coca-Cola.

OK, so let's grant that geometry teacher Gregory Harrison is not actually a threat to national security and that he doesn't really condone assassination (no matter how perfect an angle one is presented with). Might we not assume that his job description implicitly requires him to not be an idiot? I think this violates that rule. But then, what do I know?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Time tell, but epistemology won't: update.

As mentioned in previous posts, I attended and presented at UCI's Time Will Tell, But Epistemology Won't conference last Friday, which was a really unique event. As a combined tribute to Richard Rorty, celebration of his archives, and assessment of his legacy, the conference provided the opportunity for interdisciplinary discussions between people in fields that you don't usually see together at academic conferences: librarians, technology and information studies experts, philosophers, literary scholars, and students in all these areas. It was one of those intimate all day conferences in which almost everybody attends almost every talk, which personally I like, though there's always the risk that it will get tedious. Fortunately, this one was not tedious, loaded as it was with excellent talks.

Our panel was titled "21st Century Scholarship," which ended up being a little ironic in light of the fact that ours was probably the presentation most focused on materials found in the paper--rather than the born digital--archives. Not content with our inadvertent portrayal of the 21st Century Scholar as a Luddite, audience-members pressed us to contrast our experiences with the paper and digital archives, resulting in a conversation about the writing and revision process, searchable content, and the future of the humanities. It was (dare I say it?) fun.

Highlights for me included meeting Mary Varney Rorty--Rorty's widow and literary executor--as well as talks by Christine Borgman, Ian Bogost, and Michael Bérubé. For those interested, Prof. Liz Losh's blog has several posts detailing the talks given at the conference, while both Bérubé and Bogost have posted blogs about their experiences at (and before) the conference. As an added bonus, Losh's blog includes a link to Bogost's paper, which I highly recommend.

I'd love to say more, but I've got about an hour to come up with something interesting to tell my class about Heart of Darkness and write a letter that will convince the Algerian government that I can be trusted to take a train across their fine nation.

Oh, and my qualification exams are one week away.

There's no place like home...there's no place like home...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"God is a distant - stately Lover - "


God is a distant—stately Lover—
Woos, as He states us—by His Son—
Verily, a Vicarious Courtship—
"Miles", and "Priscilla", were such an One—

But, lest the Soul—like fair "Priscilla"
Choose the Envoy—and spurn the Groom—
Vouches, with hyperbolic archness—
"Miles", and "John Alden" were Synonym—

Emily Dickinson

"Dolly Dingle Paper Dolls," by Grace G. Drayton, courtesy of

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Lithedale Bromance

"He expands and deepens down, the more I contemplate him; and further, and further, shoots his strong New-England roots into the hot soil of my Southern soul."
Herman Melville,
"Hawthorne and His Mosses"

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Conference on May 14 at UCI: Time will tell, but epistemology won't

Click on image for more information, or scroll down for the schedule.

A Celebration of Richard Rorty's Archive  
May 14, 2010
Irvine, California 
Rorty’s Legacy 9:00 - 9:30 AM
Elizabeth Losh, UC Irvine: Welcome
David Theo Goldberg, UC Irvine: Opening Remarks
Mary Rorty, Stanford:  Memory, Ethics, and Literary Custodianship in the Era of Computational Media
Michelle Light, UC Irvine: “Designing the Born-Digital Archive” 9:30-10:00 AM

Cultural Politics and the Born Digital, Michelle Light, Chair 10:00-11:00 AM
Dawn Schmitz, UC Irvine: “The Born-Digital Manuscript as Cultural Form and Intellectual Record
Mark Poster, UC Irvine: “Digital and Analogue Archives
Erin Obodiac, UC Irvine: “Digital Immunity
Tom Hyry, UCLA, Respondent
Break: 11:00 - 11:15 AM

Christine Borgman, UCLA: “The Digital Archive: The Data Deluge Arrives in the Humanities” 11:15-11:45 AM

Rorty, Philosophy, and The Question Concerning Technology, David W. Smith, Chair  11:45 AM - 1:15 PM
Iain Thomson, University of New Mexico: “Rorty, Heidegger, and the Danger and Promise of the Technological Archive.”
Mark Wrathall, UC Riverside: “Responding to Rorty: Heidegger's ‘Academic Parochialism’ and the Technological Age

Margaret Gilbert, UC Irvine: "Rorty and Human Rights" 2:15-2:40 PM
Rorty as a Public Intellectual, Jonathan Alexander, Chair 2:40 - 4:45
Ian Bogost, Georgia Tech: “We Think in Public

Steven Mailloux, Loyola Marymount University: “Rhetorical Pragmatism and Histories of New Media: Rorty on Dreyfus on Kierkegaard

21st Century Scholarship from Ali M. Meghdadi, Brian Garcia, Tae-Kyung Timothy Elijah Sung, UC Irvine: "Content Confronts Context"
Break:  4:45-5:00
Closing Speaker: Michael Bérubé, Pennsylvania State University: “Reading Rorty Rhetorically” 5:00-6:30
Reception: 6:30-7:00

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Yes, but did the press corps LOL?

From an article in the New York Times about new plans for oil drilling oversight:
"The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, announced the changes Tuesday morning over Twitter."

Friday, May 7, 2010

That's pretty grave.

"This is the third of my novels, and it depends on two very uncertain contingencies, whether it will not be the last;--the one being the public opinion, and the other mine own humour. The first book was written, because I was told that I could not write a grave tale; so, to prove that the world did not know me, I wrote one that was so grave nobody would read it; wherein I think that I had much the best of the argument."

James Fenimore Cooper,
Preface to The Pioneers (1823)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bigots and brains.

Last week, Iowa psychiatrist and Republican Congressional candidate Pat Bertroche advocated tagging illegal immigrants with microchips.

This week psychologist and Christian crusader against the disease of homosexuality, George Rekers, got caught with a male prostitute. It's like clockwork with these family values guys.

In his own defense, Mr. Rekers told the popular gay blog Joe. My. God. that he was--like Jesus--hanging out with a sinner so as to convince him of the error of his ways and nurse him back to spiritual health. That doesn't exactly match the original story that the good doctor didn't know "Lucien" was even gay, that the young man was hired as a "travel assistant" to carry luggage, but I guess Rekers could have come to the realization of what had happened and then clicked into salvation mode.  I suppose that he might have initially missed the fact that is a website for finding "rentboys." And hey, maybe he thinks it's normal for a luggage carrier to advertise that he has a "perfectly built 8 inch cock (uncut)."

I'm sure this is just a big misunderstanding.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Notes on the State of Arizona.

Surprising no one by openly expanding its crusade to attack legal as well as illegal immigrants, Arizona will apparently be giving the boot to teachers with heavy accents and bad grammar. I look forward to seeing how Arizona decides which accents are heavy enough to qualify for job termination, which colloquialisms are "ungrammatical" enough, and how to enforce this without making it too obvious that they're just rounding up brown people.

On the other hand, the Phoenix Suns, or Los Suns de Phoenix, get an enthusiastic "hell yes" from this inconsequential peanut gallery inhabitant. Thank you, Robert Sarver. As much as I hate the use of Cinco de Mayo as an excuse for anything, any time your team wears these jerseys, I'm rooting for "Los Suns" against the bigotry of their own home state.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The terrorists don't win this time.

I'm not sure if we can necessarily consider this a triumph for the Obama administration, but it's probably the best result of the war in Afghanistan thus far (plus it makes a strong case against Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell).

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"If you wanna live here, learn it!"

If Tim James (see below) had been the governor of California in the mid-eighties to early nineties, I would never have had a ride home from school. So, from personal experience, I can think of at least one problem Alabama's fixin' to take on if it adopts measures that don't consider how and why people immigrate but instead punish those (legal as well as illegal) who are already here.

And then there's Iowa Congressional candidate Pat Bertroche, with this genius idea, which I'm pretty sure betrays a misunderstanding of how pet microchips work, but certainly betrays a lack of basic human decency:
I think we should catch 'em, we should document 'em, make sure we know where they are and where they are going. I actually support microchipping them. I can microchip my dog so I can find it. Why can't I microchip an illegal?
Oh, America. We just don't learn anything ever, do we?

all illustrations lifted from

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Here's what you should do...

You should go to this conference at UCI on May 14 (if that kind of thing interests you). It's being held to celebrate the opening of the Richard Rorty Archive. Since a couple of colleagues and I worked on cataloging that archive, we were asked to put together a short panel presentation. As the lineup is a little intimidating, it would be nice to see some friendly faces out there. Click on the image below for more information, including the schedule.
“Time Will Tell, But Epistemology Won't: In Memory of Richard Rorty”
A Celebration of Richard Rorty's Archive  
May 14, 2010
Humanities Gateway 1030, UC Irvine
Irvine, California 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My profoundly shallow take on Ukrainian politics.

Say what we might about the nastiness of American politics lately, Congress is relatively civil. Sure, calling opponents baby killers and liars is pretty indecorous, but it doesn't hold a candle to the rowdy shit-talking that constitutes a British Parliamentary proceeding.

 Maybe we were just scared straight by our own deadly potential. After all, Aaron Burr capped Alexander Hamilton over an unflattering newspaper article. I like to imagine the aftermath of that incident being a truce in American politics similar to what took place among rappers following the murders of Tupac and Biggie. One of these days some ambitious grad student will unearth sheet music and lyrics to the 1804 version of "I'll Be Missing You," featuring Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Of course, by the Jackson era, youngsters would have come to regard any peace negotiated by their powder-wigged elders as pussified dithering, and after a couple decades of macho posturing something was bound to happen.

Sure enough, in 1856 Charles Sumner went and opened his damn mouth, and for his trouble was nearly caned to death in the Senate chamber by Preston Brooks while Laurence M. Keitt (aka Ice-T of the Confederacy) stood by wielding a pistol to discourage any would-be interventionists.

The point is that clowns like Joe Wilson and Randy Neugebauer might be annoying, but they're no gangsters. Just dumb guys whose brain-mouth filters need to be replaced.

Or maybe that's not actually the point. I was supposed to say something shallow about Ukraine, right?

Oh, yes. Ukrainian politics--these dudes are wild. When was the last time you saw American politicians respond to a vote they disagreed with by hurling eggs, smoke bombs, and fists at the opposition? Never, you say? Well then, feast your eyes on this debacle.
But the best part of this whole thing is the consistency of news coverage anytime the Ukrainian political situation gets hairy. I noticed this a few years back and always look for it when I hear that the Ukrainians are mad about something. What I mean is this: no matter what the issue, no matter what her involvement, it seems that no report on Ukrainian politics is complete without a photo of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko doing something. Seriously, anything, as long as she's on camera.

And, well, I appreciate that.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Live, from America's anus.

I complained about this recently and then rejoiced over the governor's rather unsatisfactorily reasoned but still welcome veto. Well, the steaming turds that comprise Oklahoma's legislature have voted to override the veto to pass a law which states that, if a woman wants to undergo a perfectly legal procedure, she must publish private information to a government database, subject herself to medical advice with a clear political agenda, and consent to an invasive, medically unnecessary procedure. The law also protects doctors from malpractice lawsuits that might be brought against them for failing to inform pregnant women of fetal birth defects, with the intent of protecting doctors whose purpose for lying is to lessen the likelihood of choosing abortion.

image: detail from Examination of a Witch by TH Matteson (1853)

Monday, April 26, 2010

This will be on the test.

Breezy: Without Emerson there's no Walden.

Wheezy: Yeah, Thoreau wouldn't have had an axe.

"They did not even take the train"

This is old, but it's still one of my YouTube favorites so I thought I'd share. It's a better story than half the stuff on my reading lists.

Friday, April 23, 2010

"where the wind comes sweeping down the plain"

Are online sex offender registries morally and ethically wrong? It's one of those questions I hate considering because part of me wants to say yes but, frankly, I've always felt a little uncomfortable arguing in favor of that particular brand of criminal. So I won't; but I will say that modern equivalents of the pillory seem contrary to the freedom laundry list that politicians love to rattle off when declaring American superiority to every other nation in the world.

Whatever, though. They're sex offenders, right? Rapists, child molesters. Fuck 'em. But what if we started putting non-criminals in the stocks? People who have broken no laws, but may have transgressed the principles of a particular segment of the population? What if we just disregarded law altogether and prioritized the legislation of morality? And what if said legislation was enforced by public humiliation? And what if that public humiliation was accompanied by physical violation? Something like--just letting the imagination run wild now--vaginal probes?

Nonsense. Measures like that would never be enacted. Not in America. Not in the 21st century. Nah.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Honest Abe knows fashion.

Abraham Lincoln's 1842 Temperance Address does not convince me to stop drinking or to take up the cause of temperance, but it does include this rhetorical gem:
But it is said by some, that men will think and act for themselves; that none will disuse spirits or anything else, merely because his neighbors do; and that moral influence is not that powerful engine contended for. Let us examine this. Let me ask the man who could maintain this position most stiffly, what compensation he will accept to go to church some Sunday and sit during the sermon with his wife's bonnet upon his head? Not a trifle, I'll venture. And why not? There would be nothing irreligious in it: nothing immoral, nothing uncomfortable. Then why not? Is it not because there would be something egregiously unfashionable in it? Then it is the influence of fashion; and what is the influence of fashion, but the influence that other and people's actions have [on our own?] actions, the strong inclination each of us feels to do as we see all our neighbors do? Nor is the influence of fashion confined to any particular thing or class of things. It is just as strong on one subject as another. Let us make it as unfashionable to withhold our names from the temperance cause as for husbands to wear their wives bonnets to church, and instances will be just as rare in the one case as the other.
 And now for a beer. Where'd I put that church bonnet?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Methuselah killed Social Security.

There's a lot going on in this article, much of which is unsettling despite its ultimate optimism: people are living longer and eating up resources without contributing to society; part of the proposed solution is to delay retirement age to account for increased life expectancy and combat ageism that keeps the old out of the workplace. Right enough, I think, except that one of the current issues making it difficult for young people to get work is that retirement-aged folks are staying in or returning to the workforce. But these are issues for people with more capacious brains than mine. What really got me was this:
"Of all the people in human history who ever reached the age of 65, half are alive now."

Monday, April 19, 2010


Qualification exams are coming up, so there's not much time for any extracurricular activity these days. But I did want to quickly note that Iran recently held a military parade to celebrate National Army Day, an event held to show that (a) the Iranian military and its leadership are not to be trifled with, and (b) they belong in Lady Gaga videos.

Well, you get it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

How to say "fuck you" in Puritan

"Is this the Worst thy terrors then canst, why
Then should this grimace me terrify?
Why cam'st thou then so slowly? Mend thy pace.
Thy Slowness me detains from Christ's bright face.
Although thy terrors rise to th'highst degree,
I still am where I was. A Fig for thee."

- Edward Taylor, "A Fig for thee Oh! Death"

Monday, April 5, 2010

Playing doctor.

My inner right ear hurts. It radiates down the right side of my throat and the whole right side of my head is sensitive, like when you have the flu, but only in that small area. I tell this to the doctor. She asks if I have a history of chronic ear infections. When I was child I got quite a few, but not as an adult. She asks if I've had a fever recently. No. Have I been swimming? No. Sore throat? Nope. Any rashes? Negative.

She checks my ear and says I have tiny ear canals. That's not symptomatic of anything, she's just letting me know. She checks my throat and asks if I've had my tonsils removed. I answer no and she checks again. This time she sees my tonsils and says that they too are smaller than the average. That's two remarks about the diminutiveness of body parts to which I've never given much consideration. I'm a little hurt.

Finally she says there's nothing wrong with me. But there is, I say: my ear and one whole side of my head hurt. She says that I might have shingles. She doesn't actually get this from a new look at anything on my person, it just seems to occur to her mid-conversation. A flash of inspiration. Shingles, out of nowhere. Am I sure I haven't had any rashes? Positive. But there's a red line across my forehead. I hold up the hat that I wore in. She gives a slightly abashed smile, but only retreats from the shingles speculation enough to open the field to viruses in general.

I might have some kind of virus, and it might show itself over the next few days. But it might not. Not that we have any idea what to look for besides symptoms of shingles, because we're not sure what it is. We're not even sure if there's anything. It could be (her words) transient ear pain. Just passing through.

This conversation is quickly becoming a contender for the single least informative exchange I've ever had in my life.

I think a shrug should be part of the doctor's repertoire. I realize that I shouldn't be annoyed by her inability to decipher the secrets of my aching scalp by looking into my tiny ear canals, but it's really hard when what I get is a litany of vaguely defined, barely explained possible diagnoses that amount to one big who-the-fuck-knows. She should just be allowed to shrug. And I should be prepared to take that as an answer.

But I suppose she's not allowed to do that, and I probably wouldn't be satisfied with it as an answer. So we drag this out for fifteen minutes and in the end I have no answers. My ear still hurts. I pay my $15 copay (a dollar a minute!) and go home. My roommate asks me what's wrong with my ear. I shrug.

image: Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Speaking of Walden...

A few months ago I planted kale and fava bean plants. I've been harvesting and eating the kale for a few weeks now, but today I noticed for the first time that the beans are beginning to sprout. I also somehow cut my finger while gardening. I didn't feel anything, but when I finished watering the plants I noticed there was an ugly gash on my index finger. Walking home I bled all over my just-picked kale.
* * * * *
Also, as I was shown by a couple of friends recently, it turns out that UCI's campus is made to be seen on moonlit nights in the spring. I've lived here for about three years now, and I've certainly been on campus after dark, but never really thought to tour campus at night. It's a whole different world when empty. It's a strange place, and I highly recommend checking it out in these conditions. I swear, in my mind, this still relates to Thoreau.

Thoreau as blogger.

From Walden, chapter 1:

“We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were any body else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.”

Friday, March 26, 2010

"Revenge! Revenge! Sweet is Revenge!"

When I compiled my exam reading lists, one of the things that made both my friends and my committee members cringe was the overwhelming presence of somewhat obscure religious—mostly Puritan—texts. Thankfully, I never shared that sentiment (I chose these texts, after all). This may seem strange to most, but I was actually excited by the prospect of making fire-and-brimstone sermons part of my daily required reading. Furthermore, the Puritan section of my lists includes captivity/conversion narratives, apocalyptic poetry, and some of the documents used to justify the Salem witch trials. Scoff if you like, but I love that stuff.

What people often forget (or don't realize) about these texts is that although they were primarily dour religious, political, and didactic treatises, they were also popular entertainment (as were, unfortunately, the executions they sometimes inspired); and they were often written much like the pulp fiction and horror novels that were their cultural descendants. So although these works can only lead one to the conclusion that the individual Puritan's existence must have been a gloomy one indeed, they've left us an incredibly entertaining legacy if you only know where to look.

I'm currently reading Increase Mather's Remarkable Providences, which makes the case for interpreting natural events as signs of God's displeasure. It was written in 1684, eight years before the good people of Salem, in part based on Mather's formulation of Satan's methods, went completely bonkers. His Puritan rock star son, Cotton Mather, later wrote Wonders of the Invisible World to defend the use of "spectral evidence" in the Salem witch trials.

Whereas Cotton's book (written after the fact) attempts an erudite defense of his controversial methods, Increase is still trying to diagnose the problem based on anecdotal evidence. The result is basically a collection of crazy ghost stories with scenes like the following, found near the end of a twelve page-long catalog of "Providences" that bring to mind either that dinner scene from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, or Marx's introduction to commodity fetishism. There are no dancing candlesticks or acrobatic tables in this sampling of Providences, but it does make me wish someone in the past had thought to make a record of Vincent Price reading Puritan witch stories.
    All this while the Devil did not use to appear in any visible shape, only they would think they had hold of the Hand that sometimes scratched them; but it would give them the slip. And once the Man was discernably beaten by a Fist, and an Hand got hold of his Wrist which he saw, but could not catch; and the likeness of a Blackmore Child did appear from under the Rugg and Blanket, where the Man lay, and it would rise up, fall down, nod and slip under the clothes when they endeavoured to clasp it, never speaking any thing.

    Neither were there many Words spoken by Satan all this time, only once having put out their Light, they heard a scraping on the Boards, and then a Piping and Drumming on them, which was followed with a Voice, singing, Revenge! Revenge! Sweet is Revenge! And they being well terrified with it, called upon God; the issue of which was, that suddenly with a mournful Note, there were six times over uttered such expressions as, Mas! Mas! me knock no more! me knock no more! and now all ceased.   
image: The Rev. Increase Mather, oil portrait by John van der Spriett, 1688.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My favorite literary genre.

One of my student evaluations for this past quarter complains that I'm too politically conservative. That's a first. It's sort of ambiguously worded, but I think the complaint is actually that I avoided stressing my own liberal biases and this student (presumably of my own political stripe) would have liked me to be a little more forceful with my leftist interpretations. So take that, Michael Savage.

I also had a student directly address the administration (as "you guys"), requesting that they order me to relax my attendance policy and give students a "five minute cushion." The funny thing is that I did give them (at least) a five minute cushion, I just never announced it. Now I'm tempted to announce a five minute grace period next quarter and then not honor it, just to see if I get an evaluation commending me for my generous attendance policy.

Don't let me down.

According to the widget that lets me read the readers of this blog, one of the search terms that leads people here via google is "perennial disappointment." This has yielded exactly one visit, which lasted 0:00 minutes. It appears that, in this case, google led to exactly what was requested.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"It is later than you think!"

It turns out that my new favorite Congressman and countryman once removed is remarkably quotable. He also said that the health care bill is the Democrats' way to "lay the cornerstone of their socialist utopia," to which I say...wait, wait, I can't...stop...laughing.

My personal favorite response to Nunes's tribute to Cold War genre fiction has been the evil socialist role-playing that erupted on this message board.

As one commenter said, I'm not terribly thrilled about the bill's contents (it's not socialist-utopian enough!), but given the hysteria against it I can't help gloating. I just really can't wait until campaigning Republicans are forced to explain which parts of the health care bill's most instant measures they actually want to repeal. There won't be federal funding for abortion, and mandatory health insurance won't take effect until 2015. That leaves the Republicans to take shots at such totalitarian measures as regulations that prevent rejecting people with preexisting conditions, prescription aid for seniors, and a provision that allows college students to stay on their parents' insurance for a few more years.

Even some conservative strategists acknowledge that they've gotten themselves into an impossible political bind. (Best part of Frum's column: the first sentence, where he says that this bill's passage represents conservatives' "most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s." Unless he's talking about the Civil Rights Act, Frum's got to be referring to the Social Security Act of 1965, which established Medicare, the protection of which has been one of the more confusing talking points for health care reform opponents for the past year. I mean, it's just too delicious. I can't help thinking the Democrats are going to screw this up somehow, but for now it's a lot of fun to watch)

So get ready for the crazy, because someone's going to start flinging shit. If I were a Democrat, this would be my campaign poster:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"People, you know, begin to act crazy."

**Quick update: since no footage has emerged showing John Lewis or Barney Frank enduring this alleged abuse, many online debates about this topic center on whether it actually happened. Although I'll take Frank's or Lewis's word over that of an angry mob, this objection can't just be dismissed. However, I'd like to point out that Nunes's comments (below) don't speculate as to the veracity of his colleagues' claims, but instead simply defend the foaming at the mouth of raging crowds. So, just for the sake of argument, let's suppose that this particular incident didn't happen as claimed. There is still plenty of documented evidence of these protesters employing xenophobic speech acts which--when perpetrated by angry mobs--would constitute a serious threat to their chosen targets. And that is what Devin Nunes defends in this interview.**

I've never written to a member of Congress, but this morning I saw this and damn near lost my mind.

So, fully expecting to be ignored by the honorable representative from California, I've decided to make this an open letter. For all five of you. 

Dear Congressman Nunes,

I write you today as a fellow Portuguese-American resident of California to address your recent appearance on C-SPAN, in which you defended the aggressive actions of some Tea Party protesters toward your own colleagues as an expression of free speech and a reaction to "totalitarian tactics." Putting aside for a moment the fact that these two sorts of action are mutually exclusive—rendering your defense incoherent—I would like to point out that your stated position on this matter contained some glaring inaccuracies and baffling inconsistencies, and carries with it some dangerous implications.

The first problem is your generous interpretation of the First Amendment. One might assume that a man in your position would be familiar with the limitations of our freedom of speech, often illustrated by the cliché that nobody has the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. The point, of course, is that nobody has the right to speech which puts others at risk of physical harm. Now, I don’t dispute anyone’s right to an unfortunate vocabulary, but there is quite a difference between friendly conversation amongst bigots and a hostile crowd yelling “Nigger!” and “Faggot!” at vastly outnumbered targets. Furthermore, no stretch of the imagination would lead to the conclusion that the First Amendment extends its protections to spitting on anyone.

Perhaps you're right that the actions of a few overzealous demonstrators should not color our view of 20,000 angry tea drinkers (and such generalizations being null, we can also discard as nonsense your broad comments about the strategies of “the left”), but it is well within living memory that those same words were commonly hurled by angry mobs at people who ended up at the ends of ropes. Just as yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater would create an unsafe environment for the theater’s inhabitants, it is entirely fair for an African-American and a homosexual to feel seriously threatened by even a handful of people yelling the terms that you seem to think are protected under the First Amendment just because 20,000 people didn't chant them in unison.

If I may expand a bit on the issue of nonexistent theater fires, it's interesting to note that there is more to that example than the practical issue of causing panic. It's generally assumed that yelling “Fire!” in a theater which is actually on fire would be constitutionally protected, even though it's just as likely to cause panic. There is, then, a second component at work, which we might consider a moral component: panic is not the issue per se, but rather unwarranted panic based on a false alarm, which puts people at undue risk of physical injury.

This brings me to the other statement you made with which I take issue: that this exercise of free speech was a reaction to “totalitarian tactics.” Again, let me reiterate my desire to steer clear of the laughably dissonant image of 20,000 people exercising free speech on the Capitol steps of a nation in the grip of a totalitarian regime. That will not be the topic of this letter, so I'll refrain from commenting on how ridiculous it is. I do, however, wonder what exactly you mean by “totalitarian tactics.” I can understand opposition to the health care reform bill, and I would be willing to listen to anyone with legitimate arguments as to why it constitutes bad policy, but I have a difficult time understanding how exactly any of this is being carried out through the modus operandi of totalitarian regimes. I have heard folks describe reconciliation as overreaching, and I can see how it might cause frustration for people who disagree with the measures it enacts, but surely it's no more “totalitarian” now than it was the three times it was used during the Bush administration. So as I pick through my limited knowledge of the proceedings in Washington, I can't help wondering whether your accusation of totalitarianism amounts to much more than that dangerous and dishonest alarm sounded to cause panic among theater-goers.

You see, Congressman, when I think of “totalitarian tactics,” I think of the stuff my parents and grandparents left behind in Salazar’s Portugal: secret police, intimidation of dissenters, rampant censorship, secret interrogations, unaccountable torture, invasion of privacy—some of which, come to think of it, resemble tactics that you supported when you voted for an extension of the PATRIOT Act or against Congressman Holt’s Amendment to HR 2647. So I would like to know how you reconcile these baseless accusations with your own actions in the legislature.

As mentioned before, I write to you as a Portuguese-American. If the disingenuous statements of politicians always prompted me to write letters, I would never get anything else done; and your words matter to me primarily because you're a person representing the interests of my community in a district in which I have many friends and family members. I am an avowed member of that “left” which you so glibly wrote off as some silly fringe group, but I have supported Republican candidates in my hometown. I have also worked closely with them for shared goals (political and otherwise), and although we agree on precious little, I think you would be hard-pressed to find one of them who would deny my dedication to the community or my passion in pursuing a more just and functioning democracy.

It is as a Portuguese-American that I would like to express my disappointment with your C-SPAN interview. Rather than denouncing the actions of extremists you defended them based on an incorrect, selective, and dangerous interpretation of one of our nation’s most cherished liberties. You deceptively implied that acts which threaten the safety of individuals are excusable so long as they're only carried out by a small group of people. You deliberately mischaracterized the actions of your own colleagues in an attempt to incite panic over a threat that does not exist, just to pander to the heightened rhetoric of the most insane factions of your party. As an American, I'm concerned—but that's nothing new. As a Portuguese-American, I'm embarrassed and ashamed, and I hope that in the future you will word your opposition with a little more nuance and a lot more prudence.



Sunday, March 14, 2010

High-fiving myself.

Today I booked three one-way flights. The first will take me from Los Angeles to Boston, the second from Boston to Terceira, and the third from Terceira to Porto. At some time in the near future I'll book a return flight from somewhere a few thousand miles to the east, but for now all I know is that a good chunk of this summer will be spent in Portugal. And that, dear readers, is overwhelmingly good news.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Calm down, Nate.

"America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash–and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed.  What is the mystery of these innumerable editions of the ‘Lamplighter,’ and other books neither better nor worse?–worse they could not be, and better they need not be, when they sell by the 100,000."
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, whining.

And that's why nobody's ever heard of this Hawthorne guy. Say what you will about sentimental fiction, these "damned...scribbling women" knew how to start a novel with flair. Do you need a sick ass visual aid to let you know just how wicked sentimental this story's gonna be? No, seriously. Are you ready for this shit? . . . Bam!

I don't know about you, but I'm ready for the second coming. It's getting didactic as fuck up in here.

image from Susan Warner's 1850 novel, The Wide, Wide World

Sunday, March 7, 2010

This morning on Prairie Home Companion.

I didn't catch the whole show, but I think they said it was Bad Joke Day. Some of the bad jokes were hilarious, and one of their songs included the line: "You say the Democrats don't stand for anything, but that's not true, we do stand for anything."

Friday, March 5, 2010

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Getting warmer.

Holy shit:

"'Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant,' the resolution said, 'but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life.'"

 At least these folks aren't shirking the responsibilities that come with their commitment to creating a more stupid world. Go big or go home, I say.

Friday, February 26, 2010

"You know you better watch out"—A Feeble Tribute to Beautiful Ghosts

Prompted by a friend's thoughts on high school reunions, I got to thinking about my own high school experience and (as happens to me at least once a year) reliving parts of it via old music. That about sums up why I don't know anything about what the kids are playing on the gramophone these days: I'd rather just listen to Wu-Tang.

That is, rather than seeking a nostalgic link to the past, I really still love Wu-Tang's early material. If anything, I've grown to appreciate artists like the Wu-Tang Clan, Outkast, and Biggie more over time than I ever did in high school; while bands in which I was excessively emotionally invested at one point (I'm looking at you, Nirvana) now tend to bore me. Seriously, it's embarrassing.

This isn't a review of mid-nineties hip hop or an analysis of why for me it's so much more enduring than examples from other genres during that period, but a preface to an admission that for me one artist does have the power to evoke heart-wrenching nostalgia.

The chosen one is Lauryn Hill in 1998-99. I was a fan of the Fugees and had enjoyed Wyclef's The Carnival, but The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill just hit me in a really deep place. It was released a few weeks before the beginning of my senior year, and throughout the 1998/99 school year her music was everywhere. 1998 was a big year for "crossovers" in hip hop--it followed Sting's participation in a tribute to Biggie, it was the year of the ascendancy of Puff Daddy and Will Smith, the year that ODB made his way onto the soundtrack of a Warren Beatty film--but Hill managed to have virtually universal appeal without sacrificing quality or vision. It's just a gorgeous album, and I play it on a loop every time I return to it but it has yet to get old.

I've confirmed in many conversations that I'm not alone in this, nor am I alone in the main qualification of my devotion to the L-Boogie cult: the Lauryn Hill of Miseducation had ceased to exist by the year 2000. This nostalgia for music that absolutely saturated the air during the formal end of my childhood is only strengthened by the wistfulness that results from wondering what the fuck happened to this staggeringly beautiful and talented woman.

So let's chalk this nostalgia up to unrequited love and perennial disappointment as leitmotifs in adolescence, in the songs on this album, and in the life of its creator. I loved her, she was way out of my reach, but I secretly wished her well, and in the end she fell apart. Yes, I'm hokey and melodramatic. I still love The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and I'm still in love with Lauryn Hill in her 1998-99 incarnation.

Monday, February 22, 2010

"the real masters"

"The farmer imagines power and place are fine things. But the President has paid dear for his White House. It has commonly cost him all his peace, and the best of his manly attributes. To preserve for a short time so conspicuous an appearance before the world, he is content to eat dust before the real masters who stand erect behind the throne."

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Compensation"

Cold, dead hands.

Fun fact of the day: national park rangers are the most frequently assaulted federal employees in the U.S. I'm guessing that this is because their job largely consists of playing buzzkill to prevent forest fires and other destruction resulting from douchebag revelry. They're also tasked with stopping poachers. They're also unarmed.

Those are just a few reasons why it made perfect sense to pass a law allowing people to carry guns into national parks, effective today, as part of HR 627, more popularly known as the Credit Cardholder's Bill of Rights.

Yeah. They did that.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why I ♥ the internet.

The internet is useful. This is, I think, pretty generally accepted. Yet, despite my own dependence on the utility of this wondrous series of tubes for pretty much everything, I think I only really love the internet at its most useless. The frivolous internet has the capacity to delight me in three ways: by providing hilariously wrong information, by answering questions I would never care to ask, and by informing me of my membership in communities I would never seek on my own. Does any of this improve my work or my quality of life? No. But sometimes it improves my day.

Here's what I mean...

I found this gem of wikipedia vandalism a few days ago and captured it before the fact police got to it:
Jonathan Edwards (October 5, 1703 – March 22, 1758) was a preacher, theologian, and missionary to Native Americans. His sermons such as "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" inspired his parishioners to coin what has now become an American colloquialism: "Ain't no sermon like a J. Edwards sermon, 'cause dem J. Edwards sermons don' stop."
I also found this blog, which is dedicated to a largely unpopular food which I've always quietly enjoyed:

And finally, did you know that Andy Griffith once played Sir Walter Raleigh in a film titled The Lost Colony? Neither did I, but I do now.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

An excerpt from "A Conversation with My Younger Brother, High School Counselor"

B. What are you up to?
K. Just left a trustee's luncheon. Basically listening to rich white people talk about educating poor brown people. What are you doing?
B. Reading about rich white people converting poor brown people to Christianity.
K. Same shit.
B. Yup.

Friday, February 5, 2010

"And love he loves..."

I'm currently teaching John Dryden's Marriage a la Mode as part of a literary drama survey course, and it's been about as much fun as I've ever had teaching anything. This stems largely from the play's incessant bawdiness, but it's also due to a really handy fusion of genres and forms that practically constitutes a survey on its own. It's rare that any work makes it easy to get students excited about the ways in which form and content complement one another, but Marriage a la Mode seems to pull it off.

Then there's the context of the play, which is just as entertaining. If work always consisted of teaching students about libertinism in King Charles II's court, my job satisfaction would be off the charts. Not only does it loosen things up a bit, but it allows for those intensely satisfying lessons in which you actually explode the myths to which your students want to remain loyal. Marriage a la Mode is about marriage. It was written in the seventeenth century. Given those two facts alone, some students try their damnedest to just sit on their hands and repeat platitudes about how things have changed, how marriage was "before" versus how it is "now," but Dryden doesn't let them.

But the greatest joy of all may be that the play is dedicated to John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, which gave me an excuse to have them read some of his poetry. If Dryden forces them to realize that society's views on marriage haven't deteriorated since the Restoration, then Rochester makes it clear that no 21st century rapper, reality star, or myspace celebrity can do filth like a libertine. We read the "Satyr on Charles II" and then discussed censorship, sex, and the evolution of swearing. It was a good day.

I' th' isle of Britain, long since famous grown
For breeding the best cunts in Christendom,
There reigns, and oh! long may he reign and thrive,
The easiest King and best-bred man alive.
Him no ambition moves to get renown
Like the French fool, that wanders up and down
Starving his people, hazarding his crown.
Peace is his aim, his gentleness is such,
And love he loves, for he loves fucking much.
---Nor are his high desires above his strength:
His scepter and his prick are of a length;
And she may sway the one who plays with th' other,
And make him little wiser than his brother.
Poor prince! thy prick, like thy buffoons at Court,
Will govern thee because it makes thee sport.
'Tis sure the sauciest prick that e'er did swive,
The proudest, peremptoriest prick alive.
Though safety, law, religion, life lay on 't,
'Twould break through all to make its way to cunt.
Restless he rolls about from whore to whore,
A merry monarch, scandalous and poor.
---To Carwell, the most dear of all his dears,
The best relief of his declining years,
Oft he bewails his fortune, and her fate:
To love so well, and be beloved so late.
For though in her he settles well his tarse,
Yet his dull, graceless ballocks hang an arse.
This you'd believe, had I but time to tell ye
The pains it costs to poor, laborious Nelly,
Whilst she employs hands, fingers, mouth, and thighs,
Ere she can raise the member she enjoys.
---All monarchs I hate, and the thrones they sit on,
---From the hector of France to the cully of Britain.