Friday, January 31, 2003

The university where I've been temping is one of Pennsylvania's state-school system universities, and that means that it specializes in teacher education above all other things, and the School of Education has a large undergrad and graduate faculty with diverse teaching and research. This got me to wondering about what goes on down on the first floor--Special Education. What research questions do they address down there?: What if we did take them to the zoo?

But then I found one of the oddest sites I've found on the web ever. I warn you in advance that I'm not sure whether this is actually the diary of a special education teacher (as it claims), or whether this is grotesque parody. I do know that I couldn't stop laughing in spite of myself. Ladies and gentlemen: TardBlog.

While channel-surfing last night, I came across the almost indescribable experience that is E!'s "Star Dates: Dustin Diamond". Here are just some of the highlights:

1. Dustin took his first date to Yankee Doodle's on the Santa Monica Promenade, which happens to be the bar where (thanks to the Joe Mulder curse*) I watched Pitt lose its Sweet Sixteen game to Kent State after Indiana had knocked off Duke to leave us as the highest remaining seed in our bracket. OK, maybe this was actually a lowlight.

(*I could watch any sporting event very enjoyably with Joe; however, if it was an important game involving a Pittsburgh team, the Burgh squad was doomed if I watched with him.)

2. Dustin and the skank (note: I do not mean this as a generic Diceman/construction worker term of general derision for woman; I am just using it as a very precise term to describe the personality/essence of Mr. Diamond's first date) made for a nice pair because they seemed to share one very special bond: they both wanted to get her as drunk as humanly possible. The three basic shots were a cut to her cleavage, a cut to Diamond forcing another large beer or glass full of liquor onto her, and a cut to her double fisting whatever she was drinking. After she staggered back to the car, we got some post-script talking-head scenes that suggested a heavy makeout session and possible intercourse after the cameras stopped rolling, but only Screech and the skank will ever know for sure.

3. Dustin's second date was with the third runner-up in the World's Strongest Woman competition, and for their date she took him to Gold's Gym. I'm not making any of this up.

4. The second date actually seemed like the beginning of an ongoing relationship. Again, not making this up.

If you can catch a re-broadcast of this show, by all means it is the comedy gift that just keeps on giving.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

After the last post, I decided to update the California governor's residence situation. California remains one of six states without an official governor's residence. The city of West Sacramento is currently offering land to the state for a new governor's residence. According to that article, Governor Gray Davis has set a goal of getting a governor's residence built by 2006. The Reagan-built residence was never occupied by a governor, and was eventually sold. Some people, however, believe the best option is to buy it back. The full background story is told in the Preliminary Report of the Governor's Permanent Residence Commission.

To see some comically angry quotes on this issue, look here.

I decided to take a little respite from The List, as I realized it had been a long time since I had read any non-fiction. So what did I discover? Around the same time the S.F. Chronicle made The Fiction List, they also made a non-fiction list. I have no plans to work through this one systematically in any way, shape, or form, but it did give me a few ideas. There are a few Western history books on there that I would like to take a look at, but also I have been thinking lately about picking up some New/Gonzo Journalism books, since I've really enjoyed what I've read in the genre in the past--particularly Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson.

In that spirit, my latest read was Joan Didion's The White Album. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Broken into five sections, this features about 20 short pieces, many of which are themselves broken into 3 or 4 distinct vignettes. I don't know that there's one overriding theme, but the recurrent subjects are the '60s and its aftermath (up to the late '70s when this was published), life in California, and Didion's own quirky politics which are basically left-center, but seriously divergent from the mainline of '60s protest culture. Some essays are intensely personal, such as the one about Didion's experiences on her first book tour and particularly the one about learning to cope with intense migranes that put her out of commission four to five days per month. Two of my favorites are "Many Mansions" and "Bureaucrats"--the former dealing with the strange cultural/class politics around the new California governor's mansion built by the Reagans and never inhabited, and the latter discussing Caltrans's efforts to create a diamond lane on the Santa Monica freeway and the strange cultural and other miscalculations involved therein.

The closest Didion comes to a personal political manifesto is the penultimate essay "On the Morning After the Sixties", in which she ruminates about what it was like to be at Berkeley in the mid-fifties, prior to the massive upheaval of the '60s. She says her generation came of age in a more "personal" time, that they were "the last generation to identify with adults" and that for them "the exhilaration of social action seemed to many of us just one more way of escaping the personal, of masking for a while that dread of the meaningless which was man's fate." The last line of this essay will be the thing I most take away from this book when I think of Didion: "If I could believe that going to a barricade would affect man's fate in the slightest I would go to that barricade, and quite often I wish that I could, but it would be less than honest to say that I expect to happen upon such a happy ending."

Didion is perhaps bleak in this pronouncement, but I appreciate her honesty and I have often identified with this sentiment myself. However, I also know enough about Didion's other work to know that she is not apolitical as a result of such thinking, and that she must believe in some possibility of positive change. I have also come to believe that, although I think that those changes are much more likely on the micro, local level than higher up. I think improving some people's lives is a manageable task, while "improving life" is not. Believe it or not, this actually makes me less cynical than I used to be; maybe grad school was not my complete ruination after all!

I'll be heading back to the list now, though between my two jobs, looking for a permanent job, and being sick and thus exhausted for the last couple of days, my reading has ground if not to a halt then at least to a trickle. I'd like to get through a couple of books over the next week that need to go back to the library, and then get to the gift that arrived in the mail two days ago--thanks Jeff!!

I hope I can post something a little more light-hearted sometime today or tomorrow...

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

I spent most of last night very ill, shivering in a sweater and under blankets, and not even trying anything as radical as food. Fortunately, while I get sick with some frequency, it doesn't tend to last long, and I am back at work today. I did, however, go to bed at 9 p.m., so I missed the State of the Union, but if you've heard one you've heard them all--great country, standing ovation, could be doing better, but look at all we've done, great country, God, standing ovation. For still more cynical takes, check out the lefty blogs I'm now linking to.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Quote of the (insert any unit of time here):

"Now, patriotism is defined as love of country. It's not defined as love of militarism or love of government edicts of any kind. You know, unexamined, unintelligent patriotism, you know, my country, right or wrong, love it or leave it, gets us nowhere and results in bad country and western songs." --Janeane Garofalo

The quote appears in this Howard Kurtz transcript on The gist of the interview is that the mainstream media cannot totally ignore the anti-war movement, but they marginalize it by having celebrities come on to talk about it instead of movement leaders and policy experts. Thus it looks like it's just a matter of bored actors fighting their latest cause celebre instead of serious people thinking seriously about issues and disagreeing with the company line. The irony of making this point by interviewing Janeane Garofalo is not lost on me, but I think it's a valid point nonetheless.

One Super Bowl comment: With all the ABC cross-promotion going on during the game (and understandably so since it's the biggest audience of the year), I kept expecting Al Michaels to read a tagline along the lines of:

"Do you believe in Miracles? Starting tomorrow night watch Skeet Ulrich.....right here on ABC!"

Oh, and the Beallsvonian now has a new and expanded links section in the left column; so far it's basically friends, but I hope to add political and fun links too very soon--possibly today if work is slow enough.

How to screw up a perfectly nice weekend in two easy steps:

  1. Hit a patch of ice.
  2. Hit a guard rail.

I'm fine, and the car is semi-fine. I was able to drive it home and to work today, but it's going to need some fairly ex(t/p)ensive repairs. The passenger's side headlight cover is destroyed, and the fender cover will have to go as well. Basically, a lot of plastic will need to be replaced. This could have been a lot worse--I was able to slow to 10-15 mph, I wasn't subsequently rammed, and I was about 5 miles from home and a nice old lady let me stay in her kitchen while my dad drove out to the scene even though it was midnight.

I'm not sure what the lessons are here. In part I'm happy that I'm OK and that my dad is being so great to me--coming out to help, and dealing with the insurance and repair issues since he's a veteran of this sort of thing. On the other hand, I either have to beg money from relatives or pretty much wipe out the money I've been saving toward moving--neither of which is a happy prospect, though again I'm lucky that the former is a legitimate option. AND, it was already becoming clear to me and is now crystal clear that I just don't like winter. For a while now I've thought that I would stay in the East for several years and maybe in 5-10 years settle in L.A. I'm increasingly sure that I'm going to speed up that timetable. So I guess this is a moment of clarity in addition to being a big ol' pain in the ass. Why does it seem like everything that's happened to me for about a year now has been a cloud, at best with a silver lining, and nothing is ever a blue sky?

Sunday, January 26, 2003

To my mind this is one of the sports stories of the year, and yet I haven't even seen it mentioned, let alone played up, on Sportscenter.

The key part of the story, to my mind, is that at the age of 46--the age when George Blanda retired, from placekicking, and everyone called him a timeless wonder--Martina Navratilova has not only won a Grand Slam tennis title but has completed a mind-boggling career Grand Slam. She has now won at least singles, doubles, and mixed doubles title at every Grand Slam tournament. She has won 57 overall slam titles, and she won her first one, the French mixed doubles, in 1974!!!!! Twenty-nine years later, she's a champion again, reminding us that she is the greatest female athlete--and possibly just the greatest athlete--of our lifetime.

Take two on the the comment doohickey.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

If this works, I should have a new comment doohickey.
(Where's our good friend modus ponens when I need him, dammit?!)

Taught my second GRE class today. My teaching instincts are starting to come back, and I felt very good up there today. I like my students, and as far as I can tell they like me and are satisfied with the course so far. I still have timing issues--we ran long for a second straight session--but I'm hoping that works itself out, and if it doesn't, well then at least it's better than having content issues.

DEK and I went to see Confessions of a Dangerous Mind after class. OK, it's far-fetched and probably a bit over-directed (if you can find a scene with normal lighting, you're doing better than I am), but I loved it. Amazingly fun movie experience. Best last line of a movie I've seen maybe ever, or at least since the last time I watched Casablanca. The only downside is that the song "Palisades Park" is totally ruined for me now. For life.

From the Grad School Ruins Your Life File #37:
Dad and I watched Barbershop last night, and I thought it was very funny, especially the scenes revolving around the stolen ATM machine, which were excellent slapstick and physical humor. So, then, why did I spend the latter part of the movie and a good while afterwards thinking about Jurgen Habermas? The short answer, of course, is the subtitle above this paragraph. The longer version is that Jurgen Habermas is the pre-eminent thinker behind the idea of the public sphere as a literal place where ideas spring up for a modern, Enlightenment community because of the possibility of unfettered free thought. Habermas in particular studied 18th-century European coffee houses as a place where the intelligentsia would meet to discuss and advance political ideas.

So what does this have to do with a contemporary slapstick African-American comedy? As it turns out, Cedric the Entertainer's main serious speech toward the end of the film on the value of the barbershop in the African-American community very closely mirrors Habermas' ideas about coffee houses. Cedric says that barbershops have been the place in African-American ghetto communities where men could congregate and really say what they felt about anything and anyone, away from the measured tones required toward mainstream culture, and where constructive and public-yet-private self-criticism in particular is possible. Admittedly there is something a bit sexist about this (though Toni Morrison's Jazz in particular shows a similar dynamic in beauty parlors), but I can't help but feel that there's something to it. I'm not sure how many institutions like this we have in our culture, and Cedric's speech really makes it clear what is at stake when they are threatened with extinction.

Jesus do I need to start dating or something....

Friday, January 24, 2003

You can throw out the record books when Andre Agassi faces Rainer Schuettler. I thought Schuettler was a no-name journeyman, but then I found out that he once won a Qatar Open. You can find the Qatar Tennis Federation here. Anyone have any thoughts on why men's tennis might be struggling?!?!

My first Kaplan GRE class last night went off without a serious hitch, though it was fraught with minor hitches, most of them related to the fact that it was about 2 degrees outside and snowing. Also, I wasn't planning on the 15-minute logistical course intro from the center manager, so I had to squeeze for time, and as a result I managed to flub the very first problem we did. After that, though, things settled down and I think everything went fine. I have six students, three of whom are international students, so unfortunately my powers of pop culture reference will be effectively neutralized in the classroom. Then on the way home, I felt like James Caan at the end of the real Rollerball as I drove amongst the scattered carnage on interstates 70 and 79. At one point I wasn't even sure if I was looking at the aftermath of a three-car accident or a two-car accident and a distinct one-car accident. Bad times.

I've really gotten to the point with The Onion where I don't read many of the stories and editorials, because a lot of them simply reiterate the joke of the headline a number of times. However I'm glad I read the Muppets editorial this week, if only for the quote: "I am trying to contain my Don Music-like frustration at your arrogance." Those of you who see me in person can count on that dropping into conversation at some point, for better or worse. What I do read every week without fail is The Onion in History. Anyone who has spent substantial time reading 50+ year-old newspapers (i.e. people with advanced degrees in history) would tell you that it is pitch-perfect almost without fail week in, week out. This week's highlight: Lenin's sympathy with "the Russian soldiers who died by the Kaiser's hand in the winter of 1916, many from anus-related injuries."

Finally, one of the things I've done to keep warm is put together a CD of music I associate with L.A., specifically new wave '80s music that received heavy airplay during '80s shows on STAR 98.7, which I listened to frequently. I post the playlist here, knowing the horribly mockery that this might--and by all rights should--subject me to:

  • "Goody Two Shoes" by Adam Ant
  • "Suddenly Last Summer" by The Motels
  • "Major Tom Coming Home" by Peter Schilling
  • "A Million Miles Away" by The Plimsouls
  • "Anything, Anything" by Dramarama
  • "Hold Me Now" by Thompson Twins
  • "Wouldn't It Be Good" by Nik Kershaw
  • "The Promise" by When In Rome
  • "Forever Young" by Alphaville
  • "Hungry Like the Wolf" by Duran Duran
  • "Opportunities" by Pet Shop Boys
  • "Life In a Northern Town" by Dream Academy
  • "Let Me Go" by Heaven 17
  • "Back on the Chain Gang" by The Pretenders
  • "Pretty in Pink" by Psychedelic Furs
  • "Lips Like Sugar" by Echo and the Bunnymen
  • "Brand New Lover" by Dead or Alive
  • "A Little Respect" by Erasure

No, I swear, I'm not gay, no, seriously, stop laughing at me!!

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

I stopped watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for about two years, and I've started again this season. Now I wonder how I ever could have stopped. The reasons I love Buffy, and the reasons why Anya is one of the great supporting characters in TV history are summarized by this quote fro last night's episode: (Context: She's telling a potential slayer why she should be happy about this new calling.) "Now you're part of something larger. It's like being something larger."

I finished Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian earlier today. This is one of those books where you can feel its greatness even while you are completely distasteful of the experience of actually reading the thing. This book falls solidly in the revisionist western genre; no one wears a white or black hat, everyone's racist, everyone's violent, nobody's likable, and most everyone dies. The body count of this book is astronomical. This is not one of those books that reverses dichotomies either--the Mexicans and Indians are no worse, but no better than anyone else either.

I love the revisionist Westen movie genre--some of our truly great movies are films such as Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Wild Bunch, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. And the New Western History is a significant development in American historiography. This book is very much in that vein--though as literature it's also very flowery and ponderous--but I wouldn't recommend it unless you really want to devote your undivided attention to it for a while, and you have no squeamishness about constant brutality.

Starting tomorrow I'll be teaching my first GRE class for Kaplan; wish me luck...

Monday, January 20, 2003

I'm basically just posting to test something out. (With a bit of luck, the red area in the left-hand column will now say something other than "This is where you stick random tidbits of information about yourself". Finally.) But since a smattering of content is always good, check out Ted Barlow's blog, particularly the week of January 13-17, which was devoted exclusively to political and media-related light bulb jokes. Very good times, folks.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

I had dinner last night with the Infield-Harms who were in town for a long weekend from Madison, Wisconsin, where they report it has been consistently warmer and less snowy than here. Grrr. But it was a very nice time, over quality Mexican food. Most of my conversations of the "intellectual community" type nature lately have been online or via phone, so it was very nice to have one face-to-face with dear friends. I was also reminded of my rule of Mexican food, how you can tell something with some level of authenticity from something utterly devoid of it. (Yes, I'm looking at you Taco Bell and Chi-Chi's, and yes I also realize that post-modern and post-colonial theory teaches us that "cutural authenticity" is a highly problematic concept, and yes I still realize that grad school ruins you for real life.) It comes down to one thing--pork. If you can order pork (pork barbecue does not count), then it is a real Mexican restaurant. My carnitas burrito was very tasty.

While I'm on Mexico and authenticity and intellectual community and whatnot, my latest read is Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr. The backstory to this book may be as interesting as the book itself--heiress to the enormous Huntington railroad fortune goes back to school to get a writing degree from Stanford as a senior citizen and publishes a first novel in her 70s to wide acclaim. The book itself is about a middle-aged California couple who decide fairly abruptly to move to rural Mexico and try to re-open the husband's grandfather's old copper mining concern. We are told right from the start (page one, in fact) what is going to happen--the business proposition will be successful, but the husband will be given six years to live and will prove that prognosis to be accurate. So the book's quality will rest not on plot and suspense, but on character and style.

While I've talked before here about how my thinking is heavily influenced by post-modernism and thus a recognition of multiple epistemologies, when it really comes down to it it turns out I'm very much a rationalist--tolerant of other ways of thought and critical in many ways of unbridled rationalism, but ultimately choosing the rational most of the time. Given that, I tend to be annoyed by a particular literary device prevalent in a lot of writing by white people about white people in Third World countries. That is, the writing wherein the locals' customs and beliefs never succeed in influencing the white (usually American) outsiders, but we as readers see the uncanny mystical forces looming constantly and ultimately, inevitably, winning. The "gypsy curse" is a common way this plays out--authors don't include gypsy curses that ultimately prove completely wrong. I like this kind of writing when it delves into the beliefs and (especially) practices of the locals to show that they aren't just mystical, pre-modern savants but are actually people living in the real world whose apparent mysticism is at least partly a cover for closely guarded local knowledges that do make sense if you know how to interpret them. Perhaps another way to think about this is in terms of this question: Are the locals fully developed characters, or are they just local flavor?

When it came down to it, I felt like this was really Sara's (the wife's) story and the locals by and large were just local flavor. I don't want to say they were pure stereotypes or to put a racist reading on the Mexican characters, because I think Doerr presents them as a wide range of human character archetypes; but I do ultimately fell as if they were archetypes without much depth. Sara is a solid and somewhat memorable character, the book is breezy and the prose flows, and I give Doerr credit for not making Americans good guys and Mexicans bad guys or vice versa. But ultimately I was hoping for a bit more--maybe in particular something about the ways that having foreigners living among them changed the local villagers and changed the foreigners as well; instead I felt that they lived side by side and had contact, but didn't really affect one another on a meaningful level.

On today's games, it seems that Oakland and Philly are almost universal consensus picks, but it's worth noting that it's been six years since both home teams won the conference championship game, and it's been 9-10 years (I'm not sure about Dallas/Buffalo II) since both number one seeds advanced to the Super Bowl. Just something to think about, in case you have any inkling that Philly might suddenly get cold or Oakland might suddenly get old.

And if the Eagles and Raiders do have a Super Bowl XV rematch next weekend, maybe we can finally get Harold Carmichael on the cover of ESPN The Magazine...

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

OK, not a doozy of a review as promised yesterday, but still a doozy of a book. Thomas Pynchon writes two kinds of books: (a) crazy-ass paranoid books in a fun, rollicking style, and (b) crazy-ass paranoid books in an unreadable style. It turns out that Vineland falls into category (a). Through characters such as a hippie burnout, his daughter, a government goon, and a super-ninja white-chick, Pynchon tells the story of post-World War II American social history--the sex, the drugs, the TV, the music, the politics, and most emphatically the paranoia. I can't even begin to give you a digest version of what goes on here, but from the beginning to the end I was completely enraptured. In Vineland everything is a drug--drugs, of course, but also power, TV, quests, love, lust, etc. Appropriate, then, that I found it thoroughly intoxicating.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

No blogging for several days now. I guess my mind has been busy with other things such as watching football, wondering about my future, and thinking up about a million and a half Pete Townsend/"My Generation" jokes.

I saw Adaptation on Saturday, and it played with my head a bit too. I don't know if it's as mind-bending as Being John Malkovich was, but it is pretty trippy. Chris Cooper's is one of the most unique characters I've seen on celluloid in a long time, and while it's a bit of a cliche I'll still say that I admired Nicolas Cage taking the risk of playing the Kaufmans, so very different from his typical roles. I was even a bit discombobulated for a while after seeing it, to the point where I couldn't even really get into the Steeler game for about a half, which is odd for me. Also, it had some moments where I was the only one in a somewhat crowded theater laughing--moments I always enjoy--in this case, some funny meta-commentary basically on what's going on in the screenplay as it's happening in the movie. I particularly enjoyed the screenwriting teacher interrupting a long voiceover narration with a harangue against the use of voiceover, leading C. Kaufman to wonder (in voiceover) whether he should use voiceover.

My weird discovery of the day: the Bud Dwyer fan club. DEK and I were just joking after the Steeler-Brown tilt that Butch Davis' press conference might have a Dwyerian feel to it. Also, I realize the cool parts of the Internet are the parts where someone has taken their lifelong, or at least long-term, obsession and turned it into something fun for others to look at for ten minutes. In that vein, courtesy of's links of the day: TV Crossovers and Spinoffs; note in particular the utterly freakish Group 2.

I haven't posted much personal in a while, and I'm not sure how much I want to right now. I decided a while ago that I really wanted to focus on getting a job in DC, but all efforts in that direction have led not much of anywhere. I'm trying to decide whether I need to throw myself into the fire, try to get some family support to just move and then find work, or whether that just has even bigger disaster written all over it. The problem is that I've convinced myself that the only reason I'm not getting the DC-based jobs I apply for is that I'm not local, but I don't really know if that's true or not. I'm also starting to realize that living at home is not going to make me have a sudden nervous breakdown--it's just going to continue to push me further into low-grade depression, angst, and sloth. This is not good, but the lack of sudden impending crisis keeps me from taking any drastic measures. It also doesn't help that one voice in the back of my head keeps saying that I never should have left L.A. and thus I should try to go back, but that's just not feasible at all right now, and also I don't know whether I really miss L.A. or just a particular time and set of circumstances and people there that are no longer in place. What this adds up to is a big ol' case of option paralysis, combined with my propensity for inertia; maybe I just need to read Generation X again! Sadly, I don't think my answer is going to be that simple.

No book review today, as I still have 40 pages to go, but tomorrow or Thursday I should have a doozy of one--possibly the best novel I've read since Infinite Jest in '97.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

The latest book I finished was Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. This book was exhibit two of how graduate school in the humanities ruins your life. (Exhibit 1 came while watching football last weekend when I deconstructed a not-particularly-noteworthy commercial in about 5 seconds and then explained it out loud for a minute and a half--and did so without really trying.) All I could think about during this book were the strange echoes of eugenics, "scientific racism", and racial physiongnomy that kept popping up--as they will in books from the 1920s--and I could never drown this out long enough to just enjoy the book. The alternate explanation is that the book just wasn't that enjoyable, which is also possible. And part of it is probably that I have very little interest in reading about Catholic faith. Still, I loved My Antonia, so this was a big disappointment. I just don't think Cather understands the place and times (New Mexico in the 30 years after Guadalupe Hidalgo) to the same degree she did the Nebraska prairie of her own youth. Perhaps if you've never read anything about downtrodden, oppressed people this book will have something to say to you, but since grad school screwed me up for real life by making me read that sort of thing for four years, this book didn't tell me much, and I felt like there were a few things I could tell it.

As for the new job, not much to report really. So far so good, but next week the deluge will start. In the meantime, I'm stuffing envelopes, typing, copying, filing, blogging (ok, not technically in my job description), and teaching myself the parts of Microsoft Office that I don't already know.

Monday, January 06, 2003

I started the new temp assignment today. I am the secretary for the Secondary Education Department at California University of Pennsylvania. This could be a very long-term assignment, though of course I am looking to escape for a real job in a real city ASAP. But it looks like I'll be here in the meantime. I don't know exactly how sick the person I'm replacing is, but I heard the voicemail message her husband left the department to report her absence, and the gist of it was:
"Hi, This is x; y is in intensive care and has been for several days. She's had a lot of internal bleeding and they're having trouble stopping it. Once she starts to recover, she'll have to be at home for three or four months, and then she'll have to go back in for surgery to get her colon put back in. Etc..."
In other words, long-term assignment. It's very very uncomfortable knowing that the only thing that would abbreviate the assignment is the non-zero chance that the person I'm replacing will die, and thus they will actually hire a full-time person. There is also a non-zero chance that I would be that person; I'd still look for a better job, but at least I'd get benefits while I looked.

Sadly, there is no D-Mart, but there is a Subway.

As for the actual work, it's very light right now as I get settled in, but next week the semester (i.e. the chaos) begins....

Sunday, January 05, 2003

And the Maurice Clarett era just gets weirder and weirder...

A few observations from a day of watching crazy-ass wild card games:
The 49ers won despite the presence of Jim Mora Sr. on the sidelines wearing their cap. Did anyone else figure that the guy who issued him a sideline credential for a playoff game will be fired tomorrow?
Jeremy Shockey and Dan Campbell might restart the old NFL tradition of going and winning the tag team belts in the off-season, possibly calling themselves the New York Wrestling Giants.
Part of why the 49ers won in spite of Mora on the sidelines is that the Giants signed 41-year-old Trey Junkin to do their long-snapping this week and he promptly choked. Does anyone else have the impression that the secrets of long-snapping are like the formula for Coke--only a set number of people are allowed to know them at any given time? If so, Patrick Mannelly may soon be killed by elders wielding, well, probably wielding footballs--footballs that can be thrown through their legs at tremendous speeds!!

From the guy who allegedly wears a shirt that says, "Joe"...

The online version of a dot column today...

Mom and I went to see Two Weeks Notice today. This is notable because it is the first movie I have seen with Mom in an actual indoor theater since the original release of The Empire Strikes Back. Of course, it is only the third time in that period that Mom has seen a movie in a theater in that time--interestingly enough, all in the last 12 months and all starring Sandra Bullock. I have no idea what this means, I just pass it on FYI.

Wow, what a bland pair of wild-card games we got today--though perhaps it was necessary after the crazy tension of the Tortilla Chip Party Bowl and its multiple overtimes. Actually, all I care about this wild card weekend is that the Oranges are once again exposed, and the Steelers get to symbolicly do the Flaming Thumbtacks that which the Tacks did physically to Tommy Maddox a couple of months ago.

My latest read was Thomas McGuane's Nobody's Angel. I'm not sure how this made the Chronicle list (which is here in case you've joined our blog already in progress) as this is a bland book that didn't do anything for me. The protagonist is a career army officer who has returned to the family ranch in Montana, where he tries to figure out whether he will live out his life there or move to Spain for no apparent reason. I just never started to care about anyone here, and so the drama that unfolds when our hero starts sleeping with a married woman with a potentially volatile husband never really engaged me. Not recommended. The only nice thing is that this book marked 25 down for me on the Chronicle list, i.e. halfway to my new goal of finishing 50 of the list.

Bill and I discussed on Wednesday whether that day's downpour was a symbolic washing away of 2002, or a nasty-ass omen for 2003. Only time will tell.

If environmental activists are serious about reducing methane emissions, they should start a full frontal attack on the traditional New Year's pork and sauerkraut dinner. 'Nuff said.

I start a new temp job Monday at the local university. Watch this space for the blow by blow.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

I am writing this during the halftime show of the Orange Bowl. If I remember these correctly, it should be ending by about next Wednesday.

I had a quiet New Year's. In my experience that's the best kind. DEK and I watched The Black Six New Year's Eve afternoon. I was expecting fourth-rate blaxploitation; I got sixth-rate blaxploitation. It made Dolemite look like Citizen Kane. OK, maybe Citizen Ruth. Premise: Six NFL players play a motorcycle gang that may or may not care about anything, and then they have this big climactic fight with a white motorcycle gang who killed one of their brothers, and they may or may not have won the climactic fight and/or died. The last scene makes the final scene of Monty Python and the Holy Grail seem decisive and relevant.

Then we went to an alleged party that turned out to be a very small get together with a few friends (total attendance: 5), watched some movies, and played a game of redneck trivia that I won due to my knowledge of 18th century British literature. I crashed at Bill and Terri's, and Bill and I had New Year's brunch at the Olive Garden. All in all, it was a quiet celebration; whenever I've tried a more elaborate one, I've always ended up miserable, so this is the way I like to do it.

What the hell's a Coraghessan?
My latest read has been Budding Prospects by T. Coraghessan Boyle, who wisely goes by T.C. nowadays. I had some reservations about this book because Boyle teaches at USC, and I learned through the grapevine there that he has a miserable reputation as a human being. But I had read The Road to Wellville years ago and enjoyed it, so I went ahead anyway.

Here is the opening paragraph of the book:
"I've always been a quitter. I quit the Boy Scouts, the glee club, the marching band. Gave up my paper route, turned my back on the church, stuffed the basketball team. I dropped out of college, sidestepped the army with a 4-F on the grounds of mental instability, went back to school, made a go of it, entered a Ph.D. program in nineteenth-century British literature, sat in the front row, took notes assiduously, bought a pair of horn-rims, and quit on the eve of my comprehensive exams. I got married, separated, divorced. Quit smoking, quit jogging, quit eating red meat. I quit jobs: digging graves, pumping gas, selling insurance, showing pornographic films in an art theater in Boston. When I was nineteen I made frantic love to a pinch-faced, sack-bosomed girl I'd known from high school. She got pregnant. I quit town. About the only thing I didn't give up on was the summer camp. Let me tell you about it."

I liked him immediately.

"Summer camp" turns out to be a scheme proposed by a sort-of friend to grow $1.5 million of marijuana one summer in rural Humboldt County California with three guys. Boyle describes the paranoia, original glee, and ultimate disappointment of the project with a manic energy that really caught me up in the adventure. This is a unique take on the traditional story whereby people start on an escapade with high hopes, continually lower expectations until they are as low as can be had, but ultimately achieve some sort of satisfaction (a) from completing a project, even a hopeless one, and (b) from an unexpected source--usually (and in this case) a person of the opposite sex. Taking this plucky, Algeresque story and placing it within the framework of an illegal activity is a bit original, by for the most part the joy is in the humor and style.

The original goal of my reading list was to read the whole damn thing, learn more about the West, and find new authors I want to read more of. Now my goal is to read 50 of the 100 because I don't want to spend 5 years on just this one list, and I'm well on my way to accomplishing the other two goals. Boyle is almost certainly someone I'll come back to. The best comparison I can think to make is to call him a slightly more highbrow Tom Robbins.