Monday, March 31, 2003

Just a couple of quick notes since it's been a few days.
1. It's been a few days because I've been trying to get my TRASHionals category put to bed. I did, just now. YAY! I need TRASH in my life to get that twice annual adrenalin rush that comes from taking 1-3 days to do something that you should've done over the course of 4-6 months. I've missed that since leaving grad school.
2. Work is still great. Being downtown has been incredibly invigorating. I ran errands above ground today that I could've taken the subway for, despite blustery 30-degree weather, because I like walking around the city more than I dislike freezing my ears (and other parts) off.
3. I read Annie Proulx's Close Range. It's a book of short stories, all set in Wyoming, most of them contemporary (it's a 1999 book). Short stories are manageable for my rail commute, so that was nice. The stories were generally of a high quality, with a couple of fun brief interludes of gallows-type humor. I felt that Proulx successfully portrayed the subjectivity of an amazingly wide array of characters, linked mostly by a connection to a physical place that most people would gladly leave, but where her characters cannot help but stay for a variety of psychological reasons. I don't read many short stories or short story collections, so it's hard for me to put it to any qualitative standard. But it worked for me.
4. I listened to part of a CD today that "Bob Frankowitz" (I've got to remember to ask him about the alias) made when we took a trip out to see a tiny piece of the L.A. River that is not embedded in exposed concrete, followed by a trip into the heart of the River downtown where a homeless man gave us a guided tour. It made me openly long to be headed back across the country. Soon enough.
5. Saturday night DEK, Bill, Terri, Tom and I watched The Bourne Identity, finding particularly funny the numerous times in the film someone removes a jacket for no good reason. We laughed our way through the key bridge scene with Chris Cooper as a result, and probably missed key plot points. Afterward we played a game called Burn Rate. The idea is that each player is running a, and you try to run yours into the ground at a slower rate than everybody else. The last one not bankrupt wins. It's a bit confusing at first, (the rules are somewhat convoluted) but since everybody in the room has worked for a high-tech company, is married to someone who worked for a high-tech company, or has temped, we all related and a very good time was had by all. There's your mention, Tom...

Friday, March 28, 2003

Stupid French explorers.

I'm not sure how, and I don't mean this to disparage The Athletic Reporter (which you should all go read right now), but I just can't shake the feeling that somehow Joe Mulder is responsible for this.

So now I'm all depressed, not quite in a Francisco Cabrera-Dennis Gibson sort of way, but still fairly upset at last night's turn of events. It's some consolation that we got beaten by their best, but we prided ourselves on shutting down teams' best, and the 77-74 score suggests that they took the game to us and played it at their pace, not ours.

And I'm wondering what we're going to hear over the next few days about the whole Donatas Zavackas fiasco. He's a senior and gone, so it's not like the team will have him around a la Scottie Pippen refusing to go back into that playoff game, but this also makes me wonder about Howland's snap decision-making--just what does your tough-as-nails senior have to say during a Sweet Sixteen to get himself buried on the bench? I can't remember this much intrigue around a Lithuanian since the collapse of the Soviet Union led to the breakup of Boris Zhukov and Nikolai Volkoff. At least that I understood. Major geopolitical events are going to have serious ramifications on tag teams; that's just a part of life. But the Zavackas thing just baffles me. I hate to be the type of fickle fan who turns on a coach at the drop of a hat, but there is that school of thought which says that the coach who rebuilds the program is not necessarily the guy to get you over the top. So while it would be a short-term blow, a small part of me now thinks that Ben Howland taking the UCLA job would not be the worst thing to happen in the history of basketball.

As for The Bolsheviks, well, I hope that somehow, somewhere, they were eventually able to patch up their differences, and maybe they now roam their former homeland doing good deeds and then slipping off into the night. Or maybe they have desk jobs with WWE. Either way.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

If you're anything like myself and Mr. Kidder (and thank goodness, for the fate of the world, few of you are), you will literally get a chill up and down your spine and probably do a spit take when you read this; what did it for us was, "No, Let's call it Shirley!!"

These are good stories and all, but vis-a-vis story #1, at what point do you lose your status as "guide"?

Also, I think Edward Said et al might have something of a different take on Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope.

Mostly, though, I just wanted to see if this site was accessible from work.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

After three days of working downtown and commuting over three hours a day I would expect to be wearing down a little bit from it. This is not the case at all. I am totally invigorated by a couple of things--being back in a real, honest-to-goodness professional environment, and being downtown. I've been walking around town during lunch hours and on the occasional work-related errand, and I am finally really learning downtown Pittsburgh. I'm starting to understand which streets go where, what's on them, and where certain landmarks I've always known about but never actually seen are. More than that, though, the city (not Pittsburgh, per se, but the abstraction "the city") is in my blood and has been for a long time, and being immersed in it every day again has given me a vitality that's been missing for a while. Now, Friday morning after I stay up for Pitt's Sweet Sixteen game, I may be singing a different tune, but that's a different matter altogther. Right now, I'm just glad to finally be in a place where I can be at least a little bit content, at least for a little bit.

Monday, March 24, 2003

First, I need to apologize for short-changing Nathaniel West--his complete opus runs 421, not 321 pages. As penance I read Miss Lonelyhearts, which isn't the worst thing you could do if you have 75 spare minutes. It's about the guy who writes the "Miss Lonelyhearts" column for a New York newspaper, but while he took the job as a lark, he finds himself completely broken down over time by the realization of all the real tragedies people pour out to him. Suffice it to say, it's not exactly a pick-me-up.

The new gig started today. I am working for _____ doing _________. Since it's a law firm, there are confidentiality agreements out the ying-yang. Suffice it to say I'm helping to manage documents for a case with over 1,000 bankers' boxes of documents. The pay and the work itself are better than anything I've done in a long time. It looks like the commute is about an hour 45 in the morning and slightly less coming home. That I could do without, but over half of that is spent on the T (Pittsburgh's subway/trolley thing), so at least I can read or nap for parts. My schedule is flexible, so I'm experimenting a bit this week with different start and end times, but if I take a Major Test Prep Company class in the near future, I may be starting at 7 at least one day a week. That would involve getting up at a time that starts with a 4 and contains an "a.m." Very not good times.

Also, you may notice I got all of 6 Sweet Sixteen teams, which sadly enough is not a personal low. In 1992 I got four, though I did correctly pick the Dookies that year, before I realized they were evil. The alma mater is doing very nicely, though, so I do have something to continue to pull for.

Finally, DEK and I saw "Star Dates: Kim Fields" while flipping through games on Saturday. It's as entertaining as the Dustin Diamond episode, and perhaps even a little more so--and I don't say that lightly. But it contains perhaps the single worst date anyone has ever had anywhere that didn't involve amputation or restratining orders. It does lose some points for having a second date that wasn't particularly funny at all, but which was worth sitting through just to see the bad first date preening during the credits. If you have 25 minutes to spare and it's between this and reading one-third of Miss Lonelyhearts, choose E!

Saturday, March 22, 2003

One thing I got into in graduate school was the burgeoning field of visual culture, and conversely the culture of vision. It wasn't the best book, but the most mind-blowing book I read was a short little thing by Johnathan Crary entitled Techniques of the Observer. What blew my mind were the parts where he described a transition roughly located in the early 19th century, when scientists (or perhaps more accurately, natural philosophers) started realizing that sensory information is not simply received but is processed within the body, and that processing is subject to manipulation. In short, vision is subjective. Crary, an art historian by training, points out that this discovery was traditionally credited to Impressionist painters, but he instead credits it to early physiologists who first became aware that the process of observation itself affects the thing being observed.

While it's a cool book that I'd recommend to anyone, all of this is really a long-winded prologue to something I noticed a few months after moving back to Pennsylvania from L.A., which is that I see differently now. In Los Angeles, I learned to constantly look up--everything in L.A. has a backdrop, whether it's the Santa Monica Mountains, the ocean, palm trees against the horizon, or what have you. Taking in the scenery always means looking at the backdrop in addition to looking at the ground level.

Since I've been back home, I see all of the familiar landscapes in a new light, largely because I now look higher against the horizon. I notice creek beds previously unseen, I see the backs of buildings through tufts of trees, I notice a hillside in a background where I previously only saw foreground, etc. This effect has been especially pronounced since about mid-November, when all the trees shed their leaves. In many local towns and along byways I am continually surprised by a glimpse of something in the distance that I have never seen before, or never seen from that angle, or which is much closer than I ever realized. The rolling hill topography of the area and ample tree cover hides these scenes eight months a year, even if you know what to look for.

So while I am tired of heavy coats, cold fingertips, and digging my car out of snow and ice, I feel at least a twinge of ambiguity as I look forward to this spring, because the trees are threatening to bloom, regrew their leaves, and steal away these precious glimpses I have finally seen for the first and what will likely be the only time, since I plan to be far, far away the next time the leaves fall. Spring represents renewal to many, and I feel that I am emerging from a kind of winter hibernation in my own life, hoping that good things begin to blossom for me as I shake off what feels like a deep slumber. But though I am not a poet and I rarely think poetically, the passing of winter has left me with a touch of the elegiac...

Nathaniel West must be the only major American novelist known for multiple works whose "complete novels" collection could be contained in a 321-page book with biggish type. I read Day of the Locust over the last couple of days. It reminds me of the joke about the woman who complains that Shakespeare "wrote in cliches". All of the observations about Hollywood (the place and the metaphor) in this book seem like old hat if you've read a lot of hard-boiled fiction and seen a lot of self-referential movies; at some point, though, you realize that what your reading is in many ways the ur-text for all that material. No one in this book is nice, or likable, or happy; things don't start well for anyone and they don't end well for anyone; and no one today can read a book with a main character named Homer Simpson and not be completely distracted by this fact. However, it's short, it's a nice study in individual and group lives of quiet desperation, and thus it's worth a look. I may read one of two of his other novels (there are 4 total) if I get a spare hour.

If you're going here, make sure not to wear a beret in your hair.

Friday, March 21, 2003

Now I'm starting to understand; this is what "supporting our troops" means. (Courtesy of Eschaton)

Joe gets religion!
Well, not really, but I do believe that we should listen to what my favorite Reverend has to say on the meat issue.

What does it mean for a teenage girl to "keep it real"? Why, to consume plenty of beef, of course.

Good to know that meat and you are still partners in freedom.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

I hope this is the only thing I need to publish on the subject. We are at war. While I don't especially like this war, I think it could have good consequences, so I am reluctantly and hesitantly behind it. I hear the phrase "support our troops" and I'm not sure what that means; I'm not going to walk around chanting "U.S.A., U.S.A." or hoping they "kick ass", because chanting is not my style and I don't believe civilized nations are in the business of "kicking ass". I hope as few of them are killed, gassed, or horribly mangled in this war as humanly possible, and I hope the same for troops and civilians of all countries involved. I hope Saddam Hussein is ousted and replaced with a government that will behave better toward its own people and the world community. But you will not hear me say that the reason I support our troops is because they are in Iraq defending America, or defending our freedom. Make no mistake about it--we are not playing defense in this war. We are playing offense, and in most of our military engagements of the last century, we have played offense. So don't talk to me about how our military is out there to defend us, because quite simply that has not been its primary role and it is not in this case either. I don't say this as cynically as I used to, because I now understand better the merits at times of playing offense. I don't mean it as a sneer or as sarcasm--it is simply a fact.

I just got word that next week I'll be starting a paralegal assignment in downtown Pittsburgh. The commute will be a bitch and blogging will probably suffer, but the tradeoff is employment in my future field, a gig that should last until I move, and a much better chance to accumulate the resources with which to move. So good times.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Yeah, I think that pretty much covers it.

I finished John McPhee's The Control of Naturelast night. (I had been reading it simultaneously with Sedaris, which is why I didn't get very far very quickly in either.) It's basically three extended essays about places where man has attempted to fend off the "interference" of nature. These stories are not so much about success or failure per se, but are more ponderous about what "success" and "failure" might mean and might look like in these individual cases.

"Atchafalaya" deals with the Mississippi River in New Orleans and the massive Army Corps of Engineers effort to keep the river from doing what it should naturally do, which is to deviate from any one central channel and roam over a wide area in Louisiana. For economic reasons, this is considered unacceptable; the result, however, is massive flooding in places, the silting up of other places, and a whole lot of anxiety about the potential for the whole edifice to collapse in a "hundred-year flood".

The second story is about a lava flow that might have destroyed Iceland's best natural harbor but for an effort to cool the flow with massive water dumps. This is the real success story of the three, and the essay has a roaming tone that talks about life in that part of Iceland before and after the flow, the literally overnight creation of a 700-foot peak, what Hawaiians have taken from this Icelandic example, and a variety of other topics.

The final story, "Los Angeles Against the Mountain" held the most interest for me. The San Gabriel Mountains run along the northern edge of L.A.'s eastern projection, from Pasadena to Pomona. They have been developed extensively since World War II for good reason--houses on the hillsides can rise above the smog, the sometimes-oppressive heat, and provide some incredible views. The hillsides also, however, have this nasty habit of dropping debris onto these houses and the valley below during rainstorms and especially during rainstorms after fires have overrun the chapparral vegetation on the ground. McPhee discusses L.A.'s and individuals' attempts to stop the debris flow or at least minimize its damage; there has been a very mixed record on this, but as some point out, oftentimes houses have been destroyed only to be rebuilt via "disaster" aid, even though homeowners are told of the risks of building.

McPhee explores the geologic, the political, and the historical questions from a variety of perspectives, and he is a good guide through the terrain--a relatively unobstrusive narrator who lets the participants in these battles largely speak for themselves. This is not the most compelling book I have read on some of these issues or the best, but it does put a more human face on all sides of these questions, and there is value in that.

So apparently, either I can "publish" from work but not from home, or I can publish during the day but not at night. Because for the last two nights my attempts to publish from home have led to error messages, but I can go to work the next day and, with the same post, immediately publish successfully.

For you non-blogger/blogspot users: "post" means that you save what you've been working on, but new material--content, or changes to your template (layout)--doesn't actually show up on your blog until you "publish".

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

As promised, my NCAA picks. Call my entry what it goes by in two online pools I'm in: Donatas Darko (with an assist to one of the Pitt quiz-bowl guys for the name).

Sweet 16 teams
South: Texas, UConn, Maryland, Florida
East: Cal, Louisville, Penn, Wake Forest
West: Arizona, Illinois, Creighton, Memphis
Midwest: Kentucky, Dayton, Missouri, Pitt

Elite 8 games
UConn beats Maryland
Wake beats Louisville
Arizona beats Memphis
Pitt beats Kentucky

Final Four
Pitt over Wake 68-63 in the title game

My picks are of course total objective and based on my expert basketball analysis, and not at all biased based on me having my alma mater winning it all and annoying perennial powers going down early. I also have this quirk where I figure out the first #1 seed I think will lose, and I have them lose in the first round because one of these years it's going to happen, and I'll be that one guy who called it. Of course, I'll probably pick the wrong #1 that year, but so it goes. This year, I have Oklahoma losing to South Carolina State, even though I know Oklahoma's score will probably have three digits and SC State's will probably start with a 5 or 6. My other big first round upsets are Weber State over Wisconsin, Wisconsin-Milwaukee over Notre Dame, Creighton and Memphis over Duke and Kansas respectively (2nd round), Penn over Oklahoma State and Syracuse, San Diego over Stanford, and Troy State over Xavier. If two happen, I'll probably gloat incessantly, so considered yourselves warned.

Yay, last night's long delayed posts finally published!!!

Monday, March 17, 2003

The new gig looks to be similar to the old gig. I'll probably be working a little bit more and blogging a little bit less at work, but otherwise I think it will be about the same. Relatively mindless work, a goodly amount of free time, and a relatively nice environment for a McJob. I'm not looking forward to answering the phones, but I'll finally fulfill my lifelong goal of getting to wear one of those headset thingamabobs.

In other news, I finally finished reading another book, Barrel Fever by David Sedaris. I have now read three of his books in the last 3-4 months. I recommend them all, but I recommend this one somewhat less than Naked or Me Talk Pretty One Day. In Barrel Fever you can literally watch the evolution of a writer's style and also the epiphany that pushed him to his astronomical success. The first two-thirds of the book consist of short stories that have really funny moments but tend to fall somewhat flat. All the protagonists are a bit over the top, and seem to be one-note extrapolations of the more bizarre elements of Sedaris' personality.

Then at the end of the book are three short pieces and one longer one in which the familiar Sedaris style emerges, the first-person essay with Sedaris himself as the protagonist. These stories are nominally non-fictional, and I have no doubt that they are somewhat exaggerated; actually that's not true, I have no doubt that some of the stories in the later two books are exaggerations of real events in Sedaris' life, but the four essays in Barrel Fever may be more straightforward reportage of a latter-day gonzo variety. The final story, "The SantaLand Diaries", is by far the best thing in the book; it is Sedaris' cynical take (but I repeat myself) on his job one holiday season as an elf in Macy's SantaLand in New York. This is the story where the voice he developed in the later books really emerges. That voice is urbane (though always hearkening to his Raleigh roots), flamboyant (in every sense), biting, and very cynical. What I take from the best of these stories is not just cynicism that breaks people and things down (though there's plenty of that), but a way of seeing the world that is alternately very different from or very similar to my own, yet which boldly asserts that perspective as a cosmopolitan alternative to what I'll call for lack of a better term "good ol' American family values".

Oh yeah, one more thing: in Civic news, the car is back at the body shop for the fourth and hopefully final time; by tomorrow I should theoretically have a car back in one piece.

I watched many many hours of NCAA basketball-related television coverage yesterday. The highlight, unquestionably, was when over the course of seven minutes tops, Digger Phelps identified 64 different teams as being "on a mission" in this upcoming tournament. The only reason I can think of for the single exclusion is that BYU's players have already been on a mission. I will of course post some predictions at some point; rest assured that the alma mater will figure prominently in them.

Speaking of sports, you should all go right now to The Athletic Reporter, a new Onion-style sports newspaper. You should go there because it is run by a good friend of mine and a good friend of his who is at least a solid acquaintance of mine. You should go there because they are very funny people, and because maybe if I ask nicely they will let me contribute something from time to time. You should also go there because the secret agenda of this blog is to see if people will do what I tell them, just because I tell them to (BWAHAHAHA!!!). One word of caution: there is one blatant lie in the introductory column, as I know for a fact that the editor is not just some guy but is in fact a close personal friend of Joe Mays.

And one word of caution for The Athletic Reporter itself: it's going to be hard to parody sports when guys do things like this and this.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Quick link note: Let's welcome Chris Hyde to the world of blogging, and to the Beallsvonian's link list.

Strange week, this past one. Mom's job takes her away from home for seven weeks at a time, then home for 10 days, then back out, etc., until she comes home for three months at the holidays. She finished her 10 days at home today and is on her way to Cumberland, Maryland, as I type. So she was home, my brother was home because of Spring Break, Dad was home because he's only working a few hours a week at the moment, and I was home off assignment. Everyone being home at once was a strange rare condition that led to some pleasantness and some unpleasantness. Nothing major, just standard-issue family stuff, but four adults together in the house is too many, and I'm glad things will be back to normal this week.

Blogging was also down last week because the people logjam led to a computer logjam, but also I feel like I need a little bit of privacy to blog, and I just didn't have that. I should be back to my regular frequency this week.

So instead of blogging (or, for that matter, reading--new reviews coming soon, I hope), I've been playing a whole lot of Yahoo Games. In fact, at several points over the last week, I've been openly playing canasta. My first college advisor warned me that newsgroups were a sinkhole for time; she was right, but it turns out that online gaming is a black hole. Last Sunday I was playing card and word games for eight hours; just looking at that in print makes me feel extra pathetic. But if you're there, look for me--I'll be playing as margarineofevil.

Speaking of which, I'm going back to Cal U this week. After Lisa's comment I'm not holding my breath about the paralegal work possibility, but I will jump to that if it becomes available. An eight-hour day and a short commute has its charms, however, so I'll put up with the university work until something better comes along. As long as I can save up enough to be driving to L.A. with a car full of my stuff by August 1, I'm content.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

It looks like I'll be back to work next week one way or the other. Another temp position opened up at Cal U, so I may go back there, or I may have a paralegal assignment in downtown Pittsburgh. I'm hoping for the latter, but we'll see.

As a follow-up to Sunday's extended ramblings, I searched for other mentions of the "California falling into the ocean" myth and tracked down what appears to be its origin, or at least the place where my mother picked up on it. It is a prediction by one of America's leading historical nutjobs, Edgar Cayce. By the way, I spent a good bit of time playing around on after finding the above link, and I have to say it's an absolute treasure trove of information to combat a lot of silly, foolish ideas that float around in our culture. Hell, something like one-third of the entries have to do with things believed at one time or another by at least one of my parents.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

WARNING: The following is maudlin and introspective at times, as well as long. It should probably not be viewed by pregnant women, people with heart conditions, or anyone else really. If you're just here for the funny, then go to this site recommended by the Beallsvonian's correspondent deep inside the Di Bona Syndicate (or, syndication, anyway). Also, it may contain references to Atlantis, Weekly Readers, Pulp Fiction, pulp fiction, Gamorrah, cultural history, and/or objectivism. In fact, I checked--it does. But if you've got some time to kill, what the hey, at least it's not carcinogenic.

Friday evening was problematic. It started when I got home from work and Mom was watching a documentary on IFC called Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life. Mom is not exactly an objectivist--most notably, she would strongly reject Rand's atheism--but she does agree with Rand about a lot of things and is a huge fan of Anthem. The movie was not particularly notable, although to my mind it pointed out some of the absurdities I find in her work; most notably, why would someone who believed that the greatest things achieved by humankind are not collaborative efforts but the products of individual genius try to become a screenwriter, when movie-making is necessarily one of the most collaborative froms of expression in the history of mankind?! But anyway, I was going somewhere with this, though you might not think so for the next several sentences.

Ever since I started thinking seriously again about moving back to L.A., I have known that one of the hardest parts about this would be telling my mother. I knew that she has never been thrilled with me being very far away, and she had told me one time that when I originally moved out there she felt that she had to steel herself to the idea that I would just be gone one day. I assumed this was a combination of a mother's fear of her child being in the "big city" and a rational if overblown fear of earthquake danger.

Friday night we ran some errands together, and I broached the subject of law school and started mentioning California schools. She asked what other schools I might consider. I named some and let it drop for a minute, but she mentioned again that she had never been happy with me being in L.A.

(Aside: at that moment, I immediately and for the first time I can remember felt as if I was in one of those movie scenes, usually played for comedy, where one character is trying to tell the other one something, while the other is saying things that make it increasingly clear to the first character and the audience (but not the oblivous second character) that the thing the first character is trying to admit/confess to/propose/etc. is absolutely the last thing the second wants to hear at that moment. My verdict is that dramatic irony is much less funny when it happens to you.)

After taking a few moments to recover, I said something along the lines of, "Well, you may be unhappy sooner than you think," and then proceeded to explain the things I've been thinking about, my reasoning, and so forth. At this point I learned my mother's objection to me going back to L.A., and to me having gone there in the first place. My mother literally believes that California is going to sink into the Pacific Ocean, and this is going to happen in the near future. She has apparently believed this for many years, and there is no rational argument to convince her otherwise. Showing her this, for instance, did not help matters. At some point in the conversation there was even a reference to this book; I don't even know where to take a conversation from there.

The cultural historian part of me wants to deconstruct this ridiculous idea and show how it comes from shared cultural values perceived to be missing from a L.A. that is seen as deviant and sinful while at the same time dangerous--both because of its location in an earthquake zone and because of discourses on crime that go back to Dashell Hammett and Raymond Chandler et al all the way up through the Crips and Bloods and the Watts and '92 riots, as well as ideas about Hollywood as a decadent place and for that matter San Francisco as a gay mecca. This combination of ideas about sinfulness and danger ties in with cultural notions of Sodom and Gamorrah or Babylon, and so it's easy for me to see why someone who is as religious and open to very odd religious ideas as my mother could come to these conclusions. I even vaguely remember some talk along these lines years and years ago before some Super Bowl played in California (I want to say XVII) where they mentioned on the news that some people believed in this theory, and there may even have been something about it in a Weekly Reader. Suffice it to say, however, that I think it's all bunk; earthquakes I can see, but this idea of an Atlantan cataclysm is silly in my mind. (My mom is also a firm believer in Atlantis, and to my horror has mentioned it in serious discussions about georgraphy at various times in my life.)

But the cultural historian side of me is useless here, because regardless of what I say, I understand now that my moving back to California will be very traumatic for my mother, although to her credit she ultimately comes down on the side of it being my life and my decision. This is the place where I started thinking about Rand again, and how her ideas about Altruism kick in. It would be irrational for me to avoid moving to California in order to make someone else happy, unless the pain I inflicted upon someone I was close to in the process would ultimately make me less happy moving than I would be if I didn't move. Their happiness is irrelevant except to the extent that it affects my happiness. That's the objectivist reading of the situation. I'm not an objectivist, but in this instance it seems to me to be a pretty rational take on the situation, especially given that it's the take of the other person in the situation, if she remains honest to her beliefs.

How does this play out? It's pretty simple--like Jules Winfield to Amsterdam, "I'm goin', I'm fuckin' goin', that's all there is to it." Even as I sat in the car trying not to notice that my mother was gently crying at the things I was telling her, I realized that it made absolutely no difference to my decision-making process, because I am not going to let this decision be made by someone else for irrational reasons that I don't believe in, even if it tears me up to know the hurt I'm causing that person. Because for the first time I feel that I am close to formulating a comprehensive life plan to make happy or at least much happier, healthier, and perhaps most importantly not-poor; for the first time in a long-time I see light at the end of the tunnel and know it's the good kind of light and not the kind that slams into you head-on at 70 miles per hour because you're in the wrong lane.

I found this interesting because despite an impending U.S. invasion that will probably not be good for short-term quality of life, there are apparently two worse cities to live in right now than Baghdad. If you guessed that they're African capitals, good thinking on your part. But not from our favorite African country...

Friday, March 07, 2003

Oh yeah, in addition to weird propaganda, I also finished reading The Maltese Falcon, which is a nice read if you have 2-3 spare hours; it's short and quick. If you've seen the movie, don't go out of your way to read the book--all the characters in the movie are so vivid that they overwhelm the sparse print descriptions of them, and the story is almost exactly the same. If you haven't seen the movie, then go read the book or see the movie. The book is fine, but the film is the real classic. I haven't read anything else by Hammett, but based on this book I prefer Raymond Chandler or James Cain for my hard-boiled fiction.

Today is my last day at my temp job at Cal U. I can't complain about the way the department has treated me--they've been very happy with me, I've been happy with them, it's worked out nicely. I did the minimal work given to me and did it quickly and well, and they didn't bug me the other 5-6 hours a dayI spent playing online. Good deal. It's paid crappily, but that's not the department's fault, and it's to be expected anyway. I have somewhat of a complaint with the bureaucracy that's making me leave, but then it's probably a good thing not to build up too much inertia here anyway. Also, they may have another assignment for me here, so I shouldn't bad-mouth them too badly.

The department was nice enough to get a big Mrs. Fields iced cookie that said "Goodbye, Joe", and a gift card for Waldenbooks. That was sensible, since they've seen me with a book pretty much every day. (I read on my lunch break.)

Oh, and one of the professors was also nice enough to give me some batshit-crazy Christian pamphlets and tracts!

I got four pieces of "literature" from him. The least crazy one is something called "Ultimate Questions" and is a full-color brochure devoted to faith-related questions. The second-least crazy one is a pamphlet called "Can a Saved Person Ever be Lost?" This is maybe a bit nuttier, but still seems to fall more or less into mainstream Christianity. FYI, it turns out that, no, a saved person cannot ever be lost, so we all might want to look into this whole salvation thing since it is irrevokable.

Then we get into la-la-land with a 56-page booklet called "Strategies of the Spiritual Warfare Series I" by "Dr." F. Brett Ridgeway. This book has 5 chapters and 6 appendices--itself not a good sign, especially since one of the 5 "chapters" is a two-page chart of New Age/Occult Symbols--showing what they are and explaining their meaning. These include the peace sign, the pentagram, the upside-down pentagram, Yin/Yang, and the Mobius strip (which apparently integrates 3 sixes into its design!). The other four chapters are devoted to the four grave threats facing good Christians today: Animal Rights, The Earth (environmental) Movement, New Age Movement, and The Ozone Depletion Scam. Take my word for it, none of these things are up to any good and are more or less fraught with Satanism. (The Animal Rights movement may also be fraught with puppies; I'm looking into it.) All the appendices are wacko, but not all are equally funny, so I'll stick to my favorite, Appendix 6: "Quotes to Get Sick By". Here's my favorite "quote to get sick by":

Empower women, and many of the world's most fundamental social and environmental ills will begin to solve themselves...Jobs, education, women's health care, family planning and the environment are all linked in what is an underlying challenge to humanity. The common denominator is the status of women.
--Susan Q. Stranahan, "Empowering Women", International Wildlife, Vol. 23, No. 3, May-June 1993.

I apologize if I made any of you sick by reproducing the previous quote.

The final pamphlet is entitled, "Are We Going Full Speed Backward to Paganism?" As it turns out, we are. This is partially indicated on the cover, as the text of the title is slanted backward with lines indicating motion in that direction. If that is not convincing enough, we learn that paganism is infiltrating our society through the following: The Spread of Naturalism, "Enlightenment", Cafeteria Morality, Unbelief in the Churches, The Reincarnation Appeal, The Spiritist Appeal, Global Utopia, and World Brotherhood. The key to avoiding paganism is to understand that New Age-ism and Humanism are NOT NEW but throwbacks to "pre-Christian times when the world languished in sin and darkness" and not to by fooled by language designed to entice honest, unsuspecting people.

We also get a convenient chart called "Brief Comparison of Three World-Views"--Christianity, Naturalism (Atheism/Humanism), and New Age-ism. The comparisons range from the relatively accurate:

GOD: Christianity: "All-knowing, All-powerful Creator of man and the universe."
Naturalism: "NO Supernatural Creator; the God idea merely a myth created in primitive man's superstitious mind."
New Age-ism: "counterfeit "Creative Being." God is Everyone and Everything (pantheism or monism).

To the somewhat exaggerated:

AIM: Christianity: "to teach all of God and Jesus Christ, for the abundant life here and hereafter."
Naturalism: "to build a utopian society on earth through socialistic world government."
New Age-ism: "a utopian society through WORLD RELIGION and ONE-WORLD GOVERNMENT: everyone united."

This pamphlet is available from the Pro-Family Forum at very reasonable rates: 3/$1, 50/$7, 100/$12--although Texans have to add 6-1/2% sales tax, which of course we will ALL have to pay when New Age-ism imposes ONE-WORLD GOVERNMENT.

Have I mentioned that I received all of this bounty from a tenured, full-time professor of education?!?! The next time someone asks you what's wrong with education in this country, send them to me so I can show them Exhibits A-D.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Monday I'm going downtown to interview with an agency that places college grads as entry-level paralegals. This could be an interesting opportunity, or it could turn out to be really useless. We'll see.

Mom is coming home tonight from seven weeks in South Carolina; at least she won't be subtly taunting us with her temperature reports from Dixie.

In recent days the weather had started to look up here. I've been getting very sick of snow, and almost as sick of freezing cold, and that's certainly fed my recent L.A.-philia. But it had been looking up, and I was starting to think that I was done digging my car out from under huge piles of snow. Then last night my dad told me we were expecting 2-4 inches overnight last night; OK, that's a pain, but I wasn't too concerned. Then I woke up and looked outside and no snow had accummulated. I was pumped. I went through my morning routine, showered, and came downstairs to meet Dad, who had just walked out to get the paper (a 75-150 foot walk).

Dad informed me that I should start my car about 15 minutes early. I thought this was weird, so I asked why. It turns out my car, like everything else, was covered in an inch and a half of ice. The driveway? Sheet of ice. The front stoop? Sheet of ice. Did 15 minutes of running with the heater turned up to maximum make a difference? Of course not. I spent another 15 hacking away at the windshield and the windows. Winter has officially broken my will. I surrender.

Suffice it to say, my need to leave before next winter is now even that much more intense....

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Last night, as promised a few weeks ago, I finished Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. It is a recognized classic in both studies of water usage and the revisionist history of the U.S. West. The thesis, broadly speaking, is that the arid and semi-arid portions of the country have been "civilized" at an incredible expense in terms of both money and environmental impact. By and large, the benefits have gone to large-scale agriculture and large Western cities such as Denver, Phoenix, and particularly Los Angeles.

The L.A. portion of the story comes as no surprise to anyone who has seen Chinatown, but particularly intriguing to me was the way we have subsidized irrigation--often creating farmland at enormous taxpayer expense while selling the actual water to farmers at incredibly cheap rates. As a matter of law, these benefits were often limited to small-scale operations; as a matter of fact, they have often been realized only by very large-scale operations.

Central to the story are two arms of the federal government: the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and to a lesser extent the Army Corps of Engineers. The Reclamation Bureau existed to build dams, and according to Reisner it has had little interest in anything else, including deciding that a particular dam might not need to be built or is even possibly dangerous. The Corps tended to focus on the goal of creating navigable rivers, but both agencies ultimately ended up competing to build large projects, often with differing or even contradictory goals, and in some cases actually built projects that cancelled each other out.

The information in this book is top-rate and provides a lot of practical political lessons, especially focusing on the central importance of dams and other water projects in creating our system of pork-barrel politics (which, admittedly, may have been a good bit more out of control here in the mid-'80s when this book was written than it is now). I feel as if I got a real education from this book, and even at over 500 pages it left me wanting more.

Organizationally, the book is a bit of a mess. Reisner is a reporter, not a historian, and his twelve chapters read as if they were just twelve chapters rather than one book. People come up in one chapter at some length, then appear again later with a lengthy introduction as if we hadn't seen them before. The book is not organized chronologically, nor is there any introduction that lays out why Reisner structured the book in the way he did. I chalk all this up to sloppy editing, and I did find it distracting in places.

Ideologically, I need some more time to digest this book. Reisner has a "plague on both their houses" approach to partisan politics--he is equally inclined to attack a New Deal big project mentality as he is to point out the hypocrisy of conservatives who, as he aptly says in one section, "get up in arms when someone uses food stamps to buy mouthwash," but insist on millions of dollars of generously subsidized water. Reisner comes off as a quintessential muckraker, constantly in attack mode and taking aim at targets left and right. On the other hand, there are times when he seems to accept that some dam-building has worked out for the best--he seems mostly satisfied that Hoover Dam was ultimately a good thing, and he even argues that the massive amounts of electricity generated by the Grand Coulee Dam may have been the decisive factor in World War II. What it comes down to is that his biggest bugaboos are irrigating land that can only be farmed at much greater expense than they produce, dam-building for the sake of dam-building (and for the sake of bureaucratic self-perpetuation), and the growth of Western megalopolises. I think I'm right there with him on the first two, but on the third I tend to like L.A. so I can't totally get with the program. And just in general I tend to see the old-fashioned family farm as a pretty lousy way to live and as a very inefficient institution at this point in history, so I don't really support the subtle favor in which Reisner holds small farming.

What I am sure of, after reading Cadillac Desert, is that water politics have been absolutely central to the creation of the American West and to Sun Belt migration--certainly one of the three or four most important social phenomena of post-WWII America--in general. And if what Reisner says is true, as our dams silt up and our aquifers dry up, water will continue to be a central issue in our politics (even if it's not in the headlines) for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

In these troubled times, it is clear that certain things can only be explained as a result of man's inhumanity toward man.

Monday, March 03, 2003

Sunday, March 02, 2003

I have very occasional bouts with quasi-insomnia. These are not nights where I get absolutely no sleep, but rather nights where I have a lot of difficulty originally getting to sleep, and then wake up frequently from what never seems to be very deep sleep. I hadn't had one in over a month, but last night was such a night. I decided that when life gives you lemons, check your state's lemon laws. But then make lemonade, and so I'm blogging about my fitful night. Here is a list of things that happened during the night, either for real or in my dreams--since one of the few plusses about these bouts is that I remember my dreams fairly well in the morning.

  • Turned off the TV following a weak SNL sketch involving two Irish barkeepers and Ray Liotta, who ended up throwing a barstool through one of those golf video games.
  • Hung out with a former professor, except that we hung out at what was definitely the current house of my friends Bill and Terri, this professor was talking about sitcoms he would certainly never have watched, and the room was filled with the ultimate redneck signifier--empty beer cans being used as Skoal spittoons. Who was using them in that manner is unclear.
  • Thought I heard the shower going, which suggested it was morning and time to get up, but looked at the clock at it was only 5 a.m.; realized that "shower" was actually rain.
  • Learned that the current WWE champion goes by the moniker "Freedom", and is wrestling a contender locally going by the cheesy counter-moniker of "Nothing Left to Lose."
  • Checked the clock, it had stopped at 12:30, it had melted it was so darn hot, and I was thirsty.
  • Decided the previous line was too obscure and probably lame anyway; left it in in the interest of full disclosure.
  • Wandered through an unfamiliar airport with one of those disparate groups of people from different points of my life assembled only in dreams; we may have been looking for my aunt, or possibly dropping her off.
  • Counted backwards from 1,000 by 7s, an insomnia remedy my mother once taught me; gave up at approximately 734.
  • Woke up for good; found stuck in my head the song "Me and Bobbi McGhee"--female spelling to indicate that I was singing the Kenny Rogers and the First Edition version rather than the better know Janis Jopln version.
  • Thought up several bits for a standup comedy routine I will almost certainly never perform; forgot the whole thing, save the line, "When life gives you lemons, check your state's lemon laws."; wondered whether I had actually heard this line somewhere or actually made it up; decided probably the latter, but couldn't be 100% sure.
  • Cursed self on several occasions for the second venti Breakfast Blend, consumed around 6 p.m.
  • Noted the time on the clock: 2:37; Ditto: 3:14; Ditto 5:06; Ditto: 6:01; Ditto: 7:26--did not attempt to go back to sleep at 7:26.

In non-insomnia related news, I took a practice LSAT yesterday both to (a) become eligible to teach that test for the Leading Test Preparation Company that I periodically work for, and to (b) gauge where I might score on that test without further intensive preparation. I scored a 170. I gather that this is very good--the comment of the student worker who printed out my score, when asked how good that score is, was, "I've never seen one"--but what I don't know is just how very good this is, other than that it is more than good enough to qualify to teach it for this LTPC. If anyone can--through hard data, clever analogy, anecdotal evidence, or any other clarifying method--help me gauge the meaning of this result, I would be thankful.