October 30, 2004

5 Minutes on the Electoral College

Heck's Kitchen recently posted my Electoral College Primer. It took about 10 minutes to write. The EC Primer joins my Caucus Primer as indicative of the level at which I write, which appears to be for about the sixth grade level. Well, one has to start somewhere.

Posted by webs0080 at 7:01 AM


A housemate who shall remain nameless, went through the trail mix, yes that of the Boundary Waters Adventure and the Prelim two months later. Said housemate removed all the M&M's from the IKEA Tupperware, or so so she thought. Some brown ones survived her surreptitious raid, disguised I suppose as raisins. Of course I had to rescue them.

Posted by webs0080 at 6:44 AM

October 22, 2004

Moments of Truth

Today is the day we are supposed to learn the results of our preliminary exams. Although I have reconciled myself to the distinct possibility that I will not pass, I have not given much thought to the feelings I would feel if I don't. First, there is the stigma of not passing. The last person to not pass the American prelim has scarcely been seen in the department since. Next there is the fact that the entire field will know that I failed and that I will have to retake the exam. Third, and perhaps most important, not passing will make me rethink just what the hell do I think I am doing in grad school in the first place.

Some of the folks in my seminars make me feel pretty stupid. Of course, many are silent altogether, so it is hard to know what is going on with them.

Another moment of truth awaits this weekend: our first playoff game in the intramural soccer league. I take a little pride in the fact that I got us this far. Last Saturday, I think I saved at least a goal or two playing perhaps the best game of defense I have ever paid. That being said, I was not aggressive enough to get the ball. I am afraid of getting burned when I am the last person back. The good news is that the other defender is Field Chair for the prelim exams; let's raise the unhappy goblet of hope to social promotion!

Posted by webs0080 at 7:05 AM

October 21, 2004

Back to School

The last two papers I have turned in have been fairly incoherent. I hate being a bad student.

Posted by webs0080 at 6:56 AM

More Mookie Memorials

Bears Will Attack made this month's Day 17 the Goodbye, Mookie Issue. Thanks BWA. As Heck's Kitchen reports, the sniffle factor has been raised by the Mookie Bio-Pic.

Posted by webs0080 at 6:55 AM

October 14, 2004

RIP Mookie 1990-2004


Who's the best dog in the whole wide world? Mookie! Mookie! Whose million hairs don't have a single curl? Mookie! Mookie! Who has lots of spots? We love her lots and lots, She sometimes has the trots, And runs from tiny tots. Mookie! Mookie!


Posted by webs0080 at 2:16 PM


Acute Renal Failure is no fun. Mookie has refused to eat much; last night she ate about 1/4 can of dogfood (she has given up on kibble entirely) and several hours later barfed it up. As I ran downstairs to get the clean up tools, she barfed three more times. For good measure, she barfed again in the hallway as I scrubbed the rug.

After that, she settled down. For a while. She hacked up again overnight, but there was really no food left in her system.

She is basically starving herself to death at this point.

Update: We carried her out to the car, a towel under her butt to catch the fluids that dripped from her. At the vet, the diagnosis was acute dehydration. "There's a lot wrong with her, she is really sick." The vet laid out our options in order of the most heroic to the most callous. "It really is OK if you want to put her down now." Unfortunately, the decision appears to be based on our toleration for her pain and suffering rather than her own.

We opted for a middle course: she will get on a fluid drip and spend the day at the vet. If they can get her to a point where she will at home, then we will give it another shot. I reckon if she can't get up and she can't eat, then life ain't worth so much.

Posted by webs0080 at 5:05 AM

October 12, 2004

Back Again

I took a few notes on the AirTrain and subway into Manhattan. Sherm and I agree that the AirTrain totally rocks.

Sherm and her pal Sybil arrived at the cafe by the time I had gone upstairs and called Andy at work. We enjoyed our panini, even though Sybil got the ham instead of the mozzarella and vegetables. Sherm and I then strolled across Manhattan to the Hudson and walked along the promenade to Canal. There are many more dogs and many more baby strollers than Sherm and I remembered. We window-shopped at the Guzzi dealer then made our way back to 3d and A to put our feet up.

I walked Jill over to the West Village where she was to meet Liz Penn and her beau. Returning east, I made a point of making a small pilgrimage to the Bagel Store on Houston, where the blonde Russian emigrée provided me a salt bagel with cream cheese.

It truly is a dog eat dog world in New York. Back at the apartment, I answered my brother's phone calls apologizing for his ever-lengthening day, and switched on the debate at nine. I also consumed a couple of my brother's Newkie Browns. Sherm returned and walked over to Two Boots to get us a pizza. After the debate, my brother and I headed over to the Library, where we met his pal and were well-served.

On Saturday, I attended my third Heck's Kitchen summit. Sherm, my brother, and I met up with Brian and Deb at Film Forum to see Tarnation. We enjoyed the film, even if there was a bit too much primitive visual effects. But what can one expect for $218.00? We had a decent meal at Trattoria Spaghetto before walking cross-town, Brian and Deb leaving us at the Bowery.

Usually, I feel bad whenever I go to New York and do absolutely nothing. This time, I did not feel bad about it.

Mookie was good over most the weekend, though I have to call the vet and find out what she means when she says "We have to talk so we can make a plan for dealing with Mookie's [unintelligible]." I will call her soon.

Posted by webs0080 at 7:37 AM

October 7, 2004

Nature Watching

Some days are just meant for nature watching. Without so much as taking a drive in the country, I saw the following today

  1. A pair of young goldfinches defend their Nyjer seed against the common housefinches, who can't even figure out how to hang upside down to eat the seed
  2. Seymour the wandering cat play cat and mouse with a mouse. I watched the mouse stagger up the walk toward the house, and then collapse (as much as a mouse can) in the yard. Stamping of feet and sudden movements could budge not the mouse from its spot. I am pretty sure it was dead.
  3. Mookie's first ever hypoglycemic seizure. Pretty darn frightening. It ended with her foaming at the mouth. She spent the day at the vet gorging herself on their canned food (she has been refusing kibble all week).
  4. A bunny at school. S/he was pretty fearless. For a bunny.

I bet I won't see any of these things in New York City, where Shermanilla and I plan to see Tarnation with Deb Schwartz, Brian Geller, Esquire, and (possibly) Liz Penn too. Pretty swoopy.

And then it is back to the grind. I am bringing some grind with me, too. The rain is trying to wash this all away. I may have to settle for snow.

Posted by webs0080 at 10:55 PM

Let the Rain Wash All This Away

I came home from class at 8:30 last night, two and a half hours beyond the dogs' usual feeding time. I expected the house to be soiled at the very least. Instead, Selkie silently greeted me at the door. I began to let her out, but she got no further than the brick mini-patio at the base of the deck stairs before I spotted Seymour, a red and white cat who frequently roams the neighborhood, sitting in the bushes. Seymour did not turn and run, for if he had he would have invited Selkie to pursue. He looked in our direction but did not flinch. I guided Selkie back into the house and tried to shoo Seymour. He still wouldn't budge.

The phone rang. A friend missed his flight and sought to complete a job which had started for us some time back.

After I hung up, I went up to look for Mookie. Asleep on her dogbed, she resembled nothing so much as a thoroughly moldy sack of potatoes. She got up, came outside into the alley with Selkye and me, and (for the first time this week) ate her entire bowl of food while standing. Seymour had since moved on from our yard.

The only evidence of wrongdoing by the dogs was a lone clothespin, destroyed in protest of my time away.

The panic of the pre prelim era is behind me. Now the panic of what I hope to be my last full semester of coursework sets in: I have interviews to schedule (minimum five by the end of the semester), papers to write (minimum 7 by the end of the semester), and a presentation to prepare (today's task).

This morning, Mookie refused to eat. A single kibble. Instead, she staggered around the living room, occasionally walking over to me so I could steady her. I let her return upstairs. When she came back down, she ate about a third of her reduced portion. After her shot, I try rolling kibbles toward her. She eats about 20 this way. Still not much of a meal. She is getting visibly weaker; every rib on her body can be felt as I pet her.

The clouds outside are yet retaining the bulk of their moisture. We need rain. I need rain.

Posted by webs0080 at 7:03 AM

October 2, 2004

The Morning After

Eight hours in front of a CRT: no books, no notes, and a memory that seemed to fail me at every turn. I am now left with an odd combination of feelings: relief that it is over, some worry that I will not pass, and sheer exhaustion. The preceding months have been more panic that preparation. I can tell you that my excuses are top-notch, but the American field faculty will not take that into consideration.

The final result of much suffering was three very mediocre essays for my first ever (and, hopefully, second to last) preliminary written examination. I answered whether or not politics in the US is closer to the "pluralist heaven" of David Truman than it was when he coined the term; whether the US electorate is competent, and how principal-agent models tell us that privatizing public education is a bad idea. I am looking at a "low-pass" indeed if I pass the thing at all.

The most common trap is to provide only a weak argument at the conclusion of a longish literature review. I did not avoid this trap on the most critical essay (on the "thematic" question, which more of the faculty are likely to give closer scrutiny). The literature review approach seems to be a dominant strategy because it at least shows breadth. It seems more risky to leave out important work done in the field in order to give closer scrutiny to the really important works (the approach I took in the other "seminar" questions).

All graduate programs appear to have preliminary exams, but I cannot for the life of understand the purpose. Ph.D. programs prepare a person to teach the field and to do competent research in it. What on Earth does the ability to write essays on three broad questions in the space of eight hours, drawing on memory alone, have to do with either of these objectives? Even faculty seem to have no idea of the preliminary examination's purpose.

People do fail the exam: I know of one person who failed the American prelim (I know exactly who I will call if I get bad news three weeks from now), and several who failed the International Relations prelim. Some of the latter have gone on to become distinguished graduates of the program.

If I pass the test, my theory of graduate school social promotion will gain some support. My theory is that examinations serve as filtering devices. If faculty want to get rid of me for some reason, they will have a valid demonstration of my incompetence in front of them. Thucydides says that the most terrible thing in the world is to hope, for it means that your options are exhausted. I hope for one of three things: the American field faculty like me well enough to pass me; they decide to pass me because they do not want to have to read three more mediocre essays like the ones I just wrote; that someone else wrote worse essays on their preliminary exam.

If I do not pass, the future is not that bleak. I will get one more shot at passing before they drop me from the program, and I will be armed with comments from the faculty who failed me. And I won't have to take the courses over again, just the exam. And by that time I will have attempted another preliminary exam and be an old soldier among the ranks of first time test takers. And now I know *exactly* how many sandwiches and snacks to bring.

Posted by webs0080 at 7:56 AM