November 28, 2004

First Snow

991.jpgFriday night, as if on cue for the passing of fall and the onset of winter , it snowed. It looked great at first as it always does, coating the trees and the road. It kept going through touch football on Saturday, though it never accumulated more than an inch or so. Sometime before nightfall, it stopped altogether. Everywhere else I've lived, such a snow would be gone by now. But this is Minnesota, and we might well never again see the grass in the backyard again until spring.

Posted by webs0080 at 7:54 PM

November 27, 2004

Battle for the Feeder

Squirrels are supposed to not like safflower seeds. Would someone tell that to the squirrels perched on the bird feeder all day macking the cardinal food? Squirrels are supposed to eat off the bungee corn thing.

I am beginning to share my accomplice's hostility toward the rodents.

Posted by webs0080 at 4:59 PM

November 25, 2004

The Cutest Garage Ever


Apologies for the pride of ownership, but is this not the cutest garage ever?

Posted by webs0080 at 11:49 AM


gut1smSo the gutter people were unable to finish last Friday on account of the rain, which though mild (understandably) dampened their enthusiasm for working with sharp sheetmetal perched atop metal ladders.

Monday, the foreman (I assume so anyway because he was the fellow who conducted the walkaround with me) was absent on account of a death in the family and he had to go to the funeral. I came home from school/work and walked around front just to see if they were going to finish. They were, sort of. The foreman's absence combined with his failure to mark on the job sheet just where the downspouts were to go led the workers to install two shiny galzanized downspouts directly in front of and attached to the porch columms we had just gone to the trouble of liberating from cheap aluminum windows, rather than to the side of the house as the foreman and I discussed.

gut4smI should confess that I had been warned by our primary contractor that these people have to be watched. Truth is, all people working on your house need to be watched, including the primary contractor. From the installer's point of view, the downspouts go where they work the best. So the front of the house is ideal: there is no basement to flood there, and the fascia slopes naturally to the front.

gut3smWhat the gutter people —and many "specialists"— neglect to consider is that the house can be viewed as a whole project; certainly homeowners are inclined to think of the house this way more than workers who see only drip lines and drainage venues. In this context, having two large downspouts attached to the front of the house works against the purpose of beautifying the house, which led us to hire them in the first place. In other words, to gutter people, houses are all about gutters. To insulation people, they are all about insulation. And so forth.

gut2smThe gutter man who did not go to the funeral was apologetic. "You see, I already cut this hole for the downspout [see picture]. It can be replaced." (I think this is what you get for paying for good contractor's: they are quicker to "make things right" than the losers, who will simply insist that they were right.) We agreed that we would live with the downspouts where they were hung for the time being and that I would call next week if I still thought they needed to be moved. They will, and I will. The problem in this case is with the foreman, who neglected to share his notes (assuming he took them) with the other workers. Singling him out for rebuke seems heartless, given that he had to go to a funeral. Somehow, I think the rest of the crew will take care of that for me and send him out to make the necessary repairs.

Posted by webs0080 at 10:19 AM

November 19, 2004

Not All Days Are Bad Days

As the prof suggested, Week 11 is "the wall," and no theorist could be more appropriate for it than Habermas. So what if I am completely baffled by reading him? So what if I feel like the stupidest person in the room for two hours? I got my peeps.

Lunch I took with Natalie, who seems much happier in real life than in her blog. We are both taking the Theory prelim in the spring, along with this year's brain trust of Kartik, Isaac, Çigdem, and several others. "Um, theory is my second field." The highlight of the lunch was hearing about the travails of a fellow grad student, now ABD and on her way. Sometimes a touch of schadenfreude is the best you can achieve.

After lunch, while scanning an article I mistakenly thought I had to read, I talked with an advanced grad student — in fact the most advanced grad student in residence. She recounted the lemma a predecessor had postulated: "There are two ways I am leaving the department: (A) The Department will kick me out, and (B) They will give me a diploma. They have declined to choose option (A), ergo (B)." For myself, I am not entirely sure that they have not chosen (A). After oral exams, I may be more certain, and more hopeful. The advanced grad student also told me about the short memories of faculty: evidently, they do not remember if you low-pass or even fail. They do not remember the tears and the suffering. The relationship changes to one where they "produce" you as a scholar without doing damage to their own reputation.

After seminar —the one where I felt like a moron—I had another pep talk, this time from a fellow grad student who has had her share of suffering in the department. It turns out that her research interests are somewhat tangentially related to my own, and one of her fields is methodology. This could be promising. While entirely unsure of my ability to contribute anything to her project, I could see us working together. She was very encouraging, if not as enthusiastic as I about partnering up on an article. We talked about the inevitable and sometimes persistent dark times at the Department. "Grad school sucks" seemed to be a refrain. What was particularly encouraging was that she had really regretted coming to Minnesota, and now she was glad she had. Evidently, the good people in the department have come to her aid more than once. As she was doing for me. Sure, I was giving her a lift home. But still.

At the end of the day, I love talking about the reading, and I love talking about the work. But sitting down to do it, that is another matter. And that is why I am off to see the head shrinker.

Posted by webs0080 at 7:37 AM

November 18, 2004

End of the Construction Season

The gutter people are putting up half-round galvanized gutters on the garage today. They should finish the house tomorrow. The gutters are very shiny. Installation will conclude this year's construction project.

First orders of business next year will be painting the gutters and fixing the bleeding paint where the contractor tried to paint too soon before a thunderstorm. He has promised to fix the spots, but we are not holding our collective breaths.

Posted by webs0080 at 10:47 AM


I ordered a throttle cable assembly, speedo packing, and a neutral indicator light bulb from Ohio Cycle. I may be able to ride the CT90 again before the snow falls.

Posted by webs0080 at 10:43 AM

November 12, 2004

Funny Thing Happened to Me at the Clinic

There is nothing like going to the mental health clinic for one's self-esteem. Last time, just being there for a visit or two was enough to convince me that I did not really need to be there. This time I am determined not to leave without getting a prescription for some SSRI's.

A pretty looking blonde does her paperwork as far away as possible from anyone else. I feel for her.

I pick up the paper work to be completed from the tall (even when seated) receptionist. As I fill it out, a brunette mother with short brown hair fills out paperwork while her two blonde daughters play with the vertical blinds, bunching them up, releasing them, and generally squealing and gurgling the way a seven and a five year old do. Both of them are wearing pink pants. Mom is there, I suspect, as we all are, to get a prescription or get a prescription renewed. She reprimands one of the daughters: "The way you are playing with them is bad. The way Hildy is playing with them is OK." I can't tell any difference in how they are playing with the vertical blinds.

Mom goes to the counter to explain her situation to the receptionist, as the daughters push Mom's patience. "Hildy, don't leave." As mom explains the goods her psychiatrist at the U. of Iowa gave her seem to be working, the older daughter smacks Hildy right in the mouth. Hildy begins to wail, genuinely traumatized by her sister. Mom tells the abusive daughter to sit down, and picks up Hildy to comfort her. Meanwhile, the older daughter doesn't sit down but rather begins to cry, or I should say, fake cry, because it sounds totally phony. Rather than sob like her little sister, a quiet, high-pitched whine emanates from her. She stands close to her mom, putting her forehead into Mom's hip.

"I'm so sorry." says Mom to the receptionist.

"I have two daughters myself."

While this is going on, a tall handsome woman with short spiky black hair comes out of the offices to (I assume) schedule a return appointment. After the mom is done at the desk, I submit my paperwork. The blonde will have to wait, since I have been there before and my paperwork will go faster. As I turn to pick up my grip, the spiky haired woman flashes me an ever so sly grin.

In the vestibule at the front of the building, Mom coaxes the older daughter: "Now I really want you to apologize to Hildy, so we can put this all behind us." Yeah right.

Posted by webs0080 at 1:02 PM

We Are Not Alone

"Comment-ça va?" asked one of my fellow seminarians, as we waited for the down elevator, she to smoke a cigarette and I to make my way to the surface lot. "Ça va bien" I lied.
She nodded and fumbled with her Marlboro "Tres bien."
"Actually, I forgot how to say 'only so-so.'"
"Is something the matter? Like your health or something?"
The elevator landed at ground level.
"Actually, I am debating with myself whether I want to continue with the program, whether I want to give it up. But so much of the rest of my life depends on the decision, like what am I doing here at all. But I figure it is not such a great idea to make big decisions like this when I am feeling so lousy."
"Wow. So you are serious," she replied as she lit her cigarette.
"I used to get depressed during the summer. I would be so busy during the school year that I didn't have time to be depressed. Now I manage to stay depressed all year long."
"What's it like?" she asked.
"I seem to be suffering from a deep and profound unhappiness."
She seemed to like the phrase "deep and profound unhappiness," repeating it back to me.
"I feel bad that I am not really doing anything. Like, sometimes I wonder what I am doing here." she confessed.
"You mean academically? I know I do after taking [so and so]'s class."
"Academically, not really. But just the work itself. The writing, the reading, all of it. Everyone seems to be walking around like everything is normal. No one talks about it."
"I think we all depend on each other to keep our spirits up, and we are afraid that if someone speaks up the spell will be broken. Everyone else is so involved: MIRC, Theory Colloquium. I don't do any of that. I think the percentage of people in the department on anti-depressants is really high."
"You know when I went back home for a semester, and I came back and I said to myself 'I am going to finish this thing.' And now it's two semesters later and I am not so sure this is what I want to do. Not just the study, I love to read. But is this what I want to do forever?"
"Exactly. And there really is no end in sight."
"You know, I love the sunlight. I love being in the sun, waking up in the morning and seeing the sunlight, it just makes me happy. But now, it doesn't cheer me up. The other day, I woke up and the sun was shining and I didn't even bother to open the blinds."
"That's one of the signs."
"Of what?"
"Depression? Really?"
"One of the signs, there are hundreds."
"But I think it is really common here. For the students, and for the faculty too. And I'm not sure if it is the time we spend doing the work, the intensity with which we do it, or the environment itself."
We both shivered in the night air. "You don't have to wait for me to finish my cigarette."
"I know. But I am enjoying this. There's no way I am going to cut this short!"
"You took one prelim, right?" she asked. "So don't give up: you are halfway there. I haven't even taken one."
"You'll be fine."
As I walked back to the car, the idea that what our department needs is some kind of collective gripe session came to me: no one who just got a job or fellowship or just defended would be invited. Just us losers.

Posted by webs0080 at 9:08 AM

November 5, 2004

The Joys of Vintage Iron

All three of my two-wheel commute options are out of commission. Nothing serious is wrong with any of them, mind, but it is frustrating to have to take the car for

  • A broken metal instrument holding plate (Morini);
  • A faulty throttle cable (Trail 90);
  • The time to install a new fast flow gas tap (Maicoletta)
The list of things I need to do over winter is growing. At least the garage is insulated.

Posted by webs0080 at 7:08 AM

November 4, 2004

What Kind of a Country Is This, Anyway?

Now we know. It is a country where evangelical Christians are a large section of the country. It is a country where a popular majority re-elected George W. Bush to the office of the Presidency.

One of yesterday's seminars was particularly cathartic: nearly the entire time was spent discussing the election. There were there, as I am sure there were in many political science departments across the nation, many long faces. People actually brought vodka, Bushmill's, gin and various mixers to class with which to drown their sorrows.

One classmate spoke of her anger: she did not know how she was going to carry on her research into a conservative group. "All I want to do is ask them 'What kind of idiots are you to vote for him?'" Another classmate was in a visible stupor. He had blown off all his other classes, and would not have attended ours but for the fact that he was presenting the material. Another classmate cried as she described her husband talking to a pissed-off NAACP leader in Ohio. "What can you tell your people? That their showing up to vote, their mobilizing was worthless?" A third classmate described how she worked for the Dems this election despite her more radical left-leaning inclination. She had learned the lesson of 2000: don't steal votes from the better of the two candidates that actually has a shot at winning. "If politics is going to be only an expressive activity, then I may as well express myself more genuinely and honestly with more radical groups."

The professor offered the following explanation: Liberals are stupid. We are arrogant snobs who do not listen to the opposition. We blow off people who believe in creationism as ignorant fools, even though 45-50% of Americans (including the President) do. He pointed out that some aspects of the Republican platform are fairly incompatible with Christian philosophy. Tax cuts for the wealthy, for starters. If liberals want to win, they will have to induce some cleavages into the Republican Party, which has traditionally been far superior in walking in lockstep.

There are some social liberals among the conservatives. Bears Will Attack darling John McCain, for example. Republicans could stand to lose these few, I think, and still win elections. What they cannot endure is the loss of the "Christian Right," which is probably an unfairly monolithic term for a large segment of the population.

He asked us how many of us knew conservatives, and knew them to be good and decent people despite the fact that their politics were to us inconceivably bad? We all knew at least a few. We know from the blogosphere that the Christian majority is closer to us personally than it is politically. This is frightening on the one hand, but also cause for hope.

The professor's main point is that liberals need to speak the language of the majority. Even if we do not agree with them, we need to understand them. Theorists call this "deliberative democracy." Not only do we vote on interests, we discuss their merits with our opponents. Liberals can no longer afford to shut out conservative opponents from the discussion by blanket denials of everything they stand for.

The professor offered two examples. The first was Bill Clinton, who despite violating many of the tenets of his own faith, was able to speak in the language of those who had fundamentalist Christian convictions. He listened to people. His quote on abortion -- that it should be "legal, safe, and, rare" -- demonstrated that he understood that people considered it something to be avoided and that he shared their concern. The second example the prof mentioned was the Communist Party in China during the Revolution. The Communists did a lot of horrible stuff he said, but they were exceedingly clever in one respect: they took their best and brightest -- their most educated -- and sent them to live among the peasants for a year. Not as punishment, but to understand what the concerns of the peasants were. By doing this, they were able to "frame" the Revolution in terms of its impact on the lives of peasants.

Lberals need to take their battles out of the cities and into the suburbs and rural America. There are some obvious hurdles. Many evangelicals take their cues from the pulpit; does this mean that liberals need to get to the pulpit to make a difference? I do not think that liberals have to "give" on their own values, so much as demonstrate that our own values are in fact Christian values. I think a case can be made that the current administration is very un-Christian, but very few seem to be making that case. This must change. Was Jesus a "warrior of righteousness"? If so, I haven't read that passage. Would Jesus favor tax-cuts for the rich, to spur investment? It seems to me that He would rather give to the poor, perhaps ask them to find the Lord, but accept them nonetheless. It is time to ask Christians to practice what they preach: Tolerance and compassion for those who suffer (including those that have abortions) rather than judgment and indignation; to demand that a so-called Christian nation wash the feet of the poor rather than condemn them to entrenched poverty; peace, goodwill, and charity toward all men -- including those in Iraq, Iran, and other nations that do not share our beliefs; to make justice a reality through our deeds. America must lead by example, as Jesus did.

It feels weird to me to use and perhaps abuse the language of Christianity, but I think the professor is right: it is something that liberals need to do if politics is going to be about getting things done rather than simply proclaiming a right to have our way. We are ourselves entrenched: we can dig deeper into our positions and pretend the conservative majority does not exist, or we can proclaim once and for all people that liberals do share some core values that are not shared by the administration in power.

Posted by webs0080 at 6:33 AM