I have been falling behind on my blogging. It is interesting (to me, anyhow) that no sooner do I make a space for it at mayoreric.com, I seem to lose interest in it. It may well be that I have been busy with things, e.g. getting MT installed on my server space and developing my new webspace. As usual, school is interfering with my plans; statistics keeps me on campus four mornings per week, and I typically put in some hours afterward.
Now that I have ultimate control over the files that I upload and can find paths to them, I am tempted to integrate the blog into the rest of the webspace. There are good reasons to, and good reasons not to, I suppose. I recognize that blogs are public reading, and that that is their raison d'Ítre. Therefore, the more traffic the blog sends the way of the site the better. But I think I might be serving more than one public. Putting the site under one roof is a great start to figuring out what I am really about. At least digitally.
I am not sure what the significance is of the fact that the people that know me as a person rather than as their great hope for the future are most supportive of my next Lunatic Business Venture. I am sick to death of being a lousy grad student, and equally sick of providing no reason why I might be considered otherwise.
I am mindful of the story of a neighbor's nephew, a freshman at the U. He was snowboarding in Colorado recently, and had a terrible fall, breaking three vertebrae. Everyone is hopeful that he will walk again, and the preliminary signs are better than they were a week ago. That being said, within days of being told that he would miss his classes due to being traction and on a respirator etc, the U. called his mom and told her to pack up his stuff subito. The U. might have had some good reasons for doing so, like they were worried about its potential liability for the theft of his possessions or that they really needed the space. I would have hoped that they would have respected the busy schedule of a mother whose son (a customer of the U.) is on life support. In contrast, the ski resort where he fell sent a representative out to personally deliver his snowboard and personal effects that had been found on and near him. They told the mother that they knew he had not hit a tree after all, because they did not find any bark on him. The things one learns from the Ski Patrol.
The point of all this is that I should not expect the U. to allow me to exit gracefully. I think my departure will be more of the sort "Give us the keys and the laptop NOW. You will be escorted out of the building." And this is why I keep attending classes and registering for non-existent classes (thank God for pre-thesis credits!).
Shermanilla has been writing about the various places she would consider living, should the opportunity ever arise to get the heck out, at least for a while. Recently, we have been looking at Merced, California, of all places. Merced is a Central Valley town ala Fresno or Modesto that lies at the approach to Yosemite. It is also where a brand spanking new UC is going to open. Perhaps she and I are both something of real estate speculators. Every family has at least one, I suppose, and hers more than their share.
One of the nice things about a personal webspace, untethered to the U., is that the people who may want to follow up on me will be able to do so. One preserved friendship will be worth the expense and the effort.
The U. has made some features in its MT installation available to Mac users like myself which have been available to the Wintel crowd for some time. They are supposed to make boldface, italic, underline and urls more or less at the push of a button. These features copy and paste the entire entry however, making for [possibly redundant phrase] unpleasantly psychedelic reading.
I am sober now. Roomie heroically drove out in the sub-freezing temperatures on the chance that she would see me exit the Loring Pasta Bar. This is what is known as True Love, especially since we have been out of gold stars to place on her side of the ledger for a week now. Approaching her third pass in front of the LPB we met up where the River Road meets University. I drove for two blocks, then Roomie took back over.
It was really fun talking about Italy. Your reason for holding off on Italy for a longer separate trip makes a lot of sense. But Italy cannot be rightly snubbed for any length of time. Plus, Austria is already in some sense his, whereas in Italy you can share the language barrier. And he will like Brixen (Bressanone) and Bolzen (Bolzano) since his Austrian-inflected German will serve there quite adequately. Check out where Stilfserjoch (Passostelvio) is on a map. Then yodel.
Burning Man vs. Coachella is another dichotomy upon which I pontificated. The two events share dust, discomfort, lots of people, and entertainment galore. Coalita appeared at both Burning Man and Coachella, but she was born at the former. BM requires a commitment to actually participate in some small way. This replaces the passive "entertain me" component with an active "here I am and this is what I am doing" role. However, by no means do you need to come up with something on your own. There are probably hundreds of people going to the Burn from the Cities, and many are likely toting person-powered craft. A quick search of the listings can put you on to a smorgasbord of groups doing all kinds of wicked crazy theme camps. A friend of mine in San Francisco sets up a croquet lawn, complete with wickets and mallets, and kicks your butt. And then there is always Pedal Camp. Burning Man is a transcendental experience: The hardships are universal, there are no garbage cans (you pack it out), and Black Rock City is a giant collective. If you go to Burning Man, it will be a project. But it is one that I think you will really really enjoy. But what the heck do I know?
Previously in this blog I have already blathered about the relative merits of scooters and motorcycles. You may also want to check out the Susan Synarski Interview, where I ask her all about her experience as a new rider and purchaser of a Vespa LT150. I think Susan may have mentioned it, but I will reiterate: Women who ride motorcycles are HOTT.
I have been receiving a lot of counsel this past semester. Some of it has come unsolicited, notably from people who are not academics. One well-meaning person, who has exactly one year of graduate school under her belt (albeit from Harvard) gave me the following "pep talk."
I remember when I graduated the last thing I wanted to do was study any more. I wanted to be out in the world, doing things. I had been working hard for four years and I was tired. But finishing my degree was the smartest move I could have made: Every door that opened for me in my career is due to having that degree.
Although her degree opened a lot of doors for her, it took 20 years or so for it to do so. Following that patterm, I should start making use of mine by the time I pick up my first Social Security check or mandatory IRA distribution.
Another well-meaning fellow made the following tautological argument: "If you finish the degree, then you will have something that you didn't have before."
Both comments share the following premise: All things being equal, it is better to finish up than to bail. And I agree with that, so long as all things are indeed equal. But they are not. It is not equally easy, fun, or productive to engage in something that makes you so miserable that you contemplate suicide or become unable to do the remaining things that bring you joy. As I had to point out to the latter interlocutor I have little sympathy for those people that stick with things merely because they have started them, willfully or ignorantly disregarding their own happiness.
I have no doubt that these two have my interests at heart, as do my friends who consider me generally competent to teach—on questionable bases, however. The problem for me is that I am not so sure of what I really want. One friend thinks that I have already made my decision, that I am a goner.
I give more credence to people who have been through the academic wringer. (And I don't mean people with a one year's Master's—sorry.) Here, the experts are split: One Ph.D. tells me that I should stick with it: she gives the same advice to her own daughter, an ABD who is struggling with two small children, a looming dissertation, and a job that cuts deeply into the time she would like to spend on the other two missions. Her advice resonates with my non-patented "regret prevention" approach. Having made some horrendous personal decisions in the past I fear most of all arming myself with the "If only I had stuck it out for another couple of years; I had funding, I was almost done" bludgeon.
A second Ph.D. specifically rejects the blanket "stick with it" advice. He tells me that he has seen more than a few academics sacrifice non-academic aspects of their lives—family, friends, relationships—upon the altar of pursuing a career in the ivory tower. He himself regrets similar decisions that he has made. Since making those decisions, he has committed himself first and foremost to his family. In a sense, he has committed a quiet professional suicide. Which is what I am contemplating, really, though much sooner in the process.
The third Ph.D., whom I pay for his counsel, appears to think that pursuing a Ph.D. may not be the right thing for me. The hours are long, the work inherently isolating, the benefits—in terms of things which I value, like friendship and service—fleeting and abstract. In response to my regret prevention argument, he tries to show me that some of the decisions I made were not really blunders: I managed to live a good life because of not in spite of, the decision to abandon or delay an undergraduate degree. Still I lived under that particular cloud for a long time, and I fear that not finishing this degree will put me a under a similar one.
A young woman grinding through her first year of law school told Roomie her father's tale: He was in an Ivy League history Ph.D. program back in the 60's. He did so poorly there for a while that he was placed on academic probation by the graduate school. He did, eventually, graduate, go on the market, get a job, and obtain tenure. My wise young friend put it succinctly: graduate school makes you face your demons.
And this may be where I am now: continue to do poorly until they force me out. This can take a long time, as in the case of the grad student who basically made the department go through every conceivable hoop to get her out of the program (blogged about here). She eventually matriculated.
It may be that the particular work I am doing this semester is about as far away from my research interest as I am likely to get. Perhaps once I start the Big D., things will improve. The only possible way to test the hypothesis that researching a dissertation will improve my mental state is to complete my incompletes, get through the theory prelim, and get that Master's en passant. And from where I am standing, it is a steep hill indeed.
As I posted earlier, blogs both allow and force us to delineate the boundaries of our public and private lives. Today's New York Times Magazine has an article on this very point. I am six days ahead of that particular curve and dangerously behind on my final paper of the semester.
Often, the first thing that people learn about Minnesota is that it gets cold here. This morning, according to Yahoo! Weather, it is 7 degrees Fahrenheit outside. It was supposed to have gotten down as low as 4 in these parts, but the heat-island effect probably came to our rescue. In anyone's book, 7 degrees is cold. The funny thing is that it felt a lot colder yesterday, when the temperature (according to Biscuits&Gravy's thermometer) was 16 to 18 degrees.
The difference was the wind. Yesterday, the cold front blew in at a steady 20 miles per hour or so. It is unusual when everyone chooses to use the covered section of the Washington Avenue bridge. That is, everyone except the bicycles, who would have had to dodge all the pedestrians.
Today, the wind is calm. Yesterday, my cheeks went numb in the three minutes the dog took to do her morning business. Today, 7 degrees felt positively balmy. Not that I am going to be raking the leaves that blew out of the beds where we had neglected to rake them any time soon.
NB: I entered this as a comment on another blog, but thought it reflected enough "content" to bear reposting here [how vain!]:
I confess that I'm having to adjust to the fact that my bro, his wife, and now my mother may sometimes read this blog.
People with blogs have to deal with the idea of a "public persona," often for the first time.
A friend of mine recently started a blog but has not shared the fact of its existence with me (yet). [She later let me in on it, or rather gave permission for its url to be made to be known to me.]
We bothered a friend to start a blog and he did; his daughter has a blog as well. They decided it would be better for both of them if they did not link up as "friends" in the LJ [LiveJournal] scheme. This to me seems very odd, especially since LJ users can add anyone they like as a friend without permission from the linkee.
Part of the attraction of having a blog is sharing those intimate feelings we have but only with people we don't know. Of course, wives, friends, and family all find out sooner or later. Dooce does a pretty good job revealing the things that trouble her in her own life (including an incredible tale of severe depression) while making the content interesting enough that people keep reading. Blogs allow us to express what we consider to be at universal or transcendent experiences. The fact that we can connect with people who know us only by our public person tempts bloggers to create an "alternative personality" for the blog. I suppose that we all do create alternate online personas to some extent, since it is impossible to share everything with the world. However, when friends are in on the secret it becomes hard to limit our newly minted public personas to what we want to put out there. On the other hand, letting friends and family in on the secret encourages us to be more honest and forces us to reflect upon our experiences intelligibly if not objectively.
Friday 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.
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.
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.
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.
The last two papers I have turned in have been fairly incoherent. I hate being a bad student.
Some days are just meant for nature watching. Without so much as taking a drive in the country, I saw the following today
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.
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.
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.
Mookie's limp is not getting better. The anti-inflammatory meds she is on have not done a thing. She now ingests them, along with her glucosamine, anti-incontinence pills, and insulin at each meal. She has almost finished the prescription with no visible result. I am sure that it did not help matters that we tried to take her camping this past weekend. One last hurrah turned into one long hike in in the rain and one even longer hike back on Sunday, when she was carried a third of the way.
This morning, she fell down the last couple of stairs to the landing, and then fell down the next two stairs before she regained her footing on the wood stairs. She collapsed in the dirt as she peed. I fed her her food as she lay down on the floor in the kitchen, encouraging her and moving the bowl under her nose as it moved away from under her. I could hear the effort of her breathing as she ate. Perhaps it always sounded like this; I had never been so close to her as she ate. After eating, she did eventually make it back up the stairs for what my mom calls her "post-prandial nap."
NPR hosted a segment a few years ago, wherein the narrator described the giving of a lethal injection to his dog. His dog was to him, like Mookie is to me, the most faithful and adoring companion. Life, however, had become too painful for the dog to get around under its own power. He described cradling the dog in his arms as he administered the injection, as the sun set over the dog's favorite beach. He said that whenever the decision gets made to end a pet's suffering, it is almost always made too late, a statement I find haunting me as I contemplate what may be the last few months -- weeks? -- of Mookie's life.
List of Things I Should Be Blogging About
RIP my LaserWriter 4/600. You served me well. Many papers were printed on you. And some speeches. And posters, the posters I printed on you, to be copied on the Minolta copier in the "office" at Nutglade! Tax forms, annual reports to give to the CPA, cd covers for compilation cds. I knew you had paid for yourself when I lost track of the number of toner cartridges I installed in you. Come to think of it that last one is pretty fresh. Darn that hurts.
When I bought you, I had just replaced my 286 machine with a Power Computing 132MHz Mac clone. At the time, we had just opened Nutglade Station and we needed a computer with which we could make our own posters. Eventually, we added a scanner to the mix and our lives really changed.
You were always a dependable if unexciting printer. I would not buy your cheaper cousin, the Personal Laserwriter, because it lacked Postscript. I loaded many fonts into you over the years. Many of those fonts are gone. Your fellow peripherals are scattered to the wind: a brother in San Francisco uses or used the CPU to which you were attached, the 33.6k bps modem (upgraded from 28.8!) is long obsolete.
You cost 900 dollars new. In honor of your memory, I will spend the same sum (not adjusted for inflation, however) on a new printer. It will print in color, and it will hopefully print my dissertation, several times in all likelihood. And I will get some change back from that 900.
The last seminar of the semester. Presentations. Due to the constricted schedules of our seminarians, all twelve us were to present. Normally, class runs two and a half hours, a long time to talk about political sociology. To accommodate the large number of presentations, we planned to meet half an hour early and end an hour late, thus extending the seminar from two and a half to four hours long.
The plan was to keep each presentation (Powerpoint, please) to 15 minutes. With five minutes for Q 'n' A after each presentation, all of us could fit in. Upon arrival, we delighted to see that the prof brought a cart full of juice, pop, tortilla chips (the "plain" looking ones were spicy!) and cookies.
There were some technical difficulties, exacerbated by the fact that no one in the room had ever had to set up the computer/video presentation equipment. Plus we needed a key to the cabinet. We looked at our fellow seminarians email inbox on the screen as they went through their email for their presentations.
The first few presentations ran a little long, and it became clear that we were not going to end on time. The prof was really getting into the Q 'n' A. After the first two hours had passed, one of our astute if sometimes quiet seminarians noted that there were still seven seminarians to go. It was suggested that the presentations could be edited a little. One presenter demanded her full allotment of time, since had rehearsed her 15 minute presentation; it lasted 45 minutes, with Q 'n' A just about an hour. Then she left. If all of us had rehearsed so well, it would have been a 12 hour seminar without breaks.
We decided to chug on rather reschedule another meeting. Those among us who had children to rescue from day care or other pressing commitments bailed. During the breaks, we stopped getting "goodies" off the cart and stretched instead. All of us at one point or another stood through some of the presentations, to get off our cans for half an hour.
It was eight o'clock when when the other most locquacious seminarian began her presentation. She wanted to go last, but Quiet Insightful surprisingly held on her to the "clean up" position in the order. We had heard about her project all semester. We were ready for a long one. She asked us to cut her off after 20 minutes or so. We did not: she had been so patient to sit through all of our presentations after all.
She rambled. And rambled. And rambled. She was tired. Like us, she had been in seminar for six hours. But now she had to perform. As her presentation went on, she slowed noticeably. Her presentation ground to a slow almost imperceptible halt. Then Other Locquacious was surprised to learn that there was another presentation to go.
Quiet Insightful demanded to go last because it was her last day at the U. Her presentation actually prompted quite a bit of discussion; Quiet Insightful had volunteered with the campus vegan activists. This brought up a lively philosophical discussion of whether the Genesis gives Man dominion over the beasts, and whether or not that implied that we should be eating them. By the time discussions ended on her presentation, it was ten o'clock, and all of us were fairly wiped out.
Graduate School basically sucks. But it does not always suck. And the things that are great about grad school are not readily available on the outside. Today, either I neglected to notice all the usual crap that makes me feel bad, or I had a really good day.
In Comparative Constitutionalism, we talked about South Africa. But before that, and during, we talked about land reform and redistribution in Zimbabwe. We were fortunate to have in the seminar a grad student from Kenya who had spent some time there. She spoke of the democratic pressures on Mugabe to reform land policies there.
Her interlocutor spoke in defense of global capital. He hung out the old canard "Who are these capitalists? They are investors, people, whose rights also need to respected." True enough, but since when does one get to claim title to ill-gotten gains? Needless to say, the two of them did today's heavy lifting in that class.
The heavy lifting in my other class came from Fritz Mondale, who is used to heavy lifting. He spoke off the cuff, but he answered questions pretty well. He has certainly been around. What I found fascinating is how easily he fell into campaigning mode; it is as if the technique is so familiar and has been so successful for him that he can't avoid it. His address to me was "Who are you? What do you do? What's your story?," and then he listened attentively. He exuded almost enough charm to make me forget all the internal contradictions in what he talked about.
The red cherry on top of the day was that elusive prize: gushing praise from a colleague. OK it was the TA, but what the Hell, she grades my papers. Or at least makes the pencil comments. When she asked me about what I plan on writing for a dissertation, she said she looked forward to reading it someday. I told her not to wait up for it to get published, and that it was likely going to be pretty dry stuff. She said "I always look forward to reading your papers. There are always good papers, and then yours comes along. They are always so well-written." Given that I considered my last paper a total piece of crap, I marvel at what else she has to read.
Now, lest you be tempted to hurry up and apply to a graduate program of your own, keep in mind that these kinds of day are bloody rare in these parts. Solace more often comes in the form of other blogs than from my coursework.
So last night at ten, spouse calls me down to see the bunny in the back yard. When she turned on the outdoor lights, (s)he was just sitting there. We watched for a few minutes, until said bunny scampered off into the alley. This a.m., it was still dark when I let the dogs out, so I flicked on the lights. Lo and behold, a bunny was in the exact same spot. Amazing stuff.
I returned not long ago from an enormous professional convention in Philadelphia, where I stayed with my step-sister and her 13 yo son at her housecleaning clients' largish house on the mainline. I think 14 must be the most terrible age: one does not look fondly back on kiddom yet, and the pleasures of adolescence like driving and staying out all night are still verboten.
So. My birthday had a coupla themes today. First, there was the Target theme. Boys and grrrls, if you have any doubts about yer ability to make a nice presentation, by all means avail yourself of the the big Target near you. It can make a Garanimals of borthday packaging. In my case, polka dots with matching gift bags, crepe paper, and wrap.
The other theme (I should mention) is martini's, which I have never made, and have enjoyed only as the guest at the cocktail hours of friends. But today, I got the whole kit: Sapphire gin, the shaker, the glasses, and some accessories of which I really don't know the purpose. But what the hell? We are celebrating. Don't ask me what: I am Jack Benny's age.
So I make my first martooni (as Percy Duckfeathers called them) ever. First one: not cold enough. Second attempt: better. Of course, now the wife is insisting that I'm dead drunk. Little does she know of real drunkenness.
My boss at the computer company found an Alfa-Romeo to buy in Petaluma, about 40 miles north of San Francisco. It wasn't a Spider (2-seater convertible), just a Giulia. Not even a Giulia Super (that with the 2 liter and side draft Weber carbs), but a 160Ti. Still, it was a fine, fine car, which ran better than the GTV he later purchased.
One of the things about buying a second car is that you need a driver to drive the second car back. Now this driver is an accomplice of sorts; Tom had been in a sufficient number of relationships to know that one does not bring a disapproving partner up to pick up a spare car. Plus, I suppose, it is a guy thing.
So we are sitting in Ferrari's cafe near the intersection of 101 and Penngrove Road. As the waitress waits on someone else, Tom leans over the booth table and says to me "Isn't our waitress something? She is hot!" I turn to glance casually at our server, who is admittedly buxom but only OK-cute; mostly she is young -- even for a 23 year old like me. "I suppose she looks all right, but she's like sixteen years old," to which Tom replies, memorably, "The older you get, the harder it is to tell the difference between young and beautiful."
So if it's not about dogs or motorcycles I'm not into it.
Part One: Took dog to the vet today. We awoke ca. 3:00am to the overpowering stench of symptoms of a dog's gastro-intestinal distress. She hadn't been too firm this past week, but she always made it through the night. The fun part was getting a stool sample -- it has to be fresh! -- from her. Fortunately, we hoard those little hummus containers from Kowalski's, A few years ago, I could have given you the model number. SL-8? Anyway, they are great for stool -- and urine -- samples. Smelled pretty gall durn revolting until I got that lid snapped on there. Bottom line: she's a healthy 13 year old dog with a case of the runs. Rx: antibiotics.
Part Two: Got the latest MaicoLetter from the UK today. Turns out the Club Secretary is selling off one of his Maicoletta's to make room for a 4 wheeled project. I wouldn't have been interested, but it comes with a spare engine, which I plan to put in Red Wheels, my silver 250. Fixing RW's gearbox trouble is too much trouble. So Sec. Steve and I are working on a way to get the thing plus spare motor to the States.