Monday, December 31, 2007

In Pajamas

The kids have been out of school for about two weeks. Today, the last two weeks were evident. BB didn't get out of his pajamas until after lunch. I didn't take a shower until right before noon. The family room looks like an abandoned beach filled with the detritus of consumer castoffs. We could start a cargo cult. It's hard when the weather is so uncooperative. It's cold and grey most of the time, and a real chore to leave the house.

BB has been busy with his sculpture-like set ups. After being introduced to MythBusters this week, he's taken to setting up anti-gravity machines and personal flight devices. The key ingredient is tape, lots of tape. There are strange surprises. The flight machine has a piece from a space shuttle toy, a small plastic fuel tank, sticking out like a phallus - fearlessly facing the future. These creations really are beautiful. They are totally nonfunctional and created simply to recreate the look of things.

LB has started talking even more, although one gets the sense from him that he doesn't have much need to talk to us. He's surrounded by five years of BB's toys and feels completely secure with his environment. I really see the differences in birth order right now. LB's world is just a lot more settled and natural.

For the new year, here's some German hippie music from Can.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Old reels

AO recently had some old 8 mm film transfered to DVD. There were reels from both sides of her family, going all the way back to the late thirties and ending sometime in the seventies. It cost an incredible amount of money for about 3 GB of film. Making it even worse, the local company doing the job mastered the DVD with some corrupt files and an insanely backward and confusing menu structure. I actually think they expected that customers would go to them to get additional DVD copies, for a charge. In any case, first I couldn't get the TS_Folders to copy to additional DVDs, so I ripped the original and went through conversions to AVI DiVX and then to MOV format using ffmpegX. We had a playable and burnable movie. The only trouble is that when we actually watched it about a third of the material was missing. I went back to the original files. In addition to about 30 chapters, the DVD was also split into three sections. Very confusing. I had neglected to get the last two sections. In any case, I used a different approach next, cracking the VOB files open with bbDEMUX. This is apparently a lot more difficult when you are dealing with audio. Since these had all been silent 8 mm audio wasn't an issue. I then authored a DVD of the cracked VOB files (now MPEG-2 files) with Toast. We now have complete copies with a much more sane menu structure. To edit this material in iMovie I'm sure we'll have to convert the mv2 files again, but at least we are able to send the in-laws off with watchable copies.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Moon shot

We have a new (the real thing) telescope, thanks to my in-laws. It's very cool. Now, if we could only have more than one clear night a week. Here's a shot of the moon taken through the telescope.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bad weather

I drove through a snowstorm and then slushy rain to get home today. The big event on the way: a pickup truck with a ball sac -testicles - hanging from underneath. I almost made a profane gesture at the fool. What kind of moron goes to the trouble to attach something like this to their pickup?

The job interviews went as well as expected. Big name university committee was rather grim. Sub regional university was defensive. Other than interviews, it was nice to be in a big city for a change - alone. It was like I had a room of my own.

I'm looking forward to teaching again. Only four months until I'm scheduled to defend the dissertation. I'll be happy to be able to talk about teaching with some real examples, rather than the hypotheticals I've started to spout.

My oldest son spent two days watching Youtube starwars lego videos with his uncle. My youngest likes to hit his cousin, while complaining over sharing toys and territory. They are a month apart and so jealous of each other. The sound of 18 month-old discontent is like cats wailing at each other in the night.

Friday robot blogging

Monday, December 24, 2007

Jolly times

I'm getting ready to travel to a conference the day after christmas. I'm not thrilled about leaving the warmth of holiday family life for a hotel room in a major U.S. city, but work is work. I'll only be gone two nights and hopefully survive the couple of job interviews that I have.

AO's sister is visiting with her husband and son and we had friends in from another smallish midwestern city for christmas eve, so there were three 6/7 year olds and two one year olds storming through the house. It felt like a real holiday. I hope the years of BB being the only kid for christmas are past us.

The people visiting are Jewish, so they choose not to do christmas. I'm jealous that our tradition is so mainstream, but since I support AO's desire to create a good vibe rather than perfection for the day I count myself as one of the lucky ones. She's not running around in a holly leaf sweater pressing chex mix on her guests. We'll have no football games on christmas day, nor masses to attend. We will have lots of presents. My brother-in-law has also promised good star gazing tomorrow night and he'll set up the telescope he dragged on the plane with him.

BB chose to go straight to bed tonight. He believes in Santa.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


I'll admit that our house is barely functional at this point. I've had close deadlines and now job interviews coming up. I've stopped cleaning, stopped doing dishes, and stopped making dinner. My current situation is not unlike my son's. He's lost three sets of mittens and gloves over the last week. Today he went to school with what we had left, a mitten and glove, and those didn't make it home with him either! The local red spot is out of mittens, so we stocked up on three sets of gloves tonight. BB also lost all of his Pokemon cards today. I'm afraid to even think about the scenario, but he took a bunch of cards loose in his backpack to school and they are not there now. Kudos to momma for trying to keep us all sane.

The holiday is coming and we'll have a full house for christmas eve. No grandparents, just siblings and friends. Bring it on.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Waiting for Fedex

LB has passed his cold on to me, so I feel slightly feverish and very, very tired. LB's daycare also shut down for the week. We have someone coming in to look after him while I try to finish up my work and get ready for interviews, but today I wish I had the house to myself. I'd crawl into bed and not look up.

I'm proud of my imaginative older boy. For his class' christmas party, many of his friends were doing songs on their chosen instruments. My boy, not to be outdone, invented a song called "Rise of the Cobra," which he plinked out (improvised, mind you) on a keyboard. We need to figure out if he wants to be doing some kind of music.

I've got a refurbished iMac on the way, so we can give our poor, overworked MacMini a rest. We do too much music and photos to get by anymore with the Mini. Fedex's tracking is being less than helpful, however. Will it arrive today? Will someone be here to receive it? I've taken to reading "Fedex sucks" comments online. Pitiful, I know. But what's the use of having a tracking number if it isn't being tracked?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Kitchen sixties

This always seemed like the right anthem for the sixties: "I'm wasted, and I can't find my way home." There is no video of Blind Faith (Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood) doing the song. Here's a kitchen cover.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hey Joe

Version of Hey Joe by what seems to me a most improbable mix of musicians: Nick Cave, Toots Theilemans, and David Sanborn. Weirdly satisfying.

Amy Winehouse

A very twitchy Amy Winehouse. I'm more into the R & B from her than the jazz-cabaret stuff, but it's hard not admire her talent. There's a tortured quality to this version that really hits me.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Good jobs?

I have a couple of interviews for academic jobs in the next two weeks. It's good news. I know many people who didn't get anything their first time on the job market. It's also supposed to be harder before the dissertation is defended. One problem is that the places, while probably good jobs, are from the perspective of my wife in difficult areas to live. Either they are too expensive for a family or too remote. I need a job, but we'll have to think long and hard about moving. At least I know now that I can get an interview.

I did send off a revised essay to an editor today. Two years ago the plan was to get one of my chapters into a reputable journal, and I'm happy to say that the day is almost here.

AO is busy with christmas. People joke about how early the christmas season starts and about how hard it is to get shopping done, but these complaints never made much sense to me. I could usually get all my shopping done in a day. But there are more and more people to shop for, potlucks to cook for, and parties to attend. AO loves it. I guess the benefit for me is that I like to go shopping with her.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Breathing forgetfulness

Mom and dad and sister and her husband are off to Italy for the holidays. I can't resist posting what George Eliot writes about Rome in Middlemarch:

"The weight of unintelligible Rome might lie easily on bright nymphs to whom it formed a background for the brilliant picnic of Anglo-foreign society; but Dorothea had no such defence against deep impressions. Ruins and basilicas, palaces and colossi, set in the midst of a sordid present, where all that was living and warm-blooded seemed sunk in the deep degeneracy of a superstition divorced from reverence; the dimmer but yet eager Titanic life gazing and struggling on walls and ceilings; the long vistas of white forms whose marble eyes seemed to hold the monotonous light of an alien world: all this vast wreck of ambitious ideals, sensuous and spiritual, mixed confusedly with the signs of breathing forgetfulness and degradation, at first jarred her as with an electric shock, and then urged themselves on her with that ache belonging to a glut of confused ideas which check the flow of emotion. Forms both pale and glowing took possession of her young sense, and fixed themselves in her memory even when she was not thinking of them, preparing strange associations which remained through her after-years."

Perhaps Dorothea's honeymoon wasn't going so well.

Repulsor fields

After soccer last night, BB said he used the trick of the invisible ball to gain an advantage. I said, in order to play you can't add invisible balls. What would be the point? But I'm a wizard, he responded. The class he's in IS challenging. I think he's on the younger end of the cohort.

It doesn't help matters that we have an encyclopedic book from the library that purports to present the science and technology of Star Wars, as though all that stuff really works - in real life. Did you know that light sabers are generated by natural crystals and that each saber must be hand made? Or that a "speeder bike" uses "forward-reaching repulsor fields"? BB absolutely adores the book. Made up science!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Wet leaves

Spent a few hours Saturday morning at the library, which was surprisingly quiet the weekend before finals. Raked the backyard in the afternoon. BB spent some time with me, first lazily raking, then playing something called "attack." It's been raining (no snow, I'm afraid), so the leaves are heavy. My fingers and wrists are still jerking in unpleasant ways.

Both boys spent time at the local library. LB acted as though we'd thrown him on a pile of gold. It's great to see him getting into books as much as his brother. He can spend evenings bringing books to us, which also involves sitting carefully on our laps each time.

We're spending christmas at home for the first time since I can remember. We're going to try to put a festive face on the house and add some outdoor lights - I'll let you know how it goes. The lights will go on the bushes, not the gutters, thankfully. We're competing with a house down the street with santa's sleigh on the roof and reindeer in the yard; it's all worth it, though, to see a slumped santa in the yard of the same house watching a plastic TV. Midwesterners, I've come to appreciate, tend toward whimsical yard art.

For me it's yet another creeping step toward a full embrace of suburban values. Home sweet home, bros, home sweet home.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Waterloo Sunset

The lyrics are soooo English - "Everyday I look at the world from my window" - and it's a perfect pop song.

A very mature Ray Davies (The Kinks) with Blur's Damon Albarn . . .

Friday, December 7, 2007

Fantasy life

The fantasy life of a six year old is a complicated affair, at least as far as I can tell. Right now the door way to the kitchen is a complicated affair of tape, string, paper, and BATTERIES. That's not the play drawer I want to yell, but the utility drawer. The thing in the door way is a trap of some kind, which I hope is not intended to be lethal.

BB also wanted to call a friend tonight, someone he recently had a play date with. He had a secret planhe wanted to discuss with said friend. It involved some kind of trap, money, and the schadenfreude of telling the teacher of elicit contraband. We're like, "why would you want to tell on a friend." He says, but I have "enemy-friends." These are different from "friends." "Enemy-friends." Christ, let's go back to the batteries.

I'd like to tell BB about copper wire and refer him to the "Electromagnetism and Electricity" book he loves so much, but all I know about batteries is that they have polarity.

BB has already been talking about what will happen for the summer. I wish they had electrical engineer camp for first graders.

"Development of naturally interactive soft-bodied humanoid robot"

aka Friday Robot Blogging


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Take out

Once a week I have the boys on my own during the evening. We usually do evening stuff and bath together, but the boys do love to cling to their momma before bedtime. So, when I have them on my own, I get the full effect of being a parent. LB has gotten more and more used to having only me in the evening. Usually, he gets to nurse two or three times between 7 and 9, so it feels like a sacrifice not to have his mom. Tonight he didn't fuss once, which is real accomplishment. It's partly because he is so interested in his brother now, but it's also because he's learning to talk. Looking at books and learning words (duck was a big one tonight) takes up more of his awake time now. In the end, it was relaxing to hang out with my huggy guys on the couch--LB grabbing books ("more, more"); BB talking nonstop, as he usually does (about his odd hand-drawn diagrams, maps, and patterns, mostly).

Now if I could just get rid of the taste of cheap take out food in my mouth, all would be well for the night.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Jingle smells

Another of BB's irreverent christmas songs. It's like Beavis and Butthead come back in my own kid.

Oh, jingle smells, jingle smells,
Jingle all the way.
Oh what fun it is to smell
that skunk along the way

Jingle smells, jingle smells
Jingle all the way.
Oh, what fun it is to smell
the garbage in the sleigh

It's three a.m.

I'm up for various reasons in the night, in the frame of mind for a sort of free jazz. Here is a small sample of Tortoise, who I got to know when AO lived in Chicago. I think Tortoise is still based there.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Christmas carol, BB style

Hilarity from BB, who makes us laugh every time he sings "Christmas is coming," six year-old style:

Cwistmas is cwoming. The woose is wetting wat. 
Pwease wut a wenny in the old wan's wat. 
If you waven't wot a wenny, 
a ha' wenny will do.  
If you waven't got a ha' wenny, then wod wless you.

Still on strike

I'm not sure why the WGA strike bothers me so much. Perhaps it's because I imagine myself to be something of a writer and pro-union. How could the bean counters do this to us? In any case, week five.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Diagram of a Warm Child

This handout came home with BB last week, from Kindergarten. At first, I found it both hilarious and unsettling. Who wouldn't keep their child warm? But did we have BB fully prepared? Then, I realized what a concerted effort it is every winter to make sure that BB has a good coat, snow boots, and the like for the cold winters here. We've already zipped BB's down liner into his Lands End coat. If it's your first winter, like it is for many of the grad student parents who send their kids to BB's school, it can take longer than you'd expect to adjust. I remember a newly cold winter in my childhood, in the seventies, when my own parents didn't figure things out until about January. Work boots and a spring-like jacket doesn't work in the far north. What is weird is how hard it's been to find LB a warm jacket, as though one year olds aren't supposed to be going outside.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Sugarman 3

Raise your lighters (or cell phones) high. The back up band takes center stage.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007


I came across this bit of ephemera today. Pixar has created of website for a fictional box store, Buy n Large, for an upcoming animated movie that looks like it will be a satire of Wal-Mart style consumerism. The website is a cross between the dark vision of people ingesting Can-D in Philip K. Dick's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and the exuberance of a shopping site like The main advertisement on Buy n Large promotes a happy drug called Xanadou. My favorite item is in the world news section, which reports on technology: "Robot Expresses First Emotion: Thoughtfulness." Toward the bottom of the report, experts suggest that perhaps thoughtfulness isn't the best trait to emerge in a robot's learning behavior. It will get in the way of repetitive tasks.

The image that I still think about from time to time, from Dick's novel (described by Wikipedia): "Can-D [is] an illegal but widely available hallucinogen that allows the user to 'translate' into Perky Pat (if the user is female) or her boyfriend Walt (if male). This allows colonists to experience an idealized version of life on Earth in a collective unconscious hallucination."

On my earth, AO's work has slowed down a little bit, and we had lunch together today. Very nice. I also made it to the library to try to jump start my work. I hate being in the quicksand of a half-written chapter, but my wife is on a holiday high. It all helps.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Beautiful machines

I've been working on a new iMac today. My mother is making the big conversion to Apple, and had the computer sent to me so I could set it up with software. It's more beautiful than I imagined. It's such a cliche to get gushy about Apple's products, but it really is something to behold. Elegant, quiet, and, coming from our old G4s, quick. I also found out a great feature in the new Leopard operating system, which allows "screen sharing" via iChat. I've never had the time to figure out how to SSH into a remote machine, and the iChat screen sharing feature makes it all so easy. I can troubleshoot over the phone and actually make the changes myself, on my home computer. I loaded about sixty GBs of music in the machine, which wasn't easy. ITunes at first didn't want to accept a big folder of music, so I had to work at it manually, which took most of the day. Now I'm dreaming of the day when I can switch to Intel.

BB's cache of Pokemon cards is getting smaller and smaller. He's been giving them away, but not receiving any cards in return. I've been trying to go over the concept of "trading," but, really, do I care if he's just giving them away? He's really been able to exploit his mischievous side with the cards. There is a rule in kindergarten that they can't bring in trading cards, along with other paraphernalia - guns, glue, you know. The idea is that he brings them out only on the bus. Of course, as AO pointed out the kids he's been talking about who have seen his cards aren't even on his bus. So, how do they see them? I coaxed it out of him today. He puts them into an outside "net" pocket of his backpack and kids go to his cubby and view the cards that way. I still can't get over it. He's six, and already dealing in contraband! All I could say today was that if he gets caught we'll have to take the cards away. I'm complicit, to be sure. But as the wise parenting advisors say, you have to choose your battles.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Add me as your friend? The big deal with social networking sites like myspace and facebook is having friends. But what happens when you refuse to become someone's friend? Apparently, to be polite people add friends who they don't really want to add. Once this reaches a critical mass, people tend to move on to a different service. From friendster to myspace to facebook, all in search of the perfect set of friends. I'd like to see the behavior of kids BB's age on their own networking sites. Unfriending your friends and adding them back again would be the main source of activity.

Over the holiday, we gave BB some Pokemon trading cards to entertain him on the drive. He promptly took them to school yesterday and began trading with some other kids. He even gave away his favorite, Empolean. No one has been able to figure out what you do with the cards other than trade them, but each creature/character has qualities and abilities that fits into a larger game--which began on video. The cards work, I guess, like dungeons and dragons, which you play in a similarly imaginary way.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Six brains

Overheard from BB while hanging out with a big group of family: "I'm so smart I have six brains stacked one on top of the other." Today, he told me he was smarter than me. Wow! All I could do was laugh, at first. Of course, I explained that we're all smart about different things. But the hubris of this six year old. At least he knows what's of value, at least in his relation to me.

At one time over the holiday, there were six dogs running around inside. LB loved chasing the most friendly of them. When we got home last night he was in love with our cats, running after them and grabbing their tails. Every animal has been "kitty" lately, but he started saying "doggy" over the weekend. Now he's calling our cats dogs.

We had incredibly long drives to get there and back, in bad weather. LB stayed mostly calm throughout, which is a first. But his mom had to work hard at it. I'm most surprised about how well BB is traveling. He quietly listened to his headphones and read books for hours and hours.

On the way back, we ate at the buffet of a Flying J truck stop. They had the worst mac 'n cheese I've ever had, but the slice of pork roast was pretty good. While AO was away changing LB's diaper a trucker behind BB and me started to freak out about how bad the food was. I watched the manager begin calling the cops while I heard him on the move behind me. I didn't know whether to get BB up and out of there or sit tight. He actually crashed into me on his way out, hitting me with a big thermos. He looked straight me and all I could do was bend away and hope he'd keep moving. Which he did. Holiday stress, I guess.

Saturday night I discovered White Russians, made with homemade Kahlua. Now I know why the Dude drinks nothing else.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Time shifting

Yes, I'm posting ahead, creating cognitive dissonance in all who come. It's cheating in a way, but I love this feature of blogger. I'll be out of range for the holidays, so enjoy yourselves kiddies.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


BB was singing "Row, Row, Row" your boat while LB was nursing. LB suddenly detached and said, "row, row, row." He's just over sixteen months. Other vocabulary

Daddy (for all things good)
Kitty (for all things animal)
Momom (often accompanied by a reclining, I want to nurse move)
More (or mao, mao)
That (while pointing)
What's that?
Awh, awh (like Sesame Street's The Count)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

If all goes well, we should be even further north today, with part of AO's family. It's a long drive, but worth it.

BB has had a hard time in the last few days of school. Last week he had a bad run in with a student teacher, who feels he's just too much of a boy. The day before he'd come home with a plan to strike back at the bullies, so I don't know what to think. More recently, he had it out with two older boys on the bus who wanted his Pokemon card. They said, we're going to kill you with a bow and arrow (their parents, by the way, are bow hunters - way to socialize your kids people!). BB said, I can run faster than an arrow. They said, no you can't. He said, I can fly. So the kids rush off the bus to tell me that BB "lied" about being able to fly. BB's answer to me, I was only joking, dad. It seems like as good a response as any to a six year old telling him to die. I should have said to those other kids, telling someone that they will die is just as dishonest. No wonder BB is into magic and special powers right now. We send him off into an amoral world of petty thieves and thugs whose only redeeming feature is that they are too small to do any real damage.

BB tends to be stubborn and easily provoked, so I see a long road ahead. But he's actually been pretty calm and engaged at home lately. He loves drawing and carefully copied the details of a dollar bill the other night. He has become such good company I always try to talk him into going with me on errands.

We have a lot to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


The erosion of full time tenure-track lines is even more extensive than I realized. According to the New York Times:

"Three decades ago, adjuncts — both part-timers and full-timers not on a tenure track — represented only 43 percent of professors, according to the professors association, which has studied data reported to the federal Education Department. Currently, the association says, they account for nearly 70 percent of professors at colleges and universities, both public and private."

Although tenure may be flawed in some ways, unexploited, full time professors have more time for students, for preparing courses, and for grading. If you're grading actual written papers, the more students you have the less time you have to give feedback. There is a class system built into the situation. If you're at a highly rated or expensive school, as a student you will have quality, full time teachers. It's students at lower tier schools, which have come to rely on adjuncts more and more, that suffer the most from the situation. (The statistic above may not even count all the graduate students also teaching courses part time.) The average adjunct receives about $1500 to $2000 per course. At four courses per semester that's $16,000 per year. Do you want your child's education valued at $16,000 a year?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Bonus music today. Richard Thompson's tragic love song, Beeswing. This is one of those songs I've played over and over.

They welcomed sex

One myth about our early Thanksgiving celebrants is that they hated sex. According to the History News Network:

"They welcomed sex as a God-given responsibility. When one member of the First Church of Boston refused to have conjugal relations with his wife two years running, he was expelled. Cotton Mather, the celebrated Puritan minister, condemned a married couple who had abstained from sex in order to achieve a higher spirituality. They were the victims, he wrote, of a 'blind zeal.'"

I'm glad my zeal isn't blind.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Roach robots

Is this scary or just a little hyperbole to keep funding intact? What does it mean that in almost half of the cases robot roaches followed the real roaches? If freed from human control, are there now robot roaches out there randomly trying to reproduce? Can they reproduce? Programmed with swarm intelligence, I suppose anything is possible.

From William Saletan's Salon column:

"Engineers are integrating robots into animal societies. Latest example: Four robotic roaches persuaded 12 real roaches to congregate in an unnaturally dangerous place. Key trick: coating the robots with roach sex hormones. Objectives: 1) Study how animal groups make decisions. 2) See whether robots can fit in well enough to participate in those decisions. 3) Make robots better at learning and adapting. Other examples: robotic spiders, snakes, dogs, and monkeys.

"Scientists' official reassurance: "We are not interested in people." Fine print: "The scientists plan to extend their research to higher animals," starting with a robotic chicken designed to commandeer chicks. Warning: The roach robots were freed from ongoing human control, and in 4 out of 10 cases, they followed the decisions of the real roaches, instead of the other way around."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The real you

BB is jumping around on the furniture. I say, "stop." "Don't stand on the table." He says, "But I'm Pi Ka" (a Pokemon creature), "squeak, squeak." "Stop!" I say. "But I'm Pi Ka," he responds. My blood is rising, and I struggle for words. "I'm talking to the one in your body," I say, thinking at the same time how weird this sounds, "the real you. BB. I want BB to stop regardless of who you're pretending to be."

There, I think I made myself clear. But there is a moment of cognitive dissonance. And oddly, I end up speaking to him in the third person. I suppose he will learn to pity his poor, fractured identities as I now pity my own.

Then again: It reminds me of Rei Terada's suggestion that we would not have emotion if we had stable subjectivities. I have pity because my identity is fractured. Hooray for my inner Pi Ka!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Music Saturday

The Bellrays - Maniac Blues.
I have one MP3 of The Bellrays, and they seemed like a run-of-the-mill R&B soul band, with a chicken scratch beat, wa wa guitar, and Tina Turner-vocals. A good mix in my opinion. But this video just rocks. Like the Stooges with soul.

Update: Love The Bellrays splash page: Blues is the Teacher, Punk is the Preacher.

Friday, November 16, 2007


The writers' strike makes me hate TV even more than I already do. The mainstream networks and producers figure that reality shows and reruns are fine for their viewers, so they're apparently willing to let it drag on for months. What's ironic, then, is that I'm probably feeling it worse than your mainstream viewer. My primary TV habit is The Daily Show on Comedy Central. I miss it when it goes on hiatus for a week or two, and now with the prospect of it being gone for this election cycle all the joy is gone from my TV viewing. We pay for cable and DVR, in part, for The Daily Show, so why even have cable at this point? I'm clearly in the minority here. The networks seem to think that their audience won't notice the strike. Writers (the real creativity behind both the bad and the good) should go the way of some musicians and simply start bypassing the networks. Maybe YouTube should start producing.

The funny thing is that The Daily Show is one segment of entertainment most affected right now by the strike (they depend on daily, up-to-the-minute jokes, so to speak), and also the segment with the most to gain from the WGA's desire for a percentage of new media income: The Daily Show may be the one cable show watched by more viewers on the web than on TeeVee.

What would be funny if things like professional sports suddenly went dark from the strike, as though that huge segment of the cable spectrum devoted to sports were all scripted as well.

Friday robot blogging

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Quantum gods

I've applied to a number of religious universities, Catholic, Lutheran, and Methodist. Some are still associated with their religion (nuns in the house!), others not. I do like their commitment to a liberal arts education and they seem more hospitable to a subject like English than the corporate personality of the contemporary public university, but what will I do when actually confronted with religious discourse? I've already had to tell students that the bible is not a legitimate research source for studying contemporary media. Are students at mainstream religious universities more or less savvy about this sort of thing? I do know one thing. I worship the quantum gods, who may or may not exist.

If this seems too odd for words, read up on the web meme of Lolcats.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Spacemen 3

I made a new play list of old Spacemen 3 songs this past weekend. Finally, I've found the real inspiration for the psychedelia of Brian Jonestown Massacre. Mostly I poached from an old bootleg put out by Father Yod's label, Forged Prescription. Another reissue is entitled Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To. It's pretty straight ahead, basic stuff, without the wall of sound of something like Bardo Pond (who have covered Spacemen 3), but they do use the same sort of background drone. All in all, it's garage rock, but slowed down and distorted. I've never really thought about collecting music before - like having something more than MP3s - but I've come to love this punk psychedelia (shoegaze?) genre so much I may have to start scouring ebay.

I'd like to feed my head, so to speak. Instead, I bicycled ten miles this morning, on a stationary bike at the YMCA. And I'll meet later to talk with my dissertation director about how afraid I am that I won't finish the dissertation in time.

Sigh . . . at least I'll always have music. From Walkin' with Jesus:

Well, here it comes
Here comes the sound
The sound of confusion
The sound of love

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Back to work today

I haven't looked at my current chapter in weeks, and while I have a good start it's still mostly a mashup of stuff. I just need to get a few good pages written, and things will start moving along - I'm sure.

We had to run for the bus this morning because BB was trying to choose the right coat. It's going to be in the sixties today, but BB needs something with a hood in order to play the Emperor in the playground Stars Wars reenactments. I'm not sure what this augurs for his future, but they've got a complicated, multiday game going involving Stars Wars narratives. Yesterday, Princess Leia (played by a little girl named Wendy) was captured on the deathstar. We've seen enough photos of the ugly emperor to know he's a corrupt, creepy old man, so I don't know how this fits with BB's own self-image. If this trend continues, he'll want to be Voldemort when he gets to Harry Potter.

Monday, November 12, 2007

To be small and stay small

The title of this post comes from Robert Walser, who I read about recently in the New Yorker. A rising modernist star, Walser's fortunes fell as he continued to write about humble, courteous nobodies. One of his novels is entitled The Assistant; he also wrote a short story called The Job Application.

My research is about just this sort of forbearance. I thought again about the piece on Walser while I was reading a bit about Modest Mouse yesterday. The origin of the band's name really struck me. Apparently, it comes from a short story by Virginia Woolf. The full quote, according to Wikipedia, is "and very frequent even in the minds of modest, mouse-coloured people." Even if this is apocryphal, it makes sense. Brock's comment that I quoted yesterday is full of class rage and I find it fascinating that the band could have pulled their name from Woolf, whose comments regarding the petit bourgeois and the working classes are notorious. It seems that MM comes from the same impoverished Pacific Northwest as Nirvana, but they are clearly a bit more reflective about their origins.

Like Walser, Modest Mouse seems to temper their rage with "modesty" and humor, while maintaining a clear sense regarding most people's low horizons and frustrated ambitions. It makes me think that even celebrities usually appear on the small screen. From MM's Missed the Boat:

Tiny curtains open and we heard the tiny clap of little hands
A tiny man would tell a little joke and get a tiny laugh from all the folks

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Modest Mouse

I've been listening to Modest Mouse for the last couple of years. Since I recorded their songs off internet radio, I never really knew much about them. They sound kind of like a blend of Pavement and old Pixies, but they also take liberties with their music that continues to surprise me, moving from sweet sentiment to rage in a matter of seconds. They've been compared to Radiohead, but I like MM better because they have less self-regard. I guess I'd say that they bend the post-punk sound in ways that make sense to me. I found this interview today, and Isaac Brock, the band's leader, makes even more sense. I've often felt the same way.

From Filter Mag about selling their music for ads:
“Hipsters all have trust funds,” Brock says with a grin. “These are the people who can afford to have all these principles and ethics when it comes to doing music. From the time I came out of the fucking gate, I had to figure out how to help my family. And you're gonna fucking tell me about punk rock principles and shit? I had two jobs washing dishes by the time I was in seventh grade, plus a night job. Sometimes I worked for two days straight, wouldn't go to school and shit. So what the fuck about punk rock are you gonna teach me? Yeah, well, tell that one to me when you're washing dishes, fuckface. Where are your ethics and principles there? If you have an option and you've got skills and motivation to do shit, then fucking do it. If you don't want to become a fucking corporate butthole and things, well fine. Do the shit your way."

Saturday, November 10, 2007


I'm back in the bosom of my family. I got earlier flights coming back, which worked out great on this weekend before the big holiday travel season. It's been a while since I flew on a good day, and all just went swimmingly. I even got upgraded to business class on the last leg. Too bad we were only in the air about 30 minutes.

The conference was cozy and intimate, which meant a small audience but good discussions during Q&A. There was a fabulous and exciting keynote address, with some direct impact on my own work. I roomed with and hung out with an old friend. We had some old country ethnic food that he was familiar with and checked out the local sights. Surprisingly, I saw quite a few former graduate school colleagues. I'm the only one in the group that coalesced randomly at the reception still on the job market. But we've settled down in similar ways (children, houses, etc.). I just hope I don't end up in the city where I just spent the past couple of days. Where we're at, ironically enough, has become the gold standard.

LB just said Dahhddi over and over. BB showed me his new Vader winter hat. I'm home.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Friday robot blogging

Do not adjust your browser. I HAVE posted this early. Wish me well. Paper presentation today.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

I'll be back

I'm off to a conference for two nights. I feel bad that AO is left with the kids, but it will be nice to spend a little time on my own. PARRRTTTAAAY!

Just kidding. It's all part of the job and academics can be a serious bunch. Besides, I'm going to a grey, post-industrial city, where nothing much happens. The airport and the hotel will be indistinguishable.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Getting colder

Suddenly we have temperatures in the twenties in the morning and a cold wind blowing through. The leaves are falling continually, more than 3 or 4 a second from some trees. Winter is almost upon us. Brrrr.

The kids leave the house wrapped up in hats and gloves. Now, I remember I meant to get a new winter coat. BB needs boots and snow pants. And so it goes.

Yesterday, BB discovered Ewoks in his travels through the images and narrative of Star Wars. He thinks they are SO cute! Now he knows what LB will be for Halloween next year. It reminds me of what he said to one of our neighbors on Halloween night. All the kids begin running down the street with anticipation and BB turns to a neighbor and asks, what do you think you'll be next year? We're like, dude, enjoy the moment you're in.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Boys will be boys

Some recent highlights:

BB nailing LB straight in the head with a full-size football. The usual excuse, I didn't mean to. Yeah right, it's always the ball's fault.

Watching BB be enthralled with the kitsch they set up in mall corridors, like scrolling-screen race cars (what are these things?) and clay dragons and sports themed yard furniture.

Seeing LB attached to BB at the hip, running, eating, drinking, brushing teeth, throwing balls, and sleeping exactly like his big brother. If BB is playing with anything LB says, Mah (meaning more, or, I want that).

Hearing BB yell, you're a baby, over and over at LB. Good, I'm glad we have that established.

LB is starting vaguely to ask, what's that. BB answers him (that's a horse, etc.) and every time LB says, oh, like yeah, I understand perfectly. If it seems particularly interesting to him, LB says, wow.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Halloween is for having kids

Here is a long dooce post on why Halloween is so good with kids. We would have to agree. And I think given the shut up nature of suburban life, it throws into relief how exciting it is to have your kids (and yourselves) take over the streets. Many forces, including our own city, gently encourage people to trick or treat at the mall or on fraternity row. It's even become something of a culture war: Halloween is supposedly anti-Christian and even liberal. Hurrah for our neighborhood for letting the kids run wild for a night!

If 6 was 9

Raucous jazz (Charlie Hunter) version of If Six Was Nine. If you have the time and inclination, about 4:00 minutes in watch a seriously electrified saxophone channel Jimi Hendrix's guitar. Also, check out Hunter's eight-string guitar.

Some common superstitions about the number six are:
*It is unlucky to purposively turn the number six upside down in jest as it means your projects will not be completed.
*If you find a rose with six petals it means you will be lucky in love.
*A talisman with the number 6 worn on it means you will be protected against hurricanes and tornados.
*If you dream about the number 6 you will soon have sex.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

DJ Shadow

Known as a "digger," his samples are obscure and amazing. Watch him in the documentary Scratch (2002), combing the basement of a record shop in Sacramento, CA (my birthplace).

BB photo

Saturday, November 3, 2007


A little departure today from my usual family guy self to my inner geek. I put a 500 GB drive in the basement computer this morning, an MDD G4 that now has three separate drives. Over the last few days I upgraded our machines to Leopard, OS 10.5. The upgrade has a new backup feature called Time Machine, which automates the process. I've been using Chronosync to do daily backups of my work and weekly backups of our photos and music, but when I found out I could use Time Machine over AFP shares I decided to give it a try. The new operating system is supposed to make wireless networking even more stable, although our network has been running pretty smoothly since we switched out a Buffalo router for an Airport. In any case, doing hourly backups over the network should test its stability. By the way, the 500 GB drive cost just over $100 from Newegg. A remarkable price for that much space.

For those in the know, I'm not sure if I find Cover Flow any better than column view. I may have to change my nested habits, but given how iPhoto and iTunes organize folders and files I'm not sure we'll see the end of nested folders any time soon. One of these days, I suppose, with mechanisms like Spotlight and Cover Flow, one won't need anything more than one big folder for everything.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Friday robot blogging

Special Edition: cute cat robots

Thursday, November 1, 2007


Trick or treating with a group of neighbor kids last night was awesome. Essentially we ended up with all the kids who use our bus stop. The first grader from around the corner was especially glad to have BB along. We also talked with another one of our neighbors who works in IT exclusively on Macs. Being a bit of a mac fanboy myself, it was great to chat with someone who lives and breathes his fandom. Best of all, he was dressed as the new OS X, Leopard, complete with a tail. Awesome!

Most popular treat: little Darth Vader masks filled with candy.
Best costume: AO's retro Halloween dress. She looks like an indie girl at a Dinosaur Jr. show.
Best moment: watching LB do a running waddle down a dark street in his Yoda costume.
Weirdest: hanging out with real native-born types who grew up in this neighborhood.
Most gratifying: when a Brazilian friend turned to us with a big smile and said, this is what I like best about American culture. It must seem like Carnivale, but for kids.
Most surprising: when LB spontaneously said Bubbles after mom blew some into the air. Let me repeat, he pointed into the air and said, bubbllh, over and over. Most awesome.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tom Petty

AO and I watched half of Peter Bogdanovich's documentary on Tom Petty last night. Truth be told, Damn the Torpedoes (1979) was one the first albums I ever owned (the jazz saxophonist, Eddie Harris, was the other). The back story on Torpedoes is even more interesting than I thought. After his first two albums, he fought his record label (following its purchase by a larger conglomerate) to gain control of his publishing rights. He was a defiant dude. Torpedoes was the subsequent album. You can really tell that this third album was a mature one. "Here Comes My Girl," "Even the Losers" and "Refugee" are great songs. Of course to my early adolescent sensibilities they were even better. But I'm impressed with my taste after all these years. Tom Petty is sort of the southern version of songwriters like Patti Smith and Elvis Costello, even though he was a bit of a pretty boy. His biography is interesting as well. He grew up lower middle class in Gainseville, a bit of a sissy, with an authoritarian father. You can hear these themes in Refugee.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The most annoying kid ever

BB and I went to the supermarket yesterday. Unlike the little health food coop, the aisles in the supermarket are big enough to skip, run, and jump around in. Which is what BB does. He fell once and I must have said slow down at least 10 times. But mostly it's harmless. He did use the opportunity of a passing cart to scoot by me, barely missing the old woman pushing the cart. That garnered a sterner warning from me. I was pleased, though, when he became the most annoying kid ever. We got stuck behind a costumer and her daughter having some problem about a price or scanning their credit card. I became more and more impatient as a supervisor was called over. I was delighted, then, when BB took one of the usual objects in his hand and began banging it repeatedly on the metal portion of the conveyor belt. Bang, bang, bang, while the costumer ahead kept looking over with increasing annoyance. I could have stopped him immediately. But I let him keep doing it for a full minute or so. Bang, bang, bang. It was what I wanted to be doing. Finally, I pulled him away and he quit without a peep. Vengeance was mine! It occurs to me that all parents must use their kids as passive aggressive mechanisms from time to time.

Monday, October 29, 2007


I looked down the other day as BB and I did errands and focused on the two figurines he was carrying in his hand. He carries these things all the time (a little Darth Vader and a surprisingly butch-looking Princess Leia), to bed, to school, in the car. Before that, it was little plastic dinosaurs and even before that various favorite Thomas trains. But with the latest figurines, it's just so clear that they are his dolls. They've collapsed his prior attachments to objects and his now mostly gone imaginary friends into little humanoid creatures. They go everywhere with him and are incorporated into all of his play. They climb couch cushions, walk vast expanses of floor, eat with him at dinner, help him choose clothes in the morning. And they play out his fantasies, which at this point mostly include light-saber fu of various sorts. Right now they are fighting a big homemade snake in the family room, with crayons standing in for sabers (which were quickly lost). I assume they'll be slaying this dragon by the time we're ready to sit down to breakfast.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dress up

It's Halloween season. A popular time with kids, parents, and, apparently, college students. There is a costume store nearby that has been crawling with college students all weekend. (Fight for your right . . . to . . . PARRRTTTTY!) Back in San Francisco I used to hit the Castro on Halloween, which was a big parade of outrageousness. I seem to recall a skinny artist friend cross-dressed as a mafia moll waving a little gun in the air . . . those were the days.

In any case, Halloween is big around our house. Usually, AO makes BB's costume, but this year we bought him the Darth Vader costume. LB is Yoda and, unlike BB, his costume IS homemade. His mom made big green ears and put him in a baby, martial-arts-looking bathrobe. We went out today for a Parks & Recs "fairy tale trail," where the three little pigs and the big bad wolf hand out candy to touring costumed children. We saw Captain Hook and Peter Pan; Bud Light Year; little jaded rock stars; dinosaur toddlers; and lots of pirates. Everyone was cute, cute, cute, including mom, who had on a black retro dress with a Halloween print theme and a velvet cape. Me? I was a proud daddy.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Aahh, surveys of Americans always turn up these irrational beliefs:

"According to a new Associated Press/Ispos poll of 1,013 adults in the US, approximately one out of three people believe in ghosts, 19 percent in spells or witchcraft, 48 percent in ESP, and 34 percent in UFOs. Meanwhile, 23 percent claim to have 'seen or believed (they) were in the presence of a ghost,' 14 percent say they have sighted a UFO, and only five percent have 'seen a monster in the closet of (their) bedroom.'" source: boingboing

Truth be told, I saw UFOs when I was a kid while traveling long distance with my parents one night. And I saw some kind of devil creature on a sleep over when I was 11. I mean, I remember these things clearly. The former I think I can explain as Northern Lights - we were traveling between Idaho and Seattle, after all - and I was half asleep. The latter I can't explain with such ease. A dream? Anxiety? The devil creature ran around the bed like some kind of heat signature. It's still mysterious to me.

I also saw lots of weirdness later, when I began experimenting . . . but that is another story. While I differ from those in the survey who believe, I do think that the brain is a beautiful and fickle organ capable of creating all kinds of transient phenomena. Sometimes, though, I'm almost convinced that my partner reads my mind. But she can't, can she?

Friday, October 26, 2007


10:30 p.m. Asleep
11:30 p.m. LB fussy, wants to nurse, in bed with us
12:30 p.m. LB fussing more, tosses against me, then to his mother, back again
1:30 a.m. LB to crib, starts to cry, back to big bed
2:00 a.m. BB in room to let us know he needs to pee
2:05 a.m. BB claims his room is too dark, hall light turned on
2:15 a.m. Cat let out, I groan about high maintenance cats
6:00 a.m. Light in hall shining in my eyes, but apparently I slept through it
6:01 a.m. Marvel at how we sleep through LB's loud snorty breathing
6:02 a.m. Start obsessing about job search, maybe need new suit, luggage.

Friday robot blogging

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Glory box

I need an in-house editor.  20 or so application letters into the job search process and I keep finding little niggling errors in everything I send out. Information breaks down, flooding my abilities to keep up. Given my ambivalence about the whole endeavor, maybe I should go to a fortune teller, or, even better, get a Tarot card reading.  I'm as likely to get some better understanding of what I'm up against from them as from anything else.

In a pinch, digital music will always satisfy. I'd been meaning to put up some of my favorite shoegaze, but the youtube videos are all too muddy. Instead, here is some psych funk by Massive Attack and Portishead.  The song is Glory Box, which seems to be very popular in places like Spain and Brazil. The video is long, but, wow, does it hit my sweet spot. As a comment on youtube puts it, "excelente extremo en el infinito."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Old hippie

I used to think that I would grow old to become a hippie who didn't give a damn.  I'd be off the grid, making my own music and love, and living a self-fulfilled life.  As I get older, I realize how unrealistic this little fantasy was.  I'd like to be off the grid and self-fulfilled, but now that I have kids and feel the pressure to have a middle-class income I just don't see it happening anymore.

Really, though, I think there's a shallower reason for giving up the dream.  It's simple shame.  For example. Looking around my campus, I'm embarrassed by the (mostly male) professors that let themselves go. They wear ugly tennis-shoe hybrids, lackluster khaki pants, and 10 year-old shirts.  They don't cut their ear hair.  I SHOULD be able to do the same, but I'll always anxiously want to stay current, wearing the latest style of shoes.  I'm not proud of this fact, especially when I dream of my inner hippie.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Time-saving device

I wish there were a silicon-based device that did more to help me get work done than my simple computer. In addition to writing the majority of a chapter by the end of the year, in the next six weeks I have two conference papers to write and a revision for a forthcoming article to complete. Plus, there are 20 some odd application letters to do. It was really wonderful having the boys' grandparents in town, but I'm glad to finally have the space to get some work done. First, to the job stuff. I have a dissertation abstract to revise and letters to personalize.

In other news, I dreamt I was in an earthquake last night. I managed to escape from a crumbling building, but couldn't get across the city to join my family before waking up. I went through the 1989 quake pictured below.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Weekend bliss

Both boys had a great weekend. They had a set of grandparents in town to spoil them. The weather was warm and clear. We played lots of soccer, both at the soccer complex and in the back yard. We went for a hike. We barbecued. We had a few long lunches, including a wine-soaked one on the patio of a local winery. The scenery was magnificent, the trees are turning red and gold, and there were lots of people also out sharing the experience. LB has tended to be fussy during the day, but not this weekend. Now, it's back to the grind. I understand that rain is on the way.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Two surreal photos of Sesame Street that BB took. I'm not sure when he took them, but today I found them in iPhoto. Actually, the photos he's taken in the past few months always have an off-kilter look to them that I find really attractive. More to come, I hope.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Friday robot blogging

I'm a day late.  Network connection was down yesterday.  Enjoy your weekly robot image.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bus stop bow hunter

In my latest adventures with the parents who bring their kids to the bus stop I have spoken about hunting and guns with neighbor dude. The state-at-home dad from around the corner who does not appear to cook and clean as I do is apparently a bow hunter. This means he sits quietly in trees and kills deer at close range. In season, he tells me, he also hunts with muzzleloaders. He is a traditionalist, something an idealist when it comes to hunting in the old ways. But later in the week he seemed to be pouring it on a little thick when he claimed to have killed moles with a shotgun. Not only does this seem far-fetched, but can you imagine waiting to see a mole come tunneling along? I don't doubt that a shotgun would do the job, but who sits out on their lawn all day cradling a shotgun? It's like pruning with a sword.

Apparently, it's also common to take the little ones out on their first hunting trips with shotguns. I assume that they carry shotguns because it's less likely that they'll miss. But shotguns, especially if you intend to kill a deer, don't have much range. You'd have to be awfully close, perhaps within bow and arrow range. But then the wound from a shotgun would be big and messy.

All of this makes me feel tremendously naive.  If he asks me if I've ever hunted I'm going to tell him that I grew up as something like a Quaker, which isn't far from the truth.  If I had stayed in the faith, I would have been given non-combatant status if I ever found myself in the military.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


BB was rehearsing his knowledge of Stars Wars the other night. He gets this knowledge in dribs and drabs from other kids and from us, because he's never seen any of the movies. As he described to himself how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader it dawned on him that the fight between Luke and Darth was a fight between father and son. You could see the irony spreading across his face in a big smile. I felt sort of queasy when I saw that smile.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Job search moodiness

On the play list. An Elliot Smith cover.

Big smile

Meeting BB at the bus yesterday was also a 5-year-old friend, here for a play date.  To BB's mind, it was probably like being met at the airport.  He bounded off with a huge smile and gave his friend a big hug.  The old lady next door, mowing another 1/4 inch off her lawn, was so taken with the scene that she switched off the mower and sat down to talk to the boys.  She obviously hasn't had much experience with little kids recently, but she was charmed by their disarming nature.  Somehow their conversation turned to video games, and BB told her about watching a friend's brother play a game in which you could get KILLED.  He said it with relish, but it's clearly stuck in his mind, this watching a friend's brother.   The play date went great.  The older they get the easier it all becomes.  They slam the door and huddle in BB's room and, I think, ah, now I can get work done.

P.S.  Yesterday was Blog Action Day.  I'm not much of a blogger (I won't be donating my day's blogging income), but I certainly support its goals.  Like everything else, the big problem in this world is that those who love power would rather try to stop time than adapt to a different world.  It's funny, though -- our electricity has been going out all the time recently.  The common wisdom in the neighborhood is that it's squirrels shorting things out.  The squirrels are busy at this time of year.  But we've probably saved more in our hour-long power outages than turning lights off for a year.  In any case, drive less, turn off the lights, and recycle!

Monday, October 15, 2007


I watched parts of Grindhouse over the weekend, the fauxsploitation double feature by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. I absolutely hated Rodriguez's contribution, Planet Terror, and only got about 15 minutes into it. Melting flesh zombie action is not my thing. Tarantino's Death Proof is equally silly but more realistic and enjoyable. Tarantino exploits a gearhead convention found in such 1970s movies as The Duel and Vanishing Point.  These are movies I saw in my impressionable years.  There's still something about Detroit muscle battling it out on the road that stirs my pulse. Death Proof also exploits a gender revenge theme, ala Thelma & Louise. Two gearhead stunt women eventually take down the pervert-murderer ("Stuntman Mike") Kurt Russell, one of whom straddles the door sill with a long metal pipe as they charge after him, joust-style. In between there were long takes of table conversation, which is something of a signature for Tarantino.  Unfortunately, the copies of the movies that I have don't contain the fake trailers that were part of the U.S. theatrical release. I couldn't make it through Kill Bill (too much gore), but I still appreciate Tarantino's serious homage to genre films.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Making beds

If anyone wants to get me a joke present for the holidays, this is the one: Dad's Own Housekeeping Book: 137 Bright Ideas. Why such an asymmetrical number--137? Did they run out of ideas at 137? I especially like the line in the book jacket copy that dad can make a bed "in one minute." Yes, over the years, I truly have learned to make a bed in one minute, maybe even less. But, but, do I have a real guy's voice?

"Written by a real guy, in a real guy’s voice and with a direct guy-to-guy point of view, DAD’S OWN HOUSEKEEPING BOOK—in the spirit of Dad’s Own Cookbook, with 270,000 copies in print—takes even the most Swiffer-challenged dad and shows him that housekeeping is no different from yard work, that if you can organize your shop you can organize a kitchen, and if you can load a trunk you can load a dishwasher. From laundry room to attic storage, from the “Five- Minute Attack Plan: Bathroom” to the all-out assault of spring cleaning (it really does make a big difference), from mold to stains to picking-up-after-the-kids-without-driving-yourself-crazy, this is the comprehensive crash course. Here’s how to do the laundry without dulling colors. Stock the pantry to make weekday meals infinitely easier. How to get mildew off the shower tiles. How to make a bed—in one minute. How to be best friends with baking soda—just one of the many tips the author gives for saving money. And what you can do in thirty minutes to make your house completely presentable for your mother-in-law."

Actually, my bright idea was to find discussions of dads who make beds - check Google, I couldn't find much. I know, perhaps too trivial. But type in mom making beds, or something like it, and you will get loads of hits.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Darth Vader

BB was going to be an astronaut for Halloween. The new obsession with space is a good one. He has stargazing books, solar system books, and even some space exploration books. His birthday party had a NASA theme. The NASA material has an appealing squeaky clean image. Well-educated types who still have the right stuff without the swagger. But when he and his mom came home from the costume store yesterday he had a Darth Vader costume. I know it was cheaper than the astronaut helmet, but dressing up in a Darth Vader costume at six years old is like dressing up as Satan. It's like our good, optimistic astronaut really has gone to the darkside. I'll admit, though, that he looks very impressive as Darth.

The real irony is that he won't watch the actual Star Wars movie with me. I adored the movie as a kid and became a sci fi fan thereafter. (It was a real life lesson when the sequels turned out to be so disappointing.) Even yesterday, when he had a half day off from school, I said, let's go to a movie. NOOOO! No, movies. The whole idea of a loud, dark theatre just gives BB the willies. Fair enough and probably a good thing, but I hope I get him to go with me before he's a teenager. In any case, it's much better to his way of thinking to inhabit Darth Vader without the confusions and frights of seeing him on the big screen.

I always enjoy this freshmen comp-like analysis of the racial implications of Star Wars in the film Chasing Amy.

Update: It looks like the video got pulled from YouTube.  Here's a pic of BB's costume.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thinking by cell phone

I came across this observation on Jodi Dean's I, Cite blog:

"Cell phones create a sense of immediacy and urgency that has an interesting flattening and amplifying affect. All matters are worth phoning about--immediately. So, there is little time to forget about what is such a big deal, to see it in context, to allow one's immediate feelings to dissipate."

At first I thought, yeah, she's right. I'm wondering, though, if we can't see these supposedly mindless, immediate feelings as thoughts and judgments in their own right. These immediate feelings ARE the context, rather than some higher order of thought that can assess the feelings. When one calls a significant other from the airport and says nothing more than I've just landed or we're just boarding, the statements occur in the context of an ongoing relationship. What they could mean (or think) is that I miss you already or I'm feeling insecure at the moment. And how are these immediate statements over the cell phone any different than the banalities that fill the days of people living together? Cell phones change the experience of emotion and maybe even the emotion itself (which is interesting), but I think she does a disservice to denigrate immediate feelings. I can't help thinking that she must be a bit of a Hegelian.

Cell phones aren't the problem. I think she has another fear. Say, a scholar had only 100 minutes a month on a cell phone to think, 100 minutes simply to do her work as a scholar - over a cell phone. Sometimes technology feels this way. Cell phones don't end deliberative thinking (and feeling), but if we only had cell phones to do that kind of thinking we'd be doomed.

Going to the doctor

Don't let anyone tell you different. If you work full time, expect to take the full extent of sick time simply caring for your kids. Over the weekend it was a fever, with the potential for keeping a kid home on Monday. Tuesday, it was a visit to the doctor for crusty eyes, an ordeal that takes about four hours out of one's day. Crusty eyes could mean an ear infection, an eye infection, it wasn't even clear to the doctor. The point is, from day to day, one is absent in one way or another from work. Whether it's coming in late, leaving early, or taking a chunk out of the day, work is always - really, always - disrupted by kids. It's worse of course now that we have two kids. I long, sometimes, for the day when our kids become latch-key types, finding their own way home from the bus and taking themselves to the doctor. Of course, then we'll be worried if they're having sex in the afternoon or smoking up in the backyard, but at least I'll be ignorantly at work.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I had a dream that I was camping in the Sierras with a bunch of mates from graduate school. We drove down into the Valley on our way home and stopped at my grandparents' house. Of course, there is no grandparents house anymore. But in my dream my grandparents were up and about partying with the young people. The is only the most recent in a series of dreams that take place in the context of house parties. Usually, I move through the parties dazed and confused, as though I'm trying to figure out why these people from different parts of my life are in the same place. As though I'm an alien in my own life.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Space frenzies

We had over a dozen five year olds at our "at-home" party, meaning that we didn't have it offsite at a rented or reserved location. It was a lot of work, but worth it. It was particularly good because BB has a whole new set of friends from the neighborhood in his kindergarten class and we got to meet them and most of their parents. It is a good group of kids. The weather was hot and gorgeous, which is unusual for BB's birthday.

Best moment: watching AO leading all the kids in imaginary visits to each planet, which essentially amounted to a modern dance dedicated to each planet - heavy on Jupiter, cold on Neptune, and so on. One kid yelled "and a tornado" for every planet.
Worst moment: watching a huge bunch of silver "happy birthday" balloons take flight after being set free by an errant kid. A great wail came from BB.
Most affecting: seeing BB hand out space mission stickers to each child.
Most intense: cramming 15 kids and their parents into a 100 square foot space with noise makers while waiting for the cake. There is an air conditioner in there, but it quickly became overwhelming hot.
Most dear: seeing LB, at all of 14 months, trying to hit the pinata with a big bat after all the candy had been scooped up.

The secret to a good kids party is moving from one controlled frenzy to another. Thanks to my very creative partner we had a great day.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Today is birthday party day, which is overenrolled. 15 kids are supposed to show up. Too many in my opinion. So I need something ethereal and otherworldly on the playlist.

Trip hop beats and dreamy textures from Hooverphonic. A flight attendant is the perfect symbol of nostalgia for the future.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

BB turns six

BB turned six years old.  Although the real party is tomorrow, he had a school celebration and then we took him out for dinner.

On the menu: mini cheeseburgers, cupcakes at school (with soccer rings embedded)
Drink: Island Paradise
Dessert: chocolate nachos with a train of clapping wait staff
Presents: space shuttle launch gear, Roman playmobil characters
Now wearing: his new football jersey
Got off the bus with: a golden crown on his head

Friday, October 5, 2007


So I have some blood pressure problems. It's been creeping up over the past year. Clearly, I'm worried about it, but it hasn't been such a big deal.  I started with some low doses of a hypertension medication that have stabilized my pressure levels without any notable side effects. But I had to go back to the dentist today. The dentist, since they take my blood pressure every time I go in, essentially convinced me to seek out a doctor's advice. I'm self-conscious about this viewing of my vital signs--literally the internal me--and I wanted to be sure they wouldn't get their "aha" moment again with yet another high reading.

So I called in the heavy hitter to keep the pressure down.  I took a beta blocker.  My doctor gave me this as a backup, something that will provide more blanket protection in cases of high stress and hypertension.   I don't like going to the dentist and having to admit teeth brushing faults is only compounded by the potential failure of keeping my blood pressure down.

I'm at the dentist for a routine cleaning and I tell them about my new medication, but I don't admit to taking the beta blocker that morning.  Why should I muddy the waters, admit to CARING about what they see in me?  In the midst of this exercise it comes out that it would be different if I were taking beta blockers, which are contraindicated for local anesthesia.  At this point, I continue to say nothing about the beta blocker in my system.

It's decided that they have time to fill in a small filling that recently came loose, but it's likely to require only a topical anesthetic, not something like lidocaine.  And again, I rationalize a way to say nothing about the beta blocker.

I'm surprised that the first thing the dentist does is pull out the big needle of Lidocaine.  At this point, I really should be saying something about the beta blocker.  I now know it is contraindicated for the very thing she is about to do.  But I'm silent.  As she numbs my gum, I assess my state of health.  Am I having any trouble breathing, is that a burning sensation moving up my chest?  Still, I'm now too ashamed to say anything.  Not only do I have the original shame of the fact that I took the damn stuff to begin with, but now I'm shamed that I haven't said anything until now.   I'm in the room alone for the next 10 minutes wondering whether I can squeeze out a yell as I go into cardiac arrest.

In any case, all is routine, but I do learn later, via google, that there are real risks to this combination of drugs, life-threatening risks. What can I say? That I've kept my pride somehow? Avoided being publicly shamed?  It all seems pretty pitiful now.  But who can ever be completely honest with a doctor and their nosy assistants?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Rebirth of cool

"Mad Men" (an AMC series!) is all AO and I have recently been watching on television. It's about the venal, corrupt world of 1960 New York, where men boose up all day in their offices and sleep with their secretaries. It captures a world when advertising became the real king of the market. There is even a growing subplot of creating Nixon's advertising in his failed race against Kennedy; it's clear that they are being beaten by Kennedy's people.

The series is great on the gender politics of this world, the assumptions that drive them, and the ambivalent divide between the wives and the working women. But, I think, the series is really about class. The main character, Don, is the creative director at the agency. He passes in a world dominated by the East Coast establishment, but his lower class origins haunt him and keep him subtly separate from the entitled, fraternity types around him. He has married into the establishment as well, using war-time heroism to transform himself into an upper middle-class man. But we keep seeing flashbacks to a depression-era childhood dominated by poverty, shame, dislocation, and abuse (like Nixon?). He is clearly terrified that this past will be exposed. He pays off a younger step brother (who is working as a janitor) to disappear from his life. He seeks his revenge by sleeping with women who share his own vexed relationship to the world, first a Village beat and then a second-generation Jewish-American department store owner. He sleeps with the latter only after learning about her father's modest origins. His class mobility mirrors not only their own journeys through the class system, but also their goal of being different kind of women, something other than child-like homemakers or subordinate helpmates in the workplace.

The creator of the series was an important executive in the Sopranos franchise, and he's created a world, when one thinks about it, that is much more evil than Tony Soprano and his mates could ever be. These 1960s types weren't at all marginalized; they were the future, the "rebirth of cool."

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Living at the mall

I just came across a story about a group of artists who created a living space at a shopping mall, in an empty alcove. They've apparently occupied it for four years, but when security saw one of them leaving recently the whole thing came to light. Their intention was to experiment with what shopping, lifestyle, and domesticity mean. I love this quote from their website today: "It was an endless source of fascination for us that all the mundane details of our domestic dwelling were about as normal as they could be - but in the context they were in, they became suspenseful." I don't think I could have dealt with the paranoia of wondering when I was going to be found out. I remember something about a group doing this in an art museum, living between some walls. But a mall is much, much creepier.


I'm scanning the proofs of an article I have coming out (the co-written one) and this task has fallen to me. I've been through it once very carefully and found only three errors. Now I think I should do another cursory scan, but I'm putting it off. The problem is that the task puts me to sleep, making my already weird relation to my own work even worse. Whenever I read over what I've written there is always more to do or things to change, but now that it's in proofs there isn't anything more I can do. It's a scary feeling to have it immutably cast in print, like making a final decision about a relationship. I want to let it go.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Today's poem


Geographical obsession might
finally take me to the other side,
urgent flights across poles,
continents, sub or otherwise.
I want to avert my eyes
from the mobius wink
of the void, step over the
unseen menace, finally avoid
the pitfalls of the generalist
that needs the opposite and
equal force of the unspeakable.

The unknown shall become like church
bells heard by the unbeliever,
like the rustic squeak of hide,
like the language of Babel
surrounded with a smile,
like melodies you can see,
like the end of irony.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Pole dance

One more post on March Fourth Marching Band. The ensemble included some pre-War style, show-girl burlesque. Clearly, someone had seen some European circus action. My favorite moment was their interpretation of the pole dance. A mohawked man on stilts came out with a long pole, held it upright in front of himself, and the showgirl proceeded to do acrobatics on the pole. It looked like a trapeze act, but on a girly show pole - with stilts! The guys on stilts also did duty as go-go dancers. Fun, fun.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Dance party revolution

We had a fabulous time at the music festival. 17 Hippies (below) was out of sight, with fun, genre-mixing surprises in their songs. They had a cinematic feel, combining Central European moodiness with American tough-guy movies. Kind of like Weimar Germany cabaret meets Dennis Hopper in Wim Wenders' The American Friend, all with the rootsy polka-like klezmer sound of Central Europe.

March Fourth Marching Band, from Portland, OR, absolutely rocked our world. Check out their steampunk drum racks here and here. The Marching Band got into some really deep beats, mixing up the Meters funk interpretation of the New Orleans sound with the charisma of a street band. Given the creativity pouring out of these arrangements, I have faith again in the world.

Final comment. I think world music festivals have been known for earnest folk music and pure, authentic roots musicians, and that aspect still remains a part of them. But it's the big, talented, irreverent ensembles that really make a festival. Both of these groups had 15-20 people on stage and they were both super tight. Getting all those people organized and on tour is authentic enough for me.