26 April 2007

Partially Useful Life Lessons

1. Do not watch WWII propaganda movies right before going to bed. (I showed my students clips from the "Why We Fight" series yesterday. And had freaky dreams the night before.)

2. Don't agree to give your time away two months from now unless you really, really have to do so. When the two months are up, you will hate your two-months-ago self for your bad decisionmaking. (I started teaching Kaplan again this week. Back in February when I agreed to do it, I needed the money -- now I just need the time. Oh, well.)

3. Don't have unprotected sex on mysterious desert islands. (According to last night's episode of "Lost," men's sperm count quintuples and creates a fetus of DEATH that kills the woman. Yeah, I don't really get it either. Nor do I get why no one can just suggest abortion as an alternative to the killer sperm/deadly fetus problem, but whatev.)

15 April 2007

Squirrel Rap

My friend Quincy sent me this link with a note of righteous fury at the appropriation (he's a poet-historian, not like us dull-ass regular historians). The Lakes District of England is celebrating the bicentenary of Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud" with a video rap rendition of the poem. I appreciate Q's much more refined poetic sensibilities, but I sort of enjoy the rap version, and I think with a more serious video it could be cool. As it is, though, you could not make this shit up. A giant squirrel/soccer mascot for the Ullswater Steamers prancing around the lake, breakdancing, sniffing daffodils and drinking champagne while Wordsworth gets rapped. This has made my entire day. I bet they get a tourism boost from this, solely for the kitschy enjoyment factor. It also makes me wonder what Thursday Next would say if she were assigned to the case. (PS -- read that book, if you haven't already.)

12 April 2007

RIP, Leon Trotsky Trout

Kurt Vonnegut died today. He was the 20th century Mark Twain, very "American" in many ways and also very willing to say whatever he damn well believed. I went through a period in high school when I read every single book he'd ever written. Slaughterhouse-Five gets the most attention, and it's extremely good, but I think I like Cat's Cradle even more, and Galapagos (with the character Leon Trotsky Trout) has always stayed with me -- mostly the ending I think...or the beginning. I think of him as one of the few white male authors in U.S. literature that could speak with the magical realism/political fury of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Jose Saramago or Milan Kundera. I wish there were more writers or public figures who were as engaged today.

"All this happened, more or less."

09 April 2007

Pearls Before Commuters

The Washington Post's story yesterday on a world-famous violinist playing a Strad in the DC Metro while people walk. on. by. is pretty interesting. I'm not sure I think you can extrapolate that much per se about these people's lack of appreciation for Bach (why should Bach be universally appreciable but not rap?), as suggested, but I do find the uniform behavior of the kids (and parents) fascinating. Also fascinating: whatever you may think of classical music or violins, as Bell said himself, he was loud, and physically taking up a lot of space with a vigorous performance, yet...everyone walked within three feet of him as though he was invisible. Interesting meditation on the meaning of expectations. The single most beautiful voice I ever heard was an operatic tenor singing in the New York subway station at 23rd Street (an otherwise wholly unimpressive station). I will remember it to this day because it changed the entire course of that day for me, just hearing something that beautiful someplace so unexpected. Beats out any opera I've attended anywhere in the world. Sometimes finding something in less-than-optimal conditions is precisely what gives it beauty.

07 April 2007

Three Weeks

I'm finally back home (in the wee hours of the morning Monday, thanks to E. for the crazy PDX airport run!), finally over the jet lag, and finally read through all the blog posts of the last almost-month. Nice to be reminded of the many other, much cooler, ways to spend the ides of March and thereafter! Both conferences went well, though the historians were far preferable to the lawyers, and the funeral provided some good closure along with a lot of drinking with my family. I have a shitload of cousins, and they're all boys, and they all make strong drinks. Plus, the two who were in Iraq got to come back for the funeral. And in between all the flying and training and bussing and (drinking and grading and) so forth, I got to see some other super-cool people. So here is a list of things I wholly enjoyed on this trip:

1) Ann, Saru, Kristin, Ramya, Jessica, Marie, Veta, Nancy...seeing old friends and meeting new ones (Megan!) was unquestionably the highlight of the insane travelling.
2) Four different Chinatowns were visited. I feel like this is an accomplishment.
3) No matter where we went, people kept feeding us hummus and macaroons on this trip. It was the hummus and macaroon tour of the Eastern seaboard. I think the vegan thing makes East Coasters nervous about what to serve. Especially because I was eating cheese, eggs and fish this month, so...perhaps I'm less than vegan.
4) Robust. Saru's new word.
5) History conferences, historians and the general enjoyment of getting to be in an intellectual community of people who all work in the same field (in this case, US history).
6) The $3 (that's right, people) book sales the publishers offer on the last morning of the conference. Crowds of grad students and super-old-guys waiting outside for them to open. Also, free books, just for signing up for e-mail lists. I came home with like, 15 books from my comps list. For super cheap!
7) Meeting famous historians and being all star-struck about it. I'm such a dork.

Here is a list of things that were found to be highly problematic:
1) Lawyers and conferences about law.
2) Conferences that talk about culture. Culture. The word. The idea. The "studies." Yes, Clifford Geertz, and all that, but at some point I'm just a throwback traditionalist who doesn't really care. Give me economics! Where's class? I know, I know.
3) The Museum of the American Indian in DC. Highly Problematic. No mention of slavery or the African American presence and excessive fetishization/exoticization. Where were the trailer parks?
4) The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. I don't know why I even went. Oh yeah, because someone else was paying. Given that this is pretty much my subject, I found myself offended by the shallow, banal, uncomplicated treatment of it. On that note, academics are FUN to bring to museums.
5) The new "folk art" wing of the Gallery of American Art. I'm not sure why tin-foil creations from the garages of crazed/religious middle-aged white guys qualify as folk art, but not the stuff everyday people -- oh, let's call them "folks" -- make. Where was the needlepoint? The quilts? Women's work gets shafted again.
6) The Met, but only because the Costume Institute was closed between exhibits when I was there. Not so much problematic as annoying because depriving me of pretty fashions throughout history.
7) The prayer of the faithful. My family's idea of a funny joke was having me read this at the funeral. Well, mainly it was to give the priest the idea that someone in the family was still a good Catholic, since he knows all my atheist, divorced aunts and uncles aren't, and I'm from far away and look the part. So I got to say a prayer for Pope Benedict and all his bishops as well as for George W. and all elected officials, "that they may pass laws protecting all human life." I mentally chanted to myself that this line was about war and not abortion in order to feel better.

Finally, you must check out this site with a free online quiz to determine if you have a calling to be a monk, nun, or priest.