24 December 2008

Boughs of Holly

Halloween, Thanksgiving, election day, finals...I couldn't let Christmas slide by without a comment at least! I had good intentions to send out holiday cards and treats and do all kinds of seasonal things, but oh well. This is my wish for loads of holiday goodness and comfort and delights for all of you! It's been a hectic few weeks, traveling between DC and Philly and back to the left coast. It looked like I would be spending Christmas at O'Hare airport with a lot of other unlucky folks but I managed to switch my flight to standby to San Francisco and here I am. I'm now relaxing and dissertating with my fabulous friend S. as she gets ready to move north to teach for a quarter. I missed every single bit of the blizzards and craziness back home, which is good and bad, but if you were or are in the snow I hope you stay safe and warm and cozy!

23 October 2008

Three Things on Money

1. On the plane I caught up on my publications. 'Cause I read all of them, all the ones that are put in front of me. I had one of those rare moments of clarity while reading this article from the New Yorker's Politics Issue last week. Basically, one of the things the reporter talks to this two-job-working, two teenagers at home, single Ohio woman about is which candidate speaks to her economic interests. The whole article is trying to understand why white working-class voters so frequently vote against their economic interests (overriding answer is often racism, but there are complexities). It is her response that kills me. She doesn't trust any of them (understandable) and she dislikes McCain and Bush immensely. And she doesn't believe Obama's tax policies or that they will help her. She has bought into enough of the anti-tax rhetoric to assume that her small amount of money from her receptionist and office-cleaning jobs will be taken away in Obama's tax plan. Why? Because he promises not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000. She finds this ludicrous, because as she says, "how many people do you know that make that kind of money?" Since she said this to a New Yorker reporter, we can assume the answer is lots.

In a McCain speech last week, he actually plays on this fundamental misbelief by implying that only raising taxes on people making more than $250,000 couldn't possibly raise enough money to match their spending promises. The painful thing is that this Ohio woman really believes that there are only a handful of people who make $250,000 and even less who make, say, a whole million. Like, there's Bill Gates, and there's one or two other folks, and then there's all the forty-thousand a year people. She fundamentally can't believe that there are enough people with insane amounts of money because it is so foreign to her experience. And I understand this because I didn't grasp the reality of wealth in this country until I went to New York and then that school in Cambridge and met the scions of seriously rich families and people who considered themselves "middle class" whose parents had more than one million-dollar home. It's not that they are twenty percent of the population. They just control that much of the country's wealth. And since she can't imagine that, she can't believe taxing just the over-250,000 crowd would raise any money.

2. My cab from the airport to the hotel the fellowship foundation is putting us up in (more on that below) was interesting. The driver was Tibetan, and was very chatty. We started off having a good conversation about the cost of taxi licenses in NY and Chicago. I asked him how his night was going, he said he just started his shift, I asked when it ended and he answered "when I have a hundred million dollars!" Then at some point we started talking about the election. He told me that I was very wrong for supporting Obama, because "Bush is a great president." Really, I knew the twenty percent were out there, but I didn't expect to meet them in Chicago. He told me Bush is great because all other countries in the world hate America, Bush is scary and willing to go to war, ergo he's the only thing standing in the way of the rest of the world killing us. He also informed me that white people are the smartest people in the world, apparently as the Japanese are to the rest of Asia. But each time I disagreed (as I did with everything he said), he would wave his hand dismissively and essentially call me an idiot. I guess the subtext was really that white men are smart, 'cause he thought I was pretty foolish. He said McCain was superior to Obama mainly because McCain had already made money and Obama needed money. Since McCain had millions already, he was a safer bet. But Obama doesn't already have eight houses, so he was in the election to get stuff, so went his argument. I was really trying to engage in a debate with this guy because it's been a while since I had a conversation with someone who had such opposing beliefs to mine. Then, as we were debating whether all anyone in the world wants is money, he dropped me off at the Trump, which seriously undermined my argument. Embarrassing, but in keeping with the theme of the whole weekend. Money, money, money.

3. This hotel. It is ridiculous. Like, I could imagine in my lame way what a "luxury hotel" would entail, much like the lady from Ohio could imagine that there might be one or two people making more than $250,000, but not how much more. But I really couldn't have guessed, because why would you need such things? It's been the single most consistent topic of conversation among all the grad students here, because really, this is not how grad students live. Here is a partial list:
- The minute you come in, there are about five different sets of doors to go through. A different and ever more deferential person is there to hold each and every door open. It was all very Eliza Doolittle. One of the greeters came out from his front desk after I walked through the first door held open by another guy to walk me through the second door (held by another guy) to the concierge desk. Then after she checked me in, the concierge walked out from behind her desk to walk me through yet another held-open door to the elevator. It reminded me of how they roll at Nordstrom.
- Everyone who works there memorizes your name instantaneously and uses it in every interaction from then on. It's actually a little freaky. I realized by the third day that I was walking around downtown with this subtle added confidence that is only explained by the amount of deference the hotel kept providing. Even though I know it's fake, even though it was only a few short days, even though I've spent far more time on the deferential retail side where I know full well they're thinking many other things (I would be thinking, what are these losers doing staying here?), it doesn't matter. You cannot experience that kind of constant unearned deference and not have it build up your ego a bit. Imagine living your life like that. Why would we ever want to elect anyone rich? Their brains are damaged by this kind of crap.
- One guy at the conference forgot to bring his ID out with him to a bar downtown the second night. He had one of the hotel's complimentary umbrellas with him, emblazoned with the logo, and the bouncer literally said, "ah, I see you're at the Trump. Don't worry about it, come on in." Money really does buy everything and anything.
- The room has the standard enormous plasma TV, of course with DVD, etc. In the bathroom, however, (which is the size of my living room at home and completely over-the-top) the enormous mirror has a shadowy rectangle in it just below eye level. It just looked like some weird geometric mirror design to me. And there's a remote and channel list by the faucet. It took me several minutes to actually figure out there was another TV screen built into the mirror. So you can watch the stock market plummet while in the shower. Critical.
- The kitchenette is equipped with a personal espresso/latte maker with a range of different espresso blends to use.
- There is a pillow menu with ten different pillows, including body pillows of varying densities and handmade satin Himalayan aromatherapy pillows with handpicked herbs.
- The room service menu includes a $1000 Donald Trump dinner of his favorite foods and fancy wine. Also available on the menu, every imaginable kind of tea with a spectrum of water temperature options, Ivanka Trump's caviar breakfast for $625, and on the more "reasonable" side, snacks and "cocktails" for your cat or dog that cost five times what I will spend on my lunch at the airport today. Of course, the hotel also has a special service that makes you a $40 lobster sandwich (or whatever else) prepared for you to take with you as an in-flight meal. God forbid you be subjected to airport food!
- The turndown service comes in at night (after the room is cleaned and all your stuff is almost embarassingly organized for you during the afternoon) while everyone's at dinner and turns down your blankets, puts soft music on the Bose stereo with Ipod dock, puts the lighting on dim and the TV on a soothing aquarium screen saver.
- The gym equipment in the spa is entirely custom-made by Ferrari. There's a spectacular pool, naturally.
- The view from everywhere in the hotel is incredible. Overlooking downtown, it's beautiful. But the hotel is literally right smack on the river, probably the single most expensive piece of real estate in the city, I would guess. The gym looks out from the 14th floor over the riverfront and the city. Our dinners and receptions were held in ballrooms with thirty-foot ceilings, from which we could watch the Friday night fireworks along the river in awe. It really was gorgeous.
- I do enjoy the fact that I don't think the Trump or any other luxury hotel is overflowing on occupancy these days (it just opened this year) given the state of the market. Turn it into public housing, I say.

And now? I'm really, really happy to be home. No hotel, however fancy, can compare. In fact, I'm glad I don't have that weird lifestyle on a regular basis. I firmly believe it warps people's characters. And I wish that woman in Ohio could get a glimpse of the disproportionate wealth held by some in this country. I think she'd be all about taxes then.

21 October 2008

Off to Chicago

Today I get to fly to Chicago for my fellowship conference -- I'm excited and a bit nervous (the whole "presenting your research for senior scholars" thing). I love Chicago and it'll be great to meet other folks researching education, and of course, it's always fun to pal around with terrorists. One of the senior scholars is that guy who's been in the news a lot lately -- in addition to all his anti-American ways, he's now a well-respected education reformer and professor in Chicago, so it's a no-brainer for him to attend. I look forward to the awkward introductory jokes made at the various receptions and dinners this weekend. (I guess my presidential hopes are shot now though, drat!) Wish me luck with the schmoozing!

In other recent news, the annual corn maze adventure went off fantastically -- that is a lot of fun to be had for a mere $12. Spooky! And I've been trying to wrap my mind around the class I'm grading for this fall, on war, but I just can't do it. It's not that it's too complex for me, it's kind of the opposite. That sounds snotty and "elitist," I know, but if social history, culture, gender, race, capitalism and religion as categories of analysis and interpretation are all virtually useless and entirely secondary to examinations of tactics and weaponry, I've got to say, you've lost my interest. The students say things in their papers like "there were a lot of whores." That's the extent of their "social history." Then it's back to cannonballs. And I'll stop my complaining there, because I've been doing a lot of it lately. At least I can appreciate that it's an easy part-time job for me this term, but I have to say I've never used my brain less in a classroom, even, I think, in high school. And it's one of the most popular classes we offer -- I'm not sure what that says. Students prefer if they never have to do any critical thinking? Shocker!

26 September 2008

News and Such

So many things in the past week and a half. L.A. trip + reunion with good friends far away + beautiful wedding = happy smiles (see above, looking very Dawson's Creek/90210).

Two items of newsy interest passed on by the lovely Miss S. (now on blogspot!) this week: check out the Personalities of States and revel in the neuroticism or lack thereof (if you're from Oregon) of your home state. And for the future professors out there, enjoy the total lack of rationality in relying on student evaluations for tenure decisions.

Of course you've all heard about the Washington Mutual badness of last night -- as a WaMu customer I was of course concerned and immediately logged on to their site to ensure that my negative checking account balance was adequately protected. I do enjoy having no investments or income capable of being lost. Actually, I went to their site last night to see what they said about it, and this letter was posted there instead, from Monday:

To Our Valued Customers:

September 22, 2008

As WaMu's new chief executive officer, I am writing to discuss the extraordinary economic environment for all banks in the United States and why you can count on us to continue to serve you safely and soundly.

When I was recently approached about the opportunity to lead this great company, I did my homework to satisfy myself that WaMu has the capital, the liquidity, and the business plan to serve your needs and protect your money through these challenging times. Let me explain why I felt good about joining WaMu.

All financial institutions have been affected by the turmoil in the mortgage and financial markets, but WaMu is very different from the investment banks, such as Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, that you may have read about. Those firms have very different sources of funding than we do. WaMu's business is funded largely through the deposits that customers like you put with us. We also borrow billions of dollars from the Federal Home Loan Banks system.

Most importantly, your deposits are insured to the limits established by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). (WaMu partners at your local WaMu store are happy to work with you to maximize your FDIC insurance coverage.)

Capital ratios describe the financial strength of a bank. Our ratios continue to be well in excess of the levels that government regulators require of "well capitalized" institutions. We also have an ample supply of funds on hand to meet your needs and the needs of our other customers and our day-to-day operations.

These strengths, combined with our tradition of superior products and services, are why we continue to welcome new customers every day.

I also expect that comprehensive and constructive plans recently announced by the government will shore up confidence in the U.S. banking system considerably. These plans, if approved by Congress, would remove up to $700 billion of troubled assets from the balance sheets of American financial institutions. There are also provisions to protect financial companies from disruptive rumors and speculation that are fueled by abusive stock trading practices.

Other government actions are already underway and are expected to lend even more security to the nation's financial system. The Federal Reserve announced that it will open its discount window to financial institutions to enable them to purchase certain assets from money market funds. This provides increased financial flexibility. The Federal Reserve also recently granted requests from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley that will allow them to take deposits, thereby increasing the resources available to both companies. A more stable national financial system is good for WaMu and good for customers.

I came to WaMu because I think it is a great bank with a strong franchise and a solid financial position. We take very seriously our role as the stewards of your hard-earned money. I want to personally thank you for your loyalty and the opportunity to serve your needs.


Alan Fishman
Chief Executive Officer

I had to repost this here because it was of course taken down between last night and this morning. Hee. And yeesh. And ouch. And that's all I have to say about that right now.

Finally, on the victory garden front of the economic devastation, I would like to encourage you to make the following tomato sauce. It is like crack. Like delicious, delicious, addictive sauce of crack and tomatoes and garlic. I've made five batches so far that are now stored away for winter hard times. Didn't actually have much choice given how many tomato plants I put in this year.

Take a dozen or more tomatoes (they don't have to be the prettiest or ripest either), cut them in halves or quarters, squeeze gently to get the wateriness down slightly, and lay on cookie sheets (takes two) cut-side up. Take two or three heads of garlic, peeled, and scatter the cloves on the tomatoes. I also add about half a loosely chopped red onion, and then put salt, pepper, olive oil (don't skimp), a dash of balsamic vinegar, sprinkle of sugar, and any herbs you have lying around (I've used thyme, basil, parsley and some fresh oregano). Put it in the oven at around 250 or 275 for between an hour and an hour and a half. When everything looks soft and golden, crank it to 400 for about 10-15 minutes to fully set the caramelization. Remove. Blend or stick it in the food processor until creamy/chunky. Yum.

16 September 2008

Books, Movies and History

This weekend I presented at a political science/law conference at the law school here. It was a useful reminder about both disciplinary boundaries and the purposes of interdisciplinary work. In short, I don't speak poli sci. I speak history. And I speak law, at least in a semi-legitimate way. One of the complaints I heard the political scientists make was that the election coverage on the news right now never has any political scientists, instead they interview historians. I smirked a little, since I tend to think history is what's missing from most poli sci (though the best work in that field treats historical context very seriously).

We watched Penelope last night, cute, a bit silly, kind of the fairy tale of a rich girl accepting herself. As you can imagine, I would prefer that she were not quite such a richy rich, but it was cute enough. Last week we watched Last King of Scotland, which I both hated and liked. I hated it for most of the film, especially when I had the impression that the audience is supposed to be empathizing with James McAvoy's absolute jackass of a character, who has no redeeming qualities. The idea of showing the story of Uganda from the perspective of this irresponsible, idiot white guy who I suspect is supposed to be "charming" just ticked me off. I liked it for the last fifteen minutes basically. Forest Whitaker (who is incredible in this role) gives a badass speech at the end that calls out the "white man's burden" and I imagine that for those who identified with McAvoy's character in the rest of the movie, it was probably - hopefully - a powerful moment of awareness. So, I'm still of two minds about the movie.

I got to read lots of novels on my recent trip to BC, and I have to give a mini-review of one here. The Road is very good. And I don't think you need to read it. Seriously, I loved Blindness and recommended it to people, but that book was haunting and depressing and dark. And it's like a Disney fairy tale compared to The Road. So, I guess that makes The Road an effective book, and it's certainly well-written, but why do that to yourself? Read something with some human redemption. The world is already depressing enough much of the time.

Finally, if anyone has an efficient use for two dozen purple tomatillos, I'd love to hear it!

07 September 2008

Harvest and Tesh. Also, Bobcats Welcome!

It's definitely harvest time around here -- this is the haul from a casual picking this morning in the backyard, I got scared away from the broccoli, parsley, chard, and the other squash by the bees. (I'm helping bees! I feel absurdly happy about this. And, when I'm out there, I wish they weren't quite so all around me.) I've been drying cherry tomatoes all day -- pounds of them got picked on Friday, thanks to E -- so we can have tons of sun-dried tomatoes all winter without paying $10/ounce. I keep making plans for preserving things like the pears that are all over our yard or making and freezing batches of basil and parsley pesto. I'm clearly in squirrel mode, hoarding nuts for the cold season.

Last night, in a grad student experience that I cannot be alone in, I finished a paper that was due this morning (at 11:00 at night) and then decided to halve, seed and marinade my cherry tomatoes in preparation for drying them today. In awesome Saturday night badassery, I listened to the John Tesh show during my midnight tomato-gutting (a messy process). I learned so much important life information, people. Like, dress for the job you want! No flip-flops and miniskirts at work! Since at least 1/3 of the reason I went to grad school is a lifetime excuse for wearing tweed and professory clothes, I completely endorse this. I also learned that cars are expensive (!) and that the squatters in the foreclosed house next door are totally drug-dealers who you should call the cops on ASAP. Or, they could be bobcats. I'm hoping we'll get some bobcats in this neighborhood, maybe they'd like to eat some tomatoes. Plus, how cute? I promised kittens, and I deliver!

03 September 2008

Summer Vacation = Over!

Obviously I took a little summer vacation from blogging -- no excuses, but now I'm feeling that back-to-school, autumnal, Virgo, Septembery, pumpkins and maple leaves, fresh sharp pencils and first day outfits vibe, so I'm back. Rather than try to summarize the finer points of summer fun, which I will get to in due time (for anyone who's still reading!), I just have to share a story from the last week of the daily summer US history class I taught. That class, by the way, was a large part of the delay in blogging and other areas (sorry garden!).

I assigned this book, which is an excellent, if a bit academic, history of corporate power moving intra- and inter-nationally in pursuit of cheap, young, nonunionized female labor. But more than that, it's about communities of workers in these different places -- Camden, New Jersey; Bloomington, Indiana; Memphis, Tennessee; and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico -- and how much they had/have in common with one another. Long story short, wouldn't it be nice if workers had as much of an international identification with others with similar interests as corporations do? Good lefty labor history type stuff. Of course only two students actually finished it, but whatev.

The real story is what happened when we had a discussion of the book. Since they hadn't read it, I quickly resorted to those sad teacher tricks, like asking "what IS community?" (groan) But, we do what we must. When I got blank stares for that, I tried to personalize it with an example. Here's the conversation:

Me: Are you in a community with other State Research University students?
Them: Yes! (emphatic)
Me: What about with the students at Other Big State University 50 miles away?
Them: Yeah, totally, sure!
Me: OK...what about other college students in other states? Nationwide?
Them: Hmmmm...it depends.
Me: Harvard? Penn? NYU?
Them: Yeah, we are!
Me: Uh-huh...what about with students at Small Local Community College?
Them: No, no. Not really.
Me: What about with the city of ____ (in which their university is located and which sucks up all life forms in its vicinity)?
Them: No. Nope, not a community with them.
Me: Discussion over. Time for another documentary.

That about sums up the problem. And they're not wrong. Like the corporations in the book, they have a clear understanding (if a bit inflated -- Harvard? Come now!) of their interests and identities rooted in class and educational privilege that span state and even national boundaries. And they were not at all concerned about not participating in the community whose resources they exhaust and whose residents clean their shiny campus buildings and serve them their turkey wraps. After this we never came back to the book because I realized it was a moot point. For them. Which they know well.

Future blog posts will be about sunshine, kittens and ripe tomatoes!

02 June 2008

Go See It.

On a whim this weekend we went to see the movie "Young at Heart" at our friendly local indie theater. I had expected a light and enjoyable flick that provided moderate entertainment. In fact, it was the best movie I've seen all year (something all my fellow moviegoers agreed on). It's really just a documentary about a choir of elderly folks in Massachusetts who sing punk songs and rock songs and their quirky director. Seems simple, but it's the kind of movie that will make you belly-laugh-out-loud for 2/3 of it, and cry (while still laughing) for the other 1/3. One of the most beautiful scenes I've seen in a long time is set at a prison in the middle of the movie. And I don't think I ever really understood the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" until I saw the choir's music-video-esque version of it. I know it's cliche, but it's one of those movies that leaves you feeling inspired and alive and profoundly moved as you walk out of the theater.

In other news, I cannot wait to finish grading these oral histories (after that it's the take-home final, but I'll take one beast at a time). And if anyone is going to be in DC between June 16-27, why, so will I, thanks to a nice cheap ticket on Delta I found this weekend. See you Capitol Folks then!

19 May 2008

Movie and Smoke

Some movie reviews from the past week. Also, four hours of secondhand smoke (heavy smoke) exposure has made me sick for two days straight. Pathetic. I hope to kick the cough by tomorrow.

Once is as good as they say. Not even like a movie, like something else entirely. Just watch and enjoy. The music is awesome, but the way it functions as a not-movie is its own kind of brilliant.

Marie Antoinette was also really enjoyable, I was suspicious of it ever since it came out, but the history and the costuming were just fun to watch. On top of that, I actually ended up liking it. It took this figure who clearly profited from excesses in her lifestyle that depended on the deprivation of many others (the degree of excess might be debated, but when other folks are in breadlines, I think excesses is a safe word), made you sympathetic to her and made you enjoy watching the absurdity of the court, and then ended with a nod (not lingered upon too much) to the Revolution and the deposing of the monarchy. I liked that because I think it is a pretty accurate appraisal of how I feel living in this country most of the time. We are all a bunch of Marie Antoinettes running around, consuming in a desperate confusion, profiting from an accident of birthplace, and living excessively by the delegated deprivation of people worldwide. To the point that however nice and charming many of us are, whatever happens to us on a societal scale might go down in history as justice.

The Ground Truth -- wow. This documentary is the best thing I've seen, read, or otherwise been exposed to on the current war. The brutality of some of the cadences these soldiers are trained to (singing about killing kids while they're at prayer), along with their stories told so honestly, and with no sense of entitlement, it's amazing. It ends with a tearful apology to the Iraqi people that is completely self-implicating. And the song they use is Patty Griffin's "Mary," which will make you cry even in a happy setting.

I saw the new Narnia movie. I actually did NOT like the first one, mostly because everything felt so Jesus-related. I know, I know -- it's not like I hadn't read the books as a kid (and loved them) so I had full warning, but somehow twenty years has made me much more jaded about Christ allegories. This one was much less so, with a sassy Narnian dwarf nonbeliever thrown in (another point over the first movie, which had the low-level creepiness of Mr. Tumnus).

14 May 2008

Not Blogging for a Month? Priceless.

It's really been a month? I...honestly don't know what happened to that month. I think maybe I should look under my bed. Or in my garage, which was cleaned out entirely by me in order to create a new, functioning craft room. Oh, that's where. That, and the garden, from which I ate a delicious radish seedling salad for lunch today. Snooty types call this "microgreens," I call it the only way I can bring myself to justify thinning seedlings that are otherwise perfectly healthy and happy. And apparently, nutritious and delicious. I realized today that I would be a terrible cheetah, I would never be able to bring myself to thin the herd. OK, so I did a lot of time-wasting things this month too, but overall it's been a very productive and efficient month except for the whole totally-dropping-the-blog-ball thing. Turning over new leaf...now!

Random run-down of stuff to report and/or endorse:

- Visited Eastern State Penitentiary on my most recent trip to Philly for the conference. This brings my number of prison audio tours for the last three month period to two, a number that makes me wonder if the universe is telling me something. The most priceless moment in this trip was when one of the wings of the prison was closed off (it almost looks like a Panopticon design, which made me absurdly excited, but alas, apparently it's slightly different or whatever). It was closed off for an Anthropologie catalog photo shoot. I do not lie. If you look at my pictures, you will see the crumbling, ruined prison cells that will eventually serve as a backdrop for $168 embroidered skirts.

- Beer is good. I've discovered I totally, sincerely (unlike when I lie and say a beer tastes "pretty good" every other time I drink one) love the house-made Flemish sour ale at a Belgian restaurant in Philly. Oh, I'm sure they have that on tap everywhere.

- Square dancing is awesome. And I'm so totally good at it. OK, "good" in the way I say most beers are "good." Square dances are becoming a Eugene hipster/old coot mixer tradition lately and I couldn't be happier.

- Glen Hansard and the Swell Season concert with some fine folks was a night of total fun. Glen Hansard is adorable. Tomorrow I get to finally see him in action in the movie "Once." I cannot wait.

- The Grocery Outlet. I'm finishing this post having just returned from a trip there, my second in a week. At most stores, you find the same things week in and week out, ever predictable. Boring! Where else but the Grocery Outlet would you find Smoothie Flavored Skittles, or Smoked Bacon Pringles, or "Factory Seconds" Almond Roca? You may not always like everything you find there, but you'll always find something you like, even if you never knew you liked it until that moment. Your favorite discontinued flavor of Haagen-Dazs or perhaps some chili-lime pistachio nuts? I feel sorry for those who have not enjoyed the good times of buying your groceries in outlet form. In my hometown, it's the only grocery store around.

- Books. I'm going to take a real stand and say, they're a good thing.

14 April 2008

Run Away! Run Away!

I have a confession to make about one of my weird tendencies. When things go well, I run away. As for example please, after I took my exams and got gladhanded by all the smiling profs at the end, I bolted as quickly as possibly out of the building. After defending my prospectus, which was essentially a love-fest, I literally ran to the bus station so that I could leave campus before accidentally doing something to ruin it. I have some deep-seated fear of the other shoe dropping, or of screwing something up (especially pronounced when I've just done the opposite of screw up). So this weekend I presented at this conference, which I was really nervous about doing since the bulk of the panelists and attendees were professors and the paper is in the early stages and is a very rough version of the first part of my nonexistent first chapter. So let's say, it's at the VERY early stages.

Anyway, I presented, and things went well. Surprisingly good attendance at the panel, no grilling, lots of "comments" from audience members that consisted of them trying to add whatever special subject they know about to my topic in order to attach to it and marry the two ideas, rather than trying to use what they know to tear it down (if that makes sense). Finally, the last speaker was a professor in the audience -- this guy for you Americanists, who is pretty much a rock star -- he gave a very complimentary analysis of my paper and one or two mild criticisms of the others. Then after the panel, two professors came up and asked if I could send them a copy of my paper, one professor asked me to give them advice on sources (seriously), and Professor Rock Star waited patiently to talk to me and say nice things and then asked if I could send him a copy of the paper and gave me his card. I managed to stutter out some gibberish and frankly, after talking to him, I fled. Like, fled the building in case I ran into someone and said something stupid, which seemed unavoidable. Unfortunately my session was in the morning so I had a bunch of lunch, afternoon and plenary panels to attend the rest of the day, along with a banquet at night, which were all kind of torture. I had to stop myself all day from bolting the conference, and managed to only because they were actually paying for me to attend, so I thought it would be pretty bad form. I realize this is absurd, and since I managed to get through the remainder of the day without excessively foolish behavior I disproved my own fear, but I doubt that will stop me from freaking out again in future. Am I alone in this behavior? I probably need to adjust my expectations or some psychobabble thing, but so far, fear and anxiety have served to get me where I am, and I have trouble letting go of them as motivational tools. :)

In other news, I found out this week that I got this fellowship for next year, which was a terrific surprise and which means I don't need to teach and can just write all year. I feel very, very lucky, especially because I know what a total crapshoot these applications are, and in particular, that this is evidence of the way in which certain educational pedigrees (or previous fellowship awards or particular formulations of projects at a particular political moment) serve to open the door for more benefits and privileges in an ongoing cycle. Of course I'm happy, but after reading the email notifying me I did have to recheck it every five minutes for about an hour to confirm I wasn't imagining things, at which point I fled campus and the sneaky computer that had informed me of the good news.

05 April 2008

Home Again, Back Again

Home again for the first week of classes -- still enjoying the memories of Cambridge and Philly and NYC. Thanks for the excellent company and the super find on the cheap B&B, S.! And thanks to M. for giving me the whirl of many fantastic NY experiences in a few short days, even as I was watching historians do their thing during all the daylight hours. I wish I could have stayed up even later! As it was, I did kind of-almost-barely-there fall asleep during the presentation of, naturally, my former professor on Sunday afternoon. I blame all those cake mix drinks Saturday night.

Watching historians do their thing reminds me of my favorite random quality of these conferences: the inspiration. And I don't mean that I get inspired by the amazing level of the papers (though some were quite good, of course, but many are sort of ho hum), but that there's some psychic impact to being surrounded by a bunch of really smart people who are doing work that's both different enough and similar enough to yours to get your wheels turning. I feel this much more at the OAH, less at the AHA where it's every kind of field. It reminds me of my law school years with the brilliant and crazy and beautiful and terrible folks from my section and beyond, and of my recent time in the history department with my staggeringly intelligent cohort and the adopted members thereof, Trust in Steel and Dolce Vita. Now, it's a little more...distant. Everyone's so spread out! So there's something to be said for the gathering together to talk about some stuff, and this is true even though I knew barely anyone at the conference. I have all these jotted-down notes on my own research or my own project that I took during various paper presentations at the conference, most of which had no relation to my momentary inspiration. The papers on adoption after the Korean War or whatever were conduits for my brain to briefly channel a few seconds of the combined group historical intelligence in the room and apply it to my own work. Seriously, I think that's how it works.

And now I go back to the East Coast to present my own paper at a conference! Well, maybe I can give someone else some random inspiration on 19th century cultural studies or something else completely unrelated to what I'm doing. I have to say I'm looking forward to not flying anywhere for a few months after this trip!

Also -- check out LinkTV. Interesting stuff.

22 March 2008

Uncle Harvard's Largesse

(For some reason, this didn't post on Saturday when I wrote it...)

Back in Cambridge for a few days this week, researching and getting into a small amount of trouble with S. So far we've gotten to eat at some of our favorite restaurants here in town, hear our favorite Irish music played by Mr. Ronan Quinn, and receive what were in fact too many free drinks (as in, we left several of them sitting on the table untouched because we were pretty far gone already by then). Tonight we will partake of 80s night at the Phoenix, though it looks like most of the Irish carpenter community has fled the dying dollar to return to the Celtic tiger. But the thing that's really defined this trip has been the reminder of the kind of bounty you get at this type of institution. Particularly the law school. It did not train us well for how humanities programs are treated in the rest of the academy.

Example 1: The copy center, where you (or the guy who wanders in looking for a bathroom and decides he wants some expensive readings on jurisprudence) can pick up for free the coursepacks for all your courses and anything else that looks interesting. They photocopy it for you, bind it, stack it on a counter and you just walk by and get it. Like socialism.

Example 2: The coffee. Every day, even though you are kind of a nobody, just a student, some people show up and make a fuss about fixing free hot coffee for you and your classmates. The free gourmet food which is around and available 90% of the time is just an added perk.

Example 3: The quarters. In Special Collections at the Law Library, they have lockers for you to put your stuff, lockers that charge you a quarter to open them. Except that Harvard provides the quarter. They all already have quarters in the slot for you, ready to go. Of course.

Example 4: The alcohol. Constant, constant free alcohol. At a minimum, weekly free happy hours, and, more often, parties sponsored by firms with free-flowing top-shelf tequila or whatever the party theme dictates.

Example 5: The ice skating rink. They actually build an ice-skating rink outside the law school commons building every winter. With skates provided, of course.

The main thing we've noticed being back in this nest of free crap is that most of the stuff provided by Uncle H is of the luxury or convenience variety -- tunnels to keep you cozy walking between classes in winter, free shuttles to drive you all around in the evening, fancy snacks and wine at the most menial of club or classroom gatherings. None of it is essential, because people here are assumed to not need such things. It just goes to prove that the rich just get more and nicer free stuff, while the poor don't even get access to basic life necessities. Ultimately, HLS' brand of socialism made us both a little sick, even as we simultaneously took advantage of it. It's a love/hate relationship, definitely.

14 March 2008

Stuff Made While Sick (And Shortly Thereafter)

I call it Scarfy. I taught myself how to cast on, bind off, and make the fringe (previous knitting projects have required much assistance from the wise A.). Plus, pink! And alpaca, so super-duper soft.

Glitter eggs. Thanks, Martha.

I am currently obsessed with making pysanky. Partly this is because no other crafty-folk seem to make them, so I feel a little more cutting edge than when I copy something Martha did (not that I don't like to do that regularly). Partly it's because my Mom used to make them, really elaborate ones with tiny woodland scenes of deer on them. Yeah, I'm not there yet, but I like this site as visual inspiration. I won't even tell you how long the two below took to make.

We learned to make tamales last weekend (the tamales were made when we were all no longer sick, of course), and produced probably over a hundred with three different kinds of fillings and fresh tomatillo salsa. Awesome! And they are actually all gone now, that's how yummy they were. Not as hard to make as I'd thought, though they are definitely a team production.

Finally, not anything I made, but I enjoyed this bit of news. Yes, extreme wealth is a mortal sin. Thanks for that.

04 March 2008

Check it Out

Go here -- it's hilarious. Though to be fair, it's really about upper-middle-class, overeducated (white) people. The description of NPR-listening, "This American Life" fans particularly kills me. It's good to be reminded of how absurd and privileged many of my preferences are.

01 March 2008

My Student's Paper Title Can Beat Up Your Student's Paper Title

"Dude, It's Her Vagina, She Can Do What She Wants With It."

Need I say more? One of "hidden" joys of teaching a women's history class. I'm going to go for some serious entertainment and apply to be the instructor for the women's studies 101 class next year. Imagine the possible essays. (S., you don't have to imagine, you lived it!)

I haven't blogged in quite a while (Florida? When did I go there?), but I blame this wicked flu I've had for the past forever. I don't usually get sick, when I do it's usually just a cold or something brief and passing, so I was fairly unprepared for five days of fever, chills and hacking. Now I've just had an additional week of "just" hacking and fatigue that followed, which frankly is working my last nerve, but I'll take it to have the fever gone and finally be feeling a little more like my human self again. As E points out, it's the constant little kitten coughs that drive you batty, because they sound mild enough that you and those around you assume you should be able to hold them in. Except you can't, or else you end up in some sort of kitten-coughing fit, which is just ridiculous. I've reached the point of taking herbal tinctures and thinking my mom may be right when she claims red hair has given me a weakened immune system. No, wait, what? That's not right. The herbal tinctures must be interacting with one another.

On a brighter, less whiny note, I had the pleasure of at least getting sick in excellent company -- my fantastic friend S. was visiting from her current perch at the feet of this demigoddess in SF. Of course, we managed to give her some NW hospitality, including the flu, inappropriately racialized comments at John Henry's (every time!), and lots of midget hippie boys pot-staring at us as we drove around and thinking, in S' imagination: "Dude, your car's really weighing you down!" These are clearly the kind of hippies who share a lot in common with the student who wrote this week's prize-winning paper title. It was, in all seriousness, an amazing visit with one of my favorite people in the entire world, followed by my accompanying her back to SF for two days. Since we both had the flu at that point, our needs were met by some basic lying around, knitting, sipping delicious "tonic" and playing Rock Band with R. & J., whom I finally, happily got to meet and get in hilarious arguments with about the apocalypse. (And now I get to congratulate them both on the engagement that just transpired this weekend! Congrats!)

I've seen San Francisco before, so I was happy just to get to see my friends, sick or no, and be introduced to this Rock Band game. Let's just say we rocked the Clash, among others. And we managed to make it out one day to go to Alcatraz, which was fascinating and well worth it, flu and all. We are now starting a "Bring Back Alcatraz" club, email for T-shirts. Honestly, compared to our modern prisons... My favorite thing of all about it was Rule #5 from the prison handbook, which I actually bought in magnet form: "You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. Anything else you receive is a privilege." Wait, I have a right to that stuff? Seriously?


08 February 2008

Swimming with Manatees

Florida? What can I say? White sandy beaches, mid-70 degrees all day, bright sun, clear blue skies, nice breezes, flamingos, seashells, tropical fruit and old people. Good times. In our brief trip, we managed to pack a lot in: we ate delicious Cuban food (vegetarian, too!) with authentic mojitos:

We visited a turn of the century Greek fishing village that is renowned for being the sponge-diving capital of the world. And you know, we had some Greek food. Because frankly, it's all about the food and the sunshine.

We got to visit the awesome Ringling Museum, including the circus museum, a huge privately collected art museum, their personal palace on the water and the rest of the elaborate estate that served as the winter grounds for the circus. We learned a lot about clowns -- not so scary when you know the history -- we stole some oranges (it's tradition, I did it in some of the finest estates in Italy), we saw special exhibits on both Grandma Moses and Jacob Lawrence (fangirl squee!) at the art museum, and even the guy who sold us our tickets was a salty old flirt who seemed likely to have travelled with the Depression-era train circuses. This book inspired us.

And the highlight of the trip -- probably of the entire year -- was swimming with manatees. We woke up at 4 in the morning to drive to the boat launch, headed out to a hot spring on a river, dropped anchor, threw on wet suits and snorkels -- for R & I, learned to snorkel -- and freaking swam around with manatees. We all got manatee hugs. They're thousand-pound sea creatures of snuggliness. Since they have no natural predators, they literally are just friendly and sweet and like to give hugs -- one held on to my arm with its flippers for a while, and another started to nibble on E's hair. It was unreal. The only drawback was the disposable underwater camera we bought right before the trip malfunctioned, so we have no photos of it. Now that I know how to snorkel and I know how amazingly peaceful it feels to have your face in this underwater world while your body floats on the water, I'm ready for the coral reefs next time. I couldn't fall asleep for days without seeing the underwater world of the manatees swimming before my eyes, like my head was just falling underwater again. So amazingly peaceful and serene.

And we saw some old folks. I have to say, vacations where you can go out and drive around town for several hours and not see a single person under 50? Kind of my favorite. We also stumbled across the gay neighborhood, called Kenwood (of course), of antique shops and nightclubs on our island. There were a few people under 50 there, but not too many. We were regularly referred to by tour guides as "kids," as in, "have any of the kids here (looks at us) seen the Wizard of Oz?" Yeah. Also, we found a soft-serve place that served 60 flavors. It seemed strange until we realized that soft-serve is the preferred cold dessert of the retiree crowd. I'm ready to retire now, please.

31 January 2008

Off to Florida!

Some of you know that I am departing for Florida today until Tuesday to enjoy some sunshine, manatees and beaches with E. and R., formerly known as the 58 Ibbetson ladies. It's a very timely trip, namely because the beautiful snow of last weekend has devolved into cold, rainy yuckiness. I'm happy to head toward sun. I actually am packing shorts, people. Crazy! E. is presenting at a fancy conference in Tampa, so R. and I are accompanying her for a little mini-reunion.

In totally unrelated news, I strongly encourage all of you to go to this site and donate $8 (or more, if you've got it) to the National Slavery Museum. The fact that this museum is still not up and running -- the fact that we have no museum of slavery in this country (a point most powerfully made in this book some of us recall from 612) is appalling. It's not open yet solely because of lack of funding. This would not be a problem for many other museums, and I urge you to do what I did, which was to think about all the free or reduced-cost (re: subsidized by the rich people who have not chosen to subsidize this) museum visits I have taken in the last year and add up what I would've spent on admission fees for those. Not to be preachy, but seriously. I used to rail about this to my students in African American History, then I read that this museum was in the process of being built and I let it fall off the radar. That was over two years ago, and I only recently realized that not only is it not built yet, it is still in the same phase it had been two years ago because of the need for more funding. As a sidenote, I find the Phillip Morris donation of 250,000 kind of disgusting. Because I can't help but take it as an admission that "Hey! Tobacco never could've taken off without slave labor, so thanks for our centuries of huge profits!" Of course I think Phillip Morris should be contributing to this, it's not that, it's that the contribution itself acknowledges the historical exploitation and therefore 250,000 seems like a meaningless slap in the face.

Anyway...off to Florida I go, increasing my carbon footprint for the year by an undoubtedly awful amount! Boy, I'm cheery today. It might be that this was "rape week" in the early US women's history class I'm grading for -- doesn't lend itself to a lot of hopeful thoughts about the world. The students had to stop doing the reading at nighttime entirely. Definitely not the American Revolution they teach about in high school, or even college, for that matter.

29 January 2008

Snow Days!

Some photos from the last week...

Driving around town, randomly spotted:

Fabulous dinner courtesy of Miss M, followed by a showing of The Commitments. Oh, the Irish accents.

My second crumpet attempt, on the first day of snow -- better than the last, but still too biscuity and not crumpety enough. I will persevere! And on the second day of snow, my class was cancelled and I got to chill in front of the fire with my books. Excellent! Earlier this weekend, we got to get all dressed up and go see the Garth Fagan Dance Company, which was spectacular.

20 January 2008

Experiments in Cooking and Fiction

In honor of Sunday morning, I decided to test out the crumpet ring I bought many months ago and try to make my first-ever batch of crumpets today. Let me just say -- biscuity English muffins are good. The first few burnt, there was some adjustment, but ultimately they were quite tasty. They were not, however, remotely crumpetlike. So now I feel like I've taken on a challenge, and I do enjoy a challenge. For the next several weeks I will be attempting other crumpet recipes in hopes of finding one that actually tastes like the real deal. I don't know -- crumpets are just a step (or even two) higher on the yummy chain for me than almost any other breakfast bread, muffin, what have you. Does anyone prefer English muffins to crumpets? I know English muffins are way more accessible here in the States, but it's really no contest as far as I'm concerned. Plus the word is even fun -- crumpet! I think my next experiment (after I find the one true crumpet recipe) will be attempting Ethiopian cooking -- I love me some injera, and there are no restaurants in this neck of the woods, so if I want it, I better learn to make it myself.

The hot springs was fantastic as always -- lots of reading (three novels), soaking, cold plunges (love the cold in the field of snow!), and vegetarian food not cooked by me. A few random recommendations from my weekend if anyone's looking for a good novel.

1) The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai -- this book is one of the best I've read recently. A Booker-prize winning meditation on colonialism and postcolonial existence, immigration, race, class and consumption. Just so, so good.

2) The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri -- it's been on my list for ages, and I am still in the middle of this one, but it draws you in immediately and is just beautifully written. Plus, for those law school ladies who read this, there are some nice mentions of neighborhoods in Cambridge that made me nostalgic. Next I will see the movie that everyone raves about.

3) Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen -- a fun, well-researched book that feels like (although how would we know?) it actually gives you a glimpse into train circuses during the Depression. The elephant is awesome. The old man who narrates the book is also fantastic, and it is powerfully poignant to put the reader inside all these characters who are for various reasons viewed as "disposable" to society.

11 January 2008

Don't You Watch the 10 O'Clock News?

Having returned from my month of travelling, I was putting off my first post because -- eesh, the pressure! So many fun adventures, so much archival dorkiness, so many folks to thank for a fantastic trip. R and A -- thank you so very much for your hospitality and fabulous fun! An afternoon of candy-making, an evening of ravioli-making, a night of a murder mystery game (with lawyers, which makes the "questioning" portion ten times better), and two fairly creepy movies about magicians, along with lots of other fun. In fact, this trip made me reevaluate DC, a place I had formerly written off as my least favorite place I've ever lived -- I think it was just where and who I was living with then that made it so, I really enjoyed it this time around and I'm happy to be wrong.

As for the first week back, not much to tell other than unpacking and doing lots of catch-up work on the to-do list. E & I watched an episode of Colonial House last night, a PBS reality series from a few years ago that I got on Netflix, and wow. A group of fifteen people settle on a 1,000 acre plot of wilderness in Maine and have to live like they're in 1628. It's a show about (surprise) class and gender and race, in history and in how people today live. We weren't even twenty minutes into the episode when the "governor's wife" (actually a Texas Baptist Republican preacher's wife) spewed some frightening racism to her little kid about native Americans (see title). I can already tell what a great teaching tool this show would be. It's reality TV, public television history nerd style! Bring it on.