Friday, April 20, 2007

funny Vowell

I'm ready to come clean and admit it. I lead a clandestine life where I read books for pleasure. This causes me some small degree of guilt - even in my clandestine life - because I know I could be "making progress" with other, more rigorous readings.

Recently, I've been reading Sarah Vowell's Partly Cloudy Patriot and it is so good that I have to recommend it to other clandestine - and non-clandestine - readers. (If you've ever listed to two or more shows of This American Life, then you've already heard Vowell in action.) It is a collection of short, humorous essays that are insightful, witty, and very funny. Most of the essays - like Vowell - have a historical bent, as this observation from her trip to Salem, Massachusettes, demonstrates.
"Twenty innocent people were executed in Salem during the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. Which is horrifying, yet manages to make for a surprisingly nice weekend getaway."
She explains how Gore could have won the 2000 election by taking a lesson from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Elsewhere, she offers the following insight into cultural fetishes:
"A person keen on all things French is called a Francophile. One who has a thing for England is called an Anglophile. An admirer of Germany in the 1930s and '40s is called Pat Buchanan."
I think the reason that I appreciate this book so much is because Vowell is an unapologetic history nerd. So, her wry comments are intermixed with historical interpretations for which I have much sympathy:
"The more history I learn, the more the world fills up with stories. Just the other day, I was in my neighborhood Starbucks, waiting for the post office to open. I was enjoying a chocolatey caffe mocha when it occurred to me that to drink a mocha is to gulp down the entire history of the New World. From the Spanish exportation of Aztec cacao, and the Dutch invention of the chemical process for making cocoa, on down to the capitalist empire of Hershey, PA, and the lifestyle marketing of Seattle's Starbucks, the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top."

With this recommendation, I wish you happy reading!

(Google's blog spell-checker contains the word "Anglophile" but not the word "Francophile." Hummm.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


KFR offered a post today about which I have distinct opinions that I will now offer:

Like KFR, I too love my civil liberties* and would note that under the current administration, they are in danger.

I hold the liberty from government surveillance closer to my heart than the liberty to own and discharge fire arms as I see fit. As it turns out, I support restrictions on the latter liberty. Indeed, I would feel safer with distinct, enforced restrictions. (By the by, it is easier to buy a gun in this country than to buy liquor.)

(*including the liberty that the Supreme Court today decided I - as a woman - am not to be entrusted with.)

Here's some thoughts on this incident and ineffective and insufficient efforts at "gun control."
So, the VT gunman was involuntarily committed for psychological evaluation about a year ago. This should have prevented him from obtaining a gun (provided he bought it after this event).
A commenter on NPR (I will link to the article when I find it) raised some very good points about how VT can happen elsewhere in the US. He noted that countries with universal health care are better equipped to offer counseling and treatment to people who are depressed, suicidal, or unable to control their rage (and these people know that they can seek medical care). These same countries also have stricter gun control. But in the US - as Le Monde put it best - guns are readily available and owners are encouraged to use them. This says, in essence, if you feel dis-ease, a gun can solve your problems.

As for gun ownership as a civil liberty, this is one of the most warped of the various warped interpretations of the Constitution, so let us go there: Amendment 2 (1791) says
"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
Everyone seems to forget about the "well regulated militia" part. This asserted that each state - and village - needed to have an internal, organized militia for protection from the British or Indian nations or slave insurrections, etc. (Recall that not all Americans enjoyed this "liberty" - it was reserved for specific groups.) Also, remember the young nation did not have a national militia (i.e. a national army) because this would have put too much power under the control of the president who - like King George - might have used it against Americans. Private ownership of guns, then, was a matter of national defense. Recall - we now have a standing national army thus negating the intent behind good-old No. 2. I also want to note that a concentration of arms is the same reason that this amendment was not intend for private individuals to stock pile weapons - as modern promoters of this liberty will have us believe. Three years after the passage of this amendment, Pres. Washington led an army (composed of state militias) against up-country Pennsylvania residents who - instead of mustering their arms in defense of the nation - mustered them against the new Constitutional government. This internal threat to the fledgling republic was consistent and palpable in the 18th and early 19th centuries. I can say with confidence that the drafters of the Constitution did not intend for just any private American citizen to "keep and bear arms" because this posed too much of a threat to the consolidation of power and money that they were trying to effect under their pretty new government. By the way, this is the context and intent that the dicktard Supreme Court Justices who claim to be constitutional originalists conveniently forget about.

Rant done.

For the moment.

Monday, April 16, 2007

"tunnel vision"

I am impressed by the good number of 'tunnel' metaphors in English. It works for my present situation. I now have a tunnel.

I finally took my adviser's advice and tried to write out the first line of each chapter. It was useful in many ways. This made me reconsider where the chapters begin and end but also what each one will contribute to the whole. I can't say that I seceded in writing a single, good opening line for each chapter that encapsulated the argument. Many of my "opening lines" are rambling paragraphs.

Nonetheless, I can see the whole dissertation stretching out before me. It now has shape, form, and substance! One might call it a tunnel. It has enough substance that I know what remaining sources I need to see in order to write each chapter. I can also see how the various arguments twist and turn as they run through the story.

I definitely don't see any light at the end of this tunnel, but I do, finally, see a tunnel!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

petits madelines

I am a big fan of Proust’s story of the petits madelines. I have – and do – find his account of thought patters fascinating (while acknowledging that medical knowledge about how the brain works has expanded dramatically over the past century. I still think Proust explained best all that needs to be said).

I’ve noticed recently, that my brain appears to be addicted to this variety of petits madelines. I probably have been overly demanding, insisting on concentration and focus so that I can sprint through monographs and the like. I haven’t allowed myself very much mental free-association time - something that is exacerbated by my quite isolation and dearth of adult conversations.

Instead of sleep, my brain has been treating me to some petits madelines. One consisted of a trip back to high school and through the various pranks that one friend and I pulled off during those years. Another, randomly, of the places that my car has lived. And, then, one of my life the last time I lived in Seattle.

This led me to recall my stint with the AFL-CIO and organizing for HERE (the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union for the acronym neophytes). S pretty much ended any career I might have had as a union organizer. Nevertheless, I concluded (or my brain did – I’m not sure who was driving at that late hour) this was the last really meaningful work I did. This prompted some Internet searching this morning where I rediscovered Jobs with Justice. I highly recommend perusing the site and signing up for their e-mails. They do the typical “write your representative” campaigns, but they also mobilize the like-minded when bodies are needed (which is how I ended up joining a janitors picket at a Fred Meyer in Portland). And while the So. Cal. arm of J with J is pretty weak, S is old enough now that I can haul her along to these events.

Thanks Proust.

Monday, April 2, 2007

end game

I survived Spring Break - that is, S's spring break.

The school-that-closes-for-no-apparent-reason closed last week, this time for Spring Break. Her "break" came, of course, after the two-week break R had. So, S and I entertained each other. As it turns out, she has no interest in the Congressional Record or 1930's community newspapers. I, reluctantly, gave up training her as a research assistant. (Maybe I'll try again when she turns five... .) Instead, we molded clay figures, made a pillow, and played Wizard of Oz games. And she ended the week by going to college. I got to leave for the OAH meeting (yeah!), so S went to school with her dad where she, in her words, she was excited to "meet his students." In the end, we both capped off the week on a high note. I had a great time seeing all of you Eugene people! Next time, I'll make it as far as Oregon.

(By the way, my cold is abating and my voice is making a great come-back. Today it was so much improved that I sounded like a teen-age boy at puberty who can't control his pitch.)