Monthly Archives: September 2008

Luxury, Calm and Voluptuousness II

Lisa and Undine raised the question, what makes you write? My answer was and is Baudelairean: ordre et beauté, luxe, calme, et volupté. A garret by a good bookstore and a job as a barista could constitute luxury, calm, and voluptuousness. Another answer is that writing is like breathing – nothing motivates me, or everything does, I write every day. But Undine’s question was about academic writing. I used to write because things were required or due, or because I had something to say to a particular venue. It did not take motivation – it was a habit. Then for some time I really only had comments. I have never liked writing in the hope that it might get me somewhere – after all, where would that be? But my motivation now is that it is going to get me to a specific place. I am not used to this. It is going to take a new version of me to do that, but I can feel it coming on.

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Undine’s question led me to think of another: what forms of luxury do I want to reclaim in my life, now that I am living again in a First World country with all sorts of luxuries at my fingertips – luxuries to which I am so accustomed that I do not take advantage of them, despite the fact that this would require no changes to my finances or my carbon imprint? In other words, what luxuries do I have that I am not using, and could?

The answer, I discovered, was flexible scheduling. I remember how I renounced that, slowly, insidiously, working with people who keep factory or administrators’ schedules, working at all normal business hours but then only. Trying to do this when it is not in fact necessary causes me to waste a significant amount of time by inefficiently forcing my organism to a schedule that only seems practical. Before I renounced flexible scheduling, I did one or more of the following in any given week:

+ take a late afternoon off and work in the evening (this is the Mediterranean way, and I promise it gives you more time every day for both work and play)
+ go out on a weeknight and work Saturday night (this emphasizes your creative life and not drudgery)
+ do errands Friday, work Saturday (what is a flexible schedule for if not to free your weekends of errands, so you can enjoy your life)
+ leave work soon after lunch Friday, go to the pool, clean house that afternoon; go out Friday night; go hiking Saturday, work Saturday night and all Sunday, go out Sunday night (this really makes the weekend long).

One of my great-great uncles is supposed to have “revolutionized” factory work in nineteenth century Russia by providing lunch, so that workers “did not have” to go home at midday and could thus leave work at five. I really wonder about the benevolence of the change. Doesn’t it sound as though it would be so the factory could put on another shift?

I any case, I have been very decadent in my more productive periods, going out every night and then typing in cafés all weekend. Under peer pressure I tried to reform and become proper, but it was impractical. I notice that I like to keep hours, but not standard hours. And when I keep the hours invented by myself, I do not waste time or procrastinate. And doing that was something I did when I still felt what I would call normal levels of power and centredness in life. Reclaiming my hours appears to be part of reclaiming the older and newer version of me.

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This weblog is changing, although you may not see it as I do since the posts are not posted in real time, or in the order written. But do you notice how I no longer discuss Reeducation? And how the tortured posts have moved on to the next, more difficult topic, academia? I have almost written everything I have to say about that, too. More will be almost redundant, because I could wonder forever what I might have thought or how I might have felt had things been different, or whether I am secretly a real academic. I can always go into many contortions and discuss the things I might do to adapt. And as I said in my great, unfinished novel MADRID, one can say anything about anything in that kind of terrain, since the world is a fabric of dreams which interpret and reinterpret each other. I do not really know but I have the distinct impression that I am going to write a certain book and it is going to get me a job by the sea.

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I started the Professor Zero blog with with the intention of posting a poetic fragment each day to invoke Oxalá and the light. I never expected to become so much less cryptic as I was in those days. That is to say, I never expected that I, the author, would join my voice to that of the narrator, Professor Zero – or that I, the scribe, would join my voice to that of the author, Professor Zero. But I, who aspired to rebuild myself from the ground up by writing as Professor Zero, am increasingly located in the streets, in the academic book, and more yet in my great, unfinished novel MADRID. Both of us will still write here, leveling off perhaps in  intensity.

Axé.

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Financial News Question

Now the University is offering us the chance to change from private retirement plans to the state system. I have never been on the state system, although if I had gotten in when I originally came it would have been advantageous, because it is not portable and I have never planned to stay. And rules for vesting in it have tightened since – most recently, I heard that someone who signed up today could only retire at full salary after 50 years of service.

I have not yet discovered what the particulars of the switch would be for my case, and I am loath to change to a system that is not portable and which, when last I checked, did not have a good option for cashing out, but I am wondering. Are other Louisiana faculty on TIAA-CREF considering switching to the state, given what is happening to the markets? What do you think?

Axé.

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Oppose the Bailout

“Ask this question — are the credit markets really about to seize up?

“If they are then lots of business owners should be eager to tell how their bank is calling their 90-day revolving loans, rejecting new loans and demanding more cash on deposit. I called businessmen I know yesterday and not one of them reported such problems. Indeed, Citibank offered yesterday to lend me tens of thousands of dollars on my signature at 2.99 percent, well below the nearly 5 percent inflation rate. That offer came after I said no last week to a 4.99 percent loan.

“If the problem is toxic mortgages then how come they are still being offered all over the Internet? On the main page AOL generates for me there is an ad for a 1.9% loan (which means you pay that interest rate and the rest of the interest is added to your balance due.) Why oh why or why would taxpayers be bailing out banks that are continuing to sell these toxic loans? . . .

“What steps are being taken to take back bonuses, fees and other compensation from the folks who got rich selling toxic mortgages and illiquid investments that Secretary Paulsen claims are threatening the whole system?

“How will adding $700 billion to the national debt ease strains on the credit markets?

“As of now we are, as a group, behaving just as we did the last two times the administration sought to rush through a hastily thought out, ill-conceived plan. Why in the world are we being so gullible and naive? Whatever happened to the core value of journalism — check it out?”

Part of what happened to the core value of journalism is that people no longer have the intellectual skills and background to be able to “check it out,” know what questions are asked. Also, with the current emphasis on “objectivity” many journalists appear to consider it their job only to repeat what they are told and then, for “balance,” repeat another view.

Axé.

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Avant-Goût of WashiWara – Docta Musica

Check out WashiWara Planet. The music starts after the singer-hero arrives by magical car.

In this next double dose from Cameroun the singer-hero arrives by spaceship – must be the Mothership – and opposes corruption. “It sounds like the words flow.”

I wish I could do an act like this in class. I will aspire to it.

Axé.

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Reading for Pleasure Wednesday: The NYT on Teaching

Sunday’s NYT Magazine had a number of essays on higher education and university level teaching. I am going to read it. I have heard it is very good. I know I should want to read the Chronicle of Higher Education but am I the only one who finds it – well, goody-goody?

Axé.

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Probability and Statistics: Louisiana for Obama?

I might vote for Cynthia McKinney just for the sake of voting closer to my actual views, if I thought Obama really couldn’t win Louisiana. But call me an Obamaholic, Field Negro. I won’t mind, I was a Kucinich voter originally. Now, however, I am in enough denial about the possibility of a McCain victory that I believe Obama can win Louisiana.

I have seen polls saying Louisiana will go 62-38 and also 55-45 for McCain. Here is why I disagree. Louisiana is the second most African-American state in the Union (after Mississippi), and the electorate is about 30% Black. When I phone banked against David Duke in the early nineties, I had the easy job of calling Black Democrats, reminding them to vote, and asking whether they needed transportation to the polls. I started phoning about 9 AM and everyone had already voted. I believe this turnout can be reproduced, in Obama’s favor.

Let us assume that sews up 29% of the popular vote. Then we need another 22%, coming from the remaining 70% of the electorate. If just over 30% of this electorate votes for Obama, there are the 22%. That would be just over 3 in 10 of white-and-other voters.

Do you not think it is possible? (Will you check my math, Angry Professor?)

Axé.

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World Traffic Survey, and AIDESEP

This is the first day of Fall, the best season. I always liked Fall but in Louisiana it is truly stellar because there is a day in early Fall when the humidity leaves the air. This lowers the heat index greatly and it becomes possible to go outdoors. The month of October is as cool as summer in Southern California, and since there is outdoor exercise again one can absorb natural vitamin D. The city of New Orleans glows, sparkles, shines in ochre sunlight. You can walk the length of the levee and see all the ships come in. It is the month of application deadlines for major grants, the MLA Job Information List, and applications to graduate and professional schools. You define your muscles, state your positions, see your possibilities, and look ahead to the next sunlit year.

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Meanwhile, I have not found any really accurate videos of Lima traffic. I thought traffic in Africa (for age of vehicles) or India (for volume) might be worse, but the videos indicate that it is actually better because it is lighter (in Africa) and vehicles are lighter (in India). I have heard that the very worst traffic is in Baghdad, Dhaka, and Lahore, but again, there are so many three-wheelers and other mini-vehicles in these places that although traffic seems to be as crowded and chaotic as it is in Lima, it just doesn’t look as dangerous. Traffic is also very chaotic in East Asia but again, comparatively non-scary insofar as many of the vehicles are lighter than regular cars. Mexico City traffic is famous, of course, but it is all too modern and organized, and the streets are too well maintained, for this city’s traffic to be comparable to that of poorer countries. Brazilian traffic is not comparable, either, because too many of the cars there are too well maintained.

The closest approximation I have found so far to Lima traffic is in Cairo. There are many videos and I do not know which one to choose. Some are especially good for the illustratively desperate tones of the voiceovers. There are also interviews of Cairo cab drivers, with subtitles, which are very interesting. And it is interesting how many people are horrified by traffic worldwide and have videotaped it. “Traffic + [city of your choice]” is a very amusing search term to type into YouTube.

In lieu of a horrifying traffic video of my own choice I offer you an alternative: the website of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle, AIDESEP. These people are modern, eco-smart, and brave, and they are fighting Big Oil. I was never interested in visiting the jungle – the heat and the mosquitos sound unattracive and we all know what our modernist antihero said, POUCA SAÚDE E MUITA SAÚVA, OS MALES DO BRASIL SÃO. But I would visit the jungle for the sake of visiting AIDESEP people.

Axé.

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