My Life is An Ad for Apple Computers and Chinese Food

One thing I didn’t mention in yesterday’s post was that my new Apple finally came in. It’s going to be the heart of the new studio, so I was pretty psyched to bring it home after slogging through dossier assembly. When I went to the store, the guy who got my order for me said something to the effect of “that’s a pretty fast computer, eh?” (it’s the dual 2.5gig, so yes, it is fast). Then while he went down and got the computer, another guy said “that’s a pretty fast computer, what are you going to use it for?” So I told him that it was for audio. Then, I’m in the elevator, with the computer on a hand truck and the guy next to me, also an employee of the McGill bookstore (or computer store) is looking at the box kind of funny. I ask him what he’s looking for, and he asks “how fast is it?” I tell him and he says “that’s a pretty fast computer.” It’s like I had a sports car in the box or something. I didn’t really think of it that way, until the third guy asked me. I just figured if I’m running processor-intensive software, I might as well have the fastest machine available (I write on a 2002 dual gig machine that is still faster than I need, but it used to be the main audio computer).

Yes, the machines are cool. But enough of that. I’ll report back when I’ve actually done some mixing, which will be a couple weeks (setting up audio software and getting the configuration just right among components and standards is a PITA).

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Last night, we had dinner as La Maisson Guang Zhou in Chinatown, which had a nice vegetarian section. The place reminded me of some Chinese places I’d eaten in New York both in style of food (thinner rather than thicker sauces — the hot and sour soup wasn’t too salty and had a nice kick) and in decor: the plastic tablecloths were not elegant, but they were sanitary. . . . It was our first trip to Chinatown since moving here (Charles and Haidee took me when I visited, though). We walked around after dinner and checked the place out. It’s not that big, but it’s pretty cool — espeically because of the pedestrian mall — and from the window gazing, it looks like lots of places have vegetarian options, and some of the (then closed) grocers also looked intriguing. I know that Torontonians scoff at this Chinatown and rightly so if you’ve seen Toronto’s. Pittsburgh wasn’t bad on the Chinese food and grocer front (including, for a few months, a killer Zen Chinese place), but there’s something special about a proper Chinatown.

As we walked back to the metro, we got a glimpse of old Montreal, all lit up. It looked really cool. We then went on to watch The Forgotten (at the Forum) which had the makings of an awesome sci-fi-ish thriller but instead descended into sucking. As usual, I took a childlike fascination with the subway. I love spending a night out and not using the car.

More Tenure

As I said somewhere below, this is the semester of applications. The latest and most baroque is tenure. Tenure is like the holy grail in academic ideology. Though in point of fact professors are dismissed for political reasons more often than you think (at least in the U.S., I don’t know my Canadian cases well enough), tenure is the place where we hang the cloak of academic freedom. It is supposed to be the excuse for perennially low academic salaries as well — job security for revenue is the trade you’re supposed to make. The job security thing is probably overblown as well (especially in my case, since the real holy grail there is permanent residency, which will be another couple years). Ultimately, the biggest reward of tenure is that you are no longer probationally in the profession. It is the line between “junior” and “senior” in academic chronology, and it signifies, above all else, that you got through and got tenure. Tenure is a thing that is supposed to represent all these other social goods in our world but somehow in the machinations of professional ideology and everday life becomes an “in-itself” (1).

The experience of assistant professorship varies from person to person. Tenure was never the big thing for me — it was getting the book out, finding a place where Carrie and I could both be happy, enjoying my time in the classroom, etc. Tenure was supposed something that would happen as a natural outgrowth of my work as an academic. For others, the tenure track is more like, well, a track where one sprints toward the finish line, or a seething personal hell of anxiety and doubt. But the end is the same no matter how you experience the middle: a massive pile of documents must be assembled into binders. That is what I did for like 7 hours yesterday. For all of the affect attached to tenure, the final step in the process is incredibly banal: “If it’s book 2, tab 17, it must be that report I wrote up for the graduate curriculum committee in 1999.” “Ten copies of everything, please.” When I finished assembling the files, I used a hand truck to get them to the proper offices. I broke the hand truck in the process. The drama tunred out to be that I almost dropped four boxed in a puddle.

Moving papers and separators into binders in the proper order has left me with this bizarre sore feeling in my shoulders. When I described it to Carrie, she said it sounded like bagging groceries: “people in stores get repetitive stress injuries all the time.”(2) I’m not injured, but the remaining stiffness when I lift my arms up above does serve as a reminder that whatever else it is, the work we do is always a form of labor, and perhaps there’s something poetic about actually feeling my final contribution to my own tenure process. At least until later today or tomorrow, when I won’t feel it anymore.

It would be bad form for me to say much about my prospects of a positive outcome, so let me just say that I am optimistic. Most of all, though, is the feeling of relief that whatever I do today, tomorrow, the next day, it does not any longer “count” for tenure(3). The files have been delivered. One of my professors, John Lie (now a sociologist at Berkeley with a very interesting FAQ), told me when I was in grad school that the main challenge in this business is to remember why you got into it in the first place. We spend so much time internalizing the norms of the profession for the dissertation and for the assistant professorship that it’s easy to forget the bigger motivations. I haven’t actually forgotten: I went to graduate school because at the time I really wanted the life of a graduate student. Since that is, strictly speaking, no longer possible or entirely desirable (read books, anguish over ideas, have cool conversations, stay up late, yes please; abuse body, live slightly above limited financial means via debt, participate in weird interpersonal dynamics, personal and professional anxieties, no thank you), I guess it’s time to reflect on what he said. Assuming, of course, a “positive outcome.” More news on that in April . . . or July. And there’s plenty to do in the meantime.

(1) While that may seem odd, it is worth pointing out that the rewards of the profession are, ultimately, the opportunity to do the work. All the talk of tradeoff around salary and freedom or security is just that. Ultimately, this job is worth doing because you love the work (and apparently impossible to do if you hate the work). In a world filled with crappy, alienating jobs, that’s a big thing.
(2) And academics get repetitive stress injuries from working on the keyboard all the time.
(3) Technically I can add to my local file until March, but since maybe one article and maybe a book chapter will come out between now and then, it won’t change the look of the file (as if, say, I had a book coming out during that period). Also, I suppose that if I committed some heinous act to offend upper administration, that might also “count.” I think I’ll try to avoid both kinds of “addenda” to my file.

More Election, More Canadiana

I honestly don’t know if I have anything else worth saying about the election. Maybe it’s because I read my friends’ blogs before I write my own, so a lot has already been said. I think it’s quite difficult for commentators on the left to get a grip or even a reasonable perspective. There are now lots of murmurs about how Kerry really won and it was some underhanded trick or failure of poll technology. I have no idea if those stories are true, and even if they are, they still don’t get to the crux of the matter: millions of people voted for Bush. Period. It is true, as always, that he was elected by a minority of Americans (because of the nation’s poor voter turnout in comparison to other democracies, even in this election which is being touted as a success). Politically speaking, the only option for the left is to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get back to work.

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Following a talk by Ian Hacking about the resurgence of Cartesianism in new technologies(1), I found myself at Thompson House having drinks with my grad students (and others) Wednesday evening. That morning, the Sound Studies class had suspended normal operations in order to discuss the election betweel 10 and 11:30AM. So in other words, we were talking about it like it was going on even though Kerry was conceding during our conversation. How very Walter-Lippmann-Intro-to-Public-Opinion of us. Still, it was the right thing to do, because there was a sense of urgency at the time, or at least a need to “process” (as they used to say in my Women’s Studies classes) and the sonic relations of buildings and instruments could wait. That evening, over drinks, much of the talk was of the election(2), and it was definitely one of those weird “American in Canada” moments. I would get asked whether I was happy to be here given the election results (note: I would be happy to be here if Kerry won, too). I would get all Michael Moore on them and say things like “your conservative party is kind of like the democrats” “you have universal healthcare” “The Globe and Mail is far to the left of any mainstream US newspaper” and they would laugh at me as an American who idealizes Canada (I don’t. All of my statements in this sentence are true, but I know the place has its own problems, which are discussed in other entries). They they’d prove me right by saying “I can’t believe people are opposed to abortion in the U.S.” “I can’t get my head around that healthcare system”; they would deride the education level of Canadians, but I would point out that on average it’s higher than Americans. The burden of Canadian identity is its often negative relation to the US (ie “we’re not America!” — though it is also sometimes erased, as in those moments when Europeans don’t distinguish among North Americans), but this was one night that seemed perfectly reasonable. Carrie and I went out for dinner afterward — we were hungry and wanted something fast. It was a perfect night for poutine.

(1) Hacking is an excellent academic perfomer and pleasingly contrarian. While I was already convinced of the thesis that people (industry, press, inventors, some scholars etc.) who talk about new technologies tend to bring back Descartes mind-body split (which was one of his main points), he never got around to telling us why we should talk about new technologies in that way.

(2) In the banal good news column, I have become aware of more Canadians interested in American Football. We will have a quorum for a group viewing of the NFL Sunday ticket and the Super Bowl. I have also learned of more interesting music stuff happening locally. Word is that there is a real, operational local indierock scene. I am intrigued.

Lessons Learned

So Karl Rove was apparently strutting around because the Republicans went out and recruited their fundamentalist right wing bretheren who didn’t vote in the last election. They estimated 3-4 million people. Which was Bush’s margin.

Meanwhile, the democrats spent the last four years insulting Nader voters and threatening everyone to their left. They worried about their “base” for the election — with a brief stop for the people so stupid or apolitical that they could actually be “underdecided” — instead of seeking to bring additional voters into the fold. It’s time for the dems to move left and field a real, strong alternative to the republicans. Otherwise, we’re going to be dealing with more DLC mediocrity.

Lots of people I’ve talked to were really emotionally affected by the outcome of the election. I’m angry, disappointed and embarassed (by the U.S., not my views, in case there was any doubt), but I sort of took it in stride. Either the next four years of government will suck in the way the past four have, or the Bush administration will find entirely new and even more spectacular ways to suck.

Bush Administration Comes Out Against Delayed Gratification

After years of sanctimonious crap, the Bush administration has reversed its otherwise Protestant moralistic position to come out against delayed gratification. For the better part of US history, it was not apparent who won the very night of the election. But now, if you don’t know right away, it’s some kind of crisis (for more information, see Gore 2000 concession speech). Now we’ve got the Chief of Staff Andy Card saying he’s sure. Well, that’s nice, but apparently nobody who counts votes is sure and neither are the major networks. I guess it’s different when you’ve got a hotline to god.

That said, it doesn’t look good by any measure. The legislature is looking especially not good, and Kerry must win Ohio.

In other news, I am extremely pissed off at my home state of Minnesota. In my lifetime, Minnesota has gone from a liberal state to a crazy state. I was educated in one of the best public school systems in the country (okay, that’s what they TOLD me; it was at least pretty good). We had high taxes, good social services, good roads, a strong university and public school system, a high relatively standard of living (though that was already in decline on the iron range when I was a kid). The state routinely went democratic and even voted for Mondale in 1984, which was such a blowout that CNN reporters last night were referring to the 1988 Dukakis election as the biggest blowout in recent history because they apparently no longer consider 1984 a legitimate contest for president. Anyway, I used to joke that Minnesotans were wannabe Canadians (except, I have now learned, for one crucial difference: Minnesota had good roads). No more. Now Minnesotans want to be California or rural Pennsylvania or something. A string of republican governors (punctuated by Governor Meathead), consistent cuts to taxes, education, the arts, a stratospheric rise in property value in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and a very organized Christian lobby have effectively changed the state’s political landscape.

I intend to conduct further research (i.e. call my mom) to bring you more information about how my beloved home state has gone to hell.

Now, I must go clean myself, eat breakfast and teach Sound Studies. In that order.

PS – To my knowledge, our department is not hiring this year, though if you are employable in a liberal arts discipline, I’m told there are lots of open positions across the Faculty of Arts. And thanks in part to the Canada Research Chairs program, Canadian institutions across the country are poaching American academics with impunity. Failing that, there are apparently lots of single Canadians.

It’s Election Day and I’m Not Voting

because I already did. If you haven’t and you can, you know what you must do.

This evening, the spectator sports part will set in, and we’ll watch hours of commentary and states lighting up in different colors.

This is the point where progressive Americans make the joke about moving to Canada if Bush wins. Except I’m already in Canada. How cool is that? Someday I’ll write something about American imaginations of Canada. Probably including my own from days passed.

Meanwhile, in my continuing efforts to chronicle escape routes for others, I offer this link. I can vouch for Croatia. It’s really cool and the range of political opinion is all over the map. Extra points: EVERYONE I met there knows their government is corrupt, as opposed to the apparently vast number of Americans who believe theirs is run by men [not sic] of virtue.