My mood is like the stock market these days. It goes from bad to worse and then back up to bad followed by worse. I don’t think I will ever reach 1400 again—not that I mood wise was ever up to 1400. I will die before we reach 1400 again. And that thought does do anything for my mood.
I have a hard time answering when people make the mistake of asking me how I am. I avoid the awkwardness of this question by hardly seeing anybody except my students and for some reason students never ask a teacher how he or she is.
Today, I tried to tell my students how I was. That was a mistake.
I was tired at 12:30 and the temperature was over 80 in that classroom. (At this moment, as I sit here typing, I am told by my computer that it is 90 degrees. How does that happen in October?) So I am tired what with it being 80 degrees and I have just come from my office, where, for some reason, unknown to me, the heater is on. I swear it is sweltering in that office. So I open the window and turn on my little fan. I have told people several times about my office over-heating, but as far as I can tell nobody has done a thing about it. I am afraid to ask again because deep down I am sure, in my paranoid self, that I am somehow responsible for the fact that my office over-heating.
So I try to tell the class that I am tired. I tell them that I feel as if one of those aliens from Alien has attached itself to my brainstem. It’s rather fuzzy-wuzzy not particular mean alien but it is putting me to sleep. I ask if they have ever wondered why in Alien the alien jumps out of the chest, while in Alien 3 (the worst of the Aliens) the thing seems wrapped around Signorey Weaver’s brain stem. Or does it start at the brain stem and move down to the chest.
And I look out at the class and they appear stony faced and dumbfounded. Perhaps a teacher is not supposed to say he is tired. I have felt that teaching is a good deal like lion taming. One should never show fear. And while saying one is tired is not showing fear, it does show weakness.
Then I ask, you have seen Alien? And from what I can tell almost nobody in the class has seen Alien. Maybe they are just messing with me. Surely somebody has seen Alien in that room, but if so, nobody is admitting it. Jennipher, I ask directly, have you seen Alien. No she says.
So now I am stony faced and dumbfounded. How the hell has anybody living in the 21st century failed America to see Alien. One of the all time great American movies and absolutely seminal in its development of the female action hero (or heroine). Maybe they aren’t messing with my mind. A few years back I asked how many people had seen Godfather and two thirds of the class said they hadn’t.
My day is done. I am increasingly passé, if that is possible.

Merit Review

Well, I am up this year for a merit review at work.
We all sit around—we post-six year or continuing lecturers—and evaluate each other.
Each person being evaluated has to write up his/her own case (at least here at UCSB; this does not seem true of all the UC campuses). We have to write a section on teaching (that’s the most important area); and a section on Program (and Campus) Service; and a section on “Professional Development.” All of these write-ups are called “self-evaluations.”
To write up the one on Teaching, one must go through all of the student evaluations for the length of the period of one’s review. In my case, three years, back to Winter Quarter 2006 (the review will take place Winter Quarter, 2009. That’s next year by my calculations.)
So I spent the better part of yesterday and some part of today reading the number scores students give me and my class. They have two questions to answer on a fill in the blank scantron.
1. Rate the instructor
2. Rate the course
On a scale running from:
Excellent….Very Good….Good….Fair….Poor.
I have to go through each and every class and tally together the numbers for the Excellent, Very Good Categories and put them in a chart. And then I have to add them all together and find an average “score” for any given class. Boy do I hate doing this. And maybe because I do I kept making mistakes with the math part and writing in the wrong numbers in the wrong column…
And then I had to read three years work of what are called “student narratives.” These are sheets of paper on which students write something about you, the teacher, and the course. I had about 400 of these to run through.
Generally, when the comments are not just bland, thin, and relatively indifferent, students comment on me and my classes in overwhelmingly positive terms. But for some terrible reason all I remember is that handful of squeaky wheels (perhaps four or five out of 400) who says things, your class was a waste of time, your class was like being back in high school, your class didn’t teach me a thing and I want my money back.
Stuff like that. Just plain cruel. Mostly comments like these come from students who resent having to take the class at all. It’s not my fault the class is required. And then I turn out not to be their cup of tea—and out comes the venom.
What a day.


I can’t seem to write in the blog these days. Partly I am just wiped out, and along with being wiped out I am just plain irritable or perhaps too easily irritated by all the irritating things that seem to be happening. So every time I start to write something I start feeling pissed off…
For example, I was pissed off—I don’t know what night it was—when I heard a noise in the wall of the condo. I decided to ignore and I did, until Carol noticed it and she got all paranoid.
We had this odd stink in our downstairs pantry utility closet where we keep food on shelves.
Somehow the sound and the stink connected for her, and sure enough when she touched the rug in the pantry, it was damp!
So right then I was ready to blow a cork. Not again. Three times in the last three years we have had significant water leaks. One whole summer the kitchen was a mess as they tried to locate, dig up and repair a leak in the slab. Then there was a leak in the utility closet outside where all the hot water heaters are—and that leak completely wiped out our utility closet. We had those horrible drying out machines in there for weeks. As I recollect we had to leave the condo for a few days for that one. And then there was the leak dripping out down out of the light fixture in my newly created closet office …
And now…
Sure enough I listened more closely to the sound. It was a sort of hiss. The previous leaks had not hissed like that, so I went out to the utility closet but of course it was locked. I was pissed and got a crow bar and was about to rip the door open when Carol showed up with a key.
Water on the Floor! That was a tip off, and just looking at the pipes in there pissed me off. My god a regular Rube Goldberg contraption of copper pipe going this way and that and half of it going nowhere. I wanted to take sledge hammer to the whole mess. Fortunately I didn’t have one.
And there it was! A copper pipe up over my head and almost out of my reach had sprung a pinhead leak—that along with the pressure in the pipe produced a thin straight stream of water about a foot long that was directed at the sheet rock and that had managed to open a hole in the sheet rock as big round as my thumb. So the water, having made the hole, was now going right through the hole and had run down the wall and puddled down below and leaked into our closet.
Man! So a guy came yesterday, maybe it was, and pulled up the carpet in our utility but not the little strips of wood with tacks sticking up in them (to which the carpet is appended), so I step on those in my bare feet and am sure the rest of the evening that I am going to die of tetanus.
But I didn’t because I am still here to be irritated.

Engineered Chickens

I tried to fry some chicken recently and couldn’t believe, as I watched it cook, how much water seemed to seep out of the chicken. Towards the end I felt I wasn’t frying it, but boiling it in its own water.
What happened to the scrawny but tasty chicken of my youth?
Well, I found out reading around in a book called the “End of Food” by Paul Roberts.
Today’s chicken is a genetic freak:
Breakthroughs in genetics let commercial breeders…manipulate most of the factors that govern a bird’s growth, from the tendency to distribute, or partition muscle mass into the break region… to the efficiency of the digestive tract (which lets the bird convert grain into muscle faster). The resulting broiler was a walking meat machine: twice as big as its 1975 predecessor, with breast portions weighting more than a half a pound each, and the ability to reach this sumolike stature with freakish speed. Whereas a 1970s-era broiler needed ten weeks to reach slaughter weigh, today’s model does it in forty day, which means an enterprising chicken farmer can raise two more crops each year and thus increase his annual output by 40 percent. (69)
Not only is today’s grocery store chicken “abstracted” from its origins by being all neatly packed up with separate parts available in multi-packs (where can one find a hint of the original shape in a multipack of chicken legs), the chicken from which these parts were abstracted have been further abstracted from their original “chicken-ness.” Today’s chicken is not grown; it’s engineered.
We have more chicken that ever. But once again more is less. The speed with which chickens are engineered to grow does not allow the cells of breast muscles to fully form. Further, breast muscle is “fast-twitch” muscle, and when a chicken is killed these fast twitch muscles twitch and produce, by doing so, lactic acid. The amount of lactic acid produced by today’s breast heavy chicken is enormous and damaging to the quality of the meat. Companies attempt to deal with this problem by pumping the chickens with salts and phosphates to make them retain….water.
This so called “water enhancement” helps with the problem of lactic acid and increases the meat’s weight from 10% to 30%.
I have a hard time looking at a chicken breast in the same way when I know that the speed with which they are produced sometimes does not allow for capillaries to bring blood to the breast with the result that “’an area of muscle tissue actually dies.’”
I believe that is called “necrosis.”

Emergency Food

Lately when I go to Costco, I am disturbed to notice right out there on one of the main aisles (not hidden back in those stacks) Emergency Food in a plastic, weather proof bucket.  I didn’t have to notice it.  I don’t notice many things on the main aisle.  So I suppose my unconscious was tuned into seeing it.

But there it is: a weather proof plastic bucket of Emergency Food for a mere 89.99.  275 servings, completely vegetarian and vitamin fortified.  Also this food will last for 20 years somewhere back in your closet or maybe your garage if stored at an average temperature of 60 degrees.



This “kit” is advertised as perfect for “natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or even for a camping or hunting trip.”  Nothing like being prepared for your basic natural disaster.  And to this list of natural disasters one might add “unnatural disasters,” such as a complete collapse of the economy and the food distribution system.

Frankly I am not overly impressed by the menu:

  30 Servings – Potato Bakon

  25 Servings – Corn Chowder

  25 Servings – Ala King

  25 Servings – Cacciatore

  25 Servings – Western Stew

  25 Servings – Country Noodle

  25 Servings – Rice Lentil

  45 Servings – Whey Milk

  25 Servings – Blueberry Pancakes

  25 Servings – Barley Vegetable

I am not sure what “potato bakon” is, and would life be bearable during a natural disaster without “blueberry pancakes.”

The food in Emergency Preparedness 7-Day Gourmet Instant Meal Kit looks a heck of a lot better.  But as you can see you only have food for seven days.

And if things are so bad you have to flee the area entirely, you can buy The American Preparedness Emergency Backpack Kit, enough for a crew of 4 for three days after which you can eat each other or perhaps attack people who are selfishly not sharing from their Emergency Food buckets.

The demand for the Emergency Food Buckets, according to Costco, is overwhelming.

I am not the only person thinking about…

Not uncommon

So now I have diverticulosis—or so said my primary care physician.  I wasn’t sure what it was when she left a message on the phone but was happy when she said it was minimal and appeared where it “not uncommonly” appears in an older person around the sigmoid colon (the narrowest part of the intestintial tract).  As one gets older, it appears, a whole host of things one has never heard of becomes “not uncommon.”

I went to an audiologist to have my ears tested for this tinnitus business.  I have lost some hearing in the very upper range of the left ear and just a tiny, itsy-bitsy in the right.  The audiologist informed me that this was “not uncommon” as one gets…..older and that there was nothing to panic about since I am far from needing a hearing aide.  Well, that was nice to hear, but I am hearing this phrase “not uncommon” too much lately, and it seems the doctor persons always hesitate or don’t know quite what to say, like it’s the plague or something, when it comes to saying that it’s “not uncommon” in your older or old or aging or elderly person or, you know, person like yourself….and this is coming from a guy maybe 2 years younger than yourself who clearly dyes his hair.

I guess being older makes older doctor persons also nervous.  Or perhaps aging is a kind of insult to the ego of doctor people since as far as I know there is no cure for aging, or getting older, or getting elderly.  Aging, like some forms of cancer, or death itself, appears incurable, and the mere thought of it throws the doctor into a sort of existential quandary or awareness of his or her ultimate impotence both as a professional and a human being.  In any case, the doctor persons who have spoken to me on these not uncommon issues seem to feel getting older is like a disease.  I am pretty sure it is not because aging is a simple and naturally occuring melt down of every damn cell in your body.

I am comforted, though, to know what while I have diverticulosis, I do not have diverticulitis (what a difference a few letters make!).  I have developed—if that’s the word—diverticula or small pouches on the outside of the colon.  Multiple diverticula means one has diverticulosis.  Diverticulitis is the infection of the diverticula.  So I have, unfortunately, the pre-condition for a real condition.  I asked my primary care person how I would know if I had diverticulitis and she said I would feel real sick, with a fever, and bad bowel, and most significantly, diagnostically, a pain in the lower left abdomen.  The “cure” for the condition, depending on its severity, ranges from anti-biotics, to resting the colon with a liquid diet, to cutting out portions of the infected colon.

The cause for this condition:  The usual suspects: genetics and possibly insufficient roughage or fibre.

I was also told that the gas producing CT scan revealed arthritis in the lower lumbar.  Also “not uncommon,” for people of a certain age. 

I now have scientifically confirmed artritis in my left knee, my right elbow, and my lower lumbar.

I am learning more about the inside of my body than I want to.

An Act of Will

I went in to have a CT scan of my pelvic floor.  The scan was pretty easy.  I didn’t even have to take off any clothes, just slide down my pants under a privacy blanket, and then this table I was on slid me in and out of a huge donut like thing.  But the night before and then again an hour before I went in for the scan I had to drink some strange, sticky liquid with barium in it.

The scan was downtown and after I had an hour before I had to go to the dentist, also downtown, to get a new cap put on.  Driving out to Goleta and back didn’t make sense, so I had breakfast at this place on De la Vina where I used to go. It was a good breakfast. But as I was finishing up, sitting there talking to the owner about the lousy economy, I felt down there in the lower regions as if I were on the verge of ripping wide open.  So I asked the guy if they had a restroom and went back there, and well, exploded.  It was most awful—the whole process was attended by horribly loud flatulence.  Sort of like a bomb going off.  I swear the walls shook. I don’t remember having experienced the like.

I wasn’t alarmed particularly.  I figured it had to be the barium drink.

But damn that gas was bad.  Driving down to the dentist, I kept firing off enormous rounds of this stuff, that had no smell to speak of—but was nonetheless explosive.

Being at the dentist in this condition was hard.  I didn’t want to embarrass myself, you know.  But there I was flat on my back as the dentist pulled off the temporary cap, and then had to scrape glue off the live tooth and stick the other one on, and spray cold water over the whole thing several times.  I don’t know but the dentist doesn’t generally give me a pain killer when he is putting on a cap.  He said something like, if it hurts, let me know.  But by then he is always already up to his arms in my mouth digging around in there. It hurt.  But what the hell was I going to do.  I didn’t know how long I could sit there in that condition.  So he just went at it as I sweated.

Man that took a hell of a lot of concentration.  Trying at one end of my Gastrointestinal tract (the end where the teeth are located) not to scream at being poked and prodded as I tried not to lose concentration about the considerable act of will required to keep the other end of the Gastrointestinal tract completely clamped down.  I have excellent sphincter control—but was hard pressed. 

Finally that was over.  I raced out to the privacy of my car to fire off a few rounds.

I was ruined for the rest of the day.

What’s In A Name?

I have been a bit tense these last couple of weeks.

Was it two weeks ago or one that I heard on TV that the bank called Wachovia was going under or being bought or something to that effect.  I would not have batted an eye or cared an iota about that but for the fact that Carol and I have our savings in that bank.  We were impressed by their customer service, and Wachovia, headquartered in Charlotte, NC, was at least the forth largest bank in the country and one of the 50 largest in the world.

I went into a panic because I wasn’t sure what that meant—I mean Wachovia being bought out.  So Carol emailed the person she knows at Wachovia and he reassured us that our savings were completely covered FDIC wise and also SDIC wise. 

So I guess nothing has changed really, just the name for the place that has our money.  I am not sure what that name is yet.  First I heard Wachovia was being bought by the Citi Group and then I heard it was being bought by Wells Fargo.

So no damage done so far.  But I reflect now with some nostalgia about a simpler world and time when I kept my money in a savings account or in a can under my bed.

But still unsettling and befuddling in the context of other banks and lending institutions just disappearing…

And I was upset to hear that the FDIC which is supposed to cover our money in the banks is way short of money necessary to cover everybody’s money and in fact that a month or so ago had to borrow 200 billion or something like that from Europe.  So the institution that is supposed to make sure we all don’t lose our money, should our banks disappear down the debt hole, is itself up to its neck in debt to some strange European people.

The more I read about economics the less I understand and the little I do understand I don’t like. 

Meanwhile the mountains I look at every day look very strange.  The fire burned off everything, and fearful of flooding this fall and winter the authorities brought in some little planes that buzz around the face of the mountains and deposit stuff—a compound I am told of mulch and seed and nutrients that will produce grasses should rain ever hit it.  But we have had no rains and the deposits leave odd yellow, white, and greenish streaks across the face of the mountains.

And, damn, I just saw an article by the BBC about people losing their jobs and living in their cars right here in good old, super-affluent Santa Barbara.

 Things seem odd.