Monday, January 30, 2006


This last Thursday, my partner paid me a surprise visit from England. Well, it was supposed to be a surprise, but literally about half an hour before she showed up at my front door, I suddenly figured out the ruse. The key was that I had come home earlier than I had planned to, and phone her at home. Her roommate picked up, and said that Mary had gone to bed early. I knew that was impossible, so my mind started whirring.

We've been busy ever since. Saturday night was my roommate's birthday. We've had big parties for her every year on her birthday. The first year, it was a gigantic blowout that lasted all night long--for most people, at least, I passed out on my floor partway through. Last year was very sedate, with almost everyone gone by midnight. This year was a perfect medium--fun, lively, and with a diverse crowd of people.

Just got back tonight from having dinner with friends in the valley. A very nice couple. One is a farrier, the only woman farrier I hvae ever heard of. She is a tough cookie, with tattoos up and down her arms, a garage full of motorcyles, and a thick Kentucky accent. Her partner is a petite little woman who is the daughter of a porn producer and a former Miss Teen California. (I think, I always lose track of which beauty contest is which.) Only in LA!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Supporting NYU Grad Students

I urge anyone who is in the position to do so to support the NYU graduate students on strike. The history of labor relations at NYU is too long and complicated to go into here, but even just a little bit of research will show the callousness of the NYU administration towards those who do the majority of the teaching at a very privileged, and very expensive, private university. Beginning this quarter, the administration has "terminated the fellowships" of striking workers. As Bitch Ph.D. points out, they have to use that awkward terminology because if they were to simply "stop paying" the strikers, that would be admitting that the graduate students actually are employees who do work for the university. Can't have that. We graduate students are just lucky for the privilege of working our butts off for our "fellowships" that put us below the poverty line.

Bah humbug.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Dear Rich People

Giving money to the arts is good. Giving money to education is good.

However, there are more effective ways of funding both the arts and education than giving Princeton and Yale $100 million each.

Just saying.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

McCarthyism Redux

There has been much discussion in the press the past week about the Bruin Alumni Association. The BAA is, of course, part of a nation-wide conservative movement in the past few years which has been agitating against what they see as liberal bias in academia. This is nothing new, of course. In many ways, we can trace the beginning of modern conservatism to academic politics: it was William Buckley's 1951 book God and Man at Yale which kicked off Buckley's career, and gave rise to the National Review. And even Buckley's book was rooted in the context of post-war McCarthyism, which began in the late forties with the Alger Hiss case. One of the key features of the hostility towards Hiss was a general suspicion of the highly-educated, often academic, men who Franklin Roosevelt had surrounded himself with in the 30's and 40's, of which Alger Hiss became the prime example. The Republican Party very effectively managed to convince the public that to be academic was synonymous with being soft on communism.

Since then, this mythology of liberal bias has often invigorated other conservative movements. In the 1980's, the Dartmouth Review served as an incubator for conservative intellectuals like Dinesh D'Souza. In the 1990's, the campus culture wars over identity politics and sexual expression nearly destroyed the NEA and the NEH. In the past few years, the main domestic battleground over the Israel-Palestine issue has taken place on college campuses. And we shouldn't forget that our current president's own reactionary and anti-intellectual conservatism was formatively shaped by his undergraduate experiences at Yale.

So, this whole history noted, I'm still not sure what to make of it. I am not at all worried about the Bruin Alumni Association. Its leader is this young kid, a recent graduate, who is quickly managing to alienate other conservatives, especially conservative academics. It only takes five minutes on the organization's web page to see that he is just in search of attention, that he is more interested in being the next D'Souza or Horowitz then actually creating change at UCLA. The BAA is destined to self-destruct.

I still wonder, however, about the form in which these movements take place. A few observations, just to see if I can make anything out of it.

1. The leaders of these movement are all men. I have yet to hear a single quote in the press from a woman, or read a single article in the campus conservative paper by a woman.

2. It tends to be very small groups of men. One never gets the sense that there is a large silent majority backing them up. I imagine that at UCLA, we are talking about no more than a dozen people actively involved, out of 24,000 undergraduates.

3. These men are often, but not always, white. The exceptions are important to note. One of the leaders here at UCLA, a kid who started his own conservative newspaper that features a regular professor profile titled "Nut of the Month," is Armenian American. Many of those involved are Jewish, radicalized, I imagine, by the Israel/Palestine issue. I am not quite sure what to make of all this.

Certainly, it is worth noting that here at UCLA, the targets which the conservatives have attacked most viciously are Latino and African-American student groups. The Bruin Republicans lead a horrible campaign last year against MEChA, the largest Latino student group, claiming in all seriousness that MEChA was plotting to overthrow the country. They attack student of color groups rather than attacking, say, the Bruin Democrats, or labor groups, or anti-war groups. So much so that in the last student elections here, the Bruin Democrats shamefully teamed up with the Bruin Republicans in an attempt to limit the power of student of color groups. As I say, I am not sure what to make of all this exactly, but race is playing a large role.

4. It is easy to spot that the campus conservatives have adopted the rhetoric of identity politics. They talk about discrimination, about victimization, about being unfairly singled out and punished for who they are. This tactic is extremely effective. I don't think it actually works as they intended--nobody feels sorry for some privileged white boy. But it has completely destroyed the efficacy of that rhetoric, and those of us who care about the issues raised by identity politics have not yet found a new mode of organizing.

Phew! Suffice to say, this all worries me.

Other interesting takes on the BAA:

Saturday, January 21, 2006


Kyle Gann says that this British commercial for Honda is proof that the 60's avant-garde has hit the mainstream. (He thinks Pauline Oliveros, it reminds me more of Robert Ashley's "She Was a Visitor.") Fredric Jameson would probably see it as proof that postmodernism is inextricably tied up in late capitalist commodity culture.

Decide for yourself.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


I have often bemoaned the fact that there are not enough coffeehouses in my neighborhood. (In fact, I could have sworn I blogged about this problem once, but I can't find it now.) There are only a few places nearby, most of which either don't have comfortable seating (the assorted Coffee Beans) or are Starbucks (unacceptable). There is the Buzz chain, two of which are within walking distance, but they tend to get crowded really fast and don't have comfortable seating either. Then there is Insomnia, which is a good ol' fashioned independent coffeehouse with raggedy old sofas to sit in, ordinarily just my kind of place, but it is always crammed to the gills with people writing screenplays. Plus, it's a little too far to walk comfortably.

In the past month or so, however, not one but two new places have opened up nearby. My favorite is The Grounds. Free wireless, excellent and cheap coffee, and almost always empty. Except on Saturday nights, which I rather disastrously learned are Queer Comedy Nights. (If the link apears to take you to a florist, that's because The Grounds not only sells coffee, but fancy floral arrangements.)

The other place is a Peet's, which I'm sure my parents will get a kick out of. Haven't been there yet, but I am excited, and not just because apparently Katie Holmes goes there.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


For those of my loyal readers who breathlessly follow my academic career, I regret to announce that I am having to postpone my special fields exams until the beginning of next quarter. If this were an anonymous blog, I would spill forth the details of why, but alas, it is not.

It actually isn't a big deal, logistically speaking--since I am all ready for the exams, I will just start writing my dissertation proposal now, so that once the exams are done in early April, I will be able to submit my proposal to the faculty tout suite. Emotionally speaking, however, I was all pumped up with adrenaline, ready to conquer the exams next week. Now, I just want a nap.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Sad But True

The next time you picture England as a land of cozy pubs, where a pint or two for lunch is a lovely tradition, an enlightened country free of repressive attitudes towards alcohol, remember that this New York Times article is completely true.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Instrument(al) Rationality

Some of you may have heard of the plight of the Audubon Quartet. If you haven't, their web site has a list of news articles discussing the situation. The New York Times had a good one, but is unfortunately only available for a fee.

In essence, this is what seems to have happened: the Audubon was a well-known and successful string quartet. They had done well in international competitions, recorded quite a bit, and had a pretty cushy residence gig at Virginia Tech. Over the years, however, conflict grew between three of the members and one violinist. Eventually, they kicked him out of the group. He retaliated by suing them for breach of contract. A judge ruled in his favor, and against the other members of the quartet, and ordered them to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. Because they were of course unable to pay, the judge ordered their instruments to be repossesed.

It's a tragic situation, but also telling. It's a perfect example of that classic concept of "instrumental rationality." The drive for efficiency, under capitalism, doesn't just stay in economics. It reaches into every corner of society. These lofty concepts that we have of "art" and "music" are nice and all, but the fact is, they don't have a place in late capitalism. The institutions, large and small, that make up classical music, are not run rationally and reasonably. They take into account fundamentally irrational things like "creativity" and "taste." It's the fact of living under late capitalism that rationality must be expanded into ever last corner of society.

People who find this case to be tragic usually lay the blame on the judge, who seems to be something of a philistine who didn't appreciate the subtle dynamics of classical music. That's true, but the fact is that if the case had been more of a sympathetic judge, it would have only been a temporary win. That more "cultured" and appreciative judge would have just been a residual trace of a past culture. Don't blame unappreciative judges and mercenary musicians, blame economic liberalism, and its unprecedented and unchallenged sway over our politics right now.

I feel nostalgic for the failing institutions of classical music. I like the music, and I appreciate what those institutions have done. But they are on the way out. Instead of trying to revive cultural institutions of the past, I think it is important to create new ones, and see if they can take us somewhere different.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

And we're off!

It's been so long since I've posted, Blogspot forgot my password. Sigh.

Unfortunately, it is unclear how much I will be able to blog in the coming month. I start taking my Special Fields exam in a little less than two weeks, which is freaking me out quite a bit. Plus, lots of other things going on: all those conference papers to finish, a recalcitrant Echo issue to put to bed, a severely messy room, various personal dramas, a new course in an outside department to begin taking, and a new unfamiliar subject matter (The History of Jazz) to begin TAing.

Okay, deep breath. Start with the messy room.