October 30, 2010


This evening I went to a concert starring Basia, who I'd never heard of. It's become a small world: she performs Latin Jazz. She's from Poland. Her band consisted of an American, an Englishman, a Sardinian, twins from Mauritania, and a Frenchman.

The music was excellent. She's very talented, as is her band. It was their first gig on the North American leg of their tour, and they did seem a little jet-lagged, but got it together after the first song. They did a two-hour set without an intermission, and seemed nicely crisp by the end.

The show was in a theater inside the Seneca Niagara Casino, and it was an interesting performance space. It was small, with stadium seating for 150 or 200. It had a thrust stage, which meant the audience surrounded the stage on three sides.

The biggest problem was the sound mixer, who had the speaker level much too high. Basia is vocally very talented, so there was no need to deafen the (very enthusiastic) audience.

I was there as a guest of my GF's father. I'm not saying he's a high roller– but the buffet had a line 60' long, which we bypassed after he waved a card.

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Politics Is a Dirty Business

For years now, I've been making this point in conversations. But someone went and made a video:


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October 29, 2010

All Hallow's Eve Comes Sooner Every Year

I live in an apartment complex at the edge of campus. The apartments are designated for graduate students and students with familes. Many residents are foreign students. So the resident life staff tries to make Halloween easy for those without much experience with American holiday customs.

Thus they had a Halloween party for the kiddies this afternoon, Friday October 29th. After the party was to be a group trick-or-treat, stopping at all the apartments that had volunteered to give out candy. Naturally, I'd signed up. I liked candy when I was a kid, and now that I'm an adult, this is a perfect excuse to eat the left-over stuff myself.

When I signed up, I was told that they were going to start trick-or-treating at about 6:30, when the party was over. Mindful of that schedule, I was in my room doing calisthenics this evening. I was figuring on finishing at about 5:20, getting a quick shower and changing into costume, and I'd be all set for the kids.

At 5:10, I'm nice and sweaty, doing leg-lifts, when the doorbell begins ringing insistently, the way kids do when they think pressing the button will make candy appear. Kind of like lab rats who have learned which button dispenses food. My roommate is in his room, and apparently notices none of these goings-on.

I jump up, yell "Coming!" (which does not stop the doorbell), rip open a bag of candy, run to the kitchen, dump the candy into a bowl (some falls on the floor- good thing I'm pet-less!) and then run with the candy bowl to the door.

Outside is a herd of perhaps twenty kids, with half that many doting parents. Almost all of the parents are using either video cameras or still cameras. As I begin doling out candy, I am painfully aware that I am:

  • Unshaven (it's my day off!)
  • Wearing a sweaty t-shirt and sweatpants
  • Unshod

I hope the parents think I'm dressed up as Rocky or something.

The kids didn't care what I looked like, since I was doling out candy. I had Mini Reese's Cups, so I was giving two per child. One girl, perhaps five, politely said "I only need one," and handed her second piece back. Something ain't right with that child. Or, more likely, her parents spent a great deal of time impressing on her the rule that 'you take only a single piece of candy from the bowl,' and my actions were on obvious violation of that rule.

To conclude, it was fun seeing all the costumes, although being in a herd made it hard to distinguish who was what. But I was embarrassed about being unready for their arrival. I hate this feeling:

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October 28, 2010

The Karmic Balance is Maintained

I had a great time in class yesterday. It was the required intro class for all PhD candidates, so its mandate is to introduce us to the many different forms of historical scholarship. Yesterday was capitalist-centered economic history. Next week is Marxist history.

I flatter myself to think I'm pretty good at economics, for a historian. I don't freak out when confronted with calculus or statistics, and I do some light reading to keep up with current economic thinking.

Thus I was quite excited that this week our readings were Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and a new book by Jan de Vries, The Industrious Revolution. (de Vries doesn't have a Wikipedia entry. I think I may fix that tomorrow. He's one of the most widely-read current historians.) Anyway, it was all economic history. It became clear that the other eleven students (nine really, two were absent) had no idea how to handle de Vries, whose text included things like " ∑ pi xi = I = Tww ". Serious Historians™ are expected to know a little bit of Greek, but more on the order of "γνῶθι σεαυτόν" ("know thyself"). Math frightens them. I was having a grand old time talking with the professor about de Vries's work, while most of my fellow students were doing their best to hide. [My brother-in-law may recognize the equation from Gary Becker's work, that de Vries was building off of.]

Smith's work was also interesting. I'd never actully read him before, and we were all impressed by how modern he seemed. Not just in that many of his ideas are still essentially dogma, but also his book is written in a more modern style than most of the writings from the 1770s to which I have been exposed. I assume that the editors modernized the spellings, but his sentance and paragraph structure seem comparable to a rather verbose writer of the current time.

The class's one serious Marxist was confused by Smith. She was surprised by the extent of his sympathy for "combinations of workers" (i.e. unions) and his antipathy for and suspicion of capitalists. Still, I was surprised to have to argue with her that Smith wouldn't actually have agreed with Marx. What part of "invisible hand of the market" didn't she understand? Ah well.

Having had a great time in class, I picked up my backpack to leave, only to realize that the red blinking bike light I keep attached to the bag had broken. Curses! But all was not lost. I've been gently teased by my compatriots for never biking without two different red bike lights. Who is laughing now? Eh?

Turns out, I wasn't laughing either, because when I got down to my bike, I discovered that one of my bike toe-clips had become detached. I have no idea how- the clip was apparently undamaged, and the screws that should hold it were still firmly emplaced on the pedal. My best explanation is that gremlins had removed it then put the screws back just to mess with my head.

As a young adult, I carried a multi-tool with me wherever I went. The Marine Corps broke me of that habit, because for aviation maintenance, tool control is very very important. So I was without the resources necessary to fix my bike. I managed to get the dragging clip detached after about 15 minutes of work with my bare hands, which wasn't fun. Just as I finished, it started raining. If I'd not been delayed, I'd have been safely home by that time.

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October 23, 2010

This Is Why I Don't Go To UB Football Games

It's been Spirit Week here at good old UB, with silly activities all week, that I've been avoiding. Last night there were some fireworks following a bonfire, and today UB's proud Bulls football team took on the Owls of Temple University! I stayed home and read a book for class.

According to a live-blog, the Bulls started off by fumbling the opening kickoff. It was all downhill from there, to a 42-0 denouement. Go team! And don't come back! The live-blogger seems to have given up at about halftime, after having called for a mercy-rule at just twenty minutes in.

Frustratingly, the football team costs literally millions of dollars a year for UB. For some schools, football teams are a profit center. Not here. Not many people pay good money for tickets to watch games like that.

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October 18, 2010


Another interesting thing about being a grad student, is the paper assignments tend to be much more flexibly worded. We are expected to follow our own muse (Clio, preferably) and write something interesting.

I mention this because today I turned in my first substantial paper of the semester, and during a class break I talked about it with some of the other people that did that paper. (That is, the paper was for my Wednesday class, but it's a small world in grad school, even in a university with about 30k students. Over half the students in my Wednesday seminar are also in my Monday seminar.) Anyway, talking it over, we found we'd all taken extremely divergent tacks. Hopefully the prof likes the diversity.

And in other news, the old adage about "If you've lost something, retrace your steps!" does indeed work. It helps that our departmental offices are on the fifth floor of a building that is off the campus's main drag, so not many people wander by to disturb gloves that people like me have dropped on the floor.

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October 10, 2010

Like an Office Party

I and my GF attended a party for the history department faculty, staff, and graduate students. I'm not a real party-hearty type, but there are quite a few professors that I've never talked to. Also, while I know most of my fellow first-year grad students, I don't know many of those that have been in for a while.

It was potluck, students to bring desert and faculty to bring entrees; I made my customary angel food cake with whipped-cream-and-blueberry topping. The topping proved to be the most popular- I have it to the side so people can put on however much they want, and lactose-intolerant types can avoid it. Well, people were piling it on all sorts of deserts brought by other people, as well as eating it plain. It's kind of like blueberry ice cream, except even more fattening!

Several people brought their young children, which was entertaining. There was alcohol, paid for out of the department's entertainment budget- woo hoo! Except I didn't drink, as I was driving, and I am also a total lightweight.

I didn't stay all that long, but I got to know a bunch of people, and I had a good time.

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Solomon Burke

Solomon Burke has died. He wrote and originally performed "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" which has been covered by just about everyone. He was no one-hit wonder, though.

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October 07, 2010

Small World

I kind of liked being an undergrad at a massive state university. I was free to do my own thing; while there was a path to graduation, so many classes were available that I had a great deal of flexibility in choosing which ones to take. If I liked a professor, I could get to know him; if I didn't like the prof, I could disappear into the herd of students.

Last week, in my Wednesday class the professor recommended that we attend a conference being given Thursday. I skipped, to do work for my Thursday night class.

So this week, we meet again, and the professor says "Well, I spent about three hours at the conference, and didn't see any of you. Did anyone show up later, after I'd left?" There was an embarrassed silence among the dozen students in my seminar.

"Well, at first I was irritated," said the professor. "Then I decided you all must have been home doing academic work. So that's OK. Also, I left early because the conference was interdisciplinary, and it was becoming clear that, shall we say, the literary criticism people engage with the past in a very… ah … different manner than historians."

"Anyway, there's another seminar being given Friday, on cultural assimilation. I'm sure Boviate's going, he's in Doctor G_'s class. The rest of you might be interested too!"

And that last paragraph was what freaked me out a little. Because I'd never discussed my other classes with this prof– so she knew that I was in there because she and Dr. G_ have been talking about their students. There are less than thirty new grad students this year, so we're easily kept track of, but it makes me miss my protective anonymity.

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October 01, 2010

More Music

As long as I'm doing music, check this performer out. She's from South Africa, and uses a technique I'd never seen before.

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