Posts

Showing posts from February, 2012

Of Monsters and Men

I know I posted on facebook about this band before, but I don't think I have blogged about it. I was first introduced to this band by my parents, who were introduced to it by my cousin Sverrir, who was living at my parent's house while working on his pilot's license late last year. The reason Sverrir is such a big fan of the band is that his little brother, Brynjar, is in the band. So that means my cousin is in the band that won last year's best new band contest in Iceland, and whose band, Of Monsters and Men, now has a US tour lined up. My mom is going to one of their concerts in West Hollywood next month, and told me to fly down and join her, but I don't think that will work out. Instead, the next time I hear the band on a radio station here in California, I won't just think cool that they are from Iceland, I will think hey that's my cousin! Ok, 3rd cousin, but whatever. (His great grand mother and my great grandmother were sisters, and his great grandmot…

GCB

I did not watch the Emmy's, the awards ceremony for the television industry. But I did watch the Oscar's last night. And I was struck by the commercials that were on during the Oscar's. There were a whole series of ads featuring Ellen Degeneres for JC Penny, which has a new campaign about simplifying the shopping experience: no more gimmicy 6am sales, no more hassles with returns, no more snotty sales clerks. I rather like JC Penny, and so I rather liked this new marketing campaign.

And I certainly liked the ads for JC Penny much more than the ads for the television shows. The Oscar's were broadcast on ABC, so ABC used some of the commercial spots to promote their own programming. One show in particular kept getting promoted, something called GCB, which I understand stands for Good Christian Bitches.

From the ads, the show features a group of women who regularly attend church in Texas, for the sole purpose of being able to say mean and nasty things about one another, …

Blossoms

Image
Down at the Starbucks around the corner from Palmer's school, where I am spending my morning, I happened to notice the plum trees and the cherry trees are already in bloom.

Ash Wednesday

When I was an undergraduate at Berkeley, many years ago in my early 20s, I managed a cafe that had about 15 employees, almost all of them students at Berkeley like me. It is amazing to me how well I remember their names and their faces, even to this day. I took the responsibility of managing them really seriously, and remember with some horror the one time I did not check up on the morning crew, only to discover later that day they had failed to bake the bread or make the soup. Lunch time that day was disastrous, needless to say. And I really felt it was my fault, for not coming to check in on how things were going; instead I was at home studying for a midterm.

Anyhow, one of the girls working there was named Emilia, she was from Los Angeles. Not one of the suburbs of Los Angeles, but from downtown Los Angeles. She was Hispanic, and very Catholic. She was a good worker, very sweet, and I liked her a lot. So I felt pretty bad one Wednesday when she came into work, and I said to her &qu…

Traffic

Well Palmer and I are heading up to the mountains and I am looking forward to getting out of town and hopefully getting in a better mood, after a hard day. My students were uncooperative and I still have a cold. But mapping my route, I see there is tons of stop and go traffic. This never would have happened in Iceland.

Forum

Today KQED public radio had a program dedicated to online dating, especially to the problems with algorithms used to pair people with their ideal match. It was a very interesting program, but I missed getting to call in. I was going to ask if there have been any studies of people who get addicted to looking at profiles and chatting people up, but never actually going through with setting up face to face meetings. Just trolling online dating sites for the heck of it.

The Arctic Studies Center

My parents have always enjoyed getting the annual newsletter from the Arctic Studies Center, the office of the Smithsonian where I used to work. My former colleague there, Igor Krupnik, used to say about the newsletter, which often got up to 36 pages, "never have so few written so much about so little." But the fact is although the staff of the ASC is only 4 permanent full time employees, the Newsletter has always included lots of other contributors, everything from interns volunteering on special projects to scholars who want to have a new project highlighted in a non-academic way.

Last year Bill wrote up a piece that included his assessment of Vikingaheimar Museum in Reykjanesbaer, after he toured it and enjoyed a reception with Jon Baldvin, Einar Benediktsson, and Gunnar Eyjolfsson.

This year, Stephen Loring, who is generally in charge of soliciting outside pieces, invited me to say something about my dissertation research. This was especially welcome, since Stephen is ac…

Life-long learning

Today I signed Palmer up for a week-long summer camp in Berkeley where the kids learn all about theatre and then perform on stage at the end of the week. I am really excited to have gotten Palmer in: there were only a few spots left even though the class is scheduled for late June. It is that sought-after of a program.
But then Berkeley is the kind of city committed to learning, in every sense of the word, and for a lifetime. It is the kind of city that believes growth and change and experiencing new things is what makes the journey worth living. It is where the progressive movement started, but it will not be where it ends.
And I am proud to be doing my part, albeit in a more traditional way, teaching a writing course to students at Cal. I am trying to teach them to be excited about learning and researching, setting them up for a lifetime of being able to tackle a subject they know very little about, and dive right into it, confident that they will be able to gather up the resources th…

With a good friend...

I have never been a great one at accumulating female friends, although I did manage to make some good ones while living in Iceland. In the U.S., it has been tougher going, averaging about 1 fun and interesting female friend every five or six years, with dry spells in between.

I therefore consider myself most fortunate to have met Amanda my very first day as a graduate student at Berkeley. In a lot of ways we are a lot alike, obviously since are both interested enough in Scandinavia to be getting PhDs in the subject. We are also at the same place in the program, having started the same semester and planning on turning in our dissertations at the same time. But she is also one of the sweetest, prettiest, and kookiest grad students to have ever gone through the department, and I thank my pure timing luck that I ended up being this great woman's class mate (and yes, the feeling is mutual).

We had lunch together yesterday, and well, with a good friend, you can talk about absolutely any…

No help there

I often expressed frustration, when I was in Iceland, at the lack of formality in terms of long term planning. I also expressed amazement at how often things do "rettast" (magically work out) in that fantastic little island. But no matter how many times I experienced that, it was never enough to dissuade me from preferring a well-thought out plan ratified by all involved parties.

Thus it was with some dismay that in talking to my supervisors at Berkeley recently that I got a similarly "thetta rettast" kind of response. I asked my dissertation advisor and the chair of the department the same question: did they consider it important for me to file my dissertation now in May? Both of them went to great lengths to explain that there was really no need for me to do so, and that it might in fact it might be better if I waited until December to file, so whatever I wanted to do was fine.

Of course academia is probably the most casual and least structured of institutions in…

Competition

Today California's Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision declaring Prop. 8 unconstitutional. And the Republicans running for nomination had a show down in three states. So it was a big day in the news, all about big high stakes competitions that drag on and on.

Here in my house, I am happy to report things seem to be settling in with my new cat, a boy cat named Tristan. It is always a dicey proposition, to add another cat to a household. The little girl cat I had has vacillated between hiding from him, staring at him, following him around, hissing at him, swiping at him, and rolling around the ground purring near him. I think however I might have lucked out, and I am not going to have the typical cat competition over who is the alpha cat. Instead I believe they have worked it out, that they are both the alpha cats in their own ways.

Now if only gay marriage and political battles could be decided without intervention from the International Court at the Hague, there m…

On being a good teacher

The part I do not like about being a teacher is giving out assignments. I guess I am not enough of a power-tripping controller. Telling people that they have to do such and such by such and such a date has never been my style. Rather, I prefer for everyone to have a sense of working together towards a common goal. If they are adults, who have chosen to take a course, then I should not have to be forcing them to do anything.

Unfortunately, at the moment I am teaching a course that is a university requirement, meaning that students are taking it because they have to. Which takes a lot of the joy out of learning, if you ask me.

Road Kill II

I logged about roadkill in Iceland way back in 2008. Today in California, driving from Walnut Creek today, through Moraga, and then into Berkeley, I saw the following road kill: a dead skunk, a dead squirrel, a dead dear, and a dead fox. The dear has been laying dead by the side of the road for about a week, the skunk for three days, the fox for a day, and the squirrel must have died overnight since it was not there yesterday.

I am tired of living a life so reliant on an automobile, I say to you truly.

School psychologists

The modern public education system is foundational for democracy, both in Iceland and in California. With this comes a certain hubris, that the school is rather "responsible" for a child, in a way that almost relinquishes responsibility from the parents. Of course, schools always talk about how essential parental involvement is, but it is far too easy to not get involved, and just to let the school handle whatever issues or problems come up. Plus it is difficult, as a parent, to know how to be involved without feeling like one is interfering or complaining or making the jobs of underpaid teachers and school administrators worse than it needs to be.

Today though Palmer's father and I and his pediatrician all agreed that in some things, the school should not be taking the lead. Because we know Palmer far better than any teacher dealing with 20 students possibly could, or any school principal dealing with 300 students could, or any district psychologist visiting 7 campuses …