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October 20, 2005

Scientists, or shameless peanut-butter thieves?

Look, I think it's as funny as the next guy when we fund Studies into the Ridiculously Obvious. A recent Canadian study determined that teenagers exposed to absurd levels of personal violence might experience slightly elevated blood pressure. That was funded with Canadian, not US, tax dollars, so I chuckled right along. But when you start fucking with funding dear to my heart, that's when I get mad.

What set me off? A news blurb, posted on the Advocate website courtesy of AP, divulging the shocking findings of a new study that suggests that gay men who use party drugs and engage in unprotected sex at circuit parties may be courting HIV infection. Actually, not shocking at all. Actually, the AP reporter who wrote up the blurb couldn't even get it up to sound surprised; the very first line of the article reads, "A new study of circuit parties has found evidence for what many have suspected."

I quibble with the word "suspected." And "many," actually. This "study" tells us exactly what "everyone" already fucking "knew." And by "everyone," I certainly mean the researchers behind the 2000 San Francisco Department of Public Health study that came to the exact same conclusion, or even the med students at UCSD who figured the same thing out in 1997, or I'm sure plenty of people who've merely meditated on the classic Zen brainteaser: If you go to the White Party, do a lot of crystal and then bareback a bunch of strangers, are you more or less likely to come home HIV-positive than if you didn't do any of that?

Why am I so fucking bent out of shape about this? Here's why. I have managed to carve out one day of my hideously impacted, miserably busy grad-student week to spend working for no pay at a local nonprofit AIDS organization, because I care a lot about it and the real actual people there, and because/although it has lately, along with all the others in the state, lost a shitload of funds and therefore is hemorrhaging employees and fun and volunteers. Things we have a lot less of these days: food in the food pantry; condoms; outreach workers. We have no lube and are down to one box of one size of one kind of condoms. We have a 14-pound can of menudo that some store very meanly "donated" to us, but no peanut butter or tuna or bread or things that people might be able to keep their weight up by eating. But on the plus side, the one thing we rarely have fewer of is clients, and we do have two dozen jars of bacon bits.

I have long thought that by law we should legally require any publication which publishes any article citing any study of any kind to include, at the end of the article, all the information on who conducted the study, exactly how much it cost, and precisely where the funding came from. My horrible suspicion about "research" like this, which I was unable to prove or disprove in my angry Googling, is that it's being funded with money earmarked for - and better spent on - qualitative clinical or sociological research into HIV education, prevention and treatment. Clinical trials? Needle exchange? Testing? Or maybe money that could have gone, god forbid, to any number of embattled nonprofits trying to do actual work with actual people living with actual HIV/AIDS. Doesn't it seem like a ridiculous waste of time and money to send some charlatans with steno pads to a bunch of circuit parties to "interview" crystal queens to verify what we already know about dangerous stupid behaviors -- with funds that could have even gone to agencies that might now be working with some of the people who might have been infected at the very parties that the "researchers" attended?

Posted by katie at 11:26 PM

October 10, 2005

Retardcapades, or, Luddites on Ice!

My housemates and I are possibly the three most technologically benighted people I've ever met. (This is part of why I haven't changed my template or made my *@%&?! font bigger, in case you're wondering.) Consequently, we did a lot of hand-wringing about how to set up our internet connection after we moved into the new place. "Is DSL always wireless? Do you have to have a phone?" the leader of the blind would say. One of the others, following right along, would come back with a panicked look and ask, "Does a cable modem mean there has to be a cable stuck to your modem? Or a modem stuck to your cable?"

So by the time we drew straws and made the loser call SBC to get the DSL set up, we'd already been in the house for a couple of weeks with basically no internet. Turns out, too, that you're supposed to get on this sort of thing ahead of time, because after talking my Delightful Housemate into some strange Friends & Family Call Pascagoula Between 9:05 And 9:10 PM And Get A 25 Cent Rebate On Your First Three Days Of DSL plan, the nice woman at SBC stopped laughing at him long enough to mention that all this would take two weeks to set up, at which point they would send us a hardware kit in the mail and when we'd screwed everything up we could call and they'd send out a nice professional to fix things for us.

Point is, the two weeks aren't up and nothing works. We got a cardboard box from SBC with some very strange-looking equipment in it, but I only opened it long enough to say "eep" and hide it behind the couch.

So we're pirating off the DSL from the old house, since we did only move next door and our old landlord hasn't really gotten on changing the encryption code yet. We're just close enough to be able to get online occasionally, with a signal weak enough to reliably kick me offline in the middle of composing a frantic email to my advisor.

Of course, that happened again this morning, and I'd kind of had it. So instead of doing my usual dance around the living room or out onto the balcony holding my computer up in the air trying to get a signal, I decided to go outside and get closer to the old house and see if I could get in range that way. My old landlord's home office looks out onto the garden, so I was trying to be subtle, crouching in the driveway typing and swearing. But the driveway wasn't good enough, so I snuck inside the garden gate: better.

Of course, as I was crouching in the middle of their garden trying to check my email, I realized that there was a enormous - fucking enormous! - spider hanging from the tree immediately above my head. What follows is utterly predictable: Katie screams, loses her balance, and sits backward right into the fountain.

On the plus side, (a) I didn't get spidered, (b) I didn't get the computer wet, and (c) my landlord was not actually in his office at the moment, so I didn't get caught. And I've got enough mastery over old forms of technology, like my car, that I am now at the cafe in dry pants, sipping a cup of coffee and preparing to go to school like a normal, dignified person.

Posted by katie at 11:28 AM

October 06, 2005

My country's 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange...

It's not that it's a Busy Sisters Pissing Contest (we'll be charging admission to that one), but I feel compelled to offer a counterpoint to my darling baby sister's edenic fantasy of the return to academia .

For the last three days, I've been sitting in various rooms on campus fantasizing about climbing out the window, getting into my car, driving up to the city, and trying to get (one of) my old job(s) back. Funny, because when I was out of school, I spent approximately 950 days sitting in various offices fantasizing about climbing out the window, setting fire to the building, and going back to school.

I will admit that it's a bit different from Dianna's impending undergrad situation in that, in grad school, there is effectively no difference between work and school (or between [work and school] and [the rest of my life]). Taking classes, teaching classes, it all involves being slumped over a book or grading papers. It's also different from my non-student life in that, whereas in my life as a working stiff I was paid more or less like a competent human but treated pretty much like a hopeless idiot, now I'm paid more or less like an Indonesian garment worker but treated like someone who's pretty darn smart in a very arcane and specific arena.

However, let's compare the old days:

Office jobs. We all know what that's like: like war, it's long periods of skull-crushing boredom punctuated by brief bursts of skull-crushing excitement. Sit at desk. Do fifty things at once. Gossip maliciously. Google all of your exes' exes. Stop work and go home. Occasionally stay late to finish the stuff you didn't get to because you were gossiping and googling.

...versus the work hole I have dug myself into now, two weeks into the fall quarter of my third year of grad school:

*Two theory-heavy seminars (that's a normal full course load).
*A "TAship" for a class which, suddenly, the other TA and I are fully teaching, three days a week (that's a full-time job).
*Working as a graduate student researcher/administrative functionary for a research cluster (in which capacity I have to go this afternoon and defend our use of their funding, which we have not actually done anything with yet).
*Running the reading group connected with that research cluster.
*Grad student liaison to the department.
*Member of the Graduate Program Committee.
*Trying to write my qualifying exam topics.
*Sitting on at least one mock qualifying exam this quarter.
*In my "free time," I'm on two planning committees for the AIDS Project, for the Halloween fundraiser we're doing, and for the World AIDS Day event.

By my recent tracking, this commits me to about 80 hours of work per week. If we say that I'm shooting for 8 hours of sleep a night (ha), that gives me 32 spare hours per week, or 4 hours and 34 minutes per day to eat, drive places, send emails into the void that is my advisor's inbox, complain, and fuck around online. Not to mention going out drinking and dancing and whatnot.

But I've found a way to bring some of the drinking and dancing under the umbrella of my volunteer work, and to incorporate the complaining into my school time, so that'll buy me some time there. It's all about multitasking.

The big difference is that, unlike in my previous incarnation or my sister's current incarnation as a seething wage slave, I like what I do now. A lot. Or else I just like work. Because otherwise I wouldn't do so much of it, right? Right?

*Warning: 14.2 minutes of rant time used. Low level light on.*

Posted by katie at 01:07 PM

October 03, 2005

Things that go &*#$@! in the night

My two housemates and I moved next door a few weeks ago. One of my housemates, the official Delightful Housemate, is a fellow graduate student. The other, who is also delightful, is a funny, sweet 63-year-old woman who drives the short bus for a living. The three of us had been renting rooms in a lovely house when we were all displaced at the same time when the landlord, who happens to be my more elderly housemateâs son-in-law, decided that he wanted his house back so he could fuck his wife without his mother-in-law overhearing. The townhouse next door came up for rent at the same time, so hey presto, the three of us moved together about 50 feet.

Well, almost. The two grad students who kept to themselves moved. The underfoot mother-in-law has not actually moved into the new place yet, since, as she keeps pointing out, her daughter doesnât really want her to go. This worked out well last weekend when my darling baby sister and her positively wonderful boyfriend came to stay, because the third bedroom was wide open for them to sleep in.

The house is really big. That is to say, itâs very tall. Itâs the classic townhouse approach to things, where they cunningly took a pretty small foundation and built up and up to make a big house. During the day, I really like it.

At night, it gets about five times bigger, and my one extant housemate gets a lot further away. His room is on the third floor, which, given the way that he sleeps and that sound fails to travel in this house, might as well be another building altogether. My room is on the first floor, right across from what looks like actual wood but is, in my late-night opinion, a deceptively flimsy front door. Also featured on the first floor is the garage, the interior door to which must be kept unlocked at all times because some genius made it unlockable only from the garage side and no one has the key to the laundry room side of the knob. The exterior door of the garage appears to be latched shut by a single rusty nail. The living room and kitchen, unpopulated at night except by me, intervene on the second floor.

In the old house, we were about thirty feet further away from the street along the same long driveway, but there was also a garden with a gate and a screen door that locked and a heavy wood door with two locks and a door and another door before you could get into my room. Here, weâre closer to the street, in a highly desirable area of Santa Cruz, which means that itâs immediately foot-accessible to the beach/boardwalk and to downtown, and that itâs in a neighborhood where people routinely pay a million and a half dollars for a modest home where they can find syringes, or more rarely the whole junkie, on their front lawn in the morning, and where, from my house, I not infrequently hear crackheads screaming at each other, or at the air, from the âbad streetâ down the hill. I absolutely love this area; itâs close to everything except campus, so I donât actually feel like Iâm at work all the time. Except â ulp â at night when Iâm feeling like the only law-abiding night owl around.

Last night, my Delightful Housemate had gone to bed ridiculously early, as is his wont, and I was up somewhat late trying to get both paper-grading and laundry done. The net result was that, at 12:30 AM, I was both deranged with mental fatigue and wired on coffee, and bouncing around the laundry room looking like a little girl foolishly doing laundry all by herself at night, when I distinctly heard someone rattle the front doorknob. Quite calmly, I turned around: the doorknob was absolutely being rattled, and quite thoroughly at that. âIt must be our third housemate,â I told myself. âOh yes. Absolutely. Of course sheâs up at this hour and coming in for something.â Through the laundry room window, I couldnât see anything, because the light inside was lit and I was the only thing clearly illuminated. Through the peephole in the front door, nothing, because of course Iâd turned the porch light off. Whoever was outside entirely failed to call out in a sweet and elderly voice for me to unlock the door.

In one of those flashes of utter clarity that so frequently happen when youâre scared out of your pants, I realized that, stupidly, while I was bouncing around on the blazingly illuminated first floor of the house, up on the dark and creaky second floor I had left the door to the balcony, which is accessible through the dark backyard via an unlatched door around the dark side of the driveway, wide open. Stupid, stupid, stupid, I thought, pausing long enough to turn off every light on the first floor and latch my bathroom window before racing upstairs to shut the balcony door. I was halfway across the dark living room when I heard someone pounding up the front stairs after me.

I am sorry to say that I screamed, with great precision, the words âJESUS CHRIST SON OF A MOTHERFUCKING BITCH!!â right into the face of a 63-year-old woman who was coming in to retrieve the coffee grinder weâd borrowed, so that she could have coffee waiting for her daughter and son-in-law when they returned from a trip this morning. I am very sorry that I nearly sent her reeling backward down a flight of stairs, which, though covered with comfy carpet, are nonetheless narrow and vertiginous. I am also sorry that she had to spend the next few minutes patting me on the back while I hyperventilated. She really did scare the crap out of me.

I am unsure which I am the most sorry about: that my Delightful Housemate failed to hear any of this, or that Iâll feel a lot safer when a woman who is eligible for the Tuesday senior discount at Gottschalks moves into the room next door, where she can protect me.

Posted by katie at 05:56 PM