Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Owning a Home is Hot! Hot! Hot!

June 26, 2009

Flooded basement.  Sump pump.  More rain on the way.  Awesome!

By the way, here’s the reference:


The Garbage House Lives

June 18, 2009

hens house-thumb-505xauto-3941Folks might remember the “garbage house” from when Rebecca and I first started looking to buy a house back in ’07.  It’s an awesome (but seriously run down) historic house on Hudson Street.  The place could be amazing, but it was literally waist-deep in junk when we went through it:

1st Floor Living Room.  Note the are of the couch for perspective.

1st Floor Living Room. Note the arm of the couch for perspective.

The upstairs kithcen was a fixer-upper

The upstairs kitchen was a fixer-upper


The 3rd floor ballroom with views of the lake. Not pictured: 50 gallon drum of rendered beef fat.

The property was owned by the city, and that proved to be one of the factors that killed the deal.  We couldn’t really know how much work the place needed without cleaning it out, but we didn’t want to get it cleaned out without assurances that it wouldn’t be sold out from under us.  The city made no such assurances and was generally unhelpful and unresponsive.

That’s been the case with the city real estate department in general.  In fact, last summer I attended a protest outside the house aimed at getting the city to agree to sell it to  couple who wanted to fix it up.

Apparently that didn’t go anywhere, because word is that a father and son team is buying the place and renovating it.  Good luck and godspeed.

Care Bears, Kids, and Good and Evil

June 9, 2009

Rebecca and I went to Connecticut two weekends ago to visit Ben, Mary, Jonathan and Bridget (that’s her brother, his wife, and our niece and nephew for the uninitiated).  We spent all day watching the kids on Saturday, and that’s where I was introduced to the greatness of the Care Bear countdown:

This will be the only song in your head, pretty much forever.

Anyway, I was talking with Ben about the changes in kid’s media since we were kids.  We grew up with GI Joe and the Transformers, which weren’t only violent but which promoted a very Manichean worldview — good vs. evil, Joe vs. Cobra, Autobot vs. Decepticon.  Heck, even the Care Bears was based on this sort of struggle.  Bridget and Jonathan, though, are growing up with very different media — Thomas the Tank Engine, Caillou — that are less about violent fantasies of struggle and more about friendship, cooperation and problem solving.  It’ll be interesting to how this generation of kids turns out.

The Neighborhood

May 29, 2009

Originally posted at the Rebecca and Colin blog:

I always wanted to blog a bit about our neighborhood. My plan was to walk around and take some pictures, because the architecture is really great, but we lost the cord to our camera and can’t free up any space on it. So until we do something about that, I’ll use a few pictures from the internets to show a small piece of where we live.

This house is right down the alley from our place. It just went on the market for $360k, which might not sound like a lot to folks from out of town, but is several times what we paid for our place. It’s really nice — and in this story, Rebecca makes her feelings known about it:

I would love this house. This is my dream – to have the money for this kind of house and fill it with children. I have always wanted to be a foster parent and adopt the kids who need adopting and give back the kids who can be reunited with their families. This is my dream house – enough space for my birth children and my foster children. Five kids isn’t that many – or four kids plus a guest room. Maybe I’m crazy. I’m one of seven and I love it.

More or less across the street from the first place is this little number. It’s owned by an out-of-towner who bought it for $40k and has pretty much neglected it, despite the fact that it could be amazing. The porch is in pretty rough shape, and some folks have speculated that if it goes, the rest of the house would go with it.

The contrast between the two houses gives an indication of where the neighborhood is at the moment — plenty of potential, some of it being realized, and some of it in jeopardy. It’s an interesting place to be.

Why “Will There Ever Be a Rainbow?”

May 25, 2009
Schindler es bueno, Senor Burns es el diablo . . .

Schindler es bueno, Senor Burns es el diablo . . .

It’s a Simpsons reference, of course.  In the Season 2 episode “Blood Feud,” Mr. Burns is brought back to health by a transfusion of Bart’s blood.  To celebrate, he decides to write his memoirs.  He writes with a quill pen and titles his chapters “Chapter the First,” “Chapter the Second” and so on.  And he ends the book with a real flourish:

In closing, gentle reader, I’d like to thank you.

‘What’s that?’ you say?  Me thanking you?

No, it’s not a misprint, for you see, I enjoyed writing this book as much as you enjoyed reading it.  The End.

Happy Birthday Morrissey

May 22, 2009

morrisseyMorrissey turns 50 today, so to mark the birthday of the other love of my life, here’s something I wrote back in March after he played at UB:

“It’s Thursday night . . . I’m in Buffalo . . . and I give myself to you.”

I’ve been to 6 Morrissey shows now, and they’ve all been great, but Thursday’s show was the best of the bunch. It was odd to have him playing at UB, to be sitting in my terrible African survey class knowing that the tour buses were literally 100 yards away, or to hear people complaining that they couldn’t buy meat at the cafe in the Center for the Arts on the day of the show. After years of meeting him on neutral territory — Massey Hall in Toronto, the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara (yes, I traveled across the continent to see him play. I prefer to think of this as a measure of his greatness rather than my insanity), even a local venue like Kleinhans — now he was on my turf.

“I went to the Buffalo Science Museum, where, quite naturally, I fell asleep . . . so I moved on to the Buffalo Historical Society, where, quite naturally, I fell asleep . . . and here I am now.”

Rebecca is right that Morrissey is the last of a dying breed — a real pop star. The term has become devalued to the point that anyone who happens to have a record at the top of the charts is called a star, but it just doesn’t apply anymore. Stars aren’t photographed walking barefoot into public bathrooms, or drunkenly stumbling out of some club at 4 AM.  Stars don’t sell cheap perfume at Target. Stars stand apart and uncommon.

Morrissey is a star. Like his onetime hero David Bowie, he’s cultivated the kind of outsized image — his once-glorious and absurd hair, his gold lame shirts, his single name moniker — that lets people know it’s ok to turn him into an idol. Yet unlike Bowie, who sang in the voice of obviously fictitious characters — Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, etc. — Morrissey’s lyrical voice has always been grounded in the mundane details of the gray and rainy past, towns where “each household appliance is like a new science,” full of punctured bicycles and darkened underpasses. The combination of the sacred and profane provokes a powerful response in people who are attracted to the seemingly distant star yet hopeful that the distance may not be so great as it seems. This rhetorical space is made real at the front of the stage, where fans fight to overcome the guards and barriers that separate them from their king. The power is such that ostensibly straight men fight for the chance to kiss him in front of thousands of others. This is love:

UPDATE: Check out my new site —


May 19, 2009

manischewitzRebecca and I spent the last five days down in Charlotte, visiting her family and seeing her brother graduate from Wake Forest with his JD and MBA.  Somewhat more practical than a history PhD.  If you don’t know Dave yet, don’t worry — you’ll be working for him soon enough.

But this post is really about my introduction to the delicious world of sweetened kosher wine.  And by delicious, I mean painfully disgusting.  Yes, on Friday night a few of us drank Manischewitz and did a jigsaw puzzle.  Nobody parties like the Hoffmans!

This stuff was so bad it gave me goosebumps, but Rebecca poured me such a huge serving — 20 ounces or so — that I took it as my mission to finish the thing.  This was my Everest.

I can’t do justice to how nasty it was, so I’ll let Nosheteria do the honors:

For those of you who have never tried the nectar, I can’t say I would honestly recommend it. Sort of reminiscent of cough medicine, overly sweet, the wine actually burns one’s esophagus a bit on the way down. But the burn only causes me to think of the suffering of the Jewish people when they were enslaved in the land of Pharaoh. LET MY PEOPLE GO!

Just as reciting the four questions (because yes, I am still the youngest in my family), the drinking of the sacharine-sweet sacrament drink, is an activity in which I will masochistically partake. The first sip is always the best/worst, the concord grape most pungent. Then as my glass comes down to room temperature, and the wine lingers longer in my glass, the medicinal quality becomes redolent. With each taste I wince, and prepare myself for the next gulp.

Pie Quest

May 13, 2009
The pie autopsy

The pie autopsy

Every man must go on a  quest.  Parsifal sought the Holy Grail.  Jake and Elwood Blues were on a mission from God to reform their band.  Today, I join their hallowed ranks by attempting to return a half-eaten pie.

About a week ago, Rebecca had a hankering for rhubarb, so I went and bought a strawberry rhubarb pie from Tops.  That’s just the type of husband I am.  Three slices later, it dawned on us that our delicious strawberry rhubarb pie was actually a disgusting cherry pie.  I wanted another slice — hey, pie is pie! — but Rebecca wanted something even sweeter.  She wanted justice.

So I was tasked with returning a half-eaten pie.  A combination of embarrassment, inertia and laziness led me to put it off until the pie started to get a bit moldy, so my quest is that much more difficult now.  Wish me good luck.

Why Whiteness?

May 11, 2009
The whitest picture I could find . . .

The whitest picture I could find . . .

Some of you may know that I’m interested in studying race and whiteness when I start up the ol’ PhD machine in August.  When I tell people this, I often get blank stares or questions along the lines of “what, like the Klan?”  So I thought I might lay out just what I’m talking about so I can point people here when they have questions.  Some of this is probably nothing new for many people reading this, but oh well.

It starts with the idea that race is socially constructed.  It’s true that there are physical differences between people — skin color, hair, susceptibility to certain diseases — but these differences aren’t in themselves that significant.  And yet these differences have, whether by law or custom or some other mechanism, been used in ways both big and small to help determine people’s life chances for centuries.  That’s because societies have decided that a set of physical differences have some particular importance.  The meaning of race is constructed by society.

Given how important these definitions of race have been, it makes sense that historians would want to study how they were arrived at, how they’ve changed over time, and their impact on modern life.

But why whiteness in particular?  In large part, because whiteness is so often invisible.  Whether consciously or not, most people assume that whiteness is simply the norm, rather than one race among many.  When you say “race,” most people are bound to think “black,” not “white.”  And despite being practically invisible, whiteness is a source of real advantage and power.

A classic example of the power and effective invisibility of whiteness has to do with housing discrimination.  For decades, discrimination in housing was a matter of government policy.  The federal government backed hundreds of billions of dollars in loans between the 30s and 80s, yet explicitly racist practices like redlining meant that only some 2% went to blacks.  It’s easy to see that this situation harmed black people, but traditionally it’s been far less common to recognize that whites benefited from that harm by gaining access to a lucrative all-white real estate market.

Studying whiteness is about uncovering the ways in which racial advantage was created and structured, and how it’s changed over time.  It’s about recognizing that white racial identity is just as manufactured as black racial identity.  And it’s about challenging white people to recognize that their advantage is the flip side of someone else’s disadvantage.

Introducing “The Buffalo Activist”

May 8, 2009

pic.phpThe Peace Center has revamped its membership newsletter into “The Buffalo Activist,” a print and web publication aimed at — and drawing from — the wider community of local activists.  It was launched a few days ago, and you can check it out here.  From Executive Director Elea Mihou:

The WNY Peace Center is proud to announce that we are revamping our newsletter and expanding our audience! The newsletter will now be called “The Buffalo Activist, A Publication of the WNY Peace Center” and will be an online publication as well as a quarterly print addition mailed to
members and dropped off at local businesses. The Peace Center’s members are known for a wealth of knowledge and insight into peace and justice issues today as well as great writing about them, and we want to take full advantage of this organizational strength.

It’s early days yet, so I imagine that the site will get a bit more spit and polish.  And I wonder if anyone checked with old-timers from the Buffalo Activist Network before picking the name.  Still, this is a very cool idea that deserves support.

One of the reasons I left the Peace Center was that it needed a new energy and a new way of looking at things.  Both Charlie and I operated in that post-9/11 bunker mentality, I think.  But Elea’s done a number of thing, like re-tooling the Conflict Resolution Program, that indicate she’s been able to step back and rethink what the Peace Center can be in these post-post-9/11 times.  Kudos.