Sunday, November 30, 2008

A final growl


This will be the last portion of our epistolary exchange at PTN, so I'll try to make it count, although even with the holiday it won't top your post for length. In keeping with our prior inspiration from Rhubarb Pie, though, I'll take the Megan role and throw some oil on the fire. We can continue to warm our hands in the blaze from our burning bridges and incinerated straw men over at Law & Letters or just let it die out (boo).

First, education and "intellectuals": Would it be nice if no professors were nasty and mean? Would it be nice if curious but underprivileged students didn't have to learn bourgie shibboleths and system-gaming to gain access to knowledge? Oh, to live in such a world! Like you, I engaged in a certain amount of conscious self-improvement in past years, going so far as to drop my accent and cram my head full of legal philosophy that I was much too young to understand. But I don't resent the society that pushed me to that or find it somehow oppressive that people make assumptions about my level of knowledge of obscure academic specialties based on whatever outward cues I still give off. Chances are that they are right: I probably don't know the fine details. And if they respond accordingly, I don't tend to classify them as a cool popularizer if I like them and a condescending jerk if I don't. Talking down to uninformed people is a burden, especially for introverts who find personal contact itself a dull, wearing source of stress. Is such a failure to share one's knowledge necessarily a personal failure? If there's a barrier of ignorance, is it incumbent on the more knowledgeable person to build you a ladder? There's a reason they generally have to pay people to teach.

Pursuing a specialized type of knowledge is a really challenging endeavor, as you know well. It tends to take up most of your mental energy, like any time-consuming brain-based job, and leaves little room for outside interests. Hell, I work at a law firm, which is mostly sitting and thinking (albeit about more prosaic topics) and people are surprised to hear that I manage to cook, knit, blog, and have friends. I hope none of them are silently judging me for being insufficiently curious and failing to have some secondary intellectual hobby, like freelance philosophy or lepidoptery. If professors are too immersed in the life of a particular part of the mind to have time to charmingly explain their research to the ignorant, or to keep up some outside interests for the sake of maintaining their renaissance-man cred, bully for them. They're earning their salaries, in my book. Professors who try to be open and approachable all too often get it in the teeth, so I'm okay with a certain amount of distance for other reasons. (Although that Concurring Opinions post is a great example of either the sort of lazy analysis and false dichtomies with which legal teaching is rife, or of the parallel tendency of lawyers and law professors to leave out crucial factual details because, as Sarah has noted many times in the comments here, lawyers lack sufficient substantive knowledge to be aware of whether something is important.)

Whew! Perhaps this reaction, like Sherry's, is a product of personal experiences (although even congenitally grouchy me hasn't managed to write off the entire profession of career planners or whatever, based on dislike of her post and some lame encounters in school). I had the privilege of attending a college that puts a strong emphasis on teaching, and my expectations for the law faculty were . . . met. The former wasn't populated by the sorts of jerks that Sherry's calling "intellectuals" and the latter's issues were more an indictment of the law as a discipline and Harvard as a university than any indication of the merits of the professoriat generally. (You might as well take Phoebe's experience at an NYC restaurant as justification for Francophobia.)

I'm sure you'll be a great professor, though, and put lie to any contrary generalization about the occupation. How goes your research? My few attempts at any article writing have been universal failures, and it's worth acknowledging now that I'm not cut out for the life of the mind. I did, however, make two pillow covers for my new couch, reupholster the stool for my sewing machine, and start on a nice pair of convertible mittens. (Don't worry, B & G: your knitted stuff is still coming!) This is what you get when you give a six-year-old the Little House books: a lifetime obsession with making household items and salt pork. I'm finally set for a housewarming party: maybe in two weeks? Wish you could come.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Holiday Bake: Blueberry Pie

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving!

Blueberry Pie

The crust I use for lattice pies has 3 cups flour, 10 tbsp butter & 7 tbsp shortening (put in the freezer 15-30 minutes before starting), 1 tsp salt, 2 tbsp sugar, and 8-10 tbsp ice water. I generally food-process the dry ingredients and the fats, use a large spatula to fold in the ice water until it's just a bit tacky to the touch, smoosh it into two disks (one a little bigger than the other), wrap them in cling film, and refrigerate for 45-60 minutes before rolling it out. Once it's in the pie pan I refrigerate it again for about 30 minutes (along with the rolled out and cut strips of lattice), before filling and baking.

Filling: 2 bags frozen blueberries, one peeled and coarsely grated Granny Smith apple (wrung dry), juice and zest of one large lemon, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tbsp finely ground tapioca, 1 pinch salt, 2 tbsp butter (cubed).

Thaw the blueberries and cook 1/2 of them, mashing them to break down about half the berries, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the uncooked berries, apple, lemon juice and zest, salt, and tapioca and combine. Pour into unbaked bottom crust. Scatter butter pieces on top and close top crust. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes and 350 for another 30-40.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Inauguration Housing

If any friends of PTN want to come to DC for the inauguration and need a place to stay, do call me (my number is on Facebook). My friend cd is suggesting that I rent out space, but I would rather give first and free dibs to my bloggy pals.

A sweater is like a hug. But that's what I got him last year.


Before you respond to my post and we switch venues, can I ask you and your readers for some advice? What do I get TD for Hanukkah? I'd ask on my blog, but he lurks there rather creepily. It being a bad economy and all, and I being an impoverished grad student, I can't go crazy. I was thinking of giving him a nice hardcover book or a released-in-paperback series of books.

He thought the George R.R. Martin series I gave him once was "interesting," but he's not much into fantasy or "things with dragons, and I don't see much science fiction on his shelves. Fiction-wise, his favorite authors are Edward Abbey, Po Bronson, Hunter S. Thompson, Herman Hesse, Haruki Murakami, Charles Bukowski, Chuck Palahniuk, and Patrick O'Brien. Of course, he reads so much that I don't know what authors/books he hasn't read yet, so that's the challenge with fiction, unless you know of some author really recent or really old/obscure, or some series that I should try that is not sci fi/fantasy. While he doesn't read much science fiction, he really loves science and micro-economics, and seems to enjoy reading histories of important things (the invention of the computer, microchip, the atomic bomb, etc.), and biographies of big important figures. I wonder if he would be interested, as I am, in biographies of Supreme Court justices and presidents. Hmm.

Any suggestions? Paul is trying to convince me that books "make the best gifts in general, because peoples’ tastes in books are so personal — there’s no better way to say “I care about you just the way you are” than to get a book that’s just right for someone. You could get him some really awesome book that you wouldn’t normally!" Aw. This is making me reconsider his usual sweater, which means to me "I care about you just the way you are and here's some extra fine Italian merino I got on super-sale from either J.Crew or Banana Republic that you can wear to work in your business casual environment. Hugs!"

So does this mean this has to be a truly awesome book and "just right" for TD? We give each other "I think you'd find this interesting" books now and again, and we have taken to buying books together and sharing them, so the gift itself won't be all that novel, unless the choice is good. Pressure! Ack! The last time we went on a sharing books shopping spree we got a lot of science history (so I know he likes it) and I threw some Tom Robbins and Nathaniel West at him, so I know there's still plenty out there for him to read. I'm thinking maybe some Richard Ford, Nikolai Gogol or Saul Bellow, but I'd love to hear what you and your readers think would make a nice book gift.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My cats are self-cleaning.

When they barf (non-hairball), they generally lick it right back up, like dogs. It's very considerate of them. Also gross.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Good thoughts in this general direction, please.

Hella busy with work, will respond to Belle's latest missive soonest with much fire and table-pounding. In the meantime: I will find out in a couple of days if I can adopt this dog. Isn't he perfect? Except for his name. A friend suggests changing it to Jabberwocky, which I would call Wocky for short, which at least sounds like his current name but has its own drawbacks.

Cross your fingers that the animal shelter people will think I can be a fit dog mother! And think of good names, with bonus points for ones that sound sort of like the current one so he'll know he's being addressed.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What is best in life?

This is pretty good (spoilers for Watchmen). Also: Goldendoodles.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I was a teenage trend-hater and now I'm an unapologetic publicly educated intellectual

(Warning: this post will contain many links to very long posts by other people, so I'll try to excerpt/paraphrase best I can, which will make it an even longer post than usual)


Ah, to be contrarian. The impulse can start very young. But disagreeing for being disagreeable's sake is the province of annoying teenagers, and I am too old for that and perhaps more mature by now. Maybe. There was a time when I eschewed all guilty pop pleasures, whereas now I embrace them with gusto. I still hate Titanic as much as I did when I was 15, though. But back then I was trying, as I've mentioned here and elsewhere, to cultivate culture of the high brow, intellectual type and lift myself out of poverty and ignorance. It can be done, supposedly. Bourdieu's prognosis that cultural capital is too deeply ingrained to be altered is fundamentally his French view, whereas we boot-strapping, scrappy, meritocratic Americans believe that you can learn culture as much as you can learn a foreign language, how to appreciate classical music, table manners, etc. And goodness knows I've tried, and have moderately succeeded, at all of that, despite my lingering class anxiety over being labeled a social climbing Talented Mr. Ripley.

But this is not to say that all of high culture education is for the mercenary purposes of entering the rarified stratosphere of the elite. If I didn't genuinely love literature, art and music and that type of movie that is referred to as "cinema," I probably wouldn't spend so much time and resources cultivating and refining those tastse. But it helps, of course, to be conversant in these topics, and there's nothing wrong with wanting the social capital that is hard to decouple from economic capital, which comes with the attainment of human capital--education. Isn't America built on the idea of mobility in all those respects? The nouveau riche in our country are not so disdained, I think, as they are in countries with a more aristocratic tradition. For all of my grousing, I am incredibly grateful, as the daughter of very poor war refugee immigrants can be, for living in America and having so many opportunities to improve my mind and my lot in life.

It seems to me that those who deride the aspirational aspects of human and cultural capital for being too enmeshed with the mercenary qualities of economic and social capital do so from a position of privilege--it is easy to dismiss intellectuals for "putting on airs", or to ghettoize the efforts of those who view education instrumentally as a way to improve their socioeconomic status. It is easy because both appear to the "true intellectual," or the one who loves learning for its own sake, to appear disingenuous, full of ulterior motive, and worst, lacking sincerity. Seriously, to cast such aspersions on perfectly valid purposes of education is to do so from a place of privilege, because only those who are already endowed with the Bourdieuan embodied cultural capital can claim to make distinct other attempts to attain and display such capital. I find it highly annoying.

I bring this all up, because this has been a topic of blog controversy for quite some time.

The link is now dead, but AWB put the first defense of teaching literature as:

To teach students to approach literature (and language and culture in general) as analysts, with a sense of history, and tools, and expertise, is to give them the power to think as individuals in the face of a large and difficult set of problems. It offers them a way out of obsessing about consensus and marketability. It leads them past the narcissism of personal taste. It makes them ask why things are the way they are and how they got that way. Who benefits? Who suffers? To read and think clearly is to see authors, characters, and even other possible readers not as an undifferentiated mass with spending power or cultural capital, but as individuals, with specific, often conflicting, desires and needs. Reading literature analytically is about making necessary distinctions and prudent, fruitful comparisons, maintaining difference where there is difference, and spotting a false note or an obfuscation for what it fails to represent.

To which Dr. Crazy replied:

To give students a vocabulary for discussing things that are complex, which is ultimately about socializing them to talk, think, and feel in ways that allow them to be upwardly mobile. Most of my students do not come from families that discuss books over dinner - or art, or advances in science, etc. If they don't learn how to have conversations about these things, they face a disadvantage when they leave college and enter the broader world. (I should say, I think this may be one of the most compelling arguments for the humanities in the context of higher education at my kind of institution, as it doesn't matter what degree one has if one can't hobnob with people from higher class backgrounds when one is done.)

Which was then replied to by Joe Kugelmass of The Valve:

Working-class people watch television, go to the movies, listen to music, and read. You are not doing anyone a service by implying that culture is the exclusive province of the leisured class. To state the obvious, American street culture was not an invention of the middle-class.

It is really upsetting to me to read these romantic accounts of America's upper classes. When has that ever been the perspective of literature? Does Fitzgerald romanticize Tom and Daisy Buchanan? Tom is first shown to us expounding on The Rise of the Colored Nations. Do Nabokov or Lewis praise the American middle-class for its cultural depth? What about contemporary novelists like Philip Roth or Toni Morrison? Literature constantly challenges our notions of what conversations are (or ought to be) acceptable; I am thinking at the moment of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, with its indelible accounts of time spent in jail.

"Society," in the banal sense of the word, has always been hostile to the radical elements in literature, and it is also hostile to devotees of literature. Surely there has never been anyone so attuned to social niceties as Marcel Proust, and yet he eventually realized that he had to alienate himself from the cream of Parisian society in order to write devotedly and honestly. Plenty of people will condone and even applaud reading The Life of Pi before bed, but will accuse you of wasting your life if you want to write or teach.

Don't pawn off our disagreements as mere personal differences; while I understand your desire to acknowledge difference, a disagreement about how socialization and literature relate isn't subjective, and neither are characterizations of the American class structure. If I decided that I was teaching literature out of a desire to obey the will of God, you might have different personal reasons for teaching literature, and, as an atheist (hypothetically speaking), you might disagree that a personal relationship with a deity was sufficient justification for anything.

As it happens, I don't think you are teaching breeding by teaching Whitman or whomever, but even if you could do that with a literature class, it wouldn't be desirable. Expanding your world, or changing your view of the world, is not something I associate with becoming more likably bourgeois. One cannot expand into narrowness.

Which got a re-response by Dr. Crazy:

I never said I was "teaching breeding" nor am I glorifying the upper classes. I'm saying that it's crucial to learn to pass in certain ways as one moves into the middle class. ... But so, yes, I believe that one must learn to pass in certain ways in order to get by. The reason that I believe this is because I've had to do so. This is a pretty common thing for people from backgrounds like mine to feel that they must do. Don't believe me? Check out Alfred Lubrano's book *Limbo.* The thing that confirms my belief that passing is a skill worth teaching my students is my interactions with the students that I teach and have taught, students who have appreciated gaining that skill. Further confirmation comes from the conversations that I've had with other academics who teach similar student populations to mine and/or who come from backgrounds similar to mine. I suppose, however, that you're totally right and all of us are just lacking in sense.

I'm not trying to make my students "more likably bourgeois" or, in fact, *more* bourgeois at all, as they are NOT BOURGEOIS. Students who work 60 hours a week plus go to school full time are not bourgeois. College freshmen who work 3rd shift at a factory and then come to class right after are not bourgeois. My students who admit to never having read a *single book* before they come to college are not bourgeois. My student, a returning student, who had dropped out of high school at 14 and who had 8 children, was not bourgeois.

So if I teach them skills that give them a fighting chance when they encounter people who will discount their experience or their perspective, discount it in ways that are patronizing and in ways that don't really engage with what they have to say, no, I don't think that's "expanding narrowness." If I try to give them a fighting chance for when someone responds to their perspective with a bunch of allusions to NPR and radical literature, it's because without that, the only result would be in their silencing.

This blog fight is almost a year old. Reading it gives you a headache, no? Obviously, I agree with AWB and Dr. Crazy, and think that Kugelmass is speaking from a place of privilege and trying to incite a class war, and reframing the debate from one about social mobility to the anti-intellectualism that apparently necessarily attends a more instrumentalist view of education as reflected by the crassness of society in general, even elite society. Huh. It seems that everyone has a dog in this fight, and the disagreements are not over facts, but ideologies of intent. But such a debate about the purposes of education are coming up again in the blogosphere!

First, there is Sherry's admission that she is anti-intellectual, although her definition of intellectuals seems to be narrowly construed to the condescending, combative assholes of the academy, but their existence means that we are all assholes and are all alike and can be referred to collectively as "they." There are assholes everywhere, and while their particular brand of assholishness is off-putting because we consider education to be the great equalizer, assholes of the academy are not necessarily assholes of a higher order. Is it too pointed to say that not all professors are like this? I'd like to think that I am not like this, but as I am stridently disagreeing with Sherry and writing an entire essay using other people's year-old posts to buttress my point, am I an asshole academic? Well, maybe. Megan responded in sympathy, and then posted reader's emails about the same. Sherry thought that perhaps her real issue was being condescended to on the basis of false identifiers such as pedigree or dress, and Megan said yes, we have to work on getting people to listen to us. So what started out as a polemic against asshole intellectual professors turned into a plea for dialogue, which I can get behind.

I can get behind it because dialogue can be so good! The 5402 Review is on fire! The first posts were about thriftiness (which I am trying to adopt, see here for my tips on cooking on a budget), but I am even more interested in the latest posts on public education and "gaming the system," which the authors discuss in terms of their own personal experiences, what they would tell their kids, and what they've experienced helping out at local DC schools (which you may have heard are under pressure by Superintendent Rhee to abolish tenure). First there's Alex, who wants to teach kids to game the system by viewing it instrumentally--get the best grades possible and get yourself out of there and onto college. Then Julia admits that she sucks at games, because she was one of those types that always worked hard and acutally enjoyed learning. Rita writes an excellent post on how hard it is to convince some kids in the shittiest schools that what they need to do is to game the system, because all you'll do is convince the kids that the system sucks, and that the perfectly common option of not going to college is actually a valid one. Finally, Becky expresses a confusion and ambivalence that I identify with--is one necessarily a gamer or a mere pawn?

This long post must come to an end, and I suppose I may as well offer my two cents before asking you for your own. I'm a total gamer, but a bad one--and I've been at public schools my entire life, where gaming is really important! I recognized pretty early that I needed to get into college and beyond, but I also had that "love of learning" thing and put myself in the hardest classes and into the most inefficient routes for gaming the system. Instead of taking only one year of Spanish, the language I learned in high school, I took two years of Latin. Instead of taking linguistics, which was for some reason satisfied the math requirement in the School of Humanities, I took statistics. Etc., etc., the anecdotes abound of how much I knew I had to do well, and yet trying to learn well and do well at the same time, two not necessarily dovetailing goals. And it's even harder to do at public schools, and I attended some not-great California K-12, and had to scrabble together a good education at the under-funded, constantly in a budget crisis UCs. While I will champion to the death the value and civic virtues of public higher education, the truth is that if things keep going the way they are with budget cuts, tuition raises, and funnelling adjuncts and lecturers into the few classes that are still offered, I might want my own kid to go to a private university.

And regarding the instrumentalist view of education: whether it's to demonstrate one's own expertise and intellect, or to help the social mobility of our own students, I'm all for it. The methods are key of course, and one need not be an asshole or gauche social climber. You can love learning for its own sake, and yet recognize that it must necessarily have a greater purpose than your own exaltation. I want to teach because I don't know how to do anything else, but in all seriously it's because it gives me a great sense of personal and professional fulfillment. Especially because of my chosen subject matter, law and politics, and in particular employment discrimination law and the mobilization of legal rights. I made a conscious decision in 2001 not to pursue a major intellectual passion in favor of one that was not only interesting to me, but "valuable" in the sense of being a collection of tools and methods that could change the way people interact with each other.

Of course, I might be wrong headed and far too instrumentalist in my idea of "valuable." But I think the law matters more to people's lives, particular the communities I care about (women, minorities, low wage workers) than literature, although I will be the first to defend the importance and value of art and literature to society. Personally, I just didn't think I could effect much change, even if I was delusional enough to think that my work could effect much change, through the study of literature. But if I could do an interesting empirical or doctrinal analysis of a certain law's limits and how it could be amended to increase rights and benefits to some underserved community and such an idea could be cited and implemented, well then, that's the goal. Or even if I am never cited by a court, if I could educate fresh batches of lawyers about the limits and reaches of law in the workplace and with respect to gender and race discrimination, I'd be pretty happy. And I don't think I am being too intellectual or too anti-intellectual for arguing this. But I bet you I will be called one or the other.

Fragrant Lentil Soup

Yes, I made soup again. And it's delicious.

3 slices bacon
1 medium onion , chopped fine
1 handful baby carrots, chopped into thick coins
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 small bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup lentils, rinsed and picked over
ground black pepper
1/4 cup white wine
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves

Fry bacon in a dutch oven, remove to paper towels and crumble when cooled. Fry onion and carrots in grease with bacon for 2 minutes, then add garlic, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cayenne and cook 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, bay leaf, and thyme; cook another 30 seconds. Stir in lentils, salt, and pepper; cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until veggies soften and lentils darken, 8 to 10 minutes. Uncover, turn up heat to high, add wine, and boil it off. Add broth and water and bring it to a boil, then partially cover and simmer on low until lentils are tender but still hold their shape, 30 to 35 minutes; discard bay leaf. Use immersion blender to make the soup smooth, then add lemon juice and cilantro. Makes two generous servings.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Granny panty decals: not good enough.

New York City is one of the few places in the USA where women can legally go around topless. However, public display of "offensive sexual material" is a Class-A misdemeanor. A New York Times reporter got peeved at her local newsstands' open display of magazine covers depicting curvy women with minimal clothes and called in the law to force the offending vendors to cover things up. I've just got a few questions:

1. How much sense does it make to punish people for displaying "depictions" of nudity when a flesh-and-blood woman might be able to strike the same pose in Central Park and be free of sanction? This is right up there with child porn prosecutions for teens above the age of consent who take nude cellphone photos of themselves.

2. How are the magazine covers different from the sorts of billboard ads showing women in various states of undress that are prominently displayed in NYC by advertisers who are too big to be pushed around by the city's morals police? And what did the reporter think of the famous Vanity Fair cover that showed skinny white actresses in the buff? Was she coming down on the newsstands for that? Remember, it's not about what's inside the magazine: the relevant "display" is of the cover. Don't try to tell me that fashion advertising and stuff like this isn't appealing to the same base desires.

3. What the hell kind of law is this? If something appeals to the prurient interest in sex, you can't display it even if it merely
appears to depict nudity ... with the area of the male or female subject's unclothed or apparently unclothed genitals, pubic area or buttocks, or of the female subject's unclothed or apparently unclothed breast, obscured by a covering or mark placed or printed on or in front of the material displayed, or obscured or altered in any other manner.
So you can't show a photo of someone whose nudity is obscured by a "covering" printed on the material displayed or otherwise obscured . . . doesn't this mean even photos of people apparently nude beneath their clothes (or with fig leaves added after the fact) could be in violation? At minimum, the slapped-on cigarette ad in the Jezebel post seems to fall clearly within this provision.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Starting a Prof Blog

A friend in the academy recently admitted that he was interested in getting into blogging. Assuming that this is a good idea (which I think it is; assume that there will be no employment-related repercussions from such), what advice would you have for a new blogger? My thoughts:

- If something is to be more than stodgy institutional mouthpiece, it needs to convey that it's being written by a person. People have interests, emotions, likes, and dislikes. If you want your audience to feel like they are reading a blog by you, not by the John Q. Richguy Professor of Something-Or-Other, you need to humanize yourself. Maybe it's the occasional post about wine, maybe it's subtle nods to an interest in comic books, maybe it's pet pictures or anecdotes. Just be relatable.

- Minimize political bloviation. You will be on solid ground if you stick to things within your field or your personal experience. Many a blog has run aground because the author(s) feel compelled to shoehorn their political positions into otherwise interesting and enjoyable conversations. *coughcoughVolokhConspiracycough*

- Tone is important. If you want reader participation in the form of comments, you'll be more likely to get it if you put up open-ended musings, not essay-format posts with definitive conclusions that shut off further debate. Be conversational, but thoughtful.

- Disagree! The easiest way to get readers is to disagree with other bloggers. This also provides a valuable quality control service. (Actually, this is not true. The easiest way to get readers is to blog about prurient things, but unless you're a First Amendment scholar specializing in obscenity law or a gender studies maven who collects examples of sexist products, that's going to look a little weird.)

- Engage with your commenters. Active participation of the author in comments threads enhances the readers' sense of connection and also keeps things from degenerating into a cesspool.

More hints, anyone?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In which this blog is inspirational, or something

More people are adopting the epistolary format! This is where I confess how cool I think Rita is, and how I wish we would run into each other again at a party, but when I am not drunk and ranty.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Seeing people, making soup.


After so much text-based crushing and interaction, it certainly can be bracing to meet someone like TD, who is emphatically of the three-dimensional world. It does undermine the tendency to project, which is so dominant in blog crushes as to be overwhelming. And bodies do matter, I agree---as much as minds, I'd venture to say, since our society's most obvious bright line for relationships is based on whether the body is in play. (In another context, it would have been no less so: if one of us had been had been a mass of tics and twitches, our first dinner would have been quite a different experience!) Even contact-averse me recognizes the fundamental appeal of physicality, given the right humans. Blog crushes just can't provide this, no matter how much flowery poetry or confessional email you exchange. Sooner or later, it comes down to two animals in a (backstage?) room and how they sense each other. If you and TD or you and your new teacher friend have chemistry in person, who cares about whether you have blogging in common or some textual connection? The latter is in some sense just a proxy for intellectual compatibility, and there's other ways of assessing that in a partner.

How often you see someone is entirely dependent on each partner's idiosyncrasies, and only the couple can know how much is the right amount. I once dated someone who expressed a preference for a situation in which partners could see each other every day with basically no "commute," but which maintained separate living quarters for both. This is easily realized for those living in college dormitories, but people in more mature living situations must accept and negotiate the trade-off between independence and distance from each other. It sounds like you and TD get to see each other quite a lot for two people with full lives, and you with no car!

How much you see your friends is a puzzle that I have a harder time understanding. You and I only see each other every few months, and we seldom talk on the phone, but we are nevertheless in almost constant contact. It's hard, though, to know how much one can hang out with a friend when both of you have full-time jobs and narrow slices of free time (which they are also allotting to a significant other, if any). I find myself reflecting on the fact that there are friends that I haven't seen in months, or even a year---do they still think of me as a friend? Would they be receptive to attempts to reconnect?

It's even harder with male friends, as you note, due to the potential for dual motivations. I can be friends with men who are romantically interested in me, but not the other way around; I'm so bad at concealing my emotions that it gets awkward and embarrassing. In terms of just-dude friends, I find that married/seriously partnered guys are pretty solid, but at in some instances I have found myself adulterating otherwise-platonic friendships with single men with a kind of stylized flirtation. This is deprecated.

I'm trying to keep my shopping down to household items and groceries for the time being, but if that Gracie dress had been in my size, this resolution would have been strained. I will also need to buy some Christmas presents for my various relatives who live in warm climates and thus have little use for heavy woolen goods. (I'm sort of looking forward to traveling over the next couple of months, business and pleasure, since it might provide the chance to work on some knitting projects, many of which are gifts for other people.) I've also been trying to economize by cooking a lot, but given the need for a special grocery store trip for each elaborate recipe, it sometimes seems like not much money is being saved. The economies only appear when the leftovers get consumed, which is not always. I didn't quite finish last week's soup before making this one's. Bad Amber.

I'd love to take this over to your blog! Perhaps after Thanksgiving we can swap venues?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Eye of Sauron Discovered in Space

Ash nazg durbatulûk,
ash nazg gimbatul,
ash nazg thrakatulûk,
agh burzum-ishi krimpatul!

Or not.

I want you to be my friend.


Remember I told you about that nice assistant principal girl I met on a sail a month ago, in which we totally clicked and chatted for hours while the boys sailed and brought us wine and sandwiches? I can actually sail a boat and pull in sails and tighten lines, so I felt bad that I reduced my role to sitting there and being awesome, but it did free me up for some new-friend making. TD wasn't bothered--he likes sailing and he had his friends and I had my new friend. I don't have many friends to begin with, much less many local hangout friends, so I was very excited. Tonight we hung out for the second time. I always test the waters of friendship by going out for a casual coffee or happy hour the first time, and if they do not immediately repudiate my friendship, I have them over for elaborate dinners in which I try to get to a girl's heart through her stomach.

She's awesome--warm, open, genuinely appreciative that I want to be her friend too, and just as eager to hang out on a semi-regular basis, which right now seems to be bi-weekly. It's like dating someone who is just as excited about you as you are about them. You will always be my gold standard instant BFF, but I am happy to find a local girl who wants to hang out with me. I only wish she had a blog. part of our instantaneous BFF-ness was that I could catch up to you by reading your archives, which I still do nowadays when I feel like giving you an invisible hug. Dang, I sound like a stalker. But our blogs got us up to speed on each other pretty quickly, and we hit the ground running. Oh well, not everyone in the world can be Amber, though they might wish it.

I made my now famous corn chowder, a fancy salad, and a tarte tatin. Yeah, I really bring it when I want someone to be my friend. Did I not email you daily, send you mix CDs and presents shortly after meeting you? The nice thing about the "just friends" thing is that I can bring it without fear of appearing freakish. When one has a sunny disposition and a clear propensity towards generosity and making early statements of friendship ("I'm so glad we met!") backed up by intent ("we should do this again!"), such acts as frequent contact and presents come off as endearing and sincere rather than freaky and potentially stalkerish. Dating, however, is fraught with tension, which is why it annoys me. I think I am built for long-term relationships in which I can be my effusive and demonstrative self, as I hate that initial period forced-aloofness. You know, purposely not calling too often, not seeing each other too regularly, and not giving mix CDs, not cooking and baking elaborate meals to show my love. I love doing the last. Especially after we've both had long days/horrible weeks--the best thing is a bowl of soup and a hug. Whenever I say how much TD and I see each other, the response is "wow, that's a lot," which I think is weird also, as it applies your subjective standard to someone else's highly individualistic situation. After a year together, 2-3 times a week + weekends is not that much, and we don't live together, and so what is too much for some? The girl I hung out with tonight sees her new beau of two months every day. That made me go "wow," but who am I to say.

Of course, people might just be wired differently. My former roommate got out of a 3-year relationship in which it was a daily chore and aggravation for her to call her boyfriend to chat, and a bi-weekly chore to make time to see him. She seems happy in her current relationship--after a year together, they see each other for half-weekends and talk on the phone once a week--if he calls two days in a row, she's wondering if something's wrong with him. I don't think I could live with that, but to each his own.

Oh, back to my girl friend date. We watched When Harry Met Sally. You're right, that movie has held up surprisingly well. Why do romantic comedies suck so hard now? I would not avoid the entire genre if they were this good. This really does make me look at my few non-partnered male friends with greater scrutiny though. Not that one should presume every dude wants to jump her petite body, but really, can men and women be friends when one is attracted to the other, and would take the opportunity to sleep with the other if the opportunity ever came up? One way to test this, I suppose, is to be single for a short period and see how many of your dude friends hit on you. Those who don't take advantage of that window might be happy being "just friends." This is probably not a great theory, and I do not suggest you apply this particular treatment effect on your test group, since you don't have a control group anyway. But anyway, I think I have all of three male friends I keep in regular contact with who are not themselves currently partnered, and one of them I knew wanted to date me back in college. Because in statistics the past does not predict the present, I probably shouldn't say he's definitively in that column either. Dang, I have no idea how many dude just-friends I actually have. Do you?

If I'm out-blogging you on your own blog, come over and blog at mine! This epistolary style inspires me to write to you when I was feeling so near blog-death on my own blog, which is why I'm here so often. And I'm sure my languishing readership would appreciate you. I know you feel as acutely as I do the reduction from 10 emails a day to 2-5 because we're writing each other publicly now, but don't worry--I'll keep sending you links of dresses I wish I could buy. Like this one. Jackie K! Perfect for holiday parties, and the bateau neck is flattering. I tried on this dress, which I like in theory, but on my figure the high neck made me feel too self-consciously like a several inches shorter Joan Holloway, and I just don't have the height nor vampy personality to bring it like that. Then again, my head is kind of twisted if I think v-necks are less agressive, but that's what they say to do. And it sounds kind of like I read too many fashion magazines (when I don't read any) to impute personality affect into my clothing choices. Although, there are some who don't care what they wear, nor what clothes say about them, and I don't get that. By the way, you would look awesome in this dress.

Ok, I have to go to bed so that I can wake up and get drunk wine-tasting.

Friday, November 14, 2008


No on 8* supporters have begun boycotts of business that contributed to/are owned by contributors to the Yes on 8 campaign. Now there are some serious issues with government-mandated disclosure of political donations, at least for those of us in the money = speech camp. But given the presence of these databases, shouldn't it be fairly straightforward to write a Firefox extension that crawls these databases and pops up a little window when you're on the website of a business that is associated with . . . uncongenial political views?

* For you non-Californians: Proposition 8 just outlawed gay marriage in California.

Sleeping Beauty's Come-Hither Stare?

I feel like I am getting old when I start going off on how some books warp young people's tender minds, but this is the craziest post on an otherwise sane blog that I have ever seen.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It doesn't have to be this way!

Intrepid commenter Sarah, this one's for you:
Except for a depressingly small minority among them, lawyers know nothing. They are incapable of logic. They don’t know the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions or between type I and type II errors. Indeed, any concept of probability is alien to them. They don’t understand the concepts of opportunity cost and trade off. They cannot distinguish between normative and positive statements. They are so focused on winning an argument through technicalities, that they no longer would recognise the truth if it bit them in the butt. If you are very lucky, a lawyer will give you nothing but the truth. You will never get the truth, let alone the whole truth. Things have degenerated to the point that lawyers and the legal profession not only routinely undermine justice, but even the law.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Coulda Woulda Shoulda

It’s refreshing how politics just doesn’t enter our friendship at all ninety percent of the time, and yet we manage to have conversations about current events, society, and media. I really value the discussions we have and the connection we’ve made, and in some ways I resent terribly that we didn’t meet until we did. You’re right that we probably wouldn’t have the same relationship had we met as terrified 1Ls under gray Chicago skies, though. And who’s to say that we would have enjoyed ourselves there? I actually loved most of 1L year---it wasn’t until I got bogged down in journal politics and conned myself into taking classes based on some deeply flawed idea of their future utility that I began to hate law school---but I have it on good authority that UChicago is well-stocked with unhappy people, and even my libertarian passion and your naturally sunny disposition might not have been able to overcome the collective psychic weight of our fellow students’ malaise.

I’ve talked with you quite a bit about my stymied drive to enter a PhD program, and was discussing it with someone else the other day. The really discouraging part is that my fallback course of action, namely to just read what I like on my own, is not getting off the ground; the self-starter homeschooling approach doesn’t work for me. (Nor for many others: That’s the reason BarBri makes so much money.) Maybe what I need is structure: a reading list, some syllabi to crib. But last night I was too tired to even knit the camel scarf I’m working on, much less digest theory. Before anything can happen, there needs to be a revolution in time management. And even if I do read everything I should, I’ve got nobody to discuss it all with whose field substantially overlaps. Oh well. We make do.

The spare time I do have has been taken up with quite a lot of cooking. I’ve been enjoying your food posts of late, especially the soup ones. I made this delicious soup this weekend after returning from a long morning of knitting class in Baltimore, and it’s been sustaining me for the past few days (along with its accompanying onion tart). I’m still learning to appreciate veggies, and soup is a nice way to get lots of different flavors out of and into them. The only trouble is having the time to make it! I bought a crockpot, but it’s devoted to dyeing and is really too big to use to cook for a small household. Maybe I need a second one. I am skeptical about Snape and Lily’s ability to refrain from bad behavior, though, if food was left cooking all day. (Snape is better, and thanks to all who had him in their thoughts.) Have you tried bacon salt? It alleges to add bacon flavor without any actual bacon. Not sure whether that would be good or bad for a soup.

I’ll have more thoughts on your theories of crushes and authenticity later, after I’ve had time to read your links, but wanted to break this into something manageable (for me! you’re outblogging me on my own blog). While I’m mulling those things over, here is a photo of a baby caracal:

ideological commitment, and the emergent body


How I love to call you my libertarian friend. It pleases me, and not in the way that people collect friends in the act of self-congratulation way to show to others their open-mindedness and diversity. Like, whatever. More that, to myself privately, I am pleased as punch that you choose to be my friend, and that we are friends. Mind you, I rarely say "look, people, at Amber, my libertarian friend," as if that was the way to introduce you. At least, not without trumpets and tambourines. To be honest, I hardly think about it, since we rarely talk about the scope of government, regulation, tax policy, etc. But on the few occasions I do think about it, I am pleased, because I am thankful for your friendship and thankful that I am less of an appalling brat than I was six years ago. Ok, maybe there is something to this friend-collecting business. Just kidding! But seriously, you and I have both experienced the myopic insularity of law school--birds of a feather flock together, and back then I was hanging out with the public interest/critical race kids (still love the former, iffier on the latter) and apparently, we were not going to flock to the Federalists.

You and I both regret not going to U Chicago Law, though we could've, should've, would've (we might have been roomies!). We ended up at different schools for different reasons and hating them in respectively different ways. But in many ways I am glad we met after law school (our parallel tracks of brutalizing law org experiences and adventures in social closure are uncanny), and that I didn't meet you as a stupid, naive, and scared 22 year old. I'm also glad we met the way we did, through our blogs. You and I are both social misfits, never comfortable in any group, whether that group is based on identity or politics (or both!). You may be dissatisfied with your libertarian cohorts, but I suspect you'd be similarly dissatisfied in a Women's Studies program. I'm so uncomfortable wherever I am, that I have to jump ship from the law school to the sociology department to the business school every few days just to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable. Move around, never make ideological affinities into bloodties, and basically adopt a grifter's approach to ideas and groups. You take and use what you can, but you never stay too long in one place. It sounds awful and utilitarian, but so does blind ideological loyalty.

And I don't have as much ideological loyalty these days. I sometimes worry about that about myself, till I remember how "flip-flopping" has become a term of derogation when in fact it might mean weighing the options and considering all sides of an argument. Why must I commit myself to an idea, unless I am sure that idea is sound? I am still, and I imagine I will always, be committed to principles of equality, anti-discrimination, and social welfare. But how to enact those principles, the minutiae of policy--these I am less certain about, and will always be adjusting my perspective. Nowadays, I feel like it's easier to commit to people than ideas. Not to people with bad ideas like racism, misogyny, or homophobia of course, but I can imagine loving someone through a lot more mistakes and inconsistencies than I can imagine loving an idea that produces bad outcomes and lacks an internal logic.

You are right, the more work I do in anti-discrimination law and research, the less sure I am about propriety of applying law to regulate every aspect of workplace conduct to ensure the desired outcome, as certain regulations on behavior may abrogate other competing norms and personal freedoms. While I in general favor robust anti-sexual harassment policies, I am less convinced about workplace bullying--I certainly hate bullying, but unless it's predicated on some illegal basis for discrimination as enumerated in Title VII and elaborated with some specificity by the EEOC and the courts, I can't say I'm sold on the idea of outlawing assholes. Yes, I feel like a bad liberal.

Moving on, because I'd rather not think about that, and TD thinks that I have to get over my cognitive dissonance if I'm ever going to get work done and "get over myself." Go with caracal. Though work goes better for me lately, I derive even more pleasure from taking care of another. See, e.g., my recipe for awesome beef, barley, and leek soup. See also, my recipe for corn chowder. Just take out the butternut squash, you anti-squash person. It's great when you add stuff to it, like corn and bacon. Bacon makes everything better.

Your last point is the most intriguing. I too, do not currently have a blog crush. This makes me sad. In general, I like the writing of Timothy Burke, Eric Rauchway and Ari Kelman at Edge of the American West, Scott Eric Kaufman, and A White Bear, but not in that way. While I always learn something from these writers, and am always excited to read their blogs, I do not fixate on the authors themselves as the objects of my intellectual lust. The last blog (and to real life!) crush I had was you, and I declared this publicly, if obliquely. Although I still don't think of you in "that way."

But I don't know what is "that way" for me. I am quite certain that it's individual, despite your asking me to articulate a general theory of the blog crush. Actually, I tried to articulate such a theory just a year ago in dialogic form:

Web 1.0: But you're only "reading" them--what they write may not be who they are; or be only one side of them. The authorial voice is never authentic nor complete. The authorial voice is full of deceit; the Artful Dodger as it were. Plus, you are not in love with the person. You are only in love with what they write. You love the words, not the author.

You're talking about crushing on people who 1) actually exist, 2) you can easily get in touch with by commenting or emailing, and 3) potentially meet their real life person and compare it to their blog persona in those blog meet ups you weirdos do. It's much easier for the real world and the blogosopheric world to collide, with potentially disappointing results, when you crush on someone not imaginary or out-of-reach. Bloggers are not all that different from you or me--they just have different time-allocation priorities. Nobelists and poet laureates of England (where it actually means something) on the other hand, are worthy of long-distance worship. What you are doing is apotheosizing the mundane.

Belle: But you highlight the danger and deliciousness of the permeable barrier between the online and real-life worlds: whereas in the past time and space were insurmountable barriers to intellectual love, now such love affairs of the mind can be carried out at least in some real-life, real-time form. I may be too timid to approach someone I like in real life, but my fingers are bolder on the keyboard than they would be on someone's arm.

And are we going into economic analysis of the crush? Crushes are inherently irrational uses of thought and emotion, as is most of love, unless you are so outcome-oriented that you think such emotions and experiences must necessarily produce something of utility, e.g. sex or children. I am far too romantic and non-utilitarian to think like that. Crushes are fun, if profligate uses of time. And blog crushes are no less real than someone you pass by on the street and happen to fancy, irrationally, merely based on their appearance and mien. Remember how Petrarch fell in love with Laura? What about coup de foudre? There's an entire literature on love at first sight, which is highly specious. I would say that the myth of love/lust at first sight is what inspires at least 1/4 of all love poetry.

Web 1.0: But you're not having love at first sight. At least that is corporeal and chemical and possibly real. What you're doing is obsessively reading someone and forming an imagined construction of them. They may not be as awesome as you think.

Belle: Probably not. But that's the nice, low-cost thing about blog/intellectual/academic crushes. They don't really have to live up to your expectations. And besides, most of the time, bloggers put so much of themself into their blog, that unless it is purely dry, non-personal blogging, you are going to get the equivalent of their entire personality in all of its wonderful weirdness. Their intellectual obsessions, opinions, quirks, hobbies, habits, way of thinking, writing--it is a more complete view of a person than any passing glance could give you, unless those are some seriously powerful pheromones. In my mind, they have more basis than the passing fancy.

Web 1.0: So you would actually read someone's entire blog, plumbing the archives, just because you like the way the write and want to read more of it, hoping to get a better idea of what they might be like in real life on the off chance that you will correspond, on the super off-chance you'll meet, and on the off-the-charts chance that you'll be satisfied that they live up your expectations, knowing that they probably will not? You would spend all that time?

Belle: Yes. Why not? I spend a lot of time writing my own blog, why should I not spend some time reading those of others whose writing I like as much as any novel or academic text? I've read entire oeuvres by authors, papers by academics, and love letters of suitors--why wouldn't I read the archives, and daily posts, of someone's blog if I enjoy it? Why wouldn't I consider writing them (at first linking and commenting, for I am shy) if I would consider writing a fan letter (I wouldn't, but there are those who do), letter of interest in someone's work, or billet doux?

Sorry to quote myself at length, but I wanted to use that to launch into a reconsideration of my own theory. I do still believe most of that. Looking at the date of the post though, it is ironically they day I met TD. TD, whom I met in real life and not through blog first. TD, who not only doesn't blog, but he also isn't a part of any type of Web 2.0 social networking platform. I spend hours talking to TD over the phone or in person, but the ink spilled from his pen (at least, addressed to me) would fill a thimble in comparison to my blog crushes. I am steadfastly committed to TD, but of course I wonder if my intellectual writing-based crushes will ever flare up and make me forget the value of a pound of flesh that someone is actually giving to you freely. So far, no, mainly because as realistic I am about real-life love, I'm downright pessimistic about flights of intellectual fancy. Of course, it is hard to compare real-life love to blog love. And the point was to distinguish something different about blog love, right? So my theory, articulated a year ago, can be true even if I myself am no longer under its sway. Although now I can think more consciously about the difference between love of the physical and love of the text.

I bring all this up, not to overshare, but because you ask me about eroticism in text. Well, at the time I wrote this ode to fanciful love, I was starved for real love. Blogs were all I had! I caught up to that unlinkable post you obliquely referenced. I totally get how you can find sex in writing--that to me, is not controversial. Read 18th C stuff and you totally get flushed. There's a lot of sex in books, and a lot of sex in between the lines--descriptions of longing and passion, buried or expressed, will always get to me more than porn. And besides, Judith Butler has already gone over how to find the body in writing. See also the work of Helene Cixous. People who actually went to English lit grad school will be far more equipped to explain those than I, the law school sellout.

What you're asking about is how the body in text (so well analyzed by Butler and Cixous) emerges in the particular case of a blog author. While we can read Tess of the d'Urbervilles and reasonably imagine her character in full form thanks to the omniscient narration and exquisite description, can we produce a body from a blog post? Can we produce a body that we would love as much as a real body? Will the bodies match, or will they be awkward, misshapen mirrors of each other, one representing the real and one being the fantasy? My dialogic theory articulated a year ago kept the distinction between the incorporeal text and the corporeal body: I said that you fall in love with words, which in the aggregate give rise to an idea/l of the person, which is enough for love. Upon reconsideration after actually having love in my life with a person who really exists and acknowledges my presence and returns the affection, ehh, now I'm not so sure. I used to blog crush more profligately than I do now. Then I realized that bodies matter, and not merely the ones that emerge numinously from text. I am not going to tell you how I realized that bodies matter, but I am sure you are also sympathetic to the idea that blog crushes can go one of two ways: 1) awesome, or 2) heartbreakingly disappointing when face and form meet the light of day.

And you bring up frontstage/backstage in blogging to further eluciddate all the ways blog crushes can go wrong. For more about authenticity in blogging, see here and here. Blog folks, let me tell you that in real life, Amber is just as awesome, if not more awesome. I remember being slightly afraid of you when I met you. You are so sassy and snarky and bad assy on the blog! And (these are not mutually exclusive, 'cause you still got sass), so warm and kind in real life, what with the open sharing and generous sympathy, and the ensuing presents with which we showered each other. I remember, as you do, us leaning over the table as we talked so intently. And I think it hits me now, that as much as you have described yourself on your blog, and as many pictures as I can see of you on your Flickr, how unprepared I was for the actual corporeal you: the look in your eyes, your facial mannerisms, the timbre of your voice. While you are as authentic in real life as you are on your blog, and there's hardly any mismatch (but still, always front/backstage, can't get around it I'm afraid), the you on the blog cannot compare you in real life. I could love the you on the blog, and love the real you even more (as I do), or if things had gone horribly in that alternate universe, loved you less.

So, it is my considered judgement, after thinking about this for a while, that blog crushes derive from text and imagination, no matter how authentic the author strives to be. Sorry, Amber. You are keeping it real, but the real you is not captured by your blog, because it cannot capture the body in its three dimensions. All that remains is flesh, but flesh matters, because it is how we interact with you. Even if true bodies emerge from text, they are stiff cut-outs: love is in the interaction between the paper forms and real people, and while the text may be written generally for you, the reader, it is not directed at you, the person. This is also why Pygmalion was not satisfied with the version 1.0 Galatea. Though he created her and she was as real as could be, she couldn't respond to his touch, and couldn't fully articulate his idea of her. Thus, blog love will always be an inchoate, heartbreakingly stunted love based on nothing real.

This all reminds me of conversations you and I have had off-blog about our own blog-crushers, if we have any. I occasionally describe my physical self, and it's no secret that I'm 1) Asian, 2) short, and 3) petite. I have occasionally tried to find celebrity equivalents, though I am apparently too race-essentialist and so fail. Because of my round face, penchant for dresses, red lipstick and eyeliner, do I look like an Asian Regina Spektor, minus the curly hair? See, that just sounds ridiculous. At least you could point to Felicity Day. But I have no pictures up, except for this fake one that I like because it's pretty. So I am bewildered by the emails I occasionally get, some international, expressing fandom. (Current correspondents/friends are not included in my list of weirdos.) Law profs being solicitous about my career I get, harder to understand are invitations to chat from tiny little island-nations and dude, poetry. You said that the picture, even if obviously fake, is like an idealized version of myself, or maybe by the mystery is what attracts the letters. I guess I sort of get that, although that means that they're definitely responding to the emergent body rather than the real body.

Like you, I like the flesh well enough, and like you, am more convinced of its appeal than in my mind. What is up with that though? You and I are over-educated and score well on standardized tests, yet we continue to feel inferior to the other bloviating smart kids. After teenage awkwardness that finally got its act together and so many years of pouring myself into studies, the one area I excelled (cause I failed at Love 101), I feel more confident in my looks? That's kind of fucked up. Anyway, back to flesh. If I become epistolary friends with someone through my blog, I share my real name first, then later my pictures (through Facebook or Flickr), because I understand the value of putting names and faces with personas. Usually I ask blog friends I meet if I match their expectations. Usually they tell me I'm only somewhat similar to my blog, but exactly like my emails. Apparently, I have less authenticity than you do, although I have previously used my blog to talk about academic stuff, which doesn't translate to wild hand gestures and fast-paced speech. Also, I overshare in emails but only mildly share on blog. One time someone said that I was prettier than they expected. I did not know how to take that.

PS: sorry for the insanely long post. I figured that since I have insomnia, I'd respond now before getting back to work for the week and going out of town this weekend. I look forward to your response though!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Caracals and Crushes


The social constraint/rationality & agency debate has been percolating in my mind for other reasons, as Kerry Howley has put forth a very reasonable defense of feminism's compatibility with libertarianism in her recent posts. One of the more trying aspects of being a libertarian is convincing people on both sides that some things should be bad without being illegal and others bad despite their legality. Sexism: Bad! But your experience in discrimination law illustrates the unworkability of banning all forms and manifestations thereof. Likewise, most clueless male libertarians are amenable to feminist ideas about changing social norms, even if they would find legal sanction unduly oppressive. You just can't call it feminism. It's annoying how the same people who still grumble that they should get to be called (classical) liberals get all snippy about the feminist label.

But enough grousing about my less enlightened fellow political travelers. Gender relations are where the traffic is at. I haven't seen His Girl Friday or Manhattan, although I might see the former on the force of your recommendation. Woody Allen is a no-go for me. Sometimes I get balky about certain cultural products, and the more people foist them on me the more stridently I refuse them. Woody Allen movies and Philip Roth novels seem duplicative enough of themselves that one only need to take in a single movie or book to get the gist, too, and I have so little free time to spend on the exploits of middle-aged roués. All my attention is required for my own dissipation. (A friend said some time ago that I could benefit from a certain degree of shamelessness. I am beginning to think that he was right.)

That brings us to cat-based names for independent women. Tigress? Caracal? Lynx? All solitary huntresses, all with the appearance of wearing eyeliner (to better demonstrate gender performativity!). The caracal can be trained to hunt for man, and I do make a fine cook when motivated by the prospect of watching a fellow eat, as do you. (Feed this to TD sometime.) I'm glad to hear that your dinner party went well, despite the divergent backgrounds of the guests. In my experience, the non-lawyer at a party full of lawyers is the most popular guest, simply by virtue of his having something new to share.

Sharing, performance, and the duplicative nature of certain authors, bring me to another topic that's been weighing on my mind of late: eroticism and text. I was reading elsewhere (no link at author's request; apologies in advance for the disjointed nature of the following) about this, and started wondering how it applies to blogs. People find the erotic in almost everything; they swoon from afar over people who blog about the most obscure things, people outside their typical gender preference, people they've never seen or will never meet. So, how much interaction between a blog crushee and crusher is in fact about the unacknowledged arousal from the text, versus the author? The distinction is especially apparent when the blog is written by a consciously created persona, character, or redacted self, but for those of us who strive for authenticity in blogging (as far as that goes), how much difference can there be?* At what point is someone attracted to the person and not the text, and vice versa? Can you write to someone and tell them that their blog arouses you without conveying attraction to the author as a person?** You were an English major: Bust out some theory on this.

* I am beginning to think that I am redundant. If you read my blog, do you need to talk to me? Everything I am makes it up here. All that's left is flesh. I like the flesh, and in fact have more confidence in its appeal than I do in my mind, but still, I'm excited at the prospect of uploads.

** Don't even start, people, I don't have a blog crush on anyone at the moment.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Rahm Emanuel is not hot, people.

Mixing Company and Pro-Intellectualism


PS: I forgot to mention, the dinner between The Dude and Friend Dude went really well. They both like each other and got along well. Because both are snarky bastards, I should have expected that they would bond over their mutual hatred of many things, which I am glad did not include each other. I thought that TD, who gently chides me for being a theory-obsessed, pointy-headed academic (I study organizations, he works in one--not that he's anti-intellectual, which I think should be a future topic of discussion), would not like my academic-y friends. I thought that FD might think of TD, who works in finance, as a corporate sell out. I have very little faith in humanity, which includes my friends. I really need to correct this failing about myself. I worry so much that people won't get along (I have been burned too many times in the past by naively mixing personalities at parties, like the time a French dude kept complaining about America and Californians and thus offending all of my friends) that I have over-corrected by keeping perfectly nice and reasonable people apart.

TD even gave FD some financial advice on something or the other. They bonded over some weird music that they both like. TD is working this weekend, so our quality time is limited and I am glad that part of it was spent meeting a good friend and sharing in my weird little academic world. Whenever I meet his colleagues, I am shy and quiet and do not know how to include myself other than in idle chit chat. I blame this on my introversion and the sudden shyness that comes when I meet a lot of strangers though, and not on gender roles. Although I am probably known as his baking girlfriend at work, given the weekly cookies and cakes he brings to work. I remember at one party his CEO thanked me for being supportive of TD's late nights working. Cough.

TD, however, has been really great about being interested in my work and helping me think out issues re my dissertation, and doesn't mind when conversations veer off into academic-y territory--he jumps right in and talks about clarifying my independent variable! I need to learn how to do that, except that his shop talk is even less accessible than my shop talk, even as the current economic meltdown has given me something more macro-level to talk about than leases and project financing. I wonder how the non-lawyer partners of lawyers deal with shop talk. Dang, I feel sorry for y'all. I finally know what it feels like, since this is my first adult relationship outside of college or law school, and I am wondering what his office Christmas party will be like, what to wear, what to say, etc. You rarely see the spouses of academics accompany them to school colloquia, receptions, etc., since they're usually during the day or too early in the evening for working partners to attend, and it's just not as common in my experience.

Performativity, Gender, and Woody Allen Movies


Huh, that definition of "high femme" you linked to is intriguing. It's a subjective definition of purpose and self-identification rather than an objective description of common traits or behaviors, which slightly bewilders me even as it excites me to think about "femininity in quotes." Huh. I'm not convinced of its utility, but I don't think that's the point, and nor do I think my conviction or recognition is necessary to give the definition any significance. I think the point of that definition is to defy social construction and recognition.

Hmm. Sometimes I think that as much as race, gender, and sexuality are social constructions, the flipside is that they can then become performance art. A self-aware exaggeration of Goffmanian performativity, as you note.

Anyway, Robb Willer, the sociologist whose work I want to discuss has his working paper out in draft form in several media outlets. Thus, fair game. Here's a brief blip in ScienceDaily, here's another in ScienceNow, and here's a PowerPoint from his personal page. Unfortunately those slides are incredibly basic and do not present the statistical correlations he found using rather nuanced dependent variables and interesting social psychology experiments. Masculinity can be threatened directly or peripherally. Calling someone a sissy seems clear, but for some reason some dudes feel generally threatened by the mere presence of gays. Cough Prop 8 cough. It's slightly more complicated than masculine chest-thumping, because the deployment of gender can be as personal identity (relatively internalized behavior) or to signal status to others (relatively exeternalized behavior). Both are interactional, of course, but I wonder if one type of deployment leads to potentially more invidious effects such as social closure, harassment, bullying, violence, discrimination, etc. My academic bias is clear, but see also Oncale v. Sundowner.

It is thus even more interesting that you linked to that high femme definition. I am not bothered at all by someone's highly individualistic, internalized definition of gender and gender performativity. More power to them! I am, however, slightly concerned with such a definition is projected onto others in a way that may lead to an encroachment of another person's self-definition. Yet, sociologists will tell me that everything is socially constructed and so I cannot tease apart an individual's self-originating identity from the social construction of that identity, and how that identity is actually operating as status. It is all very confusing. This is why I sometimes want to throw myself out the window during seminars. Except that for some reason this semester they're all on the first floor, and so there's not much of a dramatic impact. At some point, I want to tell people to stop fetishizing the idea of social "constraints" on individual action and consider what individuals actually want, which may be irrational (phooey on homo economicus) and may actually have a whiff of human agency even as wants are semi-directed by social forces. We may tend to want what we think we can have and can have to capacity to want (e.g., you can't want truffles if you have never heard of them), but we still want stuff.

And I think gender performativity is a part of that. This is why as much as I hate women's magazines and the "beauty industrial complex," I can't deny that I want to do much of the stuff that I do. I would hate to be told to do something in order to be a "real woman." But I also hate being told not to do this! I don't want to go over the well-worn discussion of makeup and men who hate makeup, but see e.g. that discussion. "Feminine" behaviors you and I exhibit: baking; wearing makeup; knitting; cooking; talking about fashion; wearing dresses, skirts, heels and jewelry; etc. etc. We want to do those things though, and we do them only to the extent that we want to. Then again, I could have false consciousness. Which to me is a theory of as much utility as the garbage can model of organizational behavior. No really, I totally do not identify as a post-feminist , nor am I a female chauvinist pig. At least I hope not. At least I do not think so. Go back to viciously circular, self-defeating argument about false consciousness. Economics may be under socialized and may fetishize the idea of rationality and agency, but often sociology ignores agency in its fetishization of structure and constraint. Each is a dismal science.

Moving on, re Nora Ephron. I liked When Harry Met Sally, and I liked Clueless, but I can't recall any other Ephron movie I did like. I just watched two movies tonight that highlight splendidly many recent themes of discussion: His Girl Friday and Manhattan. Both have smart, snappy, fast-talking women. The second one has Woody Allen, who is douchetastic and creepily prescient of his later relationship with Soon-Yi. The first one puts Rosalind Russell in the difficult choice of being a "woman," "real human being," "wife and mother," or the best reporter at the paper of her degenerate ex-husband Cary Grant. You watch Intolerable Cruelty and the Hudsucker Proxy, and you know what the Coen brothers were going for, and you sigh. Now Rosalind Russell held her own against Cary Grant, and they were as good as Spencer and Tracy for showing what a relationship between equals is really like. Anyway, good inter-gender combat in that movie, and you sort of marvel how far and yet not-far we've come. Unlike you, I want a kid one day, and I so do not look forward to having my good motherliness and feminity defined by SAHMs at my kid's school judging my baked goods and the non-organic cotton on my kid or how many hours a week I work that hurts my poor neglected child in the age of kindergarchy.

The second movie has plenty of gender play, with the awesome Diane Keaton as the manic pixie dream girl of her day, but if you haven't seen it I encourage you to do so. I like Woody Allen movies, and the women in his movies are always so smart and sexy--and completely unhinged. They are seriously emotionally unbalanced, mentally disturbed, vindictive bitches, doormats, juvenile and naive ingenues. Then again, what do you expect from a guy who in 1979 cast a 17 year old Mariel Hemingway as a credible love interest for his 42 year old self. Squick! And yet she is more self-possessed than he, and truly, a better person. Thus, my love for Woody Allen's cleverness is always tempered by a disappointment in the not-so-buried misogyny. See also, ambivalent like of Philip Roth.

Finally, I don't think of you as a woman-child. You can take care of yourself, you have a stable job and rely on no one, you have a retirement account with a positive balance. You are much more settled in life than I am, even if I theoretically want a child one day. Again, goddamned social constructions of gender and maturity. If I were to get married tomorrow and be miraculously pregnant I would be considered more "settled" than you, despite my staggering educational debt, the poor organization of my files and finances, and my status as the perpetual student? (keep in mind, people, when I admit huge deficiencies and insecurities, do not pile on and tell me to get a job when I am going on the market in a year) Pshaw! You Amber, are the woman! The problem is, while the man-child is well-represented in current media, there's no real equivalent for women. Men who can't take care of themselves: apparently hilarious! Women who can't take care of themselves: expected (by paternalists) or tragic (in the view of the welfare state)! Apparently, single women who don't want kids and can get shit done and take care of themselves are not really favorably represented in the media, and there's no good name for them. You should come up with one. Maybe it can be cat-genus based. You know, since we have cougars and pumas already. And I think protective mothers are called lionesses.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Performativity, Gender, and Nora Ephron Movies


I promise, no "duhs." The gender overcompensation thing reminded me of this post on high femme as a form of lesbian gender identity. For those too lazy to click, it's defined as:
Lesbian or queer gender marked marked by a highly stylized and aestheticized form of femme gender expression or identity. Uses exaggeration, artifice, and/or theatricality to denaturalize femininity. When combined with parody or irony, the effect achieved is akin to drag: femininity in quotes. No particular style of dress or external signifiers; may or may or may not wear dresses, heels, and/or makeup. May or may not be a “bottom” or a “top” in a sexual situation; may or may not partner with butches, studs, or stone butches. No particular personality traits. May be passive and demure or aggressive, independent, strong, etc. Not equivalent to a lipstick lesbian or stone femme. *
The part about how it's not marked by any particular external signifiers or personality traits seems a little confusing (how, then, does one place someone within the taxonomic category?), but the notion of "femininity in quotes" drew me in.

But: is it really kosher to appropriate the term to describe het female behavior? Is my (our?) love of knitting, baking, cooking, fashion, and other traditional feminine preoccupations actually ironic or theatrical? As any reader of the sidebar knows, I embrace the notion of the performativity of self, and I'm wryly aware of the contrast between being a working girl with a high value of time and my embrace of incredibly inefficient handcrafting. But does that get you there? I am suspicious that it amounts to mostly swipple/hipsterishness in the final analysis, which is depressing.

I just re-watched When Harry Met Sally the other day, and it's amazing how much better it is than the rest of the Ephron oeuvre, and how well it's aged. I don't think you're out of line to be cautious about the mingling of male friends. You never know when bizarre overcompetitiveness will emerge (note: board games are especially conducive to the expression of otherwise sublimated animosity), and who wants their shindigs disrupted with a bunch of simian chest-thumping? And it's entirely possible that some of that's over you, my dear. Everyone loves Belle! Even non-sexualized relationships can be prone to jealousy.

On man-children, and media representations thereof: highly deprecated, if only because emotional adolescents of any age are whiny and annoying. But a lot of the woman/man-child dynamic seems to revolve around the need to whip a guy into shape so he can be a good father, and if you're not interested in procreation the need to give up particular kinds of freedom seems less urgent. Am I doomed to be perceived as an eternal woman-child, pottering on my blog and in my kitchen? What manifestations of maturity are really important? If a guy is self-supporting and relatively self-actualized, what more should one ask for? At a certain point, it's more ticking off check-boxes due to social pressure and less about what is necessary to meet the emotional needs in a relationship.

Achilles's Heel*

In response to my lackluster appreciation for Battlestar Galactica, an acute observation: "If it was about kittens drifting in space, you'd watch it."

I am so busted. But small fuzzy things make everything better!

Seriously, though, I would be much more upset to see furry creatures die onscreen than a similar fate for a bunch of humans. I am not the only soft-hearted one! It is why directors never kill the dog. Perhaps this is tied to some underlying notion about the role of desert and humans' fates? Dumb animals cannot be blamed and are thus always innocent victims. People, on the other hand . . . sometimes they have it coming.** Is the latter a fundamentally conservative view?

* Does that rhyme if you use the French pronunciation of Achilles?

** "And then the humans ran into my nuclear warhead. They ran into my nuclear warhead ten times!"

Thursday, November 06, 2008

dazed and conflicted


I am coming down off the dazzling, dazed high that is getting your candidate into office after years of being demoralized into liberal outrage fatigue. Seriously, my political cynicism never really recovered after the 2000 election, and by 2004 I had all of my civic beliefs beaten out of me. But now I believe again! I am in a haze of optimism. I am naive like that. But my joy is tempered by the hatefulness of my home state. Oh well. No rest for the weary: we continue the fight. After all, its not like Obama's victory magically marshaled us into a post-racial, post-discrimination world in which the meritocracy always works and there is actually equality and justice for all.

Of course, I'm not sure how to proceed in this post-fight fight. Paul's qualms are valid, as are Sigvald's. I signed a petition (and here's another petition from the ACLU, and here's some legal discussion of it), but I don't know what good it'll do, and I'm not sure it's the best way of going about it, and I don't know what else to do. Yes, I am not very helpful.

From the CA Secretary of State's website:

Proponents are allowed a maximum of 150 days to circulate petitions and collect signatures (Section 336). However, the initiative measure must qualify at least 131 days before the next statewide election at which it is to be submitted to the voters (Section 9013; Cal. Const., art. II, Section 8(c)). As a result, proponent(s) may want to shorten the circulation period in order to ensure that the proposed initiative measure qualifies at least 131 days before the next statewide election.

Initiative Constitutional Amendment: Petitions proposing initiative constitutional amendments must be signed by registered voters. The number of signatures must be equal to at least 8% of the total votes cast for Governor at the last gubernatorial election. (Cal. Const., art. II, Section 8(b); Section 9035) The total number of signatures required for such petitions is 694,354.

I'm getting heartbreaking and yet determined emails from friends who feel devastated about being denied the same degree of recognition from the state and who are determined to overturn the amendment. I'm slightly conflicted for the same reasons that Paul and Sigvald are conflicted, but these conflicts are largely academic and philosophical: I have no hesitation about my beliefs that this proposition is immoral and unjust. But qualms about countermajoritarian politics remain. How to reconcile them, I do not know.


In other news, to respond to your posts, my instant gratification scarf turned out great. I will have to take pictures of myself in it and send them to you. I'm knitting myself another, because I am new-things-averse and cannot seem to learn a new pattern without you sitting next to me. I can knit and purl, but integrating new formations of these is beyond my comprehension.

I would like to follow up our earlier discussions of manliness with a post on masculine compensation using this other sociologist's research, but I feel loathe to cite or discuss a work in progress. Perhaps I can find other sources and start a general conversation, but suffice it to say that when a man's masculinity is challenged, he overcompensates by displaying more masculine behaviors like wanting to buy an SUV, being more competitive in sports, and supporting the war in Iraq. I kid you not. Let me dig up some sources (no doubt, you will go "duh") and we can talk about gender compensation--the effect isn't the same for women, as we don't go "girlier" when we're called masculine. So go ahead, call me macho, and watch me not go into the kitchen to bake a pie and be all woman-like.

Tomorrow evening I allow a dear male friend to meet TD. I don't have many male friends. Should this be the subject of another conversation between us, or is this such well-trod Harry-met-Sally territory as to not merit further discussion? Anyway, so I'm letting one of my few male friends who is not a partner of one of my best female friends meet my boyfriend. I don't know why I've waited so long--most of my girl friends who are not far away have met him. I think I tend to lump all of my dude friends into one category, and in keeping with intuitive male competitiveness/masculine overcompensation theories, I always wonder if they will get along, or secretly hate each other and argue and I am one of those liberal peaceniks who wants everyone to get along. Not that I assume they are competing over me, of course! Fie on such ego. More that occasionally I have seen dudes talk over each other and get competitive about their petty little disagreements, e.g. the disputed value of philosophy as a subject of study or whether the other is a corporate sell-out tool. I don't know why I value peace and comity so much that I get upset when people I care about argue, even though I well know that one can disagree and still have fondness for another. Maybe because my family, growing up, was so argumentative that I seek peace at the dinner table as an adult. Ah well. I am sure it will go swimmingly, and that they will have something to talk about--like their shared disdain of English lit majors. Seriously, what is up with that. I might have to start some smack down myself.

Finally, are you, like me, sick of flicks about emotionally stunted man-children?