Monday, August 31, 2009

Survey Says

What's the cutest thing your SO ever did for you?

How often do you wash your bras?

Do U.S. measurement units breed pickiness and anxiety? My weight, like many women's fluctuates a bit from day to day, and sometimes it's just a source of needless drama. If I was N yesterday and N+2 today, have I really gotten fatter, or am I just bloated? If you plotted poundage on a chart, Hacker's-Diet style, you'd have this wavering line, even if you weren't trying to slim down. But if it was in kilos, it would look a lot flatter. Should we all just switch to metric? Similarly, is it really that big a difference between 72 and 74 on the thermostat, or are you just psychologically primed to think it is? Would we save energy on Celsius, or just mellow out?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

At least there was no venom addiction subplot.

I am a complete sucker for Amazon Kindle marketing. Free gateway books? Oh yeah. The amount I have spent on volumes 2 through N from authors who Amazon has provided free teaser novels dwarfs the sum spent on standalone books. This is how one ends up buying all three parts of the "Queen of the Orcs" trilogy. (Which, honestly, is a solid entrant in the gritty feminist fantasy subgenre, at least with regard to the first book. By the second, however, I realized that it has become mandatory in this subgenre to give the disempowered female protagonist a break from her relentless oppression and misery via discovery of interspecies oral sex. I've seen it done worse, but would have rather skipped that entirely. It helps that the orcs are essentially very large humans with yellow eyes and bumpy foreheads---more Klingon than goblin. Not much, though.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Wilkinson/ Mansfield debate, anyone?

Will Wilkinson on masculinity:
I think part of the fascination for many white guys with the show Mad Men is that it is a window into an attractive (to them) world of white male dominance and privilege that has largely disappeared. It is still possible to create a traditional patriarchal household, but it’s harder than ever for men to find women who will happily play along. And, in any case, there is little assurance of the stability of this sort of arrangement, since the social esteem that was once accorded to it — which helped reinforce men’s and women’s confidence in their traditional roles within it — has largely dissipated.

To my mind, too little attention has been paid to reconsidering ideals of manhood in the age of equality. Since I was a teenager, I’ve found old-school machismo pathetic and somehow irrelevant to the problem of becoming a man. Without even knowing what or why it was, I was heavily influenced by gay culture, which provided me, and many other straight young men, a wide variety of templates for manhood that are at once unmistakably masculine, playfully ironic, aesthetic, emotionally open, and happily sexual. You can be manly and care about shoes!!! I’ll confess that I used to periodically regret my heterosexuality because there seemed to be greater scope for constructing a distinctive and satisfying male identity within gay culture. I think that’s telling. And the virulent homophobia that remains in most American dude subcultures has cut most young men off from the possibility of modeling their manhood after the delightful variety of types available to the homophile. And that really doesn’t leave them with much to work with.
I like Mad Men as much as the next girl, but I'd rather eat glass than trade what I have for some traditionalist Don Draper wannabe. For one thing, you don't have to be an emotionally distant macho patriarch to fill out a suit properly.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Oh my.

The State of Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham earlier this year for the murder of his three children by arson. Now it appears that they may have killed an innocent man. Some of the quotes from the article are just horrible.
According to four fire experts consulted by the Tribune, the original investigation was flawed and it is even possible the fire was accidental.
Willingham and his children were sleeping when he awoke to a house full of thick smoke.
With the electrical circuits popping, Willingham said he made his way to the girls' bedroom. He saw an orange glow on the ceiling, but little else because the smoke was so heavy. He said he stood up to step over the childproof gate, and his hair caught fire.

He crouched back down, he told investigators, and felt along the floor for the twins but could not find them. ... When debris began to fall from the ceiling, burning his shoulder, he said he fled through the hall and out the front door.

He tried to go back into the house, he said, but it was too hot. He saw neighbors and told them to call the Fire Department, screaming, "My babies is in there and I can't get them out."
Eleven days after the fire, a police chaplain who had responded to the blaze said he had grown suspicious that Willingham's emotions were not genuine.

"It seemed to me that Cameron was too distraught," said the chaplain, George Monaghan.
Too distraught. Over the deaths of all three of his children.
Firefighters thought Willingham's burns would have been worse if he had searched for the girls as he said he did. Though he had been burned on his shoulder and back and his hair had been singed, they noted that his feet, which had been bare, were not burned on the bottom.
The prosecution's case also relied on the neighbors who said Willingham could have done more to save his family and two fire investigators, assistant Corsicana fire chief Doug Fogg and deputy state fire marshal Manuel Vasquez, who testified that the fire was arson.
The case also included testimony from a junkie jailhouse snitch that Willingham "confessed." Modern analysis indicates that "[t]here's nothing to suggest to any reasonable arson investigator that this was an arson fire."
Willingham did not testify in his defense. His lawyers feared that he would not handle aggressive cross-examination very well and would not present a good image for jurors.

"To me, he was not repentant," said Robert C. Dunn, one of Willingham's trial lawyers. "He had this attitude and air about him that he was wrongfully charged."


So Constant Readers know that I have had weird vision issues in the past. Over the past few months they have been acting up again, but last year's visit to the ophthalmologist* was pretty disheartening, since I was basically told that I could have 1) wonky prism glasses that might help, 2) keep wearing my old contacts, which might help (and did, sort of, for a little while), or 3) surgery which might make things worse or help a tiny bit. Fatalistically, I resigned myself to a lifetime of cocked heads and episodic double vision. But of late it's become really obnoxious, to the point where it's hard to read, so I started researching doctors with experience in correcting this type of problem.

A brief search yielded the name of a physician who specializes in treating my issue, is considered one of the best in the area, and was listed as in-network for my insurance. I called his office to make an appointment. He is accepting new patients: Score! But wait:
"We don't participate in [Amber's Insurance]."

"But the insurer website says you are in their network."

"Yes, the doctor's practice at [Giant University Hospital] is. He sees the babies there. But his private practice is not. You can submit the claim for reimbursement or we can submit it for you."

" .... Okay. [Throws up hands, makes appointment.]"
I called my insurance, and sure enough, half of the addresses listed for this doctor are in-network and half are not. All of the surgical centers listed on the doctor's website are also allegedly in-network, per the insurance website, although who knows---at least a hospital location is not going to have multiple addresses, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that somehow that doesn't matter. One of them is the giant hospital with the babies. Maybe anything that needs to be done can be done there? Clearly a question for the doc.

So basically I get to pay out-of-network (80/20) rates to see an in-network physician, and maybe out-of-network rates for any surgery he decides to do, because I am not a baby. Certainly I could try to find someone else, but this fellow apparently helps people who other doctors say nothing can be done for, and I'm tired of being brushed off with non-solutions when there are newer procedures that could potentially resolve the issue.**

* Not even the same ophthalmologist I saw in the immediate aftermath of Double-Vision-Fest 2007, who apparently moved and left all her patients to non-specialist-in-Amber-issue doc. And have I mentioned that I am still CURSING the random optometrist who lured me in with a coupon for a free eye exam and shiny frames and started this whole mess? I could cope just fine until then!

** Not that I have some principled objection to paying for care above and beyond the status quo as of N years ago, but having to pay because of addresses strikes me as perverse. Your doctor's in-network ... oh no he isn't! Grrr.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Phone-Sexual Assault

Am I crazy or is this kid essentially a serial rapist? Extorting sex by threatening to send SWAT teams to women's homes sounds pretty rape-like to me.

Movie Review: In A Lonely Place

In a Lonely Place gave him a role that he could play with complexity because the film character's, the screenwriter's, pride in his art, his selfishness, his drunkenness, his lack of energy stabbed with lightning strokes of violence, were shared equally by the real Bogart.
Being himself supremely confident of his own attractiveness to women, he scorned every form of demonstrativeness. When a woman appealed to him, he waited for her like the flame waits for the moth.

-Louise Brooks

This could have been a Lifetime Original Movie, were it not for the casting. Note to the ladies out there: Psychologically unstable old murder suspects with control fetishes are not marriage material! But as my fellow cinéaste noted after watching this movie, "this is slightly less misogynistic than the Twilight books," since [SPOILER] the female lead rejects his dominion. The idea that this controlling, violent, paranoid creature is a reflection of the true Bogart taints the rests of his films, though. Not recommended, if you'd prefer to maintain your enjoyment of Casablanca and such.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Public Nudity, French Pop Edition

The last woman seems like she's having the least fun, but the other two seem to be enjoying themselves. And contra some PTN commenters, nobody was overcome with lust and leaped on the nude women. (via)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Inglourious Basterds [SPOILERS]

Very depressing film. Shoshanna's revenge is preempted by the Basterds, she dies for essentially random reasons, and the man who actually killed her family gets away with a nasty scar? The emptiness and pointlessness of it all is staggering.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Smack Talk, Online and Offline

Which would you rather have happen:

- Someone calls you nasty names on an anonymous blog.

- Someone in your social circle badmouths you directly to your significant other.

Which is more credible to the audience? Which is more likely to have a direct impact on your life? Which would cause more actual injury?

I've had both happen to me and it's clear which one hurts more.

(Note: This Port character sounds kind of nasty, so I'm not defending her fight-fire-with-fire approach, but I'm always skeptical of lawsuits based on internet smack, especially when it's not clear the plaintiff's life was materially damaged.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Oh, look, shiny!

These almost make me want a tattoo. The watercolor ones are really cool. It sort of reduces tattooing to its most fundamental essence: You're painting on yourself. Having a tattoo that's of a thing means you are burdened with its connotations and significance. This is pure body-as-canvas. Neat.

I recognize that this flitting about is flaky and have decided I don't care. Bikes! Tattoos! The plus side of being easily distracted by nifty things is it saves money---never enough time to invest in such passing fancies.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bad Dads

You know, fathers aren't coming off very well in the NYT Magazine piece on women's rights abroad. In particular, they appear to be spending money on hookers and booze instead of feeding or educating their damn kids:
If poor families spent only as much on educating their children as they do on beer and prostitutes, there would be a breakthrough in the prospects of poor countries. Girls, since they are the ones kept home from school now, would be the biggest beneficiaries. ...

[W]hen the men’s crops flourish, the household spends more money on alcohol and tobacco. When the women have a good crop, the households spend more money on food. “When women command greater power, child health and nutrition improves.”
For another example of bad fathering, note that the girl star of Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire remains in the slums (at least until her father can sell her):
[H]er family's shack was demolished by city municipal workers and later rebuilt in the same spot, next to an open sewer and piles of garbage. She remains in the slums because her father, despite Boyle's offers for a new home, isn't sure he wants to leave. He also was caught in an undercover sting by a British newspaper where he allegedly agreed to sell her for adoption to a wealthy Dubai family for the equivalent of $290,000; he denies the allegation.
Another depressing data point: An Afghan girl on her way to school was badly injured in an acid attack and thousands were collected to pay for surgery. Although there was sufficient money to send her and a female chaperone to the U.S. for the procedure, her father refused:
[A]t 17, Shamsia was of marrying age. As an unmarried girl, her reputation had to be preserved at all costs. Traveling to the United States, with all its possibilities for corruption, was out of the question. So if she stayed, according to her father, she wouldn’t be able to marry because of her injuries; but if she left to go to the U.S. and have her injuries repaired, she wouldn’t be able to marry either. ...

“I want to help your daughter get medical care,” I said. “People have given me a lot of money for this purpose.”

“Why not just buy me a house,” Ali said. “Buy me a big house in Kabul.”

“The money is for your daughter,” I told him.

I was reduced to pleading. I suddenly felt like a parody of a wealthy Westerner, forcing charity onto an unwilling third-world subject.

“Just give the money to me,” Ali said.

Even Shamsia had changed her mind.

“We want to live in Kabul,” she said.

And so it had come to this. The Taliban, or someone who thought like them, had thrown acid in the faces of a number of girls, and a number of readers in the United States and other countries, filled with generosity, had given their money to take care of one of those girls and the school. And now the girl’s family, for reasons I could barely comprehend, was telling me, in effect, that they wanted something else.

I offered a compromise: What if we brought your daughter to Kabul and had doctors check her there?

Ali said nothing.

And if she needs surgery, I continued, would you consider allowing us to bring her to one of the better hospitals in India, an hour’s plane flight over the Himalayas?

“I will think about this,” Ali said.

I pressed some more.

“O.K.,” he said finally. “But you will need to put us up in Kabul.”
I'm not holding my breath on this one. The girl's eyes were so badly burned she can no longer see well enough to read. And yet priority one for dad is turning some of the funds people gave for his daughter's medical care to a new house. (It is possible that the girl is not being pressured by Pops to say she'd rather be blind in a big house in Kabul than healed in her home town, but I'm surpassingly skeptical.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Email Address Stigma?

I don't do hiring, of course, but this article about email address stigma is far too extreme and somewhat shallow. If someone has an AOL or Hotmail address, I might think that they were somewhat behind the times, but to imply that would be the soul of professionaisml is a bit of a stretch. An email domain like that might strike one as self-aggrandizing puffery. (Or just evidence that you have an uncommon name---that particular one belongs to an actress who hasn't worked since 1996, not me, frex.) Any other kind of personally registered domain is going to look like you're involved in some other venture, which potential employers probably don't want.

It's easier for relatively recent grads to skirt this issue, since most of us have some address that we can put down, even if it just forwards to a webmail account and shows up as a reply-to. But most of us lose our other email addresses when we switch jobs, so it's useful to establish some webmail base camp to use when looking for work. If older workers without alumni email privileges have somehow managed to keep a usable, spam-free toehold in a venerable account, why dock them for being a reliable user of a service? As long as someone knows not to put or* on a CV, cut them some slack. I know there's a recession on and people are just looking for ways to eliminate the mass of applicants, but blackballing someone for a email domain is just silly.

* Okay, so there was this snooty clique of high school girls who threw themselves "Temptress slumber parties" where they ate strawberries and whipped cream and gave themselves faux-elegant "Temptress names." A friend and I quipped that we should set up a rival organization, the Seductresses, with the motto "we get results!" (Never set up an email account based on a joke.) But of COURSE I did not put this email address on a resume. Even at 17 I knew better. And Hotmail eventually ate it anyway.

Connectivity Bleg

Is there some way I can set things up so I get an email whenever someone leaves a voicemail or text on my cell phone? This is Gmail/iPhone, if that matters.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Yeah, yeah, I know.

I would like to learn to ride a bike. What is the best way to go about this while keeping entry costs low? Should I buy a cheap bike on Craigslist? A kids' bike (I am 5'0")? Or would it be okay to learn on a friend's bike, even if that friend is slightly taller than I am? I do not want to shell out a bunch of money on a bike when there is a strong possibility that I will skin my knees, pout, and resign myself to driving (actual process that occurred 20 years ago).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hint: Women like hot dudes. It's that simple.

Peter Suderman is sort of on the right track about why women love Don Draper. All the other males on the show are old-school men, and most television characters benefit from screenwriting and the absence of life's little indignities. But these others are not played by Jon Hamm. Women would love Jon Hamm if he was playing Stalin.

BTW, I haven't seen the Season 3 premiere yet so no spoilers in the comments, please.

Open Thread

Talk amongst yourselves.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fake Trend Watch: Podgy Hipster Dudes

Broadsheet points to lame NYT article trying to make potbellies the next man-date:
“I sort of think the six-pack abs obsession got so prissy it stopped being masculine,” is how Aaron Hicklin, the editor of Out, explains the emergence of the Ralph Kramden. What once seemed young and hot, for gay and straight men alike, now seems passé. Like manscaping, spray-on tans and other metrosexual affectations, having a belly one can bounce quarters off suggests that you may have too much time on your hands.

“It’s not cool to be seen spending so much time fussing around about your body,” Mr. Hicklin said.

And so guys can happily and guiltlessly go to seed.
No. Just no. Pot bellies make a man look either oafish, or like a gorilla.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Neurotypicality and Fiction Reading

This whole conversation just sets my heart to twanging.
Not all that many kids start reading anything outside of assigned schoolwork before 13 anyways.
I wonder if not reading fiction CAUSES lowered social understanding, rather than that being a bit socially blind leads to less fiction reading. That is, I suspect that most people read fiction and watch plays and so on to help them have insight into others' and their own emotions and motivations.
In the past 10 years I've made a concerted effort to read fiction, especially the classics. Its helped me a great deal understand the motivations and inner-lives of human beings -- something I wasn't great at, and still don't have a natural aptitude for.

As I see it, there are only 3 ways to understand humans (in descending order)
1) Fiction
2) Statistically-valid surveys
3) Anecdotes.
Fiction: It's an end unto itself AND helpful social conditioning! How any intellectually curious person could avoid 1) reading for pleasure in childhood and 2) the draw of narrative is utterly baffling. Is the idea that it didn't really happen, so it's not worth knowing? Fiction is just hypothesizing and testing with human personas as lab materials. You know if you're doing it right if it rings true with experience of actual humans.

Would you change these diapers for $600/week?

This reminded me of the long-ago PTN conversations on public sex and nudity and whether making someone an unwilling participant in your sexual gratification should always be redressable at law.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Thoughts on what makes books "unputdownable." The trifecta of efficient plotting, occasional lyric prose or deft imagery, and engaging characterization seems a fair summary.

My mind snagged, though, on the division of books as either conducive to fast reading or to contemplative reading. The latter is not quite the same as being elliptical or something you can dip in and out of. Certain books are elliptical and strange and episodic, in a way that might make them ideal candidates for the sort of on-again-off-again reading that Bachner enjoys,* but may also be "unputdownable": you can blow through the interludes and meditations in great gulps, even in a single night, because something (maybe not the plot, but some current of desire) draws you in and refuses to let you surface. (Bachner seems drawn to books that almost force you to surface; this is, as she recognizes toward the essay's end, almost a guarantee of reduced readership. Some people will not enjoy being pushed out, and some may never return.**)

This is the sort of thing I think about a lot, without actually teasing out the components, when looking for travel reading. The ideal travel book for a beach trip is either fast reading or entirely episodic; the former is effortlessly immersive, and many of us don't want to have to work hard at getting into a book on a lazy vacation. The latter has its own appeal in this situation, as you may be reading in small chunks of time, while you sunbathe or between bursts of activity. Something that does not require sustained attention or recall of what's previously read, like a volume of short stories, may fill these gaps ideally.

A book that is unputdownable may actually interfere with one's plans, such as they are. Perhaps the appeal of trashy "beach reads" can be said to rely in part on their low status; despite our emotional need to continue reading, we're aware that doing so is not, objectively, valuable, and thus breaking out of the trance is marked with a touch of wry guilt. (A book like Drift, beloved of Bachner, is not a good candidate insofar as the breaking free is driven by an emotional need for distance and processing. A vacation book should conform to your schedule, not the other way around, and be easy to hop back into.)

But on a different kind of trip, especially my fondly remembered solitary train trips (which I won't be repeating for the foreseeable future, it seems), the ideal book is 1) immersive, 2) based on a continuous or linked narrative, and 3) amenable to contemplative reading and requiring sustained attention. This last is a subjective bit of prioritization; there are few times in my modern life other than long train rides when nothing bears on me but the desire to push on through a difficult book. A book that breaks itself into putdownable pieces unnecessarily dislodges the mind from its track while the train still chugs along its own. But absent everyday distractions, the requirement of a rapid, efficient plot can be relaxed. A slower, more meandering one is more than sufficient, as long as some momentum is maintained.

This is perhaps just to say: unputdownability is almost always desirable to both publisher and reader, but its requirements are heavily reliant on the circumstances of the reader.

* Which may include "edgy, explosive, poetic, radical, plotless work." I have no problem with elliptical and episodic and revisitation-friendly; I despise and abhor "edgy, explosive, poetic, radical, plotless work" when it comes in prose-length chunks. It is almost always self-indulgent and self-aggrandizing.

** Note also Bachner's mention of a book that was unputdownable and not of poor quality, but which she did not enjoy. Perhaps this sort of book is the most revealing, in terms of our examination of unputdownability.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Are you masculine?

Interesting slide show with photos of subjects at their most masculine. A couple of pictures contain nudity. The best parts are the little background details (all participants were photographed in their homes and chose their own settings and poses).

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Is this your dog?

My friends found this dog under the New York Avenue bridge in DC today. We are trying to find his owners. He is a neutered male Chihuahua, approximately 10-12 pounds, light yellow in color, found wearing a blue AKC-brand collar with no tags. If you know this dog, please contact me at the email address on the sidebar.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A bug, not a feature.

On the epidemic of men raping men in the Congo:

The male rape cases are still just a fraction of those against women. But for the men involved, aid workers say, it is even harder to bounce back.

“Men’s identity is so connected to power and control,” Ms. Walker said.
I'm not sure if an identity based on power and control is really what we want people bouncing back to, but there's no evidence that male victims are being encouraged to reframe their masculinity. I'm afraid that the logical consequence might be for them to reassert their power and control by dominating weaker others. A truly difficult problem.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Robot Cabs Now!

I HATE when cabbies are on their cell phones. It typically causes one of the following:

- Cabbie does excellent impersonation of crazy person talking to self, creeping you the hell out, but is actually on the phone.

- Cabbie is too engrossed in conversation to notice you're hailing his cab (optional bonus: next cab in line tells you to take Oblivious Cabbie instead).

- Cabbie is on phone when you board the cab and you aren't sure whether/how loud to interrupt him with the little matter of your destination.

- You think the cabbie is asking you a question but of course he's talking to someone on the phone.

- You think the cabbie is talking on the phone but he really said "Turn here?" and whizzes past your street as you politely ignore what he's mumbling about.

- Cabbie gets off the phone and wants to talk to you about the topic of his conversation, usually how terrible his kids are.

- Cabbie gets in argument with caller and starts yelling into the phone, startling the living daylights out of you.

- Cabbie is on phone when you arrive at your destination, making the negotiation for change more annoying than usual.

- Distracted cabbie gets in an accident/gets a ticket/etc.

Monday, August 03, 2009

* insert Princess Bride joke here *

Sorry for the lack of posts. I've been working through the Summer of Weddings. This weekend was my first really religious Christian wedding. And first ever religious service (there was a Mass)! I am a heathen.

Weddings I Have Been To:
1 Catholic
2 Jewish
7 Basically non-religious (Universal Life Church officiants ftw)