Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I'm not smart enough to sound this dumb.

Does this make any sense at all?
[T]he ethical principle behind keeping the human species pure holds that our ethics are human ethics because we are human beings. ‘Naturally’ enough, human ethics includes such principles as ‘don’t torture animals’, but principles like this collapse if torturing animals is bad only, or primarily, from the perspective of the animals being tortured. Torturing animals violates human ethics because it’s bad for the humans doing the torturing. It’s extra-mindbending to think that the people inclined to miss this point might also incline to be the ones who emphasize how torturing humans is wrong from the perspective of the torturer and not just the tortured.
Human ethics are human ethics because we're humans: is this not tautological and irrelevant? Is the point that creation of a humanzee would be torture by humans, even if the entity would not classify the action as torture? For those of us who feel queasy about humans deliberately creating other humans with disabilities, is the creation of a humanzee similarly troubling? Or is it more like granting better-than-chimp abilities to a chimp? (via)

Grossest SF/F scene?

Geoffrey and I were debating which scene in written SF/F is the most disturbing. So many contenders came to mind:

  • Consider Phlebas: the cannibal cult leader devours a living person using specialized metal dentures
  • Holdfast Chronicles: women reproducing with horses
  • Perdido Street Station: human copulation with scarab-headed women
  • All My Darling Daughters: sadistic schoolboys obsessed with screaming weasel sex toys
  • The Sparrow: rape of Jesuit by hyperintelligent carnivorous kangaroo aliens
I find the cannibals more sickening but the weasels (Geoffrey's pick) more disturbing. I'm sure that we're leaving some out. What's your nominee?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

This one's for Chris, burning oregano in the oven.

This guy really loves pizza. Note how he has jury-rigged his oven to run on the cleaning cycle to get it up to the high temps necessary for a nicely charred crust.

A book to avoid

This fellow represents a huge part of what I despise about modern lit-fic.*

[His] book is also a further unpacking of Mr. Gessen’s personal philosophy on the proper function of the novel: to hold up an honest mirror to society, no matter how frivolous and unserious that society may be. Young people in big cities like New York, Mr. Gessen said: “are willing ... to have the privileges of their class,” Mr. Gessen added, “to go to a good college, and be subsidized in their New York lives by their parents, but maybe not willing to be written about.”

The result, Mr. Gessen said, is that the everyday lives of young urban adults are no longer considered appropriate subjects for ambitious novels.

To the extent that his novel has been criticized for a solipsistic fixation on characters much like himself, Mr. Gessen blamed the Eggersards for fostering this literary bias. “The idea that you should not write about educated people in big cities, that’s a McSweeney’s idea,” he said. “That idea is crazy to me.”

Has there ever been a class more willing to be written about (and then to read about themselves)? Does he seriously contend that the prevailing opinion in literary circles is one should not write solipsistic, realistic narratives about educated urbanites? How does he explain the surfeit of novels by, for, and about pasty New Yorkers with B.A.s and dead-end jobs?

Realism is not necessary in order to depict the human condition and it doesn't take much creativity to write thinly-veiled autobiography. Holding a mirror up to society, for someone with a little imagination, might involve teasing out which aspects of society are most interesting and focusing on a setting in which those features are paramount: You know, what speculative fiction authors do. But they are ghettoized while books about indecisive young urbanites climb the bestseller lists.

This guy is a prat of the first order and I hope his book flops.

* Note: I also find the McSweeney's & Believer crowds intolerable.

(via Belle)

Monday, April 28, 2008

TSA Frustration

I now have two bottles of sunscreen for my trip. The one on the left is a 5 oz. bottle that endangers America's freedom. The one on the right is a 3 oz. bottle that does not. Note how they are practically the same size. Since I will not be checking luggage, I will have to leave the one on the left (which I prefer) at home. I wish I could just cross out the 5 and write in a 3.


I want to employ you.

If you are a law student looking for some supplementary income post-exams, I have need of a part-time research assistant. Please email me for details.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Dress Like An Egyptian

I've been preparing for my trip to Egypt and have really started to bridle at the various restrictions I will be under while there. According to various travel guides and sites, one should not:
  • Show your arms (long sleeves necessary)
  • Show your legs (long skirts necessary; pants are also unseemly)
  • Show any chest (high-cut tops only)
  • Make eye contact with men (perceived as a come-on BUT also allegedly necessary to show honesty. I guess I'll be either a forthright harlot or a deceitful maiden.)
  • Speak to men (perceived as a come-on)
  • Show your hair (I have no problem with covering up in mosques, but I'd very much prefer not to wear a scarf all the time)
I went out shopping for suitable clothes, but there is very little that is both appropriate for hot weather and neck-to-ankle covering. From what I understand Western women are generally perceived as loose anyway (this was the case in Turkey, as well), so I'm debating between packing what I have and buying clothes there, or packing what I like and giving up on the whole cultural sensitivity thing.

Firefox Crashing?

For the last couple of weeks, Firefox has been crashing every thirty minutes or so, especially if I'm using something Java-heavy. I have the latest version of FF and Java and uninstalled recent add-ons, but nothing helps. Thoughts?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Atheist in a foxhole

An enlisted man has sued the U.S. Army for religious discrimination. He's being harassed because he's an atheist. It takes a lot of guts to do this. As his lawyer notes,
"The average American doesn't have enough intestinal fortitude to tell someone to shut up if they are talking in a movie theater," ... "You know how hard it is to take on your chain of command? This isn't the shift manager at KFC."
There is a lot of illegal discrimination and harassment (religious, sexual, racial) that goes on that never makes it to the courts or even to HR. I'm glad that this guy is standing up for his rights, since so many of us don't. (via)

Friday, April 25, 2008

50 Book Challenge #23: Prisoner of Birth

I got a review copy of this book from the publisher, which explains why I am reading something outside my usual lit fic and SF/F circles. With something like this, I like to go in with few preconceptions. All I knew about the author was that he had written a lot of similar books before and that he'd been to prison. I also try to stick to the Roger Ebert criteria for reviewing genre works: Is it good at what it's trying to do? Will a fan of the style enjoy it?

By those lights, this is probably a solid contribution to the popular mystery genre. It plays a lot like a Hollywood courtroom drama and the plot owes a great deal to The Count of Monte Cristo. The hero proposes to his love and then is cruelly framed for the murder of his best friend and brother-in-law-to-be. His fiancee testifies to his innocence but nobody believes her. His cellmate acts as a mentor and eventually he escapes, gaining a fortune through complex yet morally stainless means and using his position to bring down the man who sent him to prison. None of the characters are particularly complex; this is a straightforward story about noble working-class heroes and evil upper-class schemers who use secret societies to cover up their foul deeds. Comeuppance is assured, courtroom dramatics ensue, and everyone lives happily ever after. (I'm not spoiling anything; it's not that kind of book.) It's easy to imagine this being turned into a film; there are no extraneous plotlines or extended descriptive passages and things just move along steadily. My mother and grandparents are all great mystery fans and I will probably recommend this book to them. I don't think it would suit the Constant Readers of this blog particularly well, though.

Online Budgeting Software

My preferred budget software, PearBudget, just went live with their online version of the popular spreadsheet. If you need to track your spending, check it out.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

It's like a jungle in this habitat.

I have had an eight-year-old rap song stuck in my head for four days.

Curiously enough, neither this song nor any other manages to dislodge "Springtime for Hitler," which I have had stuck in my head for, no joke, ten years.* Stuck, as in my thoughts often naturally articulate themselves to the tune of the song. And have I mentioned that I hate The Producers?

I am looking forward to the prospect of being able to delete memories, Lacuna, Inc.-style, in large part for this reason.

* I blame the membership of the Harvey Mudd Objectivist Society, the officers of which loved Zero Mostel. (All girls, by the way.)

The Art of Travel

Belle and Nick asked me to blog about travel. I do a fair amount of my travel alone, so if you are interested in taking a solo trip, here are some tips.

1. Choose a destination. As a solo woman traveler, I prefer to visit countries that are relatively well-developed and don't have reputations for misogynist cultural practices. If you are considering someplace that uses a different script or alphabet, bear that in mind that this will make getting around on your own more challenging. I purchased group tours to Greece and Egypt in part for that reason. I generally avoid countries that would require a lot of vaccinations, making most of Africa out of bounds (is that irrational enough, Nick?).

2. Read up: Figure out what interests you about a country. If you're into the history, immerse yourself in it and figure out which sites you want to see.

3. Guides and reference materials: Get a guidebook with English-language maps for whereever you are going. Some key things to note: hours of operation for anything you plan on visiting, transportation schedules, national holidays, and clothing restrictions for sites. Double check everything online just before your visit. Many countries have excellent websites for rail and bus travel. Find these before you go and bookmark them such that you can access them from internet cafes abroad.

4. Language: Figure out how to say the basics, but as a solo woman traveler you will probably also need to learn some variation on "no thanks/I have a boyfriend/go away, please." Carry a pen and notepad so you can write notes or have helpful people draw maps for you.

5. Transport: If possible, purchase a transit pass in advance or immediately upon arrival in a location. Even if it's not the best deal, the decreased hassle will make it worthwhile. Pay attention to whether you need to make reservations or pay supplements, though. And always write in the date on your Eurail pass before boarding or you may (hypothetically) be shaken down by a shady Hungarian conductor and have to give him your last stash of American dollars to avoid being thrown off the train!

6. Itinerary/Lodging: I generally sketch out a rough itinerary, reserve accommodations for my first location before arrival in country, and then make future reservations one to two days before arriving in my next location. This way, if you set aside three days for a city and realize immediately that it's only worth two, you can shift your schedule with minimum disruption. Unless you are traveling to extremely popular destinations at the height of the season and have particular standards for lodgings, this should work. I usually end up telephoning my next hotel from the preceding one or booking it online from a kiosk.

7. Being alone: This is the part that may not work for other people. When I travel alone I do not go out at night. Period. I go to dinner and then I head back to my hotel, read, and go to sleep. Travel is very tiring, especially if you are walking all day. Being well-rested is key to your enjoyment and appreciation of the trip. It also gives you a chance to read about whatever you've seen that day or plan to see the next. I enjoy being alone in foreign countries and don't try to meet people (natives or tourists) while I'm there. The solitude accentuates the sense of dislocation. On the plus side, not going out means you probably won't be hung over, roofied, mugged, etc. On the minus side . . . you miss out on the nightlife.

8. Books: Long trips, especially on trains in foreign countries, can provide curiously meditative interludes perfect for catching up on reading old books that demand your full and sustained attention. Bring something educational.

9. Buying Stuff: Buy anything of high quality that is emblematic of the area and significantly cheaper than in the U.S. The handcrafted whatzit? Buy it. The rug? Buy it. Don't buy little tchotchkes with the justification that they will fit easily in your bag. They are junk and will end up in a box in your closet. I often buy clothes as well. This allows you to pack lighter at the beginning. Eat the crazy food. Don't ask what it is. Avoid the tourist restaurants if you can. Take advantage of cool street food opportunities. But: Go to the fancy restaurant. It's worth the money.

10. Generally: Don't worry about looking lame. You're never going to see any of these people again. (Not that you should be a rude American jerk, but don't get hung up about embarrassing situations.) Assume you'll never go back and do everything you can. You will get lost. Don't stress.

11. On traveling with others: Communicate beforehand. Does your partner hate walking? Get motion sickness? Have allergies or phobias? What are your expectations about sightseeing versus partying, early rising versus late nights, and the acceptability of plan changes? All of this seems obvious, but you might never think to ask about whether someone gets violently ill on buses until you are ready to take the bus to your most anticipated destination.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Young Adult SciFi & Fantasy Book Recommendations

TheBeginner and asg ask me to blog on YA fiction recommendations, specifically in the SF/F genres.

First: how I find books to read. Certain blogs are particularly useful in this regard: Boing Boing, Bookslut, and The Whatever* all have posts discussing the latest genre fiction, and Bookslut also provides a decent filter for lit fic. I do rely to some extent on Amazon's aggregated data, but for books that pop up in the "people who purchased X also liked Y" field, I do a little Googling to see if the gist is appealing. The SF Novelists Blog also has pointed me in some interesting directions. I've blogged all of the new books that I've read this year, so you can check out the stuff I've found here.

I've also been revisiting some of my childhood favorites lately, so I'm in a good position to make YA recommendations. To begin:

-- Obligatory Potter & Pullman picks: Both get worse as you go through, but they're mostly satisfying and of comparable quality to the stuff I used to devour. With that in mind:

-- The Pierce Duo: Meredith Ann and Tamora, that is. The former's Darkangel trilogy is SF in F clothing and keeps things in shades of gray more than one would expect of what appears to be a fairy tale with vampires. The Firebringer trilogy didn't wrap until I'd aged out of it, but the first book of it was very good. Tamora has been much more prolific than Meredith, but I can vouch for the Song of the Lioness quartet, and her later books sound similarly doughty.

-- The panoply of genre books that you must read when you are twelve or thirteen because they are enjoyable but, objectively, trashy or terrible. If you read any of this stuff as an adult it will only disappoint you. I'm talking about Lackey, McCaffrey, some Norton, Rawn, Heinlein on his off days, Asimov's fiction, and any of those interminable epic fantasy series. Get it out of your system, though; otherwise you may end up one of those people who is 25 and still thinks Terry Brooks is a good writer.

-- Good writing: There were a lot of books I read as a middle schooler for fun that I enjoyed at the time but learned to hate when reading them years later for a class (parsing every sentence for symbolism tends to suck the fun right out of a book). This is a good time for young people to read classics, genre and otherwise. It makes them feel smart for reading above their level and will assist them in later years in picking up references. Read Steinbeck, Hammett, Tolkien, early Heinlein, Orwell, Vonnegut, Bronte, mythology . . . . One book that I have always been glad I picked up as a youngster is Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare. That's more children's than YA, though. Junior high is old enough for real Shakespeare and other plays.

Bizarro note: Right now the best YA fiction recommendations come out of Jezebel's Fine Lines feature, in which they revisit favorite books of their youth. Most of the profiled books are decent, and the comment threads are stuffed with further suggestions.

* Who I feel sort of weird about linking to, since he is ticked off at me or something and refuses to approve my registration for his discussion forum. Forgive my sins, Scalzi!

The power of current compels you.

I can't help but think that if a Wiccan teacher had burned pentagrams into the flesh of students he would already be so fired.

Daddy Issues

Phoebe takes the contrarian position with regard to student/professor crushes:
Crushes are deemed "intellectual" by the crusher when the crushee is someone who'd be inappropriate to pursue. It's far more respectable to admit to "admiration" than to a sexual desire for someone 30 years older and married.
If you know the person is for whatever reason a no-go, you create a reason for why what you feel to be a crush like any other is actually about something other than sex. Problem is, all crushes begin as about something other than sex. One person finds another interesting, then very interesting, then the thought occurs, aha, a crush!
"Intellectual" is just the defense mechanism created for this one variant of the inappropriate crush
Oh my, there's so much here I disagree with.

For starters, it's hardly "far more respectable to admit to "admiration" than to a sexual desire for someone 30 years older and married." One of Hugo's points was that other women don't buy it when you admit to admiration. In my experience, it is a lot easier to joke about smokin' professors than to earnestly proclaim your esteem. Being earnest in college is a recipe for mockery and heartbreak. I've also seen little evidence of any social norm discouraging college students from saying they are sexually attracted to their professors, save insofar as there is a general idea that younger = hotter and women surrounded by 21-year-old men who fixate on middle-aged guys are focusing on the wrong thing.

Phoebe's crush timeline also seems confusing. If "crushes are deemed "intellectual" by the crusher when the crushee is someone who'd be inappropriate to pursue," but "all crushes begin as about something other than sex," which comes first, the lust or the admiration? It seems like we are talking about two different things here:

1. Student admires prof, becomes sexually drawn to prof, sublimates desire by construing it as an "intellectual crush."

2. Student admires prof, demonstrates admiration by outward behavior that would indicate sexual feelings but which is not backed up by real desire.

In one instance, we have over-intellectualization and sublimation in response to bourgeois norms about appropriate targets of desire, and in the other we have the fumbling responses of young women whose only models of behavior with which they can relate to men are as daddy or date. If, as Hugo observes, it would be infantilizing to interact with an older male prof in a daughterly role, the women fall back on the other scheme until a mode of interaction is established by the professor. If your interactions with non-relative males are typically mediated by your sexuality, it's hard to shift gears without practice.

That bit about all crushes starting with something non-sexual is bunk, by the way. It is entirely possible to see a hot guy, be ignited with desire, and then be predisposed to view anything that comes out of his mouth as a crushworthy bon mot. This is another reason girls go out with hot jerks.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Attention Getting

  • Hugo has another good post on the tendency of young women to eroticize their interactions with older men who they are drawn to. He also highlights the flirtation-default that many young women use in their initial interactions with him, which allows the women to break the ice with him in a way that is comfortable and comprehensible to them. Is it harder to establish relationships with older women as mentors due to the lack of availability of this tactic?

  • Self-proclaimed "sex addict" writes her second memoir. The Jezebel crowd doesn't think that sleeping with 40 men is all that impressive or strong evidence of addiction. I'm inclined to agree. It seems like people sometimes feel that the only way to get attention and validate their experiences is to pathologize themselves. This does a disservice to those who actually have addictions, eating disorders, Aspergers, or whatever real problem the internet is diagnosing en masse this week.

  • Conventiongoers attempted an experiment with "open source boobs," in which men were allowed to ask for leave to touch the breasts of participating women (without social oppobrium, presumably; you could do this normally, but you might get slapped). I don't think this is particularly empowering, although it might be a public service for some of the attendees. Nobody wants to reenact the "bags of sand" scene from The 40-Year-Old Virgin.


I've been feeling really uninspired lately, so if you guys want to leave some comments on things you'd like to see on this blog, go ahead.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

No Stamp

This project just makes me all the more bitter about the postcard I sent from Romania that never arrived. It had more than a Euro of postage and disappeared. Even Bulgaria did better.

I am Samantha?

For your consideration:
I do not think that being unable to raise your children on your own makes you unworthy of giving birth to and raising children.
For context: The case involves a woman under the legal guardianship of her aunt, who is brain damaged and "cannot be left alone to operate a stove or perform most household chores." She has stated that she wants to have children someday, but the aunt has requested permission to consent to tubal ligation on her behalf.

It strikes me that being under the legal guardianship of another is a fairly bright line that distinguishes this case from some of the potentially abusive situations described by the commenters.

Update: I've been mulling this over. We do permit parents to consent to various medical procedures for children, even if those procedures are not medically necessary (some forms of cosmetic or reconstructive surgery, for example). However, we don't allow parents to sterilize their children because they are only guardians of the children until the latter reach the age of majority; the reproductive capacity is held in trust for the adults they are to become. For someone who is permanently childlike--someone, perhaps, who will never attain the mental maturity to provide legal consent to sex--what makes sterilization different? If it is, should long-term birth control likewise be prohibited? What other medications or procedures should a person under guardianship be permitted to decline?

Friday, April 18, 2008


I will be going on a brief tour of Egypt next month. I'm sure that much of my day will be programmed, but if anyone has suggestions about things to do or buy in the off-hours, let me know.

(I'm not interested in hearing your opinions of the tour company, fyi; I've used them before and been generally satisfied, there was limited trip planning time, and I certainly wasn't going to Egypt alone or with a group of oldsters.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Vladimir Putin = Bond Villain?

Can kill you with his bare hands? Check. Enemies murdered in mysterious but creative ways? Check. Incredibly hot contortionist lady sidekick? Check.

50 Book Challenge #22: The Man in the High Castle

Reading Dick is like attending a lecture by Charlie Nesson: the content changes markedly as certain substances metabolize. This was probably a more interesting post-WWII alternate history than Roth's, but it lost all cohesion at the end and the male protagonist seemed (like Roth's, but less so) annoyingly autobiographical. Verdict: meh.

Abortion performance art

A Yale senior's art project has come under criticism from the left and right:
Beginning next Tuesday, Shvarts will be displaying her senior art project, a documentation of a nine-month process during which she artificially inseminated herself “as often as possible” while periodically taking abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages. Her exhibition will feature video recordings of these forced miscarriages as well as preserved collections of the blood from the process.
Members of campus pro-choice and anti-abortion groups are repelled by the project. I'm curious about how reactions would differ were this project the product of a series of involuntary miscarriages. I understand that many women with fertility problems miscarry repeatedly. If one such woman began recording her experiences and saving the blood, how would we interpret that? What if the woman was aware that she was certain to repeatedly miscarry and intentionally became pregnant each time? The deliberate choice to abort is the pivot point here.

I'm also curious about which "legal and herbal" drugs Shvarts used. There's a reason most women go to Planned Parenthood and not GNC with an unwanted pregnancy. Herbal supplements are unlikely to reliably cause miscarriages, and the danger and uncertainty increases as the pregnancy progresses. Was she taking supplements to bring on a week-late period or self-aborting several weeks into a pregnancy? (The description of the project makes it sound like only there was only blood collected, which would suggest the former.) This seems like a fraud of some kind, or at least a misrepresentation.

UPDATE: The university states that there were no actual pregnancies:
Statement by Helaine S. Klasky — Yale University, Spokesperson

New Haven, Conn. — April 17, 2008

Ms. Shvarts is engaged in performance art. Her art project includes visual representations, a press release and other narrative materials. She stated to three senior Yale University officials today, including two deans, that she did not impregnate herself and that she did not induce any miscarriages. The entire project is an art piece, a creative fiction designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman’s body.

She is an artist and has the right to express herself through performance art.

Had these acts been real, they would have violated basic ethical standards and raised serious mental and physical health concerns.
UPDATE 2: Shvarts raises serious mental and physical health concerns, claims that university statement was inaccurate.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Philanthropy by jerks

Doesn't Michael sound like an utter prat? No small potatoes grants with his money! And none of it for those starving wretches across the border. Can't take any burden off the government, either. If they want better schools they'll have to wrest it from his tax accountant's clutches and distribute it themselves. He'd love to hear what those gangster friends of Venkatesh's think he should do. They are so droll, you know.

Venkatesh met this fellow at Harvard. Legacy preferences at work, no doubt.

Bad cat.

Snape gnawed the tip off of one of my knitting needles.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Which voices are really being silenced?

An interesting response to last week's feminist blog kerfuffle.
There is no “community of apostates” online. Apostates from Islam are mostly silent, because they mostly aren’t in a place where they feel safe enough from their governments to speak out. And I get called a racist by American Muslim Black Converts for criticizing a religion that damn near destroyed my life — which I still feel actually did destroy my life because I will never get over losing my family. But of course there’s no silencing going on over here (silencing only happens when the Noisy Group says it has happened). Those who make it a habit of piling on liberal non-racist white feminists doing good work, pride themselves on calling out (in nasty vicious ways) what they think of as the white people’s blind spots. Yet their own blind spots are invisible to them and of course, since no one is lower on the victim totem pole than they, nobody can point out to them that maybe, just maybe, shielding Islam is not the most enlightened way to advertise your awareness of the suffering of other people. Maybe, just maybe, other oppressed groups — like apostates of Islam — find you trampling all over their “safe spaces” (yet another term they love) screaming about white privilege, rather… well, rude and disrespectful.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Arguably not a prurient interest, that.

A defendant in one of DOJ's obscenity prosecutions will advance a new legal theory: the "2-girls-1-cup" defense. The idea appears to be that the outre pornography under attack is not generally viewed for its sexually stimulating capacity, but instead as pure shock theater more akin to Faces of Death than Deep Throat.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

50 Book Challenge #21: The Blade Itself

Because I trust databases more than human clerks, I sometimes follow the recommendations of Amazon for new books. It has been telling me to check out Joe Abercrombie for a few months now, but his stuff wasn't available from the library and I finally had to suck it up and buy a book: The Blade Itself, the first volume in his debut series.

Abercrombie completed his trilogy in a timely fashion, so you can go in with the knowledge that you won't have to reread thousands of pages two years from now when the rest of the story comes out. This is more important than it might otherwise appear, because The Blade Itself pulls you along at a good clip and you may end up gulping it down. Like Martin, Abercrombie switches points of view from chapter to chapter, but the characters are mostly in close geographical proximity, which prevents this from fragmenting the narrative to a bothersome degree. The story itself is firmly in the hard fantasy vein and has plenty of brutal, kinetic fight sequences and relatively little magic. Abercrombie's cast of characters is taken straight from central casting, but each is given dimension, moral greyness, and a sour twist: Our noble swordsman is a rank and repellent elitist, the torturing Inquisition agent is surprisingly sympathetic, and the mysterious northern warrior has a complex past that he continues to process.

At first I was put off by the prevalence of cliches in the writing, but these are mostly concentrated within the POVs of certain characters, which makes it seems as though the author intends to highlight the unoriginality of the individuals' thoughts. There's also a twist at the end with regard to one character which would fit better in a soap opera than a fantasy novel--split personality disorder is so tired. I'm also a bit bored with the scary-invaders-from-the-far-north trope. Overall, though, this is a strong first genre novel that respects conventions while slightly subverting them. Recommended.


Steve and I enjoy fine dining, so when we knew we'd be in the New York area for a wedding we made reservations at a restaurant in Manhattan which recently received a second Michelin star. The food was mostly excellent; Steve's tuna Napoleon and Chicken "Kiev" and my lamb were delicious. However, the experience was marred by disappointing service* and a wretched neighbor at the next table who spent the entire meal shoving my handbag into me (it was nowhere near him) and leering at my chest. He, I note, received nothing but the most obsequious service from the entire staff. Our meal was partially comped but I'm never going back.

* The waiter appeared to think that we had never been to a nice restaurant before and was incredibly condescending. We also didn't get descriptions of more than a handful of the cheeses on the cart (which were served at the wrong temperature) and no one came by to ask about us until the very end of the meal, at which point it was already ruined.

UPDATE: We just noticed that the restaurant is violating FACTA by printing expiration dates on its credit card receipts. You can get $100-1,000 per violation without even showing damages. That would probably cover the cost of a meal there, if you were hungry and litigious.

Free the Jefferson One

This is an outrage. Lawsuit, lawsuit, lawsuit.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Youtube blogging: I can do that.

Belle isn't the only one who can blog Youtube videos in place of real content!

Angsty College Amber would have loved this song, possibly in a mix with Bad Apartment by Jess Klein and some Ani. (Who am I kidding? I love this song now.) I need more music by angry French chicks.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Given my radical views on privacy, why do I find the idea of clerks greeting me by name and recalling my preferences so off-putting but have no problem with the prospect of computer indexing of vastly greater and more detailed information? Possibilities:

1. I don't like the idea that an actual person has been contemplating me and my actions, especially when they are trivial. To the extent that I consciously shape my identity, this reminds me that what I view as minimally performative actions are part of other's main conceptions of me.

2. The person comes off as stalkery. (May be a function of my gender.)

3. It makes me feel obligated to be friendly to the clerk and I would rather just hand over my money and get out with a minimum of personal cruft.

4. It implies intimacy, and I may not be comfortable being intimate with this person.

Some people apparently like this touchy-feely stuff. I don't, although I don't try to use my personal dislike as grounds for public policy. Give me a database entry any day. Databases aren't creepy, don't demand my attention, and allow me to keep my daily set of personal interactions to a Dunbaresque level.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A sign of a good relationship

John Scalzi's marriage works:
The Archos has wifi, an 800×480 touchscreen, the ability to play movies and other media, and (this is why I got this particular model) 160GB of memory. It’s got my entire music collection and a couple dozen movies on it and it’s not even close to being full. I think that rocks. I mention this to Krissy and she gives me a pleasant but blank look that says I know you are communicating something you are enthusiastic about to me, but I really couldn’t care less about it; nevertheless I love you.
If there is one thing even more important in a relationship than having some things in common, it's being able to accept your differences.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Worse than Mailer?

There are a lot of artists who are terrible people. V.S. Naipaul is giving people like Roman Polanski and Jackson Pollack a run for their money.

Who is the most loathsome living artist? Extra points for consistent loathsomeness over time, a la Naipaul, as opposed to Poundian descents into odium.

Unrelatedly, this is one of the best book reviews I've read in a long while.

Random Roundup

Not exactly a bombshell, but: Geoffrey calls attention to Harvard's affirmative action for rich people.

The perfect middlebrow library.

Giant blog kerfuffle. Granted, some of the comments were impolitic, but you can't expect a two person editorial outfit to respond well to a post directing obscenities at their labor of love. The post's author appears more than a little unstable, and doesn't seem to understand that you tend to be "treated as something to see" if you are throwing chairs and screaming on city streets.

Monday, April 07, 2008

A certain age

I've noticed an increasing number of youngish men with beards. The most frequent explanation for the facial hair is that the beard makes you look older and thus you're taken more seriously. At a certain point, though, the beards disappear--perhaps because they make one look too old? This point seems distinctly different from the point at which women shift from dressing up to look more grown-up to dressing down to avoid looking frumpy (although not too far down--mutton dressed as lamb earns only scorn).

How old are we all trying to look, anyway? Is there some ideal age for a professional that we're all shooting for?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

50 Book Challenge #20: Comfort Me With Apples

This book was entertaining, but I don't know that I got anything out of it, intellectually or morally. If you're interested in cooking food that was trendy in the late Seventies or early Eighties, there are plenty of recipes here. If you're more into reading a couple of hundred pages of someone agonizing over her serial adultery, there's that too. By the end, though, I didn't care much about Reichl, her boring first husband, her boss/lover, her second husband, or her brief foray into adoption. I did, however, have one burning question: If the thing she ate in China wasn't armadillo, what was it?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

I'm pretty sure this is at least Feminism 102.

I'm not familiar with the standard critiques of "white feminism" by women of color, but what this essay made me most curious about was this: if you're being stalked/harassed/molested by a neighbor, and calling the police is inappropriate sanction of the prison industrial complex, you don't have a gun for protection, and you're smaller than the guy . . . what do you do? What's the enlightened response? Are you supposed to try to talk him out of attacking you by attempting to understand how class/race/etc. have shaped his interactions with women? Abstract ideas about changing policing, drug laws, and the like are valuable and potentially worth fighting for, but when the heat is on, are you supposed to sacrifice yourself to your principles?

50 Book Challenge #19: The Iron Dream

Okay, I get it. Aragorn is Hitler.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Vindication is mine!

Thanks for allowing me to gloat about this, Dylan:

Children make you less happy.

U.S. Courts Say No Thanks To Free Case Law

When I was a clerk, I spent quite a bit of time on Westlaw, a pay service, researching cases for memos or opinions. A group of "rogue archivists" at have been working to make case law available free of charge to all. They thought that the U.S. Courts might be interested in obtaining access to their own records without paying a middleman. They were wrong:
Some days, the U.S. government truly astounds. At Public.Resource.Org, we released 50 years of decisions of the U.S. Courts of Appeals. Knowing that the U.S. Courts have to pay big bucks to West Law and Lexis/Nexis to access their own archives, we though they might be interested in having their very own copy.

So, we asked how we could maybe get a phone call to discuss making a donation of case law. Instead of a phone call, the general counsel of the courts (how's that for a meta position!) sent me a letter saying that while this would be great for the public he saw no benefit to the judiciary and our gift offer was hereby declined.

(Not only does the Judiciary spend big bucks on legal information services, this is the same group that runs the billion-dollar IT boondoggle called PACER, which mandates that the public pay $0.08/page for court documents even though they have $146.6 million in unspent funds in their computer account they can't even figure out what to do with.)
(via) If there is some way to avoid ever having to use Westlaw or PACER again, I'll worship these rogue archivists forever (unlikely, alas; sometimes you need more than just the text of a case). A lot of lawyers might forgo headnotes and KeyCites for free access, though, or at least reduce their Westlaw/Lexis use to those instances when it's more useful.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

50 Book Challenge #18: Bel Canto

I read this a while ago but haven't felt like writing a review. I was very conflicted about reading this book at first because it looked like something from Oprah's Book Club. My copy is from a library book sale. You can usually tell which popular books didn't stick by scoping out these sales: They are where contemporary lit fic goes to die.

In any case: the book. Books that heavily foreshadow their characters' endings are somewhat annoying. It always comes across as melodramatic. Yes, he might never see her like that again, but why tell me this fifty pages in? The entire hostage-taking enterprise is just an excuse for Patchett to play with something that straddles the gap between Stockholm Syndrome and magical realism. The love stories are overwrought and predictable. The descriptive passages are excellent, but a book resting on that alone can't sustain itself. Recommended with reservations (buy from a library book sale).

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Tyler Cowen Reviews Matter


Gonads and Strife

Dad catches daughter chatting with guy on Facebook. Dad kills daughter. Religious leader blames Facebook. Lovely.


The best Blackberry reception in the entire country: congressional office buildings.

Christopher Hitchens: still, like, ew.