Saturday, February 28, 2009

Never Fall In Love Again?

If you're on SSRIs, you may find yourself unable to fall in love:
Antidepressant drugs, already known to cause sexual side effects, may also suppress the basic human emotions of love and romance. ... But a new theory suggests that SSRI antidepressants may also subtly alter the fundamental chemistry of love and romance, snuffing the first sparks between two people otherwise destined to become lovers, and preventing couples from bonding.

"There's every reason to think SSRIs blunt your ability to fall and stay in love," said Helen Fisher, a Rutgers University biological anthropologist who has pioneered the modern science of love. ...

SSRI antidepressants work by boosting circulating levels of serotonin, a mood-regulating neurotransmitter that also inhibits desire. The drugs also decrease dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in a wide range of cognitive and behavioral processes, among them desire and arousal. The new research suggests that dopamine may also play a part in romance. ...

According to Fisher, humans have three distinct but interconnected love-related brain systems: one for sex, another for attachment and another for romantic love. This is still hypothetical — nobody knows exactly what love does in the brain — but Fisher has been a pioneering researcher on romantic love's neurobiology, and dopamine indeed appears important.

When couples have just fallen in love, the mere sight of the other causes a jump in dopamine-related brain activity. If they manage to stay in love, with the early flush giving way to long-term affection, those brain patterns stay active.

Reduced dopamine levels, however, are an inevitable effect of SSRIs. Reduce dopamine, say Fisher and Thomson, and the possibility of love itself is reduced.
Of course, it's also hard to fall in love if you're depressed. Some antidepressants actually raise dopamine levels; perhaps these promote romantic love?

Jezebel: Objectively Pro-Rape?

You know, I'm pretty sure that if the genders were reversed and a woman had firmly expressed her desire to not perform a certain sex act, the Jezebel advice to the guy would not be to trick her and just slip it in anyway.

No means no! Even for men!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Mini-review: Kindle 2

So I bought a Kindle 2, because I care about stimulating the economy and also SHINY! So far, I like it a lot; it's light enough to carry in one hand while reading, is comfy to read in bed, etc. The screen is easy to read from most angles, although sometimes there is a bit of glare. I need to get a screen protector and case for it so it doesn't end up beat to hell like my iPhone. The battery lasts for a long time if the wireless is turned off. I sort of wish it had a backlight, but I bet that would make the eInk harder to read.

There is just one thing irking me so far: the books. There are not enough books available for it yet. What there is falls into two categories: new bestsellers and classics. No mid-list stuff. No meat-and-potatoes authors. Only some books from the authors they do have (only Use of Weapons and Matter by Banks? Come on!). This is fine if you just want to use the Kindle to read trash, as I currently do, but for it to become a serious threat to my bookshelf and library card, Amazon will need to get more authors and publishers on board. I want to read both Susan R. Matthews's backlist AND Reasons and Persons on my Kindle 2. Make this happen, Amazon!

Unrelatedly: Thanks to Tyler for the link to my last post!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book Review: Twilight

(Please forgive me if this has all been said before, and better, by people given to more timely pop culture samplings.)

I am officially old and crotchety.

Twilight is an evil book. A bad influence. Something that should be kept away from children for reasons of content and prose style. There is, as one Jezebel commenter noted, Harry/Draco fanfic that is better written. Perhaps my judgment was colored by my knowledge about further plot developments, but it's really wretched, and is only more insidious for being exactly the kind of trainwreck/indulgence that draws the reader in despite herself.

And why are we drawn in? Because it's a fantasy of projection. None of the characters have much of a personality, or any real individualized interests, hopes, or dreams. And it tells young girls exactly what they want, but don't need, to hear:

- I am in True Love omg nobody else will make me feel this way! (You will.)
- He's perfect. (He's not.)
- I would die without Him/die for Him. (If you're lucky, you won't---unless he kills you, and not in a romantic now-we'll-be-together-forever way, but a dead-means-the-end way.)
- College is not important; I'm going to marry my boyfriend right after graduation and you can't stop me! (It is, and something, be it parents or your own fickleness, will almost certainly stop you.)
- It's okay to not really have real friends as long as you have Him. (No, because someone needs to give it to you straight when your boyfriend starts acting psycho; see below.)
- Having guys follow me around and sneak into my house and fling me around like a sack of potatoes is romantic. (No, it's abusive and scary.)
- It's not his fault that he scares me, it's just that I make him so hungry/mad .... (Abusive!)

The problem with this book is it sums up exactly what it is to be a teenage girl, and teenage girls are callow and dumb. I know, I was one. I had intense crushes on numerous guys, all of whom seemed perfect at the time, and some of whom are now married to roller-derby queens or to the chicks they knocked up after we went out. Made of win, I tell you. Because the book appeals to the lowest common denominator, though, the stupid teenage girl in the book resonates with the former stupid teenager in all of us (or at least the women).

I watched all seven seasons of Buffy multiple times, so clearly I am not against vamp/human romances on principle. But Buffy was an idiosyncratic individual with an established support system of friends and family who was not the victim of a massive power imbalance. (Angel, by my lights, is a boring stiff with a funny-looking face.) Their pairing explored a lot of the same issues as are in Twilight (romance with older, potentially inappropriate guy, female desire, fears about going all the way), but in a much more nuanced way. It showed how yes, sometimes these things do screw stuff up, but was also clear that avoiding these choices is not workable either. Buffy and Angel at least had to make sacrifices.

There are no hard choices in Twilight. Becoming a vampire is, aside from three days of pain, pretty much a golden ticket. You can drink animal blood and hang out with humans, are preternaturally attractive, graceful, and competent, live forever, become practically indestructible ... there is almost nothing to give up by becoming a vampire (you can still "reproduce" after a fashion by creating new vamps ... even that's not totally removed from the picture). So why wouldn't any girl want this, setting aside a dudely motivation?*

Not that there's a good one here. Edward is an abusive stalker nutjob who is always trying to control Bella (for her own good, natch). He loves Bella because of how she smells. This is a cheap cop-out to comfort the insecure reader; Bella can't control how she smells. She will never lose that thing that keeps him in love. He doesn't love her for her.

Which is good, because there's no there there: Bella is a nonentity. She reads, she waits on her father hand and foot, and she goes to school. She doesn't connect with people, because then the author would have to show us a relationship modeled on something other than inhabited roles or hormonal lust, and she can't or won't do that. Bella has no talents, skills, interests, or ambitions. But somehow she gains the love of the Perfect Boy and will consequently (according to some clairvoyant's vision) eventually gain eternal life, health, and youth. The only way to appreciate this is as a fantasy of projection, because we have no reason to care about either of these cardboard cutouts. They are just there to stand in for you and that hot boy in your biology class.

I haven't even addressed the horrendous sexual dynamics and messages in the book: guys lose control, girls have to monitor their behavior at all times lest they cause a guy to lose it and kill/rape them, and sex = death. I understand it only gets worse in future volumes, as hot-blooded Bella pushes for them to get it on and Edward argues that he can't unleash his sexual feelings without losing control and hurting her (thereby normalizing the idea that being hurt during sex is an unavoidable consequence of intimacy with a man, instead of an example of a guy being a weak-willed, inconsiderate jerk who "can't help" but cede all autonomy to his lizard brain once you take your clothes off).

Basically, this book makes it sound like marrying the guy you had a baseless crush on in high school is a good thing (just don't have sex with him until then!). It encourages young women to make irrevocable, life-altering decisions based on the sensation of being seventeen and in love and reinforces a sick, patriarchal view of sexuality. Like The Fountainhead, it should probably not be read by young people.

* Apparently this is viewed as insufficient in later books, which causes me to lump Meyer with Orson Scott Card in the "Mormon Authors Fixated On Childbirth" category. (I'm still ticked about the horrific ret-con of Petra in the second Ender series.)

Life is such a chore

As a kid, I never had to make the bed (which had sheets, damn it!), but my childhood was not targeted at the inculcation of tidiness. Based on the number of people who make it to grad school with no housekeeping/self-care skills, though, perhaps the general project of tidiness could yield to chore assignments based on development of useful abilities:

- Laundry
- Cooking
- Doing the dishes
- The general method for cleaning kitchens, bathrooms, and floors
- Basic food storage (putting away groceries)

(All these are based on actual crippling deficiencies I have noted in grown men.) What chores can you give kids that actually teach them something valuable, as opposed to "putting them in their place"?

Monday, February 23, 2009


Dresses to wear for spring and summer day/afternoon weddings. Suggestions?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

How I spent my winter vacation

First we were here:

And then here:

And then canoed down a river:

After that it was beach time:

No snorkeling photos, sorry! But the last night was lovely:

Friday, February 20, 2009


I am back from a well-deserved vacation. Pictures and reports to come, once I catch up at the office and tend to my sunburned shoulders.

In the meantime, reflect on this:

Population of Belize: 300,000
Population of Guatemala: 15 million
Army of Belize: de minimis
Army of Guatemala: honed by years of civil war
Army of USA: otherwise occupied
Roads in Guatemala to Belizean border: relatively good
Political relationship: Guatemala thinks Belize should be part of it
Recently discovered in Belize: oil

It seems like there might be an opportunity here for someone.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kissing FAIL

It's not that hard! (via zubon)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

From the Erfolgtraurigkeit Files

The opposite of schadenfreude rears its head again, this time when your ex finally decides to get his act together after you break up:
I was happy for him, but there was also a little teensy part of me that felt whatever the opposite of schadenfreude is—instead of feeling happy at someone’s misfortune, I felt resentful at someone’s good fortune. Why couldn’t he have gotten his proverbial shit together while we were dating? And, a more uncomfortable thought: Was it somehow my fault? Maybe, I realized, I had seen him as someone who had potential but just needed a little tweaking. But it was sort of annoying that he managed to do all the tweaking after we’d broken up.
[It] hews to a common pattern, in which the woman, seeing the man as a project, tries to “improve” him, thereby leading to resentment in the relationship when the woman feels that the man is not improving enough, and the man feels emasculated and condescended to.
See also penultamours.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Video Rentals: Too Big To Fail?

You heard a lot recently about how we couldn't afford to let any of the American automakers go under. Random fact, though: Blockbuster has more employees than one of the Big Three.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Thoughts on The Reader

- Is Michael's age really relevant? He's above the age of consent, and the scarring aspects of his relationship with Hanna---the parts that screw him up for life---would have had similar effects on an older boy.

- Hanna refuses to reveal that she cannot read, even though this evidence would mitigate her responsibility for the deaths of prisoners under her charge (the author of the report rationalizing the deaths was deemed more culpable than the other guards). Michael chooses not to betray her secret, perhaps because he is reluctant to be seen as "helping" Hanna. But isn't he also allowing the true author of the report to walk away with a light sentence?

- As Ralph Fiennes ages, he is starting to look a lot like Liam Neeson. And not in a good way.

Did anyone else see The Reader? I usually skip Holocaust movies because they have a physiological effect on me: all my limbs become heavy and paralyzed. Kate Winslet was very good, but I think that can be easier when one is playing an unintelligent character. Part of the challenge of acting is capturing both the emotions and thoughts running behind the character's eyes. Fewer, more simple thoughts, while sometimes limpid and pure in a way that a rush of constant processing cannot be, may be less work to portray.

A very small part of me wanted to see Winslet's other star turn in Revolutionary Road, but a fellow lawyer responded: "I don't need to see that, it's my life!"

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Beach & Jungle Reading

What book should I take to Belize? I could restart Tristam Shandy, which came to Egypt but was sidelined in favor of The Arabian Nights, but I stand by my characterization of it as a book best suited for long European train trips. Criteria for Amberish travel reading here.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Etherized upon a table

Do you know any heartbreakers? Or are you one? There's the Eternal Ingenue, the Waif/Neurotic, the Gold-Digger, and the Amazonian Alpha for women, and the Maverick, the Artful Dodger, and the Byronic Bad-Boy, [ETA: as well as the Classic Alpha] for men.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Acceptance and Coolness

An impressive rant:
I am a lot of things, not all of them good or nice. I can be petty, stupid, and annoying. In general, I can be an asshole. However, I will not get caught in the trap of thinking that my blog is hip. It's a fucking blog that I often write in my fucking underwear. I have no aspirations for it to be anything else. So, you can find fault with a great many things with this blog. Its immaturity. Its gratuitous profanity. Its lack of coherent thought. But there's nothing more annoying than somebody thinking they're cool when they're not. Scratch that. There is. Somebody thinking they're cool when they're not, and then writing pieces imbued, permeated, and inundated with a tone of superiority emanating from that delusion.
But is acceptance of non-hipness just another way of coming to terms with mediocrity?
[O]n a strictly human level, I can't help but admire [Matthew McConaughey]: I think maybe he knows the secret to true contentment. Unlike most actors, who spend their extremely fortunate lives constantly striving, seemingly as burdened with the stress of professional success as the rest of us non-Adonis, non-millionaires, McConaughey appears to be legitimately satisfied with his extraordinary luck and to have fully embraced his professional mediocrity (only his frequent co-star Kate Hudson seems as willful or happy a hack). He's the guy who wrapped a Steven Spielberg movie (Amistad) and decided that caliber of film just wasn't for him, his spot in the canon be damned. I don't dig his movies, but maybe he wants to hang out and teach me to be Zen sometime?
if Matthew McConaughey wrote a blog in his underwear, would it be cool?

You don't spit into the wind.

I thought this might be a good time to reiterate the PTN comments policy:
I reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason, up to and including "it had too many spelling errors," "included smack-talk about my boyfriend," and "WTF?!?" However, I can probably count the number of non-spam comments I have deleted over this blog's three five years of operation on one hand, so your freedom of expression is pretty safe. Haloscan eating your comment is more likely than an Amber-imposed deletion.

[2009 Update: I have had to delete several comments lately that obviously came from creepy stalkers. if you are not a creepy stalker, you're probably safe.]

Cutting remarks, sarcasm, and insults are all fair game, as are over-the-top and obviously unserious threats, clearly parodic impersonations, and anonymous comments (especially anonymous comments revealing juicy legal gossip). But all comments should be useful, in the sense of moving the conversational ball forward, or at least amusing.
If you put something out there to be critiqued, I or the commentariat may seize on any perceived weaknesses with all the subtlety of a velociraptor in a petting zoo. But we're actually quite friendly. We shred because we care.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Half-Assed Book Review: Anathem

I skimmed the last half of this book because it was a deadly dull mix of monastic road trip diaries and interminable dialogs of philosophy and math translated into cutesy SF artificial language. I would rather read physics in Sindarin than crack this book again. Please, go back to writing about Cap'n Crunch, Stephenson.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Topic Choices in Web Writing

On the tendency of women to gravitate toward lighter, traditionally feminine subjects in their writing:
Being a political journalist/columnist, or a serious national affairs/sociocultural-type reporter/freelancer, has got to be hard (both in terms of skill level and opportunities to break in). Very hard, regardless of gender. It’s not something any writer/reporter can just do. But women, I think, have a lot more options when it comes to the range of topics, in general, they can write about and still be "journalists." There are many, many more (paying) outlets for fashion/beauty/entertainment/sex/relationship writing than political writing.
It’s kind of the same psychology that I think is often under-valued when explaining why women ‘opt out’ of the workplace—work can suck! It’s sometimes hard, and sometimes boring, and for people who don’t find themselves in a perfect situation, staying home with the kids full-time can seem like a socially acceptable way to ‘fail,’ to give up—one that more men would avail themselves of, too, if they could as easily.
[A] lot of very smart, very political women writers/bloggers/pundits are naturally going to be attracted to reading about issues that directly affect them. Which means less time keeping up with the Big General Political Issues.
On the demise of law student blogs as fora for substantive legal discussion:
There were very few student blogs that took a crack at substantive legal issues. The ones that did were often bad at it, or they buried those sorts of posts under a bunch of other stuff. Most students seemed to really want to write about law, but seemed to find it much easier to talk about clothes, recipes and literature.

The ones smart enough to write about law were probably too busy studying or writing real articles.
The common thread: it's just easier and less risky to write about fluff. I could attempt to write about substantive legal or political issues and potentially alienate a client or colleague. Or I could take the socially sanctioned path of least resistance and write about the gingerbread I made this weekend.

Recipe for Amber's Gingerbread

2 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose unbleached flour (11 1/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon Dutch-processed cocoa powder
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, then cooled to room temperature
3/4 cup dark molasses
3/4 cup granulated sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
1 large egg
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup milk

Grind the crystallized ginger into small pieces in a food processor to a consistency between gravel and sand. Preheat oven to 350 and spray 9-inch square springform pan with Baker's Joy. Combine and whisk dry ingredients. Cream butter and sugar, then add molasses and yogurt. Add milk slowly. Gradually beat in dry ingredients until well-combined but do not overmix. Pour into pan and bake for 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.