Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Honeymoon destinations!


Monday, December 05, 2011

Boardwalk Empire Law School Crim Hypo

Facts: Last night's episode of Boardwalk Empire.

What crimes are Jimmy and Gillian Darmody guilty of? Are there any possible defenses? Does Gillian Darmody's state of extreme intoxication and Jimmy's comparative sobriety during the post-party scene affect your analysis?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Team Richard

So what is going to happen on the remaining episodes of Boardwalk Empire? Richard gets sent after Manny Horwitz while Jimmy ineffectually tries to put out fires in Atlantic City?

Perhaps Little Teddy burns something big? Will Margaret confess to Nucky about her encounter with Owen or will she deftly sub in another sin as she did with the priest?

Will Nelson break bad on the stand? Will Eli flip so hard on Nucky that he destroys himself? Will there be any resolution whatsoever of the court case against Nucky? (And why doesn't he marry Margaret so she cannot be forced to testify against him?)

Will Jimmy finally die? What will Gillian do then? Sell heroin to burlesque artists for Lucky Luciano?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Weekend Bake: Turkey Tah Chin

Perfect for using up that leftover turkey:

1-2 lbs cooked turkey meat, chopped into 2-3 cm chunks
2.5 cups plain yogurt
2 large onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1 heaping tsp saffron, ground well and steeped in 1/4 cup hot water
3 cups basmati rice, rinsed well and drained
4-8 tbsp butter

Mix the garlic, yogurt, saffron and water, salt, and turkey in a large bowl and let it marinate for at least 30 minutes. It should be bright orange.
Preheat the oven to 350.
Saute the onions in a little butter until soft.
Boil a large pot of salted water and add the rice. Cook for 8 minutes, then rinse and drain the rice.
Melt enough butter to cover the bottom of a 13x9 baking pan (glass for proper visualization of cooking progress, or else something with extreme nonstick properties).
Mix the onion and half the rice with the turkey and stir well. Spoon the half the mixture into the buttered pan and smooth it across the bottom. Then add a firmly pressed layer of the remaining white rice and finish with the second half of the turkey. Cover tightly with an oiled sheet of foil and bake for 1.5-2 hours, or until the bottom is well browned.
Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before removing the foil, then gently loosen the rice from the sides with a knife and turn over onto a platter or baking sheet. You should have a crispy topped slab of creamy, saffron-infused turkey goodness.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

An entirely absurd argument about YA fictional heroines

Noah Berlatsky at The Atlantic is demonstrating his independent, contrarian side by joining Team Bella instead of Team Katniss:
[W]hether it's in a fist fight or in the hearts of critics, butch beats girly every time. The relative discomfort with Bella, then, can be seen as reflecting a larger discomfort with femininity.
Berlatsky is MOAR FEMINIST THAN FEMINISTS, as he demonstrates by defending Bella, icon of femininity, from evil hordes of second-wave critics. Unfortunately, he attempts this by setting up insulting false dichotomies and then misreading the books to support them.

He argues that Bella is emblematic of femininity because she is "girly," as evidenced by the fact that she's "in touch with her desires—she wants to marry and screw Edward, not necessarily in that order." Katniss, on the other hand, is "masculine" and "butch" because she is "smart, fierce, independent, and sexually restrained." At one point Berlatsky contends that "what [Katniss] desired all along was domestic bliss with her nice-guy suitor and a bunch of kids running around the cottage," and Bella is in fact "competent" by virtue of her becoming immensely powerful through vampirism.

The root of this absurdity can be grasped when Berlatsky frames the two characters in terms of their relative endowments of power and desire: "Power and desire have to separate. Katniss has the first only because she doesn't have the second; Bella's got the second only because she doesn't have the first."

This is bollocks. One could view Katniss as a classically maternal protective figure throughout The Hunger Games: she takes the place of her own mother in caring for and providing for her sister, she sacrifices herself to protect her sister from selection for the Games, and she acts as a caretaker for two of her "competitors" during the Games themselves. Her kills during the Games are often indirect (as when she draws a pack of murderous pursuers into a hornets' nest). Katniss is a mama bear, not a macho death junkie, and her power is not conferred by subordination of sexuality but from skills honed through necessity.

More importantly, though, Katniss lacks desire because sex and romance rank somewhat lower on the hierarchy of needs than food, water, and not being executed as part of a televised entertainment. Her competence in certain specific areas lends her power in the narrow context of the Hunger Games, but part of the reason why the last two books are so boring is that it is painfully clear that she is not competent in the political arena and is instead used as a powerless tool. What Katniss wants is freedom: Only with freedom can she have the autonomy necessary to become a lover and a mother.

Bella does not lack power because she feels desire. She lusts for Edward even before he's revealed to be super-strong and practically immortal.* Bella lacks power because she cannot or will not assert herself in any way except to express her "love" for Edward. She could become competent in some meaningful way that required her own effort and agency. Instead, she even attains power through passive means: getting bitten, smelling delicious, and being endowed with thought-shielding abilities.

Bella, as one commenter notes, does not have any conventionally "girly" traits or interests beyond a liking for 19th century fiction and in fact is a consummate failure at the more conventional manifestations of high school girliness like fashion, hairstyling, dancing, and the like. To argue that she is seriously girly (in some manner presumably predating second- and third-wave feminism) because she is in touch with her intense sex drive is very strange, especially given the books' repeated emphasis on the dangers posed by this drive and Edward's constant harping on her to suppress it.**

But all this is ancillary (or is it?) to the question Berlatsky purports to be addressing, which is whether Bella or Katniss would win in a fight. The idea that there would be a fight is absurd, but the reason for peace is not that Bella and Katniss "might understand each other's desires and each other's strength" and walk away in mutual respect. Katniss wouldn't fight Bella because Bella is not an autocratic totalitarian dictator. Bella threatens exactly nothing that Katniss values, and thus Katniss, a user of violence who is not inherently violent, would probably shrug. Katniss's political consciousness and promotion of self-rule does not threaten Bella's tiny microverse of loved ones and would likewise be a non-issue to Bella.

If, however, Bella did think that Katniss made eyes at Edward and attempted to attack her, Bella would be shot before she had any chance to "flatten Katniss with a flick of her perfect pale sparkly wrist." A bow and arrow is effectively a long-range staking machine. I can't believe this is even debatable.

ETA that apparently Twilight vampires are not killed by stakes.They are, however, vulnerable to fire. So: fire arrows, anyone?

* Contra Berlatsky, it is laughable to read Bella's desire for Edward as secondary to her desire to be a vampire---if Edward died, would Bella want to become undead? I think not.

** For her own safety, of course, and eventually she does, waiting for marriage as the true old-fashioned girls were supposed to.

Help me buy things

Should I buy a Kindle Fire? I wanted to wait for the iPad 3, but it's taking too long. Refurbished iPads are still lots more than the Fire. I would mostly use it for watching Netflix and web browsing.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Category error

Did Penn State treat boys like women?
As you absorb the news about the key people at Penn State who ought to have reported what they knew of coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged assaults on little boys, please keep one thing in mind. Penn State’s cover-up is embedded in the interest it, and all universities, have in keeping many forms of sexual violence and sexual harassment a private, internal matter. The mistake Penn State made was, in many ways, a simple category error: they mistook these pubescent boys for women. They forgot that children occupy a very different status in the law than do the female students, faculty and staff who are most frequently the object of unwanted sexual attention and/or violence. If a college woman doesn’t file a rape charge, usually very quickly, the crime doesn’t exist. Delay the report by as little as 24 hours and the chances of even an internal judicial proceeding (much less an arrest and a trial) diminish dramatically. Universities substitute private hearings, counseling and mediation for legal proceedings: while women often choose this route, rather than filing felony charges against their assailants, it doesn’t always serve their interest to do so. But it always serves the interests of the institution not to have such cases go to court.

Penn State seems, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, not to have known what they did not know: society and the law have much stricter rules when child abuse is finally uncovered. Since most people don’t believe that ten year olds want to be anally penetrated by grown men, once there is credible evidence that the sex happened, people tend not to spin alternative scenarios about little boys like: ”look what he was wearing;” “he’s probably just mad that Coach Sandusky wouldn’t hook up with him;” “he was drunk;” or “it was just bad sex and he’s trying to get back at Coach.”

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Quasi-Dominican Goat Stew

2 lbs goat stew meat
Juice of 2 limes
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp oregano, preferably Mexican
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp sugar
1 large red onion, roughly chopped
2-3 jalapeños, minced
1 poblano or cubanella pepper, chopped
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 shot pomegranate molasses (tamarind paste might also be good here)

Marinate goat for at least 1 hour in the lime juice, garlic, salt, and oregano.
Heat the oil in a large pot. Add sugar and caramelize it slightly. Add goat and brown the outside.
Add the remaining ingredients and about 1 cup of water. Simmer, covered, until goat is almost falling off the bone. Finish uncovered.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Emma Spaulding Bryant: Spitfire

Letters from a wife to her husband, from 1873. The short version: Woman takes a trip to get medical attention. Husband accuses her of infidelity with the doctor. Woman comes down on him with righteous fury.
I have never lived with you on other terms than those of the most perfect love and trust and equality. I never intend to live with you on other terms. I love you and I hope to be your true wife for time and eternity but I cannot (God helping me) will not) cast my womanhood from me.
I have by mistake burned the sheet which I wished to enclose to you, speaking of the husband as absolute head over the wife using the parallel of church, government, nation, companies etc. It was apparently a very conclusive and satisfactory argument to you at the time, but I wished to give you the pleasure of re-reading it with these other paragraphs.

I have only to say in reply -- if you value my love -- if you wish to retain my respect -- if you desire to remain my ideal of what is manly and noble and true, never use such words or sentiments to me again by letter or by word

You degrade yourself by them, and would degrade me if I received them. This sheet is my full, final answer to your letter by express -- I will do anything, everything, in my power for your happiness my darling husband and, if I could, perhaps I would believe (for your happiness) black to be white, and a lie to be the truth, but unfortunately I cant. There are women so constituted that they can, but I am not thus constituted as you must have learned before we were married, so please do not urge impossibilities.
I've been enjoying Ta-Nehesi Coates's recent posts on 19th century feminism, and it's nice to see these independent urges evidenced on a micro level.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

East Coast Problems

Can we have a subset of First World problems for things most commonly occurring in East Coast metro areas? Examples:

- The Acela was all booked so I had to take the Chinatown bus.
- Cannot find good Mexican food because "Mexican" restaurants are actually Central American.
- Ruined $500 boots walking in slush.
- Just hired a tutor to help Junior prep for the preschool admission exam.
- Bikeshare station rack was completely empty!
- Terrible service on the subway again.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Open thread

I don't even know what to blog about these days, mostly because I am rarely on my computer at home.  What's new in the world?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Blind squirrel finds nut

Sady Doyle on class consciousness:
So I was in New York, and I was twenty, and as far as I was concerned, I had no father. I’d made a mistake, loving him; I’d corrected it; I was done, ready to forget. Which was hard, because the streets were filled with men dressed exactly like him.

The boys were growing their hair long, that year. They were wearing what they called “trucker hats,” sometimes with the John Deere logo, sometimes without. They wore the tough-guy polyester vests, the puffy zip-up kind. They wore t-shirts for metal bands; the understanding was that you didn’t wear those shirts because you listened to the bands, you wore them because they were funny. In a magazine called Vice, I could see that the daring boys were going for the jean jackets. I was puzzled, thrown off; I’d come here to get away from my father, to get away from the world he lived in, and everyone worth knowing wore that world around, laughing at it. And as little as I loved my father, I couldn’t bring myself to laugh.

Because those boys, and the girls they knew, sounded nothing like my Dad. They talked about their time in Prague, their time touring Europe; they talked about bands they’d hung out with, and those bands were The Walkmen and The Strokes and some of the girls had fucked some of them; one of my roommates was one of the girls, and when she saw that I had a Juliana Hatfield CD, she smiled and said, “yeah, I’ve partied with her a bit, she’s awesome.” I try to remember that these boys and girls were children, some of them only eighteen years old; I try to remember that I was stupid too, unbelievably stupid, that I also had bad politics that make me shudder to recall. It still doesn’t take away the way they made me fee. I still remember the way I felt, standing in a grocery store, trying to pick out beer with the Juliana Hatfield roommate. I pointed to a beer that I thought was suitably exotic, something city people would drink (feeling guilty, dirty somehow, because nice people didn’t drink beer at all, my father drank beer, nice people only drank wine or cocktails) and she laughed at me, picked up some PBR. “I only drink domestic beer,” she said, in a voice I’d come to realize denoted “irony.” Feeling sick and weird there, in that moment, because if drinking domestic beer was ironic, then drinking it unironically was bad and funny, and I’d only ever drunk it unironically, only ever knew people who did, which meant we were bad and funny; if I drank the PBR it wouldn’t be a joke somehow, they would know. Or: Going to a bar, with my boyfriend, with the activist friends he’d made through Greenpeace; it was called “Trailer.” It was decorated to look like somebody’s idea of what you’d see in a trailer person’s home. To be precise, it was decorated to look like my home; it was decorated to look like the houses I’d visited growing up. We sat on a couch that had also belonged to my grandmother. And to my mother, during the bad years, right after she left my father; it was a hand-me-down. I traced the pattern of fruit in the print and thought about how I’d chipped my brother’s tooth, bouncing with him on the cushions.

“That whole white-trash chic thing,” said the girl who’d invited us there.

That was when I figured it out, the name for what we were. Our name was trash.
She captures this moment so well: the realization that even your aspirations were just further testament to your social inferiority. After you get what you want, you don't want what you wanted at all.

In other news: Winter's Bone is all the movie the critics said it was, and not nearly as depressing as expected. I was anticipating Precious-level poverty porn, and was surprised.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Weekend Bake: Cream Cheese Brownies

An excellent recipe. Best paired with long weekends and action movies.

Brownie base:
3.3 ounces flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
6 ounces milk chocolate
8 tbsp butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
3 eggs

Cream cheese filling
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 325. Melt butter and chocolate, whip together with vanilla and sugar, then eggs (one at a time). Add dry ingredients and mix until smooth.

Mix the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and egg yolk in a separate bowl until smooth.

Line 8x8 pan with parchment paper and smear half the brownie batter, then spoon in half the cream cheese mixture, then repeat. Bake for 50 minutes. Eat.

Monday, October 03, 2011

FDA orders Bay Area man to cease manufacture of sperm

The FDA has begun targeting men who provide free sperm donations.
It began in December 2006, when Trent Arsenault, now 36 and a bachelor outside San Francisco, began offering his sperm through, a website bedecked with shots of Arsenault as a cute toddler and hunky outdoorsman. Tall and blond, Arsenault works as an engineer at a tech company and is a former Naval Academy midshipman (he dropped out to move to Silicon Valley). His qualifications might make a sperm bank drool. But he prefers to work independently, he says, having already donated to about 50 women, mostly Bay Area lesbians. Perhaps thanks in part to his twice-daily “fertility smoothies” (a blend of blueberries, almonds, and other vitamin-rich fare), he has sired at least 10 children, he says.

His prospects came to a halt in September 2010, when FDA agents knocked on the door of his 700-square-foot bachelor pad. They interviewed him in his bedroom, and collected medical records and other material related to how he “recovers and distributes semen,” according to the FDA investigation. The tone was cordial, Arsenault recalls. He even wrote a thank-you letter to the agency, complimenting “the professional and courteous attitude” of its agents.

But the following month, there came another knock on the door, this time from local police delivering an FDA order to “cease manufacture” of sperm, the first such order leveled against an individual citizen, according to a search of government records. Per the order, the agency considers Arsenault to be essentially a one-man sperm bank, referring to him as a “firm,” and alleging that he “does not provide adequate protections against communicable diseases.” If he engages in the “recovery, processing, storage, labeling, packaging, or distribution” of sperm, he faces a $100,000 fine and a year in prison.
The FDA has made its decision; now let it enforce it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Recipes for prison time?

Since investigating the bisongrass vodka issue, I saw this post on Apartment Therapy's The Kitchn blog on how to make crema di limoncello at home, with an eye toward Christmas gifts. Sounds yummy! Unfortunately, it's so incredibly illegal. It looks like making bottles of this sort of stuff means you are an unlicensed, unbonded processor of distilled spirits. Apparently unless it's to be sold in single servings for immediate consumption, even bartenders shouldn't infuse their own booze.

In conclusion: sorry, guys, for encouraging you to become felons. Don't make this or these, even if they look delicious. Or if you do, try to drink it all immediately.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I do not endorse this list.

I like how Bujold is listed in this chart as an option for those completely without humor. I cannot recall smiling at anything outside of A Civil Campaign.

The list as a whole is a cheat, since many of the entries are for series, not individual books.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Lard: The other white fat

I made my standby quiche lorraine today but subbed 1.5 ounces of farmer's market lard for the shortening in my usual pie shell recipe. It smelled weird and was a bit more delicate to handle, which did not bode well. But: no cracks, no holes, no burnt bits, just straight up flaky/crumbly magic. Also, $5 for a quart is much cheaper than butter. I highly recommend this to everyone.

In which wedding shopping eats my brain

I'm looking at veils and and having flashbacks of LSAT logic games, except without logic and with insanity. (N.B. I only care about certain wedding things, one of which is my clothes. If every decision was like this, I would explode.)

Bride wants to wear a veil during the ceremony and the reception. What veil(s) should Bride buy, given the following constraints?

Bride must wear a chapel-length (70"+) veil during the ceremony.
Bride cannot wear an unbustled chapel veil during the reception.
Bride can bustle a chapel veil by attaching a clear loop to the underside of the veil comb and pulling part of the veil through it to shorten.
No layer of the veil at any time can be between 18 and 25 inches long.
No layer of the veil at any time can be more than 80 inches long.
Bride can wear a bustled chapel veil or a birdcage veil during the reception.
If Bride wears a birdcage veil for the reception, she can buy either a firm silk or a soft silk chapel veil.
Soft silk looks less like nylon, which is the point. 
If Bride tries to switch veils, there is a significant chance that Bride's hair will get trashed.
If Bride bustles a chapel veil, it should be made of firm silk, lest it wad up like a towel on her head.
If Bride wears a single-layer chapel veil, then the number of layers when bustled is three, with the bustled loop either on top of or beneath the end of the veil.
Unbustled single-layer veils look better with edging than without.
If Bride wears a double-layer chapel veil with blusher, the number of layers when bustled is four, with the (edged?) blusher layer fully covering the bustle.
Four layers sounds pretty much opaque.
But maybe so is three.
Opaque is probably okay with scattered crystals.
Opaque with unseen edging is a waste of money. 
Soft silk cannot have crystal edging or scattered crystals.
Birdcage veils have scattered crystals. 
Bride likes shiny things.
Chapel veils can be gathered or ungathered. Gathered is better with firm silk than soft silk.

Which veil purchases are the utility maximizing choice for Bride? [number of veils, veil length, veil material, number of layers, gathered/ungathered, edging/no edging, crystals/no crystals]

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The big one

There's probably going to be a 9.0+ earthquake in the Pacific Northwest in the relatively near future. And when it happens, a lot of people are going to die. Wouldn't you like to know if you were likely to be one of them?
At Oregon State University’s O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, one of the world’s leading tsunami-research centers, wave hydro­­­logists have run sophisticated ­simu­lations of a CSZ-generated tsunami hitting Seaside, Cannon Beach, and other coastal towns. The findings do not suggest sticking around. “A lot depends on wave speed,” says Solomon Yim, director of the lab. “We found that in some blocks of densely packed houses, the first line of houses took the brunt and the second line was shielded.” The specifics of the tests haven’t been released to the public for fear of causing an upheaval in the local real estate market. “If your building was one that did not survive the simulated tsunami,” says Yim, “it would be … not so good for the resale value, you see.”
Does anyone else have a problem with a state-funded research lab withholding potentially lifesaving information because it might mess with the property values of established interests? Just me? Okay.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Get it and forget it.

This was my first thought when I heard about the new contraceptive coverage requirement. IUDs are by far the most reliable and cost-effective method of birth control.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Don't miss the part about the dead nun.

Via Bookslut:
La Maupin was always willing and ready to draw the sword. One night she had the caprice at a public ball to make eyes at a lady attended by three gentlemen. The latter challenged her, supposing they had to do with a man, for she used never to wear the dress of her own sex. They left the ball-room, and la Maupin killed the three men one after the other. She got off with nothing worse than a short sojourn over the frontier in Belgium.

—from The Sword and Womankind: Being A Study of The Influence of “The Queen of Weapons” Upon The Moral and Social Status of Women by Alfred Allinson.

Friday, August 19, 2011

On teaching and grade inflation

Some professors cleverly include a "class participation" grade, and these professors pride themselves on using "the Socratic method."  Sigh.  Asking random students random questions is not the Socratic method, it's annoying,  In order for it to be a true Socratic method, the professor would have to ask the student to state a thesis, get him to agree to a number of assumptions, and then masterfully show, through dialogue, how that agreement undermined his own thesis.  In other words, the professor would have to have considerable fluency with his topic and be interested in each individual student, as an individual.  Good luck with that.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Rec: The Dragon's Path

It's volume one in an unfinished fantasy series! But don't run away screaming just yet. Daniel Abraham writes much faster than George R.R. Martin, and he is one of the few authors in the genre today who combine excellent storytelling in a multivolume format with creative world-building. You should try The Dragon's Path.

Abraham twists expectations and conventions in many respects. The setting is emphatically not an alternative Europe, and draws upon a deep well of weirdness. The viewpoint characters include the scion of a noble house scrambling to protect the throne from plots ... so racial slavery and feudalism can be maintained; a portly, bookish young man who is trapped in political webs of others' making ... who orders the murder of an entire city because he was humiliated; and a plucky orphan who turns from success to sot in a depressingly realistic fashion. It's like The Iron Dream, but without the historical baggage. Strongly recommended.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Book Rec: Deathless

Cat Valente is one of the best, most creative fantasy writers working. Her use of folktales and lesser-known fairy stories is superb. I really enjoyed her two-volume set, The Orphan's Tales, but didn't have time to immerse myself in Palimpsest, which has a more modern setting. Her latest, Deathless, is short and bittersweet, with a disorienting blend of Stalinist Russian history and old Russian tales. Recommended.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The fee IS by unit, not volume ....

Tell me if you think this is swingable:

You can bring in your own wine to Venue X for a $Y per bottle corkage fee.

Boxed wines (now in non-horrible varieties!) come in five liter units. That's equivalent to 6.67 bottles.

Could you successfully argue that the corkage fee for a box should be $Y, not $6Y?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pizza comes full circle

After an extended period of being out of commission, typing-wise, from my arm injury (I re-injured it playing D&D and had to take another week or so on light duty), I am back. Falling out of the rhythm of blogging, though, makes reentry difficult. We shall see how things progress.

This weekend has been my first serious attempt at cooking since the curious case of the leaping knife. It is somehow appropriate that the go-to dish today was pizza, just as when I last cooked. (After returning from the ER, the pizza was reheated and eaten, as I could not bear the thought of wasting farmers' market mozzarella.) May I recommend a lemon zucchini goat cheese pizza?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Official Lila Garrity Slam Page

Just started watching Friday Night Lights.

This show is dangerous.

It makes my accent come back.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Friday, July 08, 2011

"War is the use of force – Yes, Otter?"

Friends of PTN with impressionable young minds at home: buy this when it comes out.

Monday, July 04, 2011


So how's your holiday weekend coming along? Mine would have been terrific were it not for the trip to the ER to sew my arm back together (minor kitchen accident with flying knife). It appears that nothing important was damaged, but I have to go back for checks and suture removal. Boo. And it was of course my right hand.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Against Whimsy

GQ comes out against whimsical wooing:
I'd like to suggest a litmus test for whether or not you are being whimsical. Would Danny Trejo shake his head at you? For example: Let's say you have named your bike Sharon. Is it a customized Super Glide? Invite your date to ride Sharon! Is it a turquoise beach cruiser? No va, hombre.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Burning bright

On dieting and the pursuit of incandescence:
The self-acceptance people remind me too much of the dreadful middle school workshops on body image where we had to stand around and recite affirmations like "I love the body the way I am." It sounded craven, ridiculous, and redolent of fundamentalist religious cults that sensible adults were generally urging me not to join. No, what I want for young girls like my high school friend is something like the ability to shut off the repeated voice saying "You ought to be burning calories!" in favor of a voice saying "Yes, but one has to do work now." By the grace of work, by the knowledge that work is important, the burning calories voice then yields to the work voice. And only in doing so does one ever attain the kind of incandescence that Woolf prized. There's no self-acceptance in her vision of incandescence; one becomes a vessel of something else in Woolf's vision, and the self sort of fades away entirely. Modern feminists would do better to cast their arguments about body image anxieties in terms of "These worries are a distraction from the pursuit of incandescence," rather than to focus on the goofy cult rituals about "self-acceptance."
I also found appealing Isabel's idea that PUAs demand that women focus on radical change through dieting rather than marginal improvements through other means because it's really about 24/7 mental subservience to male desires.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

New frontiers of nerddom breached

Any hints for a first-time D&D player?

ETA: The best thing I've seen in MONTHS. Much love to the shippers, and gingerhaze in particular.


I kind of want to see an alternate version where Magneto works for the Mossad.

Further ETA that this is canon?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Nobody in the US ever asks "what about the rapists?"

The Economist reviews a new book by a Michigan law professor on the Japanese judiciary's treatment of love and sex.
Mr West presents a judiciary that is sometimes out of step with the “sense of society” on which it regularly bases its rulings. In divorce proceedings judges make it a virtue for wives to forgive adultery or overlook domestic violence.

Judges may also go far beyond their brief to comment on social mores, In one instance, in 1991, a judge decided that modern appliances are partly responsible for failed marriages because they “give women time to contemplate”. In that particular case the judge rejected a wife’s request for divorce after years of physical abuse, living separately and even a suicide attempt because her husband did not cheat or gamble, and looked so forlorn in court. “They should search together for the bluebird they were unable to find before,” the judge ruled. The reference to a “bluebird” is as jarring in Japanese as it is in English.

Judges use a multi-part test, that does not include love, to approve a contested divorce. Yet love plays a part in cases where it is perhaps less relevant. For instance, sexual relations with a minor is sometimes excused if the court rules there is love. Judges set out to decide whether the defendant is “earnest”, which means either in love or contemplating marriage.

In the case of rape, Japanese courts consider factors that American and European ones would not. Being drunk is a valid defence. One 1992 ruling suspended the sentences of two men out of compassion for what they “must have faced when the victim told them no”.
The judge who wrote that last opinion might be interested in some alternative arguments for his position. What's the Japanese policy on use of international law in deciding cases?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Wash your hands. Or don't.

Via Matt Yglesias, an argument for washing your hands after peeing.
When you start to perspire, even a little, sweat from the perianal area starts dripping around in your underwear, eventually getting into the fabric and moving onto your genitals.
"The point is that simply touching the penis in an effort to direct your urine flow can be more than enough to transfer harmful microbes to your hands, and then on to the pretzels sitting in bowl on the bar," says [biology professor] Fidopiastis.
Fidopiastis adds that there may be instances when we needn't wash our hands after peeing. "If you can urinate in a hands-free urinal and pee without touching your penis, can you not wash?" he says. "I guess my answer there would be a half-hearted, 'Sure, why not?'"
Does the argument for washing even apply to women? And yet I bet more women than men wash their hands.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

I'll take unsympathetic plaintiffs for $800, Alex.

Should it be against the law for this billboard to be posted?

Does your answer change if the individual in the photograph is not a model but a man whose former girlfriend terminated an unwanted pregnancy?

Does your answer change if the billboard ad was purchased by the ex-boyfriend and erected in their hometown?

Some notes:

- Neither the man nor the woman are identified in the ad, although they may be identifiable.
- The woman's friends assert that the pregnancy ended via miscarriage, not an elective abortion.

Someone with Westlaw access and some free time can answer whether alleging someone had an abortion when she didn't has previously been found defamatory under New Mexico law, as Kash Hill suggests. I suppose in this context it does constitute an allegation of unchastity.

Although the individual on the billboard is clearly a jerk, it's very common for people to be moved to political activism by events in their lives. It seems obvious that this was not just an event in the woman's life, but in his as well. Do we want to create a rule for broad protection of privacy rights that will also apply to more sympathetic cases? 

Monday, June 06, 2011

Reader, I promised to marry him.

So! I'm back from my magical mystery vacation, which included lots of lovely sights:

Maria Theresa, explaining it all;

the good kind of Secession;

Melk abbey, of Adso-of fame;

the not so blue Danube;

... and the most romantic tree stump in all of the world.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

For Isabel, with a golden retriever

This is cute, but I keep imagining Bran's direwolf from the HBO Game of Thrones series telling these dogs, "That's not how you fight crime. THIS * rips out assassin's throat * is how you fight crime."

Nymeria's real sin was allowing Joffrey to live. If she'd just killed him and Arya bullied Sansa into saying he "fell in the river," how much Westerosi blood might have been spared?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Total request, not-live

I'd say blogging would be sporadic for the near future, but blogging is already sporadic. I don't even have a good excuse, like "I'm getting my own totally awesome blog and living the dream of getting paid to blog about cool pop culture stuff." But if you suggest a cool topic in the comments, I promise to post about it once things get back to normal around here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In which I am deemed a supporter of "a tyranny by tabloid and by internet"

I must be doing something right if British speech chillers are describing me thus. Further:
Ms Taylor’s ideal – of a transparent world in which we will all live without the burden of secrecy, hypocrisy and lies – is more likely to be a dystopia of some against all, as the powerful and ruthless in society comb what had been secret for personal gain or the pleasures of cruelty.
When our right to discuss the conduct of our fellow humans is minimized as "the poor's right to broadcast gossip," it is clear that a tyranny of one sort has already been erected.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It ain't no Grizzly Man

Anyone else see Cave of Forgotten Dreams? I was disappointed by the failure to maintain a sense of awe, and by the inexplicable absence of any sort of focus on the depicted species of animals. But it was worthwhile just to be able to see the interiors of the cave. 

ETA that hi-res images or reproductions of the cave art are surprisingly hard to find.

Monday, May 16, 2011

You know it when you see it - NSFW if you work at Barnes & Noble

Apparently Barnes and Noble got in a tizzy over the cover of this month's Dossier magazine (yep, I'd never heard of it before either). There's a guy on the cover with no shirt. Usually this would be no big deal. But the guy in question is a famously androgynous model, and he's wearing makeup and a feminine hairstyle. Eek! The bookstore chain offered the magazine a choice between an opaque plastic wrapping, a la porno mags, or the pulping of all their copies of this month's issue. The controversial cover photo is below.

I've got to ask: At what point did this cover tip for Barnes and Noble? Are they okay with shirtless skinny men with bombshell curls and no makeup? Shirtless skinny men with makeup and masculine hair? Men with Marilyn hair and tons of makeup, but clothed? Women with buzz cuts and double mastectomies?

Peaking early

Apropos of recent discussions:
The fall from childhood greatness to a middling state of “simply okay” is, Gladwell suggested, a recurring theme when the cherished notion of precocity is subjected to real scrutiny.

“I think we take it as an article of faith in our society that great ability in any given field is invariably manifested early on, that to be precocious at something is important because it’s a predictor of future success,” Gladwell said. “But is that really true? And what is the evidence for it? And what exactly is the meaning and value of mastering a particular skill very early on in your life?”
We think of precociousness as an early form of adult achievement, and, according to Gladwell, that concept is much of the problem. “What a gifted child is, in many ways, is a gifted learner. And what a gifted adult is, is a gifted doer. And those are quite separate domains of achievement.”
When we call a child “precocious,” Gladwell said, “we have a very sloppy definition of what we mean. Generally what we mean is that a person has an unusual level of intellectual ability for their age.” But adult success has to do with a lot more than that. “In our obsession with precociousness we are overstating the importance of being smart.” In this regard, Gladwell noted research by Carol Dweck and Martin Seligman indicating that different dimensions such as explanatory styles and attitudes and approaches to learning may have as much to do with learning ability as does innate intelligence. And when it comes to musicians, the strongest predictor of ability is the same mundane thing that gets you to Carnegie Hall: “Really what we mean … when we say that someone is ‘naturally gifted’ is that they practice a lot, that they want to practice a lot, that they like to practice a lot.” (emphasis added)
Are we confusing correlation with causation when we interpret results like the association of practice hours with ability? Isn't the liking significant?

Too, the sorts of skills and subject for which we label precocity as significant are often not those for which mere repetition and practice suffices to make one a "gifted doer."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On tittle-tattle and privacy laws

From the "legality is not synonymous with morality" files:
Such stories constitute little more than idle gossip and are often embarrassing, even distressing, to their subjects. But so long as such gossip has not been acquired through illegal means, through invasion of privacy in the first sense, and so long as it is not untrue, it should not be a matter for the law. This is not to say that such journalism should be deemed acceptable. It should not. Passing off gossip as news has helped lead, as Polly Toynbee pointed out almost a decade ago, to ‘everyone’s loss of civility’, to the undermining of ‘everyone’s sense of a discreet private space which should stay beyond the brazen megaphone of public exposure’. There is, however, a big difference between that which should be unacceptable and that which should be illegal. Just because something is legal does not make it morally or socially acceptable. Conversely, just because something is morally or socially unacceptable should not make it illegal.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A question answered

Why Europeans would read someone like Franzen:
For the American reader there is the pleasure of recognizing the interiors Franzen so meticulously describes. Not so for the Italian, or German, or Frenchman, who simply struggles through lists of alien bric-a-brac. We might say that if the Swiss Stamm, to attract an international public, has been obliged to write about everyman for everyone everywhere, Franzen, thanks to the size of America’s internal market, but also to the huge pull the country exercises on the world’s imagination, can write about Americans for Americans (which is no doubt as it should be) and nevertheless expect to be read worldwide.

Freedom has this characteristic: Franzen appears to get all his energy, all his identity, from simultaneously evoking and disdaining America, explaining it (its gaucheness mostly) and rejecting it; his stories invariably offer characters engaging in the American world, finding themselves tainted and debased by it, then at last coming to their Franzenesque “corrected” senses and withdrawing from it. Blinded by this or that ambition, they come to grief because they lack knowledge, they lack awareness. Thus the importance of so much information. Unlike his characters, Franzen knows everything, is aware of everything, and aware above all that redemption lies in withdrawal from the American public scene. What message could be more welcome to Europeans? The more you know about America, which we need to do, the more you turn away from it, which we enjoy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What About the Paper Tigresses?

This NY Mag article on what happens to parent-propelled Asian students once they finish school and enter the real world was much better than it could have been. (To the extent that Yang writes about his experiences and personal philosophy, it's rather insufferable; his insight into and skill in portraying others is far superior to his ability to objectively analyze himself.) But this post very neatly points out that much, if not most, of the article is applicable to reserved, nerdy boys of all races, and that almost none of it applies to Asian girls. The author nods in Amy Chua's general direction, but skims over how the fact that she is raising daughters affects the application and effects of tiger-parent principles. Are these girls victims of Martha complexes? What happens to Asian Marthas when they graduate? I doubt their experiences track Yang's, or necessarily those of the Asian men he profiled.

Monday, May 09, 2011

50 Book Challenge Mea Culpa

I have totally fallen behind on my reviews for the 50 Book Challenge, even though I have read dozens of books since the last post. I can recommend The Fever by Sonia Shah and the Fandorin mysteries by Boris Akunin. I'm also really enjoying The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet as an audiobook. Anything strike your fancy lately? I've got to pencil in time for rereading A Song of Ice and Fire before July, but otherwise I just have a couple of civil war histories on the to-read shelf.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

How to make me hate you, publishers

Prices on Amazon of various versions of a book I want (prices of real books include free two-day shipping):

Paperback, new:     $10.20
Kindle eBook:         $11.99 (noted by Amazon: "This price was set by the publisher")
Hardcover, used:    $4.00
Paperback, used:    $3.98

Guess which one I bought? What kind of suckers do they think they are dealing with here?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

We are being trolled by the WSJ

With this article, which combines the gobsmackingly obvious with stereotyping psychobabble garbage.
The female cortex contains a highly developed system for finding and scrutinizing a prospective partner—a system that might be dubbed the Miss Marple Detective Agency. Agatha Christie's fictional sleuth is often dismissed as scatterbrained, but she is actually a shrewd judge of character and harbors deep knowledge of the dark side of human nature. She uses her surprising analytical acumen to solve mysteries that have stumped the police.

Using similar investigative skills, the female brain evaluates all available evidence regarding a potential mate's social, emotional and physical qualities to make an all-important decision: Is he Mr. Right or Mr. Wrong? Only if Miss Marple gives her stamp of approval do physical arousal and psychological arousal harmoniously unite in the female brain.

This unconscious evaluation is the source of "feminine intuition." Though the female brain carefully processes many stimuli simultaneously, it is experienced only as a general feeling of favorability or suspicion toward a potential partner. This feminine intuition is designed to solve a woman's unique challenge of determining whether a man is committed, kind and capable of protecting a family.

UPDATED to add that the article/book author appears to be a crank.

UPDATE 2: From the "sexually, women aren't visually oriented" department: Massive dump by Amazon of yaoi content from the Kindle breeds outrage. Yaoi is manga porn with male/male pairings, primarily consumed by women. Presumably our "Miss Marple" filters are simultaneously evaluating both big-eyed cartoon dudes, as they hook up with each other, for ability to commit, kindness, and protection abilities.

I have been assimilated.

At least once while reading any hard-copy book, I now am brought up short by a stymied desire to search for earlier occurrences of a term, like I can on my Kindle.

Friday, April 29, 2011


I forgot to register for Blogher! Should I do it now?

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Recently purchased: white kid gloves, above-the-elbow length. Potential ensembles?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Game of Thrones Roundtable

My thoughts on the first few episodes of HBO's new Game of Thrones series are online:
HBO's new adaptation of George R. R. Martin's bestselling series of fantasy novels is yet more evidence that television, not motion pictures, is now where truly sweeping, complex stories are being told. Although I've been an evangelist of the books for years (even going so far as to have spare copies of Game of Thrones for ready lending and conversion), it's heartening to see a fantasy narrative given a respectful and serious airing. Because magic is so peripheral in the early episodes of Game of Thrones, the fantasy trappings are not a long leap from these already familiar to viewers of shows like Rome, The Tudors, or The Borgias. And after they've been hooked by the characters and complex plot, even people normally allergic to swords and sorcery won't be able to change the channel.
The piece goes on, and is part of a roundtable discussion with Alyssa Rosenberg, Adam Serwer, Nick Bauman, and Eleanor Barkhorn.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Career choices

I wonder which firm this is referring to ....
One day, her whole team ramped up to help a client through some litigation. Everyone had to work extremely long hours, and Courtney was spending so much time in the office she had to hire a dog walker. It went on like that for days. And then weeks. Finally she decided that until the litigation ended, she would send Isabel up to the farm her family runs, where her parents would watch her. She hated coming home to a house without a dog. But it was only temporary, and Isabel would be a lot happier running around all day than cooped up inside.

"How's Isabel?" colleagues would ask.

"Oh, I've been working so much that I sent her up to the farm in New York," she'd reply. Her immediate co-workers knew all about the family business. And this small bit of gossip spread even beyond them.

It wasn't long after that when a higher up in the firm approached Courtney in the office. "I heard you sent your dog to a farm in the country," he said. "I just wanted to let you know that I'm very impressed by your dedication." It's always nice to get positive feedback from a superior, but something about the way he said it made her pause. And then it dawned on her. One of her bosses, taking "the country" to be a euphemism, thought that she'd put her dog down in order to focus on the case.

And he was commending her for it!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

That which does not kill me is delicious

Cannot stand the whipsawing weather. Hot. Cold. Rain beating down. Sun beating down. Pollen everywhere. I am thinking of getting tested for allergies after hearing about my college buddy's wife and reading her new blog. But I am sort of afraid of finding out that I am allergic to food! Then again, I already know I am not supposed to eat certain things because of migraines (caffeine, alcohol, cheese, chocolate, etc.) and I just do sometimes regardless of the risk of feeling bad, so maybe it would provide additional reasons to feel like I was rebelliously transgressing. Cheap thrills in the pantry!

Monday, April 04, 2011

Multiple Choice

[A] foible of neurology that keeps us from meeting our own high standards consistently can put us in a terrible bind. Our options are to (a) try, fail, and struggle to avoid becoming utterly defeated; (b) fail to try and struggle with self-loathing; (c) try with every ounce of effort we can summon, succeed, and leave ourselves too exhausted to succeed again, or to want to try; (d) lower our standards and meet them, but struggle with the thought that we have cheated ourselves and the world of our best. - Will Wilkinson

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Recipe: Asian Steamed Fish

3 large filets of cod or other firm white fish
1 large sweet potato
1-inch piece of ginger, grated
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup Chinese cooking wine
1/4 cup soy sauce
salt and white pepper
2 green onions, chopped

Slice the sweet potato into coins. For a mashed potato side, make coins 1/4 inch thick or less. For cooked slices instead, cut coins 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
Add oils to a large skillet over medium heat and toss in ginger. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then scatter sweet potato coins over the bottom. Reduce heat to medium-low, over and cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning, until the sweet potatoes are slightly soft. Stir.

Salt and pepper the fish filets, then lay then on top of the sweet potatoes. Pour on cooking wine, soy sauce, and a splash of water. Cover and cook about 5-10 minutes, or until the fish is done. Toss sweet potatoes with green onion and serve.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Pancake Song

Listen to the song!

I may or may not steal this and sing it to "Li'l Snape."

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I think people were actually excited when Michael Chabon announced he was working on a TV show about "magicians and Hitler." My first thought was, give it a fucking rest. Someone please write a piece on why writers keep setting books during WWII, despite the fact that there are no new angles to work there, seriously, let the ground lay fallow for a while.
- Jessa Crispin

Monday, March 28, 2011

Review: Sucker Punch (SPOILERS) (updated x2)

I am in general agreement with Alyssa Rosenberg on Sucker Punch, which is not a good film, but worth seeing if you find the concept of "Sin City + Return to Oz + Girl, Interrupted" intriguing. Zach Snyder is one of a mere handful of working directors with an immediately apparent visual style, and if he's not known for his subtlety, he at least makes failure interesting, which is more than can be said for most big-screen action-fests these days.

As set-up: After the death of her mother, the unnamed protagonist (called "Baby Doll") attempts to protect her sister from sexual molestation by their stepfather. She accidentally shoots her sister, and this gives the stepfather a perfect excuse to bundle Baby off to a shady mental institution while he enjoys the inheritance left to the two girls. He pays off a corrupt orderly to forge papers so she will be lobotomized in five days. In shock, but knowing her time is limited, Baby escapes into a fantasy world where she and the other female patients are trapped in a bordello and a small group of fellow dancer/inmates agree to join her plan to escape. The interludes where they undertake plan objectives are portrayed via a third dream-level, in which the girls are machine-gun-toting commandos in a series of surreal, war-torn landscapes.

That Sucker Punch owes some debts to Sin City seems obvious, and my impressions of the depiction of female autonomy in that picture go double here. Instead of a political war for independence, we have a Great-Escape narrative, but in each case it's important not to allow the women's scanty costumes to obscure that their struggle is one for freedom: here, freedom from patriarchal and oppressive medical "treatment" meant to silence and suppress them. The decision to play out a similar parallel narrative in the 1985 Oz sequel was widely criticized as being disturbing: when faced with young women telling us things we don't want to hear, the system tends to come down with a cruel and patronizing force.

This is explicit in Girl, Interrupted, but the sexuality of the protagonists is downplayed here, and as Alyssa notes there's no romantic angst playing any part in the characters' motivations, or even their reasons for ending up in confinement. As befits an action movie, the desire is for physical freedom, to be procured through physical means.

And boy are those means physical! Part of my disgruntlement with the pre-release criticism of Sucker Punch was the extent to which the arguments presumed a male audience: Sexy costumes are just there for the titillation of the male audience; violence is there for teenage boys to get off on. But large portions of this movie are effectively video-game style action sequences with an all-woman cast of avatars. They are competent, human, kickass, and emphatically female---but they are not reduced to sexual objects. They are instead excellent vessels for the enjoyment of a female action viewer (and we do exist!). I speculated after the fact whether the choice to make all of the targets in the action sequences non-human was a deliberate decision made to appeal to women.

So there's the surface attraction. But what makes this more interesting than a simple shoot-em-up is the layered structure and what it says about coping and powerlessness. Much of the movie takes place at the middle level, in which the various girls are sex-trafficked workers in a club/whorehouse run by a mustachioed and violent pimp. The girls use their sexuality, via dance and charm, to procure various items necessary for escape. But this level of the narrative is just a proxy for what is really happening in the mental hospital, where the head orderly (the pimp) violates the girls in mostly unspecified ways. There is, thus, a lurking horror at Sucker Punch's heart: What terrors are inflicted on Baby and her fellow patients such that a fantasy of being imprisoned prostitutes (who at least wield sexual power, and are valued, if instrumentally) is a psychological improvement? What "real world" events in the mental hospital occurred to correspond with the brutal murders of two girls and the accidental killing of a third? And how horrible must life be if only through multiple and corrupted layers of distancing can women conceptualize their struggle?

UPDATE: Just saw this post linking to Sady Doyle's review. I'm still finding the hostility mostly misplaced. As one commenter at Coates's blog put it,
[Doyle's] analysis of moviegoing habits doesn't really add up for me. For one thing, it assumes that the primary audience for the girls-with-guns genre is male, and thus apparently has gotten more so since the 80s - which doesn't really square with my own anecdotal experience. Also, the rape-fantasies aside, it seems pretty incoherent to critique an action movie for putting its characters in harm's way - "When its female characters aren't fending off rapists, theyʼre being lobotomized, stabbed, imprisoned, sold, shot in the head, forced to strip, or blown up on trains in outer space." Isn' that basically what action movies do? The question for me would be how prominent the sexual victimization is, and; what kind of reaction - sympathetic? titillated? - it seems to be aimed at provoking from its audience.
The leads in Sucker Punch are not Women in Refrigerators by the conventional definition, i.e. they are not killed or injured as a plot device in a story about a male hero. Even if you broaden the critique to include female characters who are injured and not returned to the status quo, the movie ends with one female character giving her life so another female character can be restored to freedom---hardly a clear case. Perhaps the dead sister qualifies, but she's if anything a plot device in a story about a female hero.

UPDATE 2: I particularly liked Alyssa's interpretation of Baby as someone who chooses oblivion. The fact that the ending seems to have struck many people as jarring or disappointing is partially a function of how it subverts our viewing expectations and partially as understandable discomfort with her decision to embrace her own "mental death" in order for her friend to escape. And yet her choice, albeit regrettable and tragic, is comprehensible: what remains for Baby, on the outside? Everyone she loves is dead. If she does get out, she will have to fight her stepfather to remain free (and may still go to prison), haunted every day by the memory of killing her own sister.

But the dignity of her choice---to embrace oblivion like a lover, and in doing so both escape her own torment and enable someone who still has family to rejoin it---would have been more clear were it not for the MPAA. Because depicting that embrace, within the dream-context of the layered narrative, would have involved a scene of consensual heavy petting with Jon Hamm, and the MPAA would only give a PG-13 rating to that scene if it was re-cut so he was taking her against her will. And Snyder, to whom most reviewers have been willing to attribute all kinds of sexism, didn't want to send that message.

Isn't this fairly strong evidence that Snyder intentionally avoided any actual scenes of rape (which is what the whole dual-distancing is about---when Baby dances and fights, it's obvious, at least to me, that her distracting sexual display/physical struggle is an escape from assaults occurring in the asylum, but this is never presented for our titillation) and instead wanted to show Baby's sexuality as something she ultimately owns and chooses to exercise? It's easy to put all the blame for the muddied themes on the writer/director, but the inclusion of this scene would have underlined Baby's decision and provided welcome contrast with the many previous examples of choice denied.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ah, the French.

i don't know which part of this post I love best. "Scratchy-backside jam"? Getting your legs measured at the sock store? That in France, "people from [Auvergne] are known as being particularly hard-working and industrious (which is a quality that is both admired, and frowned-upon)"?

Semi-unrelatedly: I highly, highly recommend Mesrine

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Signifier Songs

You know how movies set in the Boomers' youth always seem to pick the same few 60s songs to evoke the decade? What 1990s and 2000s songs do you think will be equivalent movie shorthand in the future?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hearts of gold, dull as dross

It is very troubling to me how this post on female characters in SF/F sets up a dichotomy between "convincing women characters" and sexualized women characters/characters that are prostitutes.
A lithe, athletic girl in a tight-fitting leather costume is not a significant improvement, in feminist terms, on a whore.
 I'd think this is true for certain values of "whore," but if the author believes that they're both morally neutral (as I would contend), it's not coming across. Sexuality is part of the human experience. Is there anything necessarily disempowering about sexualizing yourself? What if another facet of your persona is the one being accented? That whores and other sexualized women are more considered objects than persons is a function of sexuality's place in our society, not anything intrinsic to sexualization.

A female character who embraces her sexuality (or even sells it!) can be a "strong," "convincing" woman character. She may not be taking the speculation part* of the speculative fiction where you want it to go, but that's a matter of taste, not evidence sufficient to find the book anti-feminist. In fact, it's possible that the speculated setting could be one in which women can embrace many aspects of their personhood, including their sexuality, without the baggage and judgment and disempowering objectification that make doing so problematic in our world.**

It's one thing if you are bored with male writers defaulting to prostitution as a job for their female characters,*** but there's no need to imply that hookers can't be three-dimensional when the problem can much more easily be attributed to bad writing.

* I don't care if your imaginary world has perfect gender equality (or even eliminates one gender altogether), if the characters are Homo sapiens, then they're going to sexualize themselves and others. Maybe that's not the focus of your book or your protagonist is relatively asexual, but my suspension of disbelief will not extend much further. 

** I willingly admit that this is not what is happening in a lot of SF/F with sexualized female characters.

*** I'm bored as hell with writers using writers as characters: that's even more lazy and gender neutral to boot!

The glorious liberty of unreachability

I didn't get a cell phone until 2003, when I needed to put a number on my resumes for 2L recruiting. With the exception of its cancer fearmongering, this article makes a good case* for the freedom of not having a cell phone. Of course, it's not like calling someone socially is really done these days. I'd gladly swap voice minutes for unlimited texting, but as a grandfathered-in subscriber with an unlimited flat-rate data plan, change scares me.

* One side note: The benefits of a good connection with a land line are undermined by widespread use of speakerphone and cruddy headsets, both on other people's land lines and on their cell phones.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I know absolutely nothing about Suckerpunch except that it's a Zach Snyder joint, so guilty pleasure material, and it's got teeny girls kicking serious ass. And though my inner feminist is usually on a hair trigger, I'm going to drag a companion to see this movie even if it's terrible. But even if it is awful, I'm not sure that this is a really good basis for saying so:
[T]he petite bloodthirsty girly-girls of Sucker Punch still bare their midriffs and cleavages even in what is supposedly their own fantasy scenarios. Maybe I’m alone here, but when I am imagining myself kicking some high-fantasy ass, it’s sheathed in the sort of Kevlar weave, full-body armor that would put a Nolan-verse Batman to shame. Leather hot-pants, after all, have a tendency to ride up when one is jumping out of bomber jets into frenzied combat.
I fail to see the problem. It's not like male avatars of superherodom aren't fit and muscular and don't take great pains to highlight their secondary sex characteristics through inches of steel/rubber/Kevlar. And if you are willing to suspend disbelief in order to make yourself a 100 lb girl ninja paratrooper, are wedgies really a reasonable sticking point? If you want to get all buzz-killer about it, how do you go to the bathroom in Batman-style body armor? Might it not cause you to overheat? Hot pants: Not so much.

If you are fantasizing, why not have perfectly smooth airbrush-tanned legs that bad guys barely have time to salivate over before you kick them in the face? There is no universe where incredible fighting skills + attractive is not >>>>> than incredible fighting skills. What exactly is attractive about a Kevlar jumpsuit? That implies you might get hit. A crop top and daisy dukes says "you will never, ever touch me (unless I want you to)."

(Now the whole bit about male-gazing and using sexual abuse for audience outrage and titillation, probably a good call. But in the grand scheme of things, I am less troubled by obviously fantastical sexism than I am by, say, the pernicious and horrible sexist influence of rom-coms and reality TV. And this has swords and explosions.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Scraps and tidbits

- Easter's not for a month, but the first day of spring is Sunday! I've got festive seasonal yarn for you.

- Mike asks in comments who the readership is these days. If you're comfortable with doing so, pop up in comments and say hi, maybe how you came to the blog, and what you want to see more of.

- Sometimes I don't think my knitting is ambitious enough:

Nice! These squares are prettier, though.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The more things change

Just as I suspected, the "Etsy privacy Valdez" is more of a leaky sailboat:
I'm the founder and CEO of Etsy. I'd like to add a bit more explanation here, because we haven't made any recent or unannounced changes. This is a combination of how things have always worked (feedback), with a feature we launched in October of last year (real names).
What happened? Purchases are made visible via our feedback system, which has not been changed in almost six years. As part of building a trust score on Etsy, buyers leave feedback for sellers and vice versa. We've always linked to the item purchased when feedback is left.
Lots of people on Etsy have identifiable usernames. Many include their real name, or are a recognizable public persona. We saw this, and we also wanted to deepen the trust relationship between buyers and sellers, so we gave all members the option to enter their real name. We feel that being who you really are is an important part of trust on the Web.
We created the option for real names in mid-October. Since then, nothing around this issue has changed. If you put your real name in Etsy, bought stuff, and received feedback, it'd link to the item you bought. Google would also index this stuff.
Did we make a mistake here? Yes, and we worked till late in the night yesterday to take a step in the right direction and plan our next steps: [Ed: link fixed.]
We did not suddenly make some changes without telling anyone. Our feedback system has always linked to items. Additionally, most people on Etsy don't use their real names, and haven't filled these fields in.
We're talking today about what we need to do better, and we'll do it better.
Upshot: You were always Googleable if you put your real name on your Etsy profile. Etsy's change made it possible to find you by searching through the Etsy site by real name or email address.

Of course, now your shopping history is veiled because Etsy has eliminated links in feedback to items purchased and disclosure of feedback left for you by others, which prompts one to ask what the purpose of feedback is, anyway.  (They've kept feedback from you given to others, although there's no link to the other you gave it to, if that makes sense.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

"Cats need to eat a high protein, high water content, small volume meal, i.e. a mouse."

PSA: Do you have a fat cat? This is your solution.

Constant Readers may recall that Snape's leg was mysteriously broken some years ago and that he had surgery to fix it. Because part of his hip was removed (it's held together with ligaments, the body's duct tape), it's important that he not become overweight and stress the load-bearing capacity of his non-joint. Nonetheless, because Snape is history's greatest and most ravenous monster, he got fat. But Lily is and always has been slender. Diet food is exactly what she doesn't need. Male cats also need lots of water to avoid UTI problems.

Enter canned food. Snape lost the 3-5 pounds that put him in the roly-poly category and has not had any other health problems. (Lily is her usual svelte self.) Any cat owner with a pudgy pet should consider this.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Is chess good for anything?

I love Ta-Nehisi Coates's "Talk to me like I'm stupid" blog feature, in which he asks his very large and civil readership to lecture him on areas that he's interested in but doesn't understand. The inability of people to admit that they lack knowledge and be open to education is a major problem in internet discourse, where bluffing and bullying your way into the winner's circle is all too prevalent.

That said, talk to me like I'm ten years old: What is chess good for? Does teaching your kid chess give them any skills that are useful in other endeavors? (For example, it's often said that learning music helps you learn math, and many sports develop strength and coordination that are generally beneficial.) If you spent your youth playing chess, are you better or worse off than if you devoted a similar amount of time to computer programming, bridge, billiards, or the trombone?

It's totally fine if chess is just for chess's sake; it's not like I'm opposed to impractical hobbies. But I was curious.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

50 Book Challenge No. 5: Ghost Map

I've got a soft spot for books about deadly disease, when they're leavened with personalities and points of human contact. Ghost Map documents London's deadly 1854 cholera epidemic and the discovery, via innovative use of maps and creative thinking, that cholera is spread via contaminated water. Like the lantern overturned by Mrs. O'Leary's legendary cow, a single upended chamber pot started a cycle of rapid and terrifying death. Many factors aligned to instigate the epidemic: A single household's use of a front cesspool rather than the rear, that pool's proximity to a poorly lined well, and the tendency of that well's refreshingly tasty water to draw children and adults for blocks around. The single, dogged doctor who managed to pull the pieces together, John Snow, is artfully drawn as the sort of classic polymath made impossible by our current state of specialization and scientific progress. His triumph over the pseudoscientific theories of his fellows stands as testament to his genius, and one wonders what other discoveries he might have made given a long lifespan (Snow expired early, the price of his using himself as test subject).

The chief quarrel I have with this book is its pacing. Snow convinces authorities to remove the handle from the contaminated pump and the epidemic trails off. However, Johnson spends a few chapters after that establishing that the epidemic was petering out on its own, and that Snow's accomplishment with respect to lives saved as a direct result was arguably nil. After dampening our passion and excitement for Snow's victory for several dozen pages, though, Johnson reveals that the same household in which the epidemic began had one of its last victims. The disposal of bodily fluids from that victim would have reignited the disease and caused it to spread again through the neighborhood with lethal effect---had it not been for the pump handle's removal. Perhaps for someone who read this book in a more detached manner, this about-face would not have seemed as jarring.

The only other issue is that the closing chapter connecting Snow's mapping and discovery with the present day feels tacked on. An editor might have told Johnson that the story of the outbreak and those who fought against it stands just as well on its own, without need for didactic discourses on modern threats. But that is merely a quibble. Recommended.

By request: The Etsy experience

Sarah asks for comments on how my experience as an Etsy seller is going. Today I sold my first custom order (reproducing a one-off colorway on the laceweight base), so emotions are positive for the moment. Dyeing is something I do in fits and spurts, and I've not yet hit the sweet spot in terms of keeping a constantly updated stream of listings. It also takes a while to photograph things well enough to capture colors accurately, which I sort of rolled my eyes about when I saw people say before, but am now intimately familiar with. I have goals of purchasing some additional equipment that will ease or speed the preparation of the skeins for sale: a light box (the current one is handmade, although I suppose I could just make a better one) and a nicer swift.

I did buy an advertisement on Ravelry, which on a per-click basis was much more cost-effective than a Facebook ad would have been. I've also started discussions with a person organizing a book project, so with luck Marli Tharn yarn will be used as the suggested yarn for a pattern or two, which always helps, since many people prefer to use the indicated yarn (sometimes even down to the color shown) for their projects.

Etsy support has been very responsive to requests I have made as a seller, although I am still disappointed that they disabled the advanced search function's capability to search item descriptions. (That affects me more in my capacity as Etsy Stylist than as Marli Tharn proprietor, though.) The fees Etsy charges don't strike me as high, although if I frequently relisted items to raise their position in search results, they would quickly mount. Overall, Etsy strikes me as a very good thing for a hobbyist and potterer. And if it's exceedingly unlikely that you can make a living as an Etsy seller, I deem that part and parcel of working in the arts (broadly defined), not as anything unique to internet sales of craft.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Monday, March 07, 2011

By request: SF/F Gateway Drugs

Isabel asks for entry points to either genre for the lit-fic reader, as well as books to avoid. There's an old AskMe on this for fantasy, which is my stronger suit, but I'd supplement or qualify many of those recs. I'm assuming existing familiarity with the "I'm a real author and not part of the genre ghetto" stuff that Atwood, Chabon, Ishiguro, and the like churn out on occasion---those may be of interest, but they are dead ends, genre-wise---they take from it, but do not give back.


- George R.R. Martin is one of the most popular authors working, and he straddles both genres. If you have any interest in historical fiction or epics, try A Game of Thrones (bonus: HBO series based on this volume starts in spring). For SF, his collections of short stories are better than the novels; Tuf Voyaging gives a good sense of the flavor.

- China Mieville: A prominent author who occasionally draws notice by the conventional literary establishment. His two best books are The City and the City (which is an odd genre-straddler) and The Scar. Prose is not his strongest suit, but for a sense of the New Weird subgenre, there's none better.

- Orson Scott Card: Ender's Game ONLY. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Useful for analyzing the inner child of many libertarians.

- Connie Willis: If you like your lit fic to put you through an emotional wringer, this is the author for you. Several of Willis's more prominent works revolve around time travel, but she uses this device in the way that (IMO) speculative fiction is intended to be used: as a mechanism for examining the human condition. If you read one, make it Doomsday Book.

- Vernor Vinge: A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky are awesome, in the sense of inspiring a sense of awe for the universe. It's hard SF for people with souls. Best read both.

- Iain M. Banks: Also writes lit fic as "Iain Banks," so there's a natural progression. The Player of Games is probably the best entry point to his SF work, which chiefly deals with a post-scarcity society populated with humanoids and AIs.

I think Jack Vance is boring as all hell, but he gets accolades for his prose. Likewise, Bujold is often recommended but her stuff can be fluffy and mostly consists of an interminable series about a very short space captain. I have a love/hate relationship with Gene Wolfe's style, which can be opaque and muddled* at times, but if you do wish to try him, The Book of the New Sun is the place to start. Wolfe is meant to be read closely and rewards revisitation.

To avoid, at least for now and possibly forever:

- Neal Stephenson: These are not gateway books; the info dumps are too large, and Stephenson cannot write endings to save his life. Once you're a genre fan, go back and start with either Cryptonomicon or The Diamond Age.

- Ursula LeGuin: Much of her work has aged poorly. The Left Hand of Darkness is the closest thing to a gateway book I could recommend, and I'd really only do so if the reader had a preexisting interest in gender politics.

- Robert Heinlein: If you're not a teenage boy, a lot of his work is silly or distasteful.

- Frank Herbert: Like Heinlein, a titan in the genre, but best recognized for his overall contribution to mythos creation, not for prose or characterization.

- John Crowley: Unless you do a lot of drugs, avoid.

- Mervyn Peake: Gormenghast is ghastly. If someone tries to tell you it's like Tolkien but more literary, first punch that person in the mouth, then run.

Other authors that are NOT what you want: Donaldson, Brin, Octavia Butler, Sheri Tepper, Zelazny, Ann McCaffrey, Walter Miller, Kim Stanley Robinson, William Gibson, Sam Delany, Tad Williams. Some of these folks are fine authors, but they are best appreciated after a period of genre immersion. (Others are horrible, terrible, no-good-very-bad authors. I will not say which is which.)

* Sidebar: Is there a term for when someone takes the unreliable narrator one step further and the author himself becomes deceptive and unreliable? The predominant sensation I have when reading Wolfe is of being shown something through a deliberate haze.