Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Naked Truth

That San Francisco banned most public nudity and Ross Douthat took to the pages of the New York Times to decry the decadence of modern Americans who don't breed, all without a peep from this blog, is a testament to the fact that I have fallen almost completely out of the habit of posting.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A is A?

Phoebe asks, in light of my recent post,
[A]re we under a moral obligation to use Facebook thoroughly, to represent our full selves? Or, conversely, is it fair to judge people on the basis of omission?
Nobody is under a moral obligation to use Facebook at all. But your wall posts do not just appear; they are the product of choices. If you choose to represent yourself in a particular manner, you must accept the consequences of doing so. If you provide your "friends" with no knowledge of your life beyond parenting, it may not be fair to judge you and decide that you must be one-dimensional in real life. But it is fair to judge the decision you made to wall off everything else about you. It is fair to judge you for choosing to represent yourself in a particular way. Your choices themselves reflect who you are. To a certain degree, your total self is reflected even in the tiny pool of knowledge you elected to share.

You picked the role you play. You cannot have it both ways and claim that your circumscribed Facebook identity doesn't show who you really are and that you cannot be judged for the decision to include or omit. (I am not using "judge" in a necessarily opprobrious sense.)

Let us contemplate the words of Lil Wayne: 

I don't portray anything, I am who I am. An image is self described.
Note the significance of punctuating his last sentence here. Is an image "self-described" or "self, described"? Or both? Perhaps the difference of opinion in this debate lies in which we would select.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Relational Identities

This is why it annoys me when your Facebook profile pic is of your kid:
[T]here’s a danger in returning to an ideal where women's most important identity is relational rather than individual. If we want equality, women with children would be better served calling themselves people first, moms second.
[I]dentifying as a mom first in a culture that pays lip service to parenthood without actually supporting it has consequences. It means that women are expected to be everything - and give up anything - for their children. Whatever women do that seems to separate them from “true” motherhood is seen as misguided, or at worst, selfish. If we formula feed we’re not giving our babies the best start in life. If we work outside the home, we must do it with tremendous guilt and anxiety. Time away from our children in the form of an occasional movie or hobby is seen as a treat rather than an expected part of living a full life.

I'm not friends with your kid. I'm friends with you. Tell me about your career ups and downs, your favorite new movies, your hobbies, your hopes and dreams. You've got other hats to wear than "mom." Let's see them on parade!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Too much of my wish list is on pre-order.

I haven't read anything that's seriously impressed me lately. Blood Song was all right, especially if you like Rothfuss and other similar brick-authors, but not grand. Sharon Shinn is deeply meh.

I ought to be reading Shadow and Bone. What else?

Only marginally relatedly: The phenomenon of the uber-wealthy booking famous rock acts for their private parties is well established. How rich would you have to be to essentially buy your favorite writer? It could be a writer-in-residence type thing, especially useful for those who still have day jobs, or even just trouble paying the bills. Inspired by Catherine the Great and Diderot. S/he gets to live in your guest cottage, you get to read the new work first. Maybe you buy the author's immense collection of tabletop miniatures to subsidize the writing.

If we're going to have very rich people supporting charity or the arts, I want to see more wacky and idiosyncratic patronage schemes.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Thoughts on the false promise of magical realism

I was going to blog about my thoughts on the latest iteration of  the magical-realism-versus-fantasy debate, but I realized that I'd already said what I'd planned on saying. But the post and comments are worth reading, Jo Walton's especially. Magical realism's random, seemingly arbitrary, surreal events can be understood as "literalised metaphor" and perhaps as attempts to simultaneously acknowledge and control the dangerous irrationality prevalent in some human societies. But I find its consolation empty, and the act of reading magical realist novels an ultimately hopeless enterprise.

Fantasy proper postulates a new order, a system of magic that fundamentally changes our world. So much of it is a simple set of what-ifs, followed through to their logical consequences. How does human nature and culture evolve to cope with impossibilities and their implications? Where does it lead us? To what fantastical ends?*

Magical realism, so often set in contemporary milieus, pretends to offer change or escape, but ultimately cannot provide either more than symbolically. If it could, it wouldn't be realism anymore. As soon as you allow for the sort of sweeping social change that would actually result from the emergence of magic---since, logically, the emergence of the weird or fey would cause fundamental tectonic shifts in human society, the author loses the trappings of his setting. The introduction of magical elements is a broken promise, and presumes that the reader will not only accept the arbitrary manifestations of magic, but also an irrational lack of consequences from those manifestations.** Human society creates coping mechanisms in response to desperation, tragedy, and violence (sometimes unhealthy ones), but magical realism presumes a lack of systematic response to surreal phenomena. A magical event is dropped in as a symbol and slips without a ripple into the fabric of the "realistic" narrative.

"If it's just a symbol, then the hell with it."

*I find much science fiction indistinguishable from this sort of fantasy, save that the impossibilities are smaller and more likely to occur late in our species's history, with consequently more narrowly channeled effects on our development. But science-fiction authors are perhaps more likely to examine the ripple effects of their changes systematically. In contrast, many fantasy authors devote significant time to outlining the system of magic and then allow the implications to simply play themselves out.

** This insult to the reader, arising from the author's need to preserve "realistic" or contemporary (and thus more relatable?) setting and character behaviors is no less offensive when it's a fantasist or a science fiction author who lacks the courage of his convictions or, alternatively, the intellectual rigor his chosen divergence demands. See, e.g., District 9. But magical realist works seem to elevate this annoying mental weakness to the status of a virtue.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Let me tell you the truth about Amelia Bedelia

Via Metafilter, the best idea ever:
That was possibly more enjoyable than the movie, although I think it needed an "Avuncular Bane Voice" voice over at some point.

Maybe I just want that voice to read me bedtime stories; is that so wrong of me?
If you give a mouse a cookie, then you are only doing what is right.
For too long you have hoarded the carb-rich food for yourself, allowing the mouse to starve amid your decadence.
And for this your punishment must be more severe.
Other possibilities: GPS navigation voice ("When Gotham is ashes, you have my permission to ... exit on the right." )

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ask a Clueless Frat Boy: Should I go to law school?

The author of a new Kindle book called "Learning From Precedent: Is Law School for You?" asks a bunch of non-representative, successful people about their law school experiences. Michael Bloch, who is, per his HuffPo bio, "a former student government senator for the Associated Students of the University of California, the President of the Beta Psi chapter of Sigma Nu Fraternity, and a member of the Berkeley chapter of Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity, International" says:
I truly believe that law school teaches you a certain way of thinking that is a great skill to have in politics, public policy, and more. Yes - it may be extremely expensive, but even if you don't want to be a lawyer, if it can improve your ability to succeed in another profession, it could still be worth the cost.
In conclusion, law school is a land of contrasts. Thank you.

People who thoughtlessly and carelessly encourage college students to take on hundreds of thousands in debt to get skills applicable to "politics, public policy, and more" should be ashamed of themselves. I truly hope that every cent he makes on his Kindle sales is siphoned up immediately by law school tuition. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What is this I don't even

Your dating criteria are bad and you should feel bad.

One commenter gently disagrees:
It’s one thing to suggest that our sexual attractions relating to personalities, temperaments, interests, hobbies, familial backgrounds, hair colour, eye colour, height and size, are influenced by society, and we should all be really careful about letting bigotry seep into those additional preferences when choosing a partner. However, as soon as you start to question the sexual orientation (including gender and sex/genitals/body), you will lose 99% of the people you are talking to. The experience of the vast majority of people (gay, straight or bi) when it comes to sexual orientation is that genitals matter as much as gender identity. And there’s nothing wrong or bigoted about that.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Public art and curious restraint

I'm not surprised that there are budding vigilantes out to purge Penn State of its famous Joe Paterno statue. What surprises me is how seldom this happens. Surely other monuments  could attract the attention of indignant vandals (for example, the "Memorial to an Unknown Rapist" in Vienna).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Weekday Dinner: Steamed Cod with Asian Sweet Potato Purée

I have never made this with the added zucchini before, but it adds a nice creaminess to the purée.

3 small or 2 large sweet potatoes
2 zucchinis
1/4 tsp minced fresh ginger
1.5 lbs cod filets
1 tbsp sesame oil plus additional neutral oil, such as canola
1/8 cup soy sauce and 1/8 cup water
1/4 tsp crushed Szechuan peppercorns
Salt to taste
1 thinly sliced scallion

Peel vegetables. Slice potatoes into 1 cm rounds and cut zucchini into 1 inch chunks. Heat a large, shallow skillet and add oil, then add ginger. Let sauté for less than a minute, then scatter vegetables over the bottom of the pan. Add water and soy sauce and cover; steam for 15 minutes on medium to low heat. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking or burning.

Once vegetables are moderately soft, lay fish over the top and season with Szechuan peppercorns and salt (or additional soy sauce). Cover again and steam for 10 minutes more, or until the fish is cooked through. Remove the vegetables and purée them, adding pan juices if needed for appetizing consistency.

Lay a bed of puréed vegetables on the plate, top with fish, and then sprinkle generously with scallion. Eat.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Most Interesting Lion in the World

DSC_0755 by ataylor02
Captions needed.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Many happy returns

Sorry to have been MIA, but I was busy getting married, honeymooning, and such. It did give me some time to read:
- the new Chathrand Voyage book (okay, not great)
- the new N. K. Jemesin (very good, with a relatively unusual Egyptian-inspired setting)
- the new Catherine the Great biography (nicely researched but poorly organized)
- the second Dagger and the Coin novel by Daniel Abraham (which I thought would be the conclusion of a duology but apparently there's more to come; this series is so far the most well done and sly example of weaving brutalist fantasy elements into a traditional fantasy character setup that I have ever seen, and is superior to Abraham's seasonally themed prior series)
- Railsea, the new Mieville (which is, if anything, proof that Christopher Priest was completely right about the potential effects of winning multiple Arthur C. Clarke awards for only above-average work: I get it, man, you like trains and philosophy and think corporations are evil, but really? Moby-Dick crossed with Tremors, plus your hobby-horses?)

I can elaborate on any of these in particular in comments. Your recs for books and for pleasantly entertaining television series available on Netflix welcome.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Monday, April 23, 2012

Team Columbia

I don't usually read Above the Law, but when I do, it's to watch law revue videos.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Pelvic Mysteries

How can it be a surprise that you have a narrow pelvis? It's a bone. You can see it on an x-ray. You can feel it. This sounds like a fact determinable by means other than "will an x cm baby skull fit through it? no? guess it's narrower than x cm!"

(via the MeFi thread on Gawande's article, with extra added OMG from Deadspin and Rural Doctoring)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The piquancy of East Texas

The positively true story of how the nicest man in town murdered the meanest woman in East Texas, gave $2 million of her money away, and got caught when her son found the body under the pot pies. (via Alyssa)

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

What's keeping you from writing the Great American Novel

Pitfalls include using a child's POV, writing about adultery, and distractions like cocaine, the internet, and other people's opinions. Also, get out of your Brooklyn bubble:
Brooklyn novels are written by smart people who are tuned-in to all the various things that might seem like a life, but just because you’re smart and tuned-in doesn’t mean anyone is ever going to want to read your book. Most likely the opposite. Writing a truly page-turning novel is a weird skill set. And while I might take comfort in the idea that every backpack on the train contains a manuscript, they’re generally the wrong kind of manuscript.
I live in the Southside area of Williamsburg. Here I’m thrilled by the constant whoosh of traffic and trains on the bridge. I mourn the view that has been darkened by another ironic condominium. If you stand on the sidewalk in Brooklyn for long enough, they will build an ironic condominium on top of you. There is a large Hasidic community; I wish someone would write a novel about them. Or the abutting Dominican community. Or looking down from inside the Marcy projects. Why should I care about your story? You have a bad job and want to be doing something different but feel paralyzed because of something and so you gchat with your friends all day the end. Collins and Martin keep you reading deep into the night because at the end of a chapter Katniss’ head suddenly falls off. And you’re like, her head just fell off??? I have to keep reading. Like holy crap. And so you stay up all night furiously turning pages. What happens at the end of your chapters? Someone doesn’t reply to your email or something. Or, like, 9/11 happens. I’m so fucking riveted.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The passion of Bruce Springsteen

In the beginning, every musician has their genesis moment. For you, it might have been the Sex Pistols, or Madonna, or Public Enemy. It's whatever initially inspires you to action. Mine was 1956, Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was the evening I realized a white man could make magic, that you did not have to be constrained by your upbringing, by the way you looked, or by the social context that oppressed you. You could call upon your own powers of imagination, and you could create a transformative self.
A white boy, moved to action! To embrace the magic formerly reserved for black men! To throw off the chains of his oppression and transform himself! Truly a triumph of the will.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Deficiency of dress or shelter

Despite there being no actual legal prohibition on public nudity in England or Scotland, the Naked Rambler has been imprisoned for most of the last six years.
One day I was walking and something happened." He had an epiphany: "I realised I was good. Being British, buried in our upbringing is that we're not good or have to watch ourselves – maybe it comes from religion, or school. I realised that at a fundamental level I'm good, we're all good, and you can trust that one part of yourself." This self-realisation led to Gough often choosing to be naked in public: if he was good, then his body was good. "The human body isn't offensive," he says. "If that's what we're saying, as human beings, then it's not rational." His former partner was "more conservative" and a visit from her parents proved calamitous. "One morning I came to breakfast naked and that was it, all over," Gough says flatly. "The thing was, her parents weren't even that bothered." The couple returned to Eastleigh together, but Gough went to live with his mother. He arrived back in England, he says, with an intense appreciation of what nakedness could offer, and questioning "things we're taught to believe are right". He visited a police station in Eastleigh and asked if it was illegal to walk naked in the streets. "They couldn't come up with an answer," he says.
In Scotland, breach of the peace is partly defined as "conduct which does, or could, cause the lieges [public] to be placed in a state of fear, alarm or annoyance". The prosecution has very rarely managed to rustle up witnesses to claim Gough's nakedness has had any of these effects on them. What is keeping him in prison is simply the theoretical idea that it could. "I do not believe that an ordinary, reasonable person would feel any of those things if they saw me [naked] in the street," Gough says. He believes that to achieve his stated aim – to leave HMP Perth and return to Eastleigh naked – "the law doesn't have to change, just the interpretation". Twice Scottish sheriffs found in Gough's favour that no crime had been committed, both in him being naked in public and being naked in court. "Both times the sheriffs were elderly females," notes Good, who represented Gough for more than three years (they parted company in 2010 so Gough could represent himself, making it harder for him to be excluded from the courtroom for being naked). "Stephen then chose to leave court naked and was arrested for being naked in public."

Friday, March 16, 2012

Weekend Mix: Fesenjan Cocktail

An experiment in Persian themed mixology. Make this for Nowruz!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Supporting Fox Domestication

The famous Russian experiment on domesticating foxes is in danger. Why isn't this on Kickstarter or something? The internet LOVES cute animals.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Creative ideas wanted

What's something cool to do with a metal letterpress plate? It has a great design and I was thinking of stamping it into candy or some such.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Weekend Bake: Pistachio Golden Raisin Cake with Lemon Syrup

I made this cake over the weekend as a dessert and was a little let down, as it is not very sweet. But as a breakfast bread or coffee cake, it is much more satisfying. I converted the recipe to accommodate the ingredients I had, but some suggested changes are noted below.

140G all purpose flour
10G Baking powder
2 Large beaten eggs
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
150G  Sugar
2 tbspmilk or cream
2 lemons, juiced and zested
50G Golden raisins
75G Roughly chopped pistachios
75G Sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 6 cup bundt pan. Beat butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
2. Mix in eggs and flour; add milk and lemon zest, raisins, and 65 g pistachios. Spoon into pan and bake for 30-35 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, warm lemon juice and 75 g sugar in a pan until sugar is melted. Set aside.
4. When cake is done and still warm in the pan, pierce the cake all over with a skewer and pour the syrup over the cake. Let the cake cool and remove it from the pan. Scatter remaining nuts over the top.

I had salted nuts and rinsed them. In the future, I would only brush them and keep some of the salt, and also increase the raisins by fifty percent, for more of a salty and sweet contrast. The bundt pan worked well, but muffin tins would also be nice. And the lemon syrup soak needed more lemon juice, and maybe some cardamom pods to steep in it. I think I also should have only used 7 tbsp or so of butter!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Blogger fail

My blogging has not been regular lately, but a couple of weeks ago my laptop got a horrific malware infection that has crippled my ability to do much on anything online. I have a poky computer to use until things get restored, but if I seem slow to respond to happenings and overtures, this is why.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.

The law of war has never made much sense to me, either. Bludgeoning people with swords, shooting them with crossbows, burning them with chemicals, blowing them to pieces with grenades, and frying them with lasers all are pretty barbaric.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


That Caitlin Flanagan is the Leni Riefenstahl of anti-feminist writing.

His name is James Bond (NSFW)

This is pretty much my favorite thing this week.

What I'd like to see is a similar video about Vladimir Putin, who would also fuck you up with motherfucking judo.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Fighting the urge to name something from the Kill Bill soundtrack

From my new favorite Twitter account, Goldman Sachs Elevator Gossip:
#1: I like to ask candidates what song they'd walk out to before a heavyweight title fight.
#2: Easy. Ruff Ryders Anthem.
The mental image of Goldman Sachs interviewees doing this is almost as good as my original thought, which applied this to the slate of aspiring Republican nominees.

Sunday, January 08, 2012


Louis CK on his parents:
My dad’s upper class for Mexico, and his father was an immigrant from Hungary. My mom was from Michigan, she lived on a farm in Michigan, and she grew up with nothing. She was just academically really bright, and she went to Harvard summer school to take some courses, and my dad was there going to grad school.

They weren’t undergrad, that’s the thing to remember. If you go to Harvard undergrad, you’re a spoiled brat, and you probably got in through some legacy, and you’re not even getting that good of an education, most Harvard people, but Harvard grad school is where serious professionals get their degrees and licenses. My father was there studying as an economist, and my mother was doing some post-grad stuff.

Friday, January 06, 2012

I get that all the time

"You look just like that girl from the movie with George Clooney!"

On a related note: Flat irons! Magical!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

New year, new leaf

I've resolved to be a better blogger this year! Of course, this means I should find more things to be angry about, as those make for the most dynamic blog fodder.