Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Wednesday Cat Blog

There's a new man in my life.

His interests include long walks around the apartment, climbing me like a tree and licking my fingers, and watching Buffy. He's totally cute but kind of lacks ambition; he mostly eats and sleeps.

Here he is:

He's a little demanding sometimes, but mostly he's easy to please.

One thing he doesn't have yet is a name. I had thought of Spock for a black cat, but he's sort of lacking in the cool rationality department at this stage of development. Currently I am mulling over "Ivar the Dirty Old Sooty Engine Driver," but am open to suggestions.

Male Desire and the Birthing Woman

I couldn't agree more.

Added: a male perspective.


Blachman has an op-ed in the New York Times calling for employment law protections for bloggers. Couldn't they have gotten something from Dooce or someone with real experience with this issue? Or from a professor of employment law who blogs? Granted, Blachman lacks the baggage of having posted controversial things from real life and thus cannot be subject to character assassination, but since when is he the voice of blogging and law? This op-ed could have been written by anyone who has a blog and is or has recently been employed. My respect for the media has decreased by another jot.

UPDATE: Will Baude has a more substantive comment on Blachman's proposal.

Looters Beware

I don't have a TV and neither does Will, so I didn't get the full brunt of the Hurricane Katrina news until the last few hours. I thought I had been as horrified as was possible, and then I read one person claim that there had been reports of sharks in the flood water.

Sharks, swimming down the streets of New Orleans. If there is anything scarier than being trapped in a flooded city with your entire life destroyed, it would be if the water between you and safety might have sharks in it.

*hides under the covers*

Beginnings and Endings

Raffi Melkonian bids blogging farewell.

Jenn Carter and Nels Petersen are engaged! Congrats, you two.

I start work next week, bringing my long stint as a sporadically employed student to a close.

And by this time tomorrow, I may have a Wednesday cat blog for all of you . . .

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Instant Poll

Is it or is it not SICK and WRONG to cut a museum print in two and display the pieces on either side of a covered cable running up a walll?



Help me avert this desecration.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Libertarians Against Infant Circumcision?

Much to some people's surprise, not all American women are in favor of lopping off bits of infant boys on the basis of dubious health benefits. I for, one, have libertarian objections to such things; if there are health benefits to be had, waiting until the boy becomes a man (or at least a teen who can make an informed choice) seems logical, since most of them allegedly pertain to STD transmission. Then again, perhaps I'm just sympathetic to the plight of persons subjected to childhood alterations of the flesh, since my mother had my ears pierced against my will at age seven. Some people even have ear piercing done to newborn girls. While this is a less substantial alteration than circumcision, Andrew Sullivan's assertion that subjecting young girls to the knife or needle for aesthetic reasons would be beyond the pale neglects this all too common phenomenon.

Bond is a smurf.

Well, almost. And there some sort of wanking about dichromaticism, and a new blogger to boot. Odd business. I disapprove.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

50 Book Challenge #45 & #46: Falling Free & Ethan of Athos

Despite my lukewarm response to some of Bujold's more recent efforts, I purchased a couple of cheap paperback editions from her backlist to occupy my time in Clerksville, since I have no TV, no computer (AC adapter died), and no friends.

Falling Free poses an interesting moral puzzle. If you were artificially created at great cost in such a manner that you could only thrive in weightless space, would it be justifiable to steal a spaceship to live on? The Quaddies, a newly developed race of four-handed humanoids specially adapted to space, are made obsolete by the development of artificial gravity and are to be retired to what will almost certainly be an abbreviated existence planetside. We follow their engineering teacher, Leo, as he gradually awakens to the Quaddies' plight and fights the evil corporation that sees them as capital equipment, not human beings.

Falling Free fails to the extent that it takes the easy way out by making the corporate representatives almost uniformly evil and unsympathetic, and it milks the scenarios for action sequences when it might be more interesting to ponder the moral obligations of the parties involved. It's short, but seems to drag at the end as things seem to break and go wrong solely for the purpose of edging the work out of novella territory and to display more of Leo's engineering expertise. Verdict: one thumb up, but at a 45 degree angle.

Ethan of Athos
is a tangential departure from Bujold's Vorkosigan series. It follows the plight of a doctor from an all-male planet as he gets in far over his head in a quest to obtain new ovarian tissue lines. To do this, he goes off-planet, where he meets Elli Quinn, a beautiful mercenary who's investigating a genetic engineering project gone wrong that may have become entwined with Athos's request for new genetic material. Verdict: same, but for different reasons: this is far more conventional genre work, and the characters don't carry the story as well as they should, but it's fairly well executed for what it is.

I may have finally put my finger on what irks me about Bujold: her gender politics appear much more advanced than they actually are. Leo thinks poorly of the corporate reestablishment of women's work but ends up reenacting the same old tired May-December romance scenario. Ethan is much more tolerant of women than one would think of the representative of a planet that fled the fairer sex's evil influence and the spacers are far more homophobic than one would think people in a society where "natural" conventions have been turned on their ear by uterine replicators and genetic meddling might be expected to be.

Bujold's intentional liberalism on the gender and sex front is almost always obvious, and thus her stubborn insistence on certain conventions strikes one as absurd and perhaps annoying. I had a similar problem with the rapid conversion of Cordelia from warrior to mommy in the first Vorkosigan book. I suppose she's trying to make a point about certain inclinations being hardwired in the human species, or maybe just slow to culturally evolve, but I'm not buying--at least, not anymore.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Seen and Heard III

On road signs: "Keep Moving: Change Lanes Later" and "Speed Limit 35 NO TOLERANCE." That's why it's a limit, right?

From the crazy man in Burger King: Methuselah lived to be 900 years old because he was a vegetarian, so the crazy man is a vegetarian. So why is he in Burger King? I was sitting there, minding my own business and eating a big hunk of beef when this loud old man wandered in and started chatting with the staff. I thought how nice and friendly people are here and how if I were still in Boston the only people who would come in and talk to everyone in a fast food restaurant would be crazy homeless men. I thought this guy was a friendly regular until he plopped down across from me and started meandering about his high school girlfriend's legs and the Old Testament. So: people here: just as crazy as in Boston, but with homes.

You have to pay to park at the library here. This is unAmerican, in my opinion--almost as unAmerican as the fact that Blockbuster video does not carry the Buffy TV series for rental. I knew there was a reason Netflix had my business. Not that either could do me any good here, as I will not have a TV delivered until next Friday. Augh.

50 Book Challenge #44: Dark of the Gods

This book was passed on to me by another SF-loving blogger with an elliptical reference to the main character's constant encounters with minor disasters and my own rather fraught path through life. Jame (not to be confused with James King or Jame Gumb) is followed by bad luck wherever she goes, can't remember years of her past (nice trick for easy exposition, that), and has a single objective: to deliver her crazy father's sword and ring to her ten-years-older twin brother. Unfortunately, he's on the other side of the continent, doesn't like her much, and the instruments of the universe-warping Perimal Darkling (just as bad as it sounds) appear to be following her. Is she escaping them or fulfilling her destiny as their instrument? Not even Jame can tell.

There are some pleasant diversions into the theology of the world as Jame tarries in Tai-tastigon (which I could not read without a snicker: Tasti D-lite, anyone?) and experiments with the mechanics of belief. As a monotheist, she seems remarkably blase about proving the existence of other gods than hers, but then her people, the Kencyrath, apparently have a hate/hate relationship with their god, and so perhaps this muffles what might otherwise be a striking revelation. All this god-stalking is mostly irrelevant to the main plotline, though, as Jame inches closer to reunion with her brother, who fears her for her inherited powers and has secrets of his own.

All in all, this book was an amusing and well-written introduction to a rather conventional fantasy world with some interesting twists. My only gripe was the relative absence of deaths; maybe I've been spoiled by George R.R. Martin's penchant for hammering the reader with the unexpected demise of a lead character or five, but I kept expecting serious emotional impact and then being disappointed when Jame's friends and allies yet again escaped from dire peril. Beware, fantasy author, the temptation to never kill off a character. That way madness and Robert Jordanism lies.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Last Train to Clerksville

I am now firmly ensconced in Clerkshipsville. Some of you know where I am; if you do, please do me the favor of keeping your lips virtually zipped; I do wish to maintain some online mystery!

Coming soon: reviews of Hodgell and Bujold books, photos of my humble abode, and more snark than you can shake a stick at.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Gotta catch 'em all

How many bloggers have you met in real life? How do you interact with other bloggers offline? It's hard for me to remember all of them due to the hectic nature of the Blogorama, but here's a rough tally:

Every member of Crescat except Beth, Greg, Reff, and Bond.
Sua Sponte's jca
Outside the Beltway's James Joyner
Jason of Positive Liberty
Julian Sanchez of Notes From the Lounge
Will Wilkinson of The Fly Bottle
Both Volokh brothers and a new Volokh
This guy
Ted Frank and his friend Fred.
Angus of Mansfield Fox
Carina, who's Inclined to Criticize but fun regardless.
UPDATE: Will reminds me to add his father, Orin Kerr & Randy Barnett, and Howard Bashman.

(I haven't counted people I met before they had blogs, as this seems like cheating.) I do note that I have met both men and women bloggers, but have never spoken with a blogger on the telephone that I did not subsequently meet in person. If I have met you and left you off the list, excoriate my rudeness in the comments.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Studies Pay Off for Blogger

Some of us studied romantic love in college, but for most it was only an extracurricular activity. Sara Butler Nardo apparently is an expert in the field and has obtained post-graduate certification. Heh.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Genre and Lit-Fic Collide

Interesting discussion on some people's inability to grasp fantasy and the difference (if any) between fantasy and magical realism here.

Forget the barren ones: college girls are the real evil!

Via Kung Fu Monkey, a fisking of an essay by Phil Lancaster, self-proclaimed "patriarch." If any of his kids, especially the girls, ever need a bus ticket out of whatever dead end Nowheresville he's got his clan stashed, I'd be the first one to wire them the dough. What a scary, scary man.

Books That Challenge . . . My Patience

Someone tell me Post Captain gets better. All this "Aubrey & Maturin in luuurve" stuff is making me nauseated. If it still bites after one more chapter I am returning it to the library in defeat.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

She is the Slayer . . .

One season of Buffy down, six more to go. Plus Angel!

50 Book Challenge #43: We Need to Talk About Kevin

I confess to having picked up this book in large part to obtain external validation for my own choice to abstain from reproduction. What better cautionary tale than that of the reluctant mother whose son grows up to be a killer? That's a worst case scenario I, the childless author, and the person to whom the book was dedicated will apparently avoid.

Eva, the narrator, spins her tale out in a series of letters to her former husband, Franklin: her reluctant acquiescence to his desire for a child, the startling realization that it's not always "different when it's your own" and that her indifference to motherhood has continued after the birth of Kevin, and the increasingly unsettling development of her son. Shriver makes it too easy, perhaps, to empathize with Eva, who is apparently the only one who really sees how strange Kevin is, but her strident warnings are continually brushed off as a product of her rejection of the boy and are, in fairness, the partial product of hindsight. I toyed with the idea that perhaps Eva is an unreliable narrator, but she acknowledges her own limits and mistakes with sufficient frankness that I rejected the idea. Then again, perhaps I am overly inclined to believe someone with who I so strongly identified. The wringing climax, even if anticipated by the reader, still has force, and at the novel's close, Eva has one more surprise for us, one at odds with our previous conceptions of both her and Kevin.

Salon did a revealing interview with the author, and she later won the Orange Prize for the book (however, Grayson Perry's woefully inadequate review misses the point altogether, projecting his own mommy issues onto Kevin and dubbing Eva a "whiny sourpuss bitch" instead of grasping the feminist theme of the novel). This is women's fiction of the very best sort, but I'd recommend it to anyone. Read, read, read.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Bikini Thieves in SoCal Strike Again!

This post reminds me of the time my newly purchased bikini was stolen by pranksters at CMC along with everything else in the communal bathrooms the night before graduation. Many greasy heads and stubbly faces were present the next day, but my red and blue flame halter and boyshort combo (worn once) was not. Alas, for it was the only truly flattering bathing suit I've ever had.

50 Book Challenge #42: The Historian

I generally approve of historical novels by graduate students, since I tend to think that any allusions and factoids are more likely to be based in fact due to their immersion in the material. Elizabeth Kostova is a mere Yale grad and MFA student, but her debut novel deserves much of the praise and publicity it's received. Told largely in flashback and epistolary format, it traces the parallel journeys of three generations of vampire hunting historians, all of whom discovered a blank volume with an eerie dragon woodcut and the name "Drakulya" and had tragic and mysterious consequences ensue. The time and place change from chapter to chapter, as does the narrative voice, but Kostova keeps her ducks mostly in a row, and if the ending is a bit of an abrupt disappointment, that's only because she's done such an excellent job of raising our expectations.

Quibble (this probably constitutes a spoiler): one authorial failure here, in my view, was the Kostova's inability to supply a believable motivation for her villain. Is it really believable to portray a bloodthirsty, murderous tyrant as a bibliophile? Just because overeducated bookworms like me (or Kostova) might think reading is the most worthwhile way to spend centuries doesn't mean Vlad the Impaler would agree. Additionally, book collecting seemed to have shouldered aside Vlad's anti-Turkish sentiments. Nearly five hundred years of Ottoman rule and all a magical blooddrinking sociopath has to show for it is a nice library? Shouldn't he have had some examples of successful schemes to undermine Turkish authority? And what was the point of the creepy book distribution: selection of the ultimate librarian? If so, why this inefficient method?

The Historian is less than the sum of its parts, but those parts are engrossing. It is worth a read (and despite its size, a read won't take long; it's a perfect airplane book).

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

'round, 'round, I get around . . .

. . . in circles, that is.

After a near-disastrous attempt to meet a fellow blogger for lunch in Houston today, I realized that my utter and incurable lack of directional sense may be something I should take steps to correct. My new car is Onstar-equipped, but after perusing the Onstar website, it appears they want to charge me $30-40 for a bunch of services I don't need or which are duplicative of what I can get with my cell phone and a membership in AAA. The only reason I really would want the service is for directions, and I am not interested in talking to real human beings to get them, mostly because getting lost is embarrassing.

What I really want is a totally sweet GPS system like some people have that will tell me how to go from A to B in a friendly but computerized voice. Buying one of these is about as expensive as 1.5-2 years of Onstar service, and I can use it in future cars and update the maps. This one was well rated by Slate, and it has a John Cleese voice available for download (alas, John Lithgow's voice is not available). The only Epinions review appears to be by a disgruntled Michigander who doesn't like its lack of cross-border functionality. Since I will not be frequently zipping into Canada, this sounds like a relatively unimportant problem.

Does anyone have any thoughts or experiences with this or some other direction-providing system?

50 Book Challenge #41: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 2

After much delay, I finally picked up the second volume in Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. He levels the League to the ground, along with much of London, although the printed material after the graphic section reveals, in a forest of dense allusions to other works of the fantastic, that hope remains for future volumes.

In the course of this creative destruction, many things unwind: the sexual tension between Mina and Allan, Mina's scarf, the tightly wound aggression of Hyde, and Griffin's barely repressed mercenary impulses. If you skip the material in the almanac at the back of the volume, you'll have a much different impression of the ending than you would otherwise, so read it all.

Query: Who are John and Gullivar, the humans in the first several pages? Is "Gullivar" Gulliver of the former League?


I spent yesterday rounding up some furniture and transportation items, including my shiny new car. It is actually four years old, but it has less than 15,000 miles on it (cars owned by senior citizens rock!). I also now have two hand-painted chests which will be very fine end tables for my new couch, a rather majestic screen to divide living and dining areas, and a set of china. I do not have any new wall decorations, as I got into a disagreement on aesthetics with the older members of my family, who cannot understand why I would rather have the many museum prints I have collected in my travels framed and displayed than have a little coffee-colored 11x17 picture of some deer, or photos of paintings I have never seen by people I do not know. It's difficult to explain to grandparents that one prefers giant reproductions of Modigliani nudes to poor shadows of Friedrich nature scenes.

Monday, August 15, 2005

"Childfree" is so passe.

Are you willfully barren?

Will Work for Food

Tardily, I note this elaborate yet strangely reassuring post on the quality of Super Walmart's grocery section. Now if only I can find a good cheese shop in Clerkshipsville . . .

50 Book Challenge #40: Master & Commander

After an abortive attempt to finish The House of Mirth, I turned to lighter pursuits. Master & Commander reminded me of the Horatio Hornblower novels, a series set in the same period that I greatly enjoyed as escapist historical fiction. O'Brian is much heavier on the ship-talk and has a lighter hand with the psychology of his characters, but I couldn't help but think I'd seen most of this before, only with a more likable chap as the protagonist. I won't be reading more of the series.

Poetry Corner

Does anyone know of any relatively modern verse (late 19th c. to present) on Penelope, wife of Odysseus?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Bells are ringing

Felicitations to my friends Bill and Tiffany, who are getting married today!

Friday, August 12, 2005

What I Like About You

dgm asks why I like D.C. First, some admissions: the traffic is awful, there's a fair amount of crime, it's disgustingly hot and humid in the summer, and it's full of tourists. Those are pretty serious negatives. But I like D.C. in spite of those things. To be fair, I can only compare D.C. to other places I've lived, so if you have a secret island paradise you can tell me about, shoot.

There's a lot of great art in D.C. I enjoy just wandering around museums and staring at paintings, not going to bars or surfing. Additionally, many of the best D.C. art museums are free.

D.C. is very walkable. Seldom does inclement weather (read: three foot piles of snow) make locomotion impossible. The District is pretty small, generally has sidewalks, and has less homicidal drivers than Boston, so being a pedestrian is not too bad. And if you can't walk, there's clean, safe, logically priced public transit available.

D.C. is car friendly. There are lots of parking garages, a fair amount of street parking that is not permit-only, and the roads make sense (thanks, L'Enfant!).

D.C. has seasons. Living in Los Angeles was nice, but there the only marker of spring was when the sidewalks on my way to Pomona turned green from pollen.

D.C. is full of great people. New York is for cool people and financiers. I am neither, and I'm not quite materialistic enough to really embrace the NYC consumption lifestyle. L.A. is for hot people and Hollywood types (not always the same). As Hanah has observed, the people in L.A. tend to be on the far end of the appearance bell curve. I enjoy being surrounded by humans (and I look comparatively hotter, so that helps). Plus, in D.C. more people are nerdily obsessed with the same bizarre law & policy nonsense that I am, so they're easier to talk to.

I have many fond memories associated with D.C., and I hope to forge more in the future.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

"What up, DC?"

I like DC a lot. This has been my third summer here, and after my clerkship is over I'm going to look for jobs here first. But I've never been this excited about it.

What's Your Pop Culture Lexicon?

Inspired by the post below, I thought I'd make a brief list of pop culture references I commonly use.

-So I Married an Axe Murderer: watched this the other day and realized that I quote large portions of it without noticing, especially the Scottish dad parts. Also noticed that it's not particularly funny. Is my unpopularity now explained?

-Clerks: "I'm not even supposed to be here today!" "There's nothing more exhilarating than pointing out the shortcomings of others, is there?" "Thirty seven?!?" I could go on. 37 is the new 69. (42 is also now a funny number, but for different reasons.)

-The Jerk: no one I know ever gets my references to this, which are usually confined to the "that's all I need" sequence and jokes about phone books.

-The Princess Bride: pretty universally appreciated. When I remove it one step further and start making Andre the Giant has a posse jokes, nobody gets that.

-Ghostbusters: the Venkman lines are especially quotable. The "cats and dogs living together" line is perhaps my most frequently cited. I saw on someone else's blog the other day that her housemate did not get "There is no [Name], only Zool." Get a new housemate!

-Office Space: I quote at least half the dialogue from this on a regular basis, and I can no longer say "that would be great" without imposing a Lumbergh intonation.

I'd like if this could become a web meme, so if you have a different set of referents please post them. I suppose your age is relevant for this, too. I was born on July 17, 1980.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Dinner, No Senators

I just had a very nice dinner with Ted Frank and his posse at an undisclosed location. Lessons learned:

1. I am a total sports illiterate.
2. Hybrid cars with voice activated GPS systems are the coolest things ever.
3. If you're feeling old, just hang out with some folks ten years older and watch the pop culture references fly past each other. They will exclaim about how young you are and you will feel much better about having hit the dreaded mid-twenties.

UPDATE: I am also, like, totally prone to putting my foot in my mouth. To be fair, I wasn't the one who brought up the age divide or asserted that I was "so young."

Legally Blonde Goes Country Brunette

Reese Witherspoon hates dumb blondes. So now she's a brunette.

Well, not really. The photos in the second link are from the Johnny Cash biopic that's coming out in November. But kudos to her for bashing the contemptible Jessica Simpson. Now if she'll only divorce that nasty Ryan Phillippe . . .

Run By Fruiting

Thanks to everyone who passed along pick-me-up ideas. Today I'm going to have an Arrested Development marathon and tonight I'll procrastinate packing with some web games.

Some random questions and assertions:
-The phrase "lion-proof ugly" should gain wider usage.

-Is it true, in your experience, that people prefer pets of the opposite sex? I do, but I had a great tomcat and a sweet male collie to bias me.

-Heidi went kayaking in shark infested waters. But at least they weren't octopus-fested!

-I'm not interested in reproducing, but if you are, and would like to remain so, don't look at this post. Did you know human placentas are sometimes eaten? You can also get placenta shampoo, although that's some kind of animal afterbirth ingredient.

-Aside from all this yacking about whether the 3L year should be abolished, there's another question: why is the American law degree a graduate degree at all? Contra Althouse, we must have seven years of education to be lawyers (although the first four need not be legal education). Why not revert to the British model and require some number of clinical or apprenticeship hours?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Must Love Dogs

Via Metafilter comes this beautiful set of photos in remembrance of Joop, a dog from the Netherlands. This picture reminds me of one of my most pleasant traveling companions, a farmer's border collie who herded me along Hadrian's Wall for about a mile.

Alas for work related travel, the only thing keeping me from getting a dog in Clerkshipsville.

I need a pick-me-up!

I'm in D.C. for another 48 hours and am sad and bored. Can anyone send me some fun ideas for things to do (good movies in the theater, hilarious websites, totally engrossing and absorbing web games or things to read)? I was going to see Broken Flowers on Sunday but decided I need cheerfulness, not melancholy.

My neighborhood is full of jerks.

I went out yesterday wearing the same eight year old red sundress that I've worn a half a dozen times this summer. Every single time I walked down the street by myself (three times) I was harassed. Compare this to my preceding two months at this address, in which I have been the target of no whistles or catcalls whatsoever, no matter what I was wearing. What the hell?

At least nobody told me to smile.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Horse Latitudes

Why you might not want to work in a firm, by O:
The one emotion that seems to pervade our collective consciousness is visceral disappointment. We've done everything we were supposed to do - toiled through college to get into law school, mortgaged our brains to pay tuition, fought our way through the pressure of first year exams, played the recruiting game with pasted smiles, sweated blood over the bar, and sacrificed the remainder of our twenties to bill like maniacs for a few years. Now, we step back to take stock, and realize that none of the late nights, passive aggressive bullshit and salt-in-the-wound debt and has amounted to anything meaningful, and we're trapped in a cycle.

Property Taxes and Pedophilia

Dan Savage, edgy advice columnist, is currently guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan. He's promised to keep it relatively clean and thus far has. This post on the Catholic Church's efforts to raise money for cash settlements to victims of sexual abuse by priests has an interesting land use angle:
Like other Catholic dioceses (dioci?), the Catholic Diocese in Oakland plans to sell church-owned land to cover the debt. Settlements in the Church sex-abuse scandal are going to reach into the hundreds of millions, if not the billions, of dollars. . . . I can't help but wonder what kind of an impact all of this property returning to private, secular ownership is going to have on property tax receipts in places like, say, Boston and Oakland and Chicago ...

Movie Review: I Heart Huckabees

This movie made me want to be a Buddhist, or maybe a nihilist, or maybe just watch it again. I really liked it, but I can't explain why. This is frustrating, because I think this post sounds like one of Blachman's book reviews and I never liked those.

One thing that really rung true for me--more so than any of the existential meditations--was the dinner table scene with Steve's family. Those people are exactly like my neighbors from Sugar Land. There was a WaPo article some time back documenting the unique blend of religiosity, self satisfaction, and earnestness in the Sugar Land suburbs (Tom Delay's home district). Russell nails this scene perfectly.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Movie Review: Malena

Malena is one of the most affecting movies I've seen of late. In a discussion on anime and WWII movies over the weekend, I voiced the theory that Grave of the Fireflies was even more depressing than Schindler's List because of the slim margin of disempowerment it imposes on the viewer. Few movie watchers could hope to effect a substantial victory over the Nazi war machine--few of us would even be in Schindler's position where a marginal additional investment could save one of many lost lives. But by framing a tragic conflict more narrowly, and by making the characters' fate revolve around something so simple and foreign to our modern notions of abundance as a lack of food, Grave of the Fireflies made the viewer acutely conscious of his own helplessness, playing up the tragic element by accentuating his frustration.

Malena imposes a harsh fate on its titular character as a result of a similar difficulty: after her soldier husband is reported killed in action, a beautiful widow is forced to take more and more extreme steps to feed herself in wartime Sicily. But desperation opens her to sexual exploitation by the men of the town and beyond, and finally gives their catty wives a chance to punish Malena for being what they thought (because of her great beauty) she was all along.

Most reviewers seem to have two bones to pick here: that Tornatore is no Fellini and that Malena is not as complex as Cinema Paradiso. I've never seen anything by Fellini or Tornatore's first hit, so perhaps these are valid criticisms. But Malena stands on its own as a devastating portrait of the effects of sexism by men and women (no man will hire Malena because their wives fear her allure; the women refuse to sell Malena food on the open market and drag her into court with baseless allegations of adultery, which she must then pay for with the only currency a beautiful widow has, and even that sometimes is robbed from her, not freely given). While many reviewers bashed the film for its unsubtle depictions of lustful village men and jealous village women, I found the women's constant persecution all too believable, and the dramatic post-liberation scene some thought over the top is supported by historical evidence of similar humiliations.

The film itself, to me, had a fairly consistent theme; the brief levity of the first half hour or so quickly changed to a bittersweet account of Renato's steadfast obsession with a woman whose fate was sealed by the town's iron prejudices. Then again, I don't find scenes of parent-child abuse particularly humorous, so I cannot agree with allegations that the father's exaggerated rages whipsawed the film between farce and dirge.

The Village Voice's review was characteristically obtuse, with Dennis Lim claiming that the women's revenge was "a despicably lazy signal that spectators should adjust the nature of their objectifying gaze--from lust to pity." If anyone only switches gears from lust to pity at that point--after Malena has been widowed, slandered, orphaned, raped, and reduced to prostitution to feed herself--he is less a human than a walking libido. I recommend this movie, but be warned that its lighthearted marketing conceals the true nature of the film.

Song of the Morning

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
And with a love like that
You know you should be glad.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Real Sex(ual discrimination)

Interesting commentary on real life experiences of sexism at Bitch PhD today. Can anyone identify the universities mentioned?

Naming Query

Are Xanders and other name variants taken from the latter portion of the name Alexander/Alessandro/etc. more or less common than Peg/Peggy, a variant of Margaret? And can nicknames taken from the middle or end of a name rather than the first portion of the name truly be called perverse? The Baby Name Wizard is no help and Will and I and the Volokhs could not agree. The former inquiry is difficult because parents giving their children a birth name that is its own nickname is a relatively recent phenomenon, but the latter is a question of what's perverse.

Also on the word front, the OED backs my assertion that a couple cannot be three, but it is stubbornly vague about whether a few means 3-5. Apparently several can be as few as four. Hmph.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Shadow Fax

My kingdom for a fax machine!

An Apple a Day

I much prefer the tarty and juicy Pink Lady variety to the old, flavorless, mealy Red Delicious. Unfortunately they are not always available, despite importation from New Zealand.

Friday Spies: Who Moved My Cheese Edition

1. What's your favorite cheese?

I've developed a serious passion for young goat cheese. Mmm, goaty.

2. Cheesy movie: If you were in Top Gun, what would your call sign be?

My cousin used to call me Bucket, so I'll go with that. It fits with the random noun theme of the call signs.

3. Big cheese: Tell us a boss story -- best boss, worst boss, a time when you were the boss, etc.

I've been the boss a time or two, and the less said about that, the better. But who among the Rose staff could forget Dr. Frates, project boss and purveyor of Naval wisdom?

4. Say cheese: Are you a photobug? Are you photogenic? Or, in 1000 words or less, tell us about your best picture.

I love taking photos, especially on my many international vacations, but since I normally travel alone I am not in most of them. This is good, because I am not terrible photogenic. Witness this panoply of photos and take into account the fact that these are the best ones I could find. My best picture is probably the one linked in the sidebar, and that's because I was pretending to be asleep at the time it was taken.

5. Just cheesy: What's the worst pick-up line you've ever used, or had used on you? Did it work?

I don't use pick-up lines. I prefer pick-up poems. Meinke has probably been used to best effect.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Bitter End

For those of you who are not regular readers of Will Work for Favorable Dicta, this heads-up: E. Spat's nine part saga of her first marriage has come to an end, and I highly recommend reading the whole thing. I think it's better than Bastard Out of Carolina and Anonymous Lawyer put together, but I'm biased.

Nursing Mothers Exempt from Jury Duty?

So does this mean that attachment parents are exempt from jury duty until their little ones are school age? Your parenting decisions should not be able to trump civic responsibilities.

UPDATE: Have I mentioned how much I like Kate Litvak?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Au natural

E. McPan was distressed to find a silver hair the other day. I've been finding them since age 12 and think they're kind of neat. One of my favorite fellow law students set a fine example of going gray gracefully, although her extremely dark hair set a nice contrast with the skeins of silver. Mine is more mousy and thus it's hard for me to resist dying it a similar espresso shade: not to hide the gray, but to hide the brown.

My Humor Type

the Cutting Edge
(60% dark, 47% spontaneous, 16% vulgar)
your humor style:

Your humor's mostly innocent and off-the-cuff, but somehow there's
something slightly menacing about you. Part of your humor is making
people a little uncomfortable, even if the things you say aren't in and
of themselves confrontational. You probably have a very dry delivery,
or are seriously over-the-top. Your type is the most likely to
appreciate a good insult and/or broken bone and/or very very fat person

PEOPLE LIKE YOU: David Letterman - John Belushi

My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 66% on dark
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 72% on spontaneous
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 0% on vulgar
Link: The 3 Variable Funny Test written by jason_bateman on Ok Cupid

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

50 Book Challenge #39: Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro's latest novel is much like Remains of the Day in that it murmurs gently along the currents of the narrator's memory and only gradually introduces the ugliness of the wider world. Ishiguro's greatest strengths are his smooth writing style and grasp of psychological truth, although I wonder now if any of his other works avoid a focus on bittersweet recollection and miscarried love.

This is not a book that revolves around plot, and although the revelation of the students' true nature comes relatively late in the book it lacks the capacity to shock; like the students themselves, we have been gradually prepared. The characterizations are strong but understated, and it's a testament to Ishiguro's skill that our pity and understanding of the characters overcomes any frustration that might otherwise naturally rise to the surface due to their flat incuriousness or irritating personalities.

It's almost a convention of the genre that clones must rebel against their fates and their oppression by the larger society, but Ishiguro's "donors" do not. Unlike Atwood's recent foray into SF/speculative fiction, this book uses futuristic themes to burrow deeply in search of personal and psychological truths. Whereas Oryx & Crake seemed content to pile hackneyed speculations atop one another with no sense that the ideas themselves were old hat, Never Let Me Go uses a single idea (the humanity of clones) as the basis for an ultimately psychological, not sociological, narrative.

This comparison brings me to the question of how to assess genre fiction which thinks it's not genre fiction (or, more accurately, which its author thinks is not genre fiction). Recently Terry Pratchett criticized J.K. Rowling for her assertion that she didn't know she was writing fantasy. Atwood's latest was called SF by some, but the author herself did not embrace the label.

For a dedicated fan of the science fiction and fantasy genres, it seems obvious that Rowling and Atwood were producing fantasy and SF and that their works can and should be compared to other genre works (although we can also compare them to other types of books; it's relevant to assess Atwood's writing relative to other literary fiction because that's the closest point of comparison in terms of prose style). It simply doesn't follow that "to claim an author's work for your genre, you've got to at least credit the author with knowing basic genre conventions." An author may unintentionally produce a genre work, but unless they've been raised by wolves their inadvertent generation of a pastiche of genre cliches is probably a function of their subconscious absorption of genre themes from the broader culture, or at minimum some form of parallel evolution in which the same end product independently arises from similar source material. The former cannot be called true creativity, and the latter lacks originality and must rely on other strengths as compensation lest it be a vague shadow of an older work. Elegant writing and finely drawn characterization can salvage what would otherwise be an unoriginal genre book and make it an outstanding piece of literary fiction. And Rowling, for example, is not a great writer, technically or stylistically; she lacks creativity and, apparently, sufficiently broad familiarity with children's fiction to even recognize the origins of her own works, but she is saved from obscurity by her surpassing skill with plot and pacing.

All this is just to say that Ishiguro has succeeded in using an old idea as the foundation for a well-written and perceptive book, and that even if it is not good SF (there's not enough speculative content to put it firmly in the SF category anyway), it is a fine novel.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Looking for love?

Well, since you can't rely on meeting a sweetie while shopping, you might as well advertise on your blog.

50 Book Challenge #38: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

After the bar, the first thing I did to purge my brain was to wheedle Will out of his copy of HP6 (which he had thoughtfully hidden so it would not tempt me) and read it in one gulp. It was far superior to the fifth volume, mostly because Harry was not an irrational, whiny prat. My only complaints were that the revelation of the Prince's identity was a bit clumsy (was it really in character for the person in question to refer to himself as the Half-Blood Prince?) and that the Peter Parker imitation at the end was one more tiresome iteration of a paternalistic impulse by a hero with reference to the autonomy of his/her loved ones.

One real, substantive magical query: why does Voldemort not require that Death Eaters swear an Unbreakable Vow to obey him? Does it have something to do with some vulnerability he might be under with regard to the Bonder? Does he obtain sufficient benefits from the perception of strength potentially gained from not requiring the Vow such that the efficiencies reaped from not having to pursue and kill traitors to the cause are outweighed?