Thursday, January 31, 2008

Drug Smuggling Charges for OTC Pills?

The last time I blogged grouchily about tourism in the Middle East, people argued that places like Dubai were great destinations for a female Westerner. I wasn't buying it, and this just shores up my resolve to spend my rapidly devaluing dollars elsewhere. (The linked post doesn't pertain to the woman traveler issue specifically, but being a woman in a Dubai prison sounds pretty awful.)

It's always good to double check on rules about importing medications before traveling. Sudafed is illegal in Japan, for example, and if this guy had had something stronger than melatonin his situation would undoubtedly be worse.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Aspie Girls

I never watch the news so I missed this coverage of girls with autism spectrum disorders. Watch the video. Experts theorize that girls are underdiagnosed because we focus more on socialization with girl children.
According to Shana Nichols, a psychologist at the Fay J. Lindner Center for Autism, a girl's autism might even pass unnoticed if a test for conversational ability is kept short enough.

"You might be able to engage in a back-and-forth conversation with a girl to a greater degree than with the boys," said Nichols. "In a one-to-one, five-minute conversation in passing, they could greet you and answer a couple of questions back and forth. But when you go beyond that, then you begin to see the hole or the gaps in her social understanding."
You would think that the higher expectations for girls' social skills would throw the autism into sharp relief, but that allegedly doesn't account for our having trained girls to be people-pleasers.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Curiosity Shop

If you lived in Iceland, you would have to choose a name for your child from this list. Browsing by letter is best for those of us with no Icelandic. I would have to be Dalla Judithsdóttir (no Amber analog on the list, alas).

Monday, January 28, 2008

Eat your vegetables.

1. I should watch the new Romanian abortion movie.

2. At no point will I ever be sitting around and say to myself, "You know what I'm in the mood for? A Romanian abortion movie."

I couldn't get through the last depressing Romanian movie I tried to watch, so that doesn't bode well.

Also on movies: I rented Once and turned it off less than a minute in because the guy's voice was awful. I guess that cinches it: I hate musicals.

I watched Volver instead, and that was okay, although not as interesting as Talk To Her. Almodóvar sure does like rape as a plot point. Brief shout-out to my home town: the character with cancer is offered a trip to Houston because "they cure everything there." Was this intended as commentary on Spanish health care?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

50 Book Challenge #6: Bad Behavior

Contemporary fiction that I can approve of: a rare thing. This book is packed with uncomfortable but achingly realistic stories about flawed and injured people. It includes the story on which Secretary, one of my favorite movies, is based, although the film used it only as a jumping-off point. (Gaitskill called the movie the "Pretty Woman version: heavy on the charm and a little too nice," a fair cop.) There's another excellent story called "A Romantic Weekend," which captures the awkwardness of a mostly-abortive affair in blistering, cringeworthy detail. Highly recommended for the more jaded reader.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Random Roundup

Perennial PTN object of fascination Austin Bramwell has a review of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. He didn't like it.

I'd heard that Harvard Law School had effectively done away with its 3L writing requirement (looks like it's still there, though). Here's an example of HLS's finest writing.

Confess your embarrassing crush.

Being a libertarian means not outlawing crazy stuff like human pets. Much resentment on my part re: the pet's welfare-supported lifestyle, though.

Three Little Pigs offensive to Muslims? Are pigs more unclean than dogs? What about Clifford?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Choose your hobo name wisely.

Megan wonders if we should stop worrying and love the New Great Depression:
Here's where I stand: deep in my hippie soul, above a level of necessity and a little comfort, I do not think think that consumerism improves people's quality of life. So I don't care if it goes away. If a modern depression means that people live on really tight budgets for the next few years, and can't buy new clothes or remodel their kitchens or travel, I don't give a rat's ass. Does a modern depression mean that people will have to increase their living density? Take in roommates to afford the mortgage? Move into a smaller place closer to work because they can't afford gas and heat? You are not convincing me that a depression is a problem. My life is, like, sparse. I ride my bike around and meet friends to do things and hate gadgets. I have a little money put away for the long term. Will my life change if there is a depression?
What would a depression be like? Not causes or some abstract statistic about home ownership. That doesn't tell me what I am asking. I want to know what a modern depression would feel like as we go through it.
UPDATE: Please be polite to Megan. Her standards for internet conduct are not as broad as mine. To rephrase the question: are we likely to have anything more than "first-world problems"?

Some people elsewhere have been asking what you wouldn't want to give up. My initial response was going to be the internet and Wegmans-level shopping, but somebody pwned me with toilet paper. I doubt that a recession or depression will result in Charmin shortages at my house, though.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

For variety, a fashion post.

My new coat
Originally uploaded by ataylor02
Hurray for after-Christmas sales. I bought a new coat, this time without your advice and consent. It's got this neat embroidered fabric exterior and is quite warm. The collar can be worn open but it's cold enough now to warrant buttoning up.

Descriptions: "like the Matrix"; "fashion forward"; "linebackery."

The sunglasses are also new.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Books with dragons on the covers

Clive Thompson thinks literary fiction has dropped the ball:
If you want to read books that tackle profound philosophical questions, then the best — and perhaps only — place to turn these days is sci-fi. Science fiction is the last great literature of ideas. . . . I studied literature in college, and throughout my twenties I voraciously read contemporary fiction. Then, eight or nine years ago, I found myself getting — well — bored.

Why? I think it's because I was reading novel after novel about the real world. And there are, at the risk of sounding superweird, only so many ways to describe reality. After I'd read my 189th novel about someone living in a city, working in a basically realistic job and having a realistic relationship and a realistically fraught family, I was like, "OK. Cool. I see how today's world works." I also started to feel like I'd been reading the same book over and over again.
I'd feel differently about much lit fic if it made an effort to explore the experiences of individuals outside the bourgeoisie. If we agree, for the sake of argument, that there are a finite number of ways to describe reality, surely there are even fewer ways to describe upper-middle-class white people living in New York, a suburb thereof, or a small university town.

UPDATE: Phoebe's in a tough spot: writing what you know sucks when what you know already saturates the market.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mugged by a panda

One of the things that trips me out when traveling is the fact that foreign zoos let you get really close to the animals. For safety/liability reasons, American zoos keep you at least several yards away at all times. At the Berlin Zoo, on the other hand, you can practically touch the giraffes (perhaps more the point: the giraffes could touch you, were they so inclined).

This, however, takes the foreign zoo paradigm to a new extreme. Hat tip to Catherine.

It's my understanding that pandas can actually be quite dangerous, as their claws and teeth are sharp.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Dating Drama in the Federal Courts

Someone working for the Ninth Circuit wrote a really lame email to his ex. (via)

Relatedly, here's a recent article on mixing business and pleasure online.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Knitting Reverse Bleg

I accidentally ordered two sets of double-pointed knitting needles, so if there are any knitters in the D.C. area (or elsewhere) who are in need of a giant bag of bamboo needles, shoot me an email.

Update: needles are taken.

"Guess those privacy settings are more important than I realized."

Here's a great example of what I'm talking about when I say that the internet will bring down the walls between public and private personas: Blogger and frequent Hardball guest Ezra Klein posted an insulting message about Tim Russert on his Twitter account. The message? "fuck tim russert. fuck him with a spiky acid-tipped dick."

Klein's public persona is, as one might expect, more moderate. He asserts that the message was "a private text message to friends, an inside joke we have because it’s so over-the-top obscene. [T]he Twitter was ripped from my private life, and it was never meant to brought out of the bar-like context in which it was born." But we can no longer expect to maintain strict separation between our private conversations and our participation in public debate.

Some people are trying to get Klein permanently barred from Hardball. However, does anyone really believe that Chris Matthews has never used crude sexual insults outside the studio? This is an opportunity for social norms to evolve (or devolve) to account for our actual behavior. At the very least, we should question whether Klein's sin was sending the message or getting caught. Getting caught out online is only going to become more common; which standards do you want applied to your actions?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Appellate Pathos

A friend sent me this sad (losing) argument for ineffective assistance of counsel:
Petitioner theorized that appellate counsel was making a romantic advance toward his wife, the success of which "was contingent upon Petitioner's perpetual imprisonment," and which caused appellate counsel to abandon his obligation to zealously represent petitioner. . . . Petitioner's theory is that, appellate counsel's comment that petitioner's wife should "marry someone who is not in prison," made in response to her statement that she wanted her husband home, shows that appellate counsel had a romantic interest in petitioner's wife.
Culbreath v. Bennett, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16352 (W.D.N.Y. 2004). The fateful phrase, in context, might have been quite innocent, but it might not have been. And if not, what a betrayal! I think this has been the plot of at least one novel or film, but can't put my finger on a title.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Internet Shaming, Date Rape Edition

If you went to a small college and one of the BMOCs went around forcing himself on drunk girls, what would you do? What if you were one of those girls? Would you report him to the local police? To sometimes ineffectual student disciplinary boards with limited powers and few protections for the victim? Or would you seek justice on Facebook? When a popular student at Lewis & Clark College forced himself on a female classmate,
“I’m sitting up against the wall on his mattress, and he’s standing over me,” she continues. “It started happening, and then he, like, twisted his fingers around my hair and started pulling it and being just kind of violent. I started choking because he was just, like, pushing my head.… I started gagging and choking, and I couldn’t really breathe.”

She says she started pushing on [his] abdomen to tell him to stop. “And he was like, ‘Yeah, that’s right, choke on it.’”
her friends created a Facebook group naming and shaming the perpetrator (there were also allegations that the male student had similarly assaulted other women at the school). The best response? Probably not. But when you're combating reactions like these, does moderation seem appealing?
“They were lighting a false fire,” Erin Dees, a sophomore, told The Pioneer Log . “Students who only see him in a classroom setting don’t need to know and judge his reputation.” ... “I don’t think he’s a predator,” says Matt Poole, a senior who is also friends with Shaw-Fox. “I don’t think he actively seeks out victims. I think he has a problem, and he can be helped.”
Don't students have an interest in knowing if one of their classmates is a rapist? Would you want to be lab partners with him? Join a study group with him? Move into the dorm where he lives? At a small residential college, how many people do you only see in a classroom setting? Whether someone "actively seeks out victims" or not is small consolation to the person who happens to be nearby when circumstances permit a serial rapist to rape again.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A legal post!

By request, another poll. Here are the facts:

A woman is engaged to a man. They live together in a small apartment in California. Woman pays 100% of the rent; in lieu of a rent contribution, Man saves for a down payment on a house. At present, the amount of savings is over $10,000. Man also purchased a $13,000 engagement ring for Woman. Man, however, has a drinking problem that causes violent outbursts (property damage and physical attacks on people at bars). Woman consequently breaks off engagement with Man. California law characterizes engagement rings as implied conditional gifts, but attribution of fault for the dissolution of the engagement is not irrelevant. What is the proper distribution of assets in the aftermath of this breakup? (Extra credit for case citations!)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Guessing at Normal

Are you guessing at normal?
Children raised in alcoholic households lack first-hand experience in any number of standard social rituals and passage rights - in our family’s case, for example, we never entertained when I was a kid; having guests to dinner or hosting a party was as foreign as muezzin calls.
I didn't live with an alcoholic parent, but our household never entertained, and the idea of having faux "uncles" and "aunts" (aka long-time friends of your parents) was completely unsettling to me as a kid. Maybe my family was just cutting edge.

50 Book Challenge #5: Acacia: The War With the Mein

This is another fantasy that tries to break the mold by changing the setting from a conventional medieval Europe. The Acacian Empire, ruled by a brown-skinned family descended from a great sorcerer, is falling to bits, and readers are given front row seats for the chaos. The kindly king meets a predictably rapid violent end, and his four offspring are scattered to the ends of the earth in the wake of an invasion of pale-skinned, vengeful northerners. The scattering itself stretches the bounds of plausibility, and the development of the characters does so even more. One of the heirs becomes a peerless sword fighter within weeks of picking up a blade; another becomes a sort of pirate captain.

One review pointed out that the four children bear a passing resemblance to the Pevensies: noble eldest brother, shallow elder sister with archery skills, wandering younger brother, and brave younger sister. Fans of George R.R. Martin might notice parallels with Robb, Sansa, Arya, and Bran.

This book is better than Lewis's but not as good as Martin's. The world is less fully realized and the history invoked by the various characters is (intentionally?) confused and contradictory. Other aspects of the world are equally odd; entire societies seem to exist in unlivable conditions (what do the Numrek eat?), ageless wizards don't know how to heal despite their ability to preserve their own lives for millenia, and people seem unaware of a child slave trade that continually takes substantial numbers of children each year. The two eldest royals make choices near the end that are dictated by the requirements of plot rather than their characters as written.

This is not to say that it's a bad book; as fantasies go, it's a pleasant read. One of the best aspects of the book is its focus on the economics of empire and trade, with an emphasis on the power of merchants over rulers. Further volumes may yield less derivative plots and more consistent background. Recommended to fantasy fans.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Steve and I went to see There Will Be Blood this afternoon. PTA, all is forgiven. The only trouble is that most of the reviews say that Plainview's character has no redeeming features. I didn't really quit Team Daniel until the last thirty minutes of the movie. Wouldn't you be tempted to [SPOILERS] send your deaf son to a specialized boarding school if he tried to burn your house down while you were sleeping? [/SPOILERS] His ultimate alienation is tragic, not repellent. Or maybe Day-Lewis is so attractive that my judgment is impaired.

You should see this movie so you can tell me what a horrible person I am for not despising Plainview.

Some people seem to think that the more memorable lines in the film will become catchphrases, a la "greed is good" or "say hello to my little friend." I doubt it.

Sex without romance

Marginal Revolution highlights a new paper by Ashlie Warnick on the political economy of prostitution. I have been remiss in linking to this paper; it's really very interesting. Ashlie has two other papers with less titillating subject matter on SSRN as well.

Friday, January 11, 2008

50 Book Challenge #4: A Betrayal in Winter

Another page-turner from Daniel Abraham. It continues the narrative from A Shadow in Summer but could probably be read as a stand-alone book as well. We are treated to more intrigue and less magic, but the characters, new and old, are engaging and psychologically complex (for genre fiction). The female scion of the ruling house is particularly well-drawn, and her relationships explored in penetrating ways. Abraham avoids melodrama, which I appreciate. If you like fantasy with an Asian flavor and shades of moral grayness, this is your series. Recommended.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Other Voices

Jacob Levy has a great post on the Ron Paul fracas and how it illustrates the split between two types of libertarians.

Ben Wolfson on wantons.

Williamsburg women on whether they'd rather have their boyfriends cheat on them with a man or a woman.

World's Foulest Beverages

I nominate Kombucha. Why?
[K]ombucha may contain some of the following components depending on the source of the culture: Acetic acid, which gives Kombucha that 'kick' to its smell and taste; butyric acid, gluconic acid, glucuronic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, oxalic acid, usnic acid, as well as some B-vitamins.
UPDATE: Timothy Sandefur identifies another promising contender.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

And though the static walls surround me/You were out there and you found me

It is National Delurking Week. If you're a lurker, please pop into the comments and say hi!

Something I never thought was in question

It has come to my attention that some people don't think kissing a third party when you're in a committed relationship constitutes cheating. Is this really a common point of view? Long-time readers of this blog know that I think kissing is very important.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Random Roundup

- One of these things is not like the others . . . (via)

- Huntington's gene makes you promiscuous? (via)

- Shins rocker arrested for domestic violence; victim/former star of America's Next Top Model posts about it on her LiveJournal. (via)

- Is this like a checklist of agonies for anyone else? (via)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

50 Book Challenge #3: Veronica

"Prettiness is always about pleasing people. When you stop being pretty, you don't have do that anymore. I don't have to do that anymore. It's my show now."
My general aversion to literary fiction has several distinct roots: a disdain for its frequent focus on the delicate epiphanies of an aging bourgeois; an aversion to writing that seems self-consciously clever to the detriment of clarity, plot, and characterization; even (to my occasional shame) my utter disinterest in modernity. But occasionally a book that breaks through these barriers and, despite its acclaim in middlebrow literary circles, earns my appreciation. Veronica is such a book.

We considered it for the blog book club some time back, but only after the Arlington Central Library failed to yield up my preferred trash did I return to it. My only previous encounter with Gaitskill was mediated by Maggie Gyllenhaal and thus I approached her latest novel with few expectations.

The center of the book is Veronica, a brassy, fierce woman befriended by Alison, the narrator, after Alison loses her place as a runway model but before she loses everything else. This is not chick lit; this is women's writing, unsuppressed and unexpurgated. It is worth reading for the prose alone, and Constant Readers of this blog will recognize how rarely I would say that. Gaitskill's turns of phrase occasionally approach the Nabokovian, and are often all the more impressive for their psychological insight. The flashback structure would be jarring but reader will eagerly anticipate the transitions (Alison's past is more engaging than her present, as the second half of the book documents a hike in this narrative thread). I confess to disappointment at what I realized, after the fact, to be certain autobiographical aspects, but these are quibbles based on prejudices and not actual weaknesses of the novel.

If you like Alice Munro, Elvis Costello, or fine prose, read this book.

UPDATE: The worst part about good writing is the subsequent inability to appreciate the barely-serviceable prose found in most genre novels. Alison isn't the only one who fell from heaven.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Friday, January 04, 2008

How to beat your wife

Jezebel brings us this revealing column from the Yemen Times. An excerpt:
[B]eating is considered a type of violence, according to human rights organizations, which urge women to complain to the police. I just wonder what kind of families our societies would have if Muslim women started doing this regarding their husbands.

Relationships between fathers and daughters or sisters and brothers also provoke argument from human rights organizations, which propose the suggested solutions for all relationships. Personally, I don’t think fathers or brothers would undertake such behavior unless there was a reason for it. ... [S]hould fathers and brothers complain to police if their daughters or sisters violate moral, Islamic or social norms?
One commenter observes:
Ever notice it's always daughters and sisters violating Islamic 'norms'? You never hear of a girl killing her brother because he broke Islamic law by say, drinking a beer or dressing in Western clothing.
Have there been any honor killings of males by family members?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

50 Book Challenge #2: A Shadow in Summer

I picked this up because it had a cover blurb from George R.R. Martin and it didn't disappoint. Abraham's novel (the first in a quartet) is an engaging fantasy that breaks from the usual quasi-European setting. His deployment of magic is sparing and the pacing and writing are smooth.

The narrative follows the path of Otah, a sixth son of a noble family who is put in a cruel and rigorous school for the training of poets. Poets, through careful crafting of original metaphor, capture and embody concepts in human form. These enslaved entities can perform acts of magic relating to their conceptual identity ("Removing the Part That Continues," or "Seedless" performs the work of hundreds of cotton combers in an instant by removing the seeds) but struggle against their captors in any manner possible. Otah leaves the school but cannot return to his privileged life without risking death at the hands of his inheriting brothers and must make a new life for himself. Unfortunately, a conspiracy against one of the poets draws Otah back after many years and he finds himself unable to avoid an encounter with his past.

If A Shadow in Summer lacks the psychological complexity of Martin (we are more distant from the characters, despite the similar points of view), it has the advantage of being slimmer and having its sequels due to arrive in rapid succession. Recommended.

Everything you wanted to know about Juche but were afraid to ask

Jason Kuznicki highlights this bizarre FAQ about North Korea:
1. Can I get a signed photograph from Leader Kim Jong IL?

Soon the KFA shop will offer such article.

2. Can I send a letter to North Korea and get a penpal in North Korea?

You can send the letter if you have an valid address and contact person. We provide no service for penpal friends.

3. Can I emigrate to North Korea and live in North Korea?

It’s possible only in very special situations and having honor/merits. You must send a request letter stating your reasons, together
with your complete CV, copy of your passport and certificates to

4. Can I work in North Korea as a teacher/interpreter/(other)?



8. Can I travel to North Korea as a backpacker? (Independant travel)

No. You must travel as a group only, even if you are the only participant you must be with Korean guides at all times.

9. Can I join the Korean People’s Army?

No, only Korean nationals with DPRK citizenship

18. Is North Korea a ‘Stalinist’ state?

The term ‘Stalinism’ is highly loaded and is most frequently employed not as a descriptive term but as an insult. The DPRK political system is based on the Juche Idea, a theory developed by the late President Kim Il Sung stressing national self-reliance and development according to the unique characteristics of individual nations. ‘Stalinism,’ on the other hand, was articulated as a universalistic political ideology. The DPRK is indeed a socialist state, meaning that all the means of production are socially owned. However, the central implication of the ‘Stalinist’ accusation–simply that the DPRK is a dictatorship–is inaccurate. Korea is a socialist democracy guaranteeing its citizens the full range of individual liberties and rights provided by many liberal regimes, and more.

50 Book Challenge #1: The Solitude of Thomas Cave

The year starts with a short, evocative novel about a whaler left off the coast of Greenland over the winter. Left to himself for ten months of cold and darkness as the result of a shipboard wager, the titular character becomes lost in his past. I fought briefly against the character's backstory, but upon reflection it was less cliché than realism, and any set of events, juxtaposed with the blankness of the arctic winter, would have taken on similarly melodramatic notes. Recommended for fans of the survival tale subgenre.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New year, new you

This Hegel quote reminded me of some prior posts on committing one's self to a course of action.
A will which resolves on nothing is not an actual will; the characterless man can never resolve on anything. The reason for such indecision may also lie in an over-refined sensibility which knows that, in determining something, it enters the realm of finitude, imposing a limit on itself and relinquishing infinity; yet it does not wish to renounce the totality to which it intends. Such a disposition is dead, even if its aspiration is to be beautiful. “Whoever aspires to great things,” says Goethe, “must be able to limit himself.” Only by making resolutions can the human being enter actuality, however painful the process may be; for inertia would rather not emerge from that inward brooding in which it reserves a universal possibility for itself. But possibility is not yet actuality. The will which is sure of itself does not therefore lose itself in what it determines.
May you have the joy of murdering many possible selves this year.

All Posts for 2008 50 Book Challenge

  1. The Solitude of Thomas Cave
  2. A Shadow In Summer
  3. Veronica
  4. A Betrayal In Winter
  5. Acacia: The War With the Mein
  6. Bad Behavior
  7. An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
  8. The Accidental
  9. Because They Wanted To
  10. Caracole
  11. Winterbirth
  12. Tracing the Shadow
  13. World War Z
  14. 1491
  15. In the Wake of Madness
  16. Foreigner
  17. Matter
  18. Bel Canto
  19. The Iron Dream
  20. Comfort Me With Apples
  21. The Blade Itself
  22. The Man in the High Castle
  23. A Prisoner of Birth
  24. Nobody Belongs Here More Than You
  25. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
  26. The Serpent's Tale
  27. Inside Straight
  28. Heart-Shaped Box
  29. Arabian Nights
  30. Before They Are Hanged
  31. Last Argument of Kings
  32. The Ministry of Special Cases
  33. The Museum of Dr. Moses
  34. 20th Century Ghosts
  35. Across the Nightingale Floor
  36. Grass for His Pillow
  37. Brilliance of the Moon
  38. The Harsh Cry of the Heron
  39. Heaven's Net is Wide
  40. Splinter
  41. Wolfblade
  42. Duma Key
  43. Inferno
  44. Freedom and Necessity
  45. Lisey's Story
  46. The Post-Birthday World