Monday, January 31, 2011


So I just finished watching Spartacus: Blood and Sand and the first two episodes of its prequel series and am feeling very, very dirty.

It's not that I have a problem with nudity and sex (as Constant Readers are aware) and it's not that I find blood and guts on screen a serious problem, although I did turn off Ichi the Killer ten minutes in. But the basic concept of the Spartacus series is to combine the sex of The Tudors with the classical setting of Rome. And there is a LOT of sex, in many instances presented as entertainment for Roman citizens (their enjoyment of which is then presented for our entertainment). The problem is that at least half of the sex acts on screen, which are nearly always shot in the most salacious manner possible, are acts of rape.

Citizens raping slaves. Slaves raping other slaves at their master's behest. Slaves raping other slaves on their own initiative and without sanction by a master. Slaves being given as sexual playthings to both free citizens and other slaves as incentives in various plots. Perhaps the most remarkable part is that it probably contains more acts of sexual assault against men (by both male and female perpetrators) than any show since Oz. I don't know what the reaction of a male viewer would be, but I'd venture to guess that any inclination to perceive the sexual acts as more than "ooh hot people doing it" would rouse substantial discomfort.*

The part that unsettles me is that although the cumulative effect of viewing the series was to very effectively underline exactly how many ways people can have their sexual autonomy violated,** I still managed to plow right through to the end, where, as promised, Spartacus goes all "Spartacus!!!" and kills everybody. But I absolutely refuse to watch Boys Don't Cry or Irreversible, on the grounds that I just can't handle the rape scenes, no matter how terrific they may be as pieces of cinematic art and virtuoso acting. Spartacus is, to put it kindly, not destined for greatness in those regards. And yet here I am, checking for the air date of episode three.*** Somehow I doubt my reaction would be the same to a miniseries documenting, say, the St. Domingue slave revolt. 

* It's all very well to think that being Lucy Lawless's private stud wouldn't be so bad, but even this glossy film portrayal of it makes you think twice.

** Along with the banal monstrosity of the citizen class, which is done well enough that one ends up cheering on the brutal murder of a callow teenage boy.

*** For now I'm going to blame John Hannah and his character's manifold schemes,**** which make it sort of plot crack even when you know how the characters are going to end up. The dude had a lot of built-up capital from my love of The Mummy***** and Sliding Doors.

**** Also Asher, who basically lives by the motto "What Would Iago Do?"

 ***** Which, relatedly: Arnold Vosloo on Bones! But with hair! Do not want!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Naked and the Nude

Tom Ford on nudity:
I’m very comfortable with naked bodies. Someone asked me recently about male nudity, and I brought up the subject that, in our culture, we use female nudity to sell everything. We’re very comfortable objectifying women. Women go out and they are basically wearing nothing. Their feet and toes are exposed, their legs are exposed, their breasts are exposed. Everything is exposed—the neck, the arms. You have to be really physically perfect, as a woman, in our culture to be considered beautiful. But full frontal male nudity challenges us. It makes men nervous. It makes women nervous. Other times in history, male nudes have been regarded in a different way. The Olympics were originally held nude. The reporter I was explaining this to said, “This would make a great story.” I explained how when I come home I actually
take off all my clothes, and I wear no clothes until I leave. I eat naked. I do everything completely naked. He said, “That would make a great interview.” I said, “Fine, we have to do it nude.”

CURRIN: How old was the interviewer?

FORD: Oh, 55 or 56. [Currin laughs] He was in very good shape. Anyway, we did the interview. The interviewer was straight, and I made it a point to desexualize the interview even though I was sitting with my legs wide open, completely naked. At the end of the interview, I put on a dressing gown and he put on his clothes, and I sat next to him on the sofa and said, “Was that sexual?” He said, “Absolutely not.” And I said, “That’s because I didn’t make it sexual.
There is nothing like a trip to Spa World to desexualize nudity. (via)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Scary fact: Paris Hilton and I are basically the same age.

Hugo Schwyzer contends that modern girls are trapped in a "Paris paradox," in which they feel pressured to be sexy without being authentically sexual. I'm not sure that this is a new phenomenon, or even new in the 2000s. When I was in high school (fifteen years ago! wowsers), a clique of the high achieving girls started some club called the Temptresses, which apparently involved sexy Temptress names, sleepovers with videos of them eating strawberries and whipped cream, and public recounting of said exploits, but no actual sexual activity. A friend and I quipped that we ought to start a parallel Seductresses society, the motto being "we get results," and oriented toward, you know, hooking up with boys we liked, not homosocial performance art.*

It never occurred to me before now to connect the high academic achievement level of the Temptresses with their embrace of the sexy-but-not-sexual, but in retrospect it seems obvious that most of them probably felt familial and internalized pressure to devote their time and energy toward Amy-Chua-approved pursuits instead of teenage romance, but still wanted a social stamp of approval on their femininity and desirability.

Or maybe they just really liked whipped cream. Shrug.

* Bonus: I already had the trashy Seductress name.

Phallic Swords of Damocles

My friend Alyssa Rosenberg highlights one respect in which historical fiction, written and filmed, almost always fails:
I think one thing that most movies set in the semi-Medieval through Victorian eras don't really get at is the absolute horror of arranged marriages. Sure, sometimes they worked out, and you ended up with someone you'd come to love, or at least live companionably with. But can you imagine being married off to someone forty or fifty years older than you? Someone who had absolutely no interest in you except for raping you? Who ignored you altogether? Who physically abused you? And all in a world where there were no resources [for] you, much less any concept of choice in the matter?

I can't, really, and I imagine most contemporary writers can't either.
Even if you were not forcibly wed or if your forced marriage turned out relatively well, the fact of being married to someone meant that he could demand sex at any time and you were obligated to acquiesce---sex that could lead to a life-threatening premodern pregnancy and childbirth. That these circumstances did not result in a subjective experience of constant terror for their victims makes them no less morally horrifying.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Law school a scam?

Somebody asked me the other day why I hadn't posted about this NYT article about whether law schools are scams. I didn't because I've said my piece on law school generally and don't like coming off as Bitter Lawyer Girl when, really, I went to a very good law school and am glad that I did and became a lawyer and not, say, a consultant or an i-banker. But other people have snarked on the article and they are funny:

Supply and demand should have caused these lower tier schools to lower their costs to entice students away from the better but more expensive schools.  But they don't need to, because all law schools are free.  Read it again.  All law schools are free.

Not after you graduate, of course, but right now.  Law schools can charge anything they want because everyone has enough money to pay for it- today.  As long as there are guaranteed government loans available for this, there is no economic incentive to lower the costs.  And as long as the price is zero, demand will always be infinity.

If it was true supply and demand, #1 ranked Harvard and #100 ranked Hofstra wouldn't have the same tuition.  But they do, the same as stupid Washington University, which is so stupid it's in Missouri.  "It's underrated."  Bite me.  Are we saying that Hofstra's worth the same money as Harvard?  That people would pay anything to go to Hofstra?  No, they don't have to pay anything to go to Hofstra.  That's the point. 
What I found particularly amusing about the NYT piece is that the profiled graduate went to law school in San Diego but didn't want to work there. When I was interviewing for newbie lawyer jobs, scuttlebutt was to not even bother trying to get a job in San Diego without some preexisting connection, because so many people just try to get jobs there for the weather that they don't take out-of-towners very seriously. Likewise, when I talked to people about New York jobs, people noted that graduates of lower-tier schools located in NYC have a leg up over graduates of similarly ranked institutions elsewhere. But here's this guy, who obviously had to pay full freight at a low-ranked school, doing the exact opposite of what might have helped him. Of course, it's not like I knew that stuff until after making a law school choice either, but might it not have occurred to him? Oh well.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Art of Travel, continued

This post at Ta-Nehisi Coates's blog on the ethics of slumming (and Coates's subsequent admission that he would stay at an all-inclusive resort, which, hello, of course you would---who among us is too self righteous to appreciate the ultimate lazy vacation, in which no financial decisions or coordination problems interfere with your pina colada consumption and complete sloth? but I digress) made me reflect on my philosophy of travel. I've not taken a vacation in a while and am contemplating a solo trip to Namibia or Cambodia (although a friend went to Sao Tome some time ago and it looked awesome).

However, in the course of a recent conversation I reiterated my position on travel, which is that I don't interact with people while I'm there. I see things, and places, and art, and history. I travel to rationalize the sense of alienation and dislocation I feel on a day-to-day basis and throw it into sharp relief, not to make friends. But is this somehow even more insulting than poverty tourism (although it's equal-opportunity; I am just as aloof in rich countries as in poorer ones)? It's not that I look down on people I meet; it's that the stress of trying to connect with them interferes with my engagement of whatever relaxing and cool thing I came there to do. Trouble is, I am running out of destinations where there is stuff that I already am interested in. Future destinations are going to involve me learning to appreciate new stuff, and that's hard to do with minimal social interaction.

Friday, January 21, 2011


So, those stand-alone turkey roaster countertop ovens? Just about the perfect appliance for yarn dyeing. And here I was thinking I needed stockpots and outdoor gas burners.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Does Not Compute

Busty women, chill with the persecution fantasies.

If you're feeling like a freak, you're not alone. Bra sizes have risen from an average of 36C to 36DD in the past decade. And it's not just America: in the same decade, British women went from 34B to 36C. A lot of this is attributable to the overall fattening of both nations, but pound gain doesn't always equal cup gain — and many women aren't overweight, but are still obscenely top-heavy. Other potential causes: implants; the Pill; hormones in factory-farmed food; hormones secreted into water supplies by contraceptives.

2. Vicky is dead to you. This is the oft-questioned "secret": V. (um, duh, she's an alien) advertises with models who wear your cup size, but doesn't actually sell bras that fit them. In all matters relating to your top half, scorch her from the earth. (Her undies are cute, though.) This also goes for your old pals Gap, Target, et al. They are mass-market and your tits are not. At least you can still get socks pretty cheap? (emphasis added)

Mass-market stores don't carry items that fit the average woman? I can believe this for trendy stores that don't want to be seen as where the chubby ladies shop, but since when is Target that cool?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Price points

I was all set to read this book Yglesias mentioned, but the Kindle edition is $41.73. Forty-one seventy-three. WHY.

Friday, January 14, 2011

That Tiger Mother

Like everyone else, I read the infamous WSJ excerpt from Amy Chua's book. And like most people on the internet, I was repulsed. Why (aside from the crazy emotional abuse)? Because Amy Chua's goal is to raise little Amy Chuas. And Amy Chua is nobody to emulate.

From Metafilter:
i'm having trouble reading Chau's article as anything other than a passive-aggressive push in a deeply troubled marriage. She's revealed only tense moments between them in just a 2,000 word article. Jed Rubenfeld, her husband, in addition to his law accomplishments, published a novel and once studied theater at Julliard. That seems to put her "no school plays" comment into context.
I cannot imagine having children with someone and then communicating to them with your every fiber of being that you wouldn't want those children to be anything like them. Why marry him at all? Why not a Chinese guy?

Chua explicitly states that her goal is to sideline "Western" parenting strategies and use the techniques with which she was raised. They were (and will probably be) very efficacious:
If you're trying to figure out if her method works or if it is harmful some other way, you're missing the real disease in her thinking. She's not unique. the disease is powerful and prevalent, it is American, but a disease nonetheless. (No, this time it's not narcissism.)

I'll explain what's wrong with her thinking by asking you one simple question, and when I ask it you will know the answer immediately. Then, if you are a parent, in the very next instant your mind will rebel against this answer, it will defend itself against it-- "well, no, it's not so simple--" but I want to you to ignore this counterattack and focus on how readily, reflexively, instinctively you knew the answer to my question. Are you ready to test your soul? Here's the question: what is the point of all this? Making the kids play violin, of being an A student, all the discipline, all of this? Why is she working her kids so hard? You know the answer: college.

She is raising future college students.
And what do you get?
She confesses in her book that she is “not good at enjoying life,” and that she wasn’t naturally curious or skeptical like other law students. “I just wanted to write down everything the professor said and memorize it.”
You can be a Yale Law professor and still a failure as a human being.

Happening Friday Night

Twins aren't delicious!

Despite not believing in the slightest in astrology, I am discomfited by the idea that I am no longer a Cancer. Then again, I hate random changes most of the time.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Witchy Nose = My Beauty Secret

I wonder how these research results mesh with the phenomenon of the pretty-ugly runway model.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Singing to the cat

You're the cutest Snape and that is that/
You're the cutest Snape and nobody's cuter/
Nobody, not even Hans Gruber
Actually, exceptions have to be made/
for Die Hard 1, I take that back.

Weekend Bake: Sausage Kolaches?

I went back to Houston for the holidays (squeaked out just before the snow caused mass cancellations) and had some sausage kolaches from the local bakery. Doughnut shops are one of the things I miss the most about Texas. In the DC area, just finding a doughnut shop that isn't Dunkin can be a challenge, and nowhere seems to make the deliciously light, airy yeast doughnuts that are par for the course in Texas bakeries. But worse yet, you will never, ever find in a DC doughnut shop that lovely and ambrosial breakfast item, the sausage kolache.

Some people claim that this isn't a kolache, it's a klobasnek. To which I reply: Maybe if you're in Europe. If it's here, and it's Tex-Czech, it's a kolache, damn it. There are no klobasneks with jalapenos.

Although one of my favorite Texan food blogs has a recipe for kolache dough, I had held back on attempting to replicate this foodstuff because the central ingredient, namely the sausage, posed a problem. If you go to a grocery store in Texas, you are likely to be confronted by a wall of sausage options (seriously, I wish I had snapped a photo when I was in H.E.B.---it was literally 10-15 feet of nothing but sausage). Here in DC, you are lucky to find decent kielbasa, much less something appropriately sized and worthy of encasement in sweet yeast dough. But then I saw someone mention New Braunfels Smokehouse, and I realized that mail order sausage might just be the ticket. Maybe not from there, but somewhere.

I will keep you up to date with the results of this experiment.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

50 Book Challenge 2011

I have been reading a LOT lately. The 50 Book Challenge format (previously; even previouser) at least gives me a framework for keeping track of things. I'll be writing short reviews of the books I read throughout the year and add them to the list below.
  1. Catching Fire
  2. Mockingjay
  3. Slammerkin 
  4. The Scarlet Contessa
  5. Ghost Map 
  6. Hater
  7. The Broken Kingdoms
  8. Tooth and Claw
  9. The Drowning City
  10. Medicus
  11. Persona Non Grata
  12. After the Prophet
  13. The Forsaken
  14. The Hangman's Daughter
  15. Beat the Reaper 
  16. Medicus, 
  17. Terra Incognita
  18. Persona Non Grata
  19. Mao's Great Famine
  20. The Bone Palace
  21. Troubled Waters
  22. The Heroes

Monday, January 03, 2011

Some things never change

The world turns, the year is new, but Ross Douthat is still an idiot. While it's true that the availability of safe, legal abortion has accounted for some of the modern scarcity of adoptable infants, and the acceptability of single parenting (or unwed co-parenting) for some of the rest, widely available birth control has probably accounted for a huge percentage of the "missing" adoptable infants.

I'm fascinated by his description of the waiting list for adoptive parents as "lengthened beyond reason." What would be "reasonable"? Forcing some "working-class and undereducated" woman through pregnancy and childbirth and then pressuring her with 1950s tactics to hand over her baby? Pushing other nations to repeal the laws they've enacted to protect children within their borders from being stolen and passed off as orphans? I look forward to proposed solutions from the Very Thoughtful Beard.*

Douthat is opposed, IIRC, to widespread use of the sort of reproductive outsourcing that Melanie Thernstrom used to get her two infants. (Contra IOZ,** I don't think his failure to comment accordingly is evidence of his lack of opinions on the subject; Douthat knows that any moral condemnation of reproductive technologies embraced by the NYT readership and advertising audience is likely to be left on the cutting room floor.) But if we can't divorce the experience of pregnancy from the contribution of genetic material, how can we make more unwanted babies, when women, exercising sovereignty over their persons/means of production, have made it manifestly clear that unwanted babies are not a desired good?

* Who may still believe that we are somehow morally obligated to create as many unwanted babies as possible.

**IOZ is correct to note, however, that Douthat's description of the American entertainment industry's alleged discomfort with abortion is off the mark: "It's worth noting that the entertainment industry is not so much uncomfortable with abortion as it is viciously opposed to women, which is why it spends so very much of its time kidnapping, raping, murdering, molesting, humiliating, and hating on them"