29 August 2005

what to do?

so many things have occurred in the last few days. among them:
  • we watched the last and final episode of six feet under. give me a month or so, and then I'll be able to handle blogging about its brilliance.
  • we re-watched the entire first season (including the summer season) of The OC. the last ep, about separating, sailing off into the distance, was not so good on the old psyche as we prepare to sail off on our own journey.
  • I finished reading Richard Powers' Goldbug Variations, purchased Gould's 1981 recording on iTunes, and am now set to deepen my universe.
so what to blog? Perhaps further proof (as if it was needed) of Powers' geniosity (not a word, I know, but it should be).
Jim Steadman was a regular, always late punching out. He had ostensible business: "Transfer of power, Ms. O'Deigh. Somebody's got to steer this pitiful ship." But Jimmy's nautical function was, if anything, ballast. (p. 183)

27 August 2005

Less Ranting, Some Clarification, and a Few Good Things

We sold our car today - a truly traumatic event. Perhaps the stress of trying to conduct such a major transaction just a few days before leaving town helps to explain my rant from a couple of days ago. (Or, perhaps I'm just not very nice.)

With no home and no car, it must be time to move to another country. Thus, in the spirit of Rebecca's list from yesterday, and in an effort to be more positive, here are a list of 'good things' so far as I can tell, about living in the UK.

  • Freeview! While we've been talking in this country for years about "high definition" television, in the UK it's already done. You can buy a little box for about £40 that lets you watch a few dozen all digital channels for free. Or, even better, for a bit more money you can buy a freeview box with a built in DVR. It's not Tivo, but it's very, very close, it's free, and the new boxes have easy transfer to computers.

  • Public Transportation! Swansea is rather remote by UK standards, and yet it's less than a 3 hour, direct train ride from London Paddington. All you London and Europe visitors should take that as a hint to visit.

  • A liberal media, if you want it. A truly conservative media, if you don't.

  • No national debate going on concerning evolution.

26 August 2005

questions / gofyniadau

As we near the impending departure for Wales I find myself forming my apprehension/excitement into question format:

  • how will I live without peanut butter?
  • how can I possibly go on without my doggie Luke?
  • will we, car enthusiasts extraordinaire, be able to stand not having a car?
  • what will my flat american accent sound like to the lilting sounds of the Welsh?
  • how will I live without Jon Stewart?

but wait—out of the blue, a bolt of lightning! I won't have to live without the Daily Show, for lo, it is in syndication on a new cable channel in the UK. Thanks L for tipping us off to this...
Perhaps I can go on. even without peanut butter.

25 August 2005

The Folks at Stonesthrow - far too nice

So, the G man as I like to call him (not really), posts today about the work of a psychologist called Haidt (that's really his name, and I don't know how to pronounce it, but yes, 'hate' works for me).

Haidt argues, says G, that folks make decisions based on 4 moral intuitions. Roughly, these are intuitions about, 1. suffering, 2. reciprocity, fairness, and equality, 3. hierarchy, 4. purity and pollution. He then claims that 'liberals' tend to draw from only the first two intuitions, while conservatives draw from all 4. G then goes on to say other interesting things.

But I want to stop right here and yell: the folks at Stonesthrow are being far too nice today.

And thus I ask rhetorically, liberals stop at the first two but conservatives have all four? Does Haidt mean genuine cultural conservatives? If so, fine. But there aren't any genuine conservatives running the country or taking up the far right side of this country's political spectrum. And the right in this country doesn't have much at all to say about fairness, equality, reciprocity and suffering.

I'd put it the other way around: conservatives stop at the last 2, while liberals have all 4. (I mean, Pat Robertson has asked God to strike down another Supreme Court justice and called for the US assasination of a world leader, all in the same week!)

Finally, those 4 moral intuitions should be weighted toward the first two, especially reciprocity and fairness - that's what the democratic revolutions of the last few centuries have been all about. If so-called 'conservatives' want hierarchy and purity, then they should sign up for a trip through time back to early 20th century totalitarianism. After all, Hitler and Mussolini...those guys knew purity and hierarchy.

Why on earth would we want to value purity and hierarchy on the same plane as we value fairness, justice, and a sense of duty toward other suffering human beings???? They are not, and should not, be equal values. And if they are equal 'moral intutions' then we need to do some work on our intutions'.

20 August 2005

blogging and washcloths

the tone of this little corner of the blogosphere has, well, gotten a bit heady of late, and thus I endeavor here to bring it down a notch or two.

which leads me to comment on Sam's post below on blogging. I have been reflecting on the phenomenon of the first few weeks of blogging for, well, the first few weeks of blogging. it's an interesting medium, in that audience becomes at first a problem (as in, to whom am I talking? who will care?) and then, if you let that go, the question of audience becomes an interesting ghost behind your writing, occasionally sitting on your shoulder and suggesting that perhaps, in the interests of ever wanting to return to the US, one might not want to post that GW Bush is a dickwad on one's blog. Or, as in the case of a friend of mine who just e-mailed me (let's call him/her JO), leading you to establish elaborate anonymity schemes for those you are talking about so as not to hurt anyone (including, let's face it, yourself). I have attempted to avoid the latter, but it does require some effort, which is interesting. I've read on other blogs that the blogger's friends seem to know them better through the blog than through direct interpersonal contact, for example, which while at first glance is somewhat disturbing, at second glance makes sense: you are whomever your audience reflects back to you, and so when there's no reflection, it's up to you to figure out who you are at that moment. So blogging. very interesting. not at all linear, not at all contained.

which brings me to washcloths.

over the past few weeks, I've been thinking that I should blog about washcloths. when you have a blog this is a common thought (not the specifics of the washcloth, of course—that's just my neurosis) and that's interesting, because as Sam says below, the timing of the blog/thought pattern is different than any other writing one usually does.

but my washcloth "insight" is related to OddsAreOne's postings about narrative and the universe. for I haven't used a washcloth in I don't know how many years. and then we got some of that fab Dr. Bronner's liquid soap stuff, and as I am morally opposed to those silly poof balls that were all the rage in mid-1998, I pulled out a washcloth. suddenly, I'm five. it's astounding. you should try it. the feeling of washing your face and ears with a washcloth is exactly like when you were five. there's no linearity to it, no narrative, no physical connection even, as the skin cells etc. I have today have turned over however many times since I was five, right? the disconnect, the forgetting of that feeling—it wasn't even a memory before I used the washcloth again a few weeks ago. this is how time and history works—how narrative and memory work. vide the ghosts Sam writes about in his book. we can't predict them, we can't know when they will return (see OddsAreOne's postings about social science and stats here) but they are real, and it's likely (what are the odds?) that they will return.

So it's not about the predictability, it's about the manner in which the universe operates, right? storytelling, repeating (not precisely) the same tale, the same narrative. that's what Richard Powers' books are all about too—multiple narratives. so much for non-heady. to sum up:

no new narrative can be written. writing is rewriting. touching (haptics, if you will) is crucial for our understanding of the universe. and well, you are now and always have been five.

That One Thing

The common joke is that academics only ever have one good idea in their lifetime; they only really write one book, but then they continue to rewrite it over and over again. If it's a really good book, a really great idea, then the rewrites are tolerable and the later books sell. Of course, in order to write the later books, the academic in question must be willing to continue saying the same thing for 30, 40, or 50 years. Some academics have a mediocre first idea, so the later books aren't worth writing. Some academics have a great first idea, but aren't willing to slog through the rewriting. Thus, if an academic has only one book, it means that they are either quite average or really smart.

I got my one idea in 1993. In spring of that year I read (but didn't understand) some Derrida, and I read (and mostly understood) some Bill Connolly. Then, in the fall I read Heidegger, particularly his later writings on language.

So what was the one idea? Language is not a tool for use by humans; rather, language is that upon which human existence depends and that in which it flourishes. This idea is not intuituitive (nor is it all that earth-shattering), so I spent some time trying to explain it and trying to figure out what it implications are for how we think about history, temporality, and politics.

Then, I thought I'd buck the trend and study queer theory, cultural studies, film theory, and the politics of television - in other words, try to come up with a second idea. I've now written enough in those areas to know that I'm still saying the same thing. (But perhaps??? in interesting ways.)

But none of that narcisstic bio nonsense was the point of this blog entry. The point was to say that my "one idea" is perhaps more clearly expressed over at TheOddsAreOne in these three posts - here, then here, and finally here. Paul isn't tallking about Heidegger or language, but what he's saying about human beings and their relationship to the universe, to history, to time, is really all I've ever tried to explain about language/politics. Sad it took me so much more time and so many more words...

Oh, and along the way, I think I finally get what evolution is all about. Funny how it has almost nothing to do with "survival of the fittest."

18 August 2005

Why it Matters

I do a lot of work on feminist and queer theory, and particularly on the politiccal and theoretical concept of 'heteronormativity'. As, I suspect, many writers/teachers/intellectuals do on occassion, I often worry about the so-called 'importance' of my work. This worry is exacerbated by the impression often given to me (and sometimes said to me directly) that I should be doing something more significant, more political, less abstract. This impression comes both from other scholars (who are studying Marx, or Congress, or, if they aren't social scientists, 'real' things in the World) and from non-academic friends who wonder why I'm concerned with a word they've never heard of. I wonder, too, whether the whole thing isn't heightened yet again by the sense that when it comes to 'dark forces' in the world, 'heteronormativity' isn't really high on the list (probably because many of the people that I know, also have gay friends who are quite 'well off' in many senses of that phrase).

And then one stumbles upon what you see below:

From the good Reverend Dobson, tips to tell if your son is at risk of thinking he is gay:

Evidences of gender confusion or doubt in boys ages 5 to 11 may include:

  1. A strong feeling that they are "different" from other boys.

  2. A tendency to cry easily, be less athletic, and dislike the roughhousing that other boys enjoy.

  3. A persistent preference to play female roles in make-believe play.

  4. A strong preference to spend time in the company of girls and participate in their games and other pastimes.

  5. A susceptibility to be bullied by other boys, who may tease them unmercifully and call them "queer," "fag" and "gay."

  6. A tendency to walk, talk, dress and even "think" effeminately.

  7. A repeatedly stated desire to be - or insistence that he is - a girl.

From the good Reverend Dobson, tips to cure your son of gayness:

[T]he boy's father has to do his part. He needs to mirror and affirm his son's maleness. He can play rough-and-tumble games with his son, in ways that are decidedly different from the games he would play with a little girl. He can help his son learn to throw and catch a ball. He can teach him to pound a square wooden peg into a square hole in a pegboard. He can even take his son with him into the shower, where the boy cannot help but notice that Dad has a penis, just like his, only bigger.

I could talk about this for pages and pages and pages. In an effort to show enormous restraint, let me just make two (well, three) points.

  • Note the irony of the far right's position on homosexuality. ON the one hand, they insist, above all else, that it is unnatural, while on the other they go to all this work to actively prevent its emergence and to construct heterosexuality. They are literally constructing the natural right in front of us!

  • I saw some discussion of this on other blogs (e.g.), and the comments section spent a great deal of time (rightly) making fun of these notions. They were filled with narratives that went like this, 'I did #X, and #Y, and #Z, and I turned out great'. Or, 'aren't kids that "roughhouse" more likely to be gay?'. OK, sure - funny enough. But can we possibly imagine for a moment the effect of this discourse on queer kids??? These folks, who are supposedly all about what they call 'family' (I need to blog some day on this, because I have no idea what they are talking about when they use this word) are saying to parents the following: if your kid is getting called a fag at school, you need to add more pressure to their lives, to force them to be what you want them to be. I don't know, sounds like something akin to 'abuse' to me.

  • Finally, this whole discussion is not about overt discrimination or prejudice against adult gay mean and lesbians. And that's precisely why the concept of heteronormativity is so important. Upholding the heterosexual norm has all sorts of effects that cannot be seen through the lens of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

What is Blogging; Or, Why I'm Not a Good Blogger

I've been meaning to post something for over a week now - it will be up above this post in just a bit - but it occurs to me that this is not good blogging. I don't know what blogging really is, but I feel certain that blog posts shouldn't be "planned" as mine has been. I know the blog entries that I read and like certainly don't sound planned. On the other hand, some of them do intimidate me by their depth and breadth of knowledge.

And this all suggests to me that blogging might be a unique form of "literarity" in that it says something potentially substantive to a potential public, yet is not a formal publication or piece of research. I'm sure others have thought about this in more detail than I, but it makes me wonder...about things, that is.

13 August 2005

paranoia magazines

so I've decided that most, if not all, magazines with titles that include the words Health, Organic, Pure, or Natural are paranoia-inducing, fear-mongering negativity machines. This is not clear from their covers. For example, the September 2005 issue of Organic Style touts: 25 Good-for-You Beauty Bargains for Under $25 and down below, The Great Lip-Balm Road Test. In their FreshLiving: Home section they have an article on healthy furniture. Seems mostly positive, no?

No. The furniture piece goes into great detail about how your sofa is killing you with PBDEs (polybrominated diphenylethers), which are banned in the EU. And, just by the way, these things exist in more or less everything plastic, including computers, shower curtains, and tupperware. Last month featured an article on plastic food storage and how it was going to kill you. So after Sept.'s issue, we are now all sitting on our organic cotton rag rugs eating out of glass conatiners.

the furniture thing I can kind of dismiss—turns out IKEA doesn't use these PBDEs, so we're feeling alright about it all. Plus the immanent move to the EU means less toxins for us...but then...

I'm reading the piece on the beauty bargains and I can't help thinking: so if this shampoo is fabulous and has nothing bad in it, why do they sell it in a plastic bottle leaching PBDEs into my bloodstream? Perhaps too negative. I stop reading that piece.

On to the lipbalm toss-off fluff piece, which is lighthearted until it points out that the petroleum jelly I've been using forever is (obviously, if you think about the name) a non-renewable resource!! I'm participating in the depletion of the world's oil reserves by moisturizing with what I thought was "pure" and "simple" (well, it is, of course, pure and simple petroleum...)

and just when I convince myself that I'm contributing much less to the world's demise than if I drove a gas-guzzling car all over town, it hits me: the petroleum jelly is stored in plastic!

like I said. paranoia-inducing, fear-mongering publications. steer clear.

11 August 2005

to letterhead or not to letterhead

I would like to pose a question about status/title/affiliation that has arisen in connection with my on-going "between jobs" identity. namely, the "independent scholar" question. last year I was affiliated with Penn State's history department and with the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, as a visiting scholar and research associate respectively. On the job market, this meant that I had letterhead to use, which was great, and on the ground it meant a variety of benefits for me, including working on the collection at the ROM, getting library access and giving a paper at PSU, etc. etc. I put these things on my cv with titles as they are above. go here for some advice about why getting affiliations like this is a good thing...

but it seemed to raise more questions than it answered. so people would ask to share stories of living in Toronto (I gave my address in State College clearly on the application materials) and they'd assume I was affiliated with the art history dept at Penn State (again, I was clear about this, but as an art historian, it was confusing). in the end, I felt it was more confusing than not, and while I imagine if I had not used letterhead I wouldn't have gotten a few of those interviews (seriously—go here and do a search for letterhead), the downside was that it raised questions like what are you doing, where are you, and why can't you be clear about it, despite my attempts to be clear.

so I'm feeling that I should switch to the dreaded "independent scholar" label. this seems straightforward, and somehow I feel like it's more honest to my full identity as a scholar—yes, I did research at the ROM and work with their collection, but "research associate" implies that I'm there every day working in the back room.

so my options are:

  • stick with the ROM affiliation and letterhead, and somehow explain it better
  • stick with the ROM affiliation and don't explain, just put it out there
  • go with independent scholar, no letterhead
  • go with independent scholar, create some very simple letterhead for myself

for the last option I was toying with a simple monogram-like letterhead: R • M • B with a full width line across the top of the page, above the monogram.

obviously thinking too much about this.

I clearly need help (on a variety of axes). thoughts?

07 August 2005

evolution, or Richard Powers is a genius II

as you can surmise by the list at right, I am still reading Powers' novel Goldbug Variations which is awesome but, in its awesomeness might be included its astounding length (639 pages). thus I am still reading it. and he is brilliant. I've always thought our pop evolution understanding was problematic, so here's Powers:

On second look, I see I've misunderstood evolution as badly as my schoolgirl botch of Mendel. Education is wasted on those of school age. Now I find that evolution is not about competition or squeezing out, not a master plan of increasing efficiency. It is a deluge, a cascade of mistaken, tentative, branching, brocaded experiment, secrets seemingly dormant, shouted down from the past, wills and depositions hidden in the attic, how-to treasure maps reading "Tried this; it worked for a while; hang on to it," program-palimpsests reworked beyond recognition, churches renovated so often in a procession of styles that it's impossible to label them Romanesque, gothic, or baroque. It is about one instruction: "Make another similar something; insert this command; run; repeat." It is about the resultant runaway seed-spreading arabesques, unrelated except in all being variations on that theme. (p. 250)

this leaves me wondering: why didn't my bio teacher in 10th grade just read this passage to us? so much clearer and more accurate than "survival of the fittest," no? sigh.

06 August 2005

Hawaii and other musings

So we're back from Hawaii as many of you know. Great fun, hard work, too much sun, lots of yummy beef, and much weddingness was had by all. We drove up to the North Shore of Oahu in the rain, ostensibly to go to the beach (thwarted by said rain) but actually to, well, eat. Our menu included: a stop at a shrimp stand for tempura shrimp and garlic shrimp, with side of rice and (of course!) cold macaroni salad. A second stop at a shrimp stand for more garlic shrimp, which included the sight of us (Sam, Rebecca, Nate, Jenna, and Kathy) scooping up melted butter and roasted garlic pieces with our hands and licking them. Not pretty, but very yummy. Then, on the way back we stopped at the best Ahi burger place on the island (also a stand) to sample their fish--amazing. At that point we had to get back to our beach house in order to prepare to go out to dinner in Waikiki. Sigh.

I offer two wedding pics here. Feel free to let me know which you think might be more appropriate to capture the week... :) (you may click on them to get a bigger view)...


da pig. not, in fact the wedding day, but the day before. how fabulous is this?

will be posting full pics to the flickr site soon...

Required (Recent) Reading

There's nothing interesting or creative in my head these days, as I'm struggling to make three paper deadlines (two for publication, and one for a conference). But there's plenty out there to read:

  • John Gray's devastating critical review of Thomas Frieman's neo-liberal tract, The World is Flat. Gray annihilates Friedman's argument (and that's always fun), while teaching readers a lot along the way.
  • Paul's brilliant eponymous entry , at his newly-named blog. Can we somehow find a way to burn this information in every media member's brain?
  • An exemplary post from Matt Yglesias.
  • Apple's justified propaganda over their reinvention of the mouse. I don't have one (yet), but, of course, I want one. How could you not want one?
  • The Foundations of Political Theory 2005 Newsletter , just so you can see that I won an award. :)