30 November 2005

they rebelled

there are many of us with unspoken or even spoken, shouted, freely admitted rituals surrounding our televisions and viewing thereof. these rituals, like all traditions, are living and change, adapt, welcoming in new content, new genres, old stories in new garb. rituals are calming, centering. they ground you particularly if and when you are in transition (for however long that may last). and even when you're not in transition, they help to remind you who you are, where you come from, where you might be going. comfort. And so it is without much surprise that Sam and I have developed a ritual of watching at least one Battlestar Gallactica (new series) each night. What is it about BG that is so compelling? It's not a stretch to suggest that this story has indeed been told before (um, can you say 1980s series? can you say the book of Exodus? can you say 'frack me'?) and yet the way they have put this one together (naturally, many of the special effects guys worked on—you guessed it—Firefly) is unbelievably compelling. Visually, in terms of the familial relationships on board, in terms of the political and societal tensions that go along with being under siege and trying to save your species from extinction. It is the entire package. Plus, the enemy is embodied by blonde leggy hotty, and although she's a bit skinny for my taste, her character is fascinating.

The real reason we watch, of course, is for the "previously" narrative they put at the beginning of each episode. It's right after the Universal studios musical banner, which is also fabulous. Something about the imperial "universal" word curving around the bluer-than-blue globe, from India to Africa, and the horns playing, and the tympany. But then they have this lovely syncopated single note that grounds the backstory, brilliantly illustrated not only by film images but also by this wonderful text that fades in and out in exactly the correct and proper manner:
The Cylons were created by Man
They rebelled
They evolved
They look, and feel
Some of them believe they are human
There are many copies
And they have a Plan.

hee hee!

28 November 2005

Zadie Smith, White Teeth

Having finally finished the book listed at the right for the past month or two, I felt it appropriate to join the bandwagon of reviewing such things and share some thoughts.

Apparently this was the unofficial book of the month club book in the UK a few years back, and thus everyone here has read it. Which is good—it's a sweeping tale of several families living in north London (where the author is also from), reaching back into their pasts (and ancestral pasts) and peering into their futures. Oddly, though, unlike sweeping epic sagas of family this doesn't truly sweep: it's more intimate than that, following particular characters through the choices they make and the struggles they have with their own limited worldviews.

It's about feeling displaced, the core element of diasporic living, and about trying to figure out what your culture is when you can't go home again. The families are Bangladeshi, white-white/Jamaican, and waspy mcwasp, and you get this wonderful clashing among them, portrayals of partial friendships that don't quite know how deep to go (or how deep they really are), do-gooder white folk who end up learning more about themselves than helping anyone else, and various problematic religions, from the Jamaican Jehovah's witnesses to the Bangladeshi son's sliding into Islamic fundamentalism to the deluded animal rights group FATE.

The novel is in the vein of Rushdie, in the sense that it picks up his magical realist flavoring without going fully into it (no Gibreel surviving a plane crash here). But certain elements of the narrative and the characterization have that flavor, from the name of the fundamentalist Islamic group (KEVIN) to the over the top self-righteousness of the Reason-worshipping, over-achieving, patriarchal Chalfen family.

My primary critique of the book is that like Rushdie, things are connected in ways one isn't expecting, but unlike Rushdie, here it seems a bit forced. It's her first novel, and it's quite brilliant—nothing glaring at all—but there are passages where I thought it might be better to take some time, slow down, and not try to make the connections so quickly. And other moments in which the slower, methodical pacing of the novel, character development, scene-building, attention to spaces was abandoned with a quick flourish (I'm thinking here of the scene towards the end where the twins finally confront one another).

That said, the book has wonderful sections where she isn't rushing. Her discussion of what it means to be "involved" with someone, someone's family, someone's history is amazing (somewhere between the "v"s it happens); her care and caring for the mother of the Chalfen family despite Joyce's unbelievable blindness to what her actions are truly doing; her portrayal of spaces, from the no-pork Muslim-run pub that serves primarily chips and beans to the differences between rooms piled with expatriate "stuff" and the Chalfen patriarch's office space. I'm looking forward to reading her more recent works, including On Beauty, which was nominated for the Booker this year.

25 November 2005

Michelle Wie
Beats or ties FORTY Male Professional Golfers

If you glance around this morning, you'll find no shortage of the following headlines: 'Wie Misses Cut Again'. The message is direct and simple, though lengthy. It says: 1. Michelle Wie is a failure, 2. Wie chokes under pressure, 3. Women cannot beat men in sports, ever, full stop.

This sort of reporting captures both an essential misunderstanding of golf and an essential, distorted, and ultimately failed attempt to assert male superiority. First, when you miss the cut in golf it means you are just below average. Being .500 in baseball is considered pretty good. Wie was one shot away (and she missed 5 foot putts on the last two holes) from being above .500; instead, she was one shot below .500. This is not a failure. Before Tiger Woods, the top players in the world missed numerous cuts throughout the year; Phil Mickelson missed 5 this year (Tiger, two).

The headlines would all have us believe that Wie has once again proven that women can't beat men. But the headlines fail to mention how VERY close she was to making the cut: the SI story and many others FAIL TO MENTION WHAT THE CUT LINE WAS AT ALL!!!!!!. This is convenient for their framing, since it lets them say, simply 'she failed' but not to let us in on the actual facts of how close she was. Moreover, they also neglect to tell us this: 100 professional golfers played two rounds of golf; a 16 year old girl beat or tied 40 of those 99 other male, adult professional golfers. Hence my headline.

If you took every man in the world who plays golf, Michelle Wie would annhilate about 95% of them; she would consistently beat another 3% of them; she'd be close to the next 1%; and probably the top 1% of male golfers in the world would beat her consistently. Thus, the top 100 players in the entire world can rest easy, knowing that they would consistently beat the 16 year old girl.

But to EVERYONE else out there, to all of those reporters and bloggers producing the headlines about her failure, just keep this in mind, she may have missed the cut, but she would KICK YOUR ASS!

(Sincere apologies for repeated use of screaming all caps, but I really felt like screaming when I read these headlines.)

welsh thanksgiving: redux

Originally uploaded by doppio macchiato.
we had a fabulous and authentic welsh thanksgiving over at Keri and Alan's yesterday, followed by snow this morning covering everything! very exciting. pictures up on the flickr site...

hope those in the US are having a wonderful shopping day on Black Friday, and we'll let you know when we're recovered from the excesses of yesterday...

23 November 2005

a traditional welsh thanksgiving (preview)

Straight from the bog to your holiday table!

Status update

to do:
The glories of the interwebs have provided me with various ingredients peculiar to Thanksgiving, such as the Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce, Libby's Canned Pumpkin, and of course French's Fried Onions. Like July 4th, which is sponsored, you will recall, by Old Navy ("oh say, can you save..."), Thanksgiving is branded by French's, Libby's, Ocean Spray, Kraft (for Stove Top) and of course Pillsbury, the geniuses who invented easy to roll out, guess-free crusts. We love those guys. Despite their corporate greed, destruction of America's small farms, over use of high fructose corn syrup, and the like. I mean Stove Top people!

The interwebs also provided me with every recipe with the exception of Jackie and Tim's apples and the phronesis on Liz's pumpkin soup (which she has beautifully adapted from the internet, by the way), and Sam's family cornbread stuffing (which they call dressing, but what can you do?).

I found it fascinating that so many people post their family recipe on line, and even better that the subsequent "ratings" involve really helpful discussions of what worked and what didn't. So you get the phronesis through the web. Who cares if we're bowling alone? We're cooking together!

PS: I also found a site for Dad and engineers everywhere: Cooking for Engineers. I love the charts.

21 November 2005

I have been honoured...

...by being cast in the role of 'Calvino' in Paul's most recent, and (I think) final post on Bayes and doom and odds and such. This will be my final thought as well, as I'm not sure anyone but Paul and I are still paying attention. Still, I needed to say not only that I wept from laughter while reading this, but also that I finally got the distinction Paul was drawing beetween my critique and his. And yes, he was up to something more radical. Indeed, I think his position (with whihc I wholeheartedly agree) undermines the grounds upon which the vast majority of modern social science has been built. Of course, it's no secret that the stars are falling from the sky...

20 November 2005

holla back

I find the holla back nyc site linked above very interesting for a variety of reasons. I believe I got there from this article on Salon.com, where they point out some of the benefits and drawbacks to this sort of thing, but it is a nice intersection of community-building, alleviating the isolation of being stared at/heckled/objectified in public spaces, and the use of the cameraphone for panoptic policing in the hands of those who normally don't have much say in what happens when heckling begins.

In India they call this behavior "eve-teasing" and as in the US, it's not just innocent fun or words or even threats with no physical consequences. It's about fear and the inability even to go to a museum without being chased through it "just to talk." It reminds me of a rather cathartic talk session I had once with four other women who study India--we were in a cab sharing our worst "grope stories" from our research days. Not one of us didn't have one, and some were much worse than I had experienced. But of course it doesn't need to cross the line into physical contact directly--it all affects your physical being, your ability to move around, to dress a certain way (although I found that it didn't matter how baggy my trousers were or how potato-sack-like my tunic was, they still stared), your blood pressure, your psychological well-being.

It also reminded me of an afternoon session on protecting oneself from physical assault run by IMPACT that involved teaching women (and they have some courses for men--the gendered nature of self-defense courses is a bit of a problem) what to do and what not to do in situations where you do feel threatened and thus are threatened. One of the women in the group was younger (high school) and so would talk back in situations rather than attempting to extricate herself. It was interesting because I completely get her feeling of wanting to take back the power by talking back, wanting to rise to the heckles, act like a man, but she ended up putting herself in a more vulnerable position by answering, revealing things about herself, her plans for the night, whatever it was, that then the heckler-cum-attacker used against her. So this hollaback site seems to be a good thing to me. shame a few people, perhaps. not give anything away except that you have a cell phone (and could call someone or the police) and you've taken their picture (thus recording their face for any future legal action).

I can recommend IMPACT to anyone in a city where they do courses--even the few hours I spent there gave me a good sense of what instincts to trust and what not to trust in a threatening situation. The main thing I took away from my short course was the ability to speak the word "No" and have it be heard. They teach you how to break through your politeness training into a forceful verbal negative. In other words, they make girls learn how to shout, once and for all. How great is that?

It would be a great world in which hollaback and IMPACT didn't have to exist, and yet. and yet.

19 November 2005

the odds are in no way 99

I have discovered in the last few days of posting, commenting and discussing that there is a simple chemical equation out there:

me + discussions of statistics ==> stupid me

anyone else feeling this?

I think it was the moment I read the link from OaO's blog that first fateful day that pointed to a helpful explanation of the Doomsday argument, here.

I suppose my problem is this: I'm not good with assuming abstract things and then applying said abstractions to made-up physical, real-world hypothetical examples (that, by the way, are supposed to make it easier). So, for example, when asked whether I'm in the first third or the last two-thirds of humanity, I of course first think: how could one know this? And then I think, hm. Well, the population hasn't been constant at all since the purported beginning of humanity, what with the whole black death thing, the exponential growth post-industrial revolution, and now the leveling off and even negative growth in some wealthier regions. I think about the effects of dentistry on eating habits and life span, the brutal conditions for agrarians in various periods, the fact that Mumtaz Mahal died bearing her 14th child (and didn't that just suck), the nomadic practices of various groups of Mongolians in the 10thc. And so you see: I am an historian.

I get the situated knowledge thing (I've read some recent anthropology, people!) and so it just seems that these questions that statistics asks and answers, or should I say this particular question, strikes me as silly. And it offends me that it makes me feel "stupid" not to follow something so clearly ridiculous as using basic logic and some 18th c. guy's theory about stats to figure out which number human you are. Shouldn't we be more careful with the questions we ask? Is there an ethics of statistics in which certain questions, which may prompt folks to argue about the precise location and identity of human number one, for example, as well as the precise date and time of the end of days/rapture, to be ill-formed? She asks these questions having not herself questioned their ethics?

Herewith endeth the 99th post of our blog.

18 November 2005

Randomness vs. 'Random Sample'

Excuse me, everyone, for using this space for my own education and not for, well, whatever else it is supposed to be for. Señor gadfly writes in the comments:
what it [the doomdsday argument] tells you is that if there are two choices, ten time marbles or a hundred time marbles, you are (much) likelier to be in the former case.
Yes, but it only tells you that if I think that I have drawn myself from a random sample of all possible marbles. Before I draw myself, I have to assume, as a prior probability, that there is an equal chance of humans living for just a little bit of time, or for a very long bit of time. It's only after the sample is drawn (i.e. us) that we can revise to a posterior probability that doomsday comes early. And we cannot make that statistical leap because we are not a random sample.

Finally, and more importantly:

it's 2005 and I'm alive on the earth. What are the odds I'm American? Do the math and you'll come up with an answer that's around 1 in 24, or about a 4% chance. And you're wrong, the Odds Are One™, I am in fact American. Bayes says I should bet on me being not American, but if I were to do so, I'd lose. Don't get me wrong, I think the Doomsday Argument is totally, utterly invalid, but I don't think it lies in deciding whether you're a random human or not, because it seems very difficult to show that this isn't the case, just as it's difficult to show that it is. I think the answer is really more Platonic than that--you and I can't be defined as random human number 60-billion-and-some-odd, because we cannot be separated from our 20th century-ness, our American-ness, our iPod-having-ness.

Two things: 1) I'm totally with the Fly on the notion that we aren't random humans and we can't look back at prior events and say in a meaningful way 'what are the odds that would have happened' when, in fact, they have already happened. The odds are one (can I say that without getting sued? Any chance any lawyers read this blog?). 2) However. Before knowing who you are, you should bet on your not being 'merican. But once you 'sample yourself' as it were, wouldn't Bayes say you should revise your probabilities upward? But the Bayesian logic depends on the notion not that YOU are random, but that if we have chosen you, we have chosen you from a random sample of ALL humans. Bayes isn't even telling us about the odds that you are American. He's telling us, about the chances that there are only Americans in the world, with the prior possibility being X and the posterior possiblity (if you've picked an American) being a much larger X. That breaks out as follows:

A. If I say, I'm going to pick a human being (not me) at random from the billions of us out there, then the odds are 1 in 24 that I will pick an American.
B. If I say, what are the odds that I'm American, then 'the odds are one'.
C. If I then say, from out of the entirety of human history (forward in time until its end) what are the odds that I would pick someone who has lived prior to 2005, then the odds are slim. However, to then sample from the population alive today, I break the primary rule of statistics, in that we are not a random sample of all humans.

What I'm trying to say - if anyone still cares by now – is that point C and point B are very much distinct. The Odds are One (point B) is an argument about how we aren't random humans, and about how we can't look back in time and attribute statistical probabilities to things that have already happened. Point C is merely the assertation that we can't sample from the PRESENT and presume it is a random sample of ALL TIME, because we aren't living at the end of time.

On the other hand, maybe the Fly's point is simply beyond me, and involves something far past the simple Bayesian logic. But I still think that Bayes tells the Fly nothing about his being an American, until after he has found out his IS American, at which point Bayes and the Fly agree, in that the latter says 'the odds are one' and the former says, 'we do not have a random sample any longer, so my logic does not apply'.

17 November 2005


Paul is at it again, making me and others think about statistics, and analytic philosophy. Damn him, doesn't he know that if I wanted to think all the time I would have wasted the last decade or more trying to be an intellectual?

I've never studied the Doomdsday Argument, because I've never done serious analytic philosophy but more importantly because (after looking at the argument) I think I got a better training in statistics than all that. In other words, it seems to me that one does not need to make a philosophical critique of the argument, because it's based on an utterly invalid application of Bayesian statistics. Bayesian theory tells us that we can revise prior probabilities in light of new information. Like most probability theory it relies heavily on the idea a random sample. This paper that Paul linked to is actually much clearer than the link above. It gives the example of balls in an urn: if we don't know if there are 10 balls in the urn or 100, then our prior probability is .5 for each possibility (10 or 100). If we then pick one ball out of the urn and it turns out to be numbered 1 through 10, we can revise the probability of there being only 10 balls upward (since the chances of picking 1-10 if there are only 10 is much higher than picking 1-10 if there are 100). Fine by me. Go Mr. Bayes.

The Doomdsday argument says we can apply this reasoning to the population of the species. If you sample US - that is, the human population today - we seem to be the 1-10 balls, increasing the chances that there are only going to be 10 or so balls, ever. But we aren't a random sample of the entire history of the human species! I don't know if it's bad philosophy, but it's awful statistics. If we went to the end of time, when the human species was extinct, then sampled from all of human history and picked one of us that would tell us that there's a good chance humans didn't live very long. But we are not at the end of time, we are in time and we always will be. Sometimes we want to freeze things to look at statical samples, but we can never do that with humanity as a whole and certainly not with the future history of humanity.

Part of the problem with applying statistical theory more broadly - to thinking about human problems, politics, history, the world, etc. - is that it has no space for a sense of temporality. It is either completely static, or it moves through points in time in the most fixed and linear sense possible. Statistical reasoning is almost always very contrained by its prior assumptions of a random sample (and others). And the world we live in is filled with patterns and choices that make it only rarely a random sample. The world (and us) is marked by a temporality that will always thwart our own efforts to fix that world in place with logic.

16 November 2005

the sand

the sand
Originally uploaded by doppio macchiato.
the last two weekends one or both of us has walked from our place in Sketty to the Mumbles, which takes about an hour and 15 minutes or so, depending on how fast you walk. when I did so two weekends ago the tide was out, hence the pic. it's quite dramatic when the tide is out, as you can walk directly across the bay to Mumbles rather than taking the path around the bay. that is, if you're brave and know the tide timings, which I do not.

14 November 2005

elevation: hilly or flat?

the first song on my ipod's "running #1" playlist is U2's elevation. I usually put the ipod on shuffle, so songs that follow vary, but the first one is always elevation. and the first part of my chosen running path is this serious uphill climb, going from our place away from the water on a sidewalk that is just this side of needing to be steps.

and so, as I get my bloodrate going by pounding up this insane slope (Sam confirms its insanity, by the way) I'm listening to elevation. and it is interesting musically in that neither the words nor the music really go "up" in any real way. Yes, there's the interval between "a" and "mole" in the chorus, repeated several times, but it's ironic that the one upward movement in the music fails to match the lyrics: "a mole, diggin in a hole, diggin up my soul now goin down excavation" primarily a downward, hole-digging lyric, no? and when you get to the denouement of the song, where the Edge is doing his thing and Bono is in falsetto it's all moving down the scale. and so my question.

elevation: hilly or flat? discuss.

11 November 2005

in search of an axiom

yesterday, as you will recall, I posted that two boxes remained missing from our group sent from Redlands. we listed what was in the boxes, or what we thought was in there, sympathy abounded, no one got to go shopping, etc. etc. and then today, in an act that I can only describe as karmic, the boxes showed up! and my thought was that this deserves an axiom or law of its own: not the whatever can go wrong will, because that's clearly not what's happening, boxes or no boxes. but more along the lines of: as soon as you give up on something, it will appear at your doorstep. okay, okay, not the cheesy: if you love something set it free thing, but more in line with the material goods aspect of this experience. as soon as you order a replacement credit card, yours turns up in the dryer. as soon as you replace all the locks in the house, your lost keys show up in the basement. that sort of thing.

I looked for such an axiom on line and did not find one. I did find several that I find hilarious, including Huminston's Law: When you are up to your ass in alligators, it is hard to remember that your original intention was to drain the swamp.

and I went over to Katharine's quotegeek site of yore to see if I could find anything, only to get sidetracked re-reading the quotes from My So Called Life. What a great show that was, no?

I'm happy to report that the pieces of suiting, corduroy jacket, entirety of Sam's dress shirt collection, his Minnesota Golden Gopher hockey sweater (!), the professorial-patch sexy wool sweater, several items I was sure I'd given away, and perhaps most importantly our sheepskin slippers were all there. very exciting.

and now I can stop watching for the delivery truck (o-o the wells fargo wagon is-a, comin' down the street...)

10 November 2005

murphy's law

it has been almost three months since our good friend Joel spent precious time carrying our boxes to the post office in Redlands and mailing them to us. And we have received seven of the nine boxes he mailed, as well as all of the boxes Liz, Simone, and Mom kindly mailed from Denver, which contained our books, so as academics that's key. But of course, the two boxes missing contain some interesting and crucial items, things we've actually been missing despite the fact that even having sent less than 20 boxes o' stuff, we *still* have too much crap.

One box is Sam's clothes, one box is mine. In Sam's box (we think) we are missing the cold-weather running pants and shirts and his mid-weight corduroy coat, all of which would be perfect for this weather, of course. In my box I'm missing my entire black suit, the upper half of my new JJill suit (don't ask why I separated it—you try packing for a hypothetical move 4 months in advance), a lovely mid-weight London Fog coat, and my red wool turtleneck with the obnoxious elbow patches that reference old professors just enough without taking away any claim to "sexy young woman" I might still retain.

Our friends in Edinburgh had a bit more of a chaotic departure from the US and thus don't have a precise count of their boxes but we both suffer from this nagging feeling of: where is that thing? Did we leave it in storage? is it on the Atlantic somewhere? did these two boxes get diverted via New Orleans before the hurricane? did I give that away in a fit of puritanical, anti-materialist rage?

And then the last thought: does this mean I get a fun shopping spree for new stuff??

09 November 2005

Bill Maher Gets It

Our 'Chambers production' Gopher Hockey games have been arriving with DVD Bonus material, in the form of episodes of Bill Maher's HBO Show Real Time. Thus, we're watching, but we're a few weeks behind (everything in the UK is a few weeks, to a few months, to a few years behind the US).

I disagree with Maher's positions about 30% of the time, and I disagree with the way he articulates them a majority of the time. But there are a few issues on which he really just 'gets it' in a way that the mainstream of American politics never seems to be able to do. I would include his tirades against the food industry (and the obesity epidemic), as well us his positions on the environment in this category.

Most suprising of all, though, may be his sexual politics. Maher is a middle-aged straight man who is not married and does not want to be (ever!), and one gets the sense that his sexual appetites are varied. In short, with respect to the dominant sexual norms, Maher is queer. If this sounds far-fetched, then I provide as evidence his 'new rules' from 14 October. Maher says that the 'real reason' the right couldn't handle Harriet Miers had nothing to do with her 'qualifications' or her positoin on Roe. The former never bothered the right in the past, and the latter really was assured (a Catholic who is born-again as an evangelical just isn't pro-choice folks). What really bothered the right about Miers, then? They couldn't make sense of or accept her (a)sexuality. As an unmarried 60 year-old, says Maher, Miers was either celibate, gay, or a slut – in other words, once again, queer with respect to the heterosexual norm. Go read the whole thing.

08 November 2005


the writing is getting a bit easier, linked to a newfound arrogance that involves me acknowledging to myself that I actually do know this stuff and have a mastery over it, despite its breadth and general insanity. I am halfway through and have worked in the Maori tattoos, Robert Smithson, the Norse stuff, the Stele school of Chinese calligraphy, Bierstadt, Indo-Caribbean performance, Hawai'ian quilts, and the Elgin marbles.

more importantly, however, is that I have placed my first on-line order for Tesco, grocery superstore, to deliver groceries to my door this evening. specifically between 9 and 11 pm. I will report back on the outcome. I am currently debating whether or not to tip the delivery person, and if so, how much. I'm leaning towards yes, and £2...thoughts? too chinsy? makes the person feel cheap to tip them? hm.

07 November 2005

know when to stop.

writing is difficult. I am rediscovering this as I write an entry for the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World (modern = 1750-present in this case) entitled "Art—Overview." Art. All of it. 1750-present. I could cop-out and write it as the story of art historical progress from Romanticism through the Neo-Classical and Realist periods, on to Impressionism, the Modern movements (Surrealism, Cubism, etc.), Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism, and The Postmodern. And yet, I am not that guy. I'm the fool who wants to solve the world's problems in an encyclopedia entry. thus I am attempting in 3000 words to do justice to "Art—Overview" on a global scale, including the practices of tattooing by the Maori, sculptures of deceased twins in western Africa, Qing ceramics, Hiroshige, the revival of Norse mythological subject matter, the folk art of the Appalachias, Socialist murals in Mexico, Stalinist propaganda posters, and of course, the musical sculpture of Tipu's Tiger, made in advance of the southern Indian king's victory over the British, a victory that in fact never happened.

I am slogging through.

After writing about 450 words this morning on the period 1750-1880, I penned (typed?) this glorious two-sentence summary of Orientalism.
This period also saw the birth of Orientalism, or the construction of an object (“the Orient”) that could be studied by Europe. The Orientalist genre of European painting spans the stylistic movements of Romanticism, Neo-Classicism, and Impressionism and focuses on the cultures of northern Africa and the eastern Mediterranean, depicting scenes that supported the idea of the Orient as place of lasciviousness, barbarity, and sloth populated by inaccessible scantily-clad concubines, ruthless warriors, and indolent sultans.

and we're done writing for the day.

05 November 2005


ostensibly one of the reasons for the blog is to keep friends and family far away up-to-date on our thoughts and doings. thoughts, we seem to be doing well on. doings, not so much. so herewith, a brief synopsis of our day-to-day:
  • we are happily watching Battlestar Galactica's first full season, having finished Gilmore Girls' fourth season last week. GG's ending was traumatic, but had that wonderful mix of horror, mourning, happiness, excitement, and humor that GG on good day can deliver so well. BG is exciting and intriguing.
  • we are also very excited that Jon Stewart is on More4, the new station that launched in early October. we are sad that we don't get to see the Colbert Report as well. can't have everything...
  • went to the boot sale again today (we don't go every weekend or anything) with three specific goals in mind: 1. drop off empty egg cartons to egg guy who is always asking for empty egg cartons. 2. buy a beard trimmer for Sam. 3. buy some sort of exercise bike such that we can work out when it rains, which turns out to be fairly often. As you may know, attempting to purchase anything purposively at a boot sale/flea market is folly. Folly! And yet, we succeeded on all three counts, including having the exerbike delivered to our doorstep by friendly Welshfolk (we told you they are friendly!!)
  • it is chilly. we are cheap. we have begun turning the heater on in the front room for 15 minutes or so each night, which warms it up nicely (this is why they invented doors, my friends. open-plan living is not so great for chilly). we have central heating only in the sense that the on-off-switch is in one place, near the water heater. no thermostat, so we just turn it on full-blast, turn off the radiators in rooms we're not using, and voilà. somewhat toasty.
  • have thus far tried over 6 different varieties of sausage at the local butcher. a sign there read: "pork, prune, and apple sausage: try it, it's awesome" I kid you not. Minted lamb burgers still the best burgers ever. New international market opened down on St. Helen's Road, with the most beautiful okra you've ever seen. Eid Mubarak all around, folks.
  • we have discovered the health stores in city centre which stock natural peanut butter by the tub. yes, just like those old school ice cream tubs we used to get... remember? imagine that filled with yummy crunchy peanut butter, no sugar, just peanuts. heaven.
  • Tim and Jackie send us DVD packets each week that contain the previous weekend's Gopher games, expertly edited by Jackie on the TiVo. We get instant replays, pauses to view the stats tables, and all the commercials edited out. Fab. it's like watching it with them. only a week late. so no spoilers!
  • Sam's job continues to go well; he has his first intensive teaching this week, and we will report on the whole "tutorial v. seminar: what's the difference?" debate.
  • I will be teaching a 2nd year module (trans.: sophomore-level course) in the spring entitled "Colonialism and Nationalism in India" in the Politics department. this means I have transitioned from humanities softy to hardened social scientist! I'm very excited. I plan to do a week on "the clothing of nationalism" which will involve study of the Nehru collar, the Gandhian dhoti, spinning, and fashion in general. should be fun...
  • I interviewed at Open University in Cardiff, but they didn't have work for me despite liking me quite a bit. perhaps something will come up later on. attempting to keep the faith there. I'm going in to chat with the fine arts department at Swansea Institute in a few weeks about possibilities there.
  • signed up for a library card at Swansea public libraries. they rent DVDs and CDs, which is very exciting. Libraries in general are exciting, wouldn't you say?
  • we may go to see the film director and writer Peter Greenaway of The Pillow Book fame talk next week as part of the Dylan Thomas festival here in town. the Welsh stick together, I think.

    and the usual working, sleeping, eating, of course. and walking. lots of walking.
  • 04 November 2005

    learning from your mistakes

    what I love about Catholicism is its long view of history and its awareness of past mistakes (if not present ones, but they will, eventually, become past mistakes and thus the Church will become aware...)

    referring back to our earlier musings on evolution, I ran across this AP wire today which details the Vatican's on-going discussions about evolution:
    Monsignor Gianfranco Basti, director of the Vatican project STOQ, or Science, Theology and Ontological Quest, reaffirmed John Paul's 1996 statement that evolution was "more than just a hypothesis."
    "A hypothesis asks whether something is true or false," he said. "(Evolution) is more than a hypothesis because there is proof."
    first of all, what an acronym! second of all, anything with the phrase "ontological quest" has my vote. third of all, I love that the Vatican has a website for STOQ and that the papacy clearly is in the age of the internet, while they also, in the same AP piece, referred to earlier mistakes in the on-going discussion between religion and science, mistakes they regret, such as the whole Galileo "thing":
    The Vatican project was inspired by Pope John Paul II's 1992 declaration that the church's 17th-century denunciation of Galileo was an error resulting from "tragic mutual incomprehension." [...] "The permanent lesson that the Galileo case represents pushes us to keep alive the dialogue between the various disciplines, and in particular between theology and the natural sciences, if we want to prevent similar episodes from repeating themselves in the future," Poupard said.
    what I love about this is that it's not like the Galileo case is new news, and yet, in Church Time, it kind of is. Perhaps the longevity of the Catholics might be a lesson to those claiming Christian status and behind the whole intelligent design thing. But I suppose that would mean learning from history, or even knowing history. oh well.

    03 November 2005

    "Odds Are One" 2ndAmericano Style

    As I've suggested in the past, I know that Paul's not just talking about statistics, or math, or programming when he's talking about...well, statistics or math or programming. After some political theory reading this morning, I'm better able to specify that intuition. Here's what I read:
    ‘in our personal lives [as in human history] our worst fears and best hopes will never adequately prepare us for what actually happens—because the moment even a foreseen event takes place, everything changes, and we can never be prepared for the inexhaustible literalness of this "everything"’ (Arendt 1994). Her point is that when an event passes from possibility to actuality—regardless of how probable or improbable we may have taken it to be while it was still only a possibility—something changes in a different register; namely, the register in which happenings are not only caused states of affairs but also meaningful events, features of a world, and, in particular, occasions for response.

    02 November 2005

    politics of the everyday

    I suppose as a response to comments on my earlier rant regarding the topic: "Feminism: still relevant? still useful? discuss." and given that others too, seem bothered by the post-feminist assumption that we're over it already, or perhaps even more to the point: get over it already, I wanted to note a particular tenet of mine. Which, in the end, relates to the religion/faith discussion we had earlier. I'm also prompted to link to the even earlier discussion about how there is only one narrative, really, and here we are again.

    Yes. Hilary in '08. Absolutely. Hilary-Obama or perhaps Obama-Hilary. mix it up a bit. but as friend Dan knows quite well, the political also occurs on the everyday, minute level. the level of: here's who I am, and I'm not going to be cowed by your assumptions about who I am into being someone else. this goes for being gay, a woman, or just in general queer. and by that I don't mean gay. I mean undercutting the norms in general.

    So if that means speaking your mind in a meeting, interrupting or cutting off someone else in a loud voice, even if you don't have a penis (sorry Mom—so hard to say that word in front of your Mom, no?) then that's what it means. And yes, it's not a battle that one signs up for. Or gets paid to do. It's a daily, groveling, crap battle that demands nuance, respect for others, wit, and a generosity of spirit. Often, it is fought by those with cynical, small, close-minded ways who demand others bend to their will, or risk being labeled "fascist." [Sam and I call these types of people, usually left-leaning and well-meaning, "close-minded open-minded people"] but one hopes, for the future of the universe, that it is fought from the generous side of listening but then also arguing for what is, fundamentally right. Like equal opportunities for each person, the right to work for a living wage, the right to maintain one's health without breaking the bank, the right to speak your mind in meetings or on the web regardless of the expectations of gender or race or class. These are things that we do not yet have. Perhaps will never have. And yet they are still important to argue for and stand up for. In a generous, open way, but one that promotes debate and discussion not: I'm okay, you're okay.

    so it's not about squashing others' opinions, it's about fighting for something that is right. And everyone's opinions are, in the end, not equally correct or right. one only needs to read a few undergraduate papers to learn this universal truth. we need to stop looking at the sexism thing as about individuals, individual choices, or individual opinions. it's not about blaming some single person, it's about recognizing the atmosphere of misogyny and ameliorating it where we can. it's a systemic, all-encompassing sludge that we are all in: women, men, transgendered, and the rest. our job should be to try to clean up this sludge one molecule at a time.

    (don't know where that metaphor came from. sorry about that. damn you metaphors!)