30 May 2006

house hunting: do I smell lemon?

so. we are house hunting, and while there's some excitement involved, there's also not an insignificant amount of exhaustion, stress, etc. Particularly as we are at the utter utter limits of our budget and yet, interestingly, the more expensive you get, the worse the decor. and we're not talking a lick of paint here, we're talking (bright) red carpet, bad kitchen remodels circa 1988, and the like. so we are also looking at some smaller, less pricey places, and today we went to see a house on Cambridge Street, one of several streets in the Uplands neighborhood that feel so utterly European that you no longer feel like you're in Swansea. perhaps it's the lack of bay windows (which, in our two-day-old search process we have decided we feel are overused in Swansea architecture--perhaps another sign of becoming British: to be British is to dislike the Victorian era. and Thatcher, but that's another story). but it's the steep hill and the way the terraced houses line it, and the way the V of the houses frames the view of the distant bay.

having seen a tiny house (two up two down) on Cambridge Street today, we were thus very excited to find, on Salon's VideoDog, this parody film of the famous Sony San Francisco-set advert. It's Cambridge street in Swansea! Really! very exciting. well, for us. but we looked at one of the houses down on the left, so you can live vicariously. plus, the parody is hilarious...

29 May 2006

sign of the apocalypse?

egg twins
Originally uploaded by doppio macchiato.
or just really interesting genetic stuff going on? despite the fact that there are 12 yolks, we in fact used only 6 eggs to achieve this bowl-o-egg. we were a bit worried. is this like the frogs with the extra leg? is there something in the water they're not telling us about?

what are the odds?

what we didn't know is that not just these six, but every single egg I bought on Friday at the lovely deli around the corner is, or would have been, had we not eaten them, twins. (for debates on when life begins, see some other blog somewhere else.)

they weed this stuff out in the US. white eggs, one yolk each please, and none of that 'fertilisation' grossness, thanks very much. it's all very back to nature here.

or is it?

authored by Rebecca, although authorial intent, joint blog, Sam cracked the eggs, blah blah

26 May 2006

media misses

over at ffb, Emery is railing against the media myopia that produces endless stories about a lame horse (larger political symbolism aside) rather than, er, focusing on things that might actually be important. I see tmcd's protest here. but, I also think certain things have happened this past week that have not gotten sufficient coverage. I also find it illuminating that while a lame horse gets coverage in the US, a lame footballer gets it in the UK. similarly vapid? or similarly important? perhaps a debate for ethics class.

  • Nepal is trying to become a secular state. That could be important, especially given its recent history.

  • Kuwaiti women not only have the vote (as of last year) but now actually may get to exercise it, and may have the choice of a few female candidates as well. go first wave feminism!

  • women in the UK who have given up careers to raise children can now claim compensation for lost earnings/potential earnings when they divorce their husbands. whether a househusband can do the same is unclear from the coverage.

meanwhile, I've been sucked in to the UK's new series of Big Brother. more soon.

25 May 2006


Here are some odds and some ends:
  • Follow-up of the week
    Tmcd and Emery both gave very good reasons why they saw no need to mention Hardt and Negri's Empire in the recent debate over at Ffb. Just to clarify: I also think the book is crap for many, many reasons. However, Tmcd notes that the reviews he read led him to believe that it, 'glamorized criminals and terrorists'. I have to say: that's utter nonsense. The book simply does no such thing. Also, while the historical record may be complicated, there seems to be a great deal more evidence to prove that Negri was jailed by his political opponents and very little to prove that he was a terrorist.

  • Quote of the Week
    if I were running the country, I'd probably want to have long talks with The Terrorists about their feelings while forcing everyone to have secular gay abortions after giving each other hand jobs while the Religious Right is taking a nap on the front porch
  • Rhetorical Question of the Week
    Why is this story – about the efforts of a Missouri town to either evict from their homes or fine $500 per day, all unmarried couples with children – a lead article in the Guardian, but utterly impossible to locate (even on the AP wires) in the US MSM?

  • Image of the Week

24 May 2006

8 1/2 weeks

this is the number of weeks--adding everything up, not consecutive weeks--that Sam and I have been in the same place since January 1, 2006. There have been 21 weeks thus far in 2006. now we know how those 1980s yuppie couples with two high-powered jobs, traveling all over the world felt. without the thin ties, the shoulder pads and the sockless loafers.

we don't have to do the Paul and Linda McCartney thing--every moment together--but we should be doing better than 40%. well. all that ends tomorrow. now that we have jobs in the same place, two incomes (well, soon) and the professional and personal space to say 'no' to travel-like things, we have a chance to settle. stay in one place for awhile. nest. pursue unending home improvements. garden. walk the dog. or, radical: travel together. huh. interesting.

21 May 2006

americans are uptight

so I'm e-mailing and blogging here from the In De Waag cafe where the interwebs are free for the price of a coffee or a water or whatever. no charge. no worries. there are two terminals. I was here earlier for lunch (salad with calf's tongue, a local specialty. very yummy. mmm.) and am now here in the evening post-dinner time. post-prandial e-mailing, if you will. so I'm moved to comment that the two terminals are never beset with a waiting list. the only people in all amsterdam that e-mail are, you guessed it, americans. everyone else is too stoned, drunk, or on vacation to care. both times I've been here the other terminal has been occupied by folks from the good ol US of A. so we're a bit uptight? I better go have one of those drink thingies.

activities today:
went down south to do a walking tour (self-guided, are you kidding?) of the Amsterdam School architecture built in the early 20th c. undulating brick, very cool. will post pics once I get home. I could post them here--they have four usb ports connected to the machine--but I don't have my camera cable. gotta love the first world.

post-calf-tongue I wandered around the Niewmarkt markt--tacky cannibis t-shirts, delft tiles, hippie clothing--the usual. Then I went and did Bikram. In dutch. Awesome. I highly recommend the lone Bikram studio in amsterdam. accessible by the #4 tram, easy to find, friendly, nice facilities, reflecting pool out back so you can cool off (steam was literally coming off of my body afterward). gotta love it.

Speaking Across Idioms

I'm off to Scotland (been in the UK 9 months now and this will be the second trip to Scotland, but I've only crossed the border into England in order to take a plane to the states - note the nascent Welsh nationalism) in order to talk about 'normative violence' at a 'workshop' where almost everyone else will be talking about sovereignty. It's a workshop and not a conference because most or all participants are giving papers and everyone's paper was distributed beforehand. Thus, I have a lot of reading to do, and while working on some of it this afternoon I was struck in a particular way by the disconnect between academic and other-than-academic discourses.

You see, I was too busy panicking about life, so I missed the great imperialism debate over at Freedom from Blog. (If you missed it as well, then you can start with the link I gave you and work your way backwards.) I think most of the bases are already covered there, but it only hit me this afternoon: the entire debate went on with no one mentioning Hardt and Negri.

I imagine that the italics and bold are going to look really stupid to most readers of this blog, so let me just try to give you a sense of what I'm on about. For anyone in the tiny little field of contemporary political theory Hardt and Negri's Empire (2000) is THE BOOK. It's the biggest, most talked about text since...I don't know, KKV, Making Democracy Work, Theory of Justice...take your pick going backward in time.

I'm not going to try to summarise the 500 pages of Empire, but suffice it to say that the thesis of that book suggests that in the late-modern capitalist system neither the US nor any other country can be imperialist. Capitalism today forces the transfer of some national sovereignty to the needs of the flow of global capital, in such a way that no nation can have an empire. Now, this flow of global capitalism is, in fact, led by the US, but for H&N that explicitly does not make the US an imperial power like Britain or Rome.

I'm not making the case for Empire, since I think it's an overhyped, reductive, and highly disappointing text; it's the only book I've ever taken off the syllabus as the semester began. However, it is also a daring, imaginative and most of all suggestive text, one that has served to start a conversation about how we think about sovereignty and empire in a world where the nation-state looks nothing like it did in 1648. One cannot talk about any of these issues in contemporary political theory now without taking account of Hardt and Negri, and it seems to me that the discussion about America as the world super-power and possibly imperial power would actually be significantly aided by this new frame for thinking. It's too bad, then, that political theorists seem only to be talking to themselves.

van gogh et al

no. I didn't go to the VG museum here in Amsterdam. I find it tiresome, looking at his works with a gaggle of oo-ers and ah-ers, there to see the top ten and then immediately get bored with his brushstrokes. don't get me wrong. a good Van Gogh is a great painting, and one can only really see his work in person. I think he was ruined for me by dorm-room posters. and those impressionist/postimpressionist mugs of the early 1990s. you know what I'm talking about.

I'm more a Rembrandt girl, so I headed to the Rijksmuseum this morning to take in the Night Watch and other similar works by the Dutch greats: Hals, Jan Steen, etc. etc. The Night Watch is huge. bigger than I thought. And very interesting. it was commissioned by the men whose pics are in it, and those that could pay the most are the ones that made the cut. I have to say, I'd be a bit upset about the work as a group portrait if I were wealthy enough to get into it. certain people in it get the best clothes, the fab sword (no symbolism there, I'm sure) the cool helmet. others get the askance look, the dubious look, the what-am-I-doing-here and who-is-that-glowy-girl look.

in any event, it's good to see the work, and great to see some of the other paintings. I'm a sucker for a still life with glass in it from the 17th century. What can I say? and, you can't make a mug out of the Night Watch. perhaps this should be the litmus test for good art.

19 May 2006

I Need Some Help With Economics

One thing that has been less-than-easy to adjust to about living in the UK is that pretty much everything is more expensive. The only real exceptions to this rule are: beer and food from the grocery store. VAT is 17.5% on everything, and for many items there's not quite as large a competitive market to drive prices down, so it makes sense to me that things are more expensive. And, of course, right now the dollar is so goods in dollars are cheap. I get this.

We don't worry about this too much since, A) we have free health care, and B) for the past year we haven't spent money on anything at all (after rent, council tax and food, the money's all gone). With the future prospect of settling down here, and especially with the future prospect of two incomes, we've been looking around at some things we need to buy, e.g. house, car, clothes, stereo, hot tub. Basically, all of these thing are looking very expensive to us (well, especially the house).

But I'm not posting to whine. I'm actually hoping someone can explain the following to me....As some of you may know, Rebecca and I are big fans of watching good TV on DVD, and we are huge fans of Six Feet Under. The series ended this past summer, so all 5 seasons are now available on DVD. Here's the price comparison (using Amazon in both cases)

  • US
    Seasons 1 - 4 as a package: $359.99
    Season 5, standalone: $63.96
    TOTAL = $423.95
  • UK
    Seasons 1 – 5 complete: £111.99 (~$205)
This, I do not get. Can someone explain?

Next: It turns out I have a bailiwick, who'd've thunk it


google earth it. it's outer reaches Netherlands. This is where I'm spending the next two days, and then two days in Amsterdam. Should be fun! More reporting on Euro infrastructure v. British infrastructure, the definition of 'bed and breakfast'and what 'continental breakfast' really means.

17 May 2006

Spring Cleaning

For obvious reasons, we felt the need to mark the transformation wrought in our lives over the past week. And, these days, what better way to do so than to change one's blog template. Hope you all like the new look.

16 May 2006

narrative, the. see: incoherent babbling

many thanks for all your good wishes on my new post here at Swansea and, perhaps more importantly, what this means for Sam and me: the limbo, or at least this current version thereof, is coming to an end. we are searching for something to worry and complain about to replace the huge void left in our lives by this good news. suggestions welcome. we are also welcoming thoughts on how one even deals with good news at all. we are well beyond our comfort zone on this one.

if everything is narrative, then one might be able to relate this story. but it involves job searches and names and dates and it's somewhat unfair and awkward to delineate the narrative without the permission of all involved. plus, narrative is often about events already past (for the argument contra this, see: Derrida's ghost stuff, Macbeth, Sam's Derrida-Macbeth chapter in his book, eternal return discussion, temporality not being linear etc. but whatever.) and we would like to at least move into the next Hegelian cycle of thesis-antithesis-blah blah. (not a big Hegel fan, can you tell?)

in terms of transformations, in addition to the moving-toward-settled one mentioned above, I'm excited about the moving-toward-politics one, which entails constituting what I'd like to be as an intellectual. so that's very exciting. I no longer have to convince folks I'm an art historian by talking about style and paint strokes and artists (thank god) and I can now talk about the covers of magazines, politicians' clothing, socialism in Bollywood films, and how images of Kali also resonate as images of militant nationalism prior to India's independence. so much fun! in fact, I don't have to convince anyone anything about myself. very freeing.

expect the continuation of incoherent babbling on second americano, since we all know that some things never change, regardless of how you consider narrative, the.

15 May 2006

Rebecca, Lecturer in Politics

If I tried to say more I'd most certainly go on for paragraph after incoherent paragraph. Our heads are both still spinning. So all I'll say is this:

Congratulations to Rebecca – the newest member of my department – on her permanent, tenured post!

(edited to add clarity concerning location)

11 May 2006

Of Paradigms, Oil, and the End of the World

It saddens me that some hacks in the 80's decided to appropriate the Kuhnian concept of 'paradigm' for a bunch of bogus business-speak. They've soiled the concept, and I'm not sure it can be cleaned up again.

But it's an important idea, nonetheless. For me, the basic key is this: all the facts and rules about the world look different from one within one paradigm compared to another. Is the earth the center of the universe? Depends on whether we're talking pre- or post- Copernicus. Can a tax cut increase economic growth? Depends on whether you look at it from within the supply-side economic paradigm. (The answer prior to the 1980s would have been an unequivocal 'no'.)

I think I have the best 21st century example to explain paradigms – technology. Have a non-Tivo owner ask a Tivo owner, what Tivo is all about. Most Tivo owners will say something like this, 'well, at first glance it is like a digital VCR'. This 'it's like' is crucial. I translate it as follows: the Tivo owner is saying, 'well, from within your non-Tivo paradigm, the Tivo will appear to be a digital VCR, but once you start to use a Tivo you'll experience a paradigm shift and realise that it's not really that at all'. Non-Tivo owners also have a standard series of questions about Tivo (usually about watching one thing live while doing something else), and they are totally relevant and significant questions from within the non-Tivo paradigm, but they make no sense in the Tivo paradigm. In the Tivo paradigm, one does not watch live television.

The problem with prognostications about the oil peak is that they are making predictions about what the future holds from within this paradigm, when, undoubtedly, what the future holds is a shift to some other paradigm.

This is what happens when we run out of a primary energy source - we switch to another one. And we don't know what the logic of the economy, the environment or world politics will look like in that new energey paradigm - because we aren't in it. But every paradigm shift has rewritten all the rules (that's what paradigm shifts do).

Now, will the paradigm shift be smooth? Probably not. Will it kill millions of people? Maybe. Will it result in environmental devastation that takes hundreds of years from which to recover? Still, maybe. Will it come too late, such that we destroy the world entirely? I suppose that's possible, but it doesn't seem likely.

What we need is a way to see our way to the new paradigm, while we extend the 'friendly' terms of this one as long as possible. What a banal conclusion: I'm calling for massive energy conservation and massive investment in alternative energy sources. But the longer we invest resources in this energy paradigm, as if it's the only one we're ever going to live in , the more we increase the chances that it will be the last.

(Side note: as I was finishing this post, Rebecca asked 'whatcha writing about' and I said 'Paradigms'. She responded, 'I was just putting together a blog post in my head about paradigms in response to Paul's post on oil'. Thus, A) Rebecca wants some credit for this post, and B) our wireless network seems to be working quite well today.)

10 May 2006

The Music of Language

Like a lot of Americans – and despite being born in Texas and having lived in Minnesota – I think I mostly labored under the awful American myth that an 'accent' is something one does or does not have, that it is a deviation from some norm of plain American English. Perhaps I refused to question the myth because I truly was just a bit traumatised as a child by my own accent. I grew up in a rural mountain community in southern Colorado. Folks from my home town hate Texans; it's their raison d'etre. You wave at every car that passes with a local Colorado license plaet (VE, back in the day), you ignore the non-local Colorado plates, and you glare menacingly at the Texas plates. And thus, I desired to 'not have an accent', and over the years (coupled with never mentioning where I was born) I mostly succeeded. In college, some friends found out that I was born in Texas, or they heard my father speak, and the notion that 'my accent would come out' while talking on the phone to my parents became an oft-repeated joke. It was friendly and good-spirited joking, but I suppose it also tapped into that terrible feeling when I was 8, being the subject of Coloradon xenophobia. And maybe this is why I continued not to question the myth of the 'accent' in America (maybe it's why I'm so relentless in mastering the Minnesota accent, so that I can make fun of soemone else).

Having lived in the UK for 9 months now, I can say this about the American notion of 'accent': it's complete rubbish. Living here in Wales has provided a wonderful education in learning to hear the music of language. This post wrote itself in my head while walking home from the University yesterday, after spending 3 hours in a department meeting. I spent the meeting listening mostly to a German accent and an Irish accent. These two central voices where complemented by a choir of English accents. But an English accent is not a singular thing: the Oxfordshire accent of one colleague is quite distinct from others. And just as it's crucial to stress that I don't live in England (it's Wales, dammit!), I also don't live in a place where one hears an English accent constantly (there's no such thing as a British accent). The students and shopkeepers are mostly from Wales, and they sound nothing like my colleague from Bath. I'm now at the point that I can sort out English/Scottish/Welsh/Irish/English City. That last category has multiple sub-categories (London, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle), but my ear is not good enough to distinguish the subcategories. I just know the difference between an upper class English accent and my student from south London. Then there are the students from mid-Wales whose parents moved from London, but that's out of my league (and was only explained to me by my colleague).

Like any skill in reading (seeing and hearing are other variants of reading for me), learning this one has allowed me to notice things I wouldn't have noticed in the past - like the fact that 'Jeff' on Coupling is Welsh. It's never mentioned explicitly in the show, but he has a Welsh accent, and this plays into his character type.

Then, of course, there's the strangest accent of all – American! Very few folks at the University are from the States, and almost no one in town is. So it literally stops me in my tracks when I hear an American accent. It sounds so flat, so clangy; it's piercing and bounces off the hallways in a noticable manner. Above all, and this is what destroys the myth so thoroughly, it's distinctive. Nothing else sounds like an American accent.

09 May 2006

some answers

  • how do you measure a coast? by doing a fab BBC documentary series on it, which Sam and I just watched most of. coasts are crazy, wild places that do things you wouldn't expect. and, the bonus? our good friend Map Man is the host! Our hero (Map Man, for those of you not following along here) led us through the borderlands of Scotland (and other places), tracing the paths of 17th and 18th century maps to find out about the history, politics, economics, and of course geography of the UK. how much does the television fee rock? Map Man Much.

  • did the Brits build infrastructure in India? yes. but only after about a century, and then only really in the service of their own economic gain, and the disservice of much of the subcontinent. While India was under the rule of the East India Company (from 1763 to 1858), they mostly avoided putting any infrastructure into the region, aside from fortified buildings to guard their stuff. is this good imperialism? yes. is it a benefit of imperialism? probably. is it a reason to call imperialism 'good'? not really, at least not for me. negatives far outweigh the positives.

  • and a question (and it's definitely worth it to read the entire post linked there to get a context for this):
    So, for instance, if a man raped a girl, he was prosecuted for hubris (that which he committed against the girl’s father).
    if hubris often operates through the event of rape, and we use it to understand our hubristic violent act in Iraq, then who is the father that we have committed hubris against? surely Iraq is the girl? who is 'responsible' for Iraq in this relation? and it is fascinating to me (and I think important) that this connection exists between rape and hubris, especially as rape is often the metaphor used for colonial conquest/penetration of 'deepest darkest Africa'. it means there's something even more sinister about the whole thing.

sorry to end on such a downer. read the post below for some giggles.

08 May 2006


this is not pressing news, I imagine, but I find it very sad news. while normally I don't partake of bananas here in the West, primarily because the ones they sell in the supermarkets are bred for sweetness and have a glycemic index that's through the roof, I do partake of bananas when I'm in India. so many varieties, sold off the banana branch itself (branch? stalk?), many of which are nowhere near as sweet as the ones in the UK or US. plus, it has its own biodegradable packaging. how cool is that?

so we're losing species of bananas in India. much as corn has become subject to market forces that produce cattlefeed and high fructose corn syrup, bananas are also now starting to narrow in scope. perhaps we can hope for a banana revival, much as the botanists gave us the heirloom rose revival or the farmer's markets saw that specialty tomato boom. but those are first-world, wealthy-country products, no? the banana is a solidly third-world product. so a loss for us, a loss for the third world economy. I'm not arguing for some sort of return to the Ur-banana, mind you. just a moment of mourning for the impending loss of a variety of tastes some may never have the chance to experience. forget the Taj. just go for the bananas.

fab pic from the Washington Banana Museum. I kid you not.

07 May 2006

mormon to morocco in 5 seconds

so Sam and I have both now read Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven and I'm struggling with Mormonism. every time I think I have my finger on what bothers me about it (patriarchy, racism, secrets in vaults, egomaniacal leaders, fundamentalist sects, mystical laying-on of hands) I come up with an example from another religion that I'm more familiar with that also exhibits these traits and I wonder why Mormonism strikes me as different from these other religions. it's still stewing.

speaking of patriarchy and religion, broadsheet had a short note on the recent training and appointing of 50 women as religious guides in Morocco, opening up a bit of the higher levels of the Islamic community there to women, and providing an outlet for women to earn money as well. the other countries that also do this? Egypt and Iran.

once again it continues to astound me that the latter is on the US axis of evil while Saudi Arabia remains our close ally. here's hoping that the US doesn't try to squash the progressive movement within Morocco like it did the one in Iran.

06 May 2006

Spring in Wales - Highly Recommended

'Clyne in Bloom'
Originally uploaded by doppio macchiato.
Since there are 3 parks within a few blocks of our flat, and since we have now gone 9 months without owning a car (by the way, that means that everyone inthe over/under pool lost), we thought we were well-aware of our park and garden surroundings. We were surprised to learn, then, that there's this amazing place just 5 minutes away.

Luckily, my colleague gave me the heads-up that early May is the time to visit Clyne Gardens ('Clyne in Bloom' they call it), so here are some shots from yesteday afternoon.

04 May 2006

This long between posts, and all you have is links???

It's springtime, and that means that our lives are in utter and complete chaos. Future life-possibilities tend to change radically and in unpredictable ways about...oh, say, every half hour. Anyway, that's my excuse for the continued quiet here. Rebecca would have a much better excuse, as she's the one travelling all over the world, but she seems to post with regularity.

I've been wanting to say something about Stephen Colbert's keynote at the Whitehouse correspondents dinner, but I think Paul has all the bases covered there.

And I have all sorts of commentary on the topic of grading/politics broached recently by TMcD.

But I suppose if you're reading this blog, then you're likely to have seen those entries anyway. So I'll leave you with one more link. I have had a number of thoughts concerning the Colbert speech bouncing around in my head. They tend to condense into one question: why is it that in American culture and politics today the only form of political critique that resonates is one that comes through humour? I swear: during 04-05, The Daily Show was my salvation; I'm not sure where I would have been without it. Despite the fact that it's comedy (and I'm not a big comedy fan), it always seemed like a refuge – the one place where one could find some reason.

This Salon piece helps to provide part of an answer, at least for me. I've been screaming for years that the 'liberal media' monikor is the most bogus political invention in recent history. If you'd asked me whether the MSM (when did this acronym get invented, by the way, I feel like I'm late to the party) failed in its duties over the past 5 years I would have unflinchingly said yes. But I had no idea how bad the picture really is. The article doesn't so much make an argument as it strings together a series of facts, the weight of which becomes simply unbearably before you are even half way through.

The bigger question that the article fails to pose – but which I will pose to you, gentle and brilliant readers – is what do we do now? Some might suggest that the MSM must return to being an independent-minded, critical-thinking, watchdog of government. But I think that ship has sailed. The Bush administration and Fox News have simply changed the terrain too fundamentally for it to be possible to 'go back'. There is no longer a space above the partisan fray. It's odd, then, that reading the 'partisan' newspapers in the UK, they come across as less unified in their perspective than American newspapers today (e.g. the Guardian criticises both Labour and the far-left more often than the Washington Post criticises the Bush administration). So is a European media model the American future? I'm not making a case for it because I don't have the arguments or evidence, but if that's not the trajectory, then what is?