30 June 2006

running on the beach

so I've been expanding my run circuit slowly, as I've realised my other plan to improve my cardio (namely, exercising everyday for the same, shorter amount of time) wasn't going to work. where I used to run up the hill to Cwmdonkin park (one-time haunt of our local boy Dylan Thomas) and back, I expanded to running around the larger Singleton Park. and then I made the move to run on the beach. what's amazing about this is that the crucial element for me at first was that the beach is largely flat, and thus not as hilly as my prior runs had been (although getting back home involves near straight up-hill, but that's what the 'cool down' is for). so the motivation for moving to the beach was largely laziness and being sick of hills.

and then I was running the other day along the beach and this song came on (truth be told I think it was 'Don't Speak' and I'm very embarrassed by that) which I thought was a bit slow for my already quite slow running pace. my next thought was: 'hey, this is a great song to run on the beach to.' and then I thought: damn! I'm running on the beach! how many people get to do that?

why am I telling you (nebulous reader(s) who number about 4 and whom I know) this? I suppose because it struck me not that I'd taken the beauty of the place where I live for granted, but that it just never occurred to me that I would live in a place where there would be a beach to run on. never thought I could afford that, really--it's pretty pricey to live near a beach in the US--and it's only rich movie star types that run on the beach, right? and I've lived in beautiful places before--St. Mary's county is for many people quite beautiful--and Colorado is amazing. But it seems like I live in a place now where the beauty is usable in some way--that is, it's easy to get to, accessible, things to do once you're there, no bugs, paths through it, coffee shops along the way--that type of usable. friendly. It's not beauty-to-be-looked-at. it's beauty to be a part of. Gwen Stefani aside, that's cool.

27 June 2006

days off

we used my birthday (23rd) as an excuse to both hire a car (!) and take a little trip out to St. David's in northern Pembrokeshire, a few hours drive from here. Much fun had by all, much walking (Brits don't hike. they walk) and one of our two requisite pilgrimages done--two trips to St. Davids equals one to Rome. we may still go to Rome anyway, I think. or, we may stay in Wales forevermore. why leave? we had pork pies for lunch both days (reason enough to stay here), saw some amazing scenery and wildlife, including some horses (wha?) and a seagull that begged for our pear core. much clambering and wind-swept coastline. oh, and one of Arthur's many burial sites. seems everywhere in Wales claims him (of course he's Welsh. what good old myth/idea isn't?) driving on the left is fine; shifting with the left hand a bit harder. highway code in tow, we managed to navigate relatively legally. pics coming soon.

we will return to our regular blogging schedule after the inevitable work-overload that comes with taking a few days off.

next: how ugly are England's players? who has the best hair? and other pressing questions

21 June 2006

Direct Quote from the TV Football Commentary

During the Netherlands v. Argentina match tonight, the following was said:
I'm just going to remind you that the winners of this group...would be headed towards a quarterfinal against Germany or Sweden. The runners up would be headed towards a quarterfinal against England or Ecuador. Possibility of England v. Argentina that Saturday (1st July). Gives you time, if necessary, to postpone your wedding.

How Small is Swansea?

When we started our search for a house, we quickly eliminated anything not within walking distance of the University, and we ruled out the student are right next to the University. That narrows one's universe significantly. Thus, I guess what happened this afternoon shouldn't be surprising.

During our search we looked at about 20 houses, and the very first one we saw was certainly close to the top of the list. Indeed, we made not one but two offers on this house; both were summarily rejected, with no counteroffers. (As a supreme negotiater, I was not at all chagrined at being turned down, but I did take some offence at the lack of a counteroffer.)

We eventually had an offer accepted on a different house, one that was more our size, closer to our price range, and very likely to be a much safer financial investment in the long term. We then gave notice to the estate agents from whom we rent our flat, and they contacted us this week to arrange a viewing today. Guess who walked in the door?

Yes, that's right: the owners of that first house we saw, the ones who turned down our offers. How small? Quite.

18 June 2006

Inevitable World Cup Post

One of our central tactics in learning to assimilate culturally here in the UK has been sport (singular, never plural). Thus, we watched a bit of football and rugby in the autumn, and then got serious in January by following the Six Nations rugby closely and watching most of the games. We then watched the FA cup semi-finals and finals, and the euro cup finals in football, followed by a number of pre-World Cup 'friendlies'.

All of this was only prep work for experiencing the World Cup. Here, the World Cup is like Christmas, the Super Bowl and Ramadan all rolled together: 1) the excitement and giddiness about it, from everyone, is palpable, 2) it's the biggest event in sport, full stop, 3) it changes everyone's daily practices and rituals. It goes almost without saying that every single World Cup match is televised live on free-to-air TV (i.e. you don't need cable or satelllite). And even the announcers seem to recognise that there's just nothing like the World Cup; they'll sign off from the post-game wrap-up of the 2pm game by saying, 'and just 45 more minutes until there's more football'.

We're probably not living up to standards, but we've now watched most of about 17 games. My top games so far, would have to be:
1) US v. Italy (more below)
2) Argentina v. Serbia
3) Angola v. Mexico

Anyone who watched the Argentina game must simply confess that it's a beautiful sport. That second goal was just awe-inspiring: 24 consecutive passes before the goal, with each of the last 4 passes safely categorized as genuis, and the final back heel pass just breathtaking.

Anyone who watched the US game last night and still says they don't like soccer - that it's not a sport with any excitement or drama - must really be missing something fundamental in their brain-vision system. I just barely survived the tension of the second half, and I'm a hardened hockey fan who can usually take a great deal of sport stress. And the Americans played some brilliant, determined football against one of the very best teams in the world (and with only 9 players!). What most impressed me was that the British press this morning was full of praise for the Americans; there's a genuine love of the game, and when a team puts on a show of quality football they are applauded for it, even if they are the otherwise-hated Americans.

Many huge matches to go in the qualifying stage, with numerous unanswered questions:
1. Can England finally play up to their abilities?
2. Will Brazil emerge from their stupor and play at the level of Argentina?
3. Will the US show up for the game against Ghana looking like the out-of-sorts dolts from game one, or the tenacious group of footballers who clearly deserve to be the in the World Cup that played game two.
4. Will tiny Ecuador continue their impressive play?

You can be sure, we'll be watching. You should be too.

17 June 2006

need a book proposal?

Sam and I are currently sitting at our table/joint desk/office both writing book proposals. as some of you may know, Sam now has more books under contract than we ever imagined, back in the dark days of a certain publisher sitting on his first book for 2 years and then, half-way through the process, unceremoniously dumping it. without telling Sam.

money begets money.
publishing begets publishing.

sometimes, you just have to be in the orbit of certain people and suddenly you're churning out tomes.

the lesson, I think, is that the more we sit in our caves and nurse our insecurities, holding our 'knowledge' close to the chest so that no one else will 'steal' it, the less we contribute. the more we chat, and eat fabulous japanese food, and debate ideas, and bounce things around, and support one another with generosity, the more we prosper intellectually.

i think there's some book around here with a metaphor that describes this. something about light, and a bushel, and hiding... hm. I'll have to google-book that to find the citation.

15 June 2006

insurance, or: is the shoe-box under the bed enough?

in our on-going saga of adjusting to the UK, one of the things we've noticed is that despite the overwhelming and draconian presence of the insurance industry in the US, it is only here in the UK that insurance is something you buy casually, say at the pub. one can buy insurance to 'cover' you (cover is the key verb-noun used here) in the event of your groom leaving you at the altar. it's called 'wedding cover' (for as little as £56!) of course travel cover is normal, which makes sense given that the NHS doesn't really extend beyond the borders of the UK, with only a few tentacles to cover you in the EU. but this gets to ridiculous levels fairly quickly. one can buy auto cover, and then add on 'legal cover' to your auto cover. this insurance covers you in case of an accident that is not your fault and involves hiring a solicitor. the guardian deems this a bit over the top.

I've always been mystified by life insurance policies. I get that when you die there are expenses, and certainly if you have dependents there's a need to provide for them. but if both adult partners work, and there are no dependents--shouldn't you be exploring other investment/savings/tax-hidden/estate-tax-protected options besides tossing £10/month at a life assurance policy that only pays out if you die before the end of its term? yes, it would be hard and not fun to have to sell the house and move into another, smaller one in order to make ends meet. but if it's the choice between that hassle and literally throwing money at a fatcat insurance industry that tries to scare me into things? hm. if anyone has thoughts in support of life insurance for a pair like Sam and I, let me know. happy to hear the arguments.

but I have to say, the shoe box is lookin' pretty good right about now.

13 June 2006

coffee. coffee. coffee.

coffee, like chocolate, cocaine, and alcohol, is a substance once considered by wealthy Europeans to be a mind-altering drug-like treat. and this is still the case. some of these substances have been regulated, others like coffee, have not. Sam and I are culturally if not physically dependent on coffee for our daily routine, and thus it is central to our lives.

point one: peets sells the best coffee in the known universe.
this is perhaps the one ultimate, unassailable truth. we know this. and so we are faced with the ultimate dilemma: is it okay to pay 50% of the cost of the coffee itself to have it shipped to you overseas? especially as, along the way, one loses one of the key elements of peets' greatness: freshness? and so we entered the experimental phase of our journey.


  • to determine if a coffee comparable (not of course equivalent--see point one) to peets exists closer to home
  • coffee must be 100% Arabica beans, with no Robusta beans
  • coffee must be dark roasted, but not Italian or French roasted. no smokiness
  • coffee must be fresh enough such that packaging it in a canister or vacuum sealed container would be impossible due to the gassing of the coffee as it sits [by impossible, she means that the canister would explode, SC]
  • coffee must be balanced in taste, and although we do not dictate the region of origin, we will look spuriously upon 100% Latin American beans
  • deviations from these criteria may be made, but more than one deviation is ill-advised
  • entire experiment must include multiple alliterations

  • procure samples of the best coffees that meet most of the parameters in whole bean
  • make americanos (natch) with each sample
  • taste while hot
  • analyse and beat analysis to death
  • see point one.
Coffees tested:
  • Caffe New York EXTRA: 100% Arabica, good roast, good smell, best of the ones we tasted. A bit bright for our palates (we like the indonesian coffees) but a good blend, complex in front and back of the mouth and none of that harsh Robusta flavour. great crema for a 100% Arabica (robusta beans = crema, but they also =crap taste). cost: about the same as shipping Peets over. hm.
  • Arabicaffe Mediterraneo: no indication of robusta content, tasted fairly robusta-free. good looking beans (dark, a bit oily), but not as complex as the New York EXTRA. a bit light on the body, so there's nothing on the back of the tongue.
  • IZZO Espresso Napoletano: promising, in a paper bag (meaning potentially fresher) but no oil, not as dark as one would like. tasted good, but robusta beans got in the way, adding their acidy, almost artificial scent to the edges of the tongue. IZZO makes 100% Arabica, but only in a tin and we could only find a kilo-at-a-time. not good for testing at that rate.
  • Costadoro Master Club: 100% Arabica, but roast was incredibly light. no oil in evidence. they advertise light in the description as well, which means it's mostly Latin American beans, and thus none of the body we're looking for.
  • Mokaflor Chiaroscuro: 100% Arabica, and they list the origin of the beans, including some from Guatemala (the best region for coffee with some body in the Americas) and some Ethiopia Sidamo! very exciting. plus, the name is cool for us art historian types. result: crushing disappointment. more chiaro than scuro.
  • Arabicaffe Supermiscela: we didn't taste this one because it smelled bad. that's a sign of a truly bad coffee. [I mean, it smelled really terrible, like strong chemical cleaning agents, SC]
Bottom line: if you're in Europe and are looking for a nearby source for passable coffee, and your taste tends towards the peets, then Caffe New York EXTRA is a good choice, but not much cheaper than flying over your beloved peets from the homeland. folks in Europe value their crema, so they tend to put robusta beans in their espresso blends, which is counter to the quality parameters peets (and incidentally, Starbucks) follows. Europeans also tend to like a lighter roast, or at least they affirm it as a legitimate option, which it is not, in our book. so. looks like we'll be funding the USPS for a while longer, and continuing to ask our lovely visitors from the homeland to bring peets with them, evincing strange looks from customs officials and leading to conversations like this one:

customs: how long were you in Amsterdam?
Jeff: about an hour on layover from the states.
customs: why are you bringing coffee into the UK?
Jeff: have you tasted the coffee here?
customs: fair point. move along.

12 June 2006

I think I've got the logic

Colleen Graffy, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, has gone on record to describe officially the suicide deaths of three Guantanamo detainees, as 'a good PR move to draw attention'. This sound bite meshes with the description given by the camp commander, Admiral Harris, who has this to say about the suicides (from the same BBC article, but with my emphasis):

They are smart. They are creative, they are committed. They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.

OK, help me out with the logic here. It must go something like this:

  1. Terrorists are evil.
  2. Evil people do evil things.
  3. The detainees held indefinitely at Guantanamo are terrorists (otherwise they wouldn't be held at Guantanamo).
  4. The detainees are therefore evil.
  5. Their actions are therefore evil.
  6. Thus, in killing themselves they were not merely trying to make America look bad in the eyes of the world but actually going so far as to wage war against the US.
  7. Ergo, Americans should view the detainees' deaths as despicable, hostile acts against America.
How dare they do that (kill themselves) to us!

11 June 2006

don't forget polyandry

I've been musing on the discussion over at FFB regarding gay marriage. I too think family is important. I just have no stake in assuming that Man + Woman + (kid)x = family. The argument that this is the ideal is far from universally true, and it's far from true even in the so-called western tradition. family can often be Crone + daughter-in-law + daughter-in-law + daughter-in-law + (auntie)x + (kids)x. Those several adults might (or will almost certainly) provide an even greater variety of role models than two people, usually from the same class background, often with slightly divergent but more or less similar value systems, who tend to kinda look the same too. the crone-daughter-in-laws are usually from the same cultural/class grouping as well, but at least there are more of them. and if you don't know a grandma that's tougher than nails, you don't know true masculinity. the fact that in our heterosexist and sexist society the only diversity valued is the gender one strikes me as extremely narrow-minded and short-sighted.

I think that even within the seemingly narrow western context we already have these families. they are networks of friends who support one another's kids. they are groups of single moms and their mothers who manage to work things out together. they are from different class and ethnic backgrounds than the 'ideal type' usually is. they are urban and rural. they are already happening. they are limited in producing stable families by both societal stricture and law.

the 'norm' is produced by tax law and other legislation that bars more than two, different-gender adults from living in the same house. why not three? why not four? especially with house-prices through the roof in some of our urban areas, wouldn't it be best to encourage group-arrangements that allow everyone to participate in property ownership and the privileges that accord to that in our culture?

when people ask me if I 'have a family' I say yes: my partner, my dog Luke, and my world-scattered friends and blood relatives are my family. it's not the answer they were looking for. marriage might be fine for some people. if you've got a religion that privileges it, for example. but shouldn't we be allowing people to make unions that produce stable families, so that we can all have some sort of foundation for our lives, not just to produce healthy children?

10 June 2006

happy blogiversary to us

one whole year! very exciting. or not really. who knows. where were we last year? in colorado, hangin' with the folks in LaVeta, entering into year 2 of nomadism. seems like a long time ago.

more importantly, where were we during the last world cup? staying with our new friends José and Tara as they stayed up for the 2 am viewing of an Ecuador match. that was on our way from Virgina to Colorado in 2002. our memento of that trip was Luke waking José up at 9 am by jumping on his bed, clearly blissfully unaware that José had had about 2 hours of sleep...bawrr?

ahh. cute dog pictures. Go Ecuador!

09 June 2006

Bad Golf Metaphysics

Golf is a frustrating sport that demands more patience than the typical portion allotted to individuals within the human condition. There's a common dialectic in the game of golf, known to anyone who plays it seriously: your long game (driving and/or iron play) and your short game (putting and chipping) almost always remain in inverse relation. Round after round, you struggle with drives, but get up and down all the time. Then, after weeks and weeks of practice and work, you finally start driving the ball well, and at precisely this moment your putting goes to crap. So you buy a new putter, focus on your technique, and finally get it together – only to start shanking your long irons.

Life is like that too.

08 June 2006

Obligatory Blogging, Muses, and other detritrus

Something tells me that I really ought to be blogging about Bush's recent renewed support for a constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to folks like this (and no, I don't mean tmcd, I mean that brilliant, wonderful, insufferable character he somehow managed to call up yesterday). After all, this is my 'thing', right? I've been studying the debate over gay marriage for almost a decade now; I can sort through the recent history – from the Hawaii case, to the Defense of Marriage Act, to the first wave of state doma laws, to the first round of support for the FMA (last election time), to this one – without really thinking about it; and there are very few political issues about which I feel more strongly (or which resonate more personally).

Nonetheless, I just can't get inspired to say anything about it. What is there to say? Probably the best line to take is to mock the entire idea, which is what Tmcd does so beautifully. But I'm no good at satire. And there's only so many times that one can point out the hypocrisy of the whole thing. As Emery notes, the hypocrisy of it is now just a natural, normal element of the story. Of course it will never pass. Of course Bush isn't really all that interested or concerned about 'defending marriage'. Of course this is just a bone to the base.

Makes me think a rather awful thought: perhaps racist segregationists of the mid-20th century had more integrity than today's 'homophobes'. At least segregationists were fighting to defend entrenched economic interests; at least they were honestly defending privilege; at least they really believed in racism. (OK, maybe I can learn the skills of satire.) In contrast, and as both the MsM and they themselves would tell you, the politicians today who support the severe disenfranchisement of a significant portion of the population, and who wish to enshrine second-class citizenship status into the constitution itself, aren't reallly all that homophobic.

It's 'just political'. It's not politically efficacious policy, it's just the hollow statement. Just like that insane, evil guy (Phelps, I think is his name) who likes to 'picket' the funerals of gay people (specifically victims of hate crimes and victisms of AIDS), the statement is clear: 'we hate fags'.

And I suppose this, then, demonstrates two things: 1) why, if you're a writer, you need to write every day, and 2) why I find Butler's theory of performativity persuasive. Because I wasn't really all that worked up about the issue before I wrote about it; I didn't feel much over it. Now, I am. Now, I do.

06 June 2006

global dimming

I've debated whether or not to even post on this topic, but now that the "too-realistic" Al Gore film is out and various people have commented on its efficacy as a vehicle for everything from providing a good argument for why our current climate change is human-induced, to why you should, undoubtedly, own a Mac.

The past few weeks on the BBC have been 'Climate Chaos' season, during which we hear from scientists who know about this whole thing much better than I. I watched three hour-long segments (in a row) the other night, which provided wonderful data to prove that the change in global temperature we're experiencing now is directly the result of CO2 emissions, the usual stuff.

But the middle hour was on something I hadn't heard about before: global dimming. Seems the particulate matter from carbon-derived emissions (that would be smog) goes up into the atmosphere and, much like other small normally-occuring particulates like salt, these tiny particles attract moisture and form little droplets. The thing is, there are lots of them, and they're smaller than the normally-occurring ones. This creates a mirror effect in which all of these droplets of water reflect the sun's light back at the sun, shielding the earth from its rays. The percentages are staggering--10% to 30% drop in sunlight, depending on where one is in the world.

The irony: global dimming is dampening the effects of global warming. So that the small temperature increases we've been seeing are actually way low, if we account for global dimming. The program suggested that the past few summers of high temps in Europe were largely due to their progressive emissions policies alleviating the global dimming. The likely right-wing take on this: carbon emissions aren't bad! Nature balances itself out once again!

Of course, the hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths per year due to these particles in the air don't really come into this hypothetical right-wing argument.

But what's interesting to me is that I haven't heard about this global dimming thing before. Have I been out of it? Or is it that the political efficacy of raising this scientific issue is low for both the right and the left?

04 June 2006

Quote from a Message Board...

The question was, 'if you are from Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland, who will you be supporting in the World Cup'? And here was one of the first responses:
I'm Welsh and there's no way I could support England.

Maybe it's the constant media hype - 1966 and all that.
Maybe it's a dislike of some of the players - overpaid tossers.
Or maybe it's the historical rape and pillage of my country and it's [sic] resources.

Can't quite make my mind up which.
Note: I only scanned the first page of posts, but no one said they'd be supporting England. Therein lies the irony when folks in the states send mail to us with England on the address, or tell us to enjoy our summer in England. It would be like telling someone living in Colorado to enjoy the Texas summer.


it seems that many friends have been undergoing transformations of late, whether that means promotion, getting tenure, quitting one's job, changing professions, having a baby, or merely choosing the appropriate siding for one's house. transformations--metamorphoses--where one sheds one skin and grows or nurtures another, are of course the stuff of literature, art, and well, of course life.

and as is often the case with these things, it's the minutiae that are the toughest. that is, it's not spending tons of money to buy a new house and moving and getting your stuff from California to Wales and buying a car and starting a new job and and and that are fundamentally disturbing. because they're too big, too mammoth, too huge to even be encompassed by three words that mean the same thing.

one of the most cathartic things I've done since getting the job in the Politics department was to trash my bookmarks folder marked 'jobs' and click the button that alerted me I would lose all those bookmarks: was I sure I wanted to delete them? Yes. I also unsubscribed from all of the academic job e-mail listing services I'd subscribed to: College Art, jobs.ac.uk, chronicle.com, guardian.co.uk, and I started auto-deleting the job listings from my other listservs. very cathartic. and now, I've changed my signature on my professional e-mail.

it's the small things, I think, that make you realise how different your life was, and how different it will be very soon. because we can't understand the big things, really. hence the power of symbolism and metaphor in the world.

next: should I do my signature in Welsh and English? cool? or geeky?

03 June 2006

irony take two

broadsheet had a recent post that mounted a critique of the Wall Street Journal's New York advertising campaign (I know, I know. I hate it when New York people think they're the centre of the universe. but what can you do? false consciousness is a bitch.) they suggested the paper might be pandering to its male readership by producing ads that are all about selling women's bodies. this critique is fine, although not particularly new, and the use of women in ads for things utterly unrelated to them is, well, definitely old.

broadsheet then went on to link to an article in the WSJ on the new rage in bridal photography which redefines the 'intimate shot' in whole new ways. again, broadsheet suggests (rightly, sure) that this is merely an excuse for the paper to include photographs of scantily-clad brides-to-be. fine. but in pursuing only this line, they miss a crucial element of this article, which I find potentially feminist:
But at the same time, many independent-minded brides are poking fun at so many white bouquets and demure poses. "Being like a virgin is very different than being a virgin," says Julie Albright, a marriage therapist and sociology professor at the University of Southern California. For the many brides who have been living with their fiancés for years before taking the leap, mugging for risqué shots can be a way of playing up the irony of donning a traditional dress. "The white gown and veil is a kind of performance or drag -- like Madonna in her video for 'Like a Virgin.'"
yes, exactly. it's drag. and yet, one might suggest that brides worry, as say, a businessman might: Why Can't Anyone Tell I'm Wearing this Business Suit Ironically?

all this makes me wonder: should I be purchasing the sequinned undergarments for my sister's wedding? hm....

01 June 2006

chamberpot: it's an option.

several things are different about this house search than those we have pursued in the US. make that many things. first, there are no high-pressure salesmen. good and bad there. we kinda miss them. there's something about being taken around to multiple properties, having someone tell you: oh, there's this place that might be coming on the market that's just perfect for you...that sort of thing. so it's about ego. but it's also about people wanting to sell. which they don't here so much. too laid back for high capitalism. upsides and downsides.

second, the parameters for houses are utterly different. in the states you can search by the age of the house. here, everything's either normal (ie old) or modern (in which case you can tell that from the picture). plus, people don't list square footage. it's number of rooms (hence the whole open-plan thing didn't so much catch on here). but what's crucial is that they also don't list number of bathrooms. in the US you can search for number of bedrooms (same in UK) and then number of bathrooms, to a very scientific quarter-bathroom scale in which one can have a one-and-a-half bath house (powder room plus full bathroom) or, as we did in Redlands, a one-and-three-quarters bath house (full bathroom plus bathroom with only a shower, no actual tub). We decided that for us, a one-and-a-half bath was perfect: less to clean than a 1.75 or higher, but enough so that your guests aren't checking out what toothpaste you use or what's in the medicine cabinet.

if you get more than one bathroom in the UK, it's bizarre and you praise whatever higher power you may or may not praise. if you are particularly lucky, your sole bathroom (often with wc separate) is on the same floor as the bedrooms. if you are particularly unlucky, your sole bathroom is on the ground floor, located behind the kitchen. we saw a house like this today. perfectly fine, workable otherwise. but really. I'm not tramping down in the middle of the night, past the front door, through the lounge and dining room, past the fridge (oo--could be an upside...) through the kitchen and into the loo.