31 October 2006

Blogging is Like Teaching

When you do it well, you don't need to do very much at all.

In case you failed to scroll down, you may have missed the fabulous discussion of 'radical politics' going on between Tmcd, number three, and dan. Check it out.

I have only this to add: 1) I never meant to suggest that Tmcd himself was suggesting that gay people are inherently promiscuous, but I also agree (with him) that he shouldn't have gone there at all. 2) I don't think that the critique of heteronormativity involves a gay versus straight opposition. We should all be opposed to heteronormativity.

30 October 2006


On a lighter note...

There's been sad news over at FfB from the world of sport. So I'm happy to say that my beloved Golden Gophers are off to an unexpectedly nice start to their season. They are 6 - 1 after sweeping the always-talented (not to mention well-educated) Colorado College Tigers over the weekend. The Saturday victory was a shocking 8 - 1 romp. We now have the no. 1 scoring freshman in the country, a guy who is not quite 5'9" and who was meant not to even be playing college hockey this year back in August (when a returning sophomore decided not to return). And even better, given that the team has only been practicing for a few weeks, we've given up only 10 goals in 7 games.

Go Gophers!

28 October 2006

Norms and the 'we'

Thanks to all for the great discussion in the comments over the NJ decision. Good stuff!

I just wanted to follow-up briefly to say that in my little ditty on heteronormativity I was not able to make a few prepatory distinctions that, as Tmcd's comments indicate, are crucial.

Norms ≠ Average

I'm talking about normativity as in Foucaultian normalisation, not just 'what most people happen to do/think/feel/believe'. Heterosexuality is certainly what 'most people are/do', but what interests me is the way in which it is normative: it is that which is presumed and expected, and that which, when deviated from, produces severe consequences for the deviators.

Tmcd would say that these consequences are all for the best, as they encourage a form of family that is a pretty damn good one for raising children. I'm also not opposd to all norms, or even all normativity. So, yep, the norm that kids should be educated I'm all for. And a whole bunch of others as well.

Finally, and also quickly, I think, and I say this with all due respect to Tmcd whose arguments and perspective I value deeply, that the 'rampant promiscuity' stuff is just a gargantuan load of shit. Monagomy has nothing to do with queerness. First off, let me just say, monogamy is difficult, but that's NOT because of the primal nature of men who want to fuck everything that moves. It's hard because of societal norms that make it so challenging and frustrating at times for two people to go through life together as a 'we'. And monogamy is therefore much harder for people whose relationships mark them as queer with respect to the dominant norm of heterosexuality (this is the only link between being gay and so-called 'promiscuity').

The deep irony about my irreconcilable differences with Tmcd over the issue of gay marriage, is that I think we are both highly committed to encouraging the possibility of two people making their way in the world together. And that's why the references to 'rampant promiscuity' - which it's hard not to associate with a certain demonisation of the so-called 'gay lifestyle' that has itself been rampant in popular discourse for 20+ years now - is so problematic.

Right now, two of my best long-term straight friends are completing their divorces. A large number of the straight people I know are committed to a vision of individual independentness that I think gets in they way of any chance for a 'we'. In contrast, two regular readers of this blog are each a part of a 'we' that makes them much more than they might ever be as an 'I', and they achieve this despite the fact that the system of law and norms will not recognize their relationship as equal to that of two people who get drunk in Vegas. There are also two other sets of readers out there that may not be gay, but I'd certainly call them 'queer' and they have two of the srongest relationships I've witnessed in my life - oh, and one of those pairs raised me. This is why I will never accept that we should settle for a world in which we 'live with' heteronormativity.

26 October 2006

Greg Asks....

So the New Jersey supreme court decided the following yesterday:
  1. The equal protection clause of the New Jersey Constitution affords same-sex couples the same rights to the benefits and priveleges of marriage [and, I would add, duties and responsibilities] as opposite-sex couples.
  2. The question of what to call this, i.e. 'marriage' or something else, should be left up to the 'democratic process', i.e. the legislature.
In addition,
  • they found that the state had no genuine purpose in reserving marriage for heterosexuals.
  • They refused to call marriage a fundamental right, but ruled that the unequal distribution of rights 'can no longer be tolerated' under the New Jersey Constitution.
Greg says he's 'a tad conflicted'.

Of course, the NJ SC is more than a tad conflicted also, since they want to uphold equal rights for gay and lesbian citizens, yet still keep the door opened (or is that shut, the metaphor gets squishy here) for the NJ legislature to deny gay and lesbian citizens the right to marriage.

And the American public is rather conflicted as well. Most recent polls show that a small majority opposes 'gay marriage', while a majority supports equal rights for gays and lesbians.

I've written a couple of articles and given a few talks (some of them were job talks, and I never seemed to get the job - go figure!) that try to explain this contradiction through the concept of heteronormativity. They try to say something like the following:

When we think about the power of presumptive heterosexuality as a norm in society, as a norm that structures expectations and privileges, and which shapes institutions and material reality, it starts to become clearer how one could seek to uphold the “traditional” conception of marriage, while believing in the basic rights of all Americans. Heteronormativity operates in such a way as to make all Americans presumptively straight. That presumption of heterosexuality that heteronormativity writes into the world, loosens the tension between support for gay civil rights and opposition to gay marriage. Viewed from within the heteronormative worldview, there is no contradiction between equal rights and the elimination of gay marriage.

Heteronormativity elucidates the claim that gay marriage “threatens” or “undermines the sanctity” of “traditional marriage,” since what gay marriage does is challenge the very heteronormativity of straight marriage. To acknowledge gay marriages would be to deny the fundamental privilege of heterosexuality, of which marriage and the family are supposed to be the ultimate expression.

Understood through the power of heteronormativity, it thus makes a certain kind of sense to say that one can be against gay marriage and not be disrespectful of lesbians and gays.

Now, what does all this mean politically? For me, it means a resistance to heteronormativity. At one point in time, when 'gay marriage' was an internal debate within radical democratic, queer, and (mainly) lesbian and gay political movements, then staunch opposition to heteronormativy actually meant an opposition to the notion that 'gay marriage' would be a panacea (since making gay marriage legal just heightens the illegitimacy of all other non-marital sexual relations). In an important sense, however, that time has passed. Today, when things like the FMA are floating around out there, when just about every state in the union has got themselves a DOMA law, and, most importantly, when the real possibility of legalised same-sex unions is on the horizon in some places and reality in one, then the challenge to heteronormativy requires the demand for legalised same-sex marriages.

I have a whole other argument for why 'civil unions' are the perfect analogue for Jim Crow (even if they are also an obvious and significant advance in civil rights for many lesbian and gay peopole); they are the very heart of 'separate but equal' institutions. But you're already sick of me by now (if you even got this far), so I'll leave that for another day.

UPDATE1: Be sure to read 'overeducted lawyer's thoughts in the comments. Point no. 3 is particulary significant, and I love the idea contained in point no. 4.
UPDATE2: The little blogroll thingy hadn't updated, or I would have noticed that Dan was already talking about this with his usual articulate eloquence.

on pumpkins

it is the season, even over here where they only recently have fully embraced the all-out celebration of high fructose corn syrup that is Halloween.

our organic, so-local-that-the-dirt-on-the-veggies-smells-the-same veg delivery included, last week, a pumpkin. what does one do with a pumpkin? carve it, naturally. but it was a bit early--it would have rotted by the time the 31st rolled around, and it was organic, and so one should really, you know, eat it.

after grappling with how to cut the thing up, I spent about an hour making it into manageable pieces, and we roasted melon-like slices of it in the oven. wow. pumpkin is awesome.

I got the idea for the roasting of strips of pumpkin from the book i just finished: The Life & Times of Michael K by JM Coetzee. the book reminded me of Camus' The Stranger, which I read in French IV class at St. Mary's Academy High School--an experience which included the cute-as-a-button recent Dartmouth graduate teacher trying to explain to us dreamy-eyed girls what existentialism was--all in French. Much fun. I believe the leader of the (debatably) free world recently read it in translation. Good for you, Mr. President.

what reminds me of Camus in Coetzee's book is the main character--much of the book (and I avoid the term narrative or story, as it's really not those things) is about K's experimentations with existing: his joy in not eating, lying prone all day, wondering what it would take to die, those sorts of things. He is, as he acknowledges finally two pages before the end of the book, a gardener. his interface with 'life' is via the life he coaxes from the desert. and that life is pumpkins. he grows them, hiding them from military patrols that seek to round up any stray people and put them to work or in camps (it's civil war in South Africa), and then when they finally ripen, he cuts them into strips and roasts them.

Such pumpkin, he thought, such pumpkin I could eat every day of my life and never want anything else. And what perfection it would be with a pinch of salt--with a pinch of salt, and a dab of butter, and a sprinkling of sugar, and a little cinnamon scattered over the top! Eating the third slice, and the fourth and fifth, till half the pumpkin was gone and his belly was full, K wallowed in the recollection of the flavours of salt, butter, sugar, cinnamon, one by one. (p. 156)

It is the most sensual moment in the entire book, by a long shot. so try eating one of your pumpkins. it could be life-altering.

24 October 2006

UK Delivery...A Rant

In trying to assimilate to life in Wales, and in general, trying to adjust to living in a different country, we've generally been taking the optimists' approach, trying to see all the cool things that are different, and often better here (see my previous post, and others as well). But I don't want to give the impression that all is light and goodness. And therefore I offer this unadulterated rant.

The system of delivery of goods in the UK is an absolute nightmare. On the surface, it looks lovely, since almost everything from anywhere to anywhere within the country can be delivered within 24 hours. But scratch the surface and you find the most perverse, unaccountable, and frustrating 'system' ever. Here's a non-exhaustive list of some of the problems.
  • Often companies just don't send you any information about delivery. It's as if no one cares when things show up. You buy something online, and then silence. Eventually things show up, and it rarely takes more than 4 or 5 business days, but there's no rhyme or reason to it, since things are usually delivered within one day of being shipped. This problem is not just confined to big items: our credit card statement was printed on the 13th, but they just waited until the 19th to ship it to us (bill was due to them by the 30th!).
  • When they do tell you about delivery dates, they are often simply wrong. They'll even guarantee specific times, but then just be wrong about it. I got an email on Friday guaranteeing delivery of our new mobile phones between 8:00am and noon on Saturday. But they didn't show up. So I called the courier, and they said they had no record. So I called the mobile operator, and they took 10 minutes to say, 'yeah, it will be there on Monday'. Now...this is when it gets ugly.***
  • They will only deliver to your home credit card billing address. (+)
  • They WILL NOT LEAVE THINGS even if you leave a note and a signature, full stop. No matter how you ask, they won't leave a package. (+)
  • They then say, 'pick it up at the local depot', but we DO NOT HAVE A CAR - and that's precisely the reason why we ordered the damn thing online in the first place was to have it deliverd. If we had the car to pick it up at the depot, then we could have just bought it at the shops!
***All of this can be linked into a future rant about 'non-geographic numbers'. This is the new 'system' in which all businesses (banks, everybody) use 0845 and 0870 numbers that are, in essence, premium numbers, i.e. it costs you to call them, no matter what (it's an extra charge from landlines, from mobiles, from everywhere that never comes out of your inclusive minutes). So all of this 'calling around' costs money, and sometimes lots of money. The subwoofer that never came was sent by a company with an 0871 number, which from my o2 mobile costs 35p a minute to call (and wait on hold).

22 October 2006

the family that watches TV together...

melding our TV discussion with a technology note, here: Sam and I (and Luke--now ensconced on his portion of the sofa after only three weeks of solid 'training' of the humans--a small coup for doggie-kind) are watching game two of the Gophers-OSU two-game weekend of college hockey. We are doing so with Sam's parents Tim & Jackie, who are in Vancouver, WA. 8 timezones away. At the intermission, Tim calls us on our Lingo VOIP phone from his Lingo VOIP phone, and they pause the tivo while discussion of the previous period ensues.

We heart slingbox.

Slingbox: keeping families together.

It strikes me that what used to be taboo: don't just sit in front of the TV with your family! That's not quality time! Has somehow, in our lives at least, transmogrified into a shared entertainment experience that becomes one of the many bases for conversation, discussion, relationships, and of course, blogging.

Watch more TV!

21 October 2006

Geeky Pleasure

The next step in the broadband revolution has hit the UK in the past 12 months. A year ago we faced a very similar broadband situation to what we saw in the US: we were paying £25/month for a 2Mb connection (2Mb down, 200Kb up). This was about the fastest speed you could get, and the price was average.

But over the past year there have been a number of 'free' broadband services launched, most with download speeds of 'up to 8Mb'. These are offered by landline telephone companies, mobile telephone companies, and Satellite TV operators as an 'add on' to get you to stay with them and their package. Overall, the results have been mixed: if you are lucky enough to get hooked up quickly and lucky enough to receive speeds close to the 'up to' amount, then it's a fantastic deal. But of course everyone and their dog is signing up, so it may take months to get hooked up, and if there's a problem you can be sure that the company is too busy signing others up to help you out very much.

So we didn't sign up for any of these deals, since a reliable broadband connection is a high priority. Our Cable modem provider, however, has had to keep up with this new marketplace, so they have taken the following steps over the past few months:
  1. Doubled our bandwidth to 4Mb (400Kb up) for no change in price.
  2. Offered us (when I phoned in to 'negotiate') 10Mb service (500Kb up) for £17.50 per month.
  3. Gave us two months free (when we had some reliability issues).
  4. Silently put us on an experimental 20Mb (768Kb up) service.

All of this means that for the moment we are paying nothing at all for broadband, and we should not have to pay more than £20/month into the foreseeable future. And for that price, we get the following results:

And for a geek like me, this produces much pleasure....

18 October 2006

Update: FNL is genius

If you are not watching Friday Night Lights, start. Ep 2 was rife with brilliant acting of the variety rarely seen in sports-themed programming, where it's so easy to fall into the cliche. The 12-syllable, sing-songie 'bye' that the coach's wife says on the phone to the ladies of the town that are almost physically forcing her into being the caricature of 'coach's wife' (making 200 rice krispie treats--and don't you like the ones with the M&Ms in them? I do too. yes. I'll make those!). The 12 syllables of high-pitched exaggeration brilliantly communicate the character's disdain and her acknowledgement of the importance of said M&Ms in said rice krispie treats. Awesome.

17 October 2006

Thoughts on Television

That title means to denote musings about television, not musings that appear on televison. Although, I suppose one could muse about precisely the musings one witness on television. And that's probably as close to an explication of the double genitive that you'll get in a blog post from me.

Moving on...teaching and getting settled in the new house have dominated the hours of the day so thoroughly that I have been a bit disengaged from the world lately. Not a lot of big events or news in British politics, and I can only handle American politics when mediated by Jon Stewart. But I have been watching a bit of TV.

Back in America it's fall (over here it's 'autumn') and that means the start of the fall television series (over here it doesn't mean much in terms of the telly, since series run for 4 to 10 episodes at most, and there is no autumn to spring season; indeed, for US series that show over here, the broadcasters wait until December or January to start the so that all 22 episodes can run back to back over each week). Luckily, thanks to the glory of the slingbox, the generosityof my mom, and the aid of one other kind soul whose name will not be disclosed, we too can watch the new US shows. So here's what I think:

  • Brothers and Sisters is a gigantic letdown. All those great people, and they run off Marti Noxon and insist on melodrama right from the start.
  • Veronica Mars can't possibly be as good as it was the first season, but if it could live up to season 2, I'd be delighted. Of course, it might not matter: it seems likely to be cancelled mid-season. Tragic!
  • Studio 60 is glorious for the sheer fact that we now get new words each week written by Aaron Sorkin. But I have to be honest: so far the show is disappointing. It just doesn't have that spark that we Sorkinites all crave. Something's missing but it's hard to say exactly what the something is. Matthew Perry is so not Chandler; Amanda Peet has presence; and who doesn't like Steven Weber (but Bradley Whitford still seems like Josh to me - although L says she thinks he might be gay, which would be utter brilliance if A) it were true, and B) they made nothing of it for most or all of the season).
  • Finally, Friday Night Lights is the showstoper, at least after the pilot! They get the Texas football culture and the show is so full of characters with depth that it almost feels like they should share some of them with some of the plethora of crappy shows out there.
Much remains to be seen: FNL could go downhill quickly, and Studio 60 might turn out to be genius (after all, after Fox screwed with the original order of the episodes, even the pure excellence of Firefly didn't seem all that great 3 episodes into its original airing).

13 October 2006


16+ Hour of teaching this week; hence no blogging. The following is a list of exam questions produced by my colleague here at Swansea. We are co-teaching the History of Political Thought (HPT), but he is also borrowing season 2 of Veronica Mars (VM) at the same time:

'Logan Echolls is a Rousseuian romantic trapped in the persona of a Machiavel'. Discuss.

With reference to the issue of incorporation consider whether Mayor Woody's concept of property is essentially Lockean or Hobbesian.

To what extent does the character of Dick Casablancas stand as a refutation of Mill's arguments for free speech?

Can the character of Lucky the janitor be interpreted in the light of Marx's discussion of species being and alienation?

In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels refer to the bourgeoisie as sharing their women in common. Is this statement verified or mocked by the characterisation of Kendall Casablancas in TV's Veronica Mars.

Discuss the validity of Rousseau's concept of 'amour propre' with reference to the internal relationships of o-9ers in Veronica Mars.

Illuminate critically conceptions of the relationship between state and civil society as played out in the conflict between Sheriff Lamm and Keith Mars.

09 October 2006

c'mon dog

I have been taking Luke on runs with me, and usually this involves taking him off-leash, as many people have their dogs in the park, and it's best if both dogs are off-leash. otherwise, dogs tend to get protective of their owners and go all alpha-dog on you. so the park is a dog park, sort of by default. also a human park, with birdies and other creatures.

when I'm running Luke will run ahead, I'll pass him as he sniffs some unbelievably interesting mound of grass, and then he'll sprint to catch up, only stopping again to investigate small burrow, tree stump, fallen branch, or similar. repeat. occasionally the thing--pile of leaves--becomes too interesting, and tearing him away involves me calling to him. he does not come when called. this we know. he is much like a cat in this way. so I end up shouting: Luke! c'mon Luke! let's go! Luke! and then, in my whitey-mcwhite impersonation of blackness, I find myself shouting with a tone of slight annoyance in my voice: c'mon, dawg!

Wales: perhaps the only space on earth where, for uttering these words, I am not immediately transformed into a puddle of embarrassed whitey goo.

07 October 2006

which one is the sign?

occasionally I become overly disturbed at the news. I then must stop looking at it for awhile. and the newsreaders are lovely to catch you back up in an unintrusive, easy manner. I have discovered two things. one: Firefox is awesome, totally customisable with pretty themes and extensions that include my number two: the Sage extension, a very workable, 'everything you want and nothing you don't' blog-and-newsreader. So, go get it.

But then when you do, one of the things to be aware of is the coalescence of headlines in disturbing combinations. sometimes, as with today, it truly looks like the end of the world. are the shots fired in Korea going to be the beginning of the end? or the rise of the British Independent party, heaven forfend. all too often it's like this. on campus, our international students are having to attend 5-minute registration sessions with the local police. perhaps normal. perhaps nothing new. perhaps a sign of things to come. who knows?

06 October 2006

the post

as the postman (for in our neighbourhood he's a guy) walks his route he delivers the post to each house, discarding rubber bands along the way. these sit on the pavement for however long they do, until they're washed into the sewage system or used by some bird to rubber (not feather) its nest. and so an artist I met in London a few weeks back has decided to collect these rubber bands, make them into balls, and display them. he was called by other artists in the group a 'prankster artist' but I'm not sure that does justice to his projects. he negotiated for three months with various authorities to re-aim the guns on the HMS Belfast to point at his mother's house in Watford, for example. sadly it fell through at the last minute. many layers there. much like a rubber band ball. so I am collecting these bands to make my own ball to send him. here's his link: http://www.dedomenici.co.uk/.

01 October 2006

cinema! yay!

Swansea now has a real live movie theatre, or cinema as they say. the existing cinema was built in the '80s back when they were trying to make something so that 'the kids' would have a place to go. remember FunPlex? that only less cool. see my post on it here.

the new vue cinemas is not exactly super-mature, but it does have some fancy lighting, a bar, a ben & jerry's and both sweet and the odd delicacy of salted popcorn. apparently popcorn with salt is an odd thing here in the UK. learn something new every day.

this weekend was opening weekend, and in the spirit of 'being part of the problem' we went to see Children of Men for the opening weekend price of £2.50. Very exciting. they were giving away free popcorn, but apparently they were unprepared for the cleanup that inevitably caused. it was mobbed with kids and parents. none of whom were seeing our film (der.)

on the film, I had some deep thoughts about the way our society has as its goal/end/justification 'the children' and so once that's gone and is replaced with a true telos--the end of the human race--it suddenly reveals the fallacy of living for the children. shouldn't one live life for its own sake? say, enjoy it? learn from it? grow? the culture of life, as it were, is really the culture of someone else's life--the offspring's--not yours. the film suggested to me (and was this its point? I think not really) that perhaps instead of living for the next generation one should, well, um, live. hedonistic? selfish? I don't know. I don't think so. hm.

a thought. oh. and clive owen. hottie mchot-hot.