24 December 2007

Vote for Dan!!

All must go now and vote for Dan so that he can be victorious! He has created a lovely hallmark card for the (RED) campaign and he is lovely and thus he must win. (Logically. Obviously.)

vote early. vote often.

14 December 2007

three books on the way to a hermitage

I was going to blog on: 'Killer app' for the misanthropic--a discussion of how instead of facebook or twitter we should have an on-line app for those of us (me) who are not big fans of, er, people. Hermitbook. Goawaybook. MyCave. I still think this a good idea. perhaps someone out there (not me) will run with this so that I don't have to interact with anyone.

But then I had to go interact with people at a conference, which was lovely (it's always fine once you're interacting. it's the prospect of doing so that's so dread-ful.) and there was no interwebs. how could this be? I don't know. but no interwebs. very calming not to have the ol' interface constantly, I will say. More time for reading.

I read Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide a few weeks back, to coincide (coincidentally) with the cyclone hitting precisely the region the book is set in--the Sundarbans of Bangladesh. It is excellent, as usual. Several things recommend it: it is realistic without ignoring the supernatural. It is not entirely depressing despite being a novel written about India. It has lovely science-y bits about river dolphins without being preachy. It does the 'each chapter a different POV' thing which doesn't quite meld the way you want it to--my one critique. But y'all know how I dislike conceits. That said, it comes together. it makes sense. it is about the past, the present, the otherworldly, generations, modernity, tradition, colonialism, socialism, and all that good stuff. plus did I mention dolphins?

I finished Spook Country a week or so ago, which was good--nothing can top Neuromancer for Gibson, and the best part about Spook Country is its short-story quality. Not that it's short. But that it has the flavour of a tight, small story carefully, expertly fleshed out. I liked it. Had Gibson's aesthetic of the future is now, but didn't have the draw of the female protagonist in his Pattern Recognition--she was an amazing, insightful, full character, and the lead in Spook Country isn't quite there. So, if you haven't read Gibson, shame. shame. shamies. Read Neuromancer, and Pattern Recognition, and Spook Country.

I also finished Richard Powers' Operation Wandering Soul which is about narrative. Well, what isn't really. (obviously.) but it's about children's stories, fables, history, crusades, telling stories to understand the (horrible) world. it opens with an amazingly accurate and beautiful--nay, sublime (er, goes without saying as it's Powers) description of driving in LA. I'm not sure Powers 'gets' LA in the same way he completely and utterly embodies the Midwest, but the opener is brilliant. And the re-telling of the Pied Piper in the middle of the book is nothing less than genius. It's Powers. Say no more. say no more.

12 December 2007

Christmas Drinks

I have *two* e-mails with the above title in their subject-line in my in-box right now. How cool is that? to my recollection, at the three institutions I worked at in the US, we never (either officially or informally) did Christmas drinks--one, because it is utterly un-PC (part of that 'war on Christmas' I'm sure we'll hear about again soon) and two, because people drive everywhere in the US and so drinking with the driving not so much, and three, alcoholism aside, folks in the US don't drink enough. In a celebratory fashion, I mean. Or, everyone in Britain is an alcoholic. Either interpretation is plausible. I will debate it over drinks, multiple times, in the next week or so. Huzzah.

08 December 2007

spam + viagra = perfect holiday dish

My fetish for science blogs has led to some extremely productive locales, not least is the following site. Because Spam = good and viagra = hilarious and so there you are. The dedication of some people to art (wax molds!) and food (blue sushi rice!) is quite astounding.

Link here.

06 December 2007

compost-level 2

Back in the spring you will recall (ha!) that I made the move to try to reduce the waste we put in landfill by getting a bokashi bin set and fermenting kitchen waste. the idea is that you can then dig the waste into the soil and it decomposes really fast without attracting animals. We discovered one major problem with this theory: Luke the dog likes the smell of the bokashi bran stuff and thus, er, in fact digs the stuff out of the ground, licks the dirt into which it's been dug, and generally addresses bokashi as if it were one huge chocolate bar. I tried planting containers with it and I dug some of it into the front garden (where Luke doesn't go)--that seemed to work. I also put it in the regular rubbish pickup once or twice, reassured that once it got to landfill it would, indeed, decompose faster. Not sure that really works as a justification, but there you are.

So my conclusion now is that the bokashi bin system is a gateway drug. Despite all my best efforts at resisting becoming 'that guy', I have now installed a very simple compost bin in the corner of the garden into which the bokashi bin contents go once they've fermented a bit. Along with leaves, clippings and other crazy stuff. For example, I discovered in 'experiment 1' with bokashi that eggshells don't so much decompose. I knew this from advice from others, but it seemed such a pain, and really crazy gardner talk to do something different with the shells. Now it seems I'm on the path to really crazy gardener.

I now microwave the shells after using them, crush them a bit, and once there's a critical mass of shells (don't ask what a 'critical mass' of shells actually means)--I put them in the food processor and grind them into dusty shelly bits. Now that I have a compost bin these can go in there as well. I'm that guy. so sad.

I still don't like gardening--never fear. It is too much akin to cleaning house: always stuff to do, never done, and frustrating.

so I have now reached compost--level 2. not sure what this means, but I will report back on the compost progress and whether it leads to things like caring about shrubberies and the like.

02 December 2007

Gender, Photography, and the Taliban

Surfing around Slate this morning and came across a video-essay that photographer Thomas Dworzak put together with journalist/author Ahmed Rashid. It is an extended commentary on the practice of young Taliban recruits having their photographs taken in studios in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, a regime that banned images of living things. Many interesting issues intersect in these images, from representation of human beings under a strict no-human-image regime to the relations between the people in the photographs to their own desire to be photographed, despite the repression of such activities by the very people these men worked for.

The photographer who collected these studio images along with the journalist who provided commentary both focus on the 'Gilbert and George'-like effeminization/homoeroticism of the images. Despite Dworzak partially dismissing this interpretation at the beginning of the video, the narration (by Rashid at this point) goes on to discuss various practices under Taliban rule of ancient-Greek-like mentoring relationships between an older man and a younger man, and link what they see as effeminate, intimate (hand holding) poses/images in the studio pictures with this practice. In the end, the video's reading of the pictures links these images to iconographies of homosexuality arising from cultures far removed from the Talibani one. In addition, the video shows no awareness that it is precisely the kind of male-male ancient Greek practice that largely sparked the critique of the search for 'gay history' and produced 'queer theory'--a space where acknowledging that different periods in history, cultures, classes have a wide range of sexual practices, and that just because your particular cultural space labels them as 'gay' or 'feminine' does not mean that those participating would do the same.

The video plays upon a presumed incongruity between the effeminate nature of the images and the perception of a unified strict Taliban regime. This seems to me to misread the images, which can, if read in context, be understood as articulations of power and strength without the overarching femininity Rashid and Dworzak see. It is odd that they did not link these images to well-documented and thoroughly-researched scholarship on 20th century studio photography patterns in South Asia as a whole (including Pakistan and Afghanistan) that include all of the elements found in these photographs: air-brushing, Swiss mountain backdrops, guns-as-props, men holding hands. The work of Chris Pinney in this area is widely known and easily accessible.

I'm not trying to protest the idea that there are certainly both gay men within the Taliban and also male-male sexual practices that may not fall within the 'gay' label. (The assumptive relation between gay and feminine is troubling, but that's another comment for another time.)

I am protesting the simplistic reading of images outside of any local, historical, or visual context. When you read images, just as when you read text or hear about an event, you need to look around to see if these images really are odd or strange, or if it's just your own encounter with them that makes them so. The photographs in this piece are part of a long history of South Asian photographic iconography that goes back to princely photographic portraits of the 19th century. Ripping them out of that context and putting them in the 'Gilbert and George' contemporary installation art context does not provide a responsible articulation of what these images meant to those sitting for them, for those taking them, or for those viewing them.

From a Euro-American 21st century eye alone they may appear effeminate. To assume that assessment is universal is to repeat Orientalist, sexist assumptions about men in the non-West ('non-European men are effeminate and, of course since women are weak, this means they are weak') and to underestimate the strength and power communicated through these images.

Perhaps another greek concept--hubris--might be appropriate here?

01 December 2007


this seems to be veering into food blog. but it is that time of year, traditional harvest time in parts of the northern hemisphere, and so one finds oneself in the kitchen cooking warm yummy things and the rest.

we get a weekly organic veg delivery from a farm less than four miles from here. the lovely organic man delivers the big paper bag of veg in his white biodiesel van, much like the one I imagine Willie Nelson drives. or wished he could drive, were he not so famous. Luke finds this van to be extremely aggravating and so barks incessantly at it, in a seemingly odd antagonistic relation with saving the nature of which he is our in-house representative. 'dog of the wild' we call him.

in the veg delivery each week is about a pound of lovely onions. the problem is F doesn't eat onions, or really any of what I call the 'Italian' family of vegetables: red/green peppers, the entire onion family, tomatoes, olives (okay not a veg, but neither are tomatoes, so...). anything you'd find on a traditional Italian-American pizza, aside from the meat (we love the meat). you get the picture.

so the onions pile up and I can't throw them out for, obviously, that would defeat the purpose of receiving the veg delivery, namely: saving the world. if you throw out the onions you're supporting the terrorists, right?

so, yesterday I had about 4 lbs of onions and decided something must be done. opened lovely farm cookbook gifted to us by friends from Mankato (go Mavericks, except when they're playing the Gophers of course). I made two huge batches of onion marmalade. I had encountered this substance before via a gift from an English friend (our rwgbi/football guru) and decided it's the best thing to do with onions, period. it involves, in addition to the obvious, red wine, red wine vinegar, sherry, honey, dates, and lots of butter. then you let it simmer for an hour and a half until it gets all thick and dark and congeal-y. it's lovely on burgers, slab-o-cheddar cheese sandwiches, and, according to the cookbook, as a pizza topping. I eat it on top of meat, myself. but that's me. mm. meat. mm. onions. what's not to like?