Monday, November 25, 2013

Relationships are weird...really weird

My newest epiphany is that most fights between lovers/life partners are remarkably similar in their weirdness. In other words, fights are reflections of our own strange inadequacies, rather than indications of deep-seated soul-crushing non-compatibility. That kind of relationship-ending garbage doesn't hide in between fights. It permeates interactions, good and bad. But even the worst fights are still weird reflections of yourself and your peculiar connection to another human being, colored by whatever context/item/other human being is closest. Think skating park, Instagram, your cousin's wounded turtle, or a piece of fruit.

This is what the twitter feed @wefoughtabout captures so perfectly.
Alan and Claire have taken to the Internet to document the source of their quotidian conflicts, and it is like a couples counseling session that you never had to pay for. No, it's more remarkable than that. Each twitter post is an acknowledgement of the origin of the fight (in and of itself, an admirable feat), without sentimentality or horseshit psychology jargon, and with much humor. They touch on all facets of modern romance.



Inappropriate musical accompaniment:

Read, laugh, and learn from the wonderful, revealing weirdness of their relationship.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Because of the Wonderful Things it Does

via Hello Literacy
Hot on the heels of Google's rebranding of 'literally', another word has burst from its cocoon of standard usage to blossom into something new.  Behold 'because'!  Why because?  Because, bloggers?  Because, irony?  Because SCIENCE?

Because, as we remember from Schoolhouse Rock, is a conjunction, hookin' up words and phrases and clauses.  In its newly evolved iteration of 'because noun', it becomes a preposition that allows a user to convey meaning, opinion, scorn, approval, or absolute assertion all in the span of two words.  Why do I  love Tom Hiddleston?  Because velociraptor.  Why can't we have nice things?  Because Republicans.  Why is using because in this way so much fun?  Because reasons.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Girl Called Jack

Thanks to Josh Spero for highlighting the Guardian piece, "Jack Monroe: the face of modern poverty," covering the food blog A Girl Called Jack. 

Jack Monroe is an unemployed, 24-year old, single mother in Southend who has drawn national attention in the UK for her blog. Why? Because not only is it a biting, realistic account of modern poverty, but because of the clear, vividly photographed, detailed and precisely budgeted recipes she has included.

From The Guardian article:
"Filled with humour and almost real-time practical advice about the weekly price movements of supermarket food, it is a plain-speaking, practical austerity cookery guide – quite literally how to feed yourself and your toddler on £10 a week, in ways that are healthy, tasty and, importantly (to relieve the tedium of baked beans), varied."

After the events of 2010, I was very lucky. I sold most of my belongings, bought a plane ticket before I could be deported by my (soon to be ex-) husband, and then spent every drop of my savings paying lawyers. I slept on my dad's couch for a year, and was very grateful to have had a couch to sleep on (and his free booze to drink).

The next Fall, I moved out of my Dad's and found myself in a place I hadn't seen in twenty years. Abject poverty. My friends told me no-one could survive on $20 every two weeks for groceries, but I knew they were wrong. And I knew it because I'd started reading cookbooks back-to-front when I was nine. I had refused to sell off even one of the 147 books in my cookery collection. And I had brought over the entirety of my robust spice cabinet (dried Amarillo chiles anyone?) from overseas.

In addition to my self-taught food education and gleanings from Julia Child, the Frugal Gourmet, Yan Can Cook and the Cajun Chef (which all came on PBS directly after Mr. Roger's in the '80s), I also know that the butchers in DC's Eastern Market is less expensive than the grocery store if you know how to identify cheaper cuts and off-cuts, although these can be more complicated to prepare. I also knew that a bag of salad vegetables from a Latin American abuela on a street corner or from a tiny local 'farmers street market' only open on saturday or sunday can be one-fourth the price of the same veg in the supermarket. 

"Cooking can be done cheaply," Monroe says in the Guardian article, but she acknowledges that the problem is more complicated. Monroe had been passionate about cooking ever since a food technology course at school and therefore had the skills and confidence to experiment with her own dishes.

However, food waste and food ignorance is a problem not confined to the poor. I've seen appalling food waste and lack of education among every economic stratification. Mushroom stems, carrot tops, parsley stalks, citrus and onion skins and stale bread have never been destined for the rubbish bin in my home, not only when every scrap saved meant I'd eat better tomorrow, but also because those scraps meant chicken stock, jellied terrines and panzella (a delicious Italian bread salad).

PS I'm copying this post over to YankeeBooze, a food blog I'm having a lovely time experimenting with. Thanks to M for the name.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bruno Latour wins Holberg prize

Who cares? Right? I mean I've never heard of the Holberg prize, either. Well, the Holberg International Memorial Prize is awarded annually for research in the arts and humanities, social sciences, law and theology. Kind of like a Nobel Prize for the Social Sciences. Hey, okay. I guess even the social sciences deserve recognition.

And what about this Latour guy? Latour's studies have been described as a "strange mixture of sociology, anthropology and philosophy". He dabbles in research in science and technology, anthropology and metaphysics, too. What's not to love? Latour is also intrigued by the modern necessity of humans to quickly renew their own technological fabric in order to absorb the meaningfulness of their changing society. A renewal which can be confusing and fraught with woes as society judges you on just how you are renewing your technological make-up. Twitter or Facebook? E-mail or Text? Hotmail or gmail? Blogger or Wordpress. Iphone or Android or (the dreaded) Blackberry. These choices say something about you as a person and how society expects you to interact.

This is alongside a human movement to integrate more fully with the natural world. Eat vegan. Buy local. Source jobs at home. Garden organically. Teach your children yourself. And much like driving a hybrid car or using more efficient solar panels to heat your home it can be difficult to judge how much innovation it will take to go natural!

Early in his career, Latour also challenged scientific orthodoxy and the idea that scientific laboratory work was an unbiased search for truth. After studying neuroendocrinology research at the Salk Institute (in where?) he determined that typical individual experiments were produced inconclusive data and that science training largely consisted of learning to make subjective decisions about which data to keep and which to throw out. These subjective decisions were rooted in the scientists' social constructions.

What the--what? Well, I wrote this post for The Mary Sue on a study called "Men are from Earth/Women are from Earth?". The researchers of that paper pointed out that other studies regarding male/female differences did not even raise the question of whether or not men and women were psychologically different, because scientists already believed a difference existed. And scientists were looking for differences in a scientific way even though there was no scientific basis for such differences, only a social one based on the scientists' system of beliefs, oral traditions and personal cultural.

So you can thank Latour for pointing out that even science is not a purely scientific construction. It’s partly a social one. Plus he looks kind of like John Cleese. Am I right?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dude, where's my solar panel?

Like most of the population of the greater DC area I watched President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night. I watched it in a bar, because that’s what we do here, politics are a sport in this town. And because the bar I watched it in wasn’t in Georgetown it was a pretty pro-Obama crowd.

We made fun of the Republicans (especially John Boehner, how drunk was he?). We professed our love of Michelle Obama. We cheered Elizabeth Warren (at least I did). We cheered John Kerry. We cried at the fact that Gabrielle Giffords can no longer clap her hands. We hissed at Paul Ryan. We had a good time. But we also booed some things. Yelled rebuttals and made pessimistic comments to our friends. Because, let’s face it, Barack Obama is no progressive (and I and my friends are…mostly).

For me, the most bi-polar moments of the speech was when he was talking about climate change.It was refreshing to hear whole paragraphs devoted to the subject, but at just over 10% (741 words out of 6,867) of the speech, I still feel it wasn’t enough. This is a global issue. It’s going to change the way life on Earth exists. It will potentially completely change entire countries. Some South Pacific Island nations are already planning mass migrations off of their islands. And, as we are beginning to definitively see, it will intensify and increase the chaotic effects of weather patterns (look at the pictures of the recent snow storm in the Northeast, that was a hurricane...with snow).

So, let’s take a look at what Obama did say in the limited amount of space he used to address the issue.

“Today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy. After years of talking about it, we're finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.”

He starts off sorta ok. This is almost entirely an energy problem, so, good to point that out. But then,  face/palm. Ugh, we are not going to be able to drill our way out of this. Also I’m not sure how producing more oil than we have in 15 years is much of a boost. We were producing a drop in the pocket before. We couldn’t have ramped up production enough to really make a difference.

“We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas”

We have? A 1908 Ford Model gets 13-21 mpg, a 2013 Ford Taurus gets 19-29 mpg. I know, I know, apples, oranges, blah, blah, but 2013 CAFE standards (that’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy)
 are 37 or 28.5 mpg for cars (split into small or large) and 31 or 22.5 mpg for trucks (again, small or large). I guess you could say we’ve doubled gas mileage for small cars over 100 years ago. Woo-hoo.

“…and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar, with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it.”

Ok, I like that. Renewable energy = American jobs, that’s good, we need that. But, I don’t know, doubling some very small number isn’t going to do much to wean us off fossil fuels. We need more, massively more.

“We produce more natural gas than ever before, and nearly everyone's energy bill is lower because of it.”

Oh, FFS, producing more natural gas or, as it should be called, geologic methane, is nothing to brag about. It’s still fossil fuel and extracting it and processing it and burning it is as bad  as coal or petroleum. Yes, it may burn a bit cleaner than coal, but the extraction method for geologic methane is just as bad. Instead of cutting off the tops of mountains and letting the toxic processing chemicals flow into our streams and rivers as we do with coal, geologic methane extraction involves forcing toxic chemicals underground to break up the underlying bedrock and then leaving the chemicals in place to go wherever they like. Dirty.

“And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.”

Really? Ok, yay us. I will need to see the numbers on that.

“Now, it's true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it's too late.”

BAM! And he brings the hammer…well, not so much a hammer as a really disdainful look of “you can be ignorant and think that all this evidence that we can see is a coincidence or you can come to a logical conclusion.” The logical conclusion being that science is right, climate change is occurring and we are making it happen.

“Now, the good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.”

Ugh, market-based solution. The “market” is not going to do anything on its own, at least not anything that requires it to change or take what it perceives as a risk or that will cost it money. But I think corporations are beginning to see that the light at the end of the tunnel is not the exit or even another train but a mirror reflecting their own self-created demise…unless they change. So, maybe, maybe, the market could be motivated to help itself, but I’m very skeptical that it will actually create a solution without some pushing.

“But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct...”

Oh, yeah, and if you are expecting anything substantial to come from the bumblefuck-brahs, McCain and Lieberman, you’re up excrement flowing body of water without an adequate means of propulsion.

“I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Ok, this is fine. Reduce pollution, sure. Prepare communities for disasters, ok, well and good. Speed up the transition to other energy sources, yup. It would be nice if there was at least a hint as to how each of these things would be done.

“Now, four years ago, other countries dominated the clean-energy market and the jobs that came with it. And we've begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let's generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year. Let's drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.”

Yes. And what would be even better is if we actually WENT all-in. How is your administration going to do that? Let's hear about energy industry incentives, let's hear about more R&D money, let's hear about alternative energy subsidies to match the fossil fuel subsidies, let's hear about feed-in tariffs like those in Germany which produces 5 times the energy from solar than the U.S. despite having Alaska levels of sunshine.

“Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that.”

No, no, no! We need to discourage that. The idea is that natural gas is a bridge energy source between coal/petroleum to renewables. But encouraging it is going to lead to it supplanting coal/petroleum at the expense of developing renewables. Bad Barack.

“That's why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”

AHHHH! F you! This is like giving candy to a kid when they act out. It's encouraging behavior we want to stop. Not only that, but the red tape they are cutting is directed toward making it easier to do this dirty, extractive process on our public lands. I guess the argument for doing this is that it is being done for the public good but my take is that this ruins or, at least, degrades these lands for other uses. Again, bad Barack.

“That's got to be part of an all-of-the-above plan. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and our water. In fact, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together.”

Son of a... Yeah, we own it together and you're saying you get to decide how it's used. How is my voice being heard? I don't think this is in OUR best interest. And “all-of-the-above” is code for more fossil fuels. It's code for more fossil fuels. Sheesh.

“So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a nonpartisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we.”  

Energy Security Trust, I'd like to hear more about that. Would the oil/gas/methane companies contribute to that? Or would the money come entirely from the lease fees you are probably going to reduce? Who would the money go to? The car companies? What would be the demonstrable goals? And, I'm sorry (not really sorry at all) but a coalition of CEOs and retired generals/admirals is not at the top of my list for whose advice I would want to follow on this subject. Where are the environmentalists, climate scientists, economists, social justice advocates, engineers, alternative energy businesses?

“Let's take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we've put up with for far too long.”

Um, gas prices don't really have anything to do with what you're talking about? Regardless of how much gasoline we produce locally it's not going to be enough to affect prices at the pump. Even if it was, does anyone think companies like BP would actually reduce the price? It's a lovely bridge, do you want to buy it, it goes nowhere.
“I'm also issuing a new goal for America: Let's cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years. We'll work with the states to do it. Those states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make that happen. America's energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they'd rather locate and hire, a country with deteriorating roads and bridges or one with high-speed rail and Internet, high-tech schools, self- healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America -- a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina -- has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they'll bring even more jobs. And that's the attitude of a lot of companies all around the world.”

Crap, man, lead with this! It's a job producer and directly addresses the issue! D'oh!

“And I know you want these job-creating projects in your district; I've seen all those ribbon- cuttings.”

I think this was the only bi-partisan laugh line of the speech. Ah, yes, let's laugh at the fact that all of our legislative incentive is to bring money to our districts so we can get re-elected. But that's a rant for another time.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Women, humor, property, and taboo

Women are funny. Despite Christopher Hitchens yawning article about the evolutionary biology of female funniness, women are actually very funny, and even, on their own terms.  Cultural norms dictate a large part of what we humans claim is natural, normal, right, pure, heavenly, factual, and so on. Watch any television commercial with humans, I dare you. All of advertising is a play on our cultural expectations, usually the worst of it: women are sex objects, idiots, irritating, very very tidy, and either slightly mousy or female models; men are sex-starved, smart, arrogant, messy, and either slightly pudgy or male models. And clearly, women are only funny if we make fun of them.

Not true. Humans come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of irritating-ness, regardless of gender. Also, anyone can be funny, regardless of gender. But there are trade-offs involved in bucking those pesky cultural norms.  Phyllis Diller, a very curvaceous, sexy woman (ask Playboy editors from the 1960s), hid herself in tablecloths and costume makeup on stage, because clearly, no one would have been able to concentrate on her jokes if she was remotely attractive. Breasts! This is all anyone would have been thinking.

Joan Rivers explains candidly how cultural expectations defined her career, or more specifically, the male chauvinism of a very powerful Johnny Carson. She was passed over for years, asked to do the same work as men but not acknowledged as such, and then slandered for daring to pursue her own career.  She characterizes the mentality as “I found you, and you’re my property,” which makes my skin crawl and blood boil, and other Shakespearean shenanigans. Thankfully, I think we’ve moved past that stage, as a society. The waters are still murky though, and filled with opinion-operating-as-fact, and sadly, few stories about the adoring male groupies of female stand-up comedians.

But that is not why women go into stand-up comedy. Just like men, they love being on stage. They feel at ease, natural, happiest, when they are making people laugh, even if being on the road can be excruciating and lonely. And they produce some of the most profound comedy that I’ve ever seen: raunchy, taboo, honest, and transformative. This includes Tig Notaro, who took a diagnosis of cancer with her on stage and invited the audience to process its gravity with her, and made them laugh, cry, and wonder at her courage. I’ve never heard anything like it, and neither has one of the best comedic minds of our time, Louis C.K. Very powerful, and very funny. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The S Files: asking for it?

So. Stubenville, eh? A town that cares more about high school football than justice or women's rights. A town that conspired in the drugging, kidnapping, gang rape, sodomisation and urination upon a female minor because she had the gall to dump the team's quarterback. A town that fosters the kind of misogyny that not only allows this sort of thing to happen, but also affectionately calls its perpetrators the Rape Crew – high school students who are given so much privilege that they can take an unconscious rape victim to not one but two coach's homes and still not be charged. (For a full report, see the ongoing report at LocalLeaks, driven by Anonymous cell KnightSec. A trigger warning probably goes without saying, but it might also make you lose faith in humanity.)

But as one of the coaches told the New York Times, the rape was just an "excuse", because "what else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that? She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it." Exactly. This high school football team and its 19 coaches conspired to drug, kidnap, and gang rape a girl because she dumped one of the players and now, gawd! People are expecting this institutionalised criminality not only to stop but also to pay for what it's done? There is just no justice! Don't we know who these high school athletes are?! Well, we do now.

The key issue here has to do with the entitlement the perpetrators felt they had. Putting aside whether she was inebriated, it does not change the fact that these guys still raped her, and thought it was a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Knight Sec managed to obtain a 12-minute video of one of the Rape Crew discussing the incident. As reported by LocalLeaks:
The video was shot so soon after the attack, that one person present becomes disgusted and actually leaves to go check on the condition of the victim. It is important to also note that despite this strong evidence, [he] has yet to be arrested or charged in this brutal attack.
(Incidentally, if you feel that someone who admits to at least being an accessory to these crimes – and finds them hysterical, no less – shouldn't receive an athletic scholarship to the university whose t-shirt he is wearing while being so bloody offensive, why not sign this petition? You know what's gonna be "dead", dude? Your professional football career.)

It is sobering that despite all the people aware of what was happening – including a 'friend' of the victim, who was the catalyst for the evening's atrocities, and two authority figures – no one really stood up to say "this is not okay. What you are doing is not funny, it is not just, it is a crime and a violation". Maybe the town of Stubenville, its bumbling sheriff and its prosecuting attorney (the mother of one of the rapists and whose home the crime took place in, no less) can rally together to delete images from cell phones, scare the victim into not pressing charges, and even sue a local blogger for defamation, but shouldn't they instead be teaching their sons that hey, when a girl breaks up with you, you don't exact revenge by orchestrating a 12-hour gang rape, videoing it and posting it to the internet?  And no, this isn't about just not sharing it on social media because you might get caught, it's about NOT DOING IT AT ALL. You get dumped, go get a thing of Chunky Monkey and watch some John Hughes films like everyone else. You want a taste of vigilante justice? Well, Anonymous heard you. 

The coaches can say whatever they want about how the victim had it coming or what did she expect, but what they are not doing is denying that she was raped. They are instead implicitly saying that it is right that she was raped. That it's okay the high school football team gang-raped and sodomised a fellow student, because she was drunk. This is the logic. If a girl gets drunk, she should be raped. That's what happens when girls drink. She had it coming. And so it goes with rape culture: the responsibility lies only with women. To teach women to Not Get Raped is to not only presume all men are rapists, but to give them permission to be rapists.

A woman's body is not public property. No one is entitled to it. It doesn't matter how she chooses to dress, how she behaves, what she says: if she is raped, she did not have it coming. No one has a rape coming. Not even the rape crew.