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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Chase the Thrill

Just listening to Nikka Costa's Pro*Whoa on her YouTube channel. I have decided that "Chase the Thrill" sounds like a James Bond title song, which has made me think that someone needs to start a campaign to have Nikka Costa do the song for Skyfall.*

*Or maybe whatever is next, because Skyfall sounds like a lame title to me. Just sayin'. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Yo, Joe?

Wait, what?!

I didn't see the first one, because the trailers looked *so* bad. Every time I saw one, I wanted to see it less. And then I heard reeeeeeeally bad things about it. All bad. No good. much as I hate to say it...this trailer looks kind of fun. And The Rock? And Bruce Willis?


I might not be strong enough to resist.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Grading Marks

Over at FB, a friend of mine posted a link to an article by Gene Marks, entitled "If I Was a Poor Black Kid."

First, let's take a moment to mourn the death of the subjunctive.

Now, take a look at the article, and then come back -- I'll wait here.

So, that was...yeah.

Look, let's start from a place of charity, and presume that Marks means well. If this were a student's paper, I'd have to ask myself, "What's the kernel of thoughtful goodness at the heart of this condescending, tone deaf mess?" More importantly, I'd have to figure out how to help the writer understand not just that this is highly problematic, but how to make the next paper less problematic than the last. So, what comments would I give to Gene Marks, if he were my student?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Herman Cain: Obviously Only *Mostly* Crazy

On Facebook, CM linked to this article about Herman Cain's "Encouragement for Herman Cain" and "Women for Herman Cain" sections on his official website. The article is from yesterday, before Cain officially announced that he was dropping out of the presidential race. She wondered what I'd write, and I was thinking about it this morning, just before reading that he'd made his withdrawal official. So, on this joyous occasion, here's my letter of support to Herman Cain:

Dear Herman -- I can call you Herman, can't I? It's just that I feel like I've gotten to know so much about you in the last few months that anything more formal seems weird...

So, dear Herman. Dear, dear Herman. I just want you to know that I'm really excited for you right now. I know that might seem a little weird, but hear me out. Yes, you're dropping out of the race due to various accusations of sexual impropriety. Yes, you're an embarrassment. Of course you had to be doing *something* wrong to have this many women come forward with harassment charges. And, no, there's no way you were ever going to win, anyway. But here's the good news. Withdrawing -- and on a Saturday, no less? Presumably in the hopes that you could slink off before anyone noticed? Herman, dear, this the sanest thing I've heard out of you in...well, ever. It gives me reason to hope that you are not, in fact, absolutely batshit. That you can use what little sense God gave you when it really comes down to it.

Now, don't get me wrong -- I still think you're a nutjob. And a creep. And wrong about pretty much everything political. But at least now I can see that you're not totally delusional. So, well done, Herman. I fully support your finally acting like you got some sense.

Let me also just take this opportunity to say that I don't care what people say: as embarrassing as this whole 13-year-"friendship" thing must be to you (not to mention to Gloria), it's really a good thing! It's an indiscretion, but it's the first of your indiscretions we've heard about in which the other participant was willing! So, again, well done -- way to go for extending your "friendship" to someone who was actually interested!

Well, I guess that's about it. I just wanted to drop you a line and let you know that I really think this has turned out well for everyone involved. Well, except probably Gloria, but you haven't been looking out for her best interests in at least 13 years, so it's a little late for that.

Anyway, thanks for the laughs, Herman. It's been real. Real embarrassing, really infuriating, and a real reminder of what bad shape we're in as a country when people rally behind someone so uninformed, so proudly ignorant, so disrespectful of women. So long, Herman.

Best of luck
Best wishes
Best regards

Give my regards to Gloria,

Monday, November 28, 2011

Interesting question

On Facebook, MS posted the following:
Thought for the day indirectly inspired by The Future of Us: If you could send your 1996 self a message, what would you say?
Great question. Here's what immediately came to mind in response:

  • Go to sleep.
  • You look great -- start acting like it!
  • Marti is right about the afro and the nose ring.
  • Start working out. I know, I know -- but do it anyway.
  • Spend more time with Junia Mae. Yeah, she's a pill, but you'll miss her when she's gone.
  • Have you considered backup options to that career you're already leaning towards? You know, just in case.
How about you? What would you say to your 15-years-ago self?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Breaking Dawn, part 1 review (kind of)

So, you're probably wondering why I've been so quiet about the new Twilight movie. Maybe you even thought I'd developed some sense, and renounced my utterly undignified love for those poorly written, badly acted, so-called films. Maybe you thought...

You didn't really think that, did you?

No, as you might imagine, I could not wait to see the newest installment of The Twilight Saga (Twilight: Breaking Dawn, part 1). I saw it on Saturday afternoon with S., C., C., and E, and we even made a picnic in line beforehand (where we were, embarrassingly enough, the first and, for a while, only people in line). Should I bother to review it? I mean, you already know it wasn't good. It was a better movie that the first one, but that's a really low bar. It was, I believe, the best of all 4, but that's not really saying much, either. It was beautifully shot, they continue to try to tone down the creepiness of the books, and they continue to make really unwise choices with the werewolves. I mean, in the scene where Jacob finally tells Sam and -- oh, whatever, there's this scene, and it's full of wolves, and there's this really terrible echo effect, and the audience laughed and laughed, which *has* to be their intention by this point, right?

Anyway, rather than wasting my time reviewing it in depth, I'll just say that it was bad, thoroughly entertaining, with moments of hilarity -- mostly due, again, to Billy Burke and Anna Kendrick, but with an assist from the most hilarious/disturbing morning-after scene ever written. And I actually think they should get nominated for a makeup award, because I really hope they didn't make KStew lose that much weight for the dying-for-the-fetus scenes.

I won't bother reviewing it in depth, but I did take a few moments to think about why I watch those crapfests in the first place, and why I tore through the books like the pages were laced with crack. Twilight is one of my few honest-to-god guilty pleasures, and the ladies over at Pop Culture Curmudgeon were kind enough to invite me to do a guest post on. You can check it out here, if you like: "Even My Displeasure is Guilty." Here's an excerpt:
If you were around when I read the books, you know I consumed them voraciously. You also know that I spent a lot of time being absolutely horrified by the images of femininity, masculinity, and life in general Meyer propagates. I honestly believe that Stephenie Meyer hates women, or at least the ones in her novel, and just doesn't realize it. Why, then, I wondered, did I keep reading? And why did I go to see the latest move in the series last weekend? The answers there may be a little different. I kept reading the books because they were addictive, in the way that immature, unhealthy melodrama often is (see soap operas, romance novels, the GOP debates). Bella and Edward's so-called-romance was an extended train wreck, and I rubbernecked my way through with glee...
Go check it out!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Even My Displeasure is Guilty (originally posted @ Pop Culture Curmudgeon)

Wednesday, 23 November 2011 14:30
So, boys and girls, we have something special just in time for Thanksgiving: a guest post about the Twilight saga from one of Katie’s oldest friends, elisamaza. Be sure and leave your comments below. Enjoy!
A few days ago, a friend posted a link to an article called “11 Things to Know at 25(ish).” It was a good read, alternating between advice on coming to know yourself and advice on honoring your interpersonal relationships. It may look like the only link between that article and this post is the link that was at the top of the page: Kent Woodyard’s “You Can’t Marry a Hot Vampire.” But I think that self-knowledge and interpersonal relationships are at the core of the subject of that article, and the subject of this post: the Twilight series. Now, I think that Twilight demonstrates and promotes a disturbing lack of self-knowledge (in its characters, perhaps by the author, and, I would argue, by many of its fans), and I think that the models of interpersonal relationship are wildly unhealthy. But, as many of you know, the Twilight series is one of my few guilty pleasures. This is obviously not because I don’t take pleasure in other things that other people might call “guilty pleasures” — I certainly do. But I don’t actually feel guilty about any of those. As long I feel like I can distinguish between “it’s good” and “I like it,” I’m alright.

Sometimes, though, it feels wrong to like something. And for me, Twilight is one of those times.

 If you were around when I read the books, you know I consumed them voraciously. You also know that I spent a lot of time being absolutely horrified by the images of femininity, masculinity, and life in general that Meyer propagates. I honestly believe that Stephenie Meyer hates women, or at least the ones in her novel, and just doesn’t realize it. Why, then, I wondered, did I keep reading? And why did I go to see the latest movie in the series just last weekend? The answers there may be a little different.

I kept reading the books because they were addictive, in the way that immature, unhealthy melodrama often is (see soap operas, romance novels, the GOP debates). Bella and Edward’s so-called-romance was an extended train wreck, and I rubbernecked my way through with glee.

Don't get me wrong: there are, in fact, aspects of the book that are compelling. Meyer does a good job of ratcheting up the tension, for example. Then again, most of what she does to accomplish that involves putting Bella in danger. Again and again and again. The real problem, of course, is not that Bella is constantly under attack from enemies, but that her boyfriend is the biggest threat. She’s “dating” (which, to Meyer and, I fear, a generation of un-critical readers, means being stalked by, and then ragingly codependent on) a guy who loves her so much that he not only wants to be with her at any cost, but quite literally wants to consume her. For those keeping score at home, this is not ok. This combined lover/hunter is also someone whose supernatural existence means that he can be both father figure and peer simultaneously. For those keeping score at home, this is also not ok. His monstrousness makes him a warrior, willing and able to rip things limb from limb if they pose a threat to his beloved, but this really only distracts from the fact that the only appropriate threat to his beloved is him. Again, so not ok. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be wanted. I don’t even think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be protected. But everything in moderation, kids. Being stalked by someone whose desire to harm you is so powerful that it’s physically painful is not romantic. Being controlled by someone whose idea of protecting you is removing the engine from your truck, so that you can’t go and see your friends, is not sweet.

 But I digress.

 Why did I read those books? Given that I couldn’t I stop railing against them, why did I keep going? One of those questions is easy to answer: the Twilight story is a bad version of life, and that’s why I critique, in all seriousness, the harmful images of just about everything I think the books and films glorify (though, surprisingly, the latter to a lesser extent). But the Twilight story is also a bad version of fantasy, and I railed against that, too, before admitting that the thing I was defending is problematic. It took me a while to be able to articulate it, but my cracktastic experience of the Twilight books had partially to do with the fact that, while I now critique and often object to the fantasies from which Twilight was born, I have also been steeped in them. What do I mean by that? Well, his being a vampire should be a dealbreaker, but that didn’t stop me from wanting Nick and Natalie to work it out, nor does it stop me from wanting Damon to get his shit together enough to be a worthy companion for Elena. Her being a teenager should be a dealbreaker, but that never stopped me from getting totally sucked into the Buffy/Angel angststravaganza. See, also: my previous comment about Damon and Elena. But, what are the alternatives in Twilight, and other stories of its kind? What would the “better” version be?

It’s tempting to hold up Jacob 1.0 (maybe even 1.5) as a positive option, and that’s part of why I kept reading — I was hoping against hope that she’d pick “the right guy.” I didn’t hope very hard. It’s honestly never *actually* a triangle, and it eventually becomes impossible to root for Jacob, as Meyer transforms him into her ideal man: possessive, controlling, strangely unable to understand the word “no.” But, even before then, his right-guy-ness is as much a fantasy as Edward’s. Jacob is not the dangerous, mysterious, brooder. He’s the awesome friend, waiting in the wings for Bella to notice how sweet and supportive and handsome and perfect and totally in love with her he is. And what of the other featured couples? Alice and Jasper, Rosalie and Emmett, Carlisle and Esme? All fantasies. It’s a story full of soul mates and happily ever afters, none of which are actually healthy pictures to shape a life with (even if they’re less obviously damaging than the hot mess of obsession and self-abjection that is Bells and Eddie). Even the wolves with their imprinting (brought to its uber-creepy height with the Jacob and Renesmee pairing) is a gross twist on love at first sight. Let *that* sink in for a moment.

The Twilight story is an affront to my sensibilities as a feminist and a critical thinker. I worry about how it both was shaped by and is now shaping cultural images of love and life. But, I am also shaped by its predecessors and peers. This understanding of how I’ve been shaped is actually why I think the critique is crucial, but it’s also why at least a small part of me just wanted to keep reading.

I mentioned earlier that my reasons for being drawn to the books and my reasons for being drawn to the movies might be different. I read the books at least partially because they tapped into a lifetime of unrealistic portrayals of love, men and women, and happiness that my critical thinking feminist is unable to believe, but that my Lloyd-Dobbler-loving, MickBeth-shipping, daydream believer is unable to let go of. The movies obviously tap into some of that, but there’s another reason that I enjoy them so: the Twilight movies involve some of the worst actoring I’ve ever seen, and I happen to love bad movies. There’s something I find really enjoyable about watching something you know is of poor quality, specifically for the joy that comes from pointing out (preferably in a group, with a drink in hand) just how poor the quality is. I enjoy pointing and laughing, staring with disbelief at the wreckage of bad dialogue, bad delivery, bad makeup and wigs — oh, the wigs! I enjoy bad movies, and these are bad in a spectacular way.

But I’m also implicated in a culture that fetishizes pretty faces, chiseled abs, love at first sight, and happily ever afters.

I think it’s important to think critically about the disturbingly unhealthy images of love, life, and beauty in the Twilight books and the movies based on them, but also about the problems inherent in countless other romantic comedies, romance novels, etc. I think it’s important to ask what, exactly, we’re absorbing from our media, but I am also aware that I’ve been shaped by what I have already absorbed form those books, those movies, that media. And this is what’s really scary to me. Because you can’t (and shouldn’t want to) marry a hot vampire, but you can’t marry Mr. Darcy either, be it Mark or Fitzwilliam. And, if someone like me, who thinks really hard about what she’s taking into her brain, and into her heart, has to admit that she is always already affected, and in ways that she’s not comfortable with, what of all the uncritical readers and watchers? If they manage to avoid threatening, possessive creepers, what will they seek instead?

elisamaza is both a nerd and a geek. She grew up in the South, now lives out West, and studied religion, ethics, and literature at schools on both coasts. She currently makes a living teaching students to read, write, and speak more critically about things she thinks it is critical to read, write, and speak about. She’s particularly interested in the relationship between selfhood and storytelling, and has written about it in works as varied as Isak Dinesen’s short stories, Joss Whedon’s TV series’, and Neil Gaiman’s comics. She thanks Jennifer and Katie for inviting her to guest post, and invites you to visit her blog at in medias res, where she talks about everything from “media and metaphysics” to “absolute rubbish.”

She does not usually talk about herself in the third person.

Sometimes, I think it's all ok.

I woke up this morning weighed down by the knowledge that I have to grade papers, and that I need to find a new job, and that I've been extra achy lately, and that nothing is really turning out the way I thought it would. And I opened my curtains to find that it's overcast today. And I walked out of my room and caught a look at the kitchen, where I *really* need to wash dishes. And I thought I'd take a shower first, but my tub is full of plants, because I watered them all last night, when I should have been grading papers instead. And then, while putting the plants back where they belong, I dropped my favorite one, and of course it fell like toast with jam on it, except that, rather than jam, it was a bowl of dirt, upside down on my carpet. I almost cried, because, in addition to liking it when there isn't an upside down bowl of dirt on my carpet, I really like that plant, and just confirmed yesterday that it was taking well to its new pot and my new place, and I would rather not kill it, and I can't even put new dirt in it because I haven't bought more potting soil yet, because I don't have any money, and I need to find a new job, and why isn't anything going the way I want it to?

Deep breath. Sometimes, that works to stop you from crying.

And, since I wasn't crying, I figured I'd better go ahead and pick up the plant, since it wasn't going to repot itself. I repotted it, picking up as much of the dirt as I could, and sweeping up the rest, which was surprisingly effective. And I tucked in the stray roots from the new shoots, and hung it back in the corner next to the window. And I vacuumed the big patch where there used to be dirt, and it was surprisingly effective, and I don't think anyone but me will know where the plant fell.

And I sat down on the couch, and my living room was still full of light (well, as much light as it's going to be full of on an overcast day like today). And I opened my laptop to update my FB status with something about hoping my plant doesn't die, but I got distracted by this:

Which led me to this:

And I'm still worried about my plant, but I think it's probably OK. Sometimes, I think it's all ok.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Technical difficulties

Just when I got ready to publish more regularly, my home internet gave up the ghost. Repairs are, allegedly, on the horizon, but after 3 weeks of incompetence, I'm not really holding my breath.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The white man's tendency to indulge in narcissistic self analysis makes ethnographic research in europe very difficult. there is not one psychological or social phenomenon that has not been examined in scores of books. As soon as europeans have written up their theories, they start to believe in them. If you read these works of egocentric self justification, you risk being taken in by the elaborate style in which they are written, and by the seemingly logical arguments....If you want to keep a clear head, avoid all white self-interpretation and rely on your own common sense.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

This looks interesting...

Over at Pajiba, TK posts the trailer for "Chronicle," a forthcoming tale of superpowers ruining a friendship.

I hate it when that happens.

I think I want to see this right now.

I've always been torn between wanting superpowers (What? Like you don't?!) and knowing that it would be a *terrible* idea. My temper is not well-suited to any of the abilities I'd want. Especially the fire-based ones.

What do you mean, what fire-based ones? Obviously, in addition to telekinesis and teleportation, I'd want to be able to set things on fire with the power of my mind. Doesn't every want that one? Oh.

Well, I *did* say that it would be a terrible idea.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"I can't imagine why we've all got time enough to cry"

R.S. linked to this really interesting series on time over at NPR. Food for thought -- take a taste and tell me what you think!

Your time — almost entirely divorced from natural cycles — is a new time. Your time, delivered through digital devices that move to nanosecond cadences, has never existed before in human history. As we rush through our overheated days we can barely recognize this new time for what it really is: an invention.

It's an invention that's killing us.
The Tyranny Of Modern Time, Part 1

The recognition of limits stands as the global culture's strongest imperative to move beyond its current time-logic. 
But on the level of the individual, the imperative to change emanates from a different source. As individuals, the desire to build a new time springs from our deeply felt need to reclaim value and balance in our lives.
The Tyranny Of Modern Time, Part 2

As someone who struggles with the persistent feeling that there's not enough time for everything, but also with a fair amount of doubt as to the value of many of the things I feel like I need time for, I'm inclined to agree with much of this. Interesting to see it tied so directly to issues of overconsumption -- I hadn't really thought of it that way, but can't really disagree with the claim as stated. I'm interested to see what he thinks can actually be done to change things...

Sunday, September 25, 2011


For as much as he's invested in sharing, though, Zuckerberg seems clueless about the motivation behind the act. Why do you share a story, video, or photo? Because you want your friends to see it. And why do you want your friends to see it? Because you think they'll get a kick out of it. I know this sounds obvious, but it's somehow eluded Zuckerberg that sharing is fundamentally about choosing. You experience a huge number of things every day, but you choose to tell your friends about only a fraction of them, because most of what you do isn't worth mentioning.
--Farhad Manjoo (Slate), Not Sharing Is Caring: Facebook's terrible plan to get us to share everything we do on the Web

Now and again (by which I mean all the time), a website will ask me if I'd like to log on with my Facebook account. I almost invariably way no. Maybe this is a little paranoid of me, but I mostly don't link things to Facebook. I'm afraid that it will broadcast what I'm looking at, what I'm buying, what I'm reading, without letting me vet first which things get shared. And that makes me uncomfortable. I'm a fairly open person in a lot of ways, but I really don't want to share indiscriminately. If I'm going to provide too much information, I want it to be because I chose to overshare. And I don't really want to be shared with indiscriminately, either. Pick. Choose. Think. I am, in fact, quite a fan of this type of discrimination. Don't be the one who forwards emails without any thought to whether or not I'll actually get anything (useful information, pleasure, etc) from reading the message you're sending. Don't be the one who replies all when replying to one will do.

Mark Zuckerberg and the team over at Facebook do not agree with me.

Friday, September 16, 2011

"Oh, come on - a little bit cool."

So, you know how you owe someone an email, but then it takes you a while to get to it, and then it's been so long that it feels awkward, so you figure you'd better have something really interesting to say when you do write back, and then, eventually, you just send that message that's like, "So...I suck. How are you?" That's what this blog is like. I was just being lazy, and then I was sick, and then I was moving, and then I was like, "Hm, I should write a nice long, funny, full-of-interesting-something-or-other post, since I've been quiet for so long," but that felt daunting, so I put it off, and here we are.

So, rather than trying to go over everything that's happened over the summer, I'll just jump back in with a post about The Vampire Diaries. I've spent much of the last few days in Mystic Falls, watching the 2nd half of season 2, which I'd fallen way behind on, in anticipation of tonight's season 3 premiere. My basic response at the end of the second season was "So. Much. Drama."

In a little more detail, and to quote Elijah, "OMG."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? -

Really interesting research at the New York Times on decision fatigue. Basically, it's just as dangerous as I thought for me to make decisions when I'm hungry, and I'm not wrong when I say that my brain -- and the rest of me -- are exhausted by grading and other things that sap mental energy. Some of it I feel like I already knew from experience, but it surprises me to see what normally feel like separate problems all inked together. It's a bad idea to grade too many papers at once for reasons that relate to why it's hard to stick to a diet, both of which relate to why I crave cookies when I'm doing certain types of work (like packing). I think the segments about decision fatigue and class are especially interesting.

Spears and other researchers argue that this sort of decision fatigue is a major — and hitherto ignored — factor in trapping people in poverty. Because their financial situation forces them to make so many trade-offs, they have less willpower to devote to school, work and other activities that might get them into the middle class. It’s hard to know exactly how important this factor is, but there’s no doubt that willpower is a special problem for poor people. Study after study has shown that low self-control correlates with low income as well as with a host of other problems, including poor achievement in school, divorce, crime, alcoholism and poor health.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games
5 of 5 stars

Just read this today. Yes -- all of it. That's your review right there.

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire
3 of 5 stars

Not as tight as the first, but still engrossing enough to launch me straight into the next book.

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay
4 of 5 stars
Wow. I was not prepared for how dark these books went. They're not always the best-written things going, but the overall story is engaging, much more complex than I initially expected, and certainly more emotionally challenging that I would have predicted. After a certain point, I had honestly come to expect a Hamlet-level bloodbath, and only a secondary, maybe tertiary character to left to give us the narrative window into the denouement. It's not quite that hopeless at the end, but the bittersweet is heavy on the bitter.

View all my reviews

Monday, August 8, 2011

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Superhero Edition, part 1

I'm going to say something now that hurts me a bit (*deep breath*): this new picture of H. Cavill as Superman

Click picture for ginormous version

does absolutely nothing for me. Ok, not *absolutely* nothing. I don't like the way the suit looks. The texturing looks fine on Spiderman, but I don't like it here. And, I'm beginning to feel like texturing on superheroes is the equivalent of distressing on jeans. Don't like. And I really don't like the way his hair looks. I've seen Cavill with better hair both as himself and as other characters. And I don't love the look of him, but as I said before, I'm withholding judgment on that. The first pictures I saw of Tom Welling, when they were just starting to promote Smallville, had him looking not at all Clark-ish enough for my taste, but then he turned out to look very much the part. So, yeah -- I'm not loving this picture.

Now, let me be clear: unless the trailers stink it up something *really* awful (like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra awful), I will see it. Because I might like it. I seem to be in the minority on this, but I like Superman, and I feel like there's a great Superman story possible. I don't expect Zach Snyder's movie to tell that story, but it could still be fun to watch...

Oh, and I did say that I don't *absolutely* hate the picture. So, I'm hoping that's angry face, and not Blue Steel. I like it that maybe there will be some AngrySuperman. And I'm very excited to see the first Billowy Cape shot, because that cape is obviously going to billow well.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bringin' the beatdown

Over at Pajiba: Which TV Character Would You Punch in the Face?

This is fantastic. Buffy should stake Edward first, then head to Bon Temps and clean up shop. First Bill, then Sookie. Ok, ok -- I wouldn't want her to *kill* Sookie, but I'd hold her scythe while she beat Stackhouse's ass.

Oh, and there's a Buffy-related comment that actually made me snort hot tea through my nose. Ouch, but worth it.

My suggestion?

A Tahmoh Penikett round, in which Helo beats the everloving shit out of Paul Ballard.

My ComicCon Presentation

Some of you asked to see the presentation I made at the Comic Arts Conference at ComicCon. Click through to see the slides, notes attached.

Life has been very busy. Was in New Orleans, then Lafayette, then Atlanta, then San Diego - back in my own hood now, but trying to knock out a piece of writing by August 1st. Also putting a move in motion, because I didn't already have enough to think about.

Will post real things after the writing is submitted; until then, here's something completely random. Seen at the Daiso in Japantown:

"Tidy frog"
"Changes sink to cute"

Thursday, July 14, 2011


In my absence, one of my houseplants seems to have started sprouting a while new kind of thing. Usually, it looks like this:

But now it also looks like this:

I was honestly a bit disturbed when I first saw it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Do you know what it means...

United tried really hard to get my trip to New Orleans off to a bad start -- 2 hour flight delay, meaning I got in at about 2 in the morning. Somehow, this turned out not to be a problem. I watched a bad but enjoyable movie on the flight -- Beastly, which I'll give 2 1/2 stars. (It's not actually *good*, but it's enjoyable despite itself. Or maybe that's just because it's Beauty and the Beast, and I have a hard time not liking that story.) Also finished a cover letter (for a position which, unfortunately, no longer existed when I went to submit my application). And, best of all, was picked up from the airport by friends old and new, and taken straight to Cafe du Monde for beignets. Spent the next day hanging with friends and eating lots of tasty things. Brunch omelette involved alligator sausage, but I was more excited about the crawfish and crabs we had later -- fantastic! How good was this day? We were, at one point, literally sitting at the end of a rainbow. No, really!


Have been enjoying spending time with my best friend, M.. Have seen my brother and future sister-in-law mostly in the evenings -- they're busy with last-minute wedding prep, which I've been happy to eavesdrop on, and to lend an opinion when asked.

In other news:

It *really* hurt to do this --
I do not bruise easily.

This is the very sexy bruise I gave myself on my first morning here, climbing into the tub/shower at my brother's house. It's a beautiful, huge, claw-foot tub. A bigger step than I realized, and slippery. I'd have fallen in completely if the side of my knee hadn't broken my momentum...

Much more fun: here's a fabulous present, given to me by M.M., a friend of M.'s with whom I should totally hang out.

Speaking of people with whom I should hang out: here's M.'s 2-yr-old son, J., having fun wearing my shoes:

And this fantastic sign is at "The Joint," where we went for very tasty BBQ:
"This is not fast food
Our kind of flava takes time, y'heard?
So cool your jets l'il piggies. We move at the speed of real BBQ."

Monday, June 27, 2011

Me, me, me

Good read over at the NYTimes, though I'm actually not sure I'd agree with his formulation. I agree that the messaging current students receive is off, and I certainly agree that self-centeredness and the illusion of absolute freedom are bad things to try to center a life on. This way of thinking reminds me of something a student once wrote to me:
I think the point of English is not at all about the text or what the text is saying or what the author is trying to say. If I wanted that, I'd take a history class where my goal was to learn facts and people's opinions of the time period.
But, I think I disagree with what seems to me to be the conflation of "having/building a self" and "being self-centered." If I had to reformulate on the fly, I'd say that the only way to develop a truly worthwhile self is to spend the time, effort, experience, etc. that it takes to know what you can and should lose yourself in, and to see how, in those places of devotion, attention, practice, etc, you express what is best and worst in the self. Or something.

Friday, June 24, 2011

name game

Recently, someone I know mentioned that she was trying to come up with names for a baby girl. The first few I thought of were Caroline, Charlotte, and Darcy. Can you tell I've seen Pride and Prejudice lately?

Others that I suggested were Amanda, Arielle/Ariella, Daniella, Davina, Emily, Lily/Lilia, Marcella, Nina, and Tessa. But this got me thinking about my perennial problem with names, especially for girls: if you're not naming after someone, how do you pick? Do you go with the way it sounds? What it means? I'm always torn with girls' names, because I like the sound of a lot of them, but don't like the meaning. And there's the problem of association. Sadly, one of my favorite girl names to suggest to people has been tainted by Twilight. No one should be named Isabella for the next century or so, as far as I'm concerned. Too bad, because it's a beautiful name.

So what's in a name?

Meanings from Think Baby Names (1)
  • Amanda - lovable, fit to be loved
  • Arielle/Ariella - lion of God
  • Caroline - unclear. Got everything from "feminine of carolus, free/adult man" to song of joy. Also a major bi-yatch in Pride and Prejudice
  • Charlotte - feminine form of Charles, free man. Also Pride and Prejudice's resident pragmatist
  • Daniella - from Daniel, God is my judge
  • Darcy - dark, also the man himself in Pride and Prejudice
  • Davina - beloved
  • Emily - rival, laborious, eager
  • Lily/Lilia - like the flower
  • Marcella - dedicated to mars, war-like
  • Nina - little girl
  • Tessa - diminutive of Teresa, late summer
  • Isabella/Isabel/Elizabeth - God's promise. Also a highly problematic character in a highly problematic series of poorly written books.

In an unrelated email, my brother and I had cause to talk about names. This time, I was put in mind of one of my favorite websites, The Utah Baby Namer. They claim not to feature any names without corroborating evidence. My faves from that site:

Most names taken from main list, others only on "The Cream of the Crop."

Azer Baloo
Bridger A-10 (breaker 1-9er)
El Myrrh (be vewy qwuiet -- I'm hunting baby Jesus)
Friends Forsaken (uh...ok)
Iron Rod (snicker)
Knight Train (not to be confused with Nightrain Lane, which is also on there)
Leviathan (That's gonna suck as a kid, though it might get ok in college, if he plays it right)
Marvelous Man (awesome)
Tugdick (I can't even comment on this one)

Alpha Mae (HBIC?)
Apathy (whatever)
BeDae (sigh)
Cajun RayneChinchilla Zest (That sounds both cruel and illegal.)
Clitoris (?!)
Confederate America (No.)
Desdedididawn (Did I stutter?)
Hallah Lujah (Amen)
Hereditary (No, you picked that voluntarily.)
Jennyfivetina (I don't know why I love this one so much.)
Justa Cowgirl
K-8 (Because Kate was too normal.)
Pork Chop (OH MY GOD, PEOPLE!)
Sin'D (heh heh heh)
Southern Justice (I'm afraid)
Trauma Ann (tough delivery?)
Treasure Cocaine (Wow. OK, do you want your daughter to be a stripper/junkie? Is that what you're trying to tell me?)
Truthanne (Keepin' it real)
Vyquetoriya Walkasheaqua
and, last of all -- X Y Zella

anything starting with an X or a Z, like Xtlyn (boy) or Zzkora (girl).

Here's the thing. I want to say that there's room for names that don't sounds "normal" to me. I don't mean foreign -- obviously, I've got no problem with names that are just unfamiliar to me. But is there any culture in which it is a good idea to name your daughter after a part of the reproductive system? (The correct answer is no.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Strangely, it all makes me think of San Francisco

Julie Klausner at Jezebel wants grown-ass women to start acting like it. And, dear god, to start dressing like it. (Don't Fear the Dowager: A Valentine to Maturity) Given that Zooey Deschanel's new website further bolsters her place as the patron celebrity of Hipster Girls, it's no surprise that, over at Racialicious, Tami Winfrey Harris asks, "Who is the black Zooey Deschanel?" When I saw that title, I thought, for one horrible moment, that it was going to be a serious question, or perhaps a call for one. I was mortified, because as far as I'm concerned, the only good thing about the Manic Pixie, Hipster Girl, grown-women-in-rompers phenomenon is that I've been able to think of it as a white girl pathology. Sure, there must be women of color participating. But surely this type of sexy infantilization is predominately a trend by white people, for white people? Or, to be more fair, this is not a trend that lines up well with the common images of black women that I have encountered. Here's an exercise for you: think of all of the stereotypes about Black women you can. Are any of them suggestive of sparrows? What would it mean, then, to have a black Manic Pixie Dream Girl?

In any case, I should have had more faith in Racialicious. The article points out, among other things, that "we find creepy in a man the kind of childishness we fetishize in women," and also that "the persona Klausner writes about is bound by class and race," the type of perpetual-girl femininity in question being very much tied to ideals of white femininity.

In related news (and linked in Klausner's article), this piece on "The Bird as Symbol in Current Culture."


Well, I finally uploaded a bunch of pictures and opened the "new post" window to post some fun pictures from the last few weeks, as a way of catching up on blogging. Unfortunately, iPhoto is a piece of shit, and it ate those pictures. Stopped responding during upload and I had to force quit. It did not manage to upload the pictures, but did manage to erase them from my phone. I am most unhappy about losing the super-cute picture of my friends Q. and A., especially since A. is leaving on Thursday.

But here's a mutant cherry:

And here's a snail I encountered the night I decided to walk home from the BART station.

This is the bus I had decided not to wait for that night, pulling off from the bus stop where I would have gotten off, just as I arrived on foot. Because I had chosen on purpose to walk, I was excited that we got there at the same time, rather than being livid that I'd missed the bus and then caught up with it.

And here's a very fuzzy shot of a guy in full pirate gear. I was in line to buy tickets for X-Men: First Class, but I presume he was going to Pirates of the Carribean.

Here's where the picture from the goodbye party would go, it it hadn't been erased. I'd say that it was a fun event, and that, while I'll miss him, I'm happy A is getting the hell out of here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mutatis Mutandis

This morning, TNC links to Matt Yglesias' response to TNC's first column in the NY Times. Which happens to be about X-Men: First Class. I happen to agree with what I think is TNC's main point, that the film positions itself historically and, in the process, erases or ignores a major part of that history. In fact, as I wrote to a friend yesterday,

He's totally right, by the way. I was actually most annoyed by the way that it adopted the language of the civil rights movement (mutant and proud? really?!) and played up Xavier and Lehnsherr's MLK/Malcolm X resonances, but only in a way that could have been ignored/missed by people who don't already know about those resonances.

I was also unhappy with the fact that all of the brown mutants ended up on Magneto's side. I think Yglesias is correct in that Magneto is right -- homo sapiens sapiens cannot be trusted as naively as Xavier seems to. But, again, I have to side with TNC on this one. Magneto is right, but only up to a point. As TNC says in his response to Yglesias:

If Xavier's integrationist attitude is naive (and it is), I'd argue that Magneto's faith in violence and ethnic nationalism is equally so. For me, that really is the beauty of the film. I don't think it can be reduced to who is "right." As Magneto says, Xavier thinks all humans are like Moira. And as Xavier replies, Magneto thinks all humans are like Shaw. 

I cannot support Magneto's intended (at the end of this film) or actual (in the earlier films) response to that, which is not a fight for equality (violent or otherwise), but a lifelong misson of world domination (very very violent), with disregard for the lives of both "normal" human beings and mutants. And seemingly having forgotten, ironically enough, that genocide and the mass mistreatment of groups on the basis that you consider them less than you are both BAD BAD THINGS.

*This has been your a.m. geek out. Now back to regularly scheduled nerding, as I finish the last of my grading for the quarter. Expect to see a bit more activity around here, now that the school year is loosening its death grip.

ETA: Adam Serwer offers a good amendment to the Xavier/MLK vs Magneto/Malcolm X comparison.

No blowfish in sight

Went to Blowfish Sushi tonight. Ate so much sushi that I was actually quite full. This is not what I ordered, but it was too exciting to leave undocumented:

Yep. There's dry ice involved.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sunday, June 5, 2011

X-Men: First Class****

This review has spoilers in it. X-Men: First class is highly entertaining and, in some places, good. Its goodness seems to me to have less to do with the actual writing, and more to do with the pathos the main actors are able to generate. Fassbender & McAvoy are saddled with some unfortunate dialogue, and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto's storyline is definitely richer and more developed than Charles Xavier's. I think Fassbender was stronger than McAvoy, but that may just be because his role is more evidently angsty, while McAvoy is often stuck giving pep talks. In substantive narrative terms, I feel like I know exactly how Lehnsherr became Magneto, and why he is the way that he is. It's less clear to me, though, how Charles Xavier, as presented in this film, actually *became* Professor X, not just in name, but in personality. Despite that, the Erik/Charles dynamic is often enthralling to watch.

The villains are more of a mixed bag. Sebastian Shaw is definitely a little cartoony, but Kevin Bacon deliciously creepy and menacing. January Jones, on the other hand, seems every bit as hollow as an actress as Emma Frost, Shaw's right-hand-woman, is as a character. Azazel and Riptide aren't really characters at all, more like mutant-power-props (I don't think we're ever even told Riptide's name).

The junior mutants are a little bit more than props, but often feel like filler, and the younger actors who take the spotlight are less talented than the older ones. This means that they do not have the skills to elevate the material (it's possible that Edi Gathegi, as Darwin, is an exception to that in his final scene). For the most part, Havoc, Banshee, and Darwin feel like plot devices -- inset here for comic relief or a bit of pathos. Beast is given a bit more to do, which is unfortunate, because Nicholas Hoult is pretty thoroughly unimpressive as an actor.

And then there's Young Mystique. Jennifer Lawrence is not bad, though I wouldn't have pegged her as an Oscar-nominated actress from this performance. And I wish Raven/Mystique could have taken a blue foot to the backside of whoever wrote at least one repeated portion of her dialogue. (I get it, already! It was corny the first time, and got worse with every repetition!) But I think the main problems there are less with her performance than with the narrative itself. We know going in what choices she will make. The movie shows us the beginning of her relationship with Magneto, which is cool (and a little creepy). The movie provides some context for the worldview we know she will later have, but Mystique's participation in Magneto's separatist/supremacist movement, as presented in the movies, already made perfect sense. Given the extremity of her visible mutation, she cannot, as her normal self, pass for normal. And we know how well that's going to go over with the general, non-mutant population. But her mutant ability is shapeshifting (win!), and she can kick your ass (win-win!). So she's got some pretty kickass powers, and she's got what must at least feel like the moral high ground (I'd argue that it is, but only up to a point somewhere before full-scale terrorism, which is basically what the Brotherhood is about). So none of this is actually new. The newness in this film is the complication that it introduces.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Next season's most promising new shows

According to Dustin Rowles (Pajiba), these are the ten most promising new shows of next season. Can you guess which one I'm totally sold on? It's not #6, though I am intrigued by that one. Click through to the long version for the answer:

In case you were wondering...

Saw a fantastic billboard the other day. It's tough to get a good picture, since I'm on the bus at the time.

 But it reads: "The Rapture: You KNOW It's Nonsense. 2000 years of  'Any Day Now.'"

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Very, very funny. There were some scenes I could have done without -- well, one sequence in particular, to be honest -- but I spent the majority of the 2 hours laughing. And I love it that the main relationship is actually the friendship between Kristen Wiig's Annie and Maya Rudolph's Lillian. And (spoiler) that Wilson Phillips sings "Hold On," because that song still makes me happy. Wiig and Rudolph are hilarious, but Melissa McCarthy steals the show. For the guys, Jon Hamm nails the asshole hot guy, while Chris O'Dowd is genuinely charming as the romantic part of this romantic comedy.

5 *s = "WOW!"
4 *s = "Good"

3 *s = "Stupid fun, decent, or at least not bad enough to get 2 *s"

2 *s = "Bad, but not awful, or enjoyable despite its awfulness"
1 * = "The best part was the end, because then it was over."
no *s = "*Deep, pain-filled sigh*...I will never get that [insert running time here] of my life back."

Jane Eyre****

Went on a bit of a movie bender this month - 4 movies in two weekends! I've already reviewed Fast Five (***) and Thor (***1/2). The second two, just last weekend, were "Bridesmaids" and "Jane Eyre." The former I went to see because a friend suggested it; the latter I went to see because of the X-Men: FIrst Class trailer, and because my friend K. is a bad influence. No, for real -- I mentioned that I was excited about X-Men, and she was all "MICHAEL FASSBENDER!" So I had to look him up and see what the fuss was about. And I found this:

At the beginning of the video, I was like, "Meh, he's OK." But then he started singing the Magnum PI theme song, and he got upgraded to "kind of cute" And then he corrected the pitch of the sound effect he was making at the end of the video, and it was all over. I might have fallen into a rabbit hole of YouTube related videos. Like this one:

Better hair - bad facial hair + The Greatest American Hero = ADORKABLE!

*sigh* I blame K. 

Anyway, once he'd been upgraded to adorkable, which I obviously have a weakness for, I went on Netflix to see what I could see, and that's how I found out about this Jane Eyre. I mentioned it to my roommate, and she told me that it was brand new, just recently in theaters. It was still playing at one of the neighborhood theaters in town, and the matinee was cheap (for a movie ticket in San Francisco), so I decided to check it out. It's not bad, but not great in my opinion. Entertaining. And I think my problems with it may have more to do with the story itself than with the movie. I haven't read the book, so maybe this is more compellingly present there, but I don't really understand why Jane loves Rochester. He's a pretty serious asshole -- I mean, even if you leave out the coldness towards poor Adele, the cruel comments about Fairfax, and the general crustiness, there's the part where HE ALMOST TRICKS HER INTO A SHAM MARRIAGE. And this is the love of her life?

In terms of the film, I wasn't overly impressed with Mia Wasikowska in the proposal scene, but the rest was well done, I thought. And I did like Jane, especially the part where she's like, "Wait, I'm sorry -- you're married?! Peace out."

To be honest, my biggest quibble is that I'm pretty sure Rochester is supposed to be blind, burnt and missing a hand at the end, as opposed to just blind and sporting really bad facial hair. I mean, I'd love it if Jane didn't get stuck with a one-handed, blind, burnt asshole, but that *is* the way it's written...

I'm giving it a gentleman's 4 stars - It's better than decent, but I'll really only remember it because Fassbender's hot when he broods.

5 *s = "WOW!"
4 *s = "Good"

3 *s = "Stupid fun, decent, or at least not bad enough to get 2 *s"

2 *s = "Bad, but not awful, or enjoyable despite its awfulness"
1 * = "The best part was the end, because then it was over."
no *s = "*Deep, pain-filled sigh*...I will never get that [insert running time here] of my life back."