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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.