Game of Kings

Picture from this weekend's going-away Thanksgiving in July party at my in-laws' in Novato...

The only Olympic sports I like are the weird ones that barely seem like sports...curling and mogul-jumping in the winter games, white-water kayaking and badminton in the summer games, and so on. I like sports that are either so esoteric that the total pool of athletes worldwide is tiny or ones that don't require actual sweating. By those standards, I think the omission of croquet is criminal.

Croquet is a game you can play with a beer at the ready. It's a game that you can teach someone and have them win on their second game (see my flickr site for an example of the latter.) It's a game that is best known to Americans thanks to blurry childhood memories of family reunions and the fine, fine 80s movie Heathers. It's a game with built-in vindictive attacks on your loved ones. And, finally, it's a game that it's almost impossible to take seriously.

So: if synchronized swimming is an official event, why not backyard croquet? I'll start writing up the petitions.


It Cold Sucks to Run a Mile

(From the best of the online comics:Achewood.)

You know what else cold sucks? Blepharitis cold sucks. I've been going around with this sty in my eye for eight months now, finally got a referral to a proper ophthalmologist, and found out that I do indeed have some nasty blepharitis and that I'm supposed to do the hot-compress thing several times a day until I'm dead.* B has suggested I just keep my eyelids very clean using baby shampoo, which sounds a lot more viable to me. And there was nothing to be done about the sty, either! One of these mornings I'm going to wake up and my eye will just fall out. And then I will be a pirate. At least I still have 20/20.

You know what else cold sucks? The fact that stupid movies make a lot of money while original, funny, rad ones like Be Kind Rewind get panned and go nearly straight to video.** I realized while B and I were watching it last night over a few bottles of vino that the reason I'm such a pessimistic, cynical, negative pain in the ass is that almost everything I like gets discarded or fails in American culture while everything I hate just gets more powerful. Paris Hilton?! Jon McCain?! Republicans in general?! Come on!

I'm off for my going-away dinner at B's folks' place in Novato tomorrow. I shall return with pictures of croquet madness in a few days.

* Which is not to say that it will eventually kill me, just that said compresses were prescribed for an indefinite period.
** Straight to Video: I still think that's a good band name.



Go and read A's Batman commentary / review. It's right on.

My thoughts on the subsequent Christian Bale arrest, inspired by her post:

Scene from London:
"Shut up, MOM! I'm TIRED!"
"Officers! Arrest this beautiful man!"


I Am The Boringist!

Good GOD. I cannot think of a single thing to write about anymore. Looking back at when I started using blogger, I was wailing out posts by the day! And some of them were vaguely interesting!

So here's a list. It's all I've got.
  • I found this outstanding spoken French podcast site. The podcasts are available for free on iTunes. They're made by a friendly gang of Irish French instructors and their native-speaker henchmen. They manage to hit a great balance between clear explanations (usually in English, sometimes in French) and grammar review without dumbing down the language. People wanting to absorb a bunch of spoken French are directed hither.
  • I'm going to see mothergrabbin' Batman tonight with homies L and K. From all the media reports, it sounds like Heath Ledger did a great time killing himself just as he was about to become a really important actor.
  • I've only got a few more weeks here in the states. I've decided the sensible approach is to just assume that I have to get on the plane tomorrow, and then find it surprising when I wake up and I don't have to. We're heading up to B's folks' place this weekend for a going-away dinner for me, courtesy of her dad. On the menu: Thanksgiving. Hell yes.
  • I'm finishing up editing my MA paper from last year to submit to a impossibly prestigious journal. As one of my cadre of enlightened old men reminded me when last we spoke about submitting articles, the worst they can do is say no....
  • Summer's halfway finished! Ha ha!
  • I have had a sty in my eye since last December. I am finally going in to see an ophthalmologist* on Friday. With any luck, he will simply take a very sharp knife and cut the damn thing open and be done with it. If you ever have a sty and some idiot in a clinic tells you to "apply hot compresses" to it, tell them they're full of shit and ask for a referral.
Maybe something interesting will happen in the next few days. I'll keep you posted.

* Try to spell this correctly on your first try. If you succeed, you're probably qualified to run things for the UN.


Feminism Friday

ed.: Sorry this is so damn long

As mentioned, today's musing are brought on by this review of two new books about feminism and working women, a review that also does a nice job roping in pop culture in discussing the confluence of critiques of gender on the one hand and capitalism / consumer culture on the other.

The review is really about the different logical strands of the women's movement of the 60s and 70s, AKA third-wave feminism. Third-wave feminists fought hard for the right of women to work as equals to men, especially in lucrative and prestigious fields like medicine, academia, and law that had long been restricted to them. They certainly didn't succeed in slaying sexism outright, but there's no question that the efforts of the feminists of the baby boom generation did make enormous strides in allowing access for themselves and subsequent generations of women to the professional world. The problem at hand, though, is that many women of those younger generations have chosen to give up the high-powered jobs and become housewives, just as some of their contemporaries take the hard-fought gains of the third-wavers for granted and, rather than going for law degree, study art or feminist philosophy instead. Thus, the question is: should (female) feminists all try to become lawyers/doctors/professors/scientists or is the fact that they are choosing to be, say, part-time feminist bookstore shelf-stockers and part-time fire dancers perfectly okay because they're choosing it?

There's another, largely implicit, strand of logic going through this debate: even if women faced no sexual discrimination whatsoever in the workplace (which obviously isn't the case), shouldn't feminism have other goals than just the right for every girl to grow up to be a CEO? Historically, third-wave feminism was deeply embedded in the anti-capitalist critiques of the New Left. Many feminists at the time claimed that either, A., gender equality could only be achieved when capitalism was destroyed or that, B., gender equality itself would fundamentally restructure capitalism, hopefully making it less exploitative in the process. An example of the latter was the proposal that all domestic labor be paid; feminists claimed that since women did the vast majority of cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing, if those tasks required normal wages, millenia-old forms of sexual slavery would finally be eliminated.

For the sake of brevity, I have two comments about all of the above. First, the subject of my dissertation, Andre Gorz, had some brilliant stuff to say about the paid domestic labor issue. He pointed out that the logic of making all domestic labor paid gestured toward making all forms of labor paid, eliminating the spaces of autonomy in our societies that don't depend on the logic of capitalism (a kind of so-called instrumental rationality, in which everything is only done if it leads to profit.) His counter-argument was that a much better idea would be to fight gender discrimination in already-capitalistic forms of labor and in non-paid labor. In other words, guys should wash just as many dishes and change just as many diapers as girls, just as girls should fly just as many jets and lay off just as many workers as guys. To clarify, Gorz's work all centered around the pursuit of autonomy from capitalism, a position he refined a lot after abandoning any hope that capitalism could ever be eliminated completely. According to his reasoning, paying for traditionally-female labor would actually make things less autonomous; the better option was making all labor gender neutral.

Second comment: as much as I admire Gorz's work, one of the major points of the cultural studies thinkers that came out of Britain in the late 50s and 60s was that everything that happens in human society has to be looked at in terms of its history. It matters that women have only had semi-equal access to professional jobs in the last two or three generations, and that's only in a very limited number of countries. Every time an educated woman chooses not to work, it has a different cultural valence than it would if her husband or partner chose not to. We still sit up and take notice when we encounter a educated house-husband, but most people just think it's normal to encounter a woman who decided to stay at home. In other words, I think that all sides in the above debate have really valid logical points:
  • One of the goals of feminism was and remains the right for women to make their own life decisions, including whether they want to be professionals, impoverished artists, housewives, or burlesque dancers. Thus, no one has a right to judge a woman who doesn't want to be a professional.
  • That said, every woman who chooses not to assault the glass ceiling in her own life does, in a sense, betray what past generations of feminists were fighting for.*
  • Simultaneously, the goal of total enfranchisement of women in work is a big win for capitalism, not for alternative concepts of work, leisure, and remuneration (the article that started all of this makes some great points about this one.) Any critique of capitalism within feminism has to be understood as existing apart from the main argument that gender discrimination should be eliminated. The latter does not imply the former.
All of this hits pretty close to home for me. It's hard for a straight married guy to be taken seriously saying this, but I've been a dyed-in-the-wool feminist since I was about 14. The above issues are hard to reconcile, and I don't see any one viewpoint as inherently more logical or compelling than the others. To personalize it a little, the way B and I have always worked it is: I do half the cooking and half the cleaning and she does half the working (and the other way around.) If someone else shifts the percentages around, are they being worse feminists than we are? Or is it all okay as long as everyone involved has an equal say?

* The way I phrased it here could piss some people off, so please take it in context.


Right, Then

Today: My homie C had this to say in her blog regarding relationships, with her characteristic precision and perspicacity:

"Divorce rates are at like 50% now or some shit and the idea of good old fashioned love is becoming more and more skewed in the minds of most everyone, I think. People are different now and values have changed. Is it that we expect more out of each other? Do we consider each other easily replaceable? Are we too lazy and/or self centered to maintain and nurture and grow a relationship forever? Are we unable to give up our insatiable appetite for instant gratification even for love? Are we all just a bunch of assholes"

My commentary: I'm not really sure that things are all that much worse than they used to be. Historically, it's true that divorce was either illegal or socially taboo in most (western) societies until after World War II. It's also true, however, that adultery was absolutely rife and that there was an atrocious sexual double standard. Even after marriages started being more about affection and less about family connections during the nineteenth century, I don't think there's any evidence that marriages were actually any happier than they are today. What has changed is that, at least in the states, it's very easy to get a divorce and there's almost no social pressure not to, certain upper-crust east coast and bible belt circles excepted. So, overall, I think that what makes present-day relationships different is that people leave them more readily than they used to, instead of seeking out happiness outside of the relationship through adultery (or just being stuck and being miserable for the rest of their lives, which still happens way too often.)

That all said, it's true that most long-term relationships fail, whether or not they involve marriage. In my own experience as would-be Dr. Phil to my friends over the years, the biggest problem with our generation is that people still want the Disneyesque permanent happy relationship but don't realize how much work is involved. Marriage, or really any long-term thing, is an active, ongoing process. It's never easy and it requires constant, ongoing communication. Speaking for myself, B and I have a pretty damn successful marriage precisely because we're always talking about things and compromising; neither of us expect everything to just magically fall into place.

On a related note, and I don't think this is new, the biggest problem within the serious relationships of my friends over the years has been the fact that my friends have wanted to change their partners, without recognizing that, first, that's usually impossible, and second, that by constantly thinking about ways they wish their S.O. was different they ignore the ways that they contribute to the problems of the relationship themselves. In other words, you can't change anyone. You can only think about your own patterns of behavior and identify the times in which you're being unfair or unreasonable. Either your partner will follow suit and you'll reach the compromises you need to reach, or the relationship just isn't going to work.

Which brings me to my last point: think back over the years to all of your friends in shitty relationships and all of the times you didn't say anything. It's frustrating that one of the unwritten rules of friendship is that, outside of really blatant cases of abuse or neglect, you aren't supposed to simply suggest that a relationship isn't working. Think of all the times a friend broke up with their asshole boyfriend or psycho girlfriend and everyone threw a party and congratulated them and expressed how much they'd all been able to say something earlier, but couldn't. That's a pattern that I wish we could excise from our culture; I wish there was a polite and supportive way to tell the people we love when their relationships are going nowhere, and that the only smart thing to do is to end them.

Next time: musings on feminism, inspired by this article.


Ewok Bridge to the Future

My mom, brother and stepdad were here for the long weekend to visit and check out the sites and sights of SC. We did the Neary Lagoon walk, Cliff Drive + the wharf, Pigeon Point lighthouse up the coast, the official UC to the SC campus tour, the arboretum, wine drinkin' and Thai Food, and the boardwalk / downtown experience, all in about 2.5 days. Now they're back on the highway to Oregon and B and I are trying to muster the energy to be productive kids for the rest of the day.

I finally got around to taking pictures of a few of the ewok bridges on campus; I still want to do it proper one of these days and take pictures of all of them. Sundays during the summer are amazing on campus; nobody's home and the whole place is just quiet and nice. I suppose that's the big problem with college campuses: they're great except when there are college students on them.


Getting a French Visa (Bureaucracy Is a French Word)

I'm on the loveseat back at home, the fan blowing cool air in from outside* and one of the twelve bottles of nutritious Mirror Pond Pale Ale I purchased on my way back into town by my side. The good people at the French consulate in San Francisco issued me my visa earlier today, an utterly harrowing experience despite the fact that they were all very nice about it. What can I say about it...hmm...
  1. The essence of bureaucracy is checking things off of lists. I had gone in there with an entire script prepared about my weird program of collaboration between the UC and the Sorbonne and how I'm totally covered for housing, I swear, because I have a place I'm renting, and blah blah blah...the guy behind the plexiglass just twitched with boredom and asked if I had my next form ready as he stamped the first three.
  2. That said, each thing on the list has to be right. The letter from my insurance company didn't have the right phrasing ("covered while traveling abroad," not "covered while living abroad"), so the bureaucrat sent me to an internet cafe down the street to buy an international student ID card which, for some reason, solves the problem.
  3. Parking garages in downtown San Francisco cost more than flying to Paris...almost.
My advice? If you're going to France, for fun or to study, try to do it in 90-day chunks so that you don't have to have a visa.

* The blistering heat wave kicking the central valley's ass is completely skipping we on the coast. And that is RAD.


A Great Mystery

  • The kind of people who set off fireworks on the 4th of July: basically normal. Lots of people like fireworks on the 4th of July.
  • The kind of people who continue to set off fireworks until the wee hours of the morning on the 4th of July: assholes. But it's probably the most predictable kind of asshole behavior in the land, so I can't get too worked up about it.
  • The kind of people who set off fireworks on the days following the 4th of July: a little confusing...why do they still have fireworks? Who has left over fireworks, after all?
  • The kind of people who continue to set off fireworks until the wee hours of the morning on the nights following the 4th of July: a huge mystery. You take the personality of people who like to make life suck for other people (i.e. setting off fireworks very late) but you cross it with people who plan ahead for things. In other words, these are inconsiderate jerk-offs, but they're inconsiderate jerk-offs who took the time to reserve a stash of fireworks to continue aggravating their neighbors for nights to come. Since I would expect most of these people to be hovering around an 85 IQ, mouth-breathing, "wooo!"-screaming, Slipknot-or-3-6-Mafia-listening, Natty-Ice-pounding imbeciles, I can't compute how they would get it together enough to have fireworks in reserve. OMFG. WTF?
Still hating on the 4th,


How To Play The Anal Game

Ha! Bet that got your attention. I know I've posted about this before, but I think that an annual reminder is probably a good idea.

It's fun to start a conversation in the car, particularly with people you don't know very well, with the question "so do you guys ever play the anal game?" Here's how you play: As you drive around, put the word "anal" in front of the model name of cars you see. Look for particularly funny combinations of terms. SUVs and RVs are usually the best. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • The Anal Explorer
  • The Anal Pathfinder
  • The Anal Ranger
  • The Anal Probe (kind of obvious, I know...)
  • The Anal Expedition
  • The Anal Stalker (not making this one up...it's a kind of old RV)
  • The Anal Navigator (my all-time favorite)
A brand new addition for me on the favorite list is:
  • The Anal Lancer (pictured above)
Lots of model names don't really work, especially with cars (like BMW and Mercedes) that don't have proper names, just alphanumeric combinations that mean nothing (the Anal 2002, for instance.) Likewise, models like "tercel" and "civic" don't really work. That said, the anal game is really the superior option for road trips, over the boring collect-the-states license plate game, 20 questions, and so on.

Informational detritus:
I had horrible stomach cramps last night for no apparent reason that kept me up until 4:00am. I feel like the worst combination of hungover and exhausted today. It's the 4th of July, the holiday on which people from San Jose come over the hill and blow up SC every year. Thus, B and I will be hiding behind locked doors watching the second season of...The Wire! It's as good as everyone says it is; just stick with it through the first three episodes and you're all set.

That is all. Happy 4th, everyone. Don't blow yourself up or set your state on fire.


One-Horse Beach Town

I've had a decent run so far in SC. Ends have been made to meet, noisy neighbors have been hushed, verbs have been used in the passive voice. That said, I was reminded this morning of why I can't stand this town sometimes:
  • SC is creepier than it should be. Here's what I mean: take a big town/small city of 50-something thousand, factor in the location on the central coast of California, add the university, check against the cost of living, and you get a "creepy scumbag" factor of about, say, 50/100. Imagine your surprise upon moving here and finding out that it's much closer to, say, 75/100.
  • Socal hipsters. The hipsters I knew before moving to California were skinny, pretentious, and harmless. They liked obscure bands and they were never quite sure if they were being ironic or not. There are lots of that kind of hipster here as well, but they're outnumbered. My homie J provided the key insight a few weeks back when I was trying to figure out the creepier-than-it-should-be factor: California hipsters have being tough as part of their persona. The guys all have the little well-trimmed goatee, the big black sunglasses, the backwards hat, the "I just got out of prison, seriously, I mean it, ignore my nametag" persona. The women are low-rent Paris Hilton clones. This is a version of hipster I am not okay with, because it involves always wondering if one of these boneheads is going to throw a bottle at me from his truck.
  • I am so tired of the cost of living. Yes, I know it's bad everywhere, as the economy collapses around our ears, but it's insane here.
  • Our main water supply is a muddy creek. People who live in or have lived in Eugene: the SC water supply comes from the San Lorenzo "river," which is almost exactly as big and clean as the Amazon Slough. Supposedly, we also have a few tiny creeks that run down from the "mountains," but that's not saying much.
  • Sometimes the bus is late.
I know a lot of my bias comes from living downtown. Like anywhere, downtown is the epicenter of sketchy jerk-offs in SC, and I'm reminded when I visit people who live in other neighborhoods that there are lots of quiet, pleasant spots elsewhere in town. That said, the ambient hostility I feel every time I step outside of the apartment building never fails to put me in a right foul mood, and I'm more than a little sick of it.

But it's not all bad, right?! Here are some things I like about SC:
  • Otters.
  • The bay in general...it's really, amazingly postcard-pretty.
  • I like the boardwalk and the arcade and the wharf. They're ridiculous, but they're kind of great, too.
  • There are lots of nice places to go hiking within an hour up or down highway 1.
  • I'm very fond of my crazy left-wing think tank of a university.
  • The busses are usually on time and they're surprisingly clean.
I'm probably just grumpy because I'm trying to reduce my caffeine intake before I leave for France.