Wednesday, May 27, 2009

LSA and Sotomayor

I'm at the airport en route to the LSA. I'm stuck here for a couple of hours. Ah, free wi-fi and plugs in airports. I'm moderately excited about the conference and learning new things and seeing old friends, but I also have grown to hate traveling and I never was that comfortable with schmoozing. Ah well. This is what they call academic socialization: we not only do academic research, but we must also become academics. We are not yet, but we become. Blah blah.

Anyway, here's a few links about the Sotomayor nomination that I particularly like:

1. Paul Horwitz's post on the nomination game (best post I've read about the theater of the absurd of it all).

2. Kevin Drum keeps with the theme and compares it to kabuki political theater.

3. Kieran Healy looks at the same stage and sees a circus full of clowns.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

I see Belle's Glee and raise her Petra Haden

Because...

1) Petra Haden is all kinds of awesome
2) She is the daughter of Charlie Haden, who is ALSO all kinds of awesome
3) She is the sister-in-law of Jack Black, who is occasionally all kinds of awesome



And I am also partial to this Petra Haden cover as well.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

It's like The Wire, but in real life!


This guy sounds even more unscrupulous than Maury Levy (although I'm only done with Season 3, so who knows):

[Former prosecutor Paul Begrin] went on to become one of the state’s most prominent defense lawyers, representing clients as varied as Abu Ghraib defendants, the rap stars Lil’ Kim and Queen Latifah and members of Newark’s notorious street gangs.

But federal authorities charged Wednesday that the success their former colleague, Paul Bergrin, had in defending drug dealers and gang leaders was based on a brutal calculus that he had boiled down to a phrase he repeated like a slogan: No witnesses, no case.

In an indictment unsealed on Wednesday in United States District Court in Newark, prosecutors accused Mr. Bergrin, 53, of orchestrating the murder of a confidential witness by leaking his name to drug dealers who shot him in broad daylight on a Newark street corner; of traveling to Chicago to hire a murderer to kill a witness in another case; of coaching some eyewitnesses to lie; and of paying others to change their stories or leave town on the day they were to testify.

To prosecutors, the charges are the latest example of the deadly challenge they face protecting witnesses at a time when the criminal justice system has few resources to shield them and the prevailing street code in many cities urges civilians to “stop snitching.”

In late 2003, however, a wiretapped conversation between Mr. Bergrin and one of his clients led prosecutors to view him as not just a legal adversary but a potential defendant.

According to court records, the conversation captured him telling his client’s cousin, one of Newark’s most powerful drug lords, the identity of a confidential witness: Deshawn McCray, known as Kemo. A few days later, the authorities say, Mr. Bergrin met with his client’s cousin again and told him “No Kemo, no case.”

Mr. McCray was shot to death three months later in a brutal ambush, forcing prosecutors to drop the charges against Mr. Bergrin’s client, William Baskerville.

Although the authorities had testimony accusing Mr. Bergrin of providing both the inducement and identity that led to Mr. McCray’s killing, the case could not be prosecuted after a judge ruled — and the prosecutors acknowledged — that they mishandled the wiretap tapes, rendering them inadmissible as evidence.

But as they began examining Mr. Bergrin’s legal work, they now say, they noticed what appeared to be a pattern; in at least four other cases, his clients had been cleared after witnesses were either killed or changed their stories.

Law enforcement officials said that unlike many of the cases Mr. Bergrin is accused of trying to tamper with, which hinged on the testimony of a single witness, the charges against Mr. Bergrin and his four co-defendants were pieced together using a wide assortment of documents, recorded conversations and testimony from numerous witnesses.

“He liked to say ‘No witnesses, no case,’ but we have witnesses, we have evidence and we have a good case,” said Weysan Dun, special agent in charge of the New Jersey office of the F.B.I.


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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

fill your heart with glee

OMG, it's like they wrote this show especially for me. Bring it On meets Election meets Freaks and Geeks, with my favorite song as a finale:


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Monday, May 18, 2009

random roundup with no commentary

Gah, too busy, such that I'm eating Cheerios out of the box and pre-shredded mozzarella out of the bag (I am disgustingly grad student-y when I'm on my own and eating alone).

1. Kept from a partner's dying bedside.

2. Alec Baldwin on the Rise and Fall of Detroit.

3. Maria Farrell gives us TMI.

4. An MRI of love (don't try this at home).

5. How Obama is like Spock.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

The NYT is full of cautionary tales

1. Be careful of lead when you plant your urban garden.

2. Beware of DIY-madness! It can result in DISASTER. There's a reason I won't cut my own hair!

3. Don't play ridiculous Dada-esque "art sports" or else I will mock you. Okay, maybe that wasn't the point of this article. I hesitate to call this a hipster phenomenon, since there's no indication that the attempt at irony is disingenuous. At least arts sports are willfully surreal and ridiculous, rather than inadvertently so in the manner of adult kickball and dodgeball (and don't get me started on "Ultimate." There's a park in the middle of The City where people do all sorts of crazy things with balls on sticks. I cannot begin to comprehend.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

I can't watch horror movies either

I generally refuse to watch rape and/or torture scenes, or violent killings. At the very least, I will turn away and ask "is it over yet?" Occasionally, I will abstain from watching the movie/show at all, if the violence is prolonged and too much a part of the overall work. I'm not alone. Fortunately, I don't usually have to defend my choices. If you want to watch, fine by me, but I will probably be in another room, reading a book. I don't think I'm missing out on something that is aesthetically or culturally important. The same appreciation of the darkness of humanity can be obtained by reading the newspaper or some other fictionalized account. So I don't get why people feel like they have to foist their choices on another, especially if it creates such a negative effect. I don't care if Deliverance is a classic. I never, ever want to watch again that scene where that one of the guys is called a pig, has a knife put to his throat, and is threatened with sodomy.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

a spirited defense of amateurism and in-group cliqueishness

This negative review of Thomas Keller's restaurant Per Se by Ezra Klein was meant to invite the blog drama. My favorite comment, by a chef:

As for the dissing of the IFA, I must say that most of my hate wasn’t directed as Ezra. However, I do think that this isn’t a typical blog. Many of the writers are known for their work in other spheres, which gives them a certain influence that must be used carefully. It’s foolish to think that people who have no clue about food don’t read this blog even though they may read the IFA writers’ other blogs. Ben Miller and Amanda Mattos, for example, have posted utter nonsense, and are NOT good cooks. Yet the name of the blog, and the blogging cred of some of its contributors, pumps up the value of this blog in a dishonest way. As a chef, I know that uninformed bloggers can have a distorting effect that is bad for the food industry. People are fetishizing food and chefs instead of understanding the basic theories of cooking and the proper metrics by which to evaluate food. Blogs like this only increase this problem. When I read Ezra Klein saying oysters and pearls’ only value is in its outrageous luxury, it’s a little annoying to those of us that understand how brilliantly balanced and refined that dish is on so many levels. I’m not saying food isn’t for everyone. I just wish people would get some experience and really build a sound knowledge base before starting a blog.

Seriously. Stop the recipes. Stop posting so much. Take a step back. Learn from people who know how to cook. And focus on your other blogs, which are much more interesting. Don’t be like Noam Chomsky, who is a great linguist but a terrible political analyst.

Oh, and it’s spelled PALATE, not palette.


Well, I also like this zinger:

You all, while a step above average, are amateurs. You aren’t great cooks. You have posts deriding Per Se that don’t get Per Se. You have articles about how overrated ramps are. Another talks about making ricotta, but it isn’t about ricotta. The recipes are pedestrian. Your claim to fame seems to be an overuse of dried red pepper flakes.

Yet you write as if you know what you are talking about. You “almost” aren’t qualified to criticize Per Se? What remotely qualifies you to review any restaurant, let alone that restaurant, let alone after but one visit?

I am not saying you aren’t a true critic simply because you don’t like Per Se. You may life and love and hate as you wish. But you need to understand before you write about it.

This whole enterprise makes me question if you know what you are talking about in your day job’s blog. I sure hope so. For the record, I read several IFA author’s primary blogs and other writings and I love you guys. But while you might be into food, you aren’t real cooks or proper critics. Stick to what you [hopefully] know.



Kate Steadman, a fellow Internet Food Association blogger, offers this spirited defense:

So Ezra wrote a post about Per Se and obviously pushed some buttons. But these comments ripping the blog about being amateurish just completely miss the point of this endeavor.

The IFA was started because a close group of friends were getting increasingly obsessed with cooking and food. We thought it would be fun to work on a new blog — a place to write because “we are united by a shared recognition that all those things suck, and we’d much rather talk about food.”

Not a single contributor to this blog is a chef. This is the internet – you know, that wonderful place where we don’t have to be a professional to talk about what we love. I have an amazing day job — health policy is my proverbial bread and butter — but little compares to the creativity, satisfaction and generosity that’s part of being a home cook.

I’m young. I’ve only been cooking on my own for five years, and new disasters and revelations appear everyday. But it’s absolutely ridiculous to say: “the IFA, while amusing, is all very amateurish.” DUH.

This blog is about our love of food. It’s our thoughts on restaurants, ingredients. We never claimed to be chefs.

But that’s the point — most people aren’t chefs. Most people have the same experiences — they went to that crazy expensive restaurant and felt underwhelmed. They messed up meatballs. Protests of “you’re amateurs” are entertaining at best.

Also, you’ve never tasted anything Amanda Mattos and Ben Miller have made. They’re both amazing cooks, and more than that — they are each one of the most warm, kind, hilarious, creative and giving persons you could ever know. So back off.


Take that, you blogospheric bullies and meanies. And your mom, too! I admit, I was highly amused by these exchanges. But I am a bad person. Far be it from me to get on my high horse about writing about things on which you are not expert. I rarely blog about my actual areas of expertise, nowadays!

Occasionally, I like the IFA. Like this post, on how pretension is the enemy of the good, especially in food policy. I will refrain from making any comments about the expertise/amateurness of these self-proclaimed self-trained journalist "policy wonks," because that's a bit below the belt. Maybe they are! So maybe their other writings demonstrate a greater amount of expertise and thoughtfulness. But they themselves profess to have no expert knowledge about food or cooking, and so I'll leave it at that. What do you all think? Do you need to be an expert in order to express an intelligent opinion that can be accepted as a type of authority by another? What if you profess to have some measure of better than average knowledge such that you will impart such knowledge onto grateful readers, to "help you cook"? What if no matter what, you sound like a tool who thinks that cooking "should" be complicated, take a long time, and be competitive? Okay, that last bit was mean. No pejorative epithets in happy la la Law and Letters land. I just think it's funny. Then again, most of the recipes I post here are along the lines of "what to cook if you are busy working all day" and "use canned broth, it's faster."



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Oprah Sucks

And not just because her O magazine has her on every cover. That's just too much of anyone.

She sucks because she puts anti-vaccine, pro-hormone replacement therapy quacks on her show, and she's so influential that women will listen to her. And this is dangerous stuff!

Hormone replacement therapy is one of medicine's most controversial subjects. In 2002, after a period of prescribing HRT routinely to women to improve their energy, sex drive, heart health and bone strength, and to reduce the risk of certain cancers, doctors were forced to do an abrupt about-face. A study known as the Women's Health Initiative, which followed more than 150,000 postmenopausal women starting in 1991, concluded that prolonged HRT (more than two years) increased the risk of heart attacks, strokes and breast cancer. It wasn't what doctors or their patients had hoped for, but it was the scientific truth. Doctors have therefore been recommending that hormone replacement therapy be taken for short periods of time to mitigate those risks.

But what Somers was advocating was radically different from standards of medical care. She admitted to using mega-doses of bioidenticals continuously and aggressively. She started her regimen, she told Winfrey, by rubbing bioidentical estrogen and progesterone creams on her arms, injecting another hormone, estriol, vaginally every day, and topping herself off with 60 different oral supplements. Physicians who may have been watching the show surely winced, but Winfrey was not concerned. "Many people write Suzanne off as a quackadoo," she declared. "But she just might be a pioneer."

It's not the first time Winfrey's advice on health issues has raised concern. In the past, the media mogul has been criticized for promoting cosmetic therapies that were untested and later deemed dangerous. Her recent development deal with Jenny McCarthy, who now blogs on Oprah.com and has a television show in the works, drew criticism from children's advocates, as McCarthy and her autism advocacy group, Generation Rescue, have been leading an ideological, unscientific crusade against childhood vaccines. Add in Winfrey's endorsement of the snake-oil self-help book, "The Secret," and Dr. Phil, and you might be tempted to sue her for malpractice.


And here's a critique of her support of that quack Jenny McCarthy
:

McCarthy's popularity has created a lot of anger and disbelief in that tiny sliver of society that believes in evidence-based medicine. One person who's feeling particularly frustrated is David T. Tayloe, president of the 60,000-member American Academy of Pediatricians. (Remember them? A pediatrician is a person with a medical degree who takes care of children. Some of them are said to trust science more than celebrities when it comes to health care.)

"I think show business crosses the line when they give contracts to people like Jenny McCarthy," Tayloe says. "If you give her a bully pulpit, McCarthy is going to make people hesitate to vaccinate their children. She has no medical or scientific credentials. It disturbs us that she's given all these opportunities to make her pitch about vaccines on Oprah or Larry King or U.S. News or whatever. We have to scramble to get equal time—and who wants to see a gray-haired pediatrician talking about a serious topic like childhood vaccines when she's out there blasting the academy and blasting the federal government?"

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

double x

Slate's new feminist magazine is pretty good.

Favorite links:

Get your kid off your facebook profile picture
.

The new language of feminism.

Make feminism work!

Feminism's problem with race
.

Katha Pollit's "Still the Second Sex"

Linda Hirshman, being Linda Hirshman, on "The Problem With Jezebel." Smack your forehead, agree grudgingly with some points, disagree with others, question the overall tone if not the underlying argument.

A post-feminist opt-outer's critique of feminism's "responsibility" ethos gets a resoundingly cold, harsh, entirely appropriate dressing down for the callow writing: "If your future's that bright, maybe you need shades."

The unwitting subjects of the inane NYT Modern Love columns answer back!

And re the last link, there's a reason why I try not to write anything about my significant other that's more detailed or intimate than "we argue about whether or not to wear shoes in the house and we have intellectual disagreements about domestic policy" No drama is relayed, nor do I share any insights gleaned through adversity (which I probably lack, not writing Modern Love columns). Eeesh!:

What's true for immersion journalism is clearly not true for Modern Love. My ex's essay wasn't fictional enough to warrant changing gory details—the pet name "Froky" was plenty real, as is my little-used first name "Diana." Yet it wasn't factual enough to warrant fact-checking or objectivity; to mention that I was never consulted, warned, or interviewed about the piece is stating the obvious.

From my perspective the article uses a sprinkling of facts to decorate a work of fiction. The essay skews timelines and words, takes events out of context, and characterizes things in a way that could be described as...creative. The overall effect was a complete rewriting of our relationship as I had lived it.

I learned that baby talk had killed our relationship the same way everyone else did—by reading about it in the newspaper. You wouldn't know it from the essay, but my ex had never specifically mentioned this to me as a problem while we were together. The fact that he told the readers of the New York Times more about why we broke up than he had told me left me reeling. But I could hardly write to the Styles editor. Surely my objections would be dismissed as the rants of a scorned woman (a risk I obviously run by writing this article).

To truly attain peace, there was only one thing to do: Write the author. So just as he had done for thousands of strangers, I did just for us: I sat down and wrote my heart out. I revealed things I had never shared when we were together, and I paid homage our past love. I conveyed my shock at his decision to blindside me with the article and my opinion that he had not told the whole truth.

Surprisingly enough, my ex wrote back within the day. He was cool, civil, even kind. He addressed my concerns about the truth by admitting forthrightly: "Of course, my essay is not the truth. It's a version that is emotionally truthful for me...The essay isn't about you or me, and wasn't written for either of us, but only about how people struggle with these things."

As his smooth prose flowed on, it was almost enough to make me doubt my gut. But then I realized: He wasn't writing to me as a man to woman, but as a published writer to civilian reader. He was a professional now, with a nice clip from the New York Times to prove it. He had told his story, and his story had sold.

When the article was first published in 2005, Facebook was just for college kids, Twitter was a gleam in its founder's eye, and "I Bang the Worst Dudes" was a private lament, not a public blog. Today our online personas, blogs, tweets, videos, and Flickrs have made millions of us into semi-fictionalized stars of our own long-running docudramas. As a culture, we all have to reckon with how much is too intimate—and too fictional—to share about ourselves and our loved ones.

It would make a snappy ending to say I've built a fantastically mature relationship with an amazingly playful man. But the facts are messier than that. I thought my relationship with my writerly ex would give me a marriage. Instead, I got dueling essays, which at the time, felt emotionally devastating and now seems darkly hilarious. As much as I told myself I dodged a bullet by ending things with someone who would so brazenly make his private life public, his piece played on my deepest fear that I was so flawed as to be unlovable. And while I knew I never wanted to have the kind of relationship where I had to get my intimate romantic news from the newspaper again, it was hard to forgive myself for letting it get to that point in the first place.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Random Roundup

1. The always brilliant New Kid on the Hallway on how academia and law school can negatively impact your personal relationship (academia is worse). It's vaguely comforting to read, because while it suggests things will be hard and get harder, it also says "we'll get through this together."

2. A bunch of spoiler-rich reviews of Star Trek, high on the enthusiasm, even higher on the critical contemplation of The Canon and continuity: Scott Eric Kaufman, Timothy Burke, Russell Arben Fox, Amber Taylor. The discussions are so awesome.

3. How the GOP is misplaying their anti-judicial empathy card. God, it's like they all are disciples of Herbert Weschler or something.

4. Not sure how expanding copyright protection to cover fashion design such that gutting the knockoff market will lead to "better, broader design", or how the vaguely defined "squint test" would actually work, but here's Jeannie Suk and Scott Hemphill on this. (Via Amber)

5. Locavores annoy me. And see, it's being turned on its own pointy head! I have still yet to write my "green exhaustion" blog post. Sanctimony and pretentiousness are poor drivers of any social movement.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fidelity and betrayal

There is hardly anything you can read about Elizabeth Edwards's book Resilience that will add any insight or value. Most of it, in fact, will be appallingly insensitive and just plain wrong (really, Randy Cohen? You can be bad if the execution is really good?). Maybe Edwards invited the scrutiny/scorn because of her book. Better is the critical but nuanced take of the women of XX Factor and Salon's Rebecca Traister: yes, Elizabeth Edwards has always been, if anything, too honest and revealing, but for that we admire her more than her duplicitous husband. Where she stops short of that revealing honesty is where we are most likely to criticize her, albeit gently (certainly I would not heap scorn upon her the way I would John Edwards), for betraying herself as much as us. Normally, I wouldn't care much about the sexual habits of politicians, except when they use their character as a central part of their platform, and when the prime example of that character they trumpet is their steadfast devotion to their cancer-stricken wife with whom they endured the greatest tragedy that can befall a parent. But John Edwards did. And his wife is in a more difficult position than I can fathom, so I hesitate to pass judgment or wonder why she did this and not that.

One thing that is heartbreaking to learn is that Elizabeth asked only one present of John on their wedding day (the day he could barely afford the motel in which they spent their honeymoon, or the slim gold bands that they exchanged): fidelity. It seems like such a simple gift, too obvious to ask for. But it's not so simple, and it's not so easy (those who don't think monogamy is a part of marriage or those inclined to think polyamory is the way to go: I respect your opinions, but in this present example, let's leave that debate aside). Betrayal of that sort is one of those things that is so easy to imagine, but too horrible to contemplate for very long. I will confess that one of the few movies that stayed with me long after I watched it was Adrian Lynne's Unfaithful. The guilt and delight that flittered across Diane Lane's face after her first betrayal was unnverving. I could understand both feelings: of course it must have felt simultaneously so good (the only way to describe her expression is "tickled") and so terrible that this was the way to get to feeling that good. The way the infidelity destroyed her life was shocking (of course, it doesn't always have to end in murder). But in considering, again, the example of the Edwardses, I feel the same level of horror and sympathy. It's hard to fathom in one way, and so easy in another. I guess you don't know till you get there.

Fortunately I'm racked with so much horror and preemptive guilt over anything approaching infidelity that it would take a lot for me to get to anywhere near. But part of that also is fearing such a betrayal at the hands of someone else. Again, with intimacy comes trust, and it requires a suspension of disbelief. Or at least the belief that even given the appalling failure rate and the propensity for human weakness, that your relationship will be different.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Knights Out

From Salon:

On March 19, 1st Lt. Dan Choi, an infantry leader with the New York Army National Guard, appeared on "The Rachel Maddow Show" and stated, "I am gay." Choi is a West Point graduate, Iraq combat veteran, and Arabic language specialist. He is also a founding member of the independent organization Knights Out, a group of LGBT West Point alumni who, in openly declaring their sexuality, are actively fighting against the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.

Thursday night, Choi returned to Maddow's studio (video below) to explain the repercussions he's experienced since then. To no one's surprise, Choi has been asked to withdraw from the Army National Guard. Maddow showed pieces of the letter sent to Choi, which stated, "You admitted publicly that you are a homosexual, which constitutes homosexual conduct ... Your actions negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York Army National Guard."

Choi explained that he can resign and receive honorable discharge or fight the action, which is what he intends to do.



I knew Daniel as a kid. He's an amazing person, and all the more so for serving our country and so bravely protesting against the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Please support Daniel and his very worthy organization.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek, Reviewed (no spoilers)

(Well, no spoilers except minor framing plot details that were already discussed by the NYT and Slate)

My initial reaction: IT WAS AWESOME.

My secondary reaction: Except for the parts that were not!

Yes, the action can be a little schlocky. An extended scene where Kirk has to be separated from the Enterprise to meet Old Spock seemed nonsensical and unnecessary and dude, writers, you could not figure out another way around this problem? The use of portentous opera music was heavy handed. The beginning Hamlet/Lion King-esque scene in which Kirk's birth is matched in time by the simultaneous death of his father so that he can grow up with a huge chip on his shoulder and the burden of destiny is just so...overdone. It has some gaping plot holes, and a central plot device is something that doesn't exist in the current understanding of physics and is not explained in the movie.

But it was AWESOME.

I was super excited by the movie and sat on the edge of my seat and got so worked up I had to take off my jacket and scarf (it was night, people, and air conditioning makes me cold). The time-travel plot device worked well. If a movie can't compare favorably to time-traveling episodes in Star Trek history (many of which were excellent: the one with Kirk and Joan Collins, the "All Good Things" series finale of TNG), then what's the point? Fear not, fans: the time travel plot worked really well. I was mildly disappointed by the gratuitously short mini skirts the female cadets and officers were forced to wear (seriously, WTF, IBTP). But I made up for that by turning my objectifying female gaze on Zachary Quinto, a smoking hot young Spock. Chris Pine as Kirk was appropriately boyish (with a very boyish voice), daredevilly, and sort of like a genius frat boy with too much to prove and too high a drinking limit. But he was very cute, so if illogical and brash is your thing, then more power to you. They are all very likable and empathetic characters, and you get to be on their side, and you totally otherize and demonize the evil and genocidal Romulans (who have tattos, making them easier to otherize, causing you to do an autoethnography at your own xenophobia). Oh, and that Novikov self-consistency rule/grandfather paradox of time travel is summarily dismissed, which is nice. Because it's super annoying, and serves only to stroke the beards of fan boys who fancy themselves armchair philosophers and allow the script writers to do two parallel plots as if they were getting paid by word.

This is not a useful review, I admit. I don't want to reveal any spoilers not already reported in national media reviews. I figure, if you're reading this, you know Star Trek, and can understand it when I say "not as good as Wrath of Khan." Well, a bit unfair to compare it to the old movies. Yes, I know it's based on the original series, but as a ploy to jumpstart a dying franchise, it would be best to compare it to the most recent Star Trek As An Action Movie type movies starring the cast of The Next Generation, or the crew of the NCC-1701D. So, it's wayyy better than Insurrection and Generations, a fair amount better than Insurrection, and comparable (if not better than, gasp) First Contact.

Again, sorry for the not-useful review. Go ahead and comment, with spoilers if you wish, more useful reviews. But I generally think that a review of any fan boy movie will be limited. The problem with things with a fan base (like Star Trek) is that the fans come in just different stripes of fervent--the purists too devoted to The Canon and thus likely to be too critical of any endeavor; or the grateful mildly obsessive fans (like me) who are generally so happy to see some new incarnation of their Most Favorite Thing Ever that they are way too forgiving of the flaws and thus express too much enthusiasm in the reviews to be useful. Hence, "it was awesome! except for the part that was not!" So it's hard to find a detached, objective, "useful" review from a fan. But the problem is, critics and mildly interested non-fans just don't get it. Those reviews are usually frustrating to me. I usually enjoy movie reviews as either good/bad exercises of criticism and analysis (although my favorite remains James Agee's review of You Were Meant For Me: "That's what you think"), but occasionally, when I'm reading a review of something I know and care about, I get into fits of irrational rage: "what do you mean, starting off this review stating that "you were never a fan" or "you never saw the original/don't know the canon"?! Then the review sounds ignorant to me and feels useless: I need comparisons to things that I know matter! "Is it better than The Wrath of Khan? How different is it from the original?" It's irrational, because I blithely read reviews of movies based on books and don't think it's necessary that the reviewer read the original work, for example.

Anyway, from one Star Trek fan to another, I would recommend it, with the reservation that: yes, it will have plot holes that make no sense and exaggerations that are eye-rolling, but ALL Star Trek episodes/movies have suffered from that, including stuff that defies the laws of physics. (Oh come on, like you know how inertial dampeners or Heisenberg converters would work.) What it does well, it does really, really well. The actors are competent, and believably expressive. The action-packed plot is really enjoyable. You will love seeing things blown up, and you will love the fight scenes. You will love seeing good looking people be awesome and good-looking (especially Harold/Sulu/John Cho and the aforementioned Zachary Quinto and the mini-skirted Zoe Saldana/Uhura). Simon Pegg/Scotty is delightful. You will want a sequel, and that's more than you can say about most things (cough Crank cough).

My only other disappointment is that I left my comm badge at my parents' house, and I forgot to wear my "live long and prosper" hand sign pin to the movie.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

AUGH. I may as well have told that Nigerian prince my social security number when he asked me.

Dear Associate of Your University,

We are writing to you because Your University's health
center recently learned that criminal computer hackers broke
into electronic databases containing personal information belonging to
some clients and their parents or spouses.

Although the investigation is still underway, we wanted to alert you
as soon as possible that some of your personal information, including
your Social Security number stored on those databases, was stolen,
which puts you at risk for identity theft. It is also possible that
your parents or guardian or spouse`s information was taken if you
waived enrollment in the student health insurance plan, and they were
the policy holder of your health coverage.

In addition, the criminals may have stolen information related to your
health insurance coverage and some of your non-treatment medical
information such as Hepatitis B immunization history, medical
record number, dates of visits or names of providers seen, or for
participants in the Education Abroad Program, certain information from
the self-reported health history. You will receive a second
notification letter from us if, in addition to your Social Security
number, this information was also stolen.

Please be assured that the electronic medical records, including
patient diagnoses, treatments and therapies, are stored in a separate
system and were not affected in this incident.

We sincerely regret and apologize for any difficulty that this theft
may create for you. We have alerted campus police detectives and the
FBI, and we are doing all that we can to investigate this crime. We
are also dedicated to assisting you with information about the
incident and services that can help prevent or minimize the impact
this theft may have on you.

Sigh. Bad things, they happen, and they may keep happening.

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I hate clowns, but I like this song.

So cute! So Belle!


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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Star Trek Fans, Unite!

I am getting excited. Star Trek fans, show yourself in the comments.

I left my comm badge at my parent's house. And it's been years since I've been able to find my little plastic borg cube toy. I did find my "live long and prosper" hand sign pin though, and I'm contemplating wearing that to the movie just to embarrass TD. I can't find my "resistance is futile" key chain, though. I'd bring my label maker that looks like a phaser, but even I have my limits of geekitude, and as we'll probably see the movie in the slightly dodgier part of my high crime city (I live in the bourgie part), maybe best not to carry it around.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

In which the NYT shoulders the great journalistic burden of defending the defenseless...models.

I kid you not. I would not have posted except for the bizarre preponderance of reporting on models this week at the expense of The Crazy Women, ostensibly because there is some kind of museum exhibit. Quick! Someone tell all of the college kids to stop lighting candles and instead campaign for Met exhibits on Darfur, and someone tell all of the anti-war protesters to target curators! Oh wait, that might only work for shallow subjects of

Besides, if not them, who? The Model Anti-Defamation League:

1. "It's Official. Models Look Good." This is faint, left-handed under the knee praise for the voiceless silent stick figures known as models:

“The Model as Muse” seeks to examine the relationship, as Mr. Yohannan writes in the big glossy book that accompanies the exhibition, “between high fashion and the evolving ideals of beauty through the careers and personifications of iconic models who posed in the salons, walked the runways and exploded onto the pages of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and even Life and Time.”

Action verbs are one of the enduring tropisms of fashion-speak and so naturally models never “land” in either Vogue or our lives with a passive thump. Models are locomotives, to use an archaic Vreeland-era formulation. Models rocket. Models explode. Whether or not models are icons, they incontestably excite our attention and draw us in.

Are models perhaps the last silent film stars? A preview of “The Model as Muse” suggests they are. A model’s face on a magazine cover may sell fewer issues than that of the latest hot actress, but they are ultimately a lot more compelling to look at and this is because we hardly ever have to hear about their private lives or be burdened with their thoughts.

It cannot be accidental that Kate Moss, the most persuasive contemporary example of a model as an artistic catalyst, has assiduously guarded what she says throughout her career. Ms. Moss is no dummy. She knows that the basic requirement of her particular job is silence. A model is a muse to the precise extent that a model is mute.


2. One bite at the apple is not enough! Yet another article on "The Model as Muse" exhibit, this time a more critical review rather than a bizarrely fawning college freshman treatment of the metaphors of High Fashion:

What does not quite come across is how much these early models, although famous enough when they married an aristocrat and moved into high society, were still subsumed by the clothes. The magazines were showing what they wore, not emphasizing who they were.

The exhibition remains a glossy fairyland, with no hint of the sad end of models who lived fast and died young. Instead, we see only in their prime Penelope Tree, two-dimensional as an Andy Warhol “Factory” product, or the smoldering Janet Dickinson. Helmut Newton’s glamorous decadence captures a more edgy vision from the 1970s.

What would have transformed this show from being not just entertaining and interesting, but profound? By turning attention almost entirely on the models, it denies the reality of a model’s image as a collaborative construction, with editor, photographer and designer working together to mold a new “face.” But showing how the cocktail of beauty is concocted might have shed too much light on the ephemeral magic of the model and muse.


3. Sad to say, models are being replaced by actresses in our increasingly celebrity-driven culture:

NEW YORK — Have models lost their clout to celebrities? While the Metropolitan Museum is showing half a century of models on magazine covers, today’s issues are more likely to feature Hollywood stars.

“It’s a difficult time for models,” says Marc Jacobs, the chief sponsor of the Costume Institute exhibition. “The whole idea of supermodels came in a pop culture when actresses weren’t that interesting. Now Hollywood is filled with young actresses, and there is digital technology to make them look good.”

Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue for two decades, admits that she is more likely to find star power in Hollywood than on the runway. “The public interest in models these last few years has not been as it was during the early ’90s when Naomi [Campbell] and Linda [Evangelista] caused so much excitement,” Ms. Wintour says. “And until models become celebrities again in their own right, I can’t see them selling as well on magazine covers as actresses.”

Ms. Wintour says that the scarcity of models fronting Vogue is because “the generation that followed the supermodels shied away from that sort of fabulosity and scrutiny.”


Since when did Anna Wintour, brittle queen of haute couture, start talking like Flava Fav and Kimora Lee Simmons? "Fabulosity"? Anyway, I think this is less a remark on how private models have become and more interesting starlet actresses have become than a remark on how our standards of "interesting" have fallen, and the low bar that is set for "celebrity" in our tabloid culture. Cough Paris Hilton cough. Being famous for being famous has replaced being famous for beauty, talent, intelligence....


4. "At Met Institute Gala, High Cheekbones and Higher Hemlines Rule". Ironically, the featured picture is of Jessica Biel, an actress of dubious talent and more famous for dating Justin Timberlake.

“Models are not just faces and bodies,” Ms. Versace said. “They have brains.”

This has been a rough decade for models, with accusations that their industry has been encouraging unhealthy behavior by promoting a stick-thin figure and underrepresenting models of color. Beverly Johnson, the first black model to appear on the cover of Vogue, in 1974, said the exhibition, which traces fashion history from Richard Avedon’s portraits of Dovima and Sunny Harnett in the 1950s through the supermodels of the 1980s, was a great acknowledgement of the contributions of models to fashion.

Asked how she felt about being a museum-worthy muse, Ms. Moss shrugged and pulled a big piece of gum out of her mouth.

“I’m amused,” she said. “I think it’s quite interesting for somebody to go outside of the box and think that a model actually has had some input into fashion. A lot of the time, the models don’t really get a say.”

But in recent years, since the end of the era of supermodels more than a decade ago, designers have increasingly sought to cast their fashion shows with models with blank faces and indistinguishable features, partly because the supermodels were getting more attention than their clothes. Besides Ms. Bundchen, there has not been a new supermodel in years, let alone one whose name is easily recognizable. And that was intentional.

“It was hard to sort of overcome the bigness of some of those personalities, or to bring those personalities sort of down, you know?” Mr. Jacobs said. “Now fashion is about looking at the clothes and not the girls.”


Poor models. I am not being wholly sarcastic here. They are genetic freaks of beauty, but they also face great pressures to stay unhealthily thin and some of the less successful ones I am sure get pressured into quid pro quo sexual harassment. I'd actually be interested in the latter, and the former makes me sad for the sake of the models and the teenage girls they'll influence. Still, reading all this is quite boring (and I only read them to write this post). Maybe models really are lacking in sufficient fabulosity. I tried to read Mary Gaitskill's Veronica. The prose was lovely, but I was unable to care at all about this run-down failed model and her friend. it was like a Bret Easton Ellis novel (albeit with better writing), and I can't bring myself care about the New York glitterati. I very often bring myself to mock them, however.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

"Extremely dangerous to America"


Along with Dahlia Lithwick and Hanna Rosin
, I for one, would welcome a gay female Supreme Court of the United States justice. I never understood why gay people (or gay marriage) means the destruction of democracy, America, and "American values," but I do not listen to conservative media and I did not engage my family over their support of Prop 8 at Thanksgiving dinner.

At this early stage, no idea who will be picked, but I would hate to think that President Obama isn't seriously considering Solicitor General Kagan (the first gay SG? then why not the first gay SCOTUS justice?) or Professor Karlan for the post merely on the basis of their sexual orientation.

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yet another tech problem

My Firefox is broken or something. I open up the NYT homepage in Internet Explorer (which I never use). It looks normal. I open up the NYT homepage in Firefox (which I use all the time), and there is a big chunk of white space between the banner that says "The New York Times" and the main front page. It's like a big CSS error or something. I have no idea how to fix this. I have uninstalled and reinstalled Firefox. I have uninstalled every add-on. I am increasingly irritated at having to scroll down a whole page's worth just to read the news.

How can I fix this? What is wrong?

ETA: problem solved.

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good and bad ways to save money

(Goal: I will post 3-5 times a week, mostly on weekdays, even if it's crap. I didn't say this was a good goal)

In This Current Economic Climate, it behooves a not-so-young graduate student to scrimp and save. There are good and bad ways to do this, however. Rita's suggestion of washing one's hair every three days or other day to extend the life of a shampoo bottle would result in less shampoo used and probably healthier hair, but would annoy the frak out of me, because I have preternaturally greasy roots and look like the thing I fear the most, That Immigrant Kid I Used To Be. My forehead would break out, leading me to spend more on Clearasil and makeup. I would feel itchy, I would worry that my head smells musty and sebum + dead skin cells-y, and I would be annoyed at how my hair clumps together and looks gross and not like in the Pantene commercial. So, while this is a laudable thrifty goal that would lead to healthier, shinier hair without the use of $50 Kerastase conditioner (seriously, WTF), it comes at too great a psychic and social cost (the social cost being less good-smelling, and I want to attract a vampire). So, Rita's suggestion is out.

Then there's Phoebe's suggestion of cutting one's own hair. This would work on those with dextrous hands, curly hair (the curls spring irregularly anyway), and a fair amount of confidence. This would not work for me, who has fine, stick-straight hair, hands that are like big clumsy clown paws, and a complete lack of confidence in my ability to avoid stabbing myself with the scissors or else giving myself a That Immigrant Kid I Used To Be haircut.

So, here are my own "definitely for the faint-hearted" tips on saving money so that you can actually take yourself out to eat at the LSA:

1. Good Idea: Cancel Netflix and rent movies from the public library.

This is genius of me. I could never get around to watching 2-3 movies per week anyway, and so my Netflix account, even if set at "one at a time," would be wasted. Even if I couldn't watch one movie a week (and since I like to watch movies with my partner, finding time to watch them together is harder than you would think with long work days and working half weekends or otherwise trying to have a balanced lifestyle with outdoorsy activities and gasp! reading), it would be a $7 rental. So I cancelled my account, and now borrow whatever's available at the library. It's not bad, and it makes me consider old movies I never watched before, like "Trading Places" and "Wall Street." Problem: the library has very limited hours, and even I, the grad student, sometimes am unable to get there in that short window from 10 am to 5 pm if I'm trying to put in a full workday on campus. But in general, four-at-a-time for one week for FREE is a great way to get movies and TV shows, and if I don't watch it by the end of the week, I just return it and don't feel bad about wasting money.


2. Not-So-Good Idea: Buy the cheapest generic single-ply toilet paper so that you can get it for the fewest number of cents per square foot.

Not that I am such a princess that I have started buying brand name toilet paper like Charmin or heaven forbid, Ultra Charmin, but I regret to report that this isn't really worth saving $2 on. Two-ply, all the way. You probably use less paper anyway. Same goes with paper towels.


3. Possibly Bad Idea: Bring a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter to the LSA so that you can save money on breakfast and lunch.

This is great for saving money, but might cost you those networky meet-and-greet lunches. Maybe I will only do this for breakfast, and be satiated enough to only order an appetizer size salad for lunch, and whatever is cheapest for dinner.


4. Good idea: make your own pantry staples.

I like to make my own bread, which is ridiculously marked up per unit. I'd like start making my own granola and granola bars, since theya re also ridiculously expensive per pound or unit. I'd make my own bagels if I ate them often enough or had a large family, but for now I would be happy just making my own crackers and other such high-margin snack foods (this is partly why I never, ever buy cookies--just bake them!). I have yet to make my own jams and jellies, mainly because fruit is expensive and is most nutritious when it's eaten fresh. So unless someone has a tree and gives me free fruit, I won't make my own jam, a laborious undertaking that involves buying and sterilizing jars, cooking down fruit for hours, etc. Seems unlikely now though, given that almost everyone I know lives in an apartment. I have started making my own candy, though. I am thinking of making salted butter caramels. And TD expressed interest in these $20 for three gigantic dried apricots dipped in chocolate that we saw at that one bourgie food shop in that one bourgie artisanal food, so yesterday I spent all of 10 minutes chopping up and melting bittersweet chocolate ($3.99/lb at Trader Joe's) in a homemade double boiler (a metal bowl a top a pan of simmering water) and coating some dried apricots we got at the Chinese market for $2.99 for 12 oz. I put wrapped them up as a present for him, too. They were very tasty.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Conspiracy Theory: The NY media want you to think that women are crazy and stupid.

Okay, this is the CREEPIEST Modern Love column EVER. Does she not know that you can block creepy stalking students from chatting with you on Gmail? Doesn't she come off as craving the attention and encouraging the crazy? This replaces this entry as proof that "Modern Love Exists to Perpetuate the Stereotype that Women are Batshit Insane".

This 22-year old baby crazy girl
sounds really stupid, and yes, crazy. She's maybe four years older than those crazy teenagers in Massachusetts who think that babies will give their lives meaning and purpose, and it's all fun and games until reality sets in.

Who on earth shops like this?! Since when is something under $1,500 a deal, and something $500 a bargain? When I am over forty, I might actually start buying things full price on J. Crew or Banana Republic, but I probably won't. Not that cheap, poorly made, arguably disposable, probably produced in sweatshops clothing is the best, but somehow I cannot for the life of me stomach paying that much for clothing. Maybe on a suit or in a special occasion dress (like, wedding), but on a sweater, no. I think this article was supposed to be "sensitive to our current economic climate," but FAILED. This article is not so much The Women, They Are The Crazy, but it just sounds crazy to spend that much on clothes in This Economic Crisis, or in general, really.

Speaking of fashion, it has come to my attention that I have "let myself go." My everyday uniform of a fleece jacket or parka, jeans, and Keen hiking sneakers is not stylish, no. Nor do I have "fashion personas." Shopping with a friend in the Trendy Faux Hipster Neighborhood (the real hipsters apparently live in this other pretentious, gentrified, boutiquey neighborhood), I kept balking at the idea of buying and then wearing lacy lingerie (a bigger waste of money, I cannot fathom), insisted that wearing heels everyday would destroy my back and make it impossible to walk my 2-6 miles a day without giving myself deformed feet (and I've already had arch-correction surgeries) or broken ankles, and expressed greater delight at the clearance section of Old Navy (where I got a t-shirt, a pair of shorts, and two yoga camisoles for $16) than at this vintage/consignment boutique that was pretentiously called "The Wasteland." Ah well, maybe this week I will wear a skirt--if it's warm enough.

I am blessed with a partner who thinks I look equally good in jeans or pajamas or in my dressier "stylish business casual," but cursed with a streak of pragmatism. It is true that once upon a time (perhaps just two years ago), I delighted in dressing up for its own sake. But now, I prefer the ease of feeling like I'm myself, rather than myself in a costume. I think I felt I had more to prove back then. I don't know whether this is "letting myself go," or the product of being in a relationship and relaxing my standards. If anything, I think this change preceded the relationship, and it just happens to work in this relationship (if I look like I put in extra effort, it is remarked on favorably, but if I express insecurity over not looking nice enough for an occasion that does not compel a certain dress code--say, to a casual restaurant--I am asked "who are you trying to impress?" The answer, of course, is no one in particular and perhaps only myself, or everyone). I mean, I still like to wear dresses and put more effort into our dates out, just with flat shoes, and only if the dresses are comfortable. I am often encouraged to wear a pretty, lacy thing or a pair of heels "for myself," rather than for the sake of impressing a member of the opposite sex.

But for whom do we dress ourselves is as loaded a question as for whom do we wear cosmetics? I derive more personal pleasure and utility from the light use fo cosmetics, so I do indulge in that. I also like to wear earrings (although my magpie tendency to load up on the glittery bling has long since passed; I attribute that penchant to a need to add some lightness to the dark that was law school). But heels, uncomfortable undergarments, clothes for which I need a modern day corset--no, these are not things I would want to wear every day, for myself or for others.

I suppose I am Low Femme. Not High Femme, which I admire, but cannot fathom in my walk-everywhere, schlep everything lifestyle. And so while we may dress ourselves, we do not dress for only ourselves. But there seems to be some limit to the outward performativity of dress and cosmetics: at some point, the clothes or makeup wear you, and feel too costumey. Go too far for the sake of dressing to some ideal (or persona that doesn't fit your personality), and you lose any pleasure or utility in it.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Recharge

Things that I need on occasion to recharge:

  • A nice dinner out.
  • A nice dinner in (tonight: pork medallions and orange-braised fennel)
  • Wilco's peppier music (I especially like California Stars and Outta Site (Outta Mind) and I Got You.
  • Non-academic fiction reading (currently, I'm reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and it's really enjoyable. Long, but enjoyable.
  • A really long walk.
  • Eating outdoors. Thanks, Gary!
  • Fulfilling some city dweller guilt and Getting Out Into Nature. I especially like being near water.
  • Baking cookies (tonight: chocolate toffee cookies).

What are yours? Any suggestions?

I'm off for a walk and grocery shopping so that I can make dinner and bake cookies. Yes, this is my triumphant return to blogging. It's this or nothing, folks.

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State of the Belle

Since I've last blogged, nearly a month ago, these things have happened:

  • I'm still alive. No, really.
  • I discovered that I make really great pudding and custard, but do not how to work with gelatin. Panna cotta FAIL.
  • I baked challah and offered some to my Jewish friends, who politely informed me "thanks, but it's Passover." Consideration for Jewish people FAIL.
  • We bought a portable gas grill, which I have named "Gary." As in, Gary the Gas Grill. He has changed our lives, and we are really blessed to have Gary. Not so much healthier though. Instead of grilling vegetables and say, tofu, we grill sausages and steaks. Mmm.
  • I traveled out of town recently and had a lot of fun with bloggy friends.
  • I really hated that "Ghosts" episode of Dollhouse. Also, hate sex looks so terrible and violent and and creepy. Agent Ballard takes a dark turn.
  • I decided that 30 Rock is one of my favorite shows, and that I will repeat the funny lines as often as I can. Such as "Am I in a barn full of horses? Because all I'm hearing is naysaying. Wordplay!"
  • I experienced a crisis of dissonance and felt like a total housewife with the shopping and the cooking and the research on gender in the workplace and work/life balance and threw a fit and refused to cook.....for a day. We cooked together, which is what we do when he is not working 16 hour days. We had a nice dinner out. This is what it's like to date me. Occasionally I get fits of "what does it all mean" and "how can I be a feminist employment discrimination and organizations scholar if I do most of the housework and shop at Walmart" panic. Then we go out to dinner and I relax over a drink and some not local/seasonal/sustainable/fair trade food. Then I consider it a bit, and realize that my one person consumer boycott isn't that effective, and breaking that boycott to buy my beloved Gary the Gas Grill doesn't make me a bad person, and nor does my failure to be completely ethical in every consumer choice (I try. I don't try hard. I am okay with that.) Then I realize that equality for equality's sake doesn't mean much, if it makes us fight. The principle of the thing is not as important as getting the thing done, especially if it's something valuable, like having a nice, normal, no-argument dinner.
  • I decided that sweeping twice a day in my Neverending Battle Against Dust might be considered OCD, so I went all week this week without sweeping. Result: Grossed out, but sane.
  • My Neverending Battle Against Dust generally results in several discussions with TD about my disappointment in myself and the cleanliness of my apartment, and I asked him, as a person who grew up with shoes in the house, how it is that American babies survive and do not die. He says that the dust makes his people of hardier stock. We decided that a blog called Stuff White People Do That I Don't Get, with a picture of myself throwing up my hands in confusion, would probably be offensive. That's when he called me OCD and said that dirt is good for babies, so having a sterile baby inside a hermetically sealed bubble was out of the question. Knowing that if I posed such a debate to The Internet I would lose this argument, I decided not to blog about this.
  • I got really sick of blogging. Then I half-composed long essays in my head, and forgot to write down the ideas. Then I got overwhelmed by the idea of drafting long, 1,000-2,000 word posts about yuppie guilt, enviro-sanctimonialism and how it thwarts its own good goal, lobbying vs. social movements, fashion, friendship, love, why first generation Americans are more patriotic than fourth generation Americans (based on my limited study of N=2), etc. So I just didn't blog. I'm sorry. Maybe if I just blogged links to articles I found interesting, blogging would be easier and not so draining and taxing before I even set cripply fingers to keys. But then I would just be a link-dumping blog, which I find boring and antithetical to my typically verbose, moderately insightful self. But being verbose and trying to be insightful is what exhausts me about blogging, and so maybe I should give up that schtick anyway, or else give up blogging entirely. Maybe I should move my "article of interest"micro-blogging from Twitter (yes, I'm on Twitter) back to my blog.
  • I'm preparing for the Law and Society Annual Meeting at the end of May. You should email me if you're going and want to meet up.
  • I am now going to sweep my apartment and work on my paper.

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