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    Wednesday, May 31, 2006

    Controversial Book Links of the Day!

    1. Robert Boynton on Bookforum discusses that Eric Lott book, The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual which seems like it might be a bit of a rehash of Jacoby who tends to drive me up the wall, but Lott's book on Minstrelsy was interesting, so ...

    2.My beloved PopMatters has Geoffrey M. Schmidt asking "Does Beloved Belong? The Absence of Minority and Fringe Literature in the New York Times Canon of Modern Works" about that rather horrendous list in NYT a few weeks back.

    3.Kia Gregory for Philadelphia Weekly on "Ghetto Fiction". You know what she means. Do you agree?

    Holy Lesbian Batwoman!

    That's right; Batwoman's gonna be a dyke.

    Another effort to link old and new characters centers on Kathy Kane, the gay Batwoman who will appear in costume for the first time in a July issue of "52." Batwoman was introduced in 1956, but she was one of several, often silly additions to the Bat family, including Ace the Bat-Hound (1955), Bat-Mite (1959) and Bat-Girl (1961). In her latest incarnation, Batwoman is a wealthy, buxom lipstick lesbian who has a history with Renee Montoya, an ex-police detective who has a starring role in "52."

    More bits from the article in NYT:

    At DC Comics, an effort is under way to introduce heroes who are not cut from the usual straight white male supercloth. A mix of new concepts, dusted-off code names and existing characters, the new heroes include Blue Beetle, a Mexican teenager powered by a mystical scarab; Batwoman, a lesbian socialite by night and a crime fighter by later in the night; and the Great Ten, a government-sponsored Chinese team.

    Over at Marvel Comics, Black Panther, king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, will soon marry Storm, the weather-controlling mutant and X-Man. Luke Cage, a strong-as-steel black street fighter who married his white girlfriend in April, plays a key role in "New Avengers," the company's best-selling book.

    Comic books have featured minorities before, but the latest push is intended to be a sustained one, taking place in an alternate world that nevertheless reflects American society in general and comics readers in particular, in much the same way that the multicultural casts of television shows like ABC's "Lost" and "Grey's Anatomy" mirror their audiences. "I'm glad we're at the point when they're being rolled out without flourish — not 'Minority Heroes Attack!,' " said Judd Winick, who has written many comics for both Marvel and DC. "It's important just to see them as characters and not a story line about race." ...

    "We're trying a lot at the same time," said Dan DiDio, DC's vice president and executive editor, "but we don't know how it's going to be accepted."

    The concern is understandable given DC's uneven history with introducing minority characters en masse. In 1988 it published "The New Guardians," about a super-powered team that included an aboriginal girl, an Eskimo man and Extrano, an H.I.V.-positive gay man who wanted to be called Auntie, who was dismissed online by a fan as a "limp-wristed caricature."

    In 1993 DC printed and distributed the work of Milestone Media, an African-American-owned company specializing in comics with black, Asian, Hispanic and gay heroes. Some of the titles ran for nearly four years, but all ceased publication during a volatile time in the comic industry. One character, a black teenager with electrical powers, found greater success in the animated series "Static Shock."

    Amanda's kind of annoyed but I like these changes. Y'all know I'm a total sucker for "visibility". Nothing's perfect at first, but it's a step in the right direction.

    Just real quick: Spitzer

    This was the most obvious thing ever, but you NYers should know:

    Eliot Spitzer got the backing of the NY Democratic Party in the gubernatorial race.

    John Updike is Unbearable

    Ew. Ew. Ew. Please die already.

    And he hired a car and a driver to take him around some of the seedier neighborhoods in Paterson, N.J., and to show him some churches and storefronts that had been converted into mosques. "He did his best, but I think I puzzled him as a tour customer," Mr. Updike said.

    "Terrorist," which comes out from Alfred A. Knopf next week, is set in Paterson — or, rather, in a slightly smaller, tidier version of the city, called New Prospect — and is about just what the title says. Its protagonist is an 18-year-old named Ahmad, the son of a hippie-ish American mother and an Egyptian exchange student, now absent, who embraces Islam and is eventually recruited to blow up the Lincoln Tunnel.

    Hippie-ish mother, huh? Wonder where he got that?

    Originally, though, he imagined the protagonist as a young Christian, an extension of the troubled teenage character in his early story "Pigeon Feathers," who comes to feel betrayed by a clergyman. "I imagined a young seminarian who sees everyone around him as a devil trying to take away his faith," he said. "The 21st century does look like that, I think, to a great many people in the Arab world."

    When Mr. Updike switched the protagonist's religion to Islam, he explained, it was because he "thought he had something to say from the standpoint of a terrorist."

    He went on: "I think I felt I could understand the animosity and hatred which an Islamic believer would have for our system. Nobody's trying to see it from that point of view. I guess I have stuck my neck out here in a number of ways, but that's what writers are for, maybe."

    He laughed and added: "I sometimes think, 'Why did I do this?' I'm delving into what can be a very sore subject for some people. But when those shadows would cross my mind, I'd say, 'They can't ask for a more sympathetic and, in a way, more loving portrait of a terrorist.' "

    Yes, Updike is doing something no one else is doing. No one, NO ONE is trying to see things from the point-of-view of the Islamic terrorist. Ummmm, maybe if you're hanging out at the White House. But please.

    Updike is such a risk-taker.

    "Terrorist" even includes some Koran passages in Arabic transliteration; Shady Nasser, a graduate student, helped Mr. Updike on those sections. "My conscience was pricked by the notion that I was putting into the book something that I can't pronounce," he said, but he added: "Arabic is very twisting, very beautiful. The call to prayer is quite haunting; it almost makes you a believer on the spot. My feeling was, 'This is God's language, and the fact that you don't understand it means you don't know enough about God.' "

    Isn't Islam just soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo lovely and exotic?

    "All my life there has been one more thing I think I can do — but only one," he said. "I feel I'm very near the bottom of my barrel at every moment of my career — not like Dostoevsky, who had a notebook full of ideas when he died. I try to see the next book in my mind, and I see a slightly plump book with a lot of people in it, like 'Gosford Park.' But it's not a murder mystery because I'm not clever enough to write one of those."

    Oh yes, Mr. Humility.

    More Pathological Monogamy

    Feministe clued me in:

    Man Severs Penis to Prove Faithfulness. He's recovering after a lot of blood and a surgery to reattach the organ. The article does not tell us whether his wife was convinced of his fidelity by watching his penis fall to the floor.

    And, while I'm on the subject, I found this awesome article the other day: Monogamy as a Prisoner's Dilemma. Which is bizarrely right-on.

    I Hear America Singing

    Damion reminded me that today's Whitman's birthday! Don't forget: reading Whitman is a patriotic act!

    I Hear America Singing
    by Walt Whitman

    I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
    Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
    The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
    The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
    The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand
    singing on the steamboat deck,
    The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
    The wood-cutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or
    at noon intermission or at sundown,
    The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of
    the girl sewing or washing,
    Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
    The day what belongs to the day--at night the party of young fellows,
    robust, friendly,
    Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

    From Academy of American Poets.

    13 Ways To Find Out If You're A Lesbian

    Real Men Are Not linked to this garbage in a post entitled "The Good, The Bad, The Ridiculous" (I think it's in the latter category?). Anyway, just so you know I'm not in the habit of taking online quizzes to find out whether or not I am a lesbian. I don't think they'd help me. :)

    Don't bother to take the quiz, just read the answers:


    MOSTLY A: You love men, always have, always will! You’re a girlie girl who regularly swoons over fit celebs with friends who share your mission: to have a wonderful wedding and live in a gorgeous house filled with pretty children. But because you can’t picture a life without men, you are unsettled by same-sex relationships to the point of homophobia. Just because someone is a lesbian doesn’t mean she’s going to jump your bones. Stop flattering yourself so much! Tolerance is the one virtue that makes for a well-rounded personality.

    MOSTLY B: You are a tactile person who is open with her sexuality. The company of females is every bit as fun as being with boys, but you know the difference when it comes to sex. You know which one you want to have physical closeness with on an intimate level, but that’s not to say you don’t like the idea of the other either. Your ‘it’s cool either way’ attitude might land you in trouble, especially after a few beers. Be careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings in the name of curiosity.

    MOSTLY C: Forget what others may think – it’s time to confront your own feelings. Is it just that you’re not into men at the moment, or are your feelings for women too deep on both physical and emotional levels? Heterosexual women can have same-sex fantasies and some experiment, but only you can tell whether what you’re going through is a phase or the real deal. Try not to label yourself as a ‘lesbian’ unless you’re sure, because it may turn out you’re bisexual. It’s okay not to fancy boys, but don’t start hating them – or yourself – for it.

    I know it's not all bad - love yourself, accept the queers whether you are one or not, etc. And it's probably just cheap for me to be nitpicking here because it's a 10 QUESTION QUIZ TO FIND OUT IF YOU'RE A LESBIAN THAT DOESN'T EVER ASK YOU IF YOU'VE HAD SEX WITH A WOMAN! But take a look at the highlighted sections and we'll learn some lessons.

    1. "Girle-girls" are always heterosexual. (Confidential to Belledame, it's time to confront your sexuality.)

    2. You only get to live in a nice house if you're hetero.

    3. If you're a dyke who wants kids, they're gonna be ugly. But that shouldn't be a problem because dykes don't want pretty kids.

    4. The "girlier" you are, the more likely you are to be a shallow golddigger.

    5. Being flexible with your sexuality is a recipe for disaster. Don't drink ... who knows what could happen.

    6. Never jump straight to the "lesbian" label. Keep trying out the boys, just to be on the safe side. "Lesbian" is an identity to be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

    7. One big reason to avoid the "lesbian" label is that it might make you start hating men. Fight the feeling.

    So, I get snarky and laugh with every bit of superiority I have (which is no small feat) and then I remember that some poor 15-year-old is poring over this quiz, hoping it'll solve her dilemma. Sad.

    Tuesday, May 30, 2006

    On Lists, Winners, and Favorites

    It almost goes without saying these days that lists (the Top 50 Conservative Rock Songs, the Top 10 Worst Bush Administration Mistakes, the Top 10 Novels of the Last 25 Years, etc) are gauche. Of course, nothing really goes without saying, unfortunately. Nothing goes without being compared to pornography either:

    For lists today, no matter how titillating, are like pornography: Once the guilt sets in, you can't escape feeling dirty for having lingered over them.

    (That was from Lindsay Waters's recent article in The Chronicle. Time for a new metaphor, folks.)

    My mother always refused to answer my questions as a kid, if they went along the lines of "If you could pick any ______, what would you pick?" or "What's your favorite ______?" saying she found them impossible.

    I feel that way when people want my favorite songs. I'm like, "Are you serious?" I might, might, be able to give you a top 25 albums or something, but I feel some kind of terror at the notion of narrowing down my songs. I don't know what difference it makes.

    But I'm a list-lover. I adore looking at everyone's little profiles and seeing that, you know, everyone loves The Godfather, but this person actually likes Part III. I guess I'm one of those High Fidelity people who thinks that these things, tastes and the ability to analyze them, categorize them, bastardize their importance, omit and revise and pay homage, tells you something. Probably something smaller than it appears. But something.

    I'm not being at all original when I say that "favorites" or "lists" are a function of identity-formation. In the case of the list of literary theorists Waters writes about (it appeared in Critical Inquiry), it participates in the constant reformation of the identity of literary studies, just as ranking your favorite movies identifies you as both a type and a deviation from a type. So, the identity of Literary Studies?

    Jacques Derrida (177), Sigmund Freud (174), Michel Foucault (160), Walter Benjamin (147). Then we drop down below 100 citations: Roland Barthes (92), Jacques Lacan (80), Fredric Jameson (79), Edward Said (77). Harvard philosopher Stanley Cavell ranks at No. 12, tied with Friedrich Nietzsche with 57 citations. The majority of the rest of our most-cited theorists huddle together with more modest numbers to their names. Harvard lit crit Homi K. Bhabha (an editor of CI) ties with Aristotle at No. 27, each with 38 cites; Harvard's Greenblatt ties with MIT's Noam Chomsky at No. 80, with 17 cites; Henry Louis Gates Jr. (again Harvard) ties with Friedrich Kittler, a media theorist from Germany, for 57, with 24 cites. Barbara E. Johnson (Harvard) is named but unranked with 12 cites. Once you get past the Europeans, the list is heavily East Coast, heavily establishment, and hardly does justice to what was once the fun of reading CI (although it may indicate what the journal has become in recent years).

    The authors of the ranking, Anne H. Stevens, an assistant professor of English at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and Jay W. Williams, Critical Inquiry's managing editor, note that "Benjamin's works are cited nonargumentatively," which I think is a nice way of saying his ideas are just window dressing, not engaged with. That must be why he ranks high as one of the most perfectly citable authors of all, because you can cite him reverently without having to figure out what he said. With Benjamin a citation is the academic equivalent of the purely ritual move, like a ballplayer's sign of the cross.

    But the genuflecting to Benjamin points, perhaps, to something hocus-pocus about this whole counting exercise. The essay that accompanies CI's list crows that the theories featured in the journal "share a tendency to question received wisdom and accept few absolutes or foundations." Yet this list seems like a monument to CI's importance. Guys, you don't need to do this. You really have been consistently the best journal for emerging ideas in the humanities for a generation. Relax into your status as senior citizens.

    More important, being critical (in the sense Immanuel Kant used the term) means first of all being self-critical. You humanists should have looked into the literature on the methodology of lists, which the social scientists who pioneered making them have reflected upon. That universal genius, the late sociologist Robert K. Merton, wrote a series of telling scholarly articles about the potentially harmful effects of compiling lists of citations, and about numerology in general when it comes to evaluating the real worth of scholarship. Indeed, the way the numbers fall out in CI's ranking seems to reveal the workings of what Merton called the "Matthew Effect," where fame becomes its own promotion, and the few most famous names get more credit for their ideas than less known thinkers with the same ideas might.

    Obviously, the "identity" of Literary Studies via this list is formed, as by all lists, by what's left out as much as by what's included. But part of this undermines the "Matthew Effect", as everyone jumps in the fray to say, "What about Madhu Dubey?" or "Where's Linda Hutcheon?" or whatever. Also, we go, "Why are we all citing the same people? Are we, perhaps, stodgy and still bowing to Harvard white guys and European scholars? Is this cool or not?"

    So, the identity of literary studies, or anything else, is hardly solidified in the list itself, but rather in the process of making the list and the process of critiquing the list and later making counter-list after counter-list.

    When, for example, Stephin Merritt makes a list, a discussion occurs, even if the premise is mostly stupid (that he is a racist because he didn't put any, or enough, hip-hop on his faves) over the state of music criticism and music generally and race. I guarantee this Critical Inquiry list is going to make people uncomfortable with the careless citation of Walter Benjamin, which is a very good thing. It certainly makes me feel strange about my over-reliance on Foucault. Not that I had any illusions about the proliferation of riffs on Foucault out there, not that I thought there was anything even approximating originality about my citing Foucault,
    just that seeing it like this might make me try harder to reach beyond the list.

    So, we, as individuals (scholars, viewers, bloggers, writers, listeners, readers, etc) tend to construct or exhibit our identities through lists (which are often counter-lists to Big Lists, to begin with) and to develop and change these lists as a way of tracing our respective critical evolutions. The moment when, at 19 or 20, I tried sushi, and it shot to the top of my Favorite Foods list ousting the long-time, almost life-long winner (pancakes with peanut butter); the moment when I had the world's worst, partly frozen in the middle, strange tasting sashimi, and it plumetted. Does it matter? Narcissistically, yes. To me. It makes self-reflection possible for me and I've noticed the same for others. It is not without flaws (how is it that everyone has Fellini on their fave filmmakers list, but, with probing, admit to not having finished one of his films?) nor is the process the deepest one can go, but I think it brings to the superficial fore many deeper concerns.

    Also, I would much rather have my identity based on my aethestic preferences than on a lot of other garbage. Of course, my aesthetic preferences are not without class, race, gender, sexual orientation, regional markers. But I think that fandom has shown the quirkiness of these markers.

    Another "God Save Us From the 'Liberal Elite'" Post

    What the hell is this?

    Is This Food Day on My Amusement Park?

    Maybe. It sure feels that way so far.

    Y'all know I'm obsessed with this Michael Pollan book and I therefore link to :

    His cover story in MotherJones, another piece on Alternet, grabbed from LA City Beat, and this one from The Sun Magazine.

    Harriet Brown on the "Food Police"

    I'm really really happy to see this essay in the New York Times today. Health writer Harriet Brown takes the school "food police" to task.

    Earlier this year, our small Midwestern school district joined the food wars, proposing a new policy that would discourage all food in classrooms, ban nuts and sugary foods and do away with vending machines.

    So much for peanut butter sandwiches, snacks for kindergartners and birthday cupcakes.

    Like the policies put in place by school systems around the country, this one was driven by anxiety — about food quantity, quality and safety — and by the ever-increasing pressure for children to look a certain way and to weigh a certain amount.

    Unlike the earlier "mommy wars" or the "war on drugs," which centered around simpler black-and-white divides, the 21st-century food wars are fuzzier, though the feelings run just as deep.

    Some schools say they are concerned about food allergies, and it is true that for some children a stray bite of someone else's peanut butter sandwich can mean anaphylaxis and even death. But I don't think allergies are the main reason that districts across the country are racing to put new food policies in place. After all, children are allergic to strawberries, wheat and dairy, too, but there are no proposals that I'm aware of to ban any of those foods.

    I fear there's something else at work — a fear borne out by a flier my fifth grader brought home saying that at the monthly pizza hot lunch, no child would be allowed to buy a second slice of pizza. The district says the new ruling is to avoid bad feelings caused by "inequities": if everyone can't have extra helpings, no one can.

    This solution may seem rather Solomon-like. But if equity is the issue, I'll eat my lunch tray. I believe the schools are overreacting to the so-called obesity epidemic, and in the process are doing our children more harm than good.

    They banned NUTS, one of the healthiest food types on the planet?

    A look at what's happening on the state level confirms this. In Arkansas, for instance, children's report cards now include their B.M.I., or body mass index, along with their grades. The governor, Mike Huckabee recently lost more than 100 pounds and is passionate about stopping the "obesity epidemic." Maryland is considering a similar standard.

    Never mind that B.M.I. is only a measure of height against weight and does not take into account muscle mass, body type or other factors. (Tom Cruise has a B.M.I. of 31, which puts him in the "obese" category.)

    "You're setting kids up to feel bad about how they are," says Dr. Nancy Krebs, chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Nutrition and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado.

    Such efforts usually fail, making weight problems and eating disorders worse. A recent Internet discussion board among families with anorexic and bulimic children identified middle school health classes, which focus on weight, as the No. 1 trigger for their teenagers' disorders.

    The food wars are being fueled by our emotionally fraught relationships with food, and by increasingly hysterical rhetoric.

    We often hear, for instance, of a rising tide of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, especially in children. But the science behind such pronouncements is shaky. A study of nearly 3,000 children presented at the American Diabetes Association's 2005 conference suggested that a third of the children diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which is associated with being overweight, were later found to have Type 1 diabetes, linked to genetics.

    Abigail C. Saguy, a sociologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies media framing of obesity, says it's hard to know if rates are truly rising, since no nationally representative data are available.

    One study of teenagers in the Cincinnati area found that the diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes went from 7 per 100,000 teenagers per year in 1982 to 7.2 per 100,000 teenagers per year in 1994 — a difference that could easily be a result of better diagnostics.

    "The term 'epidemic' refers to the rapid and episodic onset of infectious diseases and is associated with fear of sudden widespread death," Dr. Saguy says. In reality, she adds, new research shows no significant difference in death rates between "normal" and overweight Americans; mortality rates rise only for those with a B.M.I. exceeding 35 — only 8 percent of the country.

    I'm really happy to see the BMI debunked in a "reputable" (y'all know how I feel about the Times, but ...) publication.

    Another important thing to note is how weight and body fat are responding to hormonal changes, especially for girls, during the late elementary school, early junior high period (for most kids- some are earlier, some are later) and things like BMI and even body fat are unreliable and not particularly useful at this point in time. And children's bodies often react very differently to these changes, when it comes to weight and fat, with some growing up before out and vice versa. The nine-year-old with a D-cup has enough to deal with without having to bring home a letter explaining that she's fat. The 15-year-old who still weighs 90 lbs at 5'3" and hasn't "developed" yet doesn't need to have her eating scrutinized by classmates, teachers, and parents for signs of anorexia either.

    Researchers concluded that pupils whose school lunches offered 25 percent fat (compared with 31 percent in the control group) were compensating for the reduction by eating higher-fat foods at home.

    Big surprise. Anyone who's dieted for a day, a week, a month and then overeaten to compensate is familiar with the deprivation-binge-deprivation cycle — and with the weight gain that often accompanies it. One Harvard study showed that 39 percent of nurses who lost weight through dieting regained it, and in fact wound up 10 pounds heavier on average than those who didn't lose weight.

    There are ways of eating that are extremely healthy that don't lead to binges. But schools, if they want to get involved in the "food wars" at all, need to model these, rather than "diets". I posted sometime in the fall about a school in Harlem that offered UNLIMITED snacks throughout the day to students - all they had to do was ask - but these snacks were fruits and veggies. (If it were up to me, I'd add some protein and fat options. Nuts, especially walnuts and almonds, would most definitely be on the list.) I doubt that the sum total of any one child's daily snacks would come even remotely close to unhealthy, but would keep the kid from that starving-at-the-end-of-the-day feeling that sent my sister and I home to eat a box of cereal each.

    Which just goes to my overall point about how schools should react: expose kids to a variety of healthy options. I would have eaten at a salad bar in school, if I'd had the option back in my "free lunch" days, but instead I picked at whatever happened to land on my little orange tray. Why not do away with the standard meal and give kids vouchers?

    Also, the Four Food Groups song and dance has got to go. It's misleading. REALLY teach kids about nutrition. REALLY teach kids about exercise. And part of the teaching is providing these foods and opportunities for activity. Hearing about veggies may be nice, but going to lunch and receiving a tray full of corn chips and Velveeta can undermine it.

    Where I differ from Brown is that I think that it's important for kids to eat healthfully while at school for two reasons: 1. that's when it's most important for kids to be alert and 2. that's the only time we can make sure they get nutrition. We don't want anymore kids who have plenty to eat but end up with rickets because everything they're eating is nutritionally bereft. Even if we can't keep kids svelte by giving them healthy foods while they're in school, we can certainly fight the malnutrition that's increasingly common among the poor by making sure that they get two nutrient-rich meals per day.

    Again, don't "ban" healthy foods. (I actually think it's fine to remove soda machines and such from schools.) Don't make the conversation about "weight" or "fatness" at all. When kids are very young, simply emphasize healthy foods all around them. Not GOOD and EVIL foods, just make sure the kid that wants a tomato instead of a brownie has that option. When kids get older, why not use biology class to actually talk hardcore about the science behind nutrition? I mean, my biology class in high school was one of the biggest wastes of time I've ever experienced, but everyone got psyched when we did genetics, because it seemed relevant even to those of us who had no interest in pursuing science any further. I think that a conversation about nutrition, which allowed for controversies (why not discuss Atkins? Veganism?) would make many kids more interested. My so-called health class (memorable primarily for the time that my teacher explained I'd be a "perfect rape victim" since I was so tiny, but my heavy classmate would never get raped because she'd scare the men away) was a travesty that could have been truly informative. I never once, NOT ONCE, heard about vitamin or mineral intake in school. Fat, calories (this was pre-Atkins period) - all the time. Nothing about what Vitamin A does and why I might care to make sure I was getting it. If that's not what health class is for, what (other than sex ed) is it meant to be?

    Sometimes I think that people actually don't want to know about nutrition and don't want anyone else to either. They want to be confused so they can justify their bizarre disordered habits. Same with exercise. I don't want to hate, but A and I saw these women running the other day and it was, frankly, pathetic how ignorant they were. And this is not because they were following current wisdom, it was because they obviously wanted not to know. They were both emaciated and were running, with terrible form, one wearing a knee brace, the other wearing an ankle brace on each side, carrying 1 lb hand weights. I was embarrassed for them
    and I felt sorry for them. I wanted to sit them down and explain to them how ridiculous their little routine was. Also, a couple weeks back, I was chugging a protein shake right after lifting. A woman in the locker room says, "How can you eat after exercise? That would make me sick! I don't eat for at least three hours before and after I workout." Ummmm. Greeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaat!

    Now, I judge mainly because I think these people end up passing down bad habits to children under the guise of "health-consciousness". Kids who might have the opportunity to be healthy. There is no doubt a dangerous mentality that says, "Keep the nuts away from the children! Nuts have FAT in them!" and other such nonsense. I think it's time to treat our children's bodies with respect, by making sure they are well-fed, with all the nutrients they need, and the right fuel for safe and healthful physical activity.

    The Campaign Diet

    Can someone please help me understand why we're reading about Rep. Pelosi's disordered eating in the New York Times?

    Ms. Pelosi said she slept little, stole exercise by dashing through airports and subsisted many days on Ghirardelli chocolates ("less than 10" a day) and pistachio nuts (which she shells with her teeth).

    "I had a hamburger last night and it was my breakfast, lunch and dinner," she said last week.

    Oh yeah, because the NYT is showing us how different they are from the rest of the media:

    As the prospect of a Democratic majority gains credibility and Ms. Pelosi is more visible, she is also subjected to the speculation and analysis about her hair, makeup and clothes that any woman positioned for such a big job often must endure.

    Of course, it's not just women who are subject to dietary scrutiny. We remember President Clinton's furtive fast food, not to mention his transition to the South Beach Diet. Of course, we also hear he made sure there were tasty treats for all Cabinet meetings and strategy sessions. And Al Gore, according to New York Magazine, was spotted hiding in a hallway shoveling an ice cream sundae, after having been heckled about his weight. Someone felt the need to note Vice President Cheney's indiscretion - he salted each bite of meat. President Bush I felt the need to alert us to his transgression - he hated broccoli - but I don't think anyone much cared because he was a stick. Katherine Harris gets the "anorexic" treatment. Senator Kerry, a tall thin drink of water, found his Wendy's trip, with the Edwards clan, actually got him positive press. (I'll admit- I loved it.) Governor Huckabee hasn't been A#1 for Arkansas, but he sure has shed the pounds ... so maybe he should run for President.

    Sunday, May 28, 2006

    Just the other day on the Jared Leto thread, we were talking about how it's the women celebs that come out. When I went home that night, my partner, A, had the opposite opinion. I still think more women than men are coming out publicly, but A's point was that more bisexual women than lesbian women were coming out and, because it seems like most people don't believe men can even be bisexual, they just don't say anything. (Exceptions I can think of: Michael Huffington and Michael Peterson, but he didn't have much of a choice.)

    Anyway, I had been so caught up in Jared Leto's fake-out that I didn't notice
    former Jacksonville Jaguar Esera Tuaolo was outing himself
    in his new book, Alone in the Trenches: My Life As a Gay Man in the NFL:

    "If I would have came out while I was still playing, I thought I would've lost my job because of the team chemistry and how society doesn't really accept gay men," Tuaolo said.

    In his new book Tuaolo writes about everything from being sexually molested by his uncle as a small child to loosing his gay brother to AIDS. He also describes how he used to try to avoid looking at the camera or the crowd when singing the National Anthem at televised football games. He was always afraid that some of the guys he had slept with would recognize him and out him.

    Anyway, I tend not to notice the athletes, even though what they're doing is way cool. So props to Tuaolo!

    Sunday Book Review Time!

    1. Great moment from the
    WaPo review of Steve Almond's and Julianna Baggott's Which Brings Me to You

    The trouble is Jane's letters sound an awful lot as if they've been written by an award-winning author and writing instructor with an MFA. So, alas, do John's. To say this spoils the fun is to understate.

    Take, for instance, Jane's remembrance of high school boys: "I loved them with primal biology; I loved them because of an internal bent, a moist yearning imprinted heavily on my genes, perhaps passed down through my mother, stunted (and highly polished, too) by her need for romance."

    And here John remembers: "Eve herself, who smelled luxurious from the shower, smoothed down in amaretto lotion, who went off to work in the city and returned with wads of grubby dollar bills and cabernet on her breath, who smoked on the window sill and wore her floppy breasts in scented bras . . . took me up to her rooftop to make love on the hot tar."

    Yo, Jane, John: Quit your day jobs and get fellowships at the Iowa Writers' Workshop!

    2. Review of Locked by Michele Wucker:

    About halfway through Michele Wucker's timely book Lockout, she spends a few days with the 40 finalists competing in the 2005 Intel Science Talent Search. These are formidably bright high school seniors already doing scientific research not just a notch or two above their peers' work but well beyond the understanding of most adults. And, as at most science and math competitions in the United States today, the Intel finalists are disproportionately immigrants or the children of immigrants.

    As Wucker mingles among these foreign-born best and brightest, exploring their personal stories, it's hard to miss her point: We need this talent. And any policy that helps us take advantage of it will be good not only for the immigrants and the United States but also for the world, which will eventually reap the benefits of what these new Americans produce. ...

    Her concern is that our ambivalent attitudes toward foreigners and globalization, combined with our broken immigration bureaucracy, are going to deprive us of this talent. Her case is somewhat exaggerated. In one chapter, for instance, she imagines a day without not just Mexicans but without any immigrants, skilled or unskilled. This is downright silly; no one is thinking of sealing America's borders to top-level scientists. But she's on the money when she argues that we let in too few of these people, that our immigration bureaucracy handles their cases poorly and that, as a result, more and more prospective Americans would now rather immigrate to other countries.

    3. NYT is entertaining my new food obsession. Check out the reviews of Marion Nestle's What To Eat, and Two For the Road by Jane and Michael Stern. I want to go on a food-road-trip of the US with my love, too! (Never. Ever. Going. To. Happen.) But I personally could barely stomach reading Frank Bruni's fast food tour. I mean, some things sounded delicious, but the grease-at-the-put-of-my-stomach-feeling managed to set in, without my having ingested a morsel. Not a good omen.

    4. You must check out the review of Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution by Simon Schama and The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution by Gary B. Nash:

    In his engrossing new history, Simon Schama asks some startling questions: Which side should slaves have rooted for in the American Revolution -- the colonists, who spoke of liberty, or the British, who offered to free rebel-owned slaves willing to serve the crown? For many of them, Schama argues, "it was the British monarchy rather than the new American republic that was more likely to deliver Africans from slavery." As he puts it, "tens of thousands of Africans, enslaved in the American South, [looked] to Britain as their deliverer, to the point where they were ready to risk life and limb to reach the lines of the royal army" -- an "astounding fact" that necessitates retelling the tale of the Revolution "in a freshly complicated way." ...

    The fragile American republic, half-slave and half-free, had its own problems merely staying together. It put off ending the slave trade and ignored its slaves, except to count them as fractions of persons in allocating seats in Congress. Nash charges moral cowardice -- a failure of will by North and South -- and both he and Schama cite chapter and verse about the new republic's lapses. Despite John Adams's republican idealism and religious piety, before the Revolution he had appeared as a lawyer for slave owners; as vice president, he confessed frankly in 1795 that slavery was "a subject to which I had never given any particular attention." Twelve American presidents, including Jefferson, were slave-owners. Benjamin Franklin freed his last slave only in his will. Washington also freed his many slaves by testament at his death, but Martha Washington's slaves -- her property at marriage -- remained in bondage. Not even all Quakers, Schama observes, "were averse to slaveowning." The prewar slave trade largely operated out of liberty-loving Rhode Island. Schama and Nash do not paint a pretty picture, before the Revolution or after.

    An Inconvenient Truth

    Haven't seen it yet, but I will, I will.

    In the meantime though, Rey reviews it in a way that actually makes me want to see it rather than simply think I ought to.

    On "Cultural Reappropriation"

    There is a discussion going that originated on Reappropriate about a month ago and has since found its way to Sin Titulo, Fable, Inqk, Cthulhu-Cult, Debunking White, Sex_and_Race, and Feministe, among others. Fascinating discussions all around, but especially on gaudior.

    It reminded me a bit of this comment on Slant Truth by Scott Eric Kaufmann in response to Kevin's post about the awesomeness that is Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory (which, by the way, is the first hip-hop record I ever owned):

    As a Jew (nominally “white”) from the South, I’m loath to comment on this topic, but let me just say that were it not for the long history of white “appreciation” of black music, I’d give this post a “HELL YEAH!” ...

    And, not to scapegoat Kaufmann (of whom I'm actually an admirer), because I think I understand where he was coming from, but his comment just made me ... sad. I thought about how fucking sad my life would be if I couldn't listen to another black artist ever again. Or if I had to do so in secret in order not to offend. If I couldn't put on Tribe at my own party. Yes, the feeling is selfish and comes from privilege; my life has been bettered by having this music in it and I wouldn't want to go without it. My selfishness and privilege owned up to, my real question is 'Who does it hurt if a white person likes good hip-hop?" (Other than Lauryn Hill's kids - just kidding.) Is something lost if Kaufmann puts on "Buggin Out" when he gets home from work in the evening and it makes him happy?

    So, it's easy enough for me to ask who's hurt and what's lost and to find my answer: well, no one's hurt and nothing's lost, of course. But that's apparently not so. People are hurt by it. Jenn on Reappropriate is deeply angered and hurt by white people drinking green tea and watching anime, etc. Now, I feel like I must be missing some nuance here, but that's how I read it.

    I remember a few years back with Eminem that some folks were upset he was "appropriating" a "black art form" and it seemed that the response was to try and prove that Eminem wasn't "appropriating" it because he'd been so poor and that's equivalent, of course, to having been black. The Village Voice had an article by R. J. Smith, pointing out that Class Trumps Race in 8 Mile where he didn't make my point directly, but alluded to it- poor = black-enough-to-rap. Therefore, Eminem was authorized and no longer "appropriating" something that didn't belong to him. Now, let's get real: Eminem was too good to blacklist for being white. And he was being helped up by arbiters of hip-hop authenticity, to boot. And, finally, the irritation never completely died down. But then I think to myself: Would the world be a better place if Eminem had chosen not to rap because he was white? I don't think so. We'd have missed some incredible art. Not just his work either, but also the work (some of which was produced by black artists) that was in some manner inspired by Eminem's style. (You can't tell me that Jay-Z's "99 Problems" doesn't have some shades of Em or that some of the wails coming off that POS track don't nod in his direction.) Because good artists learn from, borrow or steal from, work in dialogue with, riff off of other artists. Just think: we'd miss the rap battle with Cannibis. (Well, that might be the good thing about Eminem never having existed. :) ) I think the hip-hop world and, yes, the world at large, is better off for having known Eminem.

    The other day I linked to Sad Billionaire's consideration of racial politics and indie rock. He postulates that the very "white-sounding-ness" of today's indie rock is intentional, a way of responding to the common "appropriation" of "black sound" in 1960s and 1970s classic rock. Now, a certain amount of the white folk's "usage" of "black sound" ended up being clumsy and embarrassing, but some of it was awesome. Do we wish Led Zeppelin never existed? Where does Jimi Hendrix fit? At the same time, I don't mean to argue that only "hybrid" musical forms or "black" music forms have value. I have plenty of music that "sounds white". I mean, I love country and classical and plenty of folk and rock that are low on the blues and jazz influences. Which is kind of my point. I don't want to be limited to one sound or aesthetic movement and I don't want anyone else to either. Akeelah should be able to win her spelling bee.

    Another thing happens: once you decide to preserve the "authentic", you nail a culture down and you essentialize it. Like with black women writers. It has come to a point where Octavia Butler, Zadie Smith, Claudia Rankine are not on the list. The list is made up of Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, and such. Even black women writers don't count as Black Women Writers.

    But what I notice is that everything I've mentioned above relates to my overall privileging of some idea of "artistic license" over anyone's political aims. I'm fairly consistent on that. Let them sing about bashing queers or beating their wives; let them use a rosary (just to finger my own issues equally) - but they have to earn it by being pretty fucking good. And it has to have a point. Gwen Stefani isn't off the hook for using Asian women as accessories because the act was superfluous. The way John Updike's descriptions of female characters often are. Just don't.

    I am very interested in Jenn's critique of what she calls "transracial casting", Japanese actors playing Chinese characters, etc. It reminds me of an interview I read with Adam Goldberg right around the time when The Hebrew Hammer came out. He said that, even though he was raised Catholic and didn't particularly identify himself as "Jewish" before he got into acting, he'd basically been unable to get cast as anyone who wasn't Jewish and it had caused a lot of difficulties for his career. At the time, I thought, "That's terrible. They shouldn't typecast him as a Jew!" I still think that it would be pretty bad if we only let Greeks play Greeks, Irish play Irish, etc. Would accents be considered some variation on blackface?

    Which brings me to another point: would the people drawing lines themselves be fully accommodated within these boundaries? If you are Asian-American and have lived in the US all your life, are you allowed to start an anime club? What if you were born in Japan, but now live in the US? At what point does one become "authentically" anything or lose that "authenticity"? If, like me, you have doubts that anyone can claim authenticity (which doesn't even mean I won't, from time to time), anyone staking a claim on it looks suspicious and kind of threatening.

    Which brings me to the phenomenon of "gentrification". I've yet to find a satisfactory all-encompassing definition of the term, but basically we're talking about when a bunch of usually lower-middle-class white folks (often very young and often gay, but neither exclusively) move into a non-white neighborhood in a not
    organized, but nonetheless critical-enough-to-change-things, mass. Usually, these folks do this so they can afford to live in a particular urban area.

    "Gentrification" is a problem because not everyone can live in a finite space and, under capitalism, if your product or service becomes worth more, you're going to charge more for it. It's also a problem because of ideas about cultural, and sometimes spatial "ownership" and "authenticity".

    Before I go on, it's not that I have no sympathy for people who are faced with rents to high to remain in their favorite or long-occupied neighborhoods. I know that every time my lease comes up for renewal (or not) I cross my fingers and hope and pray that the increase won't make it impossible to stay. But I also don't feel that I'm entitled to live in that neighborhood any more than someone who just happens to want to move here. Maybe I feel this way because, as a kid, I was always, always moving. And sometimes it was really sad. My mother, to this day, attributes various mental health problems to leaving one particular place, though I think she greatly exaggerates. I guess I feel like change is life. The other thing is probably that I grew up in a non-urban area in what felt like "the middle of nowhere" and I had to make a lot of sacrifices, sacrifices that still hurt everyday, to be able to live in NYC. I'm sure it seems like I "had a choice" to move here, but I sure as hell didn't feel that way. And, honestly, it makes me a bit jealous of folks who grew up here and simply want to stay within the same 10-block radius and keep everything just the way it's always been.

    Part of what makes cities great is the cyclical nature of neighborhood-building. Many of the neighborhoods in NYC, the pasts of which we so romanticize and long for the return of, were developed as a result of the constant revision of these urban neighborhoods. For example, we now think of Harlem as a place for poor (and increasingly middle-class) black folks, but the boom in Harlem for blacks took place as a result of a real estate scheme by a black agent with his eye on the money of the black middle-class. (For more info on that see David Levering Lewis's AWESOME history, When Harlem Was In Vogue.) The Lower East Side is now thought of as this mecca for Jewish culture, but there were a lot of angry people when Eastern European Jews began moving into their neighborhood and ruining it with their stores, their foods, etc. What made the Lower East Side then become such a radical outpost was not the "purity" but the mish-mash that took place. Is it less radical now? For sure. But you can take the radical and make it part of your new neighborhood, which could very well become the new radical outpost. By locating ideas like "Latino culture" or "radicalism" or "gay" in one particular neighborhood, fighting tooth and nail to keep that thing that you treasure in that space, rather than bringing it with you where you go, you substantially limit what it is, does, and can mean.

    And don't forget the flip side of gentrification. When the middle-class white folks move in, the lower-income people of color move to neighborhoods that were once white and middle-class but have trended downward economically. Then come the whines and moans because the blacks and Latinos are "invading".

    Yes, some of the people who "gentrify" are selfish asshats. There is no question about it. There are people who do nothing but take up space in a building in a neighborhood, but refuse to patronize the local grocery in favor of Whole Foods. These people don't vote in local elections or get involved in the community. And that sucks.

    But there are also a whole lot of "anti-gentrification" asshats. People who feel such entitlement that they try to make it as difficult as possible for any new neighbor. The neighbor is paying rent, same as you. It's a strong possibility that that person is living here because they don't have money, same as you. If they're actually doing something to you, then fine, but, if they're minding their own business, why hate? I'm sure the reply is, "They aren't minding their own business, they've moved into 'other people's turf'."

    The neighborhood interaction is complicated: the "gentrifiers" are chastised for not patronizing local business or being involved in local community, but, when they choose the local grocery over Whole Foods, it is not uncommon to be made to feel unwanted. Angry Brown Butch discusses "gentrification" from the opposite point of view. I highly recommend checking it out for the other side; Jack is especially convincing when discussing the use of the word "discovery". Anyway, Angry Brown Butch quotes this guy who admits he moved to some neighborhood for the best Mexican food. He is seen as being a "cultural tourist", yet it is equally a problem in another thread on gentrification that gentrifiers don't participate in the neighborhood by supporting local business.

    In NYC, this is all complicated by Rent Control and Rent Stabilization which often make relationships between long-time tenants and landlords very hostile. Landlords, who are trying to make money, are in a position of having to let people live in NYC apartments for $200/month just because they were there first. Don't think for a second that that person's savings doesn't turn into other tenants being pushed out. It's also complicated because owning anything, even a closet, in NYC is prohibitively expensive for probably 99% of us living here.

    Jenn talks at length about the fetishizing of a particular "culture" and its artifacts. I can't disagree on that. It's bizarre when white people go around saying, "I should have been born [fill in non-white race or ethnicity here]." I remember this girl I knew in junior high and high school, white working class Colorado gal, who was always saying that she "felt black".

    But, if we limit people's interest in things we've designated "Japanese" unless they are "authentically Japanese" or knowledgable about what is 'authentically Japanese", we're going to be in for a lot of fetishizing. We're going to be saying that you can't take pieces separately, but must take culture as a whole. You can't just take Kendo. You can't just be into anime. You can't just love sushi. In order to explore your interest in one, you must smash all your interests and education into the things that will qualify you as "authentic Japanese". In other words, if we expect to people to "prove" their worthiness (by knowledge, when they are without the authorized birthplace or ancestry), we are asking people to fetishize, rather than simply entertain their interest, without essentializing and romanticizing and then claiming.

    To go back to Scott Eric Kaufmann and his wariness about admitting his love for Tribe, I think that complete avoidance of other "cultures" or people who identify as belonging to other cultures (and I don't mean to say that Kaufmann does this, I'm just taking his quote as a jumping-off point), is really a form of pedastalizing and condescension. "We have to protect that little precious culture from our oafish white aggression," seems awfully strange, when we don't seem to have a problem mashing up, trashing, taking pieces of, indulging in, obsessing over "organic white American culture". Why? Because we haven't essentialized it to the point that we feel we are doing that.

    What's funny is that this whole discussion is going on when I'm so fascinated by this Stephin Merritt thing where this white indie rock guy is considered racist because he doesn't like hip-hop. Well, good thing he didn't like it too much.

    I feel this way in general with guilty white people who tiptoe around everything to do with race/ethnicity/culture. I think that you are frankly more racist when you simply genuflect to whatever the people of color say and go, "I'm so sorry for what you've suffered. I feel so terrible. Flog me - wait, I have no right to ask you for anything. I apologize again, it was my privilege speaking." A lot of "well-meaning" white folks go through this phase, but it's totally dehumanizing to the people you're talking to. If you respect someone, you engage with them. Part of engagement is starting from some opinion and ending with some opinion. If you wouldn't agree with it when a white person said it, don't think you're doing some person of color a big favor by going along with whatever they think.

    How does that relate to the topic of cultural appropriation? Well, real engagement with any culture is going to introduce hybrid cultures. California rolls. Rock rap. As you can see, it's not always good. But it is the product of honest interaction. To try to stop this is to ask for separatism. Which is your right. But I hope most of us aren't that ideologically conservative that we find that the only way to deal.

    Finally, if you are concerned when you see people taking on pieces of a "culture" you feel belongs to you and yours, and they are doing it disrespectfully, or just trying to look cool, take heart. They usually look like utter asshats.

    Friday, May 26, 2006

    A Rare Bit of Hometown Pride: Colorado Sings

    As many of a my regular readers know I grew up mostly in Colorado Springs, CO though I have now lived in New York City for a long time. I still find myself excited when I actually read GOOD NEWS from The Springs, as we called it, since most of the time, if the town is mentioned, it's something terrifying. Not this time.

    Colorado sings!
    When this gay man decided to make pride visible in Colorado Springs, his notoriously conservative hometown, he enlisted 20 fellow singers. The result? At least 900 supporters…and front-page news.

    By Guy McPherson

    From The Advocate, June 6, 2006

    I’ve lived in Colorado Springs, Colo., for 27 of my 39 years. The antigay Amendment 2 was initiated in this city, and as the home base of the notoriously homophobic U.S. Air Force Academy, Focus on the Family, and dozens of right-wing religious organizations, Colorado Springs has a reputation throughout the country as “the city of hate.” When I tell New Yorkers that I’m from Colorado Springs, their first words are usually, “I’m sorry; that must be a terrible place to be a gay person.”

    Colorado Springs is a great city, but the gay community is unorganized and remains virtually invisible: We have few gay bars, no gay neighborhood, and the only big event is the half-mile trek down Tejon Street during gay pride.

    In October 2005, I joined eight other men from the city’s First Congregational Church to form a gay men’s choir. The congregation was so enthusiastic about our first performance that I decided to create Out Loud, the city’s first community-based gay men’s chorus. We started in January, grew from nine to 21 members, brought in a very talented artistic director, Charles Kurchinski, and decided to hold our first concert, “A Night on Broadway,” on April 22. We were all excited and a little nervous when our story was printed on the front page of The Gazette the day before the concert. For a Colorado Springs newspaper to publish a story about a gay topic in a positive light was a real milestone. One choir member didn’t want his picture taken because he feared losing his job at a conservative company. Another member was disowned by his grandparents after they read the story.

    We expected 200 to 300 people, but on the night of the concert our estimate swelled to 900. Crammed into the aisles, on the floor, in the balcony, and outside, people started chanting, “Be proud, Out Loud,” as we entered the stage. When the organist hit the first chord in our Phantom of the Opera medley, it was like a lightning strike. In that moment the choir and the crowd were one, and all night long it was as if we were being held up by their love and support.

    Not one protester showed up. And for the first time it felt like everyone could gather together and say, “We support gay people.”

    Todd Haynes is Goofus and Gallant

    Gallant: Todd Haynes has cast Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore as two of the actors playing Bob Dylan his planned biopic.

    Goofus: "Haynes is still looking for one more [actor to play Dylan]- a young black woman the director hopes will accentuate Dylan's 'inner-blackness.' "

    Edited to add: I read this, like, an hour ago and my eyes still haven't stopped rolling.

    Americans Want Less Bad TV?

    Romijn & Anderson Lose Out in TV Shake-Up:

    Rebecca Romijn's new TV show Pepper Dennis and Pamela Anderson's sitcom Stacked are two of the casualties in one of US TV's most ruthless cutbacks. The two shows join a long list of programs that will not return this autumn for new series on their respective networks. In Pepper Dennis, Romijn played an unlucky in love reporter, while Anderson was praised for her role as a busty bookstore employee. Also cancelled, according to top US magazine TV Guide, are long-running comedy The Bernie Mac Show, Jenna Elfman's Courting Alex, doomed Friends spin-off Joey and cult drama Everwood.

    Now, I haven't actually seen "Pepper Dennis" but I am POSITIVE it sucked. I really have no qualms about saying that without having seen it. Even if everything else about it was good, the idea that someone is so cutely and uniquely named "Pepper" would have been enough to ruin it.

    And I can't stand Bernie Mac or Jenna Elfman. Ew. Make room for more good TV. And then put it on iTunes so I can see if I like it.

    Big Coming Out: Jared Leto

    Jared Leto, known best to me as Jordan Catelano, CAME OUT yesterday. I know I shouldn't care, but I care.

    Junkiness, Callmelunchbox, Star Dirt, Hollywood Dailies, Gawker, National Pop, and Queerty talk it up.

    Weekend Homework

    1. Celebrate Oscar Wilde Day! For more, consult Damion.

    2. It's not just a US thing. Boomers vs. Gen X and Y is a battle across the ocean as well. Hat tip to The Wit of the Staircase.

    3. I've totally been there and could add a few more. Pomegranate Queen's "The Activist Formerly Known As" is a great explanation of why she, like so many others, left her local activist community.

    4. Yeah, I'm kind of obsessed with this stuff. And I'm dragging you down with me. If I can't enjoy my meals, neither can you.

    5. I am personally into seeing Al Gore the Science Guy ("Al! Al! Al! Al!") in An Inconvenient Truth. I must warn you that if you click the link, embarrassing music will follow. Mute is good. Anyway, it's playing in a surprising number of cities, so even if you don't usually get the movies I recommend, you ought to check out the website if you think you'd like to see it. While you're Gore-ing it up, NY Mag has a serious article. And yes I know that everyone has an article about Gore this week, but I like this one.

    Finally, Quaker Dave has a place to commemorate this holiday.

    WMST List

    There has been a discussion on the Women's Studies list-serv regarding whether or not humor is one of "the master's tools".

    Let this be a cautionary tale.

    Thursday, May 25, 2006

    Thursday Links

    White Bear on American regionalism is a MUST-READ. I know y'all are busy people, but "Gumbo: Why and How to Make It" is well worth every minute you spend on it. To whet your appetite:

    As someone who grew up mostly in Kansas, I am appalled by the unbelievably ignorant shit that passes for reading material on the subject of who Kansans are. Thomas Frank's book would do some good if East Coast folks would either (a) read the inside of the book, rather than just throwing up their hands and saying, "What IS the matter with Kansas? Yuk, yuk," or (b) understand that it is about politics in Kansas and has little to do with the real character of the people who live there. ...

    Rich East-Coasters know comically little about the rest of the country. They are appalled when they find someone of their acquaintance hasn't been to Paris or Rome, but they couldn't find Louisiana on a map. "Isn't that, like, in the South?" they say. "I hear they eat intestines down there and keep little racist figurines on their knick-knack shelves." And, of course, I've bitched about bourgeois ignorance of Kansas here. Coastal liberals are always talking about needing to mobilize other areas of the country to informed political action, but I fear that, deep down, they write off most of the country as a bunch of backward, inbred yokels with their thumbs up their asses.

    As someone who grew up in Missouri and Colorado, with almost all my relatives living in Kansas, you all know how I feel about all this. I couldn't agree more. But I'm not nearly as smart or articulate as White Bear, so I leave you to her. After all, she actually offers you snobs a solution.

    Femme Feral, in keeping with my Unofficial (or is it now official?) Music Week, discusses music in commercials with "Wash Your Punk Down With Some Hip-Hop". A taste:

    Commercials freak me out. Especially the ones with little kids talking about juice. Yikes.

    But two newish commercials aren't freaking me out as much as they seem to be signifying the ultimate de-fanging/crossover of two (historically or potentially) radical musical genres.*

    The first one is the "Punky Chips Ahoy, Oi! Oi!." In this commercial, cherubic claymation punks (white kids with green liberty spikes and mohawks, combat boots, and cuffed jeans) and a giant, puffy-looking cookie cabaret kick their way down a London street as fisher-price sounding buzz-saw guitars churn their way through anemic Sex Pistols-style chords. They're singing all about "punky chips ahoy" until they're interrupted by a scowling bobby with a billy club who informs them -- "it's not PUNKY, it's CHUNKY." Oh, hilarious first-letter confusion!!!

    Now, I feel compelled to tell you that the SB describes this commercial as "really cute." I also have a hunch that some of you will get a kick out of reading about how one singer was dubbed "too punky for cookie commercials." Interesting, since as the SB notes, this quality of "punkiness" is something -- in the corporate mind -- that is totally separate from the performance of punk. Moreover, the British version of punk sort of declared itself sold-out from the start, so the fact that it has taken 30 years to make it into a snack food commercial gestures towards a meta-meta cylce of corporate-capitalist culture.

    Finally, Donny B goes deeper into scary recesses of corporate-capitalist culture with the frightening "Pringles and Pimpfants". Readers, I hope you can handle this. A nibble:

    How do you make eating junk food fun, unpredictable and educational? Print Guinness Book World Records on them. Now your food will not only make your body fat, it will make your brain fat...with useless information. It's like Trivial Pursuit, only crispy.

    Trying to Figure Out How to Eat

    I'm confused. Not only can I not really afford to put any of these theories into action, but I don't even know what's right anymore. Here's the round-up.

    Farmers' Markets Go Beyond Green, It's Not Enough to Be a Vegetarian, America's Eating Disorder.

    Unofficial Music Week Continues

    Jacob Weisberg runs down the politics of playlists since that's all the rage these days.

    What with Senator Clinton and Secretary Rice and even the President revealing the residents of their iPods, someone needed to analyze.

    There's no question he's right about Condi's list being the best of the bunch. But that's no surprise as she's an accomplished musician. Hillary and W. have the most boring playlists ever. I have to disagree with Weisberg on this:

    "Take It to the Limit," on the other hand, is such a lame, black-hole-of-the-1970s choice ...

    It's the least tired song on the list. Now, I'm not saying I never crank some "Respect" when I'm in the mood, nor am I saying that The Beatles or The Stones have no place of honor on my iPod, but I've heard "Hey Jude" on a semi-daily basis my whole life. Why is it that the Senator and the President felt they needed to only list the most common songs known to Americans? And why is U2 the only act since the 1970s that these people feel they can include? It seems like these people are dead-set on not being remotely hip - like maybe the boomers won't like them if they step out of line?

    I remember when they asked the 2004 candidates their favorite war movie and John Edwards answered Dr. Strangelove. It made me fall in love with him all over again. It was that perfect balance: most people have seen it and, yet, it's also hip and not boring.

    At the same time, I remember when Howard Dean said he liked Wyclef Jean. I was like ... ummm ... please. Just ... don't.

    I'm not asking for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah or something a little bit ridiculously hip like that, but I'd be happy with something from 15 years ago rather than 30. A little Madonna, a little Smashing Pumpkins. If you have to go 60s and 70s, how about Curtis Mayfield? Something off of Bitches Brew? I'd even be happy to see something I hate, if it was not so boring, I think I'd like the person better. I mean, give me something from a musical even.

    I think I'm going to make a playlist for my ideal politician. Again, it can be nothing obscure, but it doesn't have to be the most boring selection ever, along the lines of Dr. Strangelove. Let me think about it and get back to y'all. Any ideas?

    Tuesday, May 23, 2006

    Weird Quote from article on Literary Fiction

    From here:

    "In the post-9/11 world, we've found it has, until very recently anyway, been more difficult than previously to get the common reader to take a chance on new writers," said Jonathan Galassi, the president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

    What does 9/11 have to do with this?

    Music makes the people come together/Music makes the bourgeoisie and the rebels

    Some awesome bloggers are talking rather brilliantly about music lately, the politics, the poetics. Much of it is inspired by this article and its predecessor in Slate that I linked to last week, so check those out first.

    Jean @ You Are Here: The Blogger Finds Herself at A Crossroads:

    I had a real problem---a rage-inducing, stroke-precipitating problem, with this, from Glassine: "I understand that the reviewer doesn't care for the aesthetic of the muisic [sic]."

    What does that even mean? To paraphrase The Zappa, shut up and play your synthesizer. Or your drum machine. Or your parents' Flock of Seagulls 45's. Whatever. I suspect that what he's trying to say is akin to my own feelings about half the bands in the Great Rockist Canon: I hate the fans, love the band. I would rather die than go to a Neil Young concert, just because it would mean being surrounded by tie-dye and flannel and self-satisfied smirking over organic coffee, or beer, or weed, or whatever. That doesn't change the quality of Neil Young's music, and why let a bunch of pensioners get in the way of my enjoyment? As far as it goes, I understand what Glassine person is saying. The problem is that this wasn't what the reviewer was saying. He was saying that the CD was boring and derivative, had been done before and better. That's not hating your aesthetics, dude. That's hating you.

    This is a problem more and more, or just something I'm noticing a lot lately, and it goes back to the Poptimist thing: we will wipe away the barriers created by the canonization of certain approved music by declaring that all music is good. It just has different aesthetics. This is clearly bullshit. I know there are deeper issues here, but this is going about it all the wrong way. Want to convince a hardcore rockist that pop can indeed hold its own against Wenner's Hordes? Do better. Stop paying homage to bands that are better known for their creative hair than their music, which wasn't very creative at all. Do something different. Rockists complain about derivative rock all the time. Metalheads practically live to do such complaining. It's not your aesthetic, it's your lack of understanding, your lack of respect, for even your own chosen niche. If I wanted to get real snotty, I'd pull out the old line about there being only two types of music: good and bad.

    Sad Billionaire @ Fluffy Dollars: Color and the Kids:

    I will not be the first person to suggest that the deliberate avoidance of syncopation in much of the canon of indie rock music contributes to its "white" quality. Nor would I be staking a very original claim by pointing to the "white" valences of affectless or self-consciously arch vocal tendencies favored by many indie rock singers. For those of us who grew up on classic rock, and made the transition to "indie" music after an apprenticeship in 1970s AOR, the links between "black" and "white" and "good" or "bad" are easy to recall. Playing "white" was slang for insufficient motivation, feeling, or expressive capacity in musicians. We understood that there was a reason that Led Zeppelin and the Stones ripped off delta blues records and the performance practices of R&B musicians when they wanted to access fantasies of exotic sexual power in their music, and if we thought about it later (especially in light of the new vogue in indie for British Isles folk music) we also put it together that these groups used white-coded UK folk music when they wished to tap into pastoral fantasies of a white past.

    It is my guess that a lot of the musicians who created the first few waves of indie rock grew up in similar milieus, and that the creative decisions that went into the formation of the indie rock aesthetic included critical reflection on these "black"/"white" oppositions. I will further speculate that the decision to explore "unfunky" music-making was, in many cases, a way to avoid the uncomfortable aspects of racial mimesis that were so crucial to rock in its first decades. Thus, I think it is fair to say that, at once, the birth of American indie rock was both a moment of self-conscious reflection on the politics of race in pop music, and the crucible of a certain influential strain of "white" aesthetics. For whatever reason, as the genre came to be concretized this racial aspect came to be submerged and eventually hidden behind other aesthetic and thematic concerns, so that by now it is a fairly controversial move to even talk about race and indie rock...

    Noz @ XXL's Posse on Blogway: This Machine Kills Fascists - Tommy Ain’t My Motherfuckin’ Boy:

    All music - gangsta fairy tale to revolutionary manifesto and everything in between - is interpreted by the bulk of the audience as entertainment. Most music listeners do not care enough to learn from it, at most they want music that will help them cope with their immediate surroundings. And thus, political music thrives when those surroundings are inundated with politics (generally in a well organized form, not stray, sardonic daily show shots at the president). Tom could use a long talk with this guy next time he’s on stage with him.

    It’s also a little ironic that Morello makes a point to throw around accusations of (musical) gentrification. His own band, Rage Against The Machine became a huge success by stripping most of the racial subtext (a lighter shade of brown is a whole lot lighter when you traffic in dimly lit videos - ask cypress hill) from the Public Enemy formula and replacing it with a decidedly rockist ethos to create their pep rally protest music. Their self titled debut album bore the following disclaimer - No samples, keyboards or synthesizers used in the making of this recording. Yet De La Rocha had no problem appropriating rap cadences for cutesy Rakim covers while Morello did his damnedest to make his guitar sound like Terminator X on the edge of panic (or Johnny Juice Rosado, depending on who you ask).

    And where exactly does tepid adult oriented post-grunge fit into Mr. Morello’s argument anyway? Maybe after Chamillionaire carves “soul power” into his microphone (or perhaps pops his trunk to display the phrase in garish neon lights?) then these lemmmings could read “Ridin’ Dirty” as a political statement.

    Josh @ Metroblogging Seattle: merrit's rockist racism:

    In the weirdest exchange of the already strange panel discussion, Merritt suggested that white audiences don't notice the intense amount of production that acts like Belle & Sebastian [?] or Celine Dion use to shape their sound and are still able to view the music as authentic. In contrast, he claimed that these same audiences expect "non-white" artists to be entertainers whose work is unfiltered performance -- emotion without production. The whole discussion quickly became very confusing, particularly because it rapidly became unclear whether the panelists considered Celine Dion to be "white".

    Scantron @ Wash Av Huffy Crew: The rockism/popism debate produces my longest cultural critical rant yet!:

    So far as I can tell, "popism" is basically the postmodern, postcolonial answer to the liberal tradition of "rockism." Critics in the 60s and 70s thought they had found the true, honest way hiding beneath all the bullshit of shiney happy Vietnam/Johnson/Nixon America. Later, when the New Left didn't really pan out, rock critics thought that if rock 'n' roll didn't bring the revolution, listening to it at least made you a Better Person. Popism, on the other hand, is a typical sign of the late capitalist times (by the way, I'm not just saying this, I actually sorta kinda mean it). Pop music, in all its fleeting, 15-minutes-of-fame, easily digestible and more easily forgotten glory, is to be celebrated. We are now supposed to consume music for the love of the consumption, listening to it through our iPods as we sip a tall latte, schedule our lives on our blackberrys, talk on our cell phones, etc. It is the stuff of yupsters, people wearing Chuck T's and faux-retro clothing to investment banking jobs and profitable dot-coms.

    Popism is postcolonial insofar as it recognizes the rockist, no matter how liberal or turned on to black music, as a misguided white ideologue who can't see past his own soft-liberal racism. This is nowhere more apparent than in the case of Stephin Merritt. The guy dared to question the popularity of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, and Outkast and he is declared a hater of women, people of color, and people...who...like the music of people of color...? The underlying assumption is that all of the four above named artists must be doing something artistic or worthwhile. Racism must be the true cause behind Merritt's dislike of them, not their musical merit. (Jesus Christ I used the term merit. I must be against affirmative action or something.) And if it were a question of merit, Merritt (ha!) would be guilty of subscribing to rockist notions of it. Who's to say Beyonce doesn't make good music? Doesn't it have a good beat, and you can dance to it? (This air-headed teeniebopper disco phrase, once the mocking putdown of rockists, has been turned into some popist's rallying cry.)

    I've seen the downsides of rockism, to be sure. I've worked at a music store where there could be four guys on the job who all know the second solo record put out by the lead singer of Thin Lizzy, but not know last year's American Idol winner. But the extreme opposite is to suppose that we should abandon all the obscure music collected and hierarchized by the rockists and lose ourselves in the mindless pop of the present. Please note that these are half-finished and incomplete thoughts, intended to start discussion. I don't go for the reactionary rockist backlash found especially here, which tries to use the argument as an excuse to pan hip-hop wholesale and say how low and depraved (i.e. how black) it is. ("How boring is hip-hop?" asks Andrew Sullivan. Just like those Muslims are so sex-crazed...) My point is that the extreme of popism is dumbness masquerading as hip, clued in savvy. It's learning to love your masters.

    I am loving this rockism/poptimism debate. It reminds me of the whole English Lit/American Studies stuff, where the former argues for a cultural canon comprised of Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, Whitman, Frost, Pinsky and the latter argues for a cultural canon constituted by ragtime, blaxploitation, Poison videos, the National Enquirer, and Survivor. As if these are mutually exclusive. As if there is much relevance or interest to either without the other.

    You may have noticed that I love me some high-brow and I love me some low-brow and some middle-brow is good too. I am, not question about it, a postmodernist in my eclectism, but don't doubt that this eclecticism can also be a form of snobbery. When I look at a person's iPod or CD collection and all I see is Justin Timberlake-Pink-Pussycat Dolls, I'm going to sneer. Same goes, obviously, for Senator Clinton's blast-from-the-past playlist, and, if you are a Death Cab-Iron and Wine-Shins person, or a Parker-Davis-Gillespie freak, or a Roots-Common-Mos Def lover,
    I'll give you the very same treatment. And I'll hate the hell out of you if none of the above are displayed prominently, in favor of a more obscure selection. Or if I've heard of everything on your iPod.

    There should be a name for my kind of snobbery, but we think in binaries, don't we?

    Monday, May 22, 2006

    Who Wants To Be A Moron?

    Rebecca Traiser muckrakes through teen girl culture to find out if it's as brainless as it appears. I recommend reading it all, but this got me thinking:

    What does it mean that in 2004, Jessica Simpson got famous for being flummoxed by a can of Chicken of the Sea tuna on "Newlyweds," and that in 2006, Kellie Pickler became a star by asking, "What's a ballsy?" For one thing, it means that the same young women who had hung on Simpson's every word about staying a virgin till marriage and who were calling in their votes for Pickler were also getting the message that it's funny and attractive to be an idiot.

    Funny, yes. Attractive, I'm not sure. Now, yes, Jessica Simpson is physically attractive to an extreme, but I don't think most girls would want to have her personality. I think that idiocy is humorous to most people, a phenomenon that is not new (Three Stooges anyone?). (I'd never heard of Ms. Pickler until reading Traister's article, so ...)

    I think that in the teenage years a lot of people, of all genders, are so incredibly obsessed with sex that most everything else falls by the wayside. I think that both boys and girls start to act deliberately stupid when they're teens because of a sort of brain-body binarism that interferes with the ability to contain both.

    Or something.

    Anyway, I think everyone in the stage of "exploring their sexuality" acts in ways that are appallingly stupid and seem to lack any self-respect. Boys too. If you didn't humiliate yourself as a teen trying to get laid, you're either asexual or lucky.

    When I was a teen a decade ago, I think things were a lot worse. Maybe it just felt that way because I was a teenager and it's a lot easier to see the world in semiotics when you're not a slave to the symbols in the way you are at 16. (Typing all this has made me feel profoundly OLD.) Anyway, Traister mentions how Nicole Ritchie has become uber-famous after becoming scary-skinny, but I actually don't really think that she's a "role model" the way the scary-skinnies were when I was a teen. I mean, she was the celeb-norm, weight-wise, in the 90s. Now, she's sort of an object for pity. At least, it seems that way to me.

    Also, this article notes some of the articles in Seventeen (about the NSA and American foreign policy) - WHAT? That's incredible and laudable. Yes, these mags coexist with Prom Magazine, but that's pretty amazing. Whether most subscribers are actually reading these seems slightly less important than the fact that they are exposed to the idea that teen girls should be aware of politics.

    There's also the Internet. Traister points out that, via MySpace, teens can find just about any interest, identity, or prediliction. I think that goes a long way toward diminishing the power of any one cultural image of young womanhood. I know that the queer visibility alone that such a mechanism for self-definition offers would have really shaken up my ideas as a teen.

    I think that what young women see in their communities is about 1000% percent more important. Where I grew up, the girls were acting dumb and helpless all the time, and the smarter they were supposed to be (honor students and the like) , the dumber and more helpless they tended to act. (There were exceptions, don't get me wrong, but this was common.) Were they doing this because they saw it in magazines? Maybe. I don't really know. But I do know that seeing it around them was profound. It's also true that the popular girls, the girls with the cutest boyfriends at my high school, were also the girls who acted like morons. (Other schools seemed to be different, but it's hard to know as a sort of outsider.) You know what though? The guys who acted like morons also had the cutest girlfriends, so ... Let me make clear that the way that girls acted like morons and guys acted like morons were very different, but they all were gross.

    I also think that "intelligence" in articles like Traister's is usually conflated with "confidence" and I think it's true that girls are expected not to have that. I know because I was an arrogant, opinionated, too-cool-for-school bitch in high school and it led to a lot of hate. :)

    As far as Paris Hilton and her ilk, it doesn't seem like they're "stupid" so much as spoiled and mean. I saw this video of Brandon Davis and Paris Hilton trashing Lindsey Lohan that was just, I don't know, horrible. But the "mean girl" thing seems to have gotten a traction it didn't really have when I was a teenager. I was a teen, of course, during the Joey Potter/Kelly Kapowski era. We preferred Jem and the Holograms to The Misfits' rich bitch routine (or were supposed to). Money, and the freedom to be evil that it provides, seems to be the major thing here.

    For more, Jossip has a good response.

    R.I.P. Katherine Dunham

    Katherine Dunham, a pioneering dancer and choreographer, author and civil rights activist who left Broadway to teach culture in one of America's poorest cities, has died. She was 96.

    Was This Ever Up For Debate?

    Forget the Haight and Woodstock. A new book makes a compelling case that Laurel Canyon, home to Joni, Zappa, Mama Cass and many more, was the true center of '60s rock.

    Ummmm. I'm in my twenties, far from a rock critic, scholar, or historian, and I thought this was obvious. I mean, read a biography - that's all it takes.

    Senator Clinton's iPod

    The candidate-is-regular-folks shenanigans begin:

    Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has joined the portable music player generation.

    Motown tunes, classical music and the Rolling Stones are all on the playlist on Clinton's iPod player, she told the New York Post for Monday editions.

    "I've got everything - a total smorgasbord," the 58-year-old senator said.

    Songs from Clinton's youth figure heavily in the selection of about 1,000 songs, said Clinton, who called herself "a child of the '60s and '70s." The mix includes Aretha Franklin's "Respect," the Beatles' "Hey Jude" and "Take it to the Limit" by The Eagles, she said.

    Clinton, a possible presidential candidate in 2008 who is running for re-election to the Senate this year, said her favorite time to listen to the device is when she's following up on paperwork at home.

    She received the popular portable music player as a birthday gift from her husband, former President Bill Clinton, she said.

    Someone needs to gift the Senator an iMix with some music from the last decade. I think she should be rolling into the Senate chamber rocking some Missy Elliott.

    Newsday's Guide to Politics

    I know you all pretend, for my benefit, to know what the hell is going in NY local politics, but I also know that very few of you actually click outgoing links on the topics, no matter how prettily I try to package them. It's okay, you're busy, you're worried about who's going to get the nomination for President in 2008. But, do me a favor and check out Newsday's Guide to Politics for a little remedial tutoring.

    Sunday, May 21, 2006

    Prom Proposals

    I often find myself rolling my eyes at the gay liberationist-types who say queers are just too cool for marriage and prom and all that icky hetero stuff, but please, oh please, let's never have queers doing this crap:

    Pity the boys in today's celebrity-driven, over-the-top entertainment culture, where asking a girl to the prom has turned into performance art.

    Prom proposals, as these humbling exercises are now called, have been more elaborate than ever this spring, according to Promspot.com's associate editor, Kate Wood. Promspot solicited examples this year and received hundreds of responses from teenagers all over the country, "even North Dakota," says Wood. "This is not just an East Coast/West Coast thing."

    Clearly, though, it is a big thing. A chat with her girlfriends, a phone call or a quick conversation by the lockers between classes won't do anymore. That's so 2005. In 2006, the request has to be painted on a giant sign parked in front of her house or accompanied by 50 red candles, hundreds of Hershey Kisses and an original poem. Why? For the same reason guys go to prom: because girls want it that way.

    Vicco, 18, a videographer for Annandale High School's A-Blast online newspaper, figured he didn't stand a chance with 18-year-old Wahl, a photographer, unless he did something really unusual. He comes from Indonesia and is a former ESL student. She's a Virginian, captain of the school swim team and plays varsity lacrosse. As he put it, "We didn't grow up in the same neighborhoods." As her friends told him, "It will be hard to get her to say yes."

    He made his proposal last month at a national conference of student journalists.

    How could she refuse?

    "Yes," she said that night. And then louder, "Yes!"

    "The whole ballroom started cheering," Vicco recalls. "There were lots of cellphone cameras flashing from people we didn't even know."

    The writer of this article says the phenomenon is "so 2006" or something like that, but kids were doing this kind of garbage when I was in high school. I remember well various hijinks. In one case, a guy rented scuba gear, so that when his potential date, who was on the swim team, dove down at practice, she would see him down there with a laminated sign and some other stuff, saying "Will you go to Prom with me?" Girls would come home to find their rooms literally covered with rose petals. I can't even tell you how many people were asked via some dessert topping. Someone I know got a mixtape, with intermittent pleas from her would-be-Prom-date interrupting the flow of the mix. It was all quite sick. And I thought so at the time. I was much blunter back then, so when girls would flit up to me to regale me with the *romantic* tale of how dunce-Mike or stooge-Jeff asked them ... to the prom, I would return their breathless enthusiasm with, "Didn't it make you embarassed for him?" Funny how the very same women who were super-excited that their boyfriends asked them to Prom via frosting complain ten years later about how the men in their lives don't know how to communicate. Well, I think they might have gotten the wrong message from the baked-goods-are-better-than-language lesson.

    God help the hetero middle-class.