Sunday, March 30, 2008


There was a big thing a few years back about creating NCAA type brackets of everything. Which seems dumb and not even that funny.

I may just be bitter because once again my bracket is totally fucked. I have Kansas winning it all, which is obviously a terrible idea, because the history of Kansas is not so swell, plus they just barely escaped Davidson, but none of that even matters because I have Kansas beating Duke in the final game.

My brackets always wind up totally screwed up. Some of it's because certain schools like Cincinnati (which I did not know I did not know how to spell until just this past moment) and Indiana and Oral Roberts and Cal in those freakish years it makes the tourney (as I like to call it) suck me in. And then, and this is the second thing, the bracket takes on a life of its own. You've picked, let's say, Oral Roberts to beat Pittsburgh, and Cornell to beat Stanford (by the way, only one of those examples is from real life) and all of a sudden you find yourself staring down a situation where Xavier is your obvious choice for national champion, although this year I really should have picked Xavier to go all the way -- I would be better off right now.

My brackets represent to me, in their history of tragedy, my failed quest for sports legitimacy. There are currents in the air of sports that I just don't feel. I didn't think Kobe Bryant would be that good. I didn't think there was anyway the Dwayne Wade-led Heat would win the NBA championship that year. And my brackets always suck.

But I would just like to say, that for all the griping about the BCS computers and their arbitrary and random selection process, that it's not like brackets always lead to such great decision making either. Head to head competition, not always as sensible as it looks.

Women Eating Dirt. WTF?

As I mentioned before, I used to read The Superficial. It's a celebrity site that walks that familiar line between irony and actual childish meanness: under the guise of ironically making fun of the way we gossip about celebrities, especially women and their bodies, we get to gossip about celebrities, especially women and their bodies.

I used to find it sort of palatable because 1) it was sometimes sort of funny and 2) the authors jokes were often self-deprecating, including, e. g. jokes about the smallness of their penises and so on.

But then one day there was a picture of some older woman, I can't remember who, looking kind of reasonable and normal, and the entry was all about how disgusting and revolting she looked and I had just had enough and I decided to stop reading.

Occasionally when I'm super bored and I feel I've been super good, I allow myself a peek. This morning, a Sunday, I spent the whole morning working on something difficult, and I wanted a bit of mental candy, and I typed in the URL.

The first thing up was an old picture of George Clooney's girlfriend with her ass up in the air and her face down on a dirty magazine, sort of licking at it or something, posing for some sexy photo for some reason, with predictable commentary about her being not the kind of girl you'd bring home to mother and being a slut and all that.

Ugh. I'm pretty freewheeling about sex and sexiness for women, and I was young during the 80's when women being sexual was no big deal. I'd have thought nothing of it if a friend of mine had posed for sexy pictures.

I'm amazed, though, at how much "sexy" has been made over into slutty. How did this happen?

Actually there are two things. First, so much of what is considered "sexy" for women now is implicitly or explicitly demeaning to them. Like what's-her-name having her face in the dirt. Yuck. And second, the having of sex of normal sex now is considered "slutty" and trashy.

I honestly don't get where this is coming from. Is it just hatred of women?

I mean, for a long time, Playboy was the kind of standard representative of what it was to represent women as sexy. And if you look at Playboy, the women are not eating dirt. I mean, you can argue 'til the cows come home about whether the very photography itself demeans women, but whatever you think about this, there's still a huge difference between a woman posed elegantly, and intelligently, and a woman eating dirt. And the Playboy girls usually look pretty elegant and intelligent, in my opinion.

Playboy even goes out of its way to emphasize the women's real life accomplishments. Even if this is made-up, it's clear their point of view is that the woman is sexier if she's a real person, worthy of respect. In fact, this is so especially if it's made-up.

Also, Playboy always commands its readers to respect women's sexuality. In their advice columns and so on they always steer readers away from a double-standard: women who like sex, they say, should be respected, and never regarded as "slutty" or bad.

I'm not defending Playboy, here, though I think a good defense of Playboy on these grounds is plausible and could be given. I'm just drawing a contrast between this long-time standard and the new misogyny.

What is up with that? Have men always wanted to watch women eat dirt, and they only used to read Playboy 'cause they couldn't get away with the dirt business? Or is this all something new? WTF?

Anyway, it's horrible. Guess I'll have to find my mental candy somewhere else.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Autonomy And Lust

In my proto-post on Viagra I promised reflection on the whole Viagra-for-women controversy.

What controversy, you ask? Well, obviously Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies are dying to make and market a female equivalent to Viagra.

Turns out that's more complicated than they thought, because women's physiology, and women's sexuality, is more complicated than men's.

And some women are arguing that not only is a female desire pill elusive, it's also a step down a wrong and dangerous road: it improperly treats women's lack of desire as medical "problem" or disease, while in fact it is both natural and a proper response to certain life conditions, like age.

Leonore Tiefer, a psychiatry prof at NYU, has become a kind of spokesperson for this view, and has started The New View campaign to educate women and industry about the idea that "female sexual dysfunction" may not be dysfunction at all.

For Viagra's 10th anniversary, US News and World Report interviewed Tiefer; you can read it online here. While I agree that there are certain dangers associated with any drug that alters the way a person feels, it seems to me the push to not create such drugs at all is a dramatic overreaction to these dangers.

The most obvious point here is that some women do experience loss of desire in a way that does seem "dysfunctional" and in a way that makes them unhappy. Women who've had various diseases, women on anti-depressants and other drugs, women who have unusual hormonal distributions may experience loss of sexual desire as a physiological effect in a relatively simple sense. It's hard to see why they should be prevented from treatment they want.

Others have made this point effectively. But I want to defend the more radical point of view that desire-enhancing drugs are appropriate for pretty much any woman who wants them.

Sometimes the worry is that "medicalizing" women's desire is a way of manipulating and controlling women from the outside. In a sense this may be true -- I return to it below. But there is one important sense in which it isn't true.

Sometimes philosophers who work on identity distinguish between those desires we identify with and those desires we feel are imposed upon us "from the outside." For instance, if I think of myself as someone who is kind and gentle, and I have an urge to punch you in the face after I lose at checkers, I may feel the violence as alien to my sense of self, even if it comes literally from inside me.

It's hard to distinguish these conceptually, or to find a good criterion. But one popular attempt to do so tells us that the desires that are "ours" are the ones we want to have: if I want to want to be kind, that desire is my own; since I would much rather not want to punch you, that desire is not. (see, e. g., the work of Harry Frankfurt).

Theorists endorsing this line of thought sometimes say that the ability to have the desires you want to have makes you more free, more autonomous, more yourself. I If I punch you after checkers I am less free, less autonomous, less myself, because I am controlled by a force that is not me: my rage.

On this criterion, anyway, desire-enhancing drugs would make the person who takes them more free, more autonomous, and more herself -- assuming her longing to feel desire is genuine -- since she would then have the desires she wants to have. So such drugs would not at all be manipulative.

It is true that for this to be the case, a woman's preference must be genuine. And perhaps one may say that once there are drugs for female desire, the social pressures to take them, or the pressure from men to take them, would make such preferences social, and not autonomous -- not belonging to the woman herself.

I admit such dangers are real. But for these considerations to trump others, it seems to me we have to assume that they are overwhelming: that women's preferences in this area could seldom be genuine, could seldom be their own, will always be the result of pressure. Women, on this view, must be incapable of choosing for themselves.

It seems to me the dangers of such an assumption are worse than the dangers of medicalizing female desire. So, on this autonomy thing, I'm coming down on the side of the pharmaceutical companies: you want to make female Viagra, and market it to the world, and become rich? Fine. Knock yourselves out.

I will say that if Viagra continues to be covered by insurance and the female drugs are not I will be pissed off on principle!

The Way I Look And How I Feel About Feminism

I was in a car, at a stoplight, in the evening, and the person driving, who I like a lot, wanted to know if I would answer a personal question and I said okay, and so I got asked what the deal was with my general failure to wear makeup. Which was kind of a funny thing to get asked. I don't know; we talked about it some. But it led me to contemplate the relationship between the way I actually dress and look and my feminist beliefs.

(By the way, this post started life as a comment on this recent post by Noko Marie, but got a little unwieldy for a comment.)

Because I think we can all agree that I look a lot like what you would imagine if you were to draw up in your mind kind of a stereotypical feminist image. I don't want to overstate the case, but I'm kind of hairy, and my hair is pretty short, and I don't wear makeup, and I wear pants mostly, and I'm slightly unkempt, and I could go on and mention the goddamn nose piercing, but I don't really think there's any point to it.

Nothing about the way I dress is mandated by my feminist beliefs. My feminist beliefs do not bar me from makeup or hair removal or the sporting of short skirts or high heels or panty hose or whatever your own secret personal version of archetypal femininity is. In fact, my feminist beliefs encourage the indulgence in and enjoyment of such things.

There's the complicated issue, discussed previously on this blog, of the intersection of personal indulgence and cultural coercion, but we'll leave that for another day.

So if somebody asks me why I don't wear makeup, in some ways the most honest answer is that it's a combination of laziness and slobbiness and intimidation and the disinclination to put anything on my face that I might find had shifted over several hours.

But at the same time, I feel disingenuous when I just say things like, "I'm too lazy to wear makeup," when I make it clear that my lack of makeup isn't a referendum on other people's makeup. Because I feel strongly that makeup shouldn't be a norm or a demand. Because I feel like it's important that I be able to look the way I mostly do without it being a political stance. Because my decision not to wear makeup isn't a statement, but my decision not to care about the fact that other people notice that I'm not wearing makeup is, I guess, one.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Viagra's 10th Birthday: A Proto-Post

OK, I was trying to write a post this afternoon about the 10th anniversary of Viagra and the whole "Viagra-for-women" controversy and how everyone is saying that popping a pill is no substitute for intimacy or choosing the right partner and yada yada yada and I was going to try to explain why I'm all for Pfizer in this case but time ran out on me so it's going to have to wait 'til later.

But I will say this now: halfway through writing I googled "viagra image" for a cute snapshot of some Viagra pills, and I came across this article in an online science magazine in which some Pfizer guy writes about "How I discovered Viagra." (I also came across the image above. Cute pill pic!)

And the pull-out quotation from the article is this: "I remember thinking that, even if it did work, who would want to take a drug on a Wednesday to get an erection on a Saturday?"

The answer, of course, is "everyone." I mean, I know the time lag has gotten shorter but wasn't the previous treatment like a needle in the penis or some shit like that? Obviously people would have put up with even a radically inferior product. Is it just 20-20 hindsight that makes this so obvious?

It makes me happy that the discovery of Viagra is associated with goofiness and accidents. Like after the discovery supposedly the inventor took it, before his conference presentation or whatever, and took down his pants, and walked around and showed his hard-on to everyone. "Look! It works! Check it out, Beavis!"

That. Is. Awesome. Can we have more crazy shit like this in academia? Please? I'm going out of my mind with boredom!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Angry Women

A couple of weeks ago The New York Times ran a piece they called "Post-Feminism and Other Fairy Tales." Reading it I had one of those moments you have where you're like, "Wait. What?" "Post-feminism"? Us?

Oh, right. Feminism, that's so 80's.

According to The Times, we thought we were in a "post-feminist" era, when "the big battles were over" and the "younger generation" was "less hung up" on stuff. But, well, I guess we were wrong, or something.

OK. I know a lot of young women don't consider themselves feminists, and indeed, regard many of the issues associated with feminism as somehow "over" or boring. But I associate that idea with, like, 20-somethings. Are 20-somethings now the target audience of Times readers? What is up with this?

I'm thinking there are two things going on here:

1) Some female readers of The Times believe that to be a feminist one need not give up on sex, fashion, and femininity. That doesn't seem to me really a post-feminist idea, though I guess you could call it that if you want people to read and link to your story.

2) Some male readers of The Times are excited by, or eager for, more "post-feminism" than there really is out there.

Well, you know, the tone of the story is like, "oops!" turns out women are, you know, maybe a little angry. You didn't know that, but it's true! Angry!

I got thinking about this today because two things made me angry.

First, Dan Savage made fun of the bloggers at Jezebel because they said Abby (of dear Abby) gave the wrong advice to a guy who claimed his brother had sex with his wife while she thought it was him. Abby said something like, "Uh, are you sure you trust her story, when she says that she didn't know"? Jezebel said something like, "Uh, gee, when your wife says someone had sex with her under suspicious circumstances, you gotta believe her, dude!" Which seemed to me pretty obviously correct.

Dan Savage said they overreacted because the letter was fake; a guy's typical fantasy.

This pissed me off. Even if the letter is fake, if you're going to answer it, don't you have to answer it with actual advice? And if the letter represents a male fantasy, isn't it worth reminding a guy that if something like this happens on his watch, he'd better OK it with the wife first, rather than later?

Savage seemed partly upset that Jezebel called the situation rape. But yeah, actually, if a man comes into a sleeping woman's room and has sex with her without her say-so, this is rape. That's not any kind of semantic puzzle or grey area. How could this not be the main thing happening in that story?

The second thing that pissed me off today was when this owner of a vegan strip-tease club was quoted in the Times as saying that he doesn't worry too much about his "feminazi" critics. Seems those critics have posted on the internet complaining, and "one of them came in once" to the club and acted crabby.

OK, listen. You can't have sex with women without their consent; if you do it's rape. And you can't call someone a "feminazi" for peaceful criticism of your sex business. Actually, let me qualify: you can't call someone a "feminazi" for any reason, whatesoever! period!

These rules aren't complicated! Sheesh! No wonder women are so pissed off.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Dreams, The Retelling Of

So I'm sick, sort of. I'm more post-sick, right now, in the same way some people describe themselves as post-feminist. That means I have a lot of very colorful phlegm with trace amounts of blood mixed in, and that I sleep poorly, which I've been doing anyway because I have this new job and it's taking a lot of psychic energy that works itself out into dreams of mastering the computer system over and over and over again.

By the way I'm typing this post on a computer in a hotel lobby, which means that it will be short and distracted.

Anyway, being sick and being under psychic stress meant that last night I had some very gripping narrative-oriented dreams and that I wasn't sleeping so soundly that I couldn't remember them.

When I was in my 10th grade English class, one of the exercises the teacher wanted us to do was to keep a dream journal. This is only one of a number of points where I was told to pay attention to my dreams, to the details of them, that they had all this information to offer. The idea, in that class, was that eventually we would write poetry based on those dreams. Or, you know, one day make short films about them. Who the hell knows.

Maybe that's a growing up in L.A. thing. Either way, I feel like you're told to pay attention to what's going on in your dreams. There is, you're told, meaning there. But the other thing you learn as you grow up is that other people will find being told your dreams intensely boring. Unless, of course, they're in the dream, and then you should really only tell them about it if there's something flattering to their presence in your dream -- you should probably avoid it if in the dream they were eating donuts or something similarly mundane.

People are waiting for these computers, and I don't really have much more to say about it, except that I find those two strands of focus on dreams a little funny and strange.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Good Books Are Good

I don't have any firm tastes when it comes to genres of novels. Any kind of book, it seems to me, can be a good book.

So when I read Janet Malcolm in The New Yorker saying that the "Gossip Girl" books were good books, I immediately made plans to go out and buy one. OK, books for ninth-graders about high school seniors aren't usually my thing, but hey, any book can be a good book.

I was especially taken by Malcolm's suggestion that the books were simultaneously engaging with, and poking fun at, the narcissism and self-involvement of adolesence. I have kind of a soft spot in my heart for teenagers and teenager-dom. Their over-the-top obsessions strike me as more interesting and admirable than they're usually made out to be. At the same time, those obsessions often creep into the realm of ridiculous. So I was intrigued by the double-sidedness.

I read the first book. It's all about kids who go to some fancy school for rich kids in Manhattan; there's a sort of "perfect" girl, a "striver" girl, some cute boys, an "artsy" outsider girl, and various satellite people. The main action is in the friendship between the perfect girl and the striver girl.

That aspect of the book is good.

(The cover. Wouldn't a drawing or something have been better?)

Maybe I'm a prude, but other things about the books creeped me out -- I couldn't stop imagining what it would be like to read these books as an actual ninth-grader.

There's very little actual sex. There is, of course, lots of discussion about sex, and lots of almost-sex. But that didn't isn't what creeped me out.

So what was it? Here are three things. One: various scenes of the striver girl stuffing her face and vomiting it all up right after. The mood of these sessions is very much "oh yes, business as usual." Indeed, one of the perfect girl and the striver girl's most relaxed moments together come while the striver girl is throwing up. It's familiar territory for them.

Two: the perfect girl comes back from boarding school and everyone's been gossiping about why she had to leave. In what seems to me a very realistic portrayal, the kids decide that she's had so much sex with so many guys in school that she contracted some super-STD and had to be kicked out. As a former reader of The Superficial, I can attest that the having of super STDs is a huge trope for dissing girls these days.

Three: one the gang is a rich boy who wants to fuck everything that moves, and who pushes a tipsy ninth-grader into a bathroom stall and takes off her clothes, and it's only because her hero brother responds to her panicked cell phone call and arrives in time that she is rescued.

OK. I know that eating disorders, misogyny, and date-rape are huge elements of the adolescent experience in 2008. And I know that reading about stuff is a way of understanding it. Sure. And there's always, always the problem of whether evil is there for titillation or there because evil is real.

Still. There's something weird about it here. Sure, the girls' lives are being examined, and sure, the girls all suffer from problems. But the overall effect is of glamour. You know how some problems people have can seem very real and very painful but still kind of cooler and more interesting than life's ordinary problems? That's what it's like.

I mean, the overall effect for me was glamour, and I'm a middle-aged professor. How could a ninth-grader experience them as anything but? So overall it seems to me any critical message is drowned out by the more obvious, "This, this is what the good life is." That's what creeped me out. Especially, I gotta say, the throwing up. What the fuck?

After Gossip Girl I read this book called The Death of Vishnu which takes place in India and is written by a guy who grew up in India and now lives in the US. It was almost unclassifiable to me: a quiet story about the families who live in an apartment building, but also a meditation on death and the nature of rationality and spirituality, but also a kind of cinematic soap opera shot through with Bollywood references. Unclassifiable. Just very good.

Monday, March 17, 2008


There are a lot of things that Noko Marie's most recent post makes me want to say, things about the urge toward some kind of condensation of all your past experiences into one compact burst of pure montage-style-striving-for-perfection, otherwise known as nostalgia. But I'm too punch-drunk and dazed to say those things now.

So let me raise this instead: why do I find excess, in and of itself, fun? Because I do. That kind of drastic listing to one side, rather than the other -- I like that. To the extent that there are certain bad habits I never toyed with, it mostly has to do with knowledge of my own propensity for drastic measures.

Example. When I get sick, here, to the extent I can, is what I do/did: I cancel any and all appointments and obligations. I drink a gallon of Gatorade. And I sleep for 24 hours straight. I was 23 years old before it even dawned on me that other people dealt with sickness differently. Other people, I gradually realized, took things slower. They did not cancel everything. They drank more fluids, but they didn't go all nuts. They ate normal meals.

I experimented with this, and realized that yes, I could have a cold, and still live a mostly normal life. It was a stunning realization. And, also, being sick became a lot less fun. Who wants to be sick if it's just like normal life only feeling crummier? Whereas being sick in that super-dramatic "I'm dying of consumption kind of way" struck me as, in some way, enjoyable.

I'm not exactly sure what to make of all that.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I'm Anti-Nostalgia

I'm am. I'm anti-nostalgia.

I'm not against old things, and I'm not against the past, though I am probably less interested in the past than most people. I'm not anti- the nostalgias of others, really. What I'm against is nostalgia in myself.

I say, "anti-" rather than just "I don't like. . . " because my feelings are more complicated than just not liking, and it's my active stance that is, well, anti-nostalgia. I don't want to feel nostalgic; I don't want to engage in activities that indulge desires for nostalgia, and I don't want to encourage in myself any nostalgic participation in art, music, books, and so on.

I'm not totally clear why I have this stance. Part of it has to do with my feeling that nostalgia for me is like a bad drug: it's kind of fun and interesting while it's going on, but when I wake up and look out the window I feel the awful crash of the mood-that-is-no-mood and the feeling of wasted time. I hate that.

Then part of it is also my engagement with the item of nostalgia becomes an engagement with myself, rather than with something else, and this depresses me.

Also, when it comes to culture and its producers, I feel an obligation to support the people around me. I mean, there are people writing books, making music, etc etc etc; if I spend my music dollars on the Rolling Stones what will happen to all that?

Obviously this last couldn't be the whole story on its own, because like I said, I'm not against the past. Many of my favorite things are old things: the novels of Trollope, the music of Mozart and T. Rex, old movies.

The important thing is these are all things I currently engage with for what they are. I don't locate them in any special time and place of my own to which they recall me. So my love of them has nothing to do with nostalgia, and everything to do with just liking.

Other things I try to avoid. When I was young I was obsessed with The Velvet Underground, and the other day in the cafe I go to they had on an album. . . some mix someone had downloaded, as it turned out. The songs were so, so good, and they didn't sound dated at all, they just sounded, you know, awesome.

I briefly considered going out and buying a Velvet Underground CD.

But I gave that plan up. Because I have a rule: no old things that evoke your own past. Old things are OK if they're new to you, or if they transcend the past, but those songs are forever super-glued in my mind to a certain time and place. A certain me. No, the rule says, no, you can't indulge that.

This example makes me remember another reason I'm anti-nostalgia, which is fear at being left behind. The world is moving on; if you're at home listening to your old Velvet Underground CDs you're not going to have anyone to talk to, and you're going to be unhappy and lonely every time there's music you can't understand going on around you. Much better to keep up, keep moving.

So even though I tolerate the old, when it's not nostalgic, I have a preference for the new.

Today I was at the mall, and I was shopping at Express, and they played a song, "I know that you want the candy; I know that you want the candy . . ." da da da da da.

My first thought was, "Oh, it sounds just like the Jesus and Mary Chain, only new!" I was way, way into the Jesus and Mary Chain, like, I don't know, a million years ago. I remembered how much I loved the Jesus and Mary Chain, and I thought, I could go buy one of their records. But then I thought, "Oh, no, no, that's nostalgia, that's no good. Can't do that."

Fortunately, I was right that this song was the Jesus and Mary Chain, only new. I got home and googled it, and discovered it's by the Raveonettes, a current group, and the iTunes review describes their sound as "Phil-Spector-meets-Jesus-and-Mary-Chain."

Since The Jesus and Mary Chain are described on Wikipedia as "reminiscent of Phil Spector" but with a "noisy post-punk treatment," I'd say the comparison is about as apt as it could be.

So, for me, the best of all possible worlds. Tomorrow I'll buy their album, Lust Lust Lust.

I an anti-nostalgia, but I had a powerful wave of it comes by when I read this sentence in the Wikipedia entry on, as they call them, JAMC:

"Playing in front of small audiences, the Mary Chain earned their notoriety by playing very short gigs, some lasting no more than 10 minutes and consisting of a constant wall of feedback and distortion, as well as playing with their backs to the audience and refusing to speak to them."

Ahh, the 80's. Such a kind and gentle era! Wasn't it?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

All Hail Our Yellow Shirts! An Ice Hockey Extravaganza

I'm visiting Michigan for a term this winter, and we were out eating lunch in Ann Arbor one day and we saw a poster for the women's ice hockey team. At least, I thought it was for the women's ice hockey team, but I was wrong, it was the local high school girl's hockey team.

But it was a cute poster, and we thought to ourselves, hey, we could go see the UMich women's ice hockey team play a game.

Except, of course, we couldn't, because Michigan has no women's ice hockey team. Weird, but whatever. Anyway, we decided to check out the men's team. The regular season is always sold out -- there's a waiting list -- but last night there was a play-off game so we could get tickets pretty easily.

Here's how the ice looked before the game. Pretty cool.

I came right from work so I was wearing wedge-heeled shoes and a skirt and I was carrying my laptop in a large vinyl shoulder-bag. These were all style errors, big time, as everyone was wearing their Michigan gear and sneakers.

That's OK; I'm used to looking like a weirdo. As the game started, though, I got less and less relaxed about looking like a weirdo.

They have these things they do, the Blue fans. Their fight song is All Hail the Victor, so every five minutes when something happens or when nothing is happening the pep band plays the song, and when the song gets to the "Hail!" part, everyone stops clapping to punch their fist into the air.

Then, they like to all stand together -- especially the students -- and point at and taunt particular members of the other team. After a goal they point at and taunt the goalie, chanting, in unison, "It's all your fault, it's all your fault, it's all your fault, it's all your fault." Other times they chant, "You just suck, you just suck, you just suck, you just suck."

Here are the student fans in their yellow shirts. They're resting in the photo during a break in the action, but during play they all stand the whole time.

Writing it out it sounds kind of funny and cute, but it wasn't done in a funny or cute mood. It was angry, and intended to make the other team feel like scum. Like, for real.

This despite the fact that the other team -- the University of Nebraska, Omaha -- was clearly not as good, and was losing dramatically. The final score was 10 - 1, and the more goals UMich scored, the more angry and excited they got: One goal?? "You just suck! You just suck!"

Ugh, taunting a team losing by this kind of margin? I couldn't get into that. I also couldn't raise my fist in the air. Am I the only one who has dark associations with raising arms, and saying "Hail!" in very large uniform groups?

So I just clapped.

It felt menacing just in the sense that you got the feeling that this group of people was so keyed up, and so comfortable in their uniformity and their numbers, that if things were just a little different, they'd be entirely capable of setting a car on fire or something.

The fan I identified with most was the toddler in his dad's lap next to me. All he wanted out of the game was to watch the Zamboni. Hockey, scoring, skating, who cares? Zamboni! Zamboni! Zamboni! Zamboni! His dad kept explaining, "OK, a few more minutes, see, the clock goes down, then the players go off, and then it'll come!"

What a nice, non-aggressive, simple pleasure. In his honor, a final Zamboni picture.

So now I'm all curious about women's ice hockey. It's almost impossible for me to imagine the atmosphere at a women's game being like this. But maybe I'm just being naive. I don't know. If I find out I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Noko (n+1), I Feel Your Pain. But Why?

I wrote recently about the strange relationship a person might have with his future selves. What if Noko (n) eats salad for dinner today to try to lose five pounds, and Noko (n+1) sabotages her efforts by ordering the creme brulee tomorrow? What if Noko (n+12) doesn't appreciate our efforts?

But, of course, we worry about our future selves, too. Constantly. Will they have enough money to retire on? Will they be healthy? Will they be suffering at next Tuesday's dentist appointment?

So. Why do we worry about our future selves? And how much should we worry?

In last Sunday's Times, Jim Holt reflects on the analogy between worrying about future selves and worrying about actual other people. He says the reason we worry about our future selves is that our evolutionary ancestors worried about their future selves.

OK, sure. As philosophers say, that's an explanatory reason, of a sort. It explains why, in the course of things, we are a certain way. But it's not an justificatory reason. It's not even a satisfying explanatory reason, in a way. It leaves open the question: Are we right to care about our future selves? And if we are, what makes this make sense? An evolutionary answer isn't going to solve that problem.

The question is important, because without an explanation of why we ought to care about our future selves, how are we going to answer the question of how much we ought to care about our future selves?

I'm inclined to say that in a way the question of "why" has no satisfactory answer. You care about your future self because it's you: it's more like caring about your present self than caring about someone else. In that case, the question of "how much" has no satisfactory answer either.

Holt imagines a person who doesn't care about his future self as someone who is really improvident: never saving for the future, never preparing for what's going to happen.

But even a person who doesn't want to sacrifice for his future self might care about his future self; he just isn't motivated to give up what he has now. He might still dread the bad things that are going to happen. He just doesn't dread them enough.

So how much should you dread the bad things that may befall your future self? The background assumption seems to be something like this: you should dread them the same about you would dread similar suffering of your present self. Rationality, on this view, requires you to treat your future self and your present self the same.

This Freakonomics post by Daniel Hamermish uses the example of cheating on your spouse to illustrate the concept of "hyperbolic discounting": "people overemphasize current pleasure and pain in comparing actions at different points in time." This leads them to "irrational" behavior.

Hamermish allows that one might properly "discount" for something being in the future, but seems to suggest that cheating is discounting too much. Indeed, hyperbolically so.

So how much is the right amount?

When I was a kid, in like seventh grade, there was a poster on our classroom wall that had a quote from a poem -- something about how the author wanted to burn bright and short like a star rather than endure long and cold like a planet.

I remember I always thought it was the darndest thing to put up in a kids' classroom. After all, adults are always trying to get kids to do the exact opposite: Do your homework! Don't smoke! Care about your future selves, guys!

Inviting the classic teen response: Why should I?

Why indeed? Ya got me.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Once a long long time ago when my only contact with blogs was my friends' blogs, I would sit there at work and be like, why don't they post more often? What the hell else are they doing that's so exciting and important that they can't post? And if they're doing something so exciting and important why don't they write about it? And here it is, and I haven't posted anything for like months, which is really the beauty of the co-written blog, because Noko Marie is putting up interesting things in the meantime. So I don't feel that bad, but I do feel a little bit bad.

Here's the deal, which you all already know, but still. I'm moving some place new. This hasn't kept me from posting because so much work is involved, although this weekend is the dreaded weekend of packing and it will suck. Still, moving, as I always forget in the meantime, although it leaves you with a series of small and annoying tasks to complete, is not all that physically complicated, especially for me right now where I am staying in a Best Western.

There is a huge psychological unease component and, separate but related, there is the overwhelming adjustment to a new place. For me this takes the form of everything being at least momentarily, gripping and important. When you've lived some place for a while, certain things are foreground, and others are background. There are the places you go and the places you don't really go, and every now and then you're like, "Oh, I should check out x." X can be a neighborhood or a museum or a cute little store or something entirely different. But you check X out and you fit X into a pre-existing framework in your mind, and that is that. Right now, though, in Bakersfield, which is the place to which I am moving, there is no foreground and no background. Every convenience store, every bar, all requires some kind of absorption. A place has to be made for it in my head.

Anyway, that's where all my mental energy is going. That, and motel room cable, which has been a very rewarding experience.

Also the other day a train roared through town, carrying tanks on it. Tank after tank after tank. Not tanks of gas, but Army tanks. That was a little scary.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Dress Made Out Of Plastic Shopping Bags On Headless Mannequin

In the shop window, 'round the corner from my apartment.

Unisexuality: Where I Draw The Line

Where I draw the line when it comes to unisexuality is right outside the door of the women's bathroom.

Last week's New Yorker had one of those funny, short, New Yorkerish things listed under "The Academy," discussing how toilets are theorized by intellectuals. It's called "Powder Room 101." It's cute; it's got amusing details.

The most interesting part to me is the opening anecdote. The professor of the class, they tell us, is just back from a meeting with NYU admin about the restrooms in a new building. Going to be unisex, evidently. The big questions is, "urinals"?

If I were designing a unisex bathroom myself, this would be a no-brainer: even though they're ugly they're obviously efficient and ecologically sound. So sure, put in the urinals.

But honestly, I am not in favor of unisex bathrooms. Or, let me qualify this: I am not in favor of doing away with segregated bathrooms. A mix would be nice, unisex on the fourth floor, segregated on the fifth, if you wanted to go to the trouble you could find yourself a women's-only bathroom.

I'm a little surprised at myself, because I'm usually in favor of mingling and against sex distinctions where they're unnecessary. And I went to a college with unisex dorm bathrooms, and wasn't bothered by it at all. I found it totally unexceptional.

But now, I occasionally have this strong feeling when I duck into the women's bathroom: "Ah. No men allowed. What a relief." Why do I have this?

I realize, on reflection, that it's a workplace feeling. The unisex bathrooms in the restaurant near my house are fine -- or rather, they would be fine if they weren't painted all in black with poor lighting. Having the men hand-washing while I redo my lipstick is fine.

In the workplace, though, I don't know. Sometimes my male co-workers alarm me; they ask me things at time when I'm not ready to answer, or they look uncomfortable when I ask them things that at a time when they're not ready to answer. I'm not ready to have them watch me trying to fix my hair, and I'm not ready to look at their penises while they use the urinals. OK, forget the urinals; I'm not ready to listen to them pee, either.

Nothing against guys. I figure they like having their own sort of separate space, too. And nothing against anyone else, either: transsexuals are welcome in my women's bathroom, too. And having a few unisex ones around should solve any other problems.

But I gotta say, leave my women's room alone.

And now for your viewing pleasure, a "funny toilet sign from Germany" that I got from a blog called "Look at this." (link).

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Nature Of Femininity: Two Photos

I've never been into "chick flicks." In fact, romantic comedies of any kind make me squirm, and historical dramas bore me unless they're really great. I'm really more of an action movie sort of girl -- though I have to say that action movies have been declining lately. For instance: I was a big fan of the Die Hard series (especially of the Jeremy Irons villian!) but the Mission Impossible movies I didn't even bother with.

I do read a lot of novels, which may or may not be a girly thing to do. I tend to think of myself as someone who does not have girly tastes in literature, but surveying the last two months of reading suggests a more complicated picture.

Roughly in order, since Jan 1, we have: A Disorder Peculiar to the Country, by Ken Kalfus, Blue Pills, by Frederik Peeters, Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn, How the Light Gets In, by M. J. Hyland (which I blogged about before), Him, Her, Him Again, The End of Him, by Patricia Marx, The Dissident, by Nell Freudenberger, Whatever, by Michel Houellebecq, When the World was Steady, by Claire Messud, Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris (which I blogged about before), and The Futurist, by James Othmer.

Five of these ten books are by female authors, and looking at the list and remembering the books, I'm actually struck by the extent to which those five authors engage themes we associate with femininity: family, female adolescence, love, social worlds, the absence of love.

Not that those are only feminine themes, and many of them are addressed in the men's books. But it's also true that there are some guy-oriented themes in the male authors books that aren't so much in the women's books: work, rage, the state of the world.

All this just to say I was amused by this display at the bookstore last weekend, which didn't reflect my own tastes at all:

All that history! All those clothes! All that, uh, Victorianism! Do women long for the past?

After I left the bookstore I went to shop for a bag -- not a handbag, exactly, but I'm looking for something to carry my laptop in that's cooler than a backpack. I went to a department store, and saw this:

So shiny! So cool! So, uh, robotic! Do women long for the future?

I'm thinking maybe the answer to both of these questions is "Yes."

Saturday, March 1, 2008

To My Future Selves: Get With The Program!

I've been away from my proper home for an extended stay, and when I got back, I got on my scale. Just as I'd expected: I've gained five pounds. It reminded me that I'd been sort of pondering hiring a personal trainer.

I can't decide whether having paying for a personal trainer is a sort of normal, healthy thing for a middle-aged, professional woman to do, or whether it's wasteful, stupid, and narcissistic. Also I can't really afford it. So it's been in the realm of pondering only.

After I got off the scale I was thinking about celebrities who lose lots of weight, like Janet Jackson, and I was thinking about the ways people lose weight, and the training thing, and I got to wondering about the power of systems. You know, why is it so much more appealing to have a salad for dinner if it's part of some giant intense life-changing plan, and so much harder to just have a salad for dinner if, you know, you've gained a bit of weight and want to eat sensibly?

Because it is, right? It's so much easier to make a choice like that as part of a dramatic plan and so hard to make a choice like that out of common sense. Well, it is for me anyway.

I'm sure, psychologically, there are lots of reasons. But the funny answer I came up with is that without the plan, you have no reason to think your future selves aren't going to just undermine your efforts -- gorge themselves on cake, eat a box of girl scout cookies, make you look like an idiot for your meaningless sacrifice.

It's like the same problem you have in collective action -- how do I know everyone will do their bit to achieve our goal? Because if I do my part, and no one else does theirs, the goal isn't acheived and I feel a chump. It's the same for planning, only there the "collective" is you, you-tomorrow, you-the-day-after-tomorrow, etc. If these people screw up and have chocolate cake for breakfast, your having had salad for dinner does nothing. You don't lose five pounds, and your salad-eating self feels like a chump.

I like thinking of my future selves in this weird, only semi-identified way . . . I mean, they're you, but they're not, too, and they could screw you over if you can't find a way to keep them in line. The dramatic life-changing plan at least gives you a feeling that the future selves can be whipped into shape, aren't going to show you up, aren't going to make you wish that you, too, had ordered the creme-brulee.

The big difference, I figure, is the way we feel about "free riders." In collective action, it's really annoying if one person signs on, and does nothing, but shares in the pleasure of the goal achieved. This is even called the "problem" of free riders.

But when it comes to you and your future selves, you're only too thrilled if there are free riders. If the goal gets acheived, and you lose the five pounds, and still a couple of your future selves got to have the creme-brulee, well, good for them! Hooray! Knock yourselves out, gals!

The latest thing new thing in the keep-your-future-selves-in-line business is the commitment device thing. You give some company 500 dollars, or whetever, and promise they can keep it if you don't acheive your goal. Since presumably all your future selves want to get back the 500 dollars, they behave themselves.

I'll probably never do something like this: failing to lose the weight and then losing the 500 dollars would kill me. When I have an extra 500 dollars lying around, I'll use it to hire a trainer. I'd rather pay someone to nag me than risk losing both the money and my self-respect.