Wednesday, June 30, 2004
Anyway, I find the idea of sending someone to prison extraordinarily stressful. I once met a public defender at a party, and she pointed out that the idea of sending someone to prison should be stressful. She said that there need to be more people on juries who realize how much is at stake, and that I should hope to be picked, not the other way around. Of course, she would say that, because she's a public defender.
Maybe I'll be on a jury where the case is open and shut and the person has done something really bad. Or maybe I won't get on a jury at all. I can hope, right?
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Firefly is set 400 years in the future, when humans have spread out and settled distant planets. The action begins six years after the conclusion of a war in which the Alliance, which hoped to unite all the planets under a single government, defeated the Independents, who wanted to maintain their autonomy. The series follows the exploits of the spaceship Serenity, which is captained by Malcolm Reynolds, a former Independent who can't reconcile himself to Alliance government. Reynolds and his crew trawl the outer reaches of the settled universe, where Alliance control is less firmly established, taking whatever legal or illegal work they can find. The conceit is that the frontier of the universe looks an awful lot like the movie version of the old West, complete with horses, covered wagons, imperiled settlers, exploited miners, tough but big-hearted madams, and lots of chaos, poverty and violence.
When I first saw Firefly, I couldn't figure out why Whedon didn't either tone down the hokey Western elements (working-class characters use a kind of old-timey country dialect, except when they spontaneously break into Chinese, while more privileged characters speak with the formality that we expect of historical rich people; the costumes gesture towards 19th century clothing) or just do a straight Western, actually set in the postbellum American West. I think part of it is just the perverse fun in mixing up the high-tech shininess of our imagined future with the grittiness of our imagined past. I think he may be trying to point out that the division between shininess and grittiness is more geographic than temporal: there are many parts of the world which have not enjoyed all the benefits of modern technology. (Yeah, this may be a stretch, but we're talking about Joss Whedon here.)
But mostly, I think that by wrenching the West out of its historical context, Whedon has found possibly the only way to make a non-revisionist Western. Or rather, he can choose the parts he wants to revise. For instance, the crew of the Serenity is terrified of the Reavers, frontier-dwelling "savages" who torture, murder, mutilate, and feast of the flesh of "civilized" people. There's no suggestion that Reavers have their own culture or that they're fighting to protect their territory or way of life from encroachment. As far as we know from the episodes that were filmed, they really are just evil, cannibalistic savages. They play the part that Indians would have played in a classic Western, but because they're not actually Native Americans, Whedon can allow them to play that role without making any allowances for contemporary cultural sensitivities. Similarly, the recently-concluded war bears a definite resemblance to the American Civil War: at one point Reynolds even tells a bunch of Alliance supporters that "we'll rise again." (And yes, Firefly obsessives, I do realize that's mostly a pun on the next image.) But this civil war has nothing to do with slavery and really is about an encroaching federal government. It's the Civil War that modern Confederate enthusiasts wish had happened, not the one that really did. This is important, because it allows the ship's captain to maintain the righteousness of the lost cause without compromising his fundamental compassion and decency.
Whedon does go revisionist where race and gender are concerned, though. Race apparently just isn't an issue in the multi-racial Firefly universe, and it's never referred to in any way. You couldn't get away with that in a smart Western set in actual 19th-century America. Gender is more complicated. There's one old-fashioned sexist cliché, the mysterious, "exotic", beautiful high-class prostitute who rents space on the ship, but in general women are allowed to defy the conventions of the genre. (There's another slightly problematic female character whom I'm not going to discuss, since it'll ruin the pilot for anyone who hasn't seen the show yet.) Kaylee, the ship's sweet, optimistic mechanic, is something of a mechanical genius, and Zoe, who fought with Captain Reynolds in the war, is a stoical soldier who out-badasses any man on the crew. You could argue that Kaylee anthropomorphizes Serenity to such an extent that her skill at fixing the ship is actually an act of feminine nurture and that Zoe is just another ass-kicking hottie in the Alias vein. There's something to both of those points (although I'd suggest that Gina Torres plays Zoe with such dignity and dry humor that she transcends the ass-kicking hottie label), but there's no getting away from the fact that women could never play either of those roles in a classic Western. All of this is to say that by setting his Western in the future, Whedon can sidestep issues of racial and gender inequality.
I can't decide whether this dodge is irritating or refreshing. There's a long history in feminist science fiction of imagining a future without misogyny, but my sense is that the imagined future generally looks quite different from the present or the past. In Whedon's imagined future, the (apparent) elimination of sexism and racism doesn't change very much. I think this tends to downplay the significance of racism and sexism: they're treated as superficial things, not stuff that fundamentally shapes our society and culture. On the other hand, it is really nice to see women playing roles that have generally been reserved for men in both sci-fi and Westerns.
So anyway, Fox canceled Firefly halfway through its first season, but apparently there's going to be a movie. I'm pretty excited about it, mostly because I'm a huge geek. And also because it will give me another chance to see the pretty, pretty cast.
Oh, and can anyone tell me why the bounty hunter in "Objects in Space" is named Jubal Early? Did Whedon mean to refer to the Civil War general, or did he just like the name? Because it is an awesome name.
Wow. That was a long post. Sorry about that. Tomorrow I will probably get back to short, manageable posts that whine about my doctors.
Thursday, June 24, 2004
My second year of grad school, I was a little obsessed with pie. Ok, totally obsessed. I'm not really the kind of person who can limit her obsessions. I was stressed out, I needed distraction, I hadn't discovered blogging yet, and so I made pie. For a couple of months, I made a pie at least every other day and sometimes more often. There was no way my roommate and I could consume that much pie, so I unloaded homemade pie onto anyone I could find: friends, neighbors, friends of friends and neighbors, you name it. I met most of my closest friends during this period. It turns out that you can buy affection with pie.
Anyway, at some point the weather got warmer and my pie crust stopped working. The secret to perfect pie crust is to make sure your butter, shortening, or other fat doesn't melt. (Actually, the secret to pie crust is to limit the amount of liquid that comes anywhere near your flour, and melted butter counts as liquid.) Suddenly, my stress-relief mechanism had become stressful. It may be possible to make pie crust in an un-air-conditioned kitchen in 90-degree weather, but I haven't yet reached that level of pie-crust expertise.
That's when I discovered cobbler. There's a reason that cobbler is popular in the South: it works no matter how steamy the weather is. Actually, cobbler is extremely difficult to screw up, and it's pretty wonderful. Peach pie is one of the best things in the world, but sadly peach season overlaps with too-hot-for-pie-crust season. Peach cobbler runs a close second and works regardless of the temperature. Here's the recipe I use:
4 cups peeled and sliced peaches. You can also use a combination of peaches and raspberries
2 cups sugar, or less to taste
1 stick butter
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Stick the sliced peaches in a bowl with one cup of the sugar. Set them aside.
Stick the butter in 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Put the pan in the oven until the butter has melted. Remove the pan from the oven and set it aside.
Combine the flour, the remaining 1 cup sugar (or less, if you like your cobbler relatively unsweet) and the baking powder. Slowly stir in the milk and mix until the batter is smooth. Pour the batter into the pan on top of the melted butter. Spoon the peaches and their juices over the top of the batter. Bake the cobbler for 50 to 60 minutes, until light brown and bubbling. Cool slightly. Serve warm.
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Speaking of whining, my inexplicable exhaustion problem has been explained. I'm anemic. Yay, me! Can I just trade my body in? I think I need an upgrade. Anyway, I have a nice little pamphlet about anemia, and I'm completely perplexed as to how any woman actually consumes the recommended daily allowance of iron. That's not true: I could do it if I were willing to subsist entirely on liver, garbonzo beans, and dried apricots. I do actually eat a lot of garbonzo beans and dried apricots, but not quite the quantities required to get sufficient iron. For instance, I would need to eat 30 dried apricots to get the RDA of iron. That's a lot of dried apricots.
Anyway, I'm going to surrender to my now-fully-explained exhaustion and go to bed. Tomorrow perhaps I will post about how I don't understand why anyone would read the Clinton book.
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
- Masha Gessen's article in Slate about testing positive for the breast cancer gene stressed me the hell out. Part of the reason for this is that I once had work dealings with Masha Gessen, in the course of which I fucked up so badly that I probably would have been fired had I not already given notice before the fuck-upage began. Everything I've read of hers has been super smart, and it was all the more humiliating to fuck up royally while dealing with someone I really respected. Ergo, the mere mention of Masha Gessen's name invokes instant stress and self-loathing.
But it also occurs to me that I should be tested for the breast cancer gene. The only person in my family who had breast cancer was my paternal grandmother. Almost all of her relatives died in the Holocaust, and the last female relatives of hers who died of natural causes were her grandmothers, about whom I know nothing. There's no way of knowing what's lurking in the gene pool on that side of my family, and it's possible that there would have been an epidemic of breast cancer had anyone lived long enough to develop it. And I just really don't want to get tested for the breast cancer gene.
And I suppose the final stressful thing about the article is that it confirms what I've learned for myself over the past couple of months, which is that doctors don't necessarily know what they're doing. I like to think of doctors as omniscient; I like to think that, while sometimes the treatment they prescribe doesn't work, they know what the best treatment is. And sometimes they don't. Sometimes they hand you a series of crappy options and tell you to make the decision for yourself. I'd hate to have the big decisions made for me, but realizing how much doctors don't know sure has been stressful.
- Why does it seem somehow particularly awful and barbaric to behead people? I mean, is beheading a hostage really worse than shooting him? Dead is dead, right? And yet it somehow seems worse. I can't figure out if there's a real difference (it's really bloody, maybe, or it's more intimate and less removed than shooting someone), or if it's just that death by gunshot is almost mundane for anyone who watches American television, while death by beheading is outside my usual frame of reference.
- If I leave a dish in the sink for even a minute, my roommate's mother immediately comes and washes it. Is she trying to be helpful, or is she making a comment on my filthy habits?
Saturday, June 19, 2004
As if any more evidence were needed that I am deeply pretentious, we have this disapproving article about Americans who use British idioms. Not only do I use almost all of the expressions in the article, but I was actually not aware that several of them were Britishisms. "Sell-by date" is British? So are "run up" and "at the end of the day"? I had no idea. I may be so affected that I can't keep track of my affectations.
Personally, I'm in favor of the promiscious exchange of idioms. I don't think anyone ever suffers for having too many words or expressions at her disposal. But that may just be because, at the end of the day, I am pretentious. I can deal with that.
Thursday, June 17, 2004
I should probably be appalled that someone has managed to make a cult out of Judaism, a religion which seems to have little to offer the cult industry, but I'm actually amused. And I feel like we've really arrived. Why should only Hindus have the privilege of having their religion coopted and simplified for the benefit of spiritually-bereft celebrities? Why can't we, too, get to help out rock stars who are so drowning in money and possessions that they can't see any meaning in their lives? It only seems fair!
I am cranky. I'm not sure if it's PMS or the prednisone tapering or just that the whole world kind of stinks right now, but I seem to be even less cheerful than usual at the moment. I apologize in advance if this turns out to be an ill-tempered rant.
I was reading the New York Times health section the other day, and there were two oddly contradictory articles. Article number one was about how people who eat breakfast are generally thinner than people who don't. The theory was that if you don't eat breakfast, you end up so hungry by lunch time that you eat loads of unhealthy crap. That's certainly been my experience.
Article two was about healthy fast-food options for long car trips. The article offers several suggestions for healthy meals, each of which clocks in at about 300 calories. For instance:
For pizza lovers, two slices of Pizza Hut's large Fit N' Delicious Pizza made with ham, onion and mushroom add up to only 300 calories and 8 grams of fat. Add a bottle of water or, if you must, a diet soda, and you have got a meal that will fill you up without filling you out.
Now, I am not a big person. I'm short, before I went on prednisone I was reasonably thin, and I have itty-bitty bones. I do not have one of those famed super-fast metabolisms: I've been tested, and my metabolism is normal. In short, I need fewer calories than the average person. And for me, 300 calories is a snack, not a meal. Two hours after a 300-calorie lunch, I would be craving sustenance, and nine times out of ten I would find it in the form of gummi bears or something similarly sugar-laden and nutritionally valueless. It's the same principal as the not-skipping-breakfast thing: if you don't eat enough, you'll be so famished that you'll fill up on crap. More than that, I don't want to be on the same highway as a bunch of irritable, distracted, hungry drivers. And I'm sick of diet advice that suggests that it's healthy to starve yourself.
This is on my mind because I'm trying to come up with a plan to lose the prednisone weight. I've gained about 15 pounds, all of which seems to be concentrated around my middle. None of my pants fit, and I can't afford new clothes right now. The problem is that I don't diet. Last time I went on a diet, I nearly died, spent three months in the hospital, came close to bankrupting my parents, and pretty much lost seven years of my life. So no dieting. I'm thinking about training for a triathlon. I don't think I'd actually do a triathlon, because I don't think my crappy, third-hand, too-big bike is up to the task. In fact, I plan to do my "training" on the stationary bike at the gym. I'm holding out hope, though, that if I adhere to the training schedule for a triathlon, I will lose my prednisone weight without having to resort to the dreaded "d" word.
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
Or do you conclude from this that you are a bitter, resentful person who should learn to be happy for the success of people you don't like?
Sunday, June 13, 2004
But that's a small point. The bigger point is that the movie seemed to me to blame the women for their plight and subtly justify the anti-feminist backlash. At the start of the movie, Nicole Kidman's character is a monster: she's a cold, driven, man-hating bullbuster who apparently cares about no one and nothing other than her career. Her husband, played by Matthew Broderick, is a total mensch: a caring guy who took a job at his wife's workplace because it was the only way he could ever see her. Broderick looks like he's about 16, and he projects such an air of wimpy, put-upon decency that you can't help feeling for him, even as you realize that this is a bizarre fantasy of modern gender relations.
I don't think there are that many families in which the wife marches off to work every day, oblivious to her husband and children's wellbeing, while the put-upon husband struggles to balance work and household responsibilities. I think there are still a hell of a lot of families where it works the other way, though. Someone should make a movie about upper-middle-class women who, sick of being responsible for the house and the kids, decide to turn their husbands into robots who cheerfully do housework. Except that in that scenario, viewers would stop to ask who was paying for those palatial high-tech mansions. Matthew Broderick's character says several times that he doesn't make nearly as much as his wife: it's one of the chief complaints that’s supposed to make the audience sympathize with him, and since all of the other Stepford wives, we're told, used to be hyper-successful career women, that's presumably a common Stepford husband complaint. We never see any evidence that the husbands actually work. But nobody addresses the issue of who funds all of this once the CEO wives have morphed into high-tech Betty Crockers.
At any rate, the movie seemed to suggest that evil corporate women brought on the backlash by being cold, heartless bitches who drove their husbands to admittedly extreme measures. The movie isn't just about the backlash; it's part of the backlash. It's probably silly to make too much of this, since it's a deeply silly movie on a lot of levels, but it pisses me off.
You know, these are really depressing times, and I can barely stand to read the news anymore, so I thought I would relate a happy media story.
The other day I had a rheumatologist appointment, and as usual they had crappy magazines in the waiting room. Actually, they only had Working Mother magazine, and since my rheumatologist is always late, I settled down with that. In it, there was a story about mothers who made quilts that had some meaning or significance. There were three mothers profiled, and each of them had a little first-person blurb about their quilt, a picture of the quilt, and a picture of the quilt-maker with her family. And one of the families was a lesbian couple and their daughter. This wasn't an article about the controversies surrounding gay parenting, and the word lesbian didn't appear in the piece. It was just a blurb about how she made a quilt out of fabric from her daughter's baby clothes and then a picture with a caption that said something like "Jane Smith, her partner Sarah Jones, and their daughter Elizabeth." The article treated them like a completely unremarkable family, except for one of the mothers' quilt-making abilities.
So it's not a huge deal: it's not some big court victory, it's not equality. It would be a lot more telling, probably, if it were in Good Housekeeping. And the existence of Working Mother magazine kind of naturalizes the idea that mothers are primarily responsible for childcare. But it seemed significant. It felt like a small, subtle indicator that there's a cultural shift underway, no matter how many constitutional amendments Bush and his right-wing cronies may propose.
Wednesday, June 09, 2004
Sunday, June 06, 2004
I think that part of the reason this whole thing was so difficult for me is that it creeps me out when the parents of people my age get sick and die. It makes me think about my parents' mortality, and I just don't want to deal with that. In some ways, my parents' mortality is much scarier to me than my own. I know that I'll die one day, and when I think about it, it scares the shit out of me. But my own death doesn't seem that immediate, despite my recent health issues. My parents' mortality doesn't seem so distant.
So anyway, any event that makes you contemplate death quite that much isn't but so joyful. But it was a lovely wedding, strum and drang and mortality notwithstanding.
Oh, and it really bothers me that there was a professional photographer there and that my ugliness has been recorded for posterity. And I do realize that this is a sign that I am a shallow, horrible person.
In other news, I have mapped out in my head a murder mystery based on my dissertation. I mean, there aren't any actual murders in my dissertation (unless you count war and other forms of political violence as murder, and all of that occurs offstage), but I'm thinking it would be very possible to set a historical murder mystery in the milieu that my dissertation discusses. And since some of the people in my dissertation were involved in other, equally colorful milieus, like the Harlem Rennaisance, the Greenwich Village bohemian scene, and the Wobblies and assorted other radical movements, there would be potential for a fun series. It's too bad I'm not a better writer. I think a novelization is the only way I could ever actually make money off of my dissertation.
Friday, June 04, 2004
In other news, my brother's wedding is the day after tomorrow. This is not going to be fun. It's actually the first of two weddings: the real one, with the reception and the extended family and the bridesmaid dress which was not designed for someone with my body type, is in October. This is the one for the bride's father, who is dying. He has been given weeks to live, and there's a possibility that they'll have to have the wedding at his hospital bed instead of in the pretty garden gazebo that my brother and his fiance managed to find on short notice. He wants to see his daughter married, so there's going to be a wedding, albeit a horribly sad and probably excruciatingly painful one. I can't decide whether I'm an awful person for not being able to feign enthusiasm for a supposedly happy event which is only occurring because of an indisputably tragic one. Actually, I'm sure I will be able to feign enthusiasm, and I will. But I'm not even going to try until tomorrow, because I think there's probably a limit to my ethusiasm-feigning, and I'm going to wait to start until I am actually in the same state as any of the people involved.
In the meantime, I'm at my parents' house, which has been quite enjoyable. I think we may all be too busy dreading the wedding to argue. Incidentally, my parents have AOL, and I am never going to say nasty things about AOL again, because I have discovered Radio@AOL, and it is a thing of beauty. Since I was last here, they have added several genius stations, including "Germany Rocks", Goth, IndieGrrls and Melancholia. I am currently listening to Bela Lugosi's Dead by Bauhaus on the '80s Alternative channel. Bela Lugosi's Dead! Fucking genius, I tell you.
Thursday, June 03, 2004
I wanted to comment really quickly on this article about Caitlin Flanagan, though. I could say quite a bit about Caitlin Flanagan, as I am one of those irrational feminists who finds her deeply annoying, but I'm pressed for time, so I'll only say this. I am particularly annoyed by the constant references to her "wit." These references seem mostly to come from male editors, and I'm pretty sure that they translate to "she may be dishonest, inconsistent, mean-spirited, classist, and possessed of a shocking sense of entitlement, but at least she's amusing, unlike those humorless feminists." And you know, while I don't think feminists are particularly humorless, and in fact know quite a few very funny feminists, I'm sort of confused about why feminists are the only political types who are derided for not being hilarious. Are anti-death-penalty activists routinely slagged off for their lack of humor? Do people listen to MLK's I Have a Dream speech and point out that there's not a single good joke? Would the New Yorker hire someone to comment on, say, race or globalization or the Middle East who didn't make a whole lot of sense but whose incoherence was awfully witty? If women's issues or family issues were considered particularly important, The New Yorker would never have hired someone who writes well but doesn't have much to say.
I should email the New Yorker and let them know this is why I let my subscription lapse.
I was interested to see that she's the daughter of Thomas Flanagan, though. It's been ages since I read The Year of the French, and I can't even remember if I read the subsequent books in the trilogy. But I did see an interesting article a while back in the Irish studies journal Eire/Ireland which suggested that the best way to read The Year of the French was not as a novel about Ireland in the 1790s, but as a reflection of Flanagan's profound ambivilence about the protest movements in Berkeley in the '60s. So I'm wondering if Caitlin Flanagan is being completely honest when she claims her parents were Berkeley radicals. Imagine that! Caitlin Flanagan being less than truthful! Shocking!
Wednesday, June 02, 2004
And therefore, I will pretend that anyone cares what is going on in my life. I am slowly being weaned off steroids. My last steroid-addled day will be June 19. That gives me nearly three weeks to come up with a new blog name, which is good, since I'm drawing a blank. I will probably be starting a different drug almost immediately, but Methotrexate Nation doesn't sound nearly as good, and besides, methotrexate is not supposed to have the grim side effects that prednisone does. I am hoping that methotrexate will be something I take once a week, not an evil force that will take over my life, make me cranky and sleepless and ugly, and merit having my blog named after it. At any rate, feel free to offer suggestions for new names.
I just got a bill from the hospital for $1,821.20, and it only covers expenses incurred before April 1. I don't understand how anyone affords to get sick in this country, because I have insurance, and as chronic illnesses go, mine is pretty cheap. Add a couple of weeks of inpatient care, for instance, and you'd really have a recipe for financial disaster. And next time I hear some self-righteous politician yammering about how personal bankruptcy laws allow people to dodge their obligations, I'm going to Xerox and send him (because it is usually a him) my giant file of medical bills. I read somewhere that a huge number of personal bankruptcies are preceded by a medical emergency, and truth be told, if I weren't in a position to borrow money from my parents, I have no idea how I'd fund this little foray into the world of the sick. You can talk as much as you want about personal responsibility, but when you make as much as I do, there's no way you're going to be able to plan for an unexpected $2000 hit. And that's the hit I'm taking with insurance. If I were uninsured, as I assume many people in my income bracket are, I'd owe $10,000 at this point, and as I said, those are only the bills up to April 1. No amount of personal responsibility is going to make that kind of money magically materialize.
In other news, I am off to my brother's wedding tomorrow, and therefore will probably only be blogging sporadically, if at all. I'll be back on Tuesday, hopefully with something witty and profound to say.