19 October 2010

I Respond Well to Positive Reinforcement

I went to the dentist last week.  It's the first time I've been in a year, first because I was out of the country and then because I guess my dentist got super popular while I was gone so I couldn't get an appointment.  I wasn't too concerned about it, because I hadn't gone to the dentist for like four years before that due to a lack of dental insurance and a related aversion to spending upwards of $75 to be lectured to about teeth when I know plenty of dental anthropologists who will do that for free, sometimes unasked.  And my teeth hadn't dissolved or anything, so once a year seems pretty luxurious and responsible.  And now I'm married to a dude with a real job that provides benefits like dental insurance, so I can be lectured about teeth twice a year for free.  Also, he is currently advising on a project about dental microwear, so sometimes he lectures me about teeth too.  My cup overfloweth.

Anyway.  My hard-won appointment was only for the cleaning and x-rays, because the dentist was out on some unspecified business, presumably dental as I am unable to picture my dentist doing anything that doesn't involve pointing at x-rays while wearing blue nitrile gloves.  The hygienist was unbelievably enthusiastic about my flossing choices ("Do you floss?" "Yes, I use one of those Reach flossers once a day?" "Oh, we love those!") and corrected the trout-like mouth gape I use while brushing, making it impossible to reach my molars.  Then she complimented my admittedly excellent gums.  I came home on a wave of congratulations and positive reinforcement, brushing (with mouth mostly closed) and flossing my heart out.  Some days I even brushed morning AND night, because my good dental health is mostly luck but I felt I should try to live up to the hype.  I clung irrationally to my free toothbrush, which I found in my purse when my husband realized he hadn't packed a toothbrush for our trip to Reno: "But I got it from the dentist!" I said, as though it were mystically bestowed upon me by the Dentist in the Lake and thus untransferable.  I was a machine of both dental health and toothbrush hoarding.

And then I realized that dental hygienists are masters of the shit sandwich.

17 July 2010


According to I Write Like,  two of my favorite recent posts (this one and this one about my research) are similar to the writing of David Foster Wallace.  I assume this means painful to read yet worthy of a MacArthur Fellowship?  I guess they've got the first half right, anyway.

I write like
David Foster Wallace
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

03 July 2010

I Have Had It With Evolutionary Psychology

So, this research is getting some press.  Apparently, some evolutionary psychologists (the study of generating evolutionary justification for the status quo) found out that men found the faces of women with smaller feet, narrower hips, etc relative to their height more attractive than their larger-boned counterparts.  And this obviously has something to do with our savannah ancestors and males spreading their seed rather than cultural constructs of femininity, even though clearly the first steps in making the argument that such a preference is evolved would be demonstrating that it is not dependent on culture, that we know what we think we do about, say, symmetry, evolutionary fitness and beauty, and also that their results are not some weird effect of averaging faces.  Which I'm pretty sure that testing fewer than 100 undergraduate males does not do adequately.  But who am I kidding?  This is probably way more thought than the researchers put into designing the study, which I'm pretty sure consisted of this:

"You know what I can't stand?  A big-footed woman."
"Me too, man.  Me too."
"Well, it must be evolutionary.  Otherwise we're just assholes."

24 June 2010

Fear Me, Ordinary Mortals

And also?  I am psychic.

Exhibit A: What's Next?  Footloose?!?

Exhibit B: Yes, Footloose, starring some dude called Kenny


Blast from the Past!  This is an entry I guess I started but never posted about a million years ago.  I found it when I was paging through my Edit Posts menu, thinking about adding tags to my earlier posts.  I thought it was kind of funny, and I continue to hate the wind.  It makes me immediately grumpy to walk out into it.  Enjoy!

This morning, underinformed about the high winds outside, I made the tragic decision to wear a wrap dress, which resulted in my stepping outside and avoiding flashing the neighborhood only through lightening-fast skirt-clutching reflexes, honed by years of living in Boulder CO, where winds can reach hurricane force. Because I didn't have time to change, I am now damned to a whole day of blown-skirt peril, including biking to school one-handed while other hand holds skirt in place, miraculously holding onto bike and skirt and manipulating bike lock simultaneously, and traversing the 5th-story bridge that connects the building with my office to the one with the lab where I work. Freaking wind.

30 May 2010

Maybe We'll Have an Imaginary Second Location Soon

My husband and I are ridiculous book- and music-hoarders, to the point that when we moved in together we found we had a total of about 100 shelf-feet of books.  If you stacked them and stood on top of them, it would look like this:
(Photo from Last Resort Fire Department, which restores antique fire trucks)

I freaked out a little bit and we started making more of an effort to actively manage them.  So, we sell stuff (books, CDs, DVDs) on Alibris, which is a pretty sweet deal.  You pay an annual seller fee, list your stuff and price it, then ship it out when it gets ordered.  Alibris deposits the payments to your bank account, plus shipping and handling costs and minus a per-transaction sales fee.  It's a good place to buy things, too.  I'm not getting paid by Alibris for this.  In fact, it's all just background information for the following marginally amusing (at best) anecdote:

When I have to interact with customers, I try to make us sound like a professional book-dealing outfit rather than a couple of yahoos operating out of the closet in the spare bedroom.  I do this because I find people are suspicious of doing online business with the latter, and also because it entertains me.   Thus, when someone inquires whether her order has shipped, as she would prefer to cancel it, I let her know that I will "check with shipping" (i.e., call my husband to ask whether he stopped by the post office yet and remind him to buy fish food), then follow up to say that I've been able to "pull the item from outgoing shipments" and cancel the order.  I feel that it gives a pleasing, bustling air to our imaginary bookstore.  I guess the ruse is working, because one customer e-mailed back addressing the message to my full name and commending me on my excellent customer service.  Which I will be sure to pass along to management.

27 May 2010

We're Shooting for 35% Next Year

Seeing as how the exchange rate has been working more and more in my favor, my living situation has become approximately 25% cheaper (utilities and entertaining flatmates included in the rent!), and I have a marvelous brother-in-law who was pleased to harass the airline on my behalf, I am officially staying an extra month overseas, for a total of 10 months.  This is great news for my dissertation, which will presumably be 11% more awesome as a result, but I realized on the phone with my mom (who requested a chart) that it means the following for me and my husband's first year of marriage:

Here's hoping the volcanoes pipe down, because if I'm delayed we may fall below the 20% mark.

So, yeah.  How's married life?  We wouldn't know.  The main difference for me is that sometimes I check the "Mrs." box when I'm asked for my salutation on forms.  The main difference for my husband is that he has to handle all my US obligations, including filing our first married tax returns with vague assistance from me ("That information may be in the pile near my desk.") and fun with motor vehicles.

Thank God for Skype and webcams, or I might not recognize the guy when he turns up to collect me at the airport in July.

08 May 2010

The Problem is the Closet, not Who's Out of It

Newsweek is an apologist for the closetKristin Chenoweth issues a stern STFU.

Ugh.  Memo to Newsweek: gay and lesbian actors in straight roles "works" fine.  It's no more of a technical issue than a monogamous actor playing a prostitute, or someone who's never sat for the bar playing a lawyer.  It's called acting.

If you can't get past the actor's known sexuality to find him or her believable in a straight role -- and that is the issue here, given that the essayist is talking about actors known to be gay, whether out or outed -- either the problem is with you, or he or she is not a very good actor.  If you watch Rock Hudson and snicker about seeing him in a bubble bath instead of appreciating that "straight" was a role he felt he had to play his entire working life, not just on screen, then you're part of the problem.  If knowing Jonathan Groff is gay makes his Glee performance feel "off" ... well, again, that's on you, because I didn't know he was gay until you told me I should have found his sexuality so obvious as to be "distracting".  Was Matthew Morrison or Cory Monteith "writhing to" Like a Virgin equally testament to their sexuality?  Or did you only think it seemed gay when the openly gay man did it?  Guess what: you might be part of the problem.

And if the author thinks the problem only goes one way -- "It's OK for straight actors to play gay ... it's rare for someone to pull off the trick in reverse" -- then he hasn't been paying attention.  Both Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal faced massive speculation regarding their sexuality after they were cast in Brokeback Mountain, and Gyllenhaal continues to.  The supposed "problem" with gay and lesbian actors in straight roles is the conception, illustrated amply by the Newsweek piece claiming to bemoan it, that homosexuality pervades every aspect of a person so thoroughly that he or she cannot realistically play straight.  The source of wild speculation or wild adulation when straight actors are convincing in gay roles is a corrolary to this -- that somehow it's either extra-magical or suspicious when a straight actor convinces us that he or she is attracted to someone of the same sex.  And yeah, that's kind of the author's point.  So why is he combing through the performances of gay and lesbian actors for evidence of their supposedly essential gay-ness in order to make it?

18 April 2010

Uncompelling Mysteries: Wild Kingdom

Q: What does a tortoise say?
A: According to my two-year-old flatmate, a tortoise says, "Haaaaaach ... ptoo!"  So I guess they have congestion.  She also authoritatively stated that the noise a pirate makes is, "Arrrrrrrrr."

16 April 2010

You Don't Know Me, Apple

I am taking an insanely detailed feedback survey about how I use the MacBook I bought right before I came over here, because my old one got a terminal diagnosis like a week before I was scheduled to move overseas.  Good times.  The survey has just asked me how often I use my computer to view video "at home: on the couch" and then "at home: in bed".  As I am currently taking the survey in bed, I suspect they are using the integrated webcam to spy on me.

I'll know for sure if the next questions are, "Are you seriously eating peanuts at 11:45 pm?" "How concerned are you about choking on them, seeing as how you're 75% horizontal?" and "Is that one of the Little House books in German behind you?"  (Answers: Yes, somewhat concerned, and yes, but for some reason On the Banks of Plum Creek is titled Laura und ihre Freunde instead of Laura am Pflaumenbach in the pattern of the rest of the series' translations.  Oh, and Landwirtjunge has been left out entirely, which is too bad, because I like the bit where the pig gets its teeth stuck together with poorly-made candy.)

10 April 2010

ODs A-Go-Go

Funny story, or possibly tale of the macabre, depending on your point of view:

In the 1905 hospital records I'm reading, there are all of a sudden a rash of poisonings with (from? by? I'm not sure which is the proper preposition) a variety of substances, including but not limited to: lead, phosporus, alcohol, opium, and cocaine.  Don't worry, that's not the funny part.  There was also a "ptomaine poisoning," which is obviously not the same sort of poisoning but made me think about how my parents used to refer to any shady restaurant as a "ptomaine palace" and how I really should find more excuses to use that term, because alliteration is funny.  Which is all beside the point.

I clearly had to include some of this poisoning outbreak in my research, as it is an unexpected trend in admissions, and also because earnest, bougie Edwardian doctors interacting with druggies is sure to produce hilarious results (but not sexy results, more's the pity), even though the doctors were probably all on laudanum themselves.  And you know what?  Hypothesis: proven.  From the cocaine poisoning case: "he kept constantly grabbing at all pieces of paper his eyes fell on.  He only wanted them to put them in the fire."  Heeeeeee.  It's the sniffy tone of it that kills me.  You have to wonder how many pieces of paper were snatched, and how important they were, before the doctor thought, "I say, he only wants them to put them in the fire!"  He is out of his everloving mind on cocaine (and whiskey, brandy, and beer, reportedly).  Clearly, he doesn't want the paper for any useful purpose, such as jotting a quick missive to the local newspaper regarding the state of the roads, or origami.  The ancient Japanese art of paper-folding being a second use to which the paper might be put, I mean, not a second subject upon which one might write to the newspaper.  But I'm not here to judge.  After all, the next day, "He said he wanted away as he had business to attend to."

Interesting side note: dude had injected the cocaine, as he had done for the past seven years.  Only 45 years after the modern syringe and the drug itself were invented.  But maybe he was just a Sherlock Holmes fan.  Or had just purchased a handy kit from Parke-Davis for the purpose.  Or appreciated Pope Leo XIII's endorsement of cocaine-laced wine.  All this after some nutjob tried it out as a ophthalmic anaesthetic by instilling it into his own eye, which he then pricked with pins.  A general thumbs-up from the medical community greeted the knowledge that a drug had been discovered that would allow one to painlessly poke one's own eyes with sharp objects.  How could over-the-counter use not follow closely behind?

(Image via Wikipedia)

28 March 2010

I Wish I Knew How to Quit "Glee"

ETA: I originally called this post, "I Wish I Could Enjoy 'Glee' More Thoroughly", but then I realized that wasn't quite appropriate.

(Image: www.FOX.com/glee)

There's this show called Glee you may have heard about through the massive YOU MUST LOVE THIS EVERYONE ALREADY DOES EVEN THOUGH WE ONLY SHOWED ONE EPISODE SEVERAL MONTHS AGO kick-off campaign run by the network (which: well-played).  It has just started playing over here, and I have been progressing apace through the Seven Stages of Grief/Hipster Co-optation of Pop Culture, to wit:
  1. Shock or Disbelief: I refuse to even acknowledge it; if they're hyping it this much, it has to suck.
  2. Denial: Based on the previews, which I have encountered purely by accident and certainly never YouTubed out of morbid curiosity, it looks like a rip off of something that was awesome and underappreciated (in this case, Freaks and Geeks).  I will acknowledge it, but mainly because I enjoy excuses to bring up my attachment to the awesome and underappreciated comparison.
  3. Bargaining: I will watch ONE episode (listen to one song if we're talking about a band), because people keep saying it's great and because it will give me further fodder for scorn if it's not great.
  4. Guilt: I may need to watch TWO episodes.  Because ... I don't have enough fodder for scorn yet.  And I will need to download the early episodes from iTunes, because to really scorn it good and proper I need to know why Will's wife is faking her pregancy and how far I can get away with biting Miss Pillsbury's style while pretending I don't watch the show.  (Or, you know, however this can be applied more generally to other popular things hipsters end up secretly liking, like Lady Gaga.  Or cleaning houses.)
  5. Anger: As I have gotten to know it better, I have begun enjoying it, but also learned that the hidden depths I'd hoped to find so I could say I appreciate it on a deeper level than you are tenuous at best.  This provokes a backlash in which I bitch about it more loudly than ever, in much the same way homophobes are sometimes closet cases.
  6. Depression: God damn it, I'm still going to watch the next episode, aren't I?
  7. Acceptance and Hope: I forgot that I've always watched it with ironic detatchment and out of an academic curiosity about what the hoi polloi (note douchey italics) are doing these days, so it's OK to keep watching.  Maybe the next season will be better.  And if not, I'll be able to sniff at how far it's gone downhill since the early days!
So it's safe to say I've gotten suckered in, but I'm lodged pretty solidly in Stage 5.  Y'all, I have some issues with the show, namely three, because I have just noticed that Blogger has a little button that inserts a numbered list: 1. A series of black people gags; 2. Half-assed multiculturalism; 3. Ambitious women are undesirable.  Seriously, show?
  1. In our introduction to Rachel's character, who is played by a Caucasian actress, she describes how she has two dads and both donated sperm, so isn't it cool that they don't know which one is her bio-dad?  By way of a punchline, they cut to a family photo: one of her dads is stereotypically nebbishy Jewish, and one is African-American.  Hilarious, right?  Ahahaha!  She's so sweet and clueless -- everyone knows what Black looks like!  Ugh.  This was even underscored when she's shown getting the side-eye from the rest of the Black Student Union while the point is made that she joins wildly inappropriate student groups to get more photos in the yearbook.  Then, in the Very Special Episode in which we meet the competition for Sectionals (a girls' reform school and a school for the deaf), the first reform-school girl we meet is an African-American girl named "Aphasia" who steals Will's wallet.  Ahahaha!  Black parents who raise criminals think medical terms sound pretty but don't know what they mean!  They don't choose appropriate names like "Rachel" and "Noah" (TV shorthand for Jewish) or "Quinn" and "Finn" (unusual enough to not be considered bland, but testament to the bearer's whiteness) or "Mercedes" ("ethnic" but on the white, er, "right" side of the line, as opposed to "Aphasia" and "Shatonda")!  Hilarious.
  2. Okay, honestly, I do give the producers and writers credit for having major characters of a range of ethnicities and actually incorporating disability into storylines on a regular instead of "very special" basis, but they do undercut themselves quite a bit when the non-caucasians are pretty constantly relegated to the background.  You know, to the point that the show makes a wink-wink reference to it by one character referring to another as "other Asian".  And I won't get started on how the only major character who is overweight is the African-American girl.
  3. And then there's the way the viewers are constantly reminded that the one female character to express specific goals and career ambitions beyond "getting out of here" or making her relationship work is annoying, grating, insufferable, etc.  Hey ladies!  Don't try too hard or care too much about having a successful career, because it makes people hate you!  Fantastic.
But, you know how it goes for all that: God damn it, I'm still going to watch the next episode.  I'm a sucker for musicals.  Plus, Will just found out about the non-baby over here so what will happen?  (Don't tell me.)

04 March 2010

Haiku are for Slackers

Door slammed on my way
Out the flat; heard the toddler
wake up.  Bad flatmate.

My flatmates have a toddler and a new baby.  I try not to set off any crying bombs in the mornings so everyone can sleep in a little.  Didn't do so well this morning.

This is what passes for a blog post at the moment, as things have been a little wacky (in a super entertaining way) with the new little person around.

21 February 2010

When You Put it That Way ...

An episode of Antiques Roadshow is described in part in our TV on-screen directory, "Michael Aspel and the team marvel at an array of historic items."

I wonder if the powers that be who greenlighted the show see that, look at each other, and ask, "Did this always sound so bad on paper?"  I mean, seriously: an hour of watching people say, "Oooh!  It's a tiny silver pig, manufactured only between 1787 and 1789!" does not sound particularly riveting.  But then you see an episode in which a cabinet housing a miniature Victorian parlor scene populated with anthropomorphized taxidermied squirrels is earnestly praised and valued at several thousand pounds, and you do indeed marvel along with Michael Aspel and the team.

FYI, a Google image search for "squirrels parlor scene taxidermy" yielded nothing close to the objet d'art in question to share with you.  But I'm pretty sure it put me on some kind of government watch list.

13 February 2010

Mind Warp: Complete

 My dissertation research involves reading 150-year-old hospital records, which means I spend 40 to 50 hours a week reading about people suffering from horrible diseases and receiving often-horrible treatments (heavy metals: good for what ails ya!).  This has apparently warped my conception of "funny" into what most of my friends and relations would place squarely under "morbid".  Such as the 6-year-old with a tapeworm whose own history of his illness was taken in his mother's absence, and earnestly entered by the doctor: "[a piece of tapeworm] was like a broad riband and as long as his finger ... he [the boy] is fond of sugar and butter." (LHB1/129/2/12)  Cute, right?  I mean, sad, obviously, but a little bit funny?  ... Anyone?

I think it's the kid's irrepressible-by-tapeworm enthusiasm sneaking through that cracks me up.

This leads to, I imagine, a general dread when people ask about my research and I start by saying, "Oh, this was funny!"  But you have to find some reason to laugh, or all your free time is taken up trying to cry quietly in a public restroom stall and/or plotting exactly which powers-that-be (Social Darwinists?  Hospital administrators?  Doctors?  The power-drunk and paternalistic bourgeois?  That hospital clerk who can't write an intake record less than four pages long?) you will slap in the face, and how hard, when you finally get your time machine.  Which is kind of my philosophy on dealing with heavy shit in general, when you get down to it, so there you go.

ETA: And now I'm imagining the effect in Victorian Britain if I were to appear from the future in my denim trousers and short haircut to deal massive and richly-deserved roundhouse face slaps to, like, dudes saying disease decreases the surplus population, and then wink away back to the present.  And it is hilarious.  I say, "You just got slapped!" or, I don't know, "Slap justice!" to avoid copyright infringement on How I Met Your Mother and disappear, and they all stand around blinking and stunned for a while while one guy clutches his muttonchop whiskers.  And then one dude finally says, "I say, that was taking the point a bit far, old chum; my mistress was diagnosed with consumption just a se'nnight past."  I wish I could draw comics so you all could see it too.

04 February 2010

Speaking of Gnomes

It's vaguely related story hour!

I began agitating for a yard gnome soon after I moved in with my now-husband, what with having an actual house with an actual yard.  Well, an actual house with a gravel-mulched xeriscaped plot surrounding it.  Not that I dislike xeriscaping -- it can really be lovely, and God knows we can kill plants with the best of them -- but the builder's interpretation of it is sparse at best, and the neighborhood association was so taken with it that it's in the neighborhood covenants (do they keep them in a Neighborhood Ark?) that the front landscaping is not to be densely planted.  For what it's worth, we've gone even sparser by killing our small tree and being scared to replace it lest we kill Tree 2.0.

(Photo from this Telegraph story about gnome discrimination)

Anyway.  Imagine my surprise and delight (and shock and awe!) when my husband came home from Walgreen's bearing two yard gnomes.  He saw them for like $5 each when he was picking up a prescription or something and took the plunge into gnome ownership, because he is awesome.  Then the following conversation ensued:

Me: Yay!  Where do you want to put them?
Him: Well, one's going in the garage.  Which one do you want to put out?
Me: Garage?
Him: Some kid's going to steal our gnome, or break it!  I got a spare!

This gnome-paranoia shouldn't have been a surprise, as he's been muttering dire warnings about how terrible things happen to yard gnomes ever since I first mentioned wanting one.  He takes a dim view of the goodness of mankind.  But, take heart!  It's been over a year, and our gnome is mostly unmolested.  We had to set him upright again after a cat rubbed up against him once, but that's all.  It may be time to bring the second gnome into play.

Ooh, and we totally need this from Toscano next:

31 January 2010

Perfect for Gnomes

I made a lovely Estonian lace shawl during my first few months here in Glasgow.  It knit up amazingly quickly -- largely because I knew a total of zero people in town and had no internet at home, so spent all my free time knitting -- and I was epically pleased with it.  Unfortunately, I finished it up to and including knitting and attaching the border before I could no longer delude myself that it was in no way possible it would block out to an appropriate size for an adult, unless that adult desired a knitted neckerchief:

Those are a tape measure and a copy of Charlotte Brontë's Villette, a trade-paperback sized book which incidentally is fantastic, shown for size.  As well as my toes, shown because I couldn't be arsed to crop the photo before I posted this.

The tragic irony is that I actually DID knit a gauge swatch for it, which I often don't do for lace projects like shawls, where blocking can cover a multitude of ills and the specific size isn't all that important.  Too bad there was a misprint in the swatch instructions, as far as I can tell, because there's essentially no correlation between the stitches and size as printed for the swatch and for the finished project.

The good news is that it provided another several evenings' worth of entertainment to rip the whole thing out, then steam and re-wind the yarn.  Now I'm working on a different variation of the pattern.  I enjoy Sisyphean make-work.

23 January 2010

I Shall Call my Show, "The Human Mumbler"

This Fall, I was watching a lot of The Dog Whisperer -- it came on while I was generally eating dinner in an empty flat, is oddly hypnotic, and I like dogs better than reruns of Friends -- and I found that Cesar's Way can be applied to dealing with other humans.  To wit:

1. Project calm, assertive energy, because projecting "doormat" makes people treat you like one; and
2. If all else fails, get people on the ground with a knee on their chest.

You heard it here first.  Feel free to direct book and TV show offers on this philosophy to the comments.

16 January 2010

Christianity: You're Doing it Wrong

"Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians.  It's no different.  It is the same thing.  It is happening all over again.  It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-based media and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians.  Wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today.  More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history."

I'm sorry, what was that you said?  I couldn't hear you; I was busy smashing up Christian-owned businesses and burning churches.

Pat Robertson: Feel free to read up on Nazi Germany, slavery, pogroms, colonialism, reservations, segregation, crusades, tenant-farm clearances, and hate crimes.  And STFU.

While you work on that, I'll be over here, thinking about Pat Benatar in an effort to avoid flying into a knee-jerk berzerker rage upon hearing the word "Pat."

15 January 2010

Uncompelling Mysteries: Pound Foolish Edition

Q: Why doesn't everyone buy nine Christmas Crackers for one pound at the everything-costs-a-pound store?

(Click to Enlarge)

A: Because they saved money in production by only using one riddle.  Also, the tissue-paper crowns (not shown) were toddler-sized.