Sunday, July 30, 2006

I never knew yoga was evil!

Title link takes you to the "Praise Moves" site. Quotation below is from the gripping "Why a Christian alternative to yoga" section:

Yoga. It’s everywhere. In ads for everything from I.T. to ice cream, meditative supermodels sit cross-legged in the Hindu Lotus position, contemplating “nirvana.” There are yoga videos for pregnant mothers, senior citizens, toddlers and babies – even yoga for you and your dog! You can work out with yoga straps, blocks, bolsters and balls. The well-dressed yoga practitioner can wear her loose-fitting yoga togs, carry her yoga mat in her matching yoga tote and dress her daughter in Sesame Street yoga pants (featuring Elmo!). Since yoga is everywhere, it must be okay. Or is it?

I...don't know.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Benji And Heidi

Here's that "when cousins tango" routine I mentioned a few posts ago. Not the best quality recording but still fun to watch.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Six degrees of lift and separation

Some of you may have heard about the kerfluffle over a few topless photos buried in a USC professor's blog. Turns out I know her! Diana Blaine was a professor in my department when I was in grad school. She always taught edgy courses, most memorably the one on "Transgressive Literature," meaning, essentially, porn.

I was ABD while she was there, so I didn't take any of her classes, but I have friends who did and admired her. The few times I spoke with her I found her impressively self-possessed and vibrant.

The website causing all the trouble is:

My favorite bit from her response to the uproar:

Obviously no one wants to cop to being uptight about the pictures because that's just so uncool. We're all educated, sophisticated adults, here, right? We understand the body isn't in and of itself corrupt or fallen or undignified, right? We know that only this culture at this time makes the breasts taboo and then having thus fetishized them operates obsessively to cover up and expose them, right? We know the difference between a commercial sex site and someone's personal construction of self, right? Right, right, right, right, right.

So why does everybody give such a HUGE-normous Flying Flip about those few pixels in the shape of titties? I am glad you asked, because I happen to know the answer.

It's all about control. Of what? Women. Control of the female body. Control of female sexuality. Control, control, control. Oh, it's perfectly fine for Hooters to sponsor the baseball game I went to last night. It's perfectly fine for women paid to dress up as servile objects wearing outfits designed to eroticize their bodies to walk around and hand tee-shirts to little children. It's perfectly fine for everyone to see the female breast deemed a HOOTER, and for that derogatory name to be splashed all over the baseball field and the women's chests and the shirts they are giving away.

Why? Because "Hooters" is a space designed by men, for men, for male pleasure, and thus promotes the control of the female by first turning us into things, reducing us to mammaries, then taking those mammaries away from us and putting them into male--er--hands, as it were. Hooters is all about the male gaze; those young women prancing around in short shorts and tight tee-shirts last night were NOT doing it for their own pleasure. They were doing it for money, for the money controlled by men—who hoard all the resources in this culture in case you haven't noticed.

There's a difference between defining your own eroticism and having it defined for you. There's a difference between being forced to expose yourself for commercial reasons and doing so as a form of expression. There’s a difference between being reduced to a thing and having sexuality integrated into your full identity. These differences are not at all hard to understand, and so I believe firmly that those who pretend to not be able to tell the difference do so because it promotes their ideological agenda, which is nothing short of control of women.

It's not just men who work to control us, of course. Women too work very hard to promulgate a sexist culture. We do so because we are promised a degree of safety and dignity and protection if we do. So it makes sense to be sexist, in a sense, even if you are female and that means you need to be working constantly against your own freedom and sanity and health.

I was one of these women myself until I actually read feminist theory and, thanks to the introduction of all those wonderful ideas no one had ever bothered to teach me in all of my years of education in patriarchal institutions, got the chance to think for myself. Most women don’t have this chance, haven’t read these books, haven’t talked to hundreds of other feminists as I have. So I was not surprised last night while reading that website that attacks me and other women to find that it is written by a woman, nor was I surprised that a number of the respondents were female.

What did get my attention though was what one of them said. Of course she starts off by saying that she doesn't have any problem with pictures like these. (See above for an explanation of why this bizarre disclaimer always comes just before the emission of sexist criticism of their existence.) Then, she goes on to say, she’s got no problem with pictures like these-- as long as they are KEPT IN THE HUSBAND'S WALLET.

To repeat: It’s ok to have pictures like these, as long as they are kept in the husband’s wallet.

No seriously, it says that. So as she sees it, women are allowed to be sexual beings, thanks, and even to create images of ourselves that include nudity and even eroticism, great--as long as these images remain the property of a male. Wait, huh? As long as these images remain the property of a male. Right there in his wallet with all of his other possessions. Reminds me of the commandment about not coveting thy neighbor’s wife, nor servants, nor animals, nor any of that STUFF that belongs to the other man.

Sorry sister. I don't belong to any man. Not at all. I am my own being. Totally and completely. I know it's scary, but you should try it some time. Then you can put pictures of yourself wherever you want. Just expect to catch all kinds of grief from total strangers for daring to have an identity that isn’t defined by male parameters. But you'll be able to handle it, because these selves we forge in the face of resistance are strong and beautiful.

Her example of Hooters is, to me, irrefutable. Our culture is so patriarchal and pornographic that breasts can be everywhere, used to sell anything and everything, but place them in a context outside of male consumption and suddenly they're filthy. We need only re-visit recent dustups over public breastfeeding to concede the point.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The animals in question

Only for anyone who is interested:

Here's a rather unflattering shot of Baby Kitty hiding:

Naughty Kitty sprawled on his back, as per usual:

And for good measure, my little 14-year-old dog, Markie, whose red eye I did not bother to Photoshop (sorry):

I'm thinking of becoming Tim Gunn's stalker

No doubt there will be a line, seeing how he's the most adorable person ever born (or created in a lab or dropped directly from heaven or whatever). It's OK though; I can be patient when the payoff warrants. I am confident that when Tim meets me he will realize that glorious BFF-dom is our destiny.

In other television-related news, I saw the best dance routine ever on So You Think You Can Dance. (What is with that unwieldy title, by the way? Isn't that poor marketing?) Before you get the impression that I am wholeheartedly endorsing this show, let me state that SYTYCD is the reason Prometheus risked all to give us DVR technology. I would NOT recommend attempting to view this show live and, thus, without fast forward. Your brains would ooze from your ears within the first half hour. This show contains more filler than a cheap hotdog, more even than American Idol. Seriously. Don't even go there.

But if you can watch with FF at hand, sometimes you'll be rewarded with some astonishing dancing, and last night cousins Benji and Heidi threw down a tango that I replayed three times. Even my husband, who normally would rather have a tooth drilled than view SYTYCD, let me talk him into watching it and had to admit, yeah, that was pretty damn cool. There's just something about watching people excel, especially at skills I could never master, that is so inspiring.

Other than that, the only interesting thing I've done this week is take my cats to the vet. If you've ever taken a cat to the vet you just snickered; you're remembering your own experiences in the field, the wounds from which you may still be recovering. Taking my dog to the vet? Cakewalk. She doesn't like it, but what can she do?

In the past I have dragged both cats in at once, but this time I could only find one carrier so we had to tag team it. I took Baby Kitty, the smaller one (now 6 years old but still called "Baby" by the whole family), first for no reason other than that he happened to be sleeping in the carrier when it came time to leave. (Cleverly, I had dug it out of the closet several hours before the appointment, knowing they would not be able to resist a new place to sleep. They don't seem to remember how much they hate the carrier after a whole vet-less year has gone by.) Baby Kitty hates the car. He cries, loudly, through any car ride. When we made our three hour move from Texas three years ago, Baby Kitty rode with me, and as much as I treasure him I swear I nearly left him by the side of I-35. He NEVER STOPPED CRYING.

Anyway, Baby Kitty is a crier not a fighter, so once you hand him off to the vet he's so terrified he doesn't put up much of a fight. Mission accomplished.

So I brought his crying, traumatized ass back home and prepared to throw the other cat in and take him for his own torture. Naughty Kitty is significantly larger than his foster-brother, and while he's usually very cuddly and friendly (where Baby hates to be picked up and doesn't much care for anyone except me) when he gets pissed it's a vastly more dangerous situation. Where his brother cries, he fights.

This is the phenomenon I've been leading to with this boring dissertation on my boring pets: Naughty Kitty freaked right out when I came back in and let BK out of the carrier. He hissed at BK and slapped him across the face--like he hadn't been through enough!--then hissed at me, hissed at the carrier, hissed at the dog (which he NEVER does), circled the carrier and hissed once more for good measure, to make sure it knew its place, I guess, and then crawled under the bed--hissing. SIGH.

I can only assume that the carrier and BK stank of the vet's office and alcohol and cat terror?

I know you're on the edge of your seat wondering, "DID SHE GET THE CAT TO THE VET OMG!" Yes, I managed to wheedle him out--he really is a very sweet cat most of the time--and finally crammed his fat ass into the bag. He hissed at the doctor's assistant but the people at the vet are so un-fazed by pet hostility. That's the difference between a professional and, well, me.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Return of the Me

Home again, home again, jiggity jog.

I've been quite isolated during the past week, but I have a couple of observations to record:

1. Stupid Bush vetoed federal funds for stem cell research. This lunacy would anger me anyway, but as it happens my sister has juvenile diabetes, one of the diseases that stem cell advancements might eventually cure, making the veto that much more personal. Adding insult to injury, of course, is the fact that Bush unabashedly acknowledges the role of his religious convictions in this decision of public policy, allowing a convenient segue to ...

2. I read Sam Harris's book The End of Faith while I was gone. Wow. I'll be frank: If you don't enjoy philosophy this book is probably not for you. I, on the other hand, adore philosophy in all its circle jerking glory, so the sections of Harris's book addressing, for example, issues of epistemology delighted me.

Most important, though, are Harris's points about the dangers of religious faith, particularly when mixed with government. The main problem he identifies is that religious faith is inherently, indeed by definition, at odds with reason; however, this species of irrationality has achieved a status in the culture such that it is immune to critique or challenge. Thus religionists get away with all sorts of bizarre perversions of public policy ... Bush.

Harris presents an entire excellent chapter on Islam and religious war. He also discusses at length the phenomenon of consciousness and the experience of "selflessness" through meditation in an attempt to show that belief in an omniscient god is by no means necessary to "spirituality."

I have to say that even if you are not inclined toward Harris's subject matter, his prose boasts a beauty everyone can appreciate. He is really a lovely writer. He is direct in his criticisms, though. Take for example:

It is time we admitted, from kings and presidents on down, that there is no evidence that any of our books was authored by the Creator of the universe. The Bible, it seems certain, was the work of sand-strewn men and women who thought the earth was flat and for whom the wheelbarrow would have been a breathtaking example of emerging technology. To rely on such a document as the basis for our worldview--however heroic the efforts of redactors--is to repudiate two thousand years of civilizing insights that the human mind has only just begun to inscribe upon itself through secular politics and scientific culture. We will see that the greatest problem confronting civilization is not merely religious extremism: rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accomodations we have made to faith itself. Religious moderates are, in large part, responsible for the religious conflict in our world, because their beliefs provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed. (45)

Finally ...

3. I go back to work next week. SIGH.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A short break

I'll be in Minnesota until Saturday; I have a brand new niece to meet!

There's always a chance I'll be able to write, but there's also a chance I'll be too busy scraping recycled formula from my shoulders.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Good Golly Miss Molly

So I found this astonishing (to me) information today:

Almost all female Mollies are pregnant. [...] most female Mollies will release babies about once a month. Female Mollies can deliver several batches of babies without a male in the aquarium. So once your female Molly is pregnant, you don't really need a male Molly for several months.

I see. I still blame TV's Fish Girl for telling me her life story instead of this, but I guess she might at least indeed have given me only Miss Mollies.

I don't get Kathy Griffin

Am I even spelling her name right? I can't be arsed to look it up.

I'm jazzed to be back watching new Project Runway, but more time with Bravo means more exposure to commercials for Kathy Griffin. Why does she have a show again? I know she played the wacky best friend on some sitcom 50 years ago (and you might recall how I hate sitcoms) but why should I care? From what I've seen, she's far less interesting and funny than plenty of people I personally know whose charms are not distributed to the world via television. So why her?

Maybe I'm just feeling particularly irritable.

A few weeks ago, when my folks were up for my birthday, we went to Petsmart and bought three pretty dalmation mollies for my fish tank. The foolish teenaged girl providing fish bagging services that day told me I needed to put salt in the tank with mollies because they're live bearers. I stared a moment, processing the connection between salt and fish birthing, and she explained, as if to a mentally challenged toddler, "That means they don't lay eggs."

Yes, Miss Thing, I know what "live bearer" means. Check this though: I don't want any baby fishes. So are you saying I can forestall such by withholding salt? Not so much. Apparently relying on the absence of salt is right up there with pulling out on the fish contraceptive continuum.

OK. I decided I wanted to be as sure as possible and asked her to chase down three females. No danglers. My tank would be a Sapphic paradise. Little Miss Can't Be Wrong assured me that she was a master fish sexer. No problem.

During the YEAR that it took her to hand over the fish, she regaled us with the gripping tale of having taught her guinea pig tricks the likes of which won her $100 from Funniest Home Videos and a chance to appear on Letterman. We also learned that she is adopted by foster parents and her mom is is soooo supportive but she's soooo nervous about the whole television thing and doesn't want her mom to go with her to New York because she just KNOWS she'll cry and she can't handle that and WOULD YOU JUST GIVE ME MY BAGGY FULL OF FISH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD AND SHUT THE FUCK UP BEFORE I KILL EVERYONE IN PETSMART?

I know I'm the meanest person ever but I HATE when people do this. Stop belialing me stupid Petsmart girl! I don't know you!

The punchline--you saw this coming, yes?--is that a week later I found the teeniest possible little fishie tooling around in my tank. I thought, well, you know, these things they happen; clearly one of the mollies arrived enceinte. Everyone has a past, right?

This morning my son found two NEW wee fishies hiding amongst the plastic flora, clearly recent arrivals, as the first surprise has grown significantly since its appearance. This is definitely a fresh new group.

Stupid Petsmart girl.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A failure to communicate?

What, exactly, does a rating of PG-13 mean?

I, fool that I am, somehow labored under the delusion that a PG-13 rating meant the film in question had been conceived and created for an audience of at least 13 years in age and, thus, contained material not designed for younger children.

Clearly I was wrong, though, because my 9-year-old has been bombarded over the last several weeks with constant, aggressive advertising and merchandising for both Superman Returns and Pirates of the Caribbean 2.

He got a Pirates Happy Meal yesterday.

We puzzled over toy Superman mighty fists in Target last week, the package featuring a photo of a child well under 13 waving the mighty fists.

Target also boasted Pirates playsets for gradeschoolers.

Ads for the films appear regularly during cartoons that few self-respecting 13-year-olds would be caught viewing.

What is with the mixed messages? Are these movies appropriate for younger children or not?

I saw the first Pirates movie and it was cute, but I didn't screen it for my son because I thought the stabbings and mentions of raping and pillaging and such were a little much for him. He hasn't seen X-Men either, though the first two are on my list of top ten favorite movies of all time. In fact, a few weeks ago the mother of one of his friends offered to take the boys to see X-Men 3 and I thought, "Why?" Since my son is not an envelope pusher (at least not in that regard) he asked if they could see Cars instead. I was just so struck by the fact that this mother never questioned whether her 9-year-old would see that movie, or whether my 9-year-old would as well.

It's not that I think seeing PG-13 movies would kill them, but what's the point? Really, why not just go see Cars?

I don't think people who let their pre-teens watch Spiderman are Bad Parents, but I'm beginning to think there are Bad People somewhere down the line in all this. Or maybe they simply underestimate adult viewers? I loved Spiderman, but it wasn't because I was so jazzed to see Kirsten Dunst's wet t-shirt contest entry. That scene was so incongruous and unnecessary to me, especially when I looked around at all the teeny children in the audience. Just make the superhero fly and defeat evil! That's what we're here for!

It's so easy to fall into the trap, though, of superhero + Happy Meal + Lego playset must = little kids, and when the ads target our kids directly like that it's difficult to avoid their influence. I admit I'm lucky in a way; my son has not inherited the family love of horror and prefers to avoid being scared, so I'm not subjected to much begging when it comes to borderline entertainment.

Perhaps it's just as simple as studios wanting to expand their audience, using McDonald's to entice little ones while simultaneously dangling the potential for nipples in front of older moviegoers. So they've even managed to turn the rating system that was envisioned as a protective measure to their advantage? It's disturbing.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Don't mind that sobbing coming from the corner. It's just my soul.

The story linked above:

Advocates Push for Simplified Spelling
Wednesday, July 05, 2006

WASHINGTON — When "say," "they" and "weigh" rhyme, but "bomb," "comb" and "tomb" don't, wuudn't it maek mor sens to spel wurdz the wae thae sound?

Those in favor of simplified spelling say children would learn faster and illiteracy rates would drop. Opponents say a new system would make spelling even more confusing.

Eether wae, the consept has yet to capcher th publix imajinaeshun.

It's been 100 years since Andrew Carnegie helped create the Simplified Spelling Board to promote a retooling of written English and President Theodore Roosevelt tried to force the government to use simplified spelling in its publications. But advocates aren't giving up.

They even picket the national spelling bee finals, held every year in Washington, costumed as bumble bees and hoisting signs that say "Enuf is enuf but enough is too much" or "I'm thru with through."

Thae sae th bee selebraets th ability of a fue stoodents to master a dificult sistem that stumps meny utherz hoo cuud do just as wel if speling were simpler.

"It's a very difficult thing to get something accepted like this," acknowledges Alan Mole, president of the American Literacy Council, which favors an end to "illogical spelling." The group says English has 42 sounds spelled in a bewildering 400 ways.

Americans doen't aulwaez go for whut's eezy — witnes th faeluer of th metric sistem to cach on. But propoenents of simpler speling noet that a smatering of aulterd spelingz hav maed th leep into evrydae ues.

Doughnut also is donut; colour, honour and labour long ago lost the British "u" and the similarly derived theatre and centre have been replaced by the easier-to-sound-out theater and center.

"The kinds of progress that we're seeing are that someone will spell night 'nite' and someone will spell through 'thru,'" Mole said. "We try to show where these spellings are used and to show dictionary makers that they are used so they will include them as alternate spellings."

Lurning English reqierz roet memory rather than lojic, he sed.

In languages with phonetically spelled words, like German or Spanish, children learn to spell in weeks instead of months or years as is sometimes the case with English, Mole said.

But education professor Donald Bear said to simplify spelling would probably make it more difficult because words get meaning from their prefixes, suffixes and roots.

"Students come to understand how meaning is preserved in the way words are spelled," said Bear, director of the E.L. Cord Foundation Center for Learning and Literacy at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Th cuntry's larjest teecherz uennyon, wuns a suporter, aulso objects.

Michael Marks, a member of the National Education Association's executive committee, said learning would be disrupted if children had to switch to a different spelling system. "It may be more trouble than it's worth," said Marks, a debate and theater teacher at Hattiesburg High School in Mississippi.

E-mail and text messages are exerting a similar tug on the language, sharing some elements with the simplified spelling movement while differing in other ways. Electronic communications stress shortcuts like "u" more than phonetics. Simplified spelling is not always shorter than regular spelling — sistem instead of system, hoep instead of hope.

Carnegie tried to moov thingz along in 1906 when he helpt establish and fund th speling bord. He aulso uezd simplified speling in his correspondens, and askt enywun hoo reported to him to do the saem.

A filanthropist, he becaem pashunet about th ishoo after speeking with Melvil Dewey, a speling reform activist and Dewey Desimal sistem inventor hoo simplified his furst naem bi droping "le" frum Melville.

Roosevelt tried to get the government to adopt simpler spellings for 300 words but Congress blocked him. He used simple spellings in all White House memos, pressing forward his effort to "make our spelling a little less foolish and fantastic."

The Chicago Tribune aulso got into th act, uezing simpler spelingz in th nuezpaeper for about 40 years, ending in 1975. Plae-riet George Bernard Shaw, hoo roet moest of his mateerial in shorthand, left muny in his wil for th development of a nue English alfabet.

Carnegie, Dewey, Roosevelt and Shaw's work followed attempts by Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Webster and Mark Twain to advance simpler spelling. Twain lobbied The Associated Press at its 1906 annual meeting to "adopt and use our simplified forms and spread them to the ends of the earth." AP declined.

But for aul th hi-proefiel and skolarly eforts, the iedeea of funy-luuking but simpler spelingz didn't captivaet the masez then — or now.

"I think that the average person simply did not see this as a needed change or a necessary change or something that was ... going to change their lives for the better," said Marilyn Cocchiola Holt, manager of the Pennsylvania department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Carnegie, hoo embraest teknolojy, died in in 1919, wel befor sel foenz went maenstreem. Had he livd, he probably wuud hav bin pleezd to no that milyonz of peepl send text and instant mesejez evry dae uezing thair oen formz of simplified speling: "Hav a gr8 day!"

First of all, the idiotic attempt at humor with the purposely misspelled sections grates, not only because it's stupid but because it encourages readers to see this idea as a harmless joke instead of something that should alarm them.

Second, I'm alarmed. I've been in the racket a long time, and this story exemplifies an all too common approach to education problems: If too many students are unsuccessful? Redefine success. It is shameful. Do we really want to combat illiteracy by legitimizing it? Throw up our hands and allow all written documents to devolve into chat room transcriptions? Because spelling is too hard?

I have a Ph.D. in English and I NEVER write without a dictionary on hand. Sometimes I'm not sure how to spell things. I look them up. How is that hard? I honestly don't understand.

You know how you learn to spell, in any language? You read. You don't need spelling drills or expensive software programs or flash cards. You READ. I know it can be tricky sometimes. SO WHAT?

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