Saturday, September 30, 2006
If you're unfamiliar with how missed connections work, the concept is deceptively simple: a brief craigslist post, as descriptive or esoteric as you desire, that declares your flaming passion for your gay TA, your crush on the tattooed chick who sells you coffee every morning, or your fleeting memory of the lanky bicyclist who caught your eye on Chapel Street.
When I lived in New York this summer, I read the Manhattan page religiously, my fingers crossed that I would someday spark the distant affections of a passing stranger. And then it happened: In late July, I saw a post one morning that was unmistakenly for me--"Asian or maybe half-Asian, early 20's women, pink blouse and black skirt, white Time Warner tote bag, getting off of the F train at the Rockefeller Center at 9:45 a.m."
My heart stopped; I responded. He emailed me back, and I learned that my no-longer-secret admirer was a 26 year old lawyer. I facebooked him, and learned that he was a Harvard '02 alumnus. I googled him, and learned that he wrote for a Harvard newspaper. I googled him some more and discovered that he was a raging conservative, and the publication was the Harvard Salient. Needless to say, my "cinematic" romance never passed the opening credits.
It feels cliche to attribute the decline of courtship to the too-much-information age, but I can't recall a recent romantic interest who I haven't submitted to some form of cyber-scanning. I can facebook-stalk fellow Yalies, urban twenty-somethings still use friendster, and my high school friends and illiterate hipster accquaintances are inexplicably devoted to that horrific rat's nest of design flaws, myspace. Simply put, I will know within ten minutes if you're worth giving a shit about. Nick Hornsby's books taught me that pop culture and literature and music ought not be conflated with (or obstruct) love, but it's pretty goddamn unlikely I'll fall in love with a dude whose favorite movie is Anchorman.
So the next question is, does the technological filter of romance reduce our chances at making connections, or fine-tune them?
I'm going to stop writing this shit before I really start feeling like Carrie Bradshaw.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Addendum: While going back to this image, I noticed that its part of a collection of wikipedia graphics called Featured Pictures. This is a really neat idea, albeit still in its infancy, and I like the way they describe the determinants of admission to the collection: "images that we find beautiful, shocking, impressive, and informative."
Wikipedians can argue over the listings here.
Some of the ones I especially liked:
-broccoli that makes you think of math
-some smily, tawny kids in Jakarta
-a heap of buffalo skulls
-an old man running a 100-year old fair booth
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Monday, September 25, 2006
"I have never wanted to use girls that are too skinny. I prefer girls that show off my clothes in the best way," Armani told Reuters Television.
"Unfortunately though, the stylists and also the media have interfered and they now want models that are incredibly thin."
Yeah, Giorgio. This model in your 2006 collection--pictured at right--is far from incredibly thin. What a heifer.
The backlash from the modeling world and the media over Spain's recent ban on supermodels with unhealthy BMI levels sheds light on a larger issue at hand, which is our culture's refusal to acknowledge the growing pervasiveness of anorexia. At Fox News, Bill O'Reilly interviewed Robin Hazelwood, Yale graduate and ex-model.
O'REILLY: Yes, I mean, I agree with you that the Anna Wintours — is that how you say her name?
HAZELWOOD: Anna Wintour.
O'REILLY: Whatever. All of those people have got to wise up. I mean, because I'll tell you what. I don't know anything about women's clothes, thank God. I only have five pairs of shoes. That's the kind of guy I am.
But as just a human being, I don't want to see a woman who's 5'9" and 110 pounds.
O'REILLY: That's not attractive.
Aside from the scapegoating--Armani blaming the media, the media blaming modeling agencies, everyone blaming Anna Wintour--the broader issue, I think, is the conflation of anorexia and bulimia with extreme mental aberration (not an uncommon anti-feminist tactic). This is something I ranted about in a spring review of The Real World. It's far too easy to discount a societal problem that victimizes women by pegging it on a handful of outstanding cases.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
I tend to agree. The alleged sinfulness of cliches--a book in the high school English gospel along with the Infallible Five Paragraph Essay and the Vital Topic Sentence--is something I never really bought into. Cliches are appropriate in the correct context. They feel awkward in realistic fiction because they ring false in dialogue and description; in non-fiction, they can convey humor and voice; in long form articles, they can ground and simplify unfamiliar topics.
One cliche I have always hated, however, is the phrase "through the eyes of the child." An example: "His near death experience renewed his sense of wonder and his lust for life, enabling him to see the world through the eyes of a child."
Bullshit. I don't recall possessing a greater degree of awe or reverence as a child; if anything, I was more irreverent as a little girl. On our various cross-country treks between military bases, my parents forced my brother and I to endure countless trips to this country's monuments, musems, and parks. When I try to remember these experiences, however, the only memories that come to mind are things like gift shops--a blurry mental filmstrip of a glass vial of ash from Mount St. Helens , a Yosemite coloring book, and my Grand Canyon snowglobe. Fuck the Badlands: I wanted the Badlands t-shirt.
This afternoon, as I walked home on Lynwood Place, I felt unusually attuned to the physical details of my surroundings. I'm not sure why; it may have been because the early autumn weather was so beautiful, and I wasn't in a hurry, and the leaves were turning and falling. But lingering on mundanities like wind-beaten, gnarled wood, grass sprouting through cracks in the sidewalk, and a satiny beetle crawling over a branch makes me feel more like my childhood self than anything else.
In actuality, seeing with a childlike perspective is not a matter of greater reverence, or less intellect, or innocence--it's a matter of scope. As a little girl swimming in hand me-down overalls and huge white sneakers (see picture), the end of the street delineated the farthest bounds of my vision, both physically and metaphorically. The minutiae of my neighborhood--the fenceposts, drains, climbing trees--were the objects of my knowledge, a tiny kingdom for a six year old queen.
Monday, September 18, 2006
Well, the civil war appears to be over. And Islamism won it. The loser, moderate Islam, is always deceptively well-represented on the level of the op-ed page and the public debate; elsewhere, it is supine and inaudible. We are not hearing from moderate Islam. Whereas Islamism, as a mover and shaper of world events, is pretty well all there is.Amis pairs this appraisal with a critique of Western moral passivity and laziness, couched in occasionally deadpan rhetoric.
Male Westerners will be struck, here, by a dramatic cultural contrast. I know that I, for one, would be far more likely to beat my wife to death if she hadn't answered the telephone. But customs and mores vary from country to country, and you cannot reasonably claim that one ethos is 'better' than any other.My initial problem with the article was that it seemed 1) overly sensationalist and 2) guilty of generalization (two flaws that often come hand in hand). During my second read, however, I felt as though someone had gone through the text with a hi-liter pen and marked the moments that betray a secondary layer of meaning: Amis' implicit distrust and distaste for pluralism--buried within an ostensibly liberal agenda.
Our ideology, which is sometimes called Westernism, weakens us in two ways. It weakens our powers of perception, and it weakens our moral unity and will. As Harris puts it:
'Sayyid Qutb, Osama bin Laden's favourite philosopher, felt that pragmatism would spell the death of American civilisation... Pragmatism, when civilisations come clashing, does not appear likely to be very pragmatic. To lose the conviction that you can actually be right - about anything - seems a recipe for the End of Days chaos envisioned by Yeats: when "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity".'
It seems fitting that a writer whose prose relies on generalizations would also prefer sweeping moral and cultural axioms. More interesting, however, was Amis' bio, which I subsequently read in wikipedia.
Aha, I thought--of course a writer who hates postmodern lit would also hate multiculturalism, relativism, localism. But are the two necessarily connected? Establishing a correlation between literary and political tastes seems dangerous, and sheds light on the stumbling blocks I initially faced with my senior thesis.
Like deconstruction--and the two are not one and the same--postmodernism regularly takes a (reductive) beating in the media. As Rapaport writes in The Theory Mess, David Lehman's definition of deconstruction as "a controversial analytics method which turns literature into a play of words, robbing it of any broader significance" gained currency because it appeared in Newsweek (1988).
My friend Matt Morello sent me a link to this article, which appeared in today's Times. In his review of Frank Rich's The Greatest Story Ever Sold, an account of the Bush administration's fraudulent rationale for going to war, Ian Buruma begins by writing:
What is fascinating about the era of George W. Bush, however, is that the spinmeisters, fake news reporters, photo-op creators, disinformation experts, intelligence manipulators, fictional heroes and public relations men posing as commentators operate in a world where virtual reality has already threatened to eclipse empirical investigation.
Remember that White House aide, quoted by Rich in his introduction, who said that a “judicious study of discernible reality” is “not the way the world really works anymore”? For him, the “reality-based community” of newspapers and broadcasters is old hat, out of touch, even contemptible in “an empire” where “we create our own reality.” This kind of official arrogance is not new, of course, although it is perhaps more common in dictatorships than in democracies. What is disturbing is the way it matches so much else going on in the world: postmodern debunking of objective truth, bloggers and talk radio blowhards driving the media, news organizations being taken over by entertainment corporations and the profusion of ever more sophisticated means to doctor reality.
Like Amis, we have another writer who is suspicious of postmodernism--not necessarily a bad thing. I googled Buruma, and found a link to this article--also in the Observer, published in 2001
The dek reads:
They are free to speak their minds, so why don't western thinkers tell the truth about tyranny in the Muslim world?To again return to the question between literary and political beliefs: Is Buruma (in today's article) shrouding a political remonstration in a book revew? And, as Matt wrote in his email, "Why so much hate for postmodernism? Don't these people read Stanley Fish?"
Sunday, September 17, 2006
"Voting is an integral part of being a student at ASU," said Isaac Kimes, student campaign coordinator for the group, which works in conjunction with Undergraduate Student Government to register voters.
The goal is to register 5,500 student voters - the number of votes by which Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, won the 2002 election - and educate them on election issues from a nonpartisan stance, Kimes said.
"We wanted to show that student votes are significant because they could swing the election," he said.
In other news, my brother is pretty awesome.
During my quotidian "funny clip" search--we bashful types often have to resort to the macabre, the humorous, and the just plain bizarre to sustain conversation--I came across this piece, which can best be summed as: "Boozehounds make more dough." According to a study published by the Reason Foundation, a sort of sketchy-looking libertarian think tank, men who drink make 10% more than abstainers, and female lushes make a whopping 14% more than their sober counterparts.
However, unlike men, who get a seven percent income boost from drinking in bars, women who frequent bars at least once per month do not show higher earnings than women drinkers who do not visit bars.While the "news" isn't particularly striking--unless one reads between the lines and recalls the Libertarian initiative to lower the drinking age--it reminded me of a Time article I read in July, a piece by the indomitable Barbara Ehrenreich titled "Guys Just Wanna Have More Fun (And They Know Exactly What They're Doing).""Perhaps women increase social capital apart from drinking in bars," the researchers said in an effort to explain the gender gap.
Ehrenreich first points out the growing female majority in higher education, coyly noting:
But that was an era when the cool kids smoked Gauloises and argued about Kierkegaard and Trotsky. Today, as two recent reports have revealed, it's the girls who achieve and the boys who coast along on gut courses congenial to hangovers.In her analysis of the "coming matriarchy," she alludes to the recent omnipresence of dominant female characters in film--I can't hate a cultural critic who cites Owen Wilson--then ruefully concludes that "the boys still know what they're doing." The article is a plug for her new nonfiction book; after infiltrating corporate America, Ehrenreich says, she learned that little things like grades, quantitative achivements, and work experience are playing second fiddle to intangible "personality factors."
I was shocked to find the emphasis entirely on such elusive qualities as "personality," "attitude" and "likability." Play down the smarts, the career coaches and self-help books advised, cull the experience and exude a "positive attitude."For those of us who scratch our heads at the frat boy culture that permeates the financial arena--a generalization, I know--this isn't surprising. Reading the piece, however, and mulling over my impending departure from the university for a world where "networking" matters a great deal was a bit dispiriting.
Bitch and moan about the injustices of Yale--and there are plenty--but rue the loss of its classrooms' relative meritocracy. As an introvert whose preferred form of communication is the email, I know I will.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
As a (dilettante) student of literary theory, I often find myself most enchanted by the moments in which critical luminaries grant us glimpses of their individual, bad-mannered personae--the lapses in objectivity where petty grievances, self-conscious rejoinders, and biases are hung out to dry, textually.
One frequent perpetrator is Derrida; in light of his own writings on the impossibility of genuine self-referentiality, J.D's willingness to infuse his own written responses (and defenses) with self-aware humor and sardonicism is noteworthy--and, of course, probably deliberate.
"Here, once again, if one relies on this ignorant and aberrant reading of 'Deconstruction' or of my 'practice,' I have no way out. Whenever such a reader cannot deny my attention to context, to history, to biography, and so on, then s/he reproaches me for not being faithful to what s/he believes to be my 'practice' or my 'theory'...Faced with those who do not want or do not know how to read, I confess I am powerless."What a dick, right?
-Derrida, Biodegradables (1989)
Aside from the obviously negative ramifications of over-glamorizing an academic figure, Herman Rapaport points out another deleterious effect of the phenomenon in The Theory Mess (2001), an interesting book I recently read in preparation for my senior essay. The Theory Mess is subtitled "Deconstruction in Eclipse;" Rapaport provides a short history of the criticism (and misreading) of deconstruction, beginning with Jameson's misreading of the system as a "prison house of language" (an erroneous summation that, like most criticisms, ignore Derrida's writings on contextuality).
Rapaport breaks down--notice I didn't say deconstruct; I'm constantly annoyed by the misuse of that verb--the political rationale for this "eclipsing," pointing to the ascent of the academic celebrity.
A useful analogy, I think, would be the attainment of hip hop celebrity. There are three types of hip hop feuds:
1. Collaborators Who Split: MF Doom and GM Grimm, 50 Cent and the Game
2. All Stars vs. Ea. Other: Jay Z and Nas, Lil Kim and Foxy Brown
3. Up and Comer Takes on Celebrity: Yukmouth vs. G-Unit
Case 3 exemplifies the fallout of celebrity that Rapaport problematizes. There are gold digging ho's--a subculture that it's safe to say will never flourish in academia--and glory digging backstabbers (like Yukmouth). While Meyer Abrams and Gerald Graff didn't craft battle rhymes or tape insulting videos about J.D., it's clear that celebrity is more easily achieved via overt dissent than subtle argument, even in the academic world. Rapaport's general criticism (and one of the blames he places on Abrams and Graff) is that the desire for stardom yields heated polemics rather than close readings and careful research.
Sadly, I still crave the moments in my readings when the grouchy, verbose authors set aside their close readings and careful research and bitch slap each other.
On a tangential note to the subject of celebrity, I ran into Ned Lamont on Wall Street today. Dude is tan.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Sunday, September 10, 2006
My latest obsession: tailrank. I'm pretty far behind the loop on this one, but I'll pay homage anyways. Tailrank's a metafilter that scours blogs--both liberal and conservative--for mentions of the most relevant news stories; the ones that have the most posts trickle upwards. You can also customize the filter, tailoring the feed to your own topical intolerances and petty tastes.
Unsurprisingly, one of the most discussed stories today is the disgusting GOP smear campaign, or the party's huge investment in advertisements that will use information derived from "oppositional research."
Republicans plan to attack Democratic candidates over their voting records, business dealings, and legal tussles, the GOP officials said.
Luckily, the regular old news will suffice to demonstrate the scapegoating, lying, and attempts to reshape temporality that are occurring on the other side.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
On the night of my birthday, we went to Chow, a pan-asian tapas restaurant that I panned in the Yale Herald a year or two ago. The food was fine, if a bit overpriced and self-consciously "fusion."
More laughable was the awkward three-piece band that camped out about two inches behind our heads. Pictured are myself and Chad, "rocking out" to their Adult Alternative stylings.
Not pictured is a middle-aged fellow with a graying ponytail and a Stevie Nicks t-shirt, bobbing his head and swaying ever so gently to the tunes.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
1. You are walking by the halfway houses on Edgewood.
2. The homeless guy who looks like Boris Yeltsin just dropped his frappucino.
3. A acapella group is strolling by, jauntily swigging from handles of flavored vodka and Smirnoff Ice.
Strangely, however, the screecher was none of these Haven-archetypes; he was a fairly clean-looking young male--backwards cap, wife beater, sagging jeans--walking alone and yelling at inanimate objects.
"Fuck you, FIRE HYDRANT, you think you're so RED!"
"EAT shit, fence, you can't stop anything!"
While I debated whether or not to side-shuffle to the other side of the street and avoid an interaction, he spotted me. At this point, I caught a glimpse of his crazy eyes.
"YALE bbbitch! Yo bitch you can pass the SAT's but you can't pass the STREET smarts!"
Apparently "street smarts" compel white guys to dress like Marky Mark, circa 1994.