Saturday, November 23, 2002

Rittenhouse Review on Republicans slipping protection for Eli Lilly from liability for their use of Thimerosal in vaccines, which may increase the incidence of autism, into, of all things, the Homeland Security Department bill. I guess Republicans just don't care about the security of the American people, or at least, the security that their pharmaceutical companies will have some financial incentive to make damn sure the drugs they peddle aren't giving American citizens developmental disorders. Disgusting. Truly. The Rittenhouse Review post also links to other relevant blogs that have more information.

Anyone who says that Republicans and Democrats are exactly the same, tell it to the parents of autistic children.

And speaking of product liability, here is an interesting post on the famous McDonald's coffee case. It seems even this classic example of the need for "tort reform" isn't as unreasonable as it sounds.
I've made a vow to start caring about my appearance again. Today I am wearing earrings for the first time in at least a year and a half. It was slightly traumatic getting the right earring in, as it always is when I haven't worn them for a while. (That's the ear that never healed right and has the scar.)
Oof, posting to my blog on a Saturday night. I'm taking a break from practicing my cello. I did social things earlier in the day, really I did. My old roommate Bobby popped into town; Katya alerted me to his presence at the Burritoville down the street, so I suprised him and we kibbitzed over Lost in Austins. It was fun. I like him; I wish I'd met more people like him while I was in New York...I also went on my Nerve date, at Mona Lisa Cafe. That was decent. Physically, I might have hoped he'd be cuter (but that's always the way when you extrapolate from photos), but he was definitely within range, depending on how many points he got for personality. We had an interesting, pleasant conversation, but here's the thing: I was definitely more than 50% responsible for how pleasant and interesting it was. Like, for example, we hunted around for weird animal shapes in our marble table, and that was fun, but I was the one who started that when I all of a sudden saw a dog wearing a cloak and carrying a dagger walking on its hind legs toward my Nerve date. He was totally into it, and found some animals of his own, which was definitely better than just shrugging and not looking for animals, but that's not the same as deciding to look for coffee table animals on your own. I'm so good at Nerve dates now, someone really has to be totally socially imcompetent to fail to talk to me (and occasionally they are just that bad). But I get tired of this. I want someone to be just as interesting as I am (difficult to achieve, but not impossible). He was smart and well read, and I did like his website, which definitely demonstrates creativity and whimsy and all that good stuff, but I want someone who's as thoughtful as I am, and who wears that on their sleeve. I get suspicious when I have to hunt around for someone's hidden depths, because that makes me think they're not there. Also, I would often ask him questions about himself, and he only seldom responded by asking me the reciprocal question. I don't think he was self-centered, he just didn't have a sense of how these things flow...I don't know. So I'm thinking if I see him again, I might have to make it clear it's not romantic. He might be a fun person to, I don't know, go to museums with. I did like him. We had a nice time chatting. So that's the roundup.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

I just wrote this letter:

I wasn’t sure whether I was going to bother responding to the Tapped post Victoria’s Secret and the “Bleat” it linked to until I read this last paragraph of the Bleat:

“I’ll admit there was something about the VS special that bothered me. Just now I wandered downstairs, and it was on the TV. One of the Supermodels was introducing Phil Collins.

”How many balding spud-shaped guys will see that and believe that they too will someday get an air-kiss from Heidi Klum, if they just learn to shout out interminable ballads?”

I’m sure it’s a joke. But what struck me about it is how both the Tapped writer and James Lileks--with their shrugging, good-humored, boys will be boys attitude--miss something about the Victoria’s Secret fashion show and the way it affects the world.

First I need to proffer several disclaimers to avoid being labeled as “shrewish” or “phallophobic.” My objection to this program (which I didn’t see; I don’t have a TV and wouldn’t have watched it, but I can easily make my point by picking up any Victoria’s Secret catalogue) is not about the lewdness of naked women on TV. Naked women don’t bother me. I like looking at naked women. I have to train myself to be polite and not stare at the women in my gym locker room. I’m straight, but their bodies interest me. I don’t walk around decrying the amount of sexuality in our culture, although it does bother me that women are so much more sexualized than men; the way to solve this problem, of course, is to have more naked men (preferably not staring blankly and stupidly at the camera with or without their tongues out—that’s not sexy in men and I have to admit, it diminishes my respect for men if/when they think that’s sexy in women). The more naked pictures of smart, witty, sexy men--say…oh…Ewan McGregor--are available the happier I’ll be. I don’t have a problem with male sexuality (except for the finding blank stupid stares sexy thing); I’m not threatened by it. I never met a man I couldn’t keep up with; in fact, they often have trouble keeping up with me. I am not afraid of penises; I welcome them into my life whenever they rear their heads, so to speak.

However, I do have a problem with Victoria’s Secret and their catalogs (I didn’t see the fashion show; I don't have a TV and wouldn't have watched if I did), and Lileks’s joke, because it alluded to pain that men would suffer over their bodies because they watched the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, finally goaded me to write. What I’m going to say is going to sound like I’m reciting straight from the Women’s Studies Handbook, which is perhaps because I am, but then I’m going to try to make it more vivid: the problem with the show is not just that it features naked women, but that it features naked women who all look one very difficult to attain way. Look at that photo on the CNN article of Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum, and think about whether you could tell their naked bodies apart if their skin color were the same. I think you’d be hard-pressed. I know, I know, you’ve heard it before.

But now I want to make something clear: the fact that this sounds trite and recitative doesn’t make it less true or important. I can tell you how important it is because I am a young woman, and the fact that my body does not look like theirs has caused me very profound emotional pain. I can remember an argument I had when I was six with a four year old girl: the four year old said she was fat, and looking at how much smaller she was than I, I comforted her: "you're not fat; I am," much to the horror of the summer program teacher looking on. I am hardly unique in this respect. Many of my intimates and I have been driven to try to starve ourselves, or induce vomiting, in an effort to look like Them. Even if you’re not one of the eating disorders statistics, it does not mean that your body hasn’t been a source of anguish.

It doesn’t matter how smart you are or whether you’ve taken a million women’s studies courses or can deconstruct each of the images that flashes before your eyes every three seconds the instant you’ve apprehended them. It goes too deep. Sometimes you can recognize that something is stupid, irrational, a socially conditioned belief that does you no good and probably doesn’t even reflect the way the opposite sex looks at you, but it just doesn’t matter; you still can’t banish it.

As for Lileks referring to the Victoria’s Secret models as “healthy, giggling girls” -–it’s probably comfortable for him to believe that what he finds so sexy is healthy, and it’s true that a few of them may look that way naturally, but a “healthy” majority have to restrict their eating in ways that are very unhealthy physically and mentally. That’s not even considering the issue of those unhealthy breast implants. They may not be carcinogenic the way they used to be, but going under general anesthesia and having your body cut open for no compelling reason just doesn’t get to count as healthy. Scroll down the CNN page to the second photo especially—there’s no way that’s what her body naturally looks like, or even that what she does to maintain that look could be remotely considered healthy.

Pain about one’s body is not limited to women, of course, and some women are resilient enough to be more immune to it than I am. However, in my experience, women are more affected by it than men because at bottom they believe that more of their worth hinges on their appearance. My guess is that even if you’re unlucky enough not to be able to croon interminable ballads, and thus never in your lifetime get an air kiss from Heidi Klum, you’ve never flipped through a Victoria’s Secret catalog in tears. I have.

I think it’s shallow, self-absorbed, and short-sighted not to consider this--not my tears in particular, but the tears of your daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, friends (usually I hate that formulation, but since I’m specifically addressing myself to oblivious men, it’s okay)--as you wink-wink nudge-nudge about mentally programming your TiVo or catching a few minutes in between Golden Girls episodes—it’s one thing to make whatever jokes you want to when you’re in the company of men, but especially on a widely read political blog, it’s irresponsible just to joke about how horny you are without genuinely considering even for a moment the effect this program (and the thousands like it) will have on women. I know my criticism was not the specific objection of the protesters you were responding to; all the same, if you’re going to talk about Victoria’s Secret; you should consider this issue. This sentence (on Lileks’ post) was especially offensive: “Some people have lives so soft and comfy they have the luxury of being offended by a bra parade.” No, I don’t think my life is as hard as some Guatemalan peasant woman who has watched her husband and children killed in front of her. There will always be a hierarchy of suffering, and some people will always suffer more than you, some will always suffer less. It doesn’t make the pain endured by (yes, materially comfortable) women and girls less worthy of consideration.

Does this mean that no one should ever be able to see pretty girls in their skivvies? No. What could Victoria’s Secret do? They could stop being so absurdly narrow about what constitutes pretty. There are a lot of really sexy women in the world who don’t fit into that mold. I’m sure you, Bleater, and you, Tapped, know this, because you’ve slept with them! To the extent that men think that very skinny women with very big breasts (okay, sometimes very skinny women with smaller breasts are allowed into the club) are the prettiest kind there is (and I’m not sure how many men do think this), obviously that’s mostly socially conditioned, and it could be changed if the media decided to get a little more socially responsible, but that’s probably like waiting for Rush Limbaugh to give Al Gore a big sloppy tongue kiss on Meet the Press. But if any of the execs are reading this, here’s what you could do, Victoria’s Secret: you could start showing other kind of sexy women on your program--and I’m not talking some kind of politically correct all bodies are equally beautiful let’s not talk about the fact that it really is unhealthy to way 300 pounds bullshit—maybe some of the women featured could range up to (gasp!) size 8 or 10 instead of the current 0-2? Those women could look good in lingerie too, and it might send a message that what is beautiful is can vary. The stunning, deadening sameness of the models, creating an ideal that is literally impossible to attain for the vast majority of women without the aid of lots of surgery and extraordinarily restrictive diets, only reinforces millions of women’s conviction that their worth as human beings is drastically reduced because they don’t look like them. Once again, I cannot emphasize enough how untrivial is the effect of this conviction on female psyches. There’s no way to abolish all hierarchies of beauty in society, and I’m hardly sure that would even be a good thing. But we could try promoting a reasonable diversity. We’d all admit it was pretty fucked up if society said (as indeed it once did) that only white women could be celebrated for being beautiful. Why is it okay that Renee Zellweger couldn’t get on the cover of a fashion magazine when she gained her Bridget Jones weight (not a lot!) or that a panoply of beautiful women in a fashion show can only include those who weigh less than 110 lbs.?

And though my current fixation is Ewan McGregor, I did have a huge crush on Roberto Benigni. I wouldn’t mind seeing him naked either.


Katie S.

New York, NY
Abbott and Costello in China

Playwright Jim Sherman wrote this the other day after Hu Jintao was named chief of
the Communist Party in China.

Cast: President George Bush; National Security Advisor Condoleezza "Condi" Rice

(We take you now to the Oval Office.)
George: Condi! Nice to see you. What's happening?
Condi: Sir, I have the report here about the new leader of China.
George: Great. Lay it on me.
Condi: Hu is the new leader of China.
George: That's what I want to know.
Condi: That's what I'm telling you.
George: That's what I'm asking you. Who is the new leader of China?
Condi: Yes.
George: I mean the fellow's name.
Condi: Hu.
George: The guy in China.
Condi: Hu.
George: The new leader of China.
Condi: Hu.
George: The Chinaman!
Condi: Hu is leading China.
George: Now whaddya' asking me for?
Condi: I'm telling you Hu is leading China.
George: Well, I'm asking you. Who is leading China?
Condi: That's the man's name.
George: That's who's name?
Condi: Yes.
George: Will you or will you not tell me the name of the new leader
Condi: Yes, sir.
George: Yassir? Yassir Arafat is in China? I thought he was in the
Condi: That's correct.
George: Then who is in China?
Condi: Yes, sir.
George: Yassir is in China?
Condi: No, sir.
George: Then who is?
Condi: Yes, sir.
George: Yassir?
Condi: No, sir.
George: Look, Condi. I need to know the name of the new leader of
China. Get
me the Secretary General of the U.N. on the phone.
Condi: Kofi?
George: No, thanks.
Condi: You want Kofi?
George: No.
Condi: You don't want Kofi.
George: No. But now that you mention it, I could use a glass of milk.
then get me the U.N.
Condi: Yes, sir.
George: Not Yassir! The guy at the U.N.
Condi: Kofi?
George: Milk! Will you please make the call?
Condi: And call who?
George: Who is the guy at the U.N?
Condi: Hu is the guy in China.
George: Will you stay out of China?!
Condi: Yes, sir.
George: And stay out of the Middle East! Just get me the guy at the
Condi: Kofi.
George: All right! With cream and two sugars. Now get on the phone.
(Condi picks up the phone.)
Condi: Rice, here.
George: Rice? Good idea. And a couple of egg rolls, too. Maybe we
send some to the guy in China. And the Middle East. Can you get
Chinese food in
the Middle East?

It's very cute, but it's suspiciously similar to an SNL routine I saw once parodying Reagan that also took advantage of "Yassir" and the name of the then-Secretary of the Interior, James Watt ("What?").
More great stuff from The New Republic. Evangelical Environmental Network asks, "What Would Jesus Drive?"
Peter Beinart tells it like it is about corporate tax evasion and the Department of Homeland Security. So depressing.
Those damn left-wingers, blaming America for terrorist attacks. (via Joe Conason).

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

I never wrote about filming Strictly Personal. I perhaps never even mentioned that I'd decided to do it at home or my date for filming had been set. Indeed it had, for last Saturday. After I made my appointment, I realized I had a hair crisis on my hands. My hair hadn't been cut in over seven months and I looked like a ragamuffin. I usually get my hair cut at the Aveda salon on Spring Street where you can get $15 student haircuts, but I called them and they were backed up till January. All the salons I called started at $75, which I just think is an exorbitant amount to charge for a haircut (though apparently many people in my office, including people with weenie admin salaries like mine, pay that much), especially for what I wanted, which was my bangs trimmed and a blunt cut across the bottom. The girl I detest, you know, the non-voter, told me I just had to get a razor cut or else my follicles would be crazy and freaked out only two days after my haircut and my hair wouldn't fall right. But that, of course, would cost more money than I wanted to pay. A coworker I like a lot better called her hairdresser and asked him to recommend someone, but he couldn't. I was utterly despairing, convinced that I would have to either pay $75 or go on TV with raggedy hair, and I bemoaned my fate to my boss Isabelle, when she, of all people had the solution: her hairdresser, worked out of his home on the Upper West Side, took clients on short notice, and only charged $25. Indeed he did, and I got an appointment that Friday. He was the prototypical gay hairdresser, greeting my in black mid calf length leggings and a sleeveless pink shirt that showed off his scrawny freckled arms and his somewhat generous belly to perfection. He had an earring and a little mustache. His apartment was very posh, chandeliers, elegant velvet furniture, the works, and I wondered how someone who charges $25 for a haircut managed to afford it...maybe he's invested, maybe he inherited; it's hard for me to imagine, considering his looks, that he has a lover who supports him, although who knows? We watched Designing Women while he cut my hair.

With my newly split-end free and shoulder length coif, I was ready to film on Saturday. The short story is, it was silly in all the ways I thought it would be.

Them: What's that bottle on that shelf?

Me [holding the bottle and looking straight into the camera like I'm about to tell it how soft Palmolive makes my hands] I was rowing in Central Park one day when I saw this bottle. It looked like it might have a message in it, so I rowed over. Instead of a message, a great significant communication from afar, I found this torn advertisement. It reminded me of The Great Gatsby when instead of the eyes of God, the eyes of T.J. Eckleberg, an advertisement, preside over the events. It was one of those symbolic postmodern moments. Oy, it smells. I shouldn't open it.

Them: That's great, can you make that shorter?

(They have to cut, like, every eight seconds.)

They also cajoled me into saying things that were more sexual than I wanted to on TV. They kept asking, "Do you have a goody drawer?" I was envisioning some kind of chest filled with kazoos and silly putty and Groucho Marx glasses. Finally I asked, "What exactly is a goody drawer?" "You know, like, sex toys," they said. OOOHHH. I told them I had a vibrator, but I didn't really like it, and I wanted a new one. "Will you say that for the camera?" they asked. I didn't want to. "Come on, it might get you a date," the camera guy cajoled. (The other one was a woman.) I don't really want to date someone who wouldn't want to date me until I said I owned a vibrator and then all of a sudden would. But I relented. I drew the line, however, at showing them my vibrator, which was their next request. I did, however, wiggle my behind for them while wearing the lobster costume that I made for the Scrabble Player when we went to the Mermaid Parade. (I'd met him for lunch on Friday to borrow it back from him since I figured it would make a good visual and it represented me more than most of the stuff that's in Ulrike's apartment.) They also made me twirl around on my bed with a scarf. You seem like the kind of person who likes to cut loose, they said. Of course I am, but not when it's totally contrived. I think I would have done a better job at the filming if I'd gone in thinking, I'm going to act now, rather than, I'm going to be myself now. As myself, I was flummoxed by having to repeat things over and over and contrived scarf twirling. Acting I think it might have been easier. Anyway, I'll have to wait till it airs to survey the damage.
Here is something cool. It's by someone I'm actually going on a Nerve date with, after many moons of internet celibacy. I hadn't updated my ad in a long time, but I had unhidden it for some purpose or other. He must have flipped through a lot of ads to get to mine. He's tree_house, if you wanna look him up.
Must blog, or my flock will forget I exist and wander off to the wolves.

Here's a good story:

The other night at my cello lesson I was talking about positive experiences I'd had with cellos, and I said I'd seen a string quartet (I picked that term somewhat arbitrarily because he had just been talking about a string quartet; I wasn't really thinking about the composition of the instruments) play at Columbus Circle the weekend after September 11th, and it was very moving to me. Was it five cellos? my teacher asked. I said maybe; I really don't remember exactly. Could it have been the Saturday? he asked. Yeah, I said, I don't remember what day. And then my cello teacher told me that he had been playing with four other cellists at Columbus Circle that weekend. They couldn't give blood, and they wanted to do something, so they went out and played. So I think it was probably my cello teacher I saw. Isn't that cosmic? He really did accomplish what he set out to do, which was help the city after September 11th, because I was one of the city residents who heard him, and it was balm for my soul, or something like that. Wait, no "something like that." It just was. I remember sitting there on that sunny day and thinking how beautiful New Yorkers and New York were and crying.

I'm really paranoid that whenever my cello teacher says something positive about my pace of learning it's just a pedagogical technique and he's really thinking horrible thoughts about me. I also compulsively stick my tongue out whenever I'm playing the cello in front of him and I wind up with drool all over my chin. I used to do that when I was trying to learn to drive, too.

And I'm going to start learning to drive again, so maybe my tongue muscle will get so elongated that it permanently flops out of my mouth.