Friday, December 20, 2002

More on the WTC designs: I'm glad to see the New York Times architecture critic shared my enthusiasm for the vision and creativity of the plans in general and my partiaity for the Libeskind design in particular. I've gone back to that site several times to look at the Libeskind design, and I love it more and more each time I look. The Times critic raises the possibility that what will be built there will be better than what came before. I always thought the World Trade Center was ugly. They were two featureless rectangles that seemed to be tall for the sake of being tall, perhaps for maximizing office space. You could almost understand what would make someone want to knock them down; they didn't conjure words like "beautiful" or "aspirant", but rather "overweening" and "dehumanizing." They seemed to ignore everything around them; they were totally out of context and they didn't care. But one of the brilliancies of the Libeskind design is that it puts the tallest skyscraper in the world smack dab in the middle of the other squat little buildings in downtown Manhattan, but it also provides the context in the form of the other raked towers. It's as if the other towers in the Libeskind design are there providing support so that the tallest can tower above, but in a sense upon, their shoulders. The tallest thrusts upward, spurred on by the energy of the city at large, not imposing upon it. Now that's what I call a vision for a new downtown.

Go Libeskind!
You know, the first time I took this quiz, Unitarian edged out Secular Humanism. I wonder what I did differently this time. Here are my results:

1. Secular Humanism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (96%)
3. Liberal Quakers (83%)
4. Neo-Pagan (79%)
5. Nontheist (78%)
6. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (76%)
7. Orthodox Quaker (70%)
8. Sikhism (70%)
9. Bahá'í Faith (67%)
10. Theravada Buddhism (65%)
11. New Age (63%)
12. Taoism (61%)
13. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (60%)
14. Reform Judaism (60%)
15. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (51%)
16. Mahayana Buddhism (50%)
17. Scientology (50%)
18. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (49%)
19. Eastern Orthodox (45%)
20. Islam (45%)
21. Jainism (45%)
22. Orthodox Judaism (45%)
23. Roman Catholic (45%)
24. New Thought (45%)
25. Seventh Day Adventist (37%)
26. Hinduism (35%)
27. Jehovah's Witness (21%)

I’m sure it’s pretty right on; I describe myself all the time as a secular humanist and lord knows I wouldn’t want to be a Jehovah’s Witness, but it seems to me this quiz misses the point of religion a little. Or at least, it misses the point of religion as I see it from my external, yet oddly envious, vantage. The only way your professed faith will exactly coincide with what you believe is if you were raised in that faith and thoroughly indoctrinated (as I effectively have been raised and indoctrinated in the secular humanist “faith”), and in that case, you don’t need the quiz to help you self-identify; I knew I was a secular humanist before I took it. In some other cases, you might be casting about for a faith or you might be a conflicted member of an organized religion and have some arguments with its basic tenets. But in those cases, do you really want to choose a religion (or switch to a religion) just because it matches your preconceived notions? Isn’t the nature of religion that its adherents make the effort to bend their perceptions to its teachings, to be instructed and improved by a wisdom far greater than theirs, perhaps in the process opening themselves up to the possibility of contact with a being or force that is beyond their ability to fully understand or perceive? If you think religion exists just to confirm what you already think, it seems to me you don’t want religion.

I’ve been entranced by the whole notion of faith for a while now, because I think there’s something in it that’s truly alien to me. I was raised to analyze, to critique, to try to determine what I thought of things, but I have no idea how one would go about opening oneself up to the entrance of something vaster and more powerful than one's individual perception, something that might be called the divine. As a matter of fact, I don’t really believe that thing exists, but, like Mulder I guess, I want to believe.

A few months ago I started listening to the song Mister Tambourine Man with attention, and I would be moved to tears every time I heard it. The singer in that song wants to believe in salvation, and the Tambourine Man is his savior. He’s praying for it, for Him, but it’s a prayer he can’t believe even when he’s praying.

That's how I interpret:

And if you hear vague traces of skipping reels of rhyme
To your tambourine in time
I wouldn't pay it anymind
It's just a ragged clown behind
and if to you he seems blind, I wouldn't worry, it's just a shadow that he's
seeing that he's chasing

I read those as Bob addressing the Tambourine Man, saying, don't worry about the clown (Bob himself), he's only chasing a shadow. But then, since he's chasing the Tambourine Man, the Tambourine Man must be only a shadow, not a real thing. However, as I type this, I realize that's not the only way to read it. Just because Bob can only see the shadow and not the real Tambourine Man, that doesn't mean the real Tambourine Man doesn't exist (my friend Jen, when she heard my description of that song as “a prayer you can’t believe even when you’re praying,” responded, “what means this ‘believe’ and where can I buy it?” And then said she didn’t think there was any point in praying to something you could believe, because if you can truly believe something, it means you can understand it; it has definition, and God wouldn’t bother with anything you could draw without him, which of course is why I dismiss that silly quiz. She said that praying is asking God to complete the thought you can’t express without Him. Maybe that’s what Bob is doing, asking for the Tambourine Man to appear and tell him how to join in the music and achieve grace).

I find these lines more perplexing than anything else in the song:

Though you might hear laughing spinning swinging madly cross the sun
It's not aimed at anyone
It's just escaping on the run
And but for the sky there are no fences facing

They express limitlessness when everything else is about limits….

There is an excruciatingly moving passage in The Satanic Verses in which the zamindar of an Indian town sits in his burning house crying and faithless, everyone else in his town having abandoned him, either to drown or to partake of a miracle, pass through the Arabian see, and ascend to someplace inaccessible to him (one can’t be quite sure) until the prophetess Ayesha appears to him in a vision, and he's drowning and she's drowning, and she says to him “open, open wide,” and then at the instant that his heart breaks, he opens, and he can partake of the miracle and pass through the Arabian Sea. A few days after I read that passage, I had a nightmare that the apocalypse was upon us, although oddly, it was confined to Manhattan. Divine agents of destruction were rampaging throughout the city; I lived in an apartment that looked oddly like a bar. I wanted to stay indoors but Azrael, driving a 16 wheeler, took a sharp right turn straight through the glass wall (“those who live in glass houses”?) of my apartment in an effort to kill me and thus deliver me to God’s judgment. I escaped outside, where hailstones the size of large boulders were raining down and crushing cars and people alike. Cut, and I’m with Caroline in a car, trying to escape from Manhattan and the Apocalypse, but were driving on a freeway that’s shaped like on of those circular MC Escher structures that gives the illusion of upward progress, but you always wind up at the bottom again. Cut again and I’m floating with Caroline in the flood waters that will bring the final end of time. I want her to stay with me, but she wants to die alone, and I understand when she says it that it’s for the best. She floats away. A silver tidal wave obscures the entire sky, it crests, and then begins falling. It was so high at the point of its crest that even though its roar is already deafening it will fall for several minutes before it crashes upon me. I still have time before I drown. I know that what I have to do to be saved is accept god, so I repeat the words from The Satanic Verses, “Open, open wide” over and over again. I make myself keep my eyes open. I keep trying to open. The tidal wave crashes. Cut. It’s the next morning. Manhattan is soggy and battered, but definitely still extant. The sun shinesThe apocalypse hasn’t ended time. The newspaper headlines read: First the Twin Towers, then the Apocalypse. What will New York go through next?”

I don’t know quite what to make of my dream, but I think it’s an indication of how deeply that passage from TSV affected me. It made me believe (or want to believe) that there was something more beautiful in the world that I could imagine, and that I would never see it because I could never be self negating enough to look.

Then I read an interview with S. Rushdie and I was somewhat surprised to find he was a semi-dogmatic secular humanist (imagine there's no heaven and then the sky's your limit, he said). Surprised because I've never read a more moving, entrancing depiction of what it would be to come to faith, so I would have thought he himself valued it a little more. But after all, I am a secular humanist. Why did I sort of feel betrayed that Rushdie was so flip in commanding me to deny the existence of heaven. From whence comes my envy of the faithful, and what is it really? I think it must be wrapped up in the appeal of submission. Isn't that what "Islam" means, roughly sort of? The passage from TSV even brings the sexual element into the submission of faith (in the command to open and in the apparition of the divine as “tentacles of light”). Art also requires submission, as argued by the Salon article I read that worried about a new tyranny of personal preference in art that could ultimately lead to choose your own adventure style movies, rather than submission to the vision of the artist. Maybe the appeal of faith for me would be like the appeal of art, except the truth you try to yield to wouldn't be some fleeting piece of it, but It, essential.

A survey in the Onion A.V. Club a few months ago asked entertainers to say whether or not they thought there was a god. Most of the secular humanist types in the onion article were saying that the hardest thing to do was to believe that you were responsible for yourself, but for those of us who were raised to be rationalists, that's not hard at all. The idea that there is no God and I make my meaning is my broccoli and tofu. Something would be miraculous about being able to know one thing and yet believe the opposite, to make yourself bend to an idea rather than constructing the idea yourself (okay, I realize that most of my ideas are not in fact self constructed, but they feel like they are. I don't have the sensation of suspending my rational faculty and allowing myself to be controlled by something greater than myself. There's no release...), like Kierkegaard’s Knight of Faith, who knows his prayer has no chance of being answered (like Bob Dylan chasing the phantom Tambourine Man), but makes an inarticulable leap and believes it will be anyway. Maybe Bob Dylan in MTM is the Knight of Infinite Resignation, the stage before the Knight of Faith.

But then the answer our society has to offer to the question “Who are the faithful?” is so unpleasant. Maybe the reason why the christian coalition types haven't achieved this beautiful thing (as I imagine it) is because they've just been raised to their religion; there's no struggle or at least they're determined not to admit it; they make themselves belligerent rather than opening themselves up to mastery by the idea. Or maybe I just don't know their story, wasn't there to see the tentacles appear, don't know how difficult it was...but then something tells me this is not the way they see faith. Maybe they seem so ugly because the letting yourself be mastered principle is a barbaric and medieval way to build society, and that's what they seem to want to use it to do. Or maybe it's because it's only beautiful if what you choose to submit yourself to is the right thing, and it the mastering principle never looks right from the outside (it certainly doesn't look that way in the case of the Christian Coalition types). Or maybe Salman Rushdie only meant to portray the Ayesha Haj as seductively, deceptively beautiful, and it is I who mistakenly equate the beautiful with the good. They do kill a baby on their way to the sea; it’s commanded by Ayesha. Somehow in the context of their absolute obedience it doesn’t seem evil or ugly. Maybe that should be my clue that the beauty of the Ayesha Haj is deceptive.

Or maybe Salman Rushdie, when he wrote it, did have more sympathy for the miracle of submission and the terrible beauty of faith, since after all, he wrote this book before the fatwa; it was this book that prompted the fatwa.

I don’t know. I do know that I want something that I don’t believe is real. But I don’t disbelieve in it the way I don’t believe in fairies or goblins. Because as much as I’d like to be whisked off 13 years late to Hogwarts, given my wand and told there’s all sorts of ways to get around the physical limits you’ve always believed were permanent and intractable, at heart I think the human ability to imagine fairies and goblins and all sorts of untrue stories is more magical than their existence would be, and I’m glad they’re not real. The thing that I want would surpass human imagination. And maybe there are other humans, more open and receptive than I, who can touch a piece of this thing, if only for a moment. Maybe if I could bring myself to whole heartedly and sincerely sing “Cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it,” it would be a start. But the undercurrent of skepticism would run even through those words.

Any thoughts? I’m obviously not the most coherent person on this subject.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Tomorrow I'm not going to work. I'm taking a discretionary day. And Caroline and I are going to go the the Museum of Natural History and take in some fossils and maybe an IMAX movie. Hey, they call them discretionary days because you choose how to use them at your discretion, right? I have free passes that have to be used before the end of the year and I'm flying to CA on Saturday.
Just because I got one measly comment a week ago does NOT mean I'm satisfied. (This is not to imply that the comment itself was measly; it was lovely. The quantity of comments is measly!) Now that I have Site Meter I know I have readers, some of them regular, and you're not getting off the hook. You know, if Andrew Sullivan can have a pledge drive for money, I can have a pledge drive for comments. It's pledge week! Post a comment!

(I can't believe he got $80,000. Well, he no longer has any excuse for recycling his blog for his Washington Times columns. And why doesn't he have anyway to permalink individual posts? Is it to make it harder for people to hold him accountable for things he's said in the past?)
As a New Yorker, I am mandated by law to blog about the new WTC designs. Calpundit has some snarky words, but everyone complained after the first designs were unveiled that they were cowardly and unambitious. No one can accuse these designs of that sin. Seeing these plans was the first time my imagination was set afire by possibilities for the WTC site. I'll agree with him that the tictactoe design is awful and squat, but most of the rest are both creative and feasible. I've been advocating for a while that the new building be the tallest in the world, and I'm glad these architects have that aspiration as well. (I was also hoping that the tallest structure would be unoccupied, like the Eiffel Tower, so as to be less of a terrorist lure.) I voted for the Studio Libeskind design in the CNN poll. I think it looks beautiful, especially if it's really going to incorporate all those many hued building materials. It also doesn't seem to have an overwhelming number of geometrical shapes; I like the way the top of many of the buildings are raked at similar angles; it's unconventional and striking without being too jumbled. (However, based on the illustration, the view from the ground may be a different story.) I was a little bit surprised Foster and Partners' design got so many votes. Maybe this is an illusion of the drawing, but I'm sort of unnerved by how crooked and unstable it seems, especially in light of the message any WTC building should send. THINK team grants my wish for unoccupied towers, and I sort of like their tinker toys feel, but I don't like the thing that looks like a Kleenex connecting them, and I'm not sure if in the end they would go well with the rest of the New York skyline. United Architects has the same problem with the illusion of instability as Foster and Partners. Peterson/Littenberg needs better illustrators. Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill manage to (once again) look unstable and blocky at once. But at least all of the architects came through with some real vision, and the first plan is one I could totally get behind.
If you live in the New York metro area, you might be interested in an email I just got:

Just so you know, your episode of "stirctly personal" premieres on Monday night, Dec 23, at 7:30 and 11:30pm on the Metro Channel (Ch 70 on Time Warner, Ch 16 on cablevision). If you miss your debut, dont worry, because the show will be rerun throughout the week.

for a full schedule, you can follow the link below.

http://www.newyorkmetro.com/strictlypersonal/schedule/index.htm

if you should have any questions or concerns, please feel free to give me an email.

Thanks again and again.

-Kev




I'm upset that it's airing the week I'm going to be in California. My aunt can tape it, but I feel uncomfortable with someone watching it before I can explain how I didn't really say anything that sounded that stupid; they just edited it to make me sound that way. But you all can watch and I won't be there to explain. I guess I got in my disclaimer two sentences ago. One more disclaimer: however bad my hair looks, it's better in real life. Except when I repeatedly confuse conditioner for shampoo. Ooh, and another dislaimer (last one, I promise): I don't think I was high energy enough for my filming, but in real life I'm a ball of enthusiasm, sometimes, anyway. I swear.

Here, for background, is where I wrote about filming Strictly Personal.
Via Body and Soul: well, I guess this article answers my question about whether Bush was talking about terror attack on civilians or attacks on the U.S. military when he said we'd retaliate with nuclear force, and it doesn't answer it the way I would have hoped. This had better be bluster. I'm sure an overthrow of Saddam could be accomplished without nuclear weapons, which makes the use of them pretty inexcusable. And just where does Bush think he's going to be deploying them? The cities, where much of the combat is certain to take place? That would be really [insert more forceful synonym for "bad" than exists in the English language]. And shockingly, most Americans would support such an action.

This is why conservatives' "you just don't support war in Iraq because you don't like Bush; after all, Clinton came to endorse regime change and you didn't squawk about it then" argument isn't really that damning to the anti-war cause. As I've said before, I'm not properly anti-war, but I don't want to give this war to Bush, because I don't trust him with the war effort, especially post-war nation building. It's natural that when you don't trust your current leadership, you don't want to give it the wartime authority that would allow them to press red buttons abroad or to curtail civil liberties at home. If you're afraid that the leadership is going to cry "exigencies of war" and do just that, then if the war doesn't seem immediately necessary, you might want to forego it, or at least wait until you think you have a government capable of a little forebearance.

On the other hand, once the Chicken Little in me gets tuckered out, I think to myself that it seems improbable that Bush would actually use nuclear weapons in Iraq. I think he's just swaggering. And if it's swaggering that freaks out some Iraqi's and loosens Saddam's grip further, that might be a good thing, as Martha Stewart would say if she were a circumspect political commentator.

Still stucks that the American people would support the use of nuclear weapons though. What are they thinking? Guess it's not so scary when you're pretty sure you're not going to be on the receiving end.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Oh. My God.

Now that my blog has been crawled by major search engines, I have the joy of finding out what searches inadvertantly brought people here. This takes the cake. Uh, sorry to disappoint you, bloke. (Okay, I guess in fairness you might be a woman.) I AM young and female though!

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Man, the Malaysian government has less taste than Salon readers do. Why didn't they ban Ewan??
well, gee. The whole Wrightson sparrow thing was made up. Damn. I should have known some story about animal rights activists blowing up the offices of environmentalists wasn't true.

via, of all places, The Corner.
Here's a good Maxspeak post on this travesty. I don't understand what "returns" in the first column means. Can anyone enlighten me?

Update: He answered my question in the comments section of that post.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Four people are on my blog right now! Okay, one of them's me. But still!

Must not become obsessed with site stats. Must not become obsessed with site stats. Must not become obsessed with site stats. Must not become obsessed with site stats. Must not become obsessed with site stats.
Maybe I can save myself from drowning in a vat of hot, gooey treacle by remarking that this list of the 50 Most Loathsome People in America (via Rittenhouse Review--uh, you can tell I read a vast spectrum of blogs) made me laugh so hard I coughed up phlegm. That's really not such a ringing endorsement considering that I'm sick, but it was very funny, nonetheless. Even the people on the list I don't think are truly loathsome, like Eve Ensler (hey I like The Vagina Monologues. I was in The Vagina Monologues, the coochi snorcher monologue to be specific. No, I'm not black. I did have a Southern accent though) totally deserved the shots they took. One expectoration-causing line:

Likes to think that she's being provocative by using the word vagina a lot and making lots of puns to advertise her play. e.g., "spread the word", "think inside the box." Here's a clever pun for your campaign, Eve: "This play's dialogue is tighter than a 12-year-old Thai prostitute."

Which reminds me of the classic Our Dumb Century line: U.S. Troops Pull Out of Vietnamese Peasant Girl.

Which reminds me of my philosophy of what is or is not truly offensive humor: Sort of like pornography, I can recognize hostile intent when I see it, and neither of those writers bears any malice towards young Asian women.

Similarly, I was in the subway last night after Caroline's dance performance with Satish and her college roommate Katie (not the Katie who lived with her this past year), we were talking about the MTA strike, the subject of the Port Authority came up, and I asked what ever happened to the WTC-airport land swap. Satish misunderstood me and asked, "What? They're going to build an airport at the WTC site?" Of course we all started laughing hysterically. "Well two planes did sort of try to land there. Maybe it could be, um, a memorial! Planes could land there safely for generations, both reminding people of that tragic day and demonstrating that the American people and our aircraft can overcome!" etc. etc. Caroline's dad, who was also with us, was a little embarrassed I think, and he kept looking around to see if anyone was listening. But did we bear any malice toward the WTC victims, or for that matter? No. (Well, actually, I've been known to complain loudly about the families, some of whom are kind of insufferable, although they're showing up less and less now. I used to get so sick of their "we don't have bodies, no one can understand our pain, some tiny procedural detail related to the WTC site took place without our approval, we better have a total unimpeded iron grip over plans for the WTC site, which by the way should ALL be memorial [even though in essence the space 'belongs' to the people of New York, including present and future generations who will be walking around the area when all of us are dead], and did we mention no one can understand our pain?" routine. I always felt like talking to them through the television, which they were always on and saying, you suffered a terrible loss, fine. Actually, a few of you are transparently golddiggers who are probably glad that you're cashing in on the death of someone you'd long since stopped caring for, but of course you're a tiny minority. As for those of you who are genuinely suffering--you're actually not suffering anything that ANYONE who has lost someone very close to them has suffered; certainly you are not suffering anything that anyone who has lost someone to violent crime has suffered. You're not even the first people on earth to be missing the body of your loved one. You are much more unique in that you're getting LOTS of money, the sympathy of not just your family and friends, but the nation, multiple chances to air your grief in interminable public forums, and an opportunity to contribute to a permanent memorial to your loved one that will be visited by people from all over the world for many generations to come. Of course this isn't going to mitigate your grief, but just step back a bit and realize that your grief is not unique to you, and maybe take a moment to appreciate how much incredible deference you ARE getting. Okay, that was a not very topical rant. Maybe I should rename this blog "digressions.")

Still more on the same theme: the author of Rittenhouse Review told me he was glad I evidently liked his post about the Britney and Christina catfight. He was worried it might be thought sexist. "Pshaw," I told him. "There are two kinds of people in the world: those who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera." That's another example of something just not being offensive, since it's obvious he bears no malice or even disdain for anyone, except maybe Britney and Christina, who deserve it.

I think people should have untrammeled liberty to voice as many inappropriate thoughts as they want, as long as it's in the, uh, appropriate forum. One of my least favorite things that ever happened in my relationship with this boy was that once in a phone conversation I was complaining about my job (not this one, my prior one, which I really hated, and was mercifully laid off from) in November 2001, and I started to say, "I wish terrorists would set fire to my building at night so I could collect money from the Victims' Relief Fund and not have to go to work." I think it's pretty obvious I wasn't serious. It was a variant on the classic "what if the school caught fire and I didn't have to go" fantasy. Notice how I even worked in people not getting hurt. But before I could even finish my sentence, Tim said, "Don't say that." I tried repeating myself. He again interrupted, "Don't say that." I tried to say the sentence a third time, and Tim interrupted, "Don't say that." Finally I said, "If you think you can tell me what I will or won't say I don't think we can date. I do not think it's acceptable for someone to try to control me by interrupting me in this way. And frankly, I think it's pretty stupid that you think this is so horrible it can't be uttered. I don't really want to hear YOUR complaints." Then he tried to tell me I was the one being controlling. I wasn't the one preventing anything from passing his lips. His argument was that I considered my freedom of expression more important than protecting his feelings, and he tried to draw some weird analogy to throwing stones at him in the name of my free expression. I didn't think this analogy was quite justified, since throwing stones would be an action that would be aimed at him, where as this was an expression of frustration with my job! In any case, I would have been a lot more responsive to him if rather than literally three or four times over impeding my ability to speak my mind, after I was done he had said something like, "You know Katie, I'm not ready to make or to hear those kinds of jokes about 9-11. I know you don't mean any harm to me, but it actually is hurting me. Can we not talk like that for a couple more months?" THAT would have been reasonable. I'm totally opposed to policing other people's speech in an effort to enforce nothing more than "appropriateness." (Yet another marginally related aside: I also hate being kissed in the middle of a sentence. Memo to the male gender: that is not sexy. It makes women feel unpleasantly dominated and disrespected, at least, I know Caroline and I feel that way. What is ususally much more okay, however, is paying attention to other parts of the woman's body, causing her to get, uh, a little distracted and trail off.)

By contrast, here's an example of something that IS offensive. This is something my aunt forwarded me from "Carl's Jewish Humor List," also in November 2001. I don't know why she thought I'd think it was very funny:

The Saudi Ambassador to the U.N. has just finished giving a speech, and walks out into the lobby where he meets his American counterpart.

They shake hands and as they walk the Saudi says, "You know, I have just one question about what I have seen in America."

The American says "Well your Excellency, anything I can do to help you I will do."

The Saudi whispers "My son watches this show 'Star Trek' and in it there are Russians and Blacks and Asians, but never any Arabs. He is very upset. He doesn't understand why there are never any Arabs in Star Trek."

The American laughs and leans over. "That's because it takes place in the future."

See how easy it is to tell the difference? That's the kind of thing to be aghast over.

In defense of my aunt, she's really moderated her anti-Arab bigotry of late. We actually got into a fight a few months ago when finally I could not let what I found to be truly repugnant expressions of racism by a member of my own family--not someone who I'm sort of related to, like my cousins, but a member of my intimate circle--go unremarked. I did not try to somehow prevent her from speaking, I just finally told her that I thought she was really bigoted against Arabs in a way that she would not abide from anyone else against any other portion of the world's population (actually, she has some pretty ignorant anti-Catholic prejudice too, especially considering she knows squat about Christianity as a whole. She once tried to tell me (maybe in the same argument), seemingly as an insult, that I was Christian. I said: I'm not Christian. I was never baptized and I don't believe that Jesus was the son of God. By no definition am I Christian, not that being Christian is such a horrible thing to be. Christianity is not matrilineal like Judaism. She seemed confounded by this). It escalated into a big and uncomfortable argument, with her trying to pull the "I've traveled more I know more and I understand how Arabs really are" routine (she ALWAYS falls back on just asserting that she's way more qualified to speak about a topic than you are, a hallmark of the deceptive debater, as this person (number 6 in the comments) rightly remarked). Finally I shrugged and said, "You're right, I don't know what really lurks at the bottom of every Arab heart. I can't say absolutely for sure that they don't all want to kill all the Jews, even if some of them loudly protest otherwise. Maybe they're just shifty like that [these were all key points in her argument]. But I do know the right way to approach other people, which is not to judge individuals by imputing to them some national or racial characteristic you THINK you observe. If you think Arabs are so bad, be better than them." "I am better," she said. "Jews are better." Obviously, there was no resolving this argument. However, I started this paragraph with the intention of saying that my aunt had much improved, and indeed she has. I think that even though she didn't come close to saying she was wrong, she must have been affected by the conversation, because ever since, even if she's expressed (perfectly justified) anger at say, Palestinian suicide bombers, I've rarely heard the same kind of blanket bigoted statements about Arabs or Islam cross her lips. I guess I had some effect. Which made me happy, because my aunt is far from an easy person to confront that way, and I would hate for it to have been for nought. As Susan, my aunt's roommate and my friend told me after she had left the room, "That is what they call chutzpah." I also know she's been really depressed about events in her own life, 9/11 was another stressor, and the world Muslim community a convenient scapegoat for all the ills she suffered. Maybe she's starting to feel a little better, and thus can withdraw from some of her more offensive sentiments at the past.
Is it a sign of irredeemable weakness that this got me teary?
Now that's what I'm talking about! I was walking home across Times Square last night and I looked up to see a billboard with a slyly smiling, undeniably sexy blond with quite large (and real-looking) breasts snuggled into a Playtex bra. She was invisible below the waist, but everything about her led you to believe that she was not that thin--the amplitude of her breasts, her arms, the curve of her hips that you could start to see. She looked great. Above the poster was a scrolling bar of text with slogans like: "A woman has many sides. We support all of them." "You've got a lot on your shoulders. We relieve the pressure." "Women come in many shapes [I can't remember the second half of this one]." It was great that they were using a woman that deviated slightly from the Victoria's Secret norm, it was great that their slogans promoted inclusive images of women, it was great (and even more unusual, I think), that a mass market ad campaign had at least oblique acknowledgement that large breasts are often not only some really exciting sexual asset but a physical burden to women who have them (not that I know from personal experience, just talking to the chicks I know), and that none of this was at the sacrifice of sexiness! Hallelujah. The Playtex site gives the same impression. Sadly, it must be admitted that the bras themselves are not nearly as attractive as VS bras, but who cares.

Buy Playtex! They support inclusive images of women!
Boycott Victoria's Secret! Their ads suggest that only tall skinny women with breast implants who strut around in high heels and ridiculous 6 foot feathery wings are sexy!

Up with Playtex!
Down with VS!
Sigh. I'm not surprised, but I had a political wet dream about Gore getting the nomination and beating Bush. Maybe the future will hold a Gore-Jeb contest and I'll get some satisfaction by proxy. Now who should I root for? Howard Dean?

Sunday, December 15, 2002

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

I'm just joshing. Although Mr. Crowe on screen is pretty undeniably hot (who are these Salon readers that none of them voted for Ewan?? I was going to write in with my paean to his unsurpassed sexiness, but before I got around to it the poll results were up. There's too fast of a turnaround in Salon between appearances of articles and letters), assaulting hapless British awards show producers when they cut your poem from the show is not. Breaking up long-term stable Hollywood marriages with the siren call of your unadulterated, animalistic, musky masculininty and then sauntering away after nine months=sexy bad boy; throwing tantrums when you're not pampered and babied like any spoiled, effete Hollywood celeb=juvenile and sophomoric bad boy, and is a pretty much directly countervailing force to your otherwise strong, masculine appeal.
oof, posting to my blog on a Saturday night. But not only did I do social stuff earlier in the day, I was supposed to go out tonight, but I felt a little too exhausted and sick. Today I had a party that people actually came to (Jen, Joanna, and (unexpectedly) Talia from Philly, Caroline, Caroline's 'rents, Jane and Chris, and Satish, Caroline's boyfriend), which was a bit unaccustomed for me. It was an ornament-making/tree decorating party. I spent, uh, $240 dollars in my first (and thank god, biggest) round of purchases at Lee's Art Shop. I had decided before I went in that I was throwing a party, and it was okay to splurge a little. But then you know how sometimes when you give yourself permission to splurge a little you splurge a lot? That's how it was. Right now my living room is strewn with every variety of lace, ribbon, beads, paint, tissue paper, construction paper, googly eyes, sequins, glitter [insert crafty item here] you can imagine. And what was sort of ridiculous about spending that much money is that really I was the only one at the party who truly has an affinity for making decorative objects, and you should have seen some people's creations. My friend Joanna wrapped pipe cleaners around a popsicle stick, gave him pipe cleaner arms and called him a wise man. "Either that or a bug," she hedged. I didn't even make an ornament, because I was so harried by trying to finish up the various things I was cooking (the same Harvest Loaf I made for Thanksgiving (here is the recipe by the way. Okay, so they call it Thanksgiving Torte. I don't like that name. Also, I still don't know what liquid smoke is, but they told me at the health food store it wasn't good for you, so I just add a little bit of BBQ sauce), some pecan orange broccoli, gravy, pumpkin pie again (somehow that recipe got truncated and they don't tell you what to do with the ingredients (I surmised: put them in a blender) or how long to cook it (answer: forever. like, literally. okay, not literally forever, but a long, long time. I think my pie might have been in the oven for an hour and half at 350 (I wasn't really timing, just checking back), and it still could have used a little more time. Put tin foil around the edges of the crust so it doesn't burn), which very few people were actually hungry for since they'd eaten even though I told them not to eat, getting everyone their rum and Silk Nog, and by the time I had finished all of that, too overwhelmed by all the people in my house, not to mention sick and phlegmy, to make an ornament. But now it's Sunday, and perhaps I'll make some ornaments today. So my verdict about the party is: pretty good time, I think everyone had fun, but not quite worth the money I spent, and I could have spent a little less.

I can return some of the unused stuff to Lee's and get store credit, and not only does Lee's have art supplies, it has tchotchkes, i.e. the kinds of things that make great Christmas presents for people you don't know that well, i.e., my entire maternal family (with the exception of my mima). Truth be told, they're probably mediocre presents, but they're great under the constraining circumstances of not knowing the receiver that well. Gift giving is one of the parts of Christmas I don't like. It's fun to give people birthday presents because birthdays are spread throughout the year, but trying to get or make presents for so many people at once is stressful and potentially very expensive, and it always feels more like an obligation to me. (Sometimes I can have fun making presents.) I also don't really like getting presents, since it's mostly my maternal family who gives me presents and then I'm just reminded that they know me as little as I know them. I was shocked one year when my grandmother got me a present that I really liked and really reflected who I was--the photo essay book Material World. That book, which I got when I was 15, I think, profoundly affected my world view by making me realize that I, who was living in households that could probably be described as "lower middle class" by American standards, was in fact incredibly rich by the world's standards. There were a few people I knew at Swarthmore who, like me, came from families who made a lot less money than some of the fabulously rich or at least quite wealthy or at least comfortable (none of which ever quite applied to my living situation growing up), but who, unlike me, seemed quite fixated on class differences at Swarthmore and how they were so disadvantaged compared to of these scions of privelege (that isn't precisely what they said, I've forgotten what words exactly they used to complain). I found this very tiresome. First of all, they may have had less than some other people at the school, but if you grew up in a house with VCR's and Nintendo and etc. etc., which many, if not all, of these complainers did, you had a hell of a lot. And the fact of the matter is, there was *no one* at Swarthmore--and I don't care how they grew up--that was not in the final calculation very economically priveleged by the very fact that they were there. There's not a single person who graduated from that school in good standing that doesn't have the tools, if they wish, to go out and make a lot of money. Some people might not choose to, as indeed I'm not choosing to right now, but any of them, if they wanted to, could go to law school or some other kind of professional school and take some lucrative job in the private sector. No one there was underpriveleged. No one had the right to whine. It's possible that I was just more accustomed than they were to being around people with a lot more money than I had, since I attended K-3 at Trinity Episcopal School in Woodside, CA, where my grandparents bought a house pre-proposition 13, so their property taxes stayed stable and the value of their property skyrocketed as Woodside became a fashionable community for some of the SF Bay Area's obscenely rich during the excesses of the eighties. My parents did not make a lot of money, but my grandparents paid for my tuition there (until it got too expensive in the fourth grade, but the public schools were so good there that I think Woodside Elementary in some ways was a little better than Trinity. Then I moved to Los Banos. Sigh. Oh well, I lived), and my parents and I lived in the little apartment above my grandparents' garage (until my father moved out), and I slept in an uninsulated attic/crawl space (in the winters it was too cold, so I slept on the living room sofa). I was identifiable by the car my mother drove and by my used uniforms that didn't fit me quite properly (and made me quite self conscious about my visible chubby knees) as someone who wasn't quite as fabulously wealthy as the rest of the kids in my classes, and once this insufferable little girl was with me and my mother in our car and saw fit to tell us, "MY mother drives a BMW." Anyway, I have a vivid memory of going to a swim party once in the second grade at a third grader's house. Well, "house" is a very conservative way to describe it. There were hiking trails and horse runs and obviously a huge pool, but the thing I remember most was the huge, multivehicle compound ("garage" also seems too conservative). This kid's father had an army tank and a fire truck as toys. I kid you not. In a state of absolute shock as the line of third graders trotted the considerable distance from the entrance of their estate to the pool, I finally was moved to quite rudely ask the hosting third grader, "What does your father do for a living?" He was a stockbroker. I wonder if they're doing as well now. Anyway, my point is, maybe I got used to, and got over, the very rich people in the world long before I got to college, and I also managed to develop an awareness of my own privelege, in a large part thanks to Material World. But that present was very anomalous. Another Christmas my grandmother got me not one but two historical recountings of Pearl Harbor. I never even leafed through them, in part because I totally wasn't interested, and in part because I was a little offended by the present. They weren't even broad, general interest history books (that would have been different). They were both about some greatest generation saga my grandmother thought was somehow more crucial to my understanding of history than any other world event, which of course it wasn't. They just wanted me to learn all about their history in absurd detail and I wasn't about to oblige, at least, not if their request that I learn about their history, in essence asking something of me, took the form of a gift. Birthday presents always wind up being better than Christmas presents, in my opinion.

One serious complaint about the party: I used to very frequently begin sentences, "If I were dictator of the world..." Then, for some unknown reason, I stopped beginning sentences that way. This seems like a good time to pick up the habit again. If I were dictator of the world, people who had conversations on cell phones in rooms full of people at a social gathering would have their cell phones confiscated for a year to give them phone-free time so they could investigate their genealogy to determine just what breed of wolves raised them and maybe so they could pay attention to the other people physically before them for a change. Talia and Satish both did this, Satish for longer. I hate cell phones. But maybe it's not really fair to hate the cell phones because it's not the phones' fault, it's the people who use them. Phones aren't monumentally rude; people are monumentally rude, or something like that. I do know some cell phone owners (usually not my generation), who manage to use them responsibly. My boss has a cell phone but she never receives calls on it unless there's some emergency or urgent business; she just uses it to make calls if she needs to arrange something. If I were dictator of the world, it would be illegal to use cell phones for anything except emergencies, "Where are you? I'm at the corner of 2nd and 14th. But I'm at the corner of 2nd and 14th. Oh, I see you" type communications, and some sorts of plan making (although this is really much less excusable than it seems, since cell phones just make people too lazy to ever make plans. If people would ever sit down and think about what they were going to do before they left the house, then they wouldn't need to talk on their cell phone at someone else's party).