Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Unparalleled Awesomeness of M.A.C.

I started my life's maquillage the way I think everyone probably does - with a heady blend of Mom's cosmetics and cheap stuff from CVS.  As I got older and got, you know, a job, I discovered magical money-sucking stores like Sephora, which had more hardcore cosmetics that worked better and were more exciting.  Makeup is one of the things I firmly believe you should invest in as you can; I don't mean invest as in "everyone should make makeup a priority" but rather "if you're going to wear it, wear the good stuff."  While Sephora is my favorite for a broad selection of cosmetics and for good tips and fun new things, the best single brand I use is M.A.C.  I know Sephora used to carry their products and am not sure why that stopped, but it's probably for the best, Josie's pocketbook wise.  There are two products in particular that I love of theirs, which I'd like to mention here.

Item number one is their nail polish.  I am awful with nail polish on my fingernails.  Apparently I'm just super tough on my nails and spend all my time smashing my hands into things...even salon manicures chip almost immediately and look like I stuck my hand in a wood chipper before the week is out.  But M.A.C. can keep up.  I don't know how and frankly my best guess is "magic" but this stuff stays put like crazy glue.  The colors are all lovely,'s one of those things where it might not look like your particular thing, but odds are it will look lovely on.  I kind of gambled on this rum raisiny color, but it looks like a million bucks on, and every "ehhhhh I'll try it" purchase I've made from them has panned out much the same.  They are color experts in a big way, and I can't recommend them on that front enough!

To give my nail polish the best chance at hanging in there, I have kind of a process.  I start by washing my hands and then using either coconut oil or some other kind of moisturizing oil on my hands (I've even used olive oil), focusing on getting it into my cuticles.  I push my cuticles back and sometimes trim them with nail scissors, depending on how industrious I'm feeling.  After that, I file the edges to the shape I want and file the whole surface of the nail.  I think it's this resurfacing that really helps.  Then I put one coat on and let it dry ALL THE WAY.  I follow it up with a second coat, and that's the one I really try to let dry for as long as possible.  Sometimes I use a top coat, sometimes not.  I have been trying too to not worry too much about streaking or light patches at first, because sometimes as coats dry, the color evens out, but if I try to fix it in process, I always screw it up.

The other M.A.C. product I want to recommend is their pigment.  This is a loose powder and again, the key is the beautiful color sensibility.  I use their Rose pigment as a standby - if I'm packing for a trip more often than not it's this, mascara and a lip gloss - and it's amazingly gorgeous and versatile.  It also comes packed SO tightly in the jar...I've had this jar for almost a year and I use it all the time, but look how low it is!  It's more lightly packed now, but damn, that's serious business.  I can see the Rose being beautiful on almost anyone for everyday wear, but they have so many more colors for fun, and they're so worth it.  They aren't even that expensive, only about $20 for a jar.

You can buy all of these cosmetics at M.A.C. or at a counter in Macy's.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Adventures in Linguistics

Act I, Scene 1
JOSIE is headed to New York for a Ladies' Weekend at OLIVIER and JULS' lovely apartment. OLIVIER is leaving town but will have one evening to spend with JOSIE and JULS before leaving for a bachelor party at the END OF THE UNIVERSE. OLIVIER texts JOSIE to discuss arrival times and dinner.

OLIVIER: Hey josie! Excited to see you tonight! Do you have an ETA? Also, I'm trying to plan dinner. I was thinking guacamole and chips to start, then chili and rice. K?
JOSIE: OMG Livvy you are amazeballs!! Cannot wait to see you. I have a meeting at 1, expect it to run an hour, and then head down, so...6 or 7, depending on traffic??
OLIVIER: Great! Does the menu agree with you? Juls thought you may not be a fan of guac...And yes, my balls are amazing. ;)
JOSIE: Ummmm guac is not just a food, but a lifestyle choice for me. Everything sounds fabulous including your balls. lololol
OLIVIER: Perfecto! Wait til I dip them in chili!

Act II, Scene 1
JOSIE continues to prep her legal philosophy presentation in the SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY.  OLIVIER continues to be excited.

OLIVIER: Spicy balls!
OLIVIER: Spicy balls!
JOSIE: Oh my goodness I can HEAR you being overstimulated lol
OLIVIER: I'm trembling with excitement! 9:22 AM
JOSIE: hahahaha oh Livvy it's only been a month and I miss you so
OLIVIER: Ditto! Hurry up and get down here!
JOSIE: On it boss!

Act III, Scene 1
OLIVIER dispenses words of wisdom as JOSIE gets ready to go to class.

JOSIE: I'd tell my law prof to screw but I am terrified of him. I think he's a Highlander I don't want to challenge him.
OLIVIER: Law profs seem terrifying, but they're all fragile souls, otherwise they would be practicing law instead of hiding at a law school. Tell him I said that.
JOSIE: hahaha I will tell him and then give him your address. He's very sweet but his brain is terrifying

Act IV, Scene 1
OLIVIER revolutionizes the English language.  

OLIVIER: Btw, that blog about our wedding was incredible!!! So touching and well-written. You are amaze-vag.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On Civility and the Internet

My new tumblr friend Lyssa recently shared an exchange she had with a friend of her mother's via Facebook.  It gave me some thoughts.  First, here's the exchange.

Tricia (6 hours ago):
Curious the reaction I’d get if I challenged your “Obama is the answer” mentality. I am a belligerently proud card carrying Republican who can’t wait for that piece of fecal matter to be evicted from that White Shack down the street. Elmer Fudd, Beavis or Butthead…fuck it even Sponge Bob would have stepped in with about the same amount of qualifications!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Tricia (30 minutes ago):
yea, pretty much what i thought! 
Me (just now)
Hey—just got this. 
I don’t think he’s the ~answer~ to everything. He’s done a lot wrong and has screwed up at several major points. However, he’s done a lot of good things, too, and I’d rather have him than any of the other possibles.  
I care about my reproductive rights, I care about being able to marry my partner regardless of their sex, I care about comprehensive sex ed and universal healthcare and uncensored internet. These are things that the GOP has proven time and again that they don’t care about, and that’s not something I can be okay with. 
I’ve said in jest that if a GOP gets elected, I’m moving to Denmark. I think I might have to. I can’t live in a country where the government continues to push women centuries back in their rights. I can’t live in a country where the government believes that racism doesn’t exist anymore. I can’t live in a country where the government would force me to carry the child of my—not one, not two, but three—rapists to term because it’s a “gift from god.” I can’t live in a country where the government would not allow me to seek efficient medical care quickly. 
Cue last night. I went to the ER because I was bleeding profusely. It was my period, but 10 times worse. If the GOP was in charge, my healthcare wouldn’t exist. I wouldn’t have been able to go to the ER and make sure that my IUD hadn’t perforated my uterus and I would probably have bled out. I was fortunate enough only to have to pay $70 out of pocket for that visit, have my girlfriend sit with me and hold my hand and not be denied care, and have a male doctor respectfully poke around down there. I have excellent health care coverage and I will continue to have that because of Obama’s Affordable Care Act. I would not have that under Romney or Santorum. 
I recently had to explain to my grandmother what Planned Parenthood does. As far as she knew, it was an abortionplex. Now, she had no idea that when I was out of school for a year and didn’t have health insurance, I went to Planned Parenthood for gynecological checkups, for a mammogram, for consultation about birth control methods. When I had kidney pain and a potential uterine cyst, I went to Planned Parenthood. Had I needed an abortion, I would have gone there too. Since I managed to get comprehensive sex ed and know how to properly use birth control, my risk for pregnancy was significantly lowered and I didn’t have to do that. Planned Parenthood exists because it’s a necessary thing for lower-income people to get the healthcare they need. Under the GOP, comprehensive sex ed wouldn’t exist. Neither would Planned Parenthood or abortion or half decent healthcare. Romney said one of his first orders of business would be to kill PP and outlaw abortion. Me and millions of women like me won’t be able to get that care, and have their lives threatened by medical conditions that could have been caught early. That is why I am 100% against the GOP. For me, they have no bright side, no redeeming qualities, no endearing charm. Obama’s defended PP and women’s rights. He’s fought for me to make the same amount as a colleague who is male with the same qualifications. He’s signed into law a bill that prevents healthcare discrimination on the basis of sex. He’s at least working toward equal rights for LGBT people. Under his healthcare act, women cannot be denied insurance for a history of domestic violence—which is considered a “pre-existing condition” under many policies today. 
When it comes down to it, I’m a two-issue voter: who’s going to let me have my healthcare when I need it, and who’s going to let me have equal rights under the law based on my sexual orientation. I am perfectly okay with that. 
That’s why your 6 hour ago message just got to me. I went to bed when I got home at 4 am, and woke up around 2. My schedule is erratic. Had I not been to the ER last night and skipped class today, I wouldn’t have seen this until at least 5 pm.
A while later, an update, in the form of a response from Tricia:
Those who are believers in his socialist ideas should relocate! I am TOTALLY okay with that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 Which earned a response from Lyssa:

There are so many things I could say to this right now, but I really doubt you’d listen. 
A) If you think he’s a socialist, you’ve been sadly misguided as to what socialism actually is. 
B) I appreciate your excessive use of exclamation marks. They really get across how passionate you are about your point. 
C) Thanks for the laugh. I needed it today. 
D) If it bothers you this much, I might just stick around. Besides, the girlfriend’s not particularly keen on moving to Denmark, and we wouldn’t want to deprive the US of the chance to deny another LGBT couple equal rights. 
E) I’ll send your good wishes along to my mother. Hope you’re doing well. 
And then one more from Tricia:
fucking liberals, spare me your attempts at educating me and i’ll spare you an education that you and your small town mind aren’t ready for. you and lewisburg deserve each other. as to your mother…must suck to be her. put that in your LGBT hooka and fire that fucker up.
Most of you can probably guess where I come down on the political issues being discussed here.  Surprisingly, they're not actually what I want to talk about, largely because I am kind of tired of talking about them.  What I want to discuss is the tone of this exchange.  First, I want to commend Alyssa for her response, because if I got a message like that out of the blue (or be fair, I don't know if there was anything leading up to this, but I'd argue it's a shitty message to send regardless), my response would be about 50% profanity and another 20% straight up insults, so Alyssa is a far better woman than I.  But second, I want to point out that this phenomenon of speaking in the tone of "I'm right so I can be as big a jerk as I want" is pervasive and fundamentally damaging to our politics.

I talk a lot of smack about Republicans, and when I say Republicans I generally refer to elected officials because they have no excuse for not considering the ramifications of their crap policies.  Political ideology appeals to the average voter for various reasons and in our bipolar (mostly, anyway) system, it's often a matter of choosing the lesser of two ill-fitting options.  I also know that the average voter is not always in the habit of considering large scale effects of political policies.  We all learn the scope of our choices as we grow politically, and some of those effects can be really hard to see.  But as I said, it is politicians' jobs to know this, so when elected officials promote foul policies that are prejudicial or harmful, that shit is on them, and I feel fine about calling that like I see it.  But when I talk with friends of mine who are conservative or Republican specifically, I think it's my job to be respectful and to take their thoughts and feelings and opinions into serious account and have an actual conversation with them.  That's how politics happens - you have a conversation.  The above is not a conversation.  It is a woman being confrontational and aggressive for no immediately discernible reason.  It accomplishes nothing, and that is evident in her response to Alyssa's response - it's not about a conversation, it's about unleashing your venom on someone.

Anonymity on the Internet is fascinating to me.  There was a point where using the Internet required the use of a handle more often than not, and it's easy to see how it's easier to mouth off at "DerpEye9818375987" than someone in front of you.  That makes sense, particularly when you consider the inherent machineness of computers in this same period - Internet content wasn't nearly as pervasive in real life, computers were always computers (i.e. not phones, tablets, PDAs, etc.), and there was a limit to what you could do on the Internet.  Now, the Internet is everywhere, and there is an app for every damn thing you can think of.  Yet we still cling to an idea that "it's just the Internet," even though as the Internet has integrated with our lives, handles have fallen away and - particularly in the case of Facebook - we use at least some component of our true identities.  It has only become more evident that there are real, live, humans on the other end of the computer, yet we still accept "people are just jerks on the Internet" not only as a reality but as an acceptable reality.  The simple fact of a computer-intermediary removes our social obligation to common courtesy.

One of the hardest things for me to drive home with my students is the reality that there is no solution to politics.  You cannot resolve the big questions of politics and then wipe your hands of them - the biggest questions are ones about how we should live our lives together, and that is never going to get answered.  New science and art will come along, as will new events, and we'll have to figure out how to incorporate that, and sometimes that will require dramatic shifts in our political thought.  How does Piss Christ change the way we think about obscenity?  How does a Roomba affect our ethics?  How do surveillance cameras change our behavior?  How does September 11th change our relationships?  Politics is the process of parsing out all of these questions, and the greatest challenge is not finding a definitive answer but rather remembering that all of us need to work on it together; we need to understand ourselves as equally legitimate  in the political landscape, and to respect each other during the project of political life.  It means not picking fights and resorting to insults.  It means knowing we're all more than words on a page.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Love and New York

This past weekend, I had the supreme pleasure of singing in the wedding of my dear friends Julia and Olivier.  It was nerve wracking and occasionally frustrating and absolutely amazing.  I love singing, and this is the first time I've sung for friends with whom I am this close.  Luckily, I was able to sing the processional - "Ave Maria" - from the side of the altar, thus staving off a complete sobby meltdown upon seeing Juls come down the aisle in her stunning dress.  The ceremony was beautiful and I felt like I was getting a special treat as I sang from the front of the church; looking out at all of the happy faces there to celebrate Juls and Liv's special day made my heart grow three sizes with every hymn and psalm.

I spent that weekend in the company of old friends - Juls, Liv, Ben, Lucy, Katy, Lee, Dan, Tiff - and new ones.  The night before the wedding, Lucy and Lee and I went to see The Hunger Games while we waited for Ben to make his way to New York, then engaged in a traditional Olivier orgy of food and drink.  On the day of the wedding, Liv, Ben and I went on a rescue mission to the post office to pick up presents for the mother and father of the bride that had been trapped there.  (It's not a wedding until you've defrauded a government agency!) Later, I curled my hair perched on the edge of the couch while Ben napped and Katy buzzed around getting ready.  I felt so lucky to share this stunning weekend with people I love so much and for so many reasons.  These are people who know me better than anyone, and who bear me up when all else fails.  I am nothing without my friends.

Normally, any weekend with this group leaves my heart singing, but this weekend in particular was exceptionally stunning.  I felt throughout as though I was in a museum dedicated to love - love of all kinds, of all shapes, of all sizes and details.  From the time I arrived on Thursday for the rehearsal, much was made about the impending clash of cultures - Julia's family is Irish, stoic, dryly hilarious, and somewhat feelings-averse, whereas Olivier's French/Puerto Rican blend is effusive and more or less a whirling vortex of bisous and hugging.  There was only one sure thing: it was going to be spectacular.  And so it was - there were so many moments of beauty in these connections and interactions.  Those two families are definitive proof that love is a many splendored thing.

That's what I thought about, the whole weekend: just how many kinds of love there are, and how many were on display.  The ease of conversation between long-distant family members brought back together.  Little stories about everyday life that shape sisters and parents and children.  The drive to produce an orgy of food for visiting friends the night before your wedding.  Fussing over getting everything perfect for the ones you love; snapping when it isn't, glowing when it is.  Worrying about the welfare of a pigeon who has taken up residence on a balcony in Queens, and her two eggs.  A musical war between inappropriate rugby songs and old Irish songs and, mysteriously, rap.  Unfunny non-jokes made to ease the nervousness.  Shaking hands at the podium.  Hugs and yelling and dancing.  Tears.  Nested hands.  They're all manifestations of love, and it is nothing short of miraculous that so many of these wove a soft blanket around this wedding.  I believe in miracles, yes.

There is one more love that I couldn't help but notice that weekend...the love you can have for a place.  The reception closed with Sinatra's "New York, New York," with the dance floor packed with dangerously-high-kicking friends and everyone singing along.  There are New Yorkers who can be obnoxious about New York, but there is no denying that there is something special about it.  You cannot visit New York and not feel it's frantic, beating heart, even in the quietest neighborhoods, and you cannot, having felt this, question that your time in New York, there in that moment, wherever you are and whatever you're doing, is just one small part in a long, grand, strange, wonderful story that has been written for centuries and will go on for many more.  At 3 in the morning I looked out the window of the Cuckoo's Nest, from the afterparty, and watched Juls laugh with her friends, in her stunning, billowing dress, head sailing back, one small moment in the life of the City but so in control and the sole owner of the night, and thought, "this is a special place."  And it is.

Congratulations, Juls and Liv.  I couldn't be luckier to know you.

Sometimes I Text My Mom from the Train

Me: Were you afraid of Russia in the 80s?
Mom: No
Me: Why not? 
Mom: I was too busy beating you children

Aaaaaaaaaand I snorted out loud on the train and freaked out the lady next to me.  THANKS MOM.  The hits continue...

Me: I'm reading Rachel Maddow's book "Drift: the Unmooring of the American Military" and the first couple chapters are about Reagan's development of a"RUSSIANS ARE SCARY" motif 
Me: Obviously since I was busy being beaten/an infant at the time it's hard for me to know how effective/pervasive it was
Mom: I honestly do not remember being afraid of the Russians. I was more mortified that a B actor was president of my country
Mom: I had no idea what madness lay ahead...
Mom: W!!!!!!!!

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Closest I've Come to Being in a Cult Was Taking a Shower in New Jersey

When I was little, I had to constantly be reading.  When I was eating my breakfast, I was reading the cereal box.  And the milk.  Later, I'd start reading the paper, or a book, or a magazine.  When I was in the shower, I'd read shampoo bottles.  This took an interesting turn when I visited my aunt and uncle's house in New Jersey, because they used Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap, which has a label like this:
Click to enlarge
I took really long showers when I was in New Jersey.

For those who don't have 20 minutes to read this, let me say this: the passage "For one God's Spaceship Earth, with Bomb and Gun we're all-One or none!  All-One!  All-One!  All-One!  Exceptions eternally?  Absolute none!" happens, and it's not even the most frantic thing on there.  Dr. Bronner was an interesting guy, and the company is still run by his family following his death in 1997.  The soap, incidentally, is really good.  It rinses cleanly and it doesn't dry out your skin.  Plus, it's a culty-fun adventure for the whole family!

I grew up with this soap, and as I got older, I realized that Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap was the kind of thing hippie-type folks were prone to having on hand, which makes sense given my context for it.  I recently read about coconut oil being great for your skin (and a million other things; Jenna Marbles sums it up nicely), and wanted to try it - regular readers of this blog may remember that I usually clean my face with olive oil - and someone suggested that Dr. Bronner's was the best place to get coconut oil.  I was disappointed to discover that there is no pseudo-religious babble on the coconut oil container, though it does say "Dr' Bronner's MAGIC 'ALL-ONE'," which I suppose is pretty good.  It IS fair trade and organic, which in reality is probably better than having a bunch of rambling on the label, so it has that going for it.  However, I'm sitting here, having used some Dr. Bronner's coconut oil on my face and some of it in my morning smoothie, about to take my multivitamin and "Women's Treasure" herbal supplement with my nettle infusion as recommended by my herbalist (the fantastic Melanie St. Ours), and I'm kind of realizing that hippie is genetic and there's just no escaping it.  And you know what, I'm cool with that, because since taking my herbs my hair and nails have been super strong and luxurious and my whole life is more balanced, and right now guys my face is as smooth as the most angelic little cherub's butt.  I embrace the hippiedoodlery.

Note on the coconut oil: barring any weird skin freakouts, I will be switching over to coconut oil for everything.  I find that the olive oil still removes makeup a little better.  However, there was always the "smelling vaguely like a salad" aspect of using olive oil, and now I can instead smell like a coconut, which is preferable by far.  Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, I bet you could add in some other essential oil to make a scent you might prefer, as long as you chose something that wouldn't irritate your skin.  The main challenge would be blending it properly; the coconut oil is a solid at regular room temperature, so I guess you could warm the oil in a pot of water (i.e. put the open jar in a pan of water), mix the additional oil in, then let it set up again.  I'm going to try it!  I will report back soon.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

DIY Pore Strips: Getting To Know Your Ingredients

Pore strips: the most entertaining grossness-based bathroom activity this side of the neti pot.  Also?  Not cheap.  A while back I came across Michelle Phan's video for pore strips and thought "huh, that seems neat," and then forgot about it for about a year and a half, obviously.  Listen, The Lucy just told me she took my advice on Makeup Forever's HD Foundation after two years, therefore two years is an acceptable and standard unit of procrastination BE IT SO ORDERED.

Anyway, to make your own pore strips, you take a tablespoon of unflavored gelatin and a tablespoon of milk, mix them up, nuke 'em for 10 seconds, then slop it on your nose (or wherever) and let it dry.  Here's Michelle's video.

I tried this today, and I have to say I'm kind of lukewarm on the result.  It may be that I pulled it off a little early, because I'm not good at being patient about pore strips in the best circumstances, but I didn't find the experience as thrilling as the storebought version.  That said, it did take a bunch of the oil off my face, and that's a plus.  Here are the pros and cons of my personal experience with this method.


  • Not as effective at dredging stuff out of your pores.  While oil came off easily (yay!) I got a minimum of those creepy plugs that come up with the Biore strips. 
  • You have to find Knox gelatin.  If you can't find it on your own, you will have to ask a teenager at the supermarket.  They will not know what it is.  
  • It smells like a foot.  Oh my sweet jalopy does it smell like a foot.  This would be less of a concern if you were applying this to, for instance, your own foot, but since it's likely going on your nose, it's kind of an issue.  If you're sensitive to smells, this is probably not a great option for you.
  • It will look like you have gross boogers all over your face.  
  • WAY cheaper.  Knox gelatin costs about $1.86 for a box of five packets (each packet a tablespoon).  Biore strips are $6.89 for six strips on  That box of Knox is at least five uses per box, and maybe more...I didn't try saving and reheating the goop, so it's possible you could get more than one use out of each packet, and you could certainly get a greater area out of each one than the strips allow.  
  • It's much easier on the skin.  Sometimes the Biore strips can be a little aggressive, but this method peeled off easily and without yanking my skin.  It was also minimally drying and either absorbed or removed a lot of excess oil from my face.  
  • Easier on the environment.  With Biore strips you have a cardboard box, foil packet, plastic backing and a cloth or paper strip.  With the gelatin you have a box and a paper packet; less materials and all the way recyclable.  Fight your wasteful American ways!!
  • It will look like you have gross boogers all over your face.  I list this here because it is hilarious and I am four.
I'd say this is worth a try, especially if you're a little light on the funds, but I did not find the results to be equivalent.  It's possible that with time I will get better at it, but I have to say this isn't the top of my DIY successes, unlike the use of olive oil for cleansing or apple cider vinegar and baking soda to clean my hair.  Give it a try and tell me what you think!

Monday, March 5, 2012

I Have Some Thoughts on This Sandra Fluke Thing

1. Hormonal birth control does not increase in volume per fuck.  If I don't fuck anyone, birth control requires 28 pills, one ring or one patch per month.  If I fuck ALL the people, birth control requires 28 pills, one ring, or one patch per month.

2. Not everyone takes hormonal birth control for birth control.  I know this sounds crazy to people who don't have vaginas but that is indeed the case. I was one of them.

3. The above point, which has been raised in the media, is none of your fucking business.  It is the business of the owner of the vagina in question and the doctor said vagina-owner chooses.

4. None of the above points, nor anything about anyone's medical history, tells you a damn thing about their sexual history nor gives you license to comment on it.

5.  Ignoring point #4 makes you an outrageous misogynistic asshole.

6. As desperately as I would like to not have to think about point #5, it's a little bit hilarious to watch you - and obviously here I mean Rush Limbaugh specifically, but most of the right-wing media personalities generally - show just how ignorant and gross you are, several months before an election, by being all "HERP A DERP DERP, HOW DO LADY PARTS WORK" from inside your own ass.  Keep it you, you slut-shaming assholes.  Looking forward to November.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Land of the Free

On Monday, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal al-Sa'ud appeared at the National Press Club, and journalist Sam Husseini asked him a question that I'm sure was extremely uncomfortable, to wit: 
There's been a lot of talk about the legitimacy of the Syrian regime, I want to know what legitimacy your regime has, sir. You come before us, representative of one of the most autocratic, misogynistic regimes on the face of the earth. Human Rights Watch and other reports of torture detention of activist, you squelched the democratic uprising in Bahrain, you tried to overturn the democratic uprising in Egypt and indeed you continue to oppress your own people. What legitimacy does you regime have -- other than billions of dollars and weapons?
After some dancing around and several inquiries about whether or not Husseini had been to Saudi Arabia (...?), Prince Turki finally did respond, sort of:

Anyway ladies and gentlemen I advise anybody who has these questions to come to the kingdom and see for themselves. I don't need to justify my country's legitimacy. We're participants in all of the international organizations and we contribute to the welfare of people through aid program not just directly from Saudi Arabia but through all the international agencies that are working throughout the world to provide help and support for people. We admit this, as I said that we have many challenges inside our country and those challenges we are hoping to address and be reformed by evolution, as I said, and not by revolution. So that is the way that we are leading, by admitting that we have shortcomings. Not only do we recognize the shortcomings, but hopefully put in place actions and programs that would overcome these shortcomings. I have mentioned the fact that when you call Saudi Arabia a misogynistic country that women in Saudi Arabia can now not only vote, but also participate as candidates in elections and be members of the Shura Council. And I just refer you to your own experience to your women's rights, when did your women get right to vote? After how many years since the establishment of the United States did women get to vote in the United States? Does that mean that before they got the vote that United States was an illegitimate country? According to his definition, obviously. So, until, when was it -- 1910 when women got to vote -- from 1789 to 1910 United States was illegitimate? This is how you should measure things, by how people recognize their faults and try to overcome them.
Husseini raises an excellent point in his post about the incident, and his commentary explains why he is both a better man and a better journalist than I ever can or will possibly be: 
I was very glad to get the question in and and I was happy that Turki responded. I think his response opens the door to a lot more serious reporting. For example, Turki's response that Saudi Arabia gets legitimacy because of its aid programs is an interesting notion. Is he arguing that by giving aid to other countries and to international organizations that the Saudi regime has somehow purchased legitimacy, and perhaps immunity from criticism, that it would otherwise not have received? This is worth journalists and independent organizations pursuing. might seem like I'm giving him too much praise for being open minded about Turki's response.  I give him an extra measure because the same day, Husseini was suspended from the National Press Club for his question.

Here's the thing.

The United States has allied itself with Saudi Arabia for decades because we need two things: their oil and their oasis of reasonable calm in a turbulent region.  I am not one to immediately brush off alliances made for economic resources.  While we Americans refuse to work towards a less oil-dependent nation, we need to get oil from somewhere, and right now that means either from nations of problematic politics in the MENA region or from Canada via the proposed affront to the environment that is the Keystone XL pipeline.  It sucks, but here we are.  If you need things and someone else has them, you trade for them.  That said, it is incumbent on a nation that prides itself on its moral stature to occasionally say "this nation's human rights violations are too much to bear," and to at the very least separate the diplomatic fawning from the economic transaction.  There are plenty of countries we do trade with - serious, big time trade worth significant chunks of GDP - that do not receive nearly the endorsement, defense or encouragement that we lend to Saudi Arabia.  It is frankly unseemly for us to be castigating other nations in the region to act right and stop oppressing their people while shoveling money and support into Saudi Arabia as they commit the same sins.

Saudi Arabia has some serious shit to answer to, and so do we.

What worries me, though, isn't even Saudi Arabia's behavior or the fact that they send members of the royal family to the National Press Club to answer soft questions and lie to the world, but rather that the National Press Club, which despite its name is not an organ of the US government, but a private club for journalists, would suspend a member for asking a question that is extremely relevant to US foreign policy and also raises an important point about legitimacy of rulers and sovereignty generally.  This is precisely the kind of soft despotism that so concerned Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835.  Tocqueville was concerned that in a democracy, one would find not the despotism that jailed you or beat you or tortured you, but an even more insidious form, which would trick you into policing yourself.  He feared that citizens in democracies would become so brainwashed by the conventions of their societies that they would suppress their own freedom, without any prodding from the state.  This kind of incident seems to prove Tocqueville's concerns valid, and that is a really worrying proposition for America's present and future.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Unfuckening

I've been following this tumblr, Unfuck Your Habitat (...hee), which is a string of somewhat violent exhortations to clean interspersed with GIF-based praise for follow through.  The idea is that cleaning in small chunks is much more productive and long-lasting than cleaning marathons that make you hate yourself and everything you own.  It's SO TRUE YOU GUYS.  The author suggests going in rounds of 20/10...20 minutes cleaning, 10 minutes of planned break.  Here's a before shot:
Shit everywhere, hasn't seen the business end of a vaccuum in ages, nine thousand projects going on at once.  Here's what it looked like after two rounds of 20/10s:
Vacuumed, organized, cleared.

As you can see, it didn't take me just an hour, because I had a couple non-great-room 20/10s thrown in.  For instance, I took the shoes you see under the chairs in to my closet and did a 20 in there organizing my shoes and closet (more on that in a bit).  But the planned breaks made everything a million times easier, and I feel super accomplished!!  I highly recommend following UFYH and following the directives.  Love it!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

This Above All: To Thine Own Self Be True

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

                          Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3

My friend Kym and I seem to be creating quite a little echo chamber of sentiment this week.  She incorporated my recent post on the Tragically Hip into her thinking about her life and where it would and should take her.  She  is in the process of thinking more about who she is and who she wants to be, and this, I think, is when you really know you're going to be okay: when you're able to look at the good and bad of your life and face it all with an understanding of who your past makes you and just how much freedom you have to choose who you will be.  I loved how Kym understood my babbling about nostalgia, and the way she was able to use it as a lens through which to consider herself.  It can be hard to figure out how to balance a longing for former glories with the need to direct your life forward.

Kym's considerations of her life and future reminded me of something my Mom did for me.  When I was young, I was really freaked out by going to the bathroom at my elementary school, and this meant that I would often come home having walked a mile while desperately having to go to the bathroom.  Mom had a talk with me about listening to my body (presumably while thinking "this is just great, my child is going to make her bladder actually explode. Why did I have children, again?"), and the next day I opened my lunchbox and found a note that read "This above all: to thine own self be true" and this:
That's a little cat from a Red Rose Tea box.  Red Rose has been including these little things - called whimsies, adorably - in their tea for decades, and we used to have a lot of them.  I've kept this little cat since then, and it's probably the possession I've held onto the longest; I've had it since I was 6 or 7.  It reminds me of several things, first, of course, being of how amazingly lucky I am to have a mom who not only thought it was appropriate to counsel her elementary school daughter via Hamlet, but also knew she was correct to do so, since my reading level was such that I could figure out that older diction and not get thrown by "thine."  It also reminds me that listening to myself is what will keep me on the right path, and that it takes continual reflection.

I bring this little cat with me whenever I'm feeling nervous or trying something new.  It was with me at my high school and college graduations, with me at American University and Assumption College.  It was with me at orientation when I started my Ph.D at Boston University.  It was with me when I debated the Cambridge Union Society and when I sang the National Anthem for the first time at the DCU Center.  It was with me when I went to Obama's Inauguration and when I was inducted into Phi Sigma Tau, the Philosophy honor society.  I was with me at my book release parties, at opera recitals, and next to my computer when I sent articles off to journals and conferences.  It will be with me at many other key intersections of my life, because it will never stop being the most useful reminder I have.

This above all: to thine own self be true.

You'll Never Walk Aloooooooooooneeeeeeeee

Sometimes I have bad days and I'm cranky or sad or fighty, but I know in the end that I'll be okay.  I know this because every now and then one of my friends will text me something like this:

And the text "Hi! What is new? I miss you and this reminded me of you haha"

My friends rule.

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Are You Tenderheaded?"

I just finished Baratunde Thurston's How To Be Black, which was hilarious, poignant and biting, and is officially the first book I actively regretted not buying in hardcopy, because the cover just says "HOW TO BE BLACK," and I feel like I'd get a lot of mileage out of my white ass reading that on the T.  I've been thinking a lot about race, not only because of Thurston's book, but because I am a political scientist and political wonk, and if you're thinking about politics in the age of Barack Obama's Presidency, you are thinking about race.  Race has been so visible in the past several years; it's always been there, obviously, but it feels like racism has really edged its way back into active, visible political discourse since Obama was elected, and I find that supremely disappointing.  Maybe this is my liberal elitist white girl perception, but I thought we'd reached a place where, despite having what I believe is referred to in very professional academic circles as "a metric fuckton" of work to do, a majority of people kind of got that racism was not acceptable and that you should at least attempt to keep that shit to yourself.  Not that racism was fixed, mind you, or even close to being fixed, but that we were at least moving vaguely in a positive direction.

I've also been reading the very funny "Yo, Is This Racist" tumblr, which does exactly as advertised - you ask if things are racist, and the tumblr tells you what's up (hint: usually the answer is "yes").  There was one person who asked "are peas racist," and just got a straight "No." which had me laughing uncontrollably for some reason.  I mean...peas. It occurred to someone to ask if peas were racist.  That is magical.  Anyway, some of them are funny and some of them take a turn for the serious, and some are both, like this one from today:
If you read around about race a bit, you'll run into this idea, which is...really something.  Basically, this person is saying that by identifying racism, you are the real racist, because you are insisting on defining things by race.  I...look, this is a stupid argument.  You cannot will racism out of being.  Moreover, this is a variant of the "we should all just be colorblind!" concept.  For those who might not have thought about this, that's a nice idea that is completely unrealistic and misses the point.  Regardless of whether we feel like race should be a factor in our judgments of individuals or groups, race to this point has translated into enormous social inequities.  These things need to be addressed, not just magicked away.  Ignoring them ignores now fundamental inequalities and is a further injustice.  It would be lovely if racism was merely a matter of people thinking bigoted thoughts, but those thoughts have manifested in very real physical, political, social and economic injuries to people and communities of color.

This is also an idea that can only come from people who are able to opt out of racial considerations.  I don't think it's exclusively limited to white people, because I think there are people of color who have reached different places of privilege that allow them to shed some of the weight of racism, but I'm comfortable saying it's mostly white people.  The word "privilege" gets tossed around a lot here, and it's accurate, though I think some people use it as an insult, and that's not quite right.  Having privilege doesn't mean you are somehow bad, but is instead an understanding that your particular experience as a member of a certain group gives you a certain limited perspective even as it gives you an elevated stature in society.  There's nothing you can do about it, just like there isn't anything you can do about being born without privilege, but you can acknowledge it and work to see what you might be missing in your consideration and arguments as a result of your privilege.    It comes down to this: a straight, cisgendered white girl from Massachusetts like me doesn't need to think about race unless she decides to.  The first time I heard about the concept of privilege, I thought immediately of one particular incident, and I thought of it again today when I read the comment from Yo, Is This Racist? today.  Here's the story.

When I was living in DC and attending American University, I was on my own for the first time.  I needed a haircut and I was over by the Metro; I needed to meet someone on Wisconsin Avenue, I think.  I remembered seeing a hair salon in the area, and being in an adventurey kind of mood, I wanted to try it out.  I walked down to Brandywine and strolled into the salon...which specialized in black hair.  I cannot remember a time when I felt more visible and out of place in my life.  All at once, I realized how fucking white my life was, and how reliably I could count on at least some other white people being in any group I was a part of, because there was not a single white person in there, and the place was packed.  A super nice lady asked me what she could help me with, and she was able to get me in for a haircut, which was sweet.  I went over to the shampoo place, where this giant, awesome guy asked me in this mumbly, quiet voice, if I was tenderheaded.  Well, first he asked me, "'r'you tndhrphmmer?" which I didn't quite catch, but when I asked him to repeat it, I still didn't know what the shit "tenderheaded" was, so that didn't really resolve anything.  I went with "not really," figuring I could hedge my bets, and then quickly learned that he'd asked basically to figure out how hard he could yank my hair around and how hard he could massage my scalp.  (Note: I am, in fact, tenderheaded as hell.)  After that, I went over to the chair and got a great haircut.  It was actually a great experience for a variety of reasons, but I was never unaware of being white.

That's why I feel like it's my job to be aware of race and to listen to people of color and work to resolve racial conflict in our society; for me, that was one haircut's worth of continually being aware of my race, but for people of color, that's continual.  My race, in that shop, was my defining characteristic, and I had no say over that.  It wasn't that way because I'd come in and been all "CAN A WHITE GIRL GET A HAIRCUT, BLACK PEOPLE??" or something I did to call attention to it - it was the simple, visual context for me by dint of everyone else being another way.  When I left that shop, I could return to my white world.  It's worth noting that everyone there was super nice, and my being white carried no particular penalty, but this, as we know, is not always the case for people of color.  The project is NOT to make sure everyone can go to their white world, their black world, their brown world, etc., but rather to create one world that is devoid of racial penalty.  This means accepting that people look different, and their appearances call up certain cultural contexts.  It means recognizing those cultural connotations and adjusting our worldview so we can eventually take people as they are.  But we cannot get to that place without recognizing and considering race.

Friday, February 17, 2012

It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken

Every Tuesday and Thursday I take the Framingham/Worcester commuter rail from Worcester to Boston. This ride takes me through a corridor of industry past and present - through the burgeoning CSX rail yard in Worcester, past the Dennison factory in Framingham, then into the houses of rich people in the Bostonian suburbs. Threaded through all of this is the rough nature of Massachusetts, with its brown grasses and naked limbs, following the curves of scrubby streams. There's a pair of swans I look at, usually in the pond next to the pump house at Framingham that I sometimes imagine living in. In the spring, skunk cabbage rushes up everywhere. The whole landscape is littered with tires, trash, the occasional sofa. I don't see a lot of nearby animals, which is a funny contrast to the regularity with which I see mice scurrying around on the tracks while I wait inside for the red line train at Park Street. Inside, life by the third rail; outside, not a creature stirring.

When I make this trip, I'm usually listening to the Tragically Hip. Several years ago, my friend Ben asked me if I wanted to go to a Hip concert in Boston at what used to be the Avalon and is now the House of Blues. I'd never heard of them, but I went anyway. It was one of those beautiful nights where you get out of the T station and feel the air wash over you like it's thrilled you could make it. The Red Sox were playing the Yankees, so I had to wait three trains before I could elbow my way into the sea of red and navy. I wound up squished next to the only other four people on the train who were going to the concert, Canadians who followed me out of the T station yelling to each other, "come on, come on, she KNOWS," which was great - here I am being credited with mystical navigational skills, and the only real secret was to follow everyone else. The concert was one of the first I've enjoyed as an event. I usually like concerts fine, but wouldn't necessarily say they're a thing I like to do. I came home and started listening to the Hip.

In the beginning, I responded to the sound of the Hip, rather than the specific lyrics, because I simply didn't KNOW enough of the latter to get all that excited about them. Even that sound, though, speaks of a particular kind of experience. There is a gentleness to their music, that I think is an admission that we all need it. We need some softness in our lives because we are always in transit and always about to fall. That this should be so evident even in the sound of their music speaks quite clearly to my experience of Canadians themselves. While I have met some really remarkable Canadians, I've also met some real assholes, people who I truly wanted to punch in the face. Still, this quietness rests in all of them, a quiet strength that comes from something shared.

When I started listening to enough that I learned the lyrics, I decided two things: that the Hip might be too smart for me, and that they pull from a deeply enviable kind of nostalgia. I say they might be too smart for me because their references - historical, literary, hockey related - are so various and occasionally so subtle that I feel I could study them for years and still not be able to hang them all together in a frame...or else study them for years and find some kind of epic blueprint for Canadian world domination. I'm sure that people who have loved the Hip longer and better than I have tried this; I have a long road ahead.

But that second point, I think, is why I listen to them on the train so often.  Nostalgia for nostalgia's sake isn't always good; there are a lot of people in America right now desperately striving towards the past in the name of a misplaced nostalgia for a simpler time, as though the political conflicts and worries that we are staring down today didn't exist back then, forgetting that there were even bigger problems and yet more injustice.  This points to a fundamental misunderstanding of what politics are.  Politics are the navigation of our law through the stormy seas of human interaction.  Whatever form they take, political discourses are an attempt to sort out how to let each person be human.  That doesn't change.  But there is a nostalgia that fits with these shifting tides, and this is a sense of what was good and what was achieved, and the soft, glowing pride that attends those things and pushes us towards the future.

Right now, I think this nostalgia attaches itself most often to our thoughts about industry in America, and in Canada as well.  We are linked together whether we like it or not.  We are brothers, with all that entails - the competition, the cross-purposes, the conflict, the conspiracy, the love.  I think we conceive of industry in the same way as well.  These are nations built on industry, and now industry is fading, to make way for new economies.  While we want to succeed in these new economies, I think we see our work in old industry as being fundamentally about being Canadian, being American.  This is the industry my train passes through, and it's particularly poignant to see how some industry is continuing on, wearing a mantle of rust, and some has been reconstituted into the new world, like the Dennison building by Framingham.  It's still a giant heap of brick, with a massive window sporting an ornate blue Dennison "D," through which light once shone on a paper milling floor.  The window is still there, though the machines have quieted and changed.  This is how the Hip feels to me.  Their songs feel like fondness for making things on the strength of our backs, and standing on shifting sands.  Their songs feel like a reminder that things are good, even if they're not the same.   They're songs about working men, and about quiet strength.  I love those songs for that.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I Love Me a Tropical Vacation, but...

...after 28 years of living in snowy climates*, I still react to snow like this:
...and that tells me I'm always going to live amidst snow and ice.

*  Yeah, you too, DC.  I'm not buying into that creepy mass amnesia you people get about the fact that it snows every damn year.

Our Love is Like Byzantium

I don't really like poetry generally, but when I DO like it, I love it.  Like this one.

Our love is like Byzantium
must have been
on the last evening. There must have been
I imagine
a glow on the faces
of those who crowded the streets
or stood in small groups
on streetcorners and public squares
speaking together in low voices
that must have resembled
the glow your face has
when you brush your hair back
and look at me.

I imagine they haven't spoken
much, and about rather
ordinary things
that they have been trying to say
and have stopped
without having managed to express
what they wanted
and have been trying again
and given up again
and have been loking at each other
and lowered their eyes.

Very old icons, for instance,
have that kind of glow
the blaze of a burning city
or the glow which approaching death
leaves on photographs of people who died young
in the memory of those left behind.

When I turn towards you
in bed, I have a feeling
of stepping into a church
that was burned down long ago
and where only the darkness in the eyes of the icons
has remained
filled with the flames
which annihilated them.

--Henrik Nordbrandt
(translated by Henrik Nordbrandt and Alexander Taylor)
The Theotokos of Vladimir

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Don't Worry Everyone Awesome Hockey is Coming

As you know, I've been supportive of the Occupy movement, and I've been talking with a friend about what needs to get occupied (also when the guillotines should be deployed, but whatever, details.) and every now and then it's like "OCCUPY MOSCOW!" and then we remember that, you know, Putin.
So that's suppressive.  And then we think of some other things to occupy, and then eventually, "OCCUPY ST. PETERSBURG!"
Every now and then we try to switch it up old school with some "OCCUPY STALINGRAD!" action but it really always comes down to "nyet" and we kind of had to give up the dream of Occupying Moscow because the "ex" in "ex-KGB" is silent and no one wants to mess with Putin because he is terrifying.   It's hard to give up your dreams sometimes but that's what you have to do.  

Let's shelve that for a second and talk about another thing that we argue about, that being why the NHL All Star Game sucks.  There is general agreement that the All Star Game sucks because Gary Bettman is an ass, because that is the stock explanation for anything in hockey sucking for us, but there's also a consensus that the All Star Game sucks because there's no pride being played for.  The example that my friend usually defaults to is that of the 1979 Challenge Cup, which replaced the All Star Game and featured the NHL's best versus the Soviet hockey team, which was at the time one of the most dominant forces in the world.  In that series, there was a real us vs. them feel, and the hockey was spectacular.

This conversation usually devolves into "so if we could just get some Soviets back, we could have good hockey at the All Star Game again, even though everyone would get gulaged again and that would be bad."  And then we sigh wistfully because obviously with Putin (...nyet) in charge, things will continue to get managed because that is what he is good at.

And then this happened.
"No, YOU nyet!"
Russians are out in the streets protesting their faces off over the most recent election results, which featured extravagant election fraud and made everyone angry (and rightfully so), turning out up to 100,000 people into the streets in protest, which in Russia at pretty much any point in the past 100+ years is remarkable.  Needless to say, I decided that this would lead to an incredibly tight crackdown from the Putin government, leading to a new Soviet era and thus good hockey again.  How could this possibly go wrong??  I, for one, can't wait.

PS - effin' YOU GO, Russia!  Don't give up!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Get Help Early and Often

Last year, one of the Worcester Sharks committed suicide.  His name was Tom Cavanaugh and he was a local boy who came from a big hockey family in Rhode Island and played at Harvard.  After his death, his long struggle with mental illness came out in the open.  This was a huge shock for a lot of people, because Tom Cavanaugh was a uniformly charming, bright, sparkling person in public to most of us who had met him, be it in passing or more closely.  He seemed to genuinely enjoy his hockey community, and I think he probably did - but the reality of mental illness is that it is a rollercoaster: you can be doing something you love and have moments of real joy, but the next moment be dragged down into the murk.  This surprise, I think, speaks volumes of the way we think about mental illness.  We confuse putting a brave face on with being okay, and making it through the day with success or happiness.

I know this in part because I have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my adult life, and whenever I tell people this, they are surprised.  I'm generally an upbeat person, particularly so in public, so the idea that I get depressed is surprising to people.  My depression is not crippling, as it can be for others, but it is still something I have to be aware of and seek treatment for at certain times.  I have been lucky enough to have truly supportive people in my life who have encouraged me and borne me up when I was having a rough time of it.

I don't think there's a person on this planet who wouldn't benefit from some talk therapy.  There is something so helpful in having a neutral audience who can make suggestions based on knowledge and experience.  I mentioned the surprise that people express when I mention my depression, and that's part of why a neutral audience is so important; a therapist is trained to keep their personal connection with you (should they develop one) out of it.  As I said above, I have amazing friends and family who have been supportive of me, but when I express my persistent anxiety that I am not smart, or not smart enough, most of those friends and family brush that off, often saying that I am the - or one of the - smartest people they know.  That's awesome to hear, obviously, and intellectually I know that I am plenty smart, but that doesn't mean I don't stress about it.  My anxiety is not rational.  A therapist can help me talk through that in a way that's difficult for friends to do, because...they're our friends!  Friends think their friends are awesome!  It's a rare friend who can step back enough to work through depression and anxiety with you without judgment or instability, and I'm not sure that should be a friend's responsibility.

I encourage everyone to consider talk therapy, whether they are momentarily stressed or persistently traumatized.  You should also go into therapy remembering that the first person you see might not be the right fit for you!  I've been to many therapists, and not all of them have been effective for me - some wanted me to write things down, some wanted to trace back problems to the root, some wanted to spend a ton of time on building a history, some just wanted to get some coping mechanisms in place.  Therapists are people, and you might not click with them, just like you might not click with some coworkers.  Keep trying.  Don't be afraid to ask if an initial consult is free.  Don't give up!  And remember: mental illness doesn't make you weak and it doesn't make you not awesome.  Some of us who suffer with it are doing exactly what they love, looking like everything is perfect.  Happiness and opportunity don't exempt you from mental illness, and mental illness doesn't have to bar you from happiness and opportunity.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline for free 24/7 at (800) 273-TALK or go to their website for help.  If you are looking for mental health resources, check out SAMHSA's lookup on their website.  You can also look for local therapists through Psychology Today, your health insurance provider's website, or even sites like Yelp.  Don't be afraid - they're there for you.
Rest well, Tom.