Saturday, November 28, 2009

Time as cycles, or spirals, but never the linear.

I finished my thesis today.

This is not to imply, in any way whatsoever, that the stupid thing is done.  But it's done enough that my poor, dear, immensely patient thesis director can wade through the pages and pages of words and footnotes and interpretive dance and tell me what it is that I've said.

Because at this point, I'm not certain that I can remember.

What's interesting about this, besides the point that I may actually really get my damn Master's, is that I've been studying Arendt for ten years.

This question of the world in common has been my question for the past decade.  For ten years I've been worrying this question of the social.  And again, this is not to imply that I'm done with this worry.

A decade.

I like moments like these.  I liked when Harry Potter came to a close and I got to look at the loop my life had made from the first time I read the books to the close of the last one.  I like to look back and see where I've changed and where I have stayed resolutely the same.

And yet, so much more work still to do . . .

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The First Post in what will be a Series on Women and Skepticism

For those of you who have skipped reading between the lines, I'm something of a skeptic.  I've also been known to dabble in the odd bit of feminism and other social justice ideas here and there.
(See what I did right there? It was humor based on understatement.  Hilarious, I am that.)
For me, my feminism, antiracism, and other various social justice passions (fellow LGBTQQIers, we need a better catchphrase, also, the acronym is getting long, just saying) are intimately interrelated with my skepticism.  There are few branches of pseudoscience that do not intersect with social justice.  There has recently been a kerfuffle on the interwebs about the visibility of women in (ugh so tired of this language) "new atheism" and in the skeptical movement in general.

Seriously, we're out there.

So I thought that I'd spill a few words about it, before launching into why feminism and skepticism, antiracism and skepticism, social justice in general and skepticism, just naturally go together I thought I'd indulge in my own coming to jesus er skepticism story.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How I became a protest organizer in two days, and why you should too!

It started simply enough.
I have kind of a reputation as being . . . opinionated?  A staunch, social justice oriented feminist?  Consistently livid about something or other?  Hypatia's Girl is angry after all.
And so it started simply.  A facebook chat message pointing me toward a link on someone's page with the request that I keep it on the radar.  The link was to an announcement that Rep. Bart Stupak was coming to my university to talk about the Great Lakes.  Stupak! In my university!
See, I'm angry about the Stupak-Pitts Amendment.  Deeply, deeply angry.  Much of that stems from coming to the realization that the anti-abortion forces aren't necessarily synonymous with "pro-life."  That is, if their sincere desire were to curb the incidence of abortion they would be doing things other than limiting access to abortion, and other reproductive services.  A sincere, honest and moral goal of reducing the incidence of abortion would be informed by knowledge about why women choose abortion, largely unplanned pregnancy, and what can be done to reduce the numbers of unplanned pregnancies.  See, reducing the numbers of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies would, almost by definition, reduce the number of abortions.  So genuine, sincere, honest, moral pro-lifers do not spend their time trying to limit women's access to reproductive health options, they instead work to increase people's access to contraception, sexuality education, rape prevention and they try to better the situation of women and ease the burden that motherhood very really represents for a woman.  The latter approach shows a genuine concern and empathy for women as actual human beings.  The Stupak-Pitts Amendment is a petulant example of the overt misogyny that has characterized (Sen. John Kyl, I'm looking at you) the entirety of the health care reform conversation.  It is an insincere and uninformed platitude toward the minority of the country who do not believe that women are people.  But more on that later.  In short, I was angry.
And so I thought, you know what, Stupak has a lot to answer for, and I bet I'm not the only one who has questions about this amendment he and his little friends in the House have attached to my health care reform (!).  So I reposted the link.
And then I thought some more.  Facebook is a fantastically flexible medium.  You can do all sorts of things on Facebook.  Like create events.  And so I started an event page, initially just dispersing it to my local friends, a little community action is always a good time.
Initially the invites were limited, no more than 20 of my nearest and dearest (although primarily nearest geographically) friends.  However, there are all sorts of groups and organizations on the Facebook, populated by people who are empathetic and concerned, sincere, ethical, good people.  And they took the event and reposted it, and invited their friends, and so on and so forth.
We, combined, invited something like 140 people.  That felt good.  Clearly, they were not all going to come, however perhaps 30 people were people I knew.
And since there are these lovely organizations and groups on the Facebook, when I realized that it could potentially be larger than just the Phil Dept and some Ann Arbor friends hanging out with some crudely drawn signs, awkwardly in the College of Law, but instead real live strangers could be there, I decided to ask for help, a little guidance.
I really needed the help when I realized that I could get media coverage.  Some nice concise talking points.  So I asked for help from the local Planned Parenthood (please give them lots and lots of money), and got the help I needed.  Did you know that anyone can just write up a press release and email it to a news organization?  Or just call up a local news organization and say - "hey, um, I just wanted to let you know that there is going to be a protest at the College of Law tomorrow at 8am, opposing Stupak."  There are people sitting at news organizations right now just waiting for you to call them.  This is amazing.
And then I just posted the event everywhere on the Facebook I could think of.  And harassed like-thinking friends into doing the same.  And made signs.
And then I went to soccer and was up far later than I intended.  And tried to sleep.

There is something thrilling about walking into a building, seeing people you don't know, standing there with signs.  All because you all agree that something needs to be done, and someone needs to have some answers ready.  It's really, really cool.

And I wander into the building and am greeted by lovely women and men with signs and stickers and flyers and t-shirts.  And we organize ourselves near the entrance to the conference, where Stupak will shortly be speaking.  The director of conference very nicely approaches us to find out what our plans are, and I do my best to reassure him that, seriously dude, I'm from MI, I want the nice conference on Great Lakes water issues to go well.  However, Stupak needs to be confronted by the terrible things he's done.  We just want to hold our nice signs, hand out some information, and ask a question or two, if that's cool.  And it was.  And then the TV cameras showed up.  And I found myself giving a couple of interviews, trying to stay clear and coherent, hit the hightlights, speak in soundbites.  You know, behave well.

The middle bit of the protest I missed, because just as Stupak started talking and some of us went into the room, I had to duck out and run off to teach a quick class on feminism, then it was right back to stand in for the Q&A (we got one question off, and about a half an answer back).

What I really want to stress in this post is a: people are wonderful, wonderful beings.  Very helpful and caring.  People out there do care.  And we can use our social media, the vast amount of technology that we (privileged ones) can take for granted, to bring us together.  And b: you can organize a protest very quickly.  Mostly because of (a).  And if you can, and it's a cause you care about, do it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Listening Project - and Their Refinement of the Decline - Stars of the Lid

Part 9 - and Their Refinement of the Decline - Stars of the Lid (2007, Kranky)

The reason I started this Sisyphean listening project was that I knew that I had music in my iTunes that was totally awesome, but I didn't know it, and so I wouldn't listen to it.  Finding music like and Their Refinement of the Decline completely justifies this project.

I think that I found Stars of the Lid accidentally, looking for Stars as Eyes.  You know, electronica or drone ambient, who knows the difference?

This album is beautiful.  I'm a big fan of ambient music, anything with a full sound that allows me to get totally lost within the music, so that I listen to all 16 tracks, hardly aware of any passage of time.  Instead content to sit and watch the moon rise through the ripple glass of the dining room window.

It's that good.

[It also caused a deep crisis in my life because it reminds me intensely of William Basinski's Disintegration Loops, which I had, at one point, on my computer and alas, now only have an empty folder labeled "William Basinski" (luckily the boy came through for me, huzzah for douchey indie folks).]

The music is slow and rich, with strings and beauty and wonderfulness.  A little difficult to write about, however I would like to point out that one of the tags on this album on is "music to write dissertation to."  This is true.  My thesis is going very well with music like this ringing through my bones.

I'm not going to bother with the Favorite/Least Favorite Tracks for this one - it needs to be listened to in its entirety, preferably while relaxing next to a window at night.

next up - And then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out - Yo La Tengo (2000)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Listening Project - Ancient Heart - Tanita Tikaram

Part 8 - Ancient Heart - Tanita Tikaram (1988, WEA)

I'm actually kind of a fan of  From their recommendations I've found some good music (Masha Qrella for one).  So when told me that if I like Suzanne Vega then I'll like Tanita Tikaram, I thought, sure why not?!

Eh.  I've listened through a few times now and it's starting to grow on me.  I was really worried when I was first listening, this is clearly a pop album from the late 80s.  More than Suzanne Vega, Tikaram really reminds me of Eleanor McEvoy.  Who isn't great, but I really fell in love with her for almost 20 minutes way back in the undergrad years (the first set).

Tikaram's slower, jazzier numbers are more fun.  She's got a very distinct voice, smooth and low.  The pop-ier songs are too sparse and not very well mixed, the end result being something like being at a coffee shop on open night mic night.  So while something like "For All These Years" is just great, fun and jazzy, "Good Tradition," the opening track, is damn near unlistenable.

That being said, I've listened through 3 times now, and I like it better each time I hear it.  If you can make it through the first couple of tracks, you either become used to the late 80s synth or it actually gets better.  I can't tell. 

Favorite Track - "Twist in my Sobriety" - something about this reminds me of the Arabian dance from The Nutcracker, always one of my favorites.
Least Favorite - "Good Tradition" - seriously, I almost didn't listen to the album because of this.

next up - And Their Refinement of the Decline - Stars of the Lid (2007)

[so this post was particularly hard because I realized that one of my all-time-totally-the-best-thing-ever favorite albums isn't on my iPod.  Saul Williams, who is a genius, should be here between Amnesiac and Ancient Heart with his Amethyst Rock Star.  Find it, listen to it, love it.]

I bravely wade into the server/diner war

100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part 1) - You’re the Boss Blog -

We're willing to do whatever it takes to keep you in this dead-end job

I worked in restaurants for years. Long, tortuous, evil years filled with all the misery that one would assume is found in working as a server. Worse, the restaurant that I worked at for the longest time was a place known for its salad bar and frequent foibles of the franchisees getting sued for some form of sexual discrimination/harassment or another. Good memories. It's not that I hated every minute of it (just most), but it did give me a particular perspective on the service industry.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Listening Project - Amnesiac - Radiohead

Part 7 - Amnesiac - Radiohead (2001, Capitol Records)

I was going to say that I didn't know anyone who didn't love Radiohead (particularly those of my generation), however, I have found one person who doesn't like Radiohead.  I'm trying to be friends with him anyway.

My love of Radiohead notwithstanding, Amnesiac is a difficult album for me to write about.  Radiohead isn't an easy listening kind of band.  It has a winter-night kind of feel to it, mellow with an uncomfortable sort of drive forward to the sound.  I'm not really certain what more to say about it.  Hooray for Radiohead!

Favorite Track - "Dollars & Cents"
Least Favorite - "Pyramid Song" It just doesn't do it for me.

next up - Ancient Heart - Tanita Tikaram (1988)

The long promised secular pagan post.

Magic is the art of changing consciousness at will - Dion Fortune

My relationship with religion has always been . . . fraught.  To be more specific, my relationship with systems of belief has always been complicated.  From the beginning, from my nice, Catholic baptism where I, to hear my mother tell it, spent the ceremony happily blowing raspberries at the priest.

Which isn't to say that I haven't tried to believe.  When I was in grade school we went to church.  I went to Sunday school, got my First Communion and First Reconciliation.  I learned my catechism.  And I tried to believe.

I have a vivid memory of kneeling at a pew, during mass trying so hard to pray.  Closing my eyes and picturing my heart with perforations that would break open and let Jesus in.  But I never felt anything.  I can remember, as well, the profound sadness at my failure.  And I can remember looking at the other parishioners, dressed in their Sunday-best, kneeling at their pews, with their eyes closed, praying.  And I wondered if they were just acting.  I knew that I was.

And then, the summer before I started at the local Catholic middle school I found Scott Cunningham's The Truth about Witchcraft Today.  My mother bought it for me, after voicing her concern that it would be too scary for me to read.  (There is a long history of me reading books that my parents knew little about, probably for the best)  And so I became the best approximation of Pagan a 10 year old can be with access to one introductory book, table salt and butter knives.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Listening Project - American Football - American Football

Part 6 - American Football - American Football (1998, Polyvinyl Record Company)

One of my concerns about doing this project is that there is a lot of music in my iTunes that I've never listened to.  That I, in fact, have no idea what it really is at all.  American Football was one of those bands, hanging out in my music library, a couple of songs had been nicked in shuffle-mode, but I had not a single clue what they sounded like.  But I kind of thought I didn't like them.

What's great about me, outside of my modesty, is I can admit a mistake (sometimes).  So I plug them in on my walk through the neighborhood to get to school last Wednesday (?!) and am greeted with the aural equivalent of the perfect fall day that was Wednesday morning.  Best. Fall. Album.  I love music that has a season, and American Football is fall in this really wonderful way.

Their sound is incredibly delicate and rich, like a really good creme brulee.  The way the melody weaves through guitar and vocals dapples like October sun through just-changed maple leaves.  This is a break-up album, but manages not to be maudlin or, worse, make me cry.  I liked it, in short, a helluva lot more than I expected.

Favorite Track - "I'll See You When We're Both Not So Emotional"
Least Favorite - "Stay Home" - it's a good song, but maybe not an 8 minute good song.

next up - Amnesiac - Radiohead (2001)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why a lack of school funding will bring down the American Empire

Hawaii schools to move to four-day week in state cost-cutting measure | World news |

So there are a few problems with this strategy, long term and short term. And several implications in terms of race, class and gender. But basically, we're shooting ourselves in the collective foot. I mean, I can foresee nothing but the END OF THE DAMN UNIVERSE if we continue down this path. Seriously, there'll be horsemen and zombies and WHO KNOWS WHAT ELSE.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Listening Project - Almost Killed Me - The Hold Steady

Part 5 - Almost Killed Me - The Hold Steady (2004, French Kiss Records)

The problem with having gone to the Pitchfork Music Festival 3 years in a row and not knowing jack about music is that I have a lot of false memories about who I saw, when.  I am positive that I saw the Hold Steady, but it might have been Oxford Collapse, or I might have meant to see them but saw someone else instead.

It's all very complicated.

At any rate, the Hold Steady is a good example of the paradox of my musical tastes.  For those of you listening along at home, you may have noticed that I really like unusual male voices. And Craig Finn has an unusual voice, a kind of strained talking-at-you-in-a-rhythm sound that, apparently, I really like.  And yet, cannot stand Tom Waits or Bob Dylan.  Weird, I know.  Almost Killed Me is not a very challenging listen.  It's a nice straight-forward album that doesn't try to be something it's not.  How nice.  It's the sort of album that makes for good listening when writing or doing other things.

Favorite Track - "Killer Parties"
Least Favorite - "Positive Jam" - dudes, I'm so over the "We Didn't Start the Fire" intros.

next up - American Football - American Football (1998).  Oooh, emo.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Listening Project - Alligator - The National

Part 4 - Alligator - The National (2005, Beggars UK/Ada)

I found The National.  Which is cool because as the time I was dating that guy.  You know, the guy that knows all of the most obscure music, has seen all the bands, really likes Guided By Voices.  It was really intimidating to be that girl, you know, the one that doesn't know jack about music, last went to R.E.M.'s Monster concert, really likes wizard rock.  But The National, I found 'em in this record shop in Holland, MI.  And they're awesome.

Alligator is a good listen.  They aren't a fast sound, but a heavy one.  Even their sad songs (of which there are at least two on this album that I can't listen to with out tearing up, at least, but I'm a sap) have a weight to them.  Live they are surprisingly angry, but this album is a little gentler.

Favorite Track - toss up between "Daughters of the So-Ho Riots" and "Karen"
Least Favorite - Seriously, this is exactly the sort of music I love.  There are no least favorites here.

next up - Almost Killed Me - The Hold Steady (2004)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Teaching Woes

So I'm teaching two sections of medical ethics this semester. And it's pretty interesting, a lively debate where lives are actually potentially on the line makes for more rigorous thinking. And it's much more interesting now that we're done doing things like confidentiality, truth-telling and the like.

See, I thought, sweet, I'll do medical ethics while there's this health care debate raging around us and we'll make the class interesting and topical! And, because I cannot help but be a political philosopher we'll look at issues like race and gender and poverty and medicine. Awesome pants!

So we're starting in on that section, with a general topic of "is health a right?," and I did anticipate there being some disagreement, some healthy and full engagement with the topic. And in one section, I have that.

The other, however.

Monday, October 12, 2009

There is something wrong with these people.

Talk:Essay:Quantifying Openmindedness - Conservapedia

I've been meaning to write about Conservapedia for a while. There is something truly amazing about this site, what with the Conservative Bible Project and their list of the best conservative terms (going back to pre-restoration England if I recall correctly) as well as their concerns about the Homosexual Agenda corrupting pure terms for sexually deviant uses (oh the horrors of the closet!). Now, I'm not as must as a linguistic prescriptivist as I claim, but I do think that words mean something (damn it!) and this sort of helter skelter willingness to play fast and loose with facts and fairness astounds me, but that's my filthy liberal leanings showing through.

But in the link, on the talk page, Andrew Schlafly is vehemently and aggressively arguing against Newtonian geometry. That Newtonian gravity is not grounded in inverse squares. His comments are amazing. People try to explain what is happening and he returns to claiming that science is close-minded, and only anti-science is open-minded.

That is, claiming that you have a scientific (observable) model for the world that does not require an infinite amount of miracles makes you close-minded.

These people are literally opposed to facts. In a way that the corrupted vision of postmodernism everyone's always throwing at the left can't ever even hope to touch.

They hate facts.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Listening Project - Aldhils Arboretum - Of Montreal

Part 3 - Aldhils Arboretum - Of Montreal (2002, Kindercore/Polyvinyl)

My love of Of Montreal may have bounds, but I've yet to really find those bounds. There is something great about a band that will cheerily sing about old people in cemeteries being sad.

I've also been able to catch them live twice, and it is a helluva show. I love Of Montreal live the same way I love Goths. Kevin Barnes, the lead singer, needs a lot of attention and is willing to do what it takes to get that attention. Luckily for those of us who long for a musical and performative heir to David Bowie's glam rockiness - a lot of that attention needing is found through chipper, chirpy music, filled with melody and art and a show that involves inflatable suits, jello, and Kevin stripping down to his Tim-Curry-Is-Dr.-Frank-N-Furter lingerie. It makes me so happy. Definitely what was called for on a day like today.

Favorite Track - "Kid Without Claws"
Least Favorite - I have no memories of "A Question for Emily Foreman"

next up - One of my favorites! Alligator - National (2005).

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dear Al Franken - I <3 you!

This is just a quick hit, as I'm furiously finishing my thesis this week, AND, ZOMG, Elizabeth Minnich is coming in for the Philosophy Department Conference and busy, busy, busy . . .

At any rate - every once in a while there is a news story that on the one hand seems to talk about the progress society is making toward not being horrifically misogynistic, which is nice what with all the talk about domestic violence being a pre-existing condition, women losing access to reproductive health care under the health care reform, pretty much everything attached to the health care debate really just emphasizes how much this society hates women, like a lot! However, I habitually over-think things and wind up instead feeling a little sad that this is even under debate.

(Trigger warning)

The Listening Project - Aladdin Sane - David Bowie

Part 2 - Aladdin Sane - David Bowie (1973, RCA)

I refuse to believe that there is a single person out there in the universe who doesn't want to make out with David Bowie, particularly in the early 70s, covered-in-glitter, deliciously crazy, David Bowie of Aladdin Sane.

I mean really, it's amazing.

The boys have been less than excited about this listening project ("But Hypatia'sGirl - why would you want to listen to music that sucks?") and were somewhat resistant to participating when I told them that I wanted to listen to the next in my series on the drive up to Ann Arbor. Until they realized it was Bowie. I'm really just in love with this whole album, it's fun, it's playful. It's everything that I love about glam rock and great guitars. And David Bowie's voice.

I have no real great story about this album, aside from my slavering love of David Bowie . . . and how great a glam rock theme party can be!

Favorite Track - "Panic in Detroit."
Least Favorite - I absolutely refuse to try and tease out which I like least.

Next up - Aldhils Arboretum - Of Montreal (2002)

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Listening Project - Adam and Eve - Catherine Wheel

My goal is to actually listen through my iTunes collection. I've decided to go through by album, just to keep the spice of variety in there.
Now, I'm not some crazy person with 40 days worth of music, just 9.9 days.
The first on the list - Adam and Eve from Catherine Wheel. (1998, EMI/Chrysalis)

What will always make me giggle about Catherine Wheel, is that I have this perfect memory of checking them out when I was in high school and finding them to be ZOMG so hard. Of course my musical listening in high school consisted of music for ballet, musical theater (whatever musical I was performing in at the time) and the lesbian musicians my dad listens to.

There is something incredibly satisfying to my ears about that mid-90s rock sound, and surely no fuller example can be the quasi-ballad rock of Catherine Wheel. Adam and Eve is a surprisingly good album to write to, the constancy of their sound doesn't require a helluva lot of attention, the songs fade pretty seamlessly into one another, so if it's wide variety of sound you're looking for, I would suggest you look somewhere else, but for a kind of satisfying reminder of the pop rock music of my late high school career, it's hard to go wrong with this.

Interestingly, to me, there is something about the voice of the lead singer, Rob Dickenson, reminds me of my current favorite band, The National.

Favorite track - "Satellite" - just a kind of solid song.
Least Favorite - "Phantom of the American Mother" - a little too ballady for my tastes.

Next up - Aladdin Sane - David Bowie, 1973 (oh goody!)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The problem of language

I have a lot of interesting conversations. It's kind of a hobby of mine. As in, it kind of replaces breathing for me most days.

The conversation I had on Friday (just before seeing Capitalism: A love story) and the spirited debate I'm in right now seem related to me. And seem related to another item that's been in the news recently, that is actually the reason why I really for really wanted to start a blog, and did!, this time.

Friday, October 2, 2009

This is why we can't have nice things

Being in a philosophy graduate program is interesting, especially if you do political philosophy, and particularly if you are a political philosopher trying to teach medical ethics while there is a health care reform debate raging around in the background. You wind up having a lot of arguments in the offices. Which is nice, it distracts you from the fact that you are inhaling new forms of mold with every breath.

This current health care debate is a fascinating peek into what has happened to politics and political thinking in America. I wasn't able to put a finger on what the difference was until discussing nationalized health care with a fellow grad student on Wednesday.

What struck me in the conversation is the different understandings of the role, in fact of the ontology, of the government in the lives of the people. We have a peculiar sense, it seems, that the government is against the people, rather than the government being part of the people. Now, this is not necessarily a mistaken sense. One need only look at the difference between the desire of the people to have a public option (however that is understood) and the willingness of the politicians to utterly ignore that desire and instead vote it down to further the interests of their corporate sponsors.

A Shot Across the Bow: or, a friendly introduction

Beginnings are difficult.

It's this first post that's kept me from blogging until now. How to set the ton
e properly, to establish purpose and direction, to justify doing this and not writing my thesis as we speak . . .

In short - how do I introduce myself when I know that most of those who will read this will already know me?
Look how meta I am!

At any rate, I am a political philosopher, with a deep and abiding love for Hannah Arendt, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Giorgio Agamben. I'm finishing my thesis so that I can have my Master's, so that I can go on to a Ph.D. program so that I can get a job to pay off the student loans I need to get my Master's. Also my B.A.

This blog will focus on those aspect of pop culture, current events, the mere facts of living in a world with other people that leave me cross-eyed and ranting. Only now I won't have to just rant at the boy and the roommate, and I won't be limited to the few words Facebook allows you to add to links. Hooray!

Also, my kitties are adorable.
This is Appie - she's an adorable idiot.
This is Alex, he's too smart for his own good. Or, more likely our own good.