Friday, October 29, 2010

After Shel Silverstein


Pity the costumeless
For today they are like
The nuts in the trail mix
The string on the kite
The plot in pornography
Or the mice at the zoo
They're too tall for the ride
So thank Heck they're not you.

Pity the costumeless
For maybe they feel
Like they are in costume
The rest of the year
But today, they can be
Nice and normal and plain
By dressing up like
It's just Monday again.

Pity the costumeless
Whether lazy or poor
Or Halloween-Scrooge-ish
Or the perpetual bore
Though they have disenfranchised
Themselves from the fun
Do still grudge them some candy
For I am one!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

So you are coming to the 10/30 Stewart/Colbert Rally in Washington?

Herein a visitors' guide. I will never be updating it again. If you post any issues you want addressed or researched, I will wonder why you are incapable of operating the google-box to find out on your own.

So this is mainly an updated list of free, cheap, good, bad, and safe or unsafe things.

There is a Starbucks on every corner of every street in America. If you do not yet know how to use one to access their free wi-fi, perhaps you should reconsider venturing into the big, bad DC. Also, look for the enormous signs in other establishments that advertise 'FREE WI-FI!' They are a good hint.

If you come all the way to the nation's capital and eat in a Silver Diner, I will judge you. Most restaurants (which you will find every three feet in DC) post their menus in their windows. If you're on a budget, just give them a quick read and pick any one of the 800 reasonably priced delis or cafes that litter the streets. If you cannot read, perhaps you should reconsider venturing into the big, bad DC.

There are a thousand good restaurants in DC. Take a chance. Go on an adventure. Pick a restaurant at random. Then you tell me if it's good.

Safety and Mores
Please remember that you will be visiting DC on Halloween weekend, perhaps one of the most dangerous times to visit the capital. DC's population includes refugees from all sects of the supernatural mythos, as the families of these occult beasts are drawn to the corruption that seethes forth from every crevice of our little town when they are looking for a quiet vacation from the bowels of hell. Most taxi drivers and waiter/waitresses are permanent refugees from paranormal culture wars. As a rule, they would rather eat your face than discuss their origins, and they especially do not like for you to guess that they are from a neighboring sect (e.g. Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies) with whom they may have turf-war tensions. It's rare to meet anyone who will really attack you in broad daylight, but PLEASE be aware that the cover of Halloween provides them with more than ample opportunity to do so.

Many parts of DC are safe from unholy beings beyond what I will list here, but why take the chance if you aren't sure? If you are on the subway stay on the Red line between Union Station and Shady Grove, Maryland. Stops beyond this include Catholic University of America, which is well known for attracting rogue Vatican assassins looking to thin fornicators and masturbators from their midsts. If you are on the Blue or Orange line do not go past Eastern Market (Capitol Hill) toward the Potomac Avenue stop and beyond, as Southeast DC is populated by poltergeists from the Congressional Cemetery that are at the height of their power on Halloween. Stay in NW DC and points in Virginia.

DO NOT USE THE GREEN LINE OR THE YELLOW LINE. For the love of all things holy, just don't! These rules are even more important at night. The Green line is ruled by the Vampire clans, and they are in constant conflict with the Lycan tribes who lord over the Yellow line. Any civilian who takes these lines risks life and limb with every trip. I live on the Green line, so I know of the danger. One wrong step could mean a painful death at the teeth of the undead. You REALLY don't want to forget to stand back and let them exit the train. And heaven help you if you stand on the left side of the escalator. But really, why put yourself in that position at all? Just avoid the Green and Yellow lines.

There is of course nothing wrong with many other areas; but you don't know where you are, and it's Halloween, so you should not explore them. If you are on foot or in a cab or bus, stay in only northwest DC west of 14th or 16th streets or directly next to the monuments and Capitol Hill. If you cannot see any of the monuments, you are outside of the protective power cast upon them by the Founding Fathers, and you may be set upon by all matter of demons.

Again there are many other lovely places, from Columbia Heights to Silver Spring, Maryland. But you don't know where you are so you cannot go, especially at night, unless you take me with you. For I know of the evils of DC, and I pray that you do not fall victim to them as the cost of a few cheap laughs with Jon Stewart.

As a parting tip, I leave you with this comment from one of our readers who visited DC in 1998:

"While I was there I stayed in a cheap hotel and had the window open. I was on the third floor. I called home and while I was on the phone there was a baying howl and a terrifying screech as a werewolf battled a banshee. My wife said it was pretty loud and was that the TV? I told her it wasn't the TV. It was live in the street in Washington, DC, which is more dangerous than HELL ITSELF."

(That's why the politicians in DC are so corrupt, while Sarah Palin stays pure.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Deadly Schoolground Insult: Elite

Bullying was, and to my knowledge still is, a major problem in schools across the country.

The basic underlying tenet to most of these cases lie in the typical societal behavior of the strong oppressing the weak.  Those who are larger and more athletic pick on those who are not.  To the nerdy, awkward, and scrawny, a constant specter of physical and emotional violence looms over their developing years.  One of the small comforts they can take is the reassurance that once they get out into the world, the people who spent their school years with their nose in a book trying to learn something while the bullies laughed at them will be the ones actually running the show.  Just like a football player goes through endless drills and practices to perfect his ability to play ball in hopes of one day making it to the big leagues, someone driven by more academic goals will spend years going to school, doing research, writing papers, and learning all they can in order to excel in life and put those developing years behind them.

That is the way things should work, right?  The people who know the most should be in charge.  We don't want any average Joe off the street running things - that doesn't make sense.  The intellectuals, the smartest among us, they should be the ones in charge.

Well, not according to Washington Post columnist Charles Murray.

In his article "The tea party warns of a New Elite.  They're right,"  Murray details the case laid out by the tea party and its supporters.  The "Elite" of America; i.e; the highly educated, are out of touch with the country's working class.  He cites articles written by members of this supposed Elite class which defend their position, having the audacity to defend the merits of being smart.  Each one of these articles, I should mention, does a solid job of refuting each of his points, but I suppose that was lost on him.  It shouldn't be surprising - he's not one of those smart, Ivy league guys, after all.  Wait, what?  He went to Harvard? Hm, he conveniently leaves any mention of the fact that he's a member of the intellectual class out of his article.  Curious.

Now, Charles Murray is a smart man.   Which is why this article is so frustrating, so obscene in a way.  To see the very kind of person targeted by attacks on "the New Elite" write an article so clearly missing the point is disturbing to those of us who still cling to the hope that America is going to snap out of this crazy dream.  He's a smart man with a rich education and background advocating what Republican attack ads across the country are getting at - the end of meritocracy, the embracing of homogenization, and the dumbing down of America.

When you use the word "Ivy League" as an insult, you are an idiot.  There's no other way to put it.  When you imply that, in America, you're worse off if you enjoy soccer but can't recognize a NASCAR driver by name, you have missed the point of living in this country.  When you condemn a class of Americans because they're well-read enough to discuss literature without resorting to referencing Harlequin romances, I question sincerely how in touch you are, not with normal people but with reality.

The one good point his article attempts to make is that despite moves by the more prestigious Universities of the country to include students of all walks of life, the trend still tends towards upper-class white high schoolers coming from old-money families getting into the top schools.  What his article starts to address, and then moves away from, is the idea that a wealthy upbringing was a determining factor.  No, this is not to say they bought their way in, this is to say they went to better primary schools, received more time and attention from their parents, ate better, slept better, traveled more, and on the whole had every advantage over the poorer students across the country.  This article dismisses wealth as "affording a few SAT courses."  So while he is correct in postulating that the "Elite" class is becoming increasingly homogeneous, he completely misunderstands why- because of the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

I never thought I would see the day when being intelligent was attacked by so many across the nation at once.  It's like all the bullies in the country suddenly rose up and decided they wanted to go back to High School.  They're tired of these nerds lording over them with their fancy degrees, running their economy and government.  Even the President's an elite; after all, he was a mixed-race child from a single-parent home who got into Harvard - only an elitist would put that much work into things.  We should've gone with McCain, the millionaire son and grandson of Navy Admirals, the man who first started bandying around the term "elite" to describe Obama.  There's a man who's more in touch with the working class.

You see where this is going?  The people who were most vocal about this idea of "elistism" before the tea party picked it up were the richest white guys in the country.  It's baffling how anyone would actually buy a claim by CEOs and millionaires that they're being oppressed by a powerful elite who are coincidentally their political opponents.  Then again, I assume this backlash against intelligence can lead me to infer not a lot of the tea party members are very well-educated.

What you described, Charles Murray, is living the American dream.  Through hard work, one can get a good education, land a good job, live in a good neighborhood and send their kids to a good school.  If none of that plan involves reading the Left Behind series watching Two and a Half Men, that's pretty much your right as an American.  You did successfully identify the problem with it, in a backhanded way, that only the wealthy are being allowed access to it.  Yet you say nothing about working to fight poverty so that a wider area of the population can have access to better education - instead you complain that those who have it are out of touch with those who don't.  Not in a way that says they should do something about it either, but in a way which pretty clearly implies that it's their fault for having aspirations beyond working in a factory.

I don't want to take away the legitimacy of the idea that the professional class is increasingly out of touch with the working class.  That part can't be denied, and if the article had stuck to defining that issue I probably would have been more apt to agree with it.  Bullying as a metaphor may seem harsh - it inherently implies that I feel the intellectuals in this case have done nothing to earn the contempt placed on them, and that isn't true.  They're complicit in the system which put them where they are.  There are problems here which need to be solved, and the working class has valid complaints against the professional class that need to be addressed.  This article misses the point on how to do that by condensing the issue to that the elite are not well-versed in elements of pop culture. 

So the bullies are standing up and trying to relive their glory days by pulling the smart kids down off their thrones.  Remember that from school, anybody?  The kids who were smarter obviously thought they were better, and needed to be taught a lesson.  Or maybe you just couldn't cut it academically and decided to make it not seem so important by making fun of the smart kids - those know-it-alls are all facts and studying and meaningful insight, that stuff is stupid.  But you know who was worse than them?  Worse than the bullies, the ignoramuses, the glut of mediocrity determined to tear down and stamp out anyone they thought considered themselves better?

The smart kid who turned on the others so he could hang out behind the bullies, approving of what they do, laughing nervously, hoping they don't turn their attentions on him next.  Just so he can spend a little bit of time hanging out with the cool kids.

Congratulations, Charles Murray.  I hope it was worth it to you.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Biblioholic Withdrawals

Here is something sad, and true: it has been almost a year since I truly lost myself in a book.

I'm talking deaf to the world, so absolutely enveloped by the story that I'm actively angry with who or whatever pulls me out of it.  I used to do it all the time, with every book, every shred of paper.  I went through books like a 3-packs-a-day smoker, end to end. Sometimes I can find the old spark when I re-read favorites like the His Dark Materials series or On the Road, those old old friends that I can fall so easily into, like a perfectly broken-in easy chair.  But the last time I picked up a new (to me) book that thrilled me, woke me in ways that only the written word can was at the beginning of this year, and who knows how long before that, which makes for a long and terrible dry spell for a bibliophile.

So I'm extending my anguish to you in the hopes that you'll help pull me out of this funk. I'll read anything. I'll read everything. Just give me something I can fall into.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Stop Waiting for Superman

I had a draft of this post in the works a few weeks ago, and lo and behold the day before I was going to finish it up, there was an absolutely, amazingly, excellent article in the new issue of the New Your Review of Books. Read this now. Diane Ravitch tears Davis Guggenheim and Waiting For Superman four or five new orifices. It's better than anything I'll contribute below, but my thoughts actually follows on nicely from Ravitch's discussion of teachers and charter schools.

The unspoken elephant in the room for education reform is that a lot of people know who the real culprit for underachieving kids is but can't do anything about it. And those culprits are the parents. But I want to propose that we can do something about the parents, a carrot and stick system that would work better than firing "bad" teachers or even paying kids for bad grades. Give tax refunds, or additional charges for parents who are basically making it impossible for teachers to do their job.

We should be paying and fining parents for their childrens' homework completion and for their childrens' behavior in class. We need to make it clear that a child who hasn't been read to, or a child who isn't being help to complete their homework, or a child who keeps acting out in class is in large part a problem of the parent. If a child gets to fifth grade and can't read, how the hell do we blame the teacher for that? If the kid goes up two grade levels then that teacher should get a medal.

But what about parents working two jobs, or immigrant families, isn't this kind of harsh? Well, yeah, that's rough, but letting your kid fail is a hundred times rougher. America in 2010 seems to be a land without tough love. Instead we have a lot of papering and negligence, not just in families but everywhere in government, in businesses and everywhere in between. But things need to start in the home, and at this point families need some tough love to make sure that they're giving that tough love themselves.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gentleman in Residence - Jess: At Least I Can Say Please and Thank You

See Jess' previous Gentleman in Residence posts here and here.

I've developed a new sympathy (or perhaps empathy) for immigrants who come to the U.S. and don't learn English. I used to be one of those people who disdainfully said, "Well, if you're going to move to a country you should at least learn the language." However, that was before I decided to move to a country that has one of the hardest languages for a westerner to learn.

There are many things that make Chinese really hard to learn. For one, it's a tonal language. There are four tones, indicated in pinyin by a line over the letter: rising (á), falling (à), flat (ā) and a final one that starts high, dips in the middle and then ends high again (ǎ). These accents, incidentally, can be used on any letter. The thing that makes this particularly challenging, however, is that the pronunciation of the word impacts the definition. For instance, the word da.
Dā: to hang over something
Dá: to answer
Dǎ: to hit
Dà: big

They're not subtle differences, are they? This system is necessary in Chinese because there are only about 400 syllables available, as opposed to 4,000 in English. Even that would be easily overcome, except that Chinese people seem to be incapable of using context to figure out what you're trying to say if you use the wrong tone. It's hard to even compare to English. The word "ma" can mean mother, horse or marijuana, depending on the tone. If I say, in English, "That's a pretty marijuana" when pointing at a horse, you're likely to think "I bet she meant horse, not marijuana." You'd correct me and we'd go on. But the Chinese don't do that. They just say, over and over, "What? Marijuana?" as you attempt to cycle through the tones. At some point you hit the right tone for horse and they all nod, delighted that you put together a coherent sentence.

The system of using the Western alphabet to transcribe Chinese characters is called pinyin, and it's hard enough to learn that I'm not even focusing on characters while I'm here. There are 26 letters, the same as in English, but there are two different Us, and six combinations of letters that nearly all sound completely identical to me. These include zhi (which supposedly sounds like if you say 'g' and then clench your teeth together and make a 'zh' sound), shi ('s' as in shhh, then an 'ew'), zi (put your tongue behind your top front teeth, then try to say 'z', then add an 'ish' on the end) (no, I'm not joking. I made one of the other teachers say this one 11 times before I could even approximate the sound) and si ('s' as in the noise a snake makes, then add a 'zuh' to the end.)

Chinese is hard enough to me to learn that it doesn't take a lot of negative reinforcement to make me think that it's not worth my time to learn it at all. For instance, even though the expat community in Nanjing is nearly insignificant compared to Beijing or Shanghai, the machines in the metro station have English options. All the restaurants give you menus with pictures.

All in all, I have the feeling I'm going to leave China with very nearly the same vocabulary I came here with, which is to say: none at all.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Would This Work?

There's an idea I've wondered about in the past. I'm sure it would be completely impractical for some reason, and that I betray my relatively amateur knowledge of political science and military organization and international law by even suggesting it, but here goes:

What if there were single-mission volunteer peacekeeping armies?

Although it seems to have fallen out of the public spotlight, the war in Darfur (which is still going on) was, for a while, a major cause for liberal types. "Why aren't we doing anything?" was the cry, meaning "Why aren't we sending our army/NATO/somebody over there for heaven's sake?" It particularly upset people that we were losing soldiers and spending billions in Afghanistan and Iraq supposedly protecting the peace and spreading democracy while we hypocritically ignored the situation in Sudan. ("We" here meaning the U.S., although the international community has been pretty hands-off on the whole - possibly because to condemn the actions in Darfur as genocide would morally obligate the expense of lives and money to fight the problem.)

So what if those who were so upset could join a volunteer force and be sent over to Darfur to establish peace?

It could work like this: the government announces there is enough interest that they are opening the peacekeeping Darfur program. Volunteer officers from the standing army will train the recruits and lead the mission, but the majority of the force will consist of completely new volunteers. These volunteers will *pay* their own way. In other words, no tax dollars are spent on the mission - it's essentially a citizen-funded enterprise with government-level organization. Those individuals who cannot afford the tens of thousands of dollars it will cost to train, ship and arm them can try and get sponsorship from those who have the means and are interested, or conduct fundraisers.

(Maybe a very small amount of tax dollars are spent paying the standing army officers who lead the mission or who train the recruits, but this can be considered an acceptable investment because in the end, the country still gains battle-ready soldiers, should we ever seriously need them.)

This approach solves two problems:

One, the people who volunteer are presumably, many of them, not interested in being regular soldiers, with the attendant long period of service and the requirement to serve in conflicts which they may not personally support. They are, however, humanitarian in spirit, and want to help stop a genocide; so this way they can contribute.

Two, because no tax dollars are used, this bypasses the question of whether public opinion supports sending our tax-paid soldiers over to a foreign country to do good deeds. The volunteer soldiers are privately funded.

Note that since the volunteers are unpaid and receive no benefits besides the knowledge that they are doing good, this would have no effect on our standing national army, which would still be staffed by patriots and people who can't afford not to be paid or who want to go to college via the military's programs.

In order for one of these volunteer army single-mission operations to happen, three criteria would need to be met: 1) there is enough interest from potential volunteers and funders to enact the mission; 2) there is no direct objection from the rest of the public [i.e., the prevailing attitude is not *against* the mission, but rather merely does not favor spending tax dollars on the mission]; and 3) the international community/UN does not frown upon the particular purpose of this mission.

So the general intention would be that this would work for cases like Darfur, where nobody, to my knowledge, thinks that ending the conflict would be a bad thing, merely that spending our own resources to do it would be; and there are some individuals who just might be (self-)righteous enough to be willing to fight to help end the conflict.

The main issue would be how committed and well-trained the volunteers are when over there. If they go over thinking it will be easy, that they'll just get to stand around brandishing guns and peace will happen, then all it will take is for some enemies to kill a few and the volunteers will want to turn and run. It might have to be the kind of thing where once you commit, you're obligated to a year of service (unless the mission is completed first), and if you desert, it will be prosecuted no differently than in the regular army. It might also have to be that passing through the basic training for the mission is not guaranteed no matter if you've paid or not; you have to prove that you're capable of being a soldier and of following orders.

The other big issue is just how you stop a conflict like that in Darfur with the mere application of firearms, but that's not specific to this volunteer concept.

So I'm sure this wouldn't work in the real world - but I'm not sure precisely why.

Thus, two questions for you, O readership:

1) Would this work and why/why not?

2) If there were, say, a corporate sponsor who was willing to pay your way and it was sanctioned by the international community, would you yourself volunteer for such a mission, get trained as a soldier, and go to Darfur for a year to help protect civilians and end the conflict?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Some Lighter Fare

Hey Miley,

I was just wondering if you were absent the day in second grade that they taught you what a simile is. A simile is a comparison of two things that uses the words 'like' or 'as.'

For example: "His smile was like a slice of sunshine." In our example, you can assume that this gentleman's smile was bright and cheery like sunshine.

So Miley, can you explain to me what you mean when you tell me that you were "bobbing your head like yeah"? Yeah is an indistinct concept used to convey affirmation. It's not really a thing from which you can draw a comparison.

Perhaps you meant that you were bobbing your head up and down as though you were nodding in affirmation to someone? If so, I kind of understand where you were coming from, but you just don't make your point clearly enough. The grammatical usage is all wrong.

Or perhaps you meant that you were bobbing your head like, YEAH! How awesome am I?! I'm Miley Cyrus and I'm dancing! In which case, no. That doesn't even make a little bit of sense, and your music isn't nearly decent enough to justify such confusing, nonsensical bullshit.

Like I said, I was just wondering.

Concerned about your basic education,
ali d.

Up next week: Your love is like whoa? Really?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Yes, That's in the Constitution

Yes you ignorant witch.  You abominable sow.  You twisted, atrocious harpy who dares to run for public office.  Yes, Christine O'Donnell, separation of Church and State is in the Constitution.

I swear I will make it my mission should I fulfill my dream of becoming President to make sure there is not another American citizen ever raised so ignorant, self-righteous, and moronically over-reaching as you.  And if they are, I'll at least make sure they're aware of it enough to not try and impose themselves on the American political system.  How are you possibly running for a seat of public office without being aware of the separation of Church and State?  It is the FIRST THING in the Constitution.  The Constitution of the United States of America, which you can read here, along with all amendments and obsolete text for historical framing, and explanations of everything if you need more.

Anyone can find the Constitution like this.  It's on the internet.  There's a copy somewhere in every local library.  It's in textbooks in practically every school in the country.  So HOW does someone who knows so frighteningly little about it end up in a public race?  Better yet, how do I still live in a country where an obscene number of people believe the things she does, or hold similar feelings?  It is right there, for anyone to read, the framework for all the laws in America.  There is no reason for anybody to have any questions about what is and isn't in the Constitution, only how it's interpreted.  And she was not interpreting it, she was just ignorant.

The First Amendment guarantees the government shall establish no religion, nor hinder anyone from practicing theirs.  Thomas Jefferson even spelled it out for people in 1802, and for the last 208 years we've understood that government does not interfere with religion, and expects the same courtesy in return.  Our Founding Fathers, for all their faults, remembered that people came to the New World seeking religious freedom in the first place, and they would not impose any institution, including public schools, that taught any sort of religious doctrine.  That anyone still needs to have this told to them makes me furious.  Not only that, her lack of knowledge regarding the document she's running for office to uphold runs much deeper.

If she even comes close to winning this race I'll have lost a lot of faith in my fellow Americans.  Stupid, loud people keep ending up in power because we keep listening to them over the quieter, more reasonable voices.  Someone needs to draw a line, and there's never been a better place to get started than with this horrible skank in Delaware.  Shut her down, and everyone else like her.

And Vote Pratt in 2020.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Guess It's Politics Season Here at TG

Dear Maryland-Politician-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named-Because-You-Know-Exactly-Who-You-Are:

When you tell me, through the TV of course because why would you call me I'm not your friend, not to worry because if I vote for you you won't raise my taxes, that is exactly when I start to worry.  Because I may not be the best numbers girl (in fact I might actually be the worst), but I'm pretty sure we're still in a capital-R Recession.  And it seems to me that no matter which state of the union we're in, there's a yawning, creaking budget gap between what we have, and what we need. So. There's that.

And yes, yes, I heard the part where you said you would close said budget gap by trimming the bureaucratic fat, so to speak.  But what does that mean? Because if it means, "Hey, we know we waste a lot of money so we're going to have our special team of government accountants go through every line of the budget to see where all our money goes and hope to God we've overlooked some million-dollar pen purchases (because, er, we probably have)," then I'm all for it. 

But I can't help but suspect that you really mean, "Hey, we know we waste a lot of money so we're going to shut down arts and welfare programs because those guys don't vote, and also no one cares about them."  

This worries me.

So I wanted to let you know that I vote, and I care.  Granted, I care that my taxes actually go to something rather than being borne into the ether by virtue of the first stimulus bill, but I also care if my lack of taxes is going to shut down yet another high school art department, or yet another nursery for drug-addicted infants.

I care about that a lot.  And I vote about it, too.

So I just felt you should know.  Your advertorial comfort almost single-handedly lost my vote. (That, and the fact that for some reason you think gay marriage is a ridiculous notion not fit for the great state of Maryland.)

Thanks, and I'll see you next voting season,

Monday, October 18, 2010

Independents and Undecideds

We have an election coming up. I know this because a DNC person just called me asking for a large donation. Also there's been a bit of media coverage of the election here and there. Sporadic really. I couldn't tell you who is running in Deleware, they just don't seem to be getting any media attention.

But seriously, elections like this bring up an area that bothers me about politics. Undecided voters, who tend to be in that grand Montana-sized political space we call "independent." How is it possible to really stay undecided for so long into the political season. Let's say you are a normal person and have perhaps 5 issues that you care about: abortion, education, defense, guns and immigrants. I would bet you that whatever you feel on these issues lines up pretty closely with one of the political parties. You could be pro-choice, pro-public schools, against the war, for gun control but really dislike immigrants. And in that case I would bet you're gonna vote for the more liberal/democratic candidate. It's that easy. Or, if immigration is your absolute main concern above all else (dey tuk ur jerbs!), then you'll vote Republican.

I can understand people having evolving belief systems. You're raised in a very religious family but then give up religion in college and you find yourself voting more liberal. Or you move to a rural area and your views on guns and freedom (oh "freedom" that vague and wonderful word) changes markedly. These are possibilities and you folks aren't the problem.

But let's go back to Deleware. You have Ms. O'Donnell and Mr. Coons running for Senate. If you have even a basic opinion on any issue, it's pretty damn easy to pick one of the two sides. One is anti-masturbation and one is pro. There's pretty much no possible way that your list of issues splits 50/50 between the Democrat and the Republican in this race. When Nader made snide remarks in 2000 about Bush and Gore being the same candidate, it was pretty stupid. But you'd be a nutjob to think that both of these folks would do the same thing if they got to Washington. And even without a Palin Jr. running for every seat, the Tea Party has helped to make the chasm between one side and the other absolutely, gapingly huge.

So if you're really having trouble making up your mind in this upcoming election ... well maybe just sit this one out.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Gentleman in Residence - Jess: All The News That's Fit to China

See Jess' first Gentleman in Residence post here.

You know how, when you get a new car, all of a sudden you start seeing the same car everywhere? It's as if suddenly everyone in your town decided they also desperately needed a silver Saturn SL1.

I've noticed something similar happening with China in the news since I got here. I'm positive it's just that I never really paid attention to articles about China before it suddenly because relevant to my life, but U.S. news sources suddenly seem to be paying a lot of attention to what's going on here. And most of it seems to be really bad.

Now, I'll give you that the past couple weeks have been kind of exceptional, with the news that the imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize (Not to mention the Chinese government's subsequent crackdown on celebrations) and Tim Geithner attacking Chinese currency policy, the House of Representatives passing a bill trying to prevent trade imbalances due to Chinese currency manipulations and the news that U.S. candidates have apparently decided that the catchphrase of the day is "Blame China!"

Still, I've also seen articles about Chinese vacation policy, the differences between education in China and America, and the question of whether or not there is free speech in China (short answer: no, unless you're a foreigner, or rich), news that China is fighting a report alleging that Chinese ammunition and weapons have been sold to Darfur, and the Obama administration launching an investigation into Chinese clean-energy subsidies.

I can't claim that my month and a half living here has imparted some great wisdom about the Chinese people. But I do think that, left to the western media's devices, you're never going to hear anything but bad news about China. So, interested in reading about something other than how evil Beijing is? Here's a couple blogs I follow to get news about what's going on in everyday China:

China Geeks takes a lot of Chinese media sources, translates their stories and then provides analysis. China Geeks also has an awesome blogroll if you want to find more things to read.

China Smack, a gossip site similar to Jezebel, only without the feminist bent.

This Ridiculous World, an expat blog that is usually hysterical.

My Laowai, another really funny blog. Laowai is a word that literally means foreigner, but can be used as a very negative name to call obnoxious non-Chinese.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I Might Be a Bad Babysitter

I'm honestly just not sure. I know that, once upon a time, I was an awesome babysitter. But now? There's a good chance that I'm pretty terrible.

When I was the tender age of 12, my mother informed me that I would soon be old enough to be allowed to babysit other children, just like my older sister. What an exciting time for me! I was considered grown up enough to have a job!

She also informed me that now that it was possible for me to make my own money, I was expected to do so. Gone were the days of parental financial excess. My parents would pay for necessities, but if I wanted to go out with friends, buy a cute new outfit, or buy lunch at school, I was on my own. (This may sound harsh, and believe me, at the time I thought it was too, but now I am so glad my parents forced me to learn the value of a dollar early. It instilled in me my ability to be a financially independent adult, which I'm sure will be the topic of a post someday.)

So I jumped right in with both feet. I took a babysitting course through the Girl Scouts and became what we called a "mother's helper." A "mother's helper" is a babysitter who is not yet old enough to legally be left alone with a child, so he/she comes over while the mother is at home and occupies the baby so the mother can have a little alone time and get some damn work done. Once I turned 13, I was offically allowed to babysit, and it became my bread and butter.


I showed up with a bag of games and toys for the kids. I cooked. I let them cook. I played with them. I ran around outside with them. I read stories. I watched movies. I pretended to lose at air hockey and basketball and tag. I changed diapers and cooed and complimented. I took them to the pool. I let them stay up late and eat (a moderate amount of) junk food and watch TV. I was a fun babysitter.

The marketing team insisted it would sell better if I was more ethnically ambiguous.

Because I wanted to be exactly like my favorite babysitters from my childhood. (Megan Truxel, if you're out there - you were the BEST.) They were the ones who got involved and had fun with me. I felt so special, because this ADULT! (who was probably all of 16 at the time) wanted to play with ME. I felt cool and grown up by proxy, and I wanted kids to be excited because someone so cool, who made them feel special, was coming to hang out with them. And I really believe that I usually succeeded in that goal.

Slowly but surely though, my babysitting activities slowed down. School started getting more time-consuming. I had to get "real" jobs. By the time I graduated college, my babysitting gigs were all but non-existent.

Even worse, I started getting
old. Gone was my energy to spend 4 hours running around the park with toddlers. I started spending more time sitting on the sidelines and yelling encouragements than being involved.
"Yeah, you guys run on ahead of me! I'll catch up in a second!"*

Occasionally though, someone calls me up and asks me to hang out with their kids for an evening. And the other night, as I was spending some time with a former teacher's daughter, I wondered if I'd forgotten how to be a good babysitter. Cynthia** is a great kid. She's smart, polite, and helpful. She behaves and is happy to make me feel at home for the 3 or so hours that we're sharing the same space. But she's not really interested in playing games or running around. She's a child of this millennium. She's interested in sticking her ear buds in and watching Hulu while I'm in the other room on the couch trying to figure out their TV set.

And I feel like that puts me in a weird position. On the one hand, I don't want to interrupt and bother her if that's really what she wants to do with her evening. On the other hand though, I wonder if she'd have a better night if I suggested that we play a game or do each others' nails. Does the thought even occur to her? Is she not asking to do anything because she's content or because she doesn't think I'm interested? Would she think it was weird if I asked if she wanted to play mancala, or would she be more excited the next time I come over because she knows I'm going to want to actually hang out with her?

Am I being a complacent babysitter because she's letting me be one, or am I being a good babysitter because I'm letting her spend her evening the way she wants to?

This is mancala.

I'm really not sure, but I didn't feel very good about the way I earned my money at the end of the night.

And I didn't even set anything on fire.

*For the record, this never ever actually happened.

**Name changed for anonymity

Friday, October 15, 2010

Can You Give It Up? The Facebook Saga Continues

A massive sidenote to preface my main post:

I think we talk about Facebook so much both here on These Gentlemen and - what with The Social Experiment - in our culture as a whole, because it is simultaneously the harbinger of, most prominent symbol of, and testing ground for an entirely new way of organizing society and approaching human relationships. No doubt about it, the way individual people and groups(who can afford computers) interact with each other is in the process of being changed by online and social media more drastically - and definitely more rapidly - than almost ever before; definitely moreso than by television (which is proprietary), moreso than by the telephone/telegraph, possibly even more so (particularly when you consider the "rapidly" modifier) than by the printing press. OF COURSE we're going to want to talk about it; it's practically the beginning of a new stage of evolution - albeit a voluntary one - and it's affecting us in new and unexpected ways that we were never even equipped to consider in the past. (Compare to other online systems like Wikipedia and email, which, while revolutionary, are essentially speed/access upgrades of systems we already had and were equipped to handle.) In certain circles, Facebook is becoming, or has already become, as bedrock a cultural signifier as etiquette, dress or diction - which is a strange thing, when you think about it, for a single, branded virtual business enterprise to be. At the very least, you can say that about social media as a whole, if not Facebook specifically - one's "online presence" is an element of our lives that we manage as diligently/haphazardly as our love lives, careers and hobbies. No wonder there's a movie about it.

ALL that said, my real subject: quitting Facebook.

I have, in the past couple months, wavered over a decision to attempt one of two... let's call them "modifications to my social-interactive experience." The first, less drastic (and not really "quitting"), would be to make a Facebook post to the following effect:

-If you want to remain my Facebook friend, please respond. If you can see this message, it means I DO want you to stay Facebook friend, but I am only going to keep you on if you actively respond.-

Totally emo, I know. But bear with me.

I don't post a lot on Facebook, so I don't have a lot of knowledge of who pays attention to - or cares about - my online face. This might make it seem like there's no reason for me to ask people to confirm their interest in me, since they get very little actual information about me in return; but the point isn't a visible exchange of status-posts and updates, but rather the knowledge of awareness. If someone and I remain Facebook friends, then we are both mutually aware that we can keep up with each other; it's an invisible connection.

I suppose the reason I have considered doing this is because I have begun to find it upsetting that I have 450 invisible connections and can't find anything to do on a Friday night - or any more direct method of soliciting serious conversation than a socially passive-agressive 'BRETT is bored, somebody call him' status update.

This is not to say that I feel completely alone or anything (my next four or five Fridays are all booked, I am proud to assure you, O Internet readers), but that the contrast is disheartening and cognitavely dissonant. In reality, I have the same number of friends and casual acquaintances as any twentysomething whose friends keep getting married - a number which naturally lends itself to not being able to hang out with someone every night of the week, which is typical and fine. But - online I have an army of hundreds, with all of whom I share passive, invisible knowledge of awareness, yet none of whom I'm close enough with (even narrowing down to those who are in close physical proximity) to go out and grab a spontaneous bite on a Monday evening.

It's the dissonance that's the problem.

Of course, the fear with enacting this plan is: nobody will respond.

At the very least, I would have to leave a sufficient window for infrequent-Facebook-checkers to catch my post and reply. But even given a chance, even people who would like to remain friends or to maintain knowledge of awareness with me might not respond, for the same self-defeating, lazy reason why people just automatically reply "maybe" to any Facebook event invitation. (Why? Facebook is passive. The more we feel we are being forced into being active, the more we can't be bothered... even if we spend hours upon hours on the site. We have to maintain the myth, at least for now, that Facebook is just a diversion/helpful tool, and no, definitely not our virtual agora.)

Which is why I've considered the more drastic second measure of leaving Facebook entirely, either for a week- or month-long "trial period" or "for good." (This would also, theoretically, include all other social media with the exception of Skype, which is just an Internet videophone and which is my only means of contact with foreign-nation-bound friends - but let's be serious, Facebook is the core of the whole enterprise.) The point of this would be to escape the peculiarities of Facebook communication - my farewell post would go something like this:

-Brett is leaving Facebook [for a while/for good]. The only ways to communicate with him will be on the phone, through email or snail mail, and on Skype if you live in a foreign country. I will have no status posts to read, and will not read yours; I will not be on Facebook chat, AIM or Gchat; I will not see your twitter or anything else. I hope this will lead to me communicating with you more, not less.-

It's a scary thought, not the least reason for which is that I've become dependent on Facebook for my WORLD NEWS. Seriously, I no longer read any news source directly; I merely wait for something to become enough of a hot item that it appears in someone's status post, and then I either click their handy article link or Google the topic. The same goes for my friends' personal news; without Facebook, there are slightly-distant friends I would not even know were getting/had gotten married - and would STILL not know about it, as much as a year later, because every piece of information about their nuptials has come through instant messaging or Facebook-stalking.

Many of the articles I've read about quitting Facebook have focused on the giving-up-an-addictive-time-waster angle, akin to giving up television so you can read more books and get outside (although a good number do touch on my perspective). But I'm more concerned with the social and personal cost of invisible relationships. It's a strange, unnatural strain on the mind, methinks, to be so totally aware of people one essentially doesn't even care about (in the truest, intimate sense of 'caring'); it's social grooming without the socializing, without the actual contact, without the actual reward.

Will I do it? Probably not. Maybe I'd try the month-long-moratorium, to see if it does actually increase my face-to-face socializing from friends who have suddenly lost the illusion of being in touch with me; it might make an interesting series of articles, at any rate. But I'm probably not bold enough, and far too dependent on it, to go whole hog, for either version. Without it, there are people who I do, actually, care about, and am interested in, who I would be completely out of touch with; there are events I would miss; real-time HELP ME WITH THIS THING, PLEASE COMMENT dramas I would be left out of; and in general, I would have the feeling that I'm being left out. Or who knows; maybe I wouldn't.

(I interrupt here to note that I am definitely not at an extreme in my reaction to social networks; on one hand, you've got the hikkomori in Japan, and on the other you've got folks who successfully use social networks to *increase* their physical contact with their friends via more efficient planning and coordinating and day-to-day life tracking.)

I can't help feeling that these dissonant feelings will have to be parsed out and the conflicts resolved - for my brain which is wired for the calculus of face-to-face society to reconcile with the brave new world of online society - because this is definitely the future. The old has to integrate with the new. It's like the history of architecture - we wouldn't have been able to progress to building glass-metal-and-concrete skyscrapers and Sydney Opera Houses if not for the knowledge we've been accumulating since as far back as Rome and earlier, dealing with stonework and arches and domes. These are the Roman times of social networking; we have to learn to become natural, masterful users of these rather crude materials before we get to the next level (full-on integration of all Internet-accessing devices - phones, computers, GPS devices, cars - with our personal online presence, automatic non-intentional updating, retinal-implant webcams, etc.) or the whole structure may collapse.

See You Saturday

A combination of a ridiculously bad headache yesterday and an extremely busy schedule today prevented me from having my post ready in time, so I request that you kindly give me a pass and look for it on Saturday. As penance, I provide a cute kitten picture:

It's drowning in marshmallows!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Starving the Artists

Like most alumni of SUNY Albany, I was shocked to hear last week that, effective 2012, Albany will be cutting its theatre major from the curriculum.

Not just theatre, but classics, French, Russian, and Italian will be cut from the school budget.  Students currently majoring will be allowed to finish their degrees, but beyond that there will be no new enrollments accepted.  Almost immediately after the news broke, this petition was started to overturn the school's decision and save the cut language departments.  It is closing in on 10,000 signatures.  If you too feel that the board of SUNY Albany is being unjust and making a decision detrimental to the University, I encourage you to sign it as well.

I have not.  Not yet, anyway.

Of course I believe in the cause of preventing SUNY Albany from cutting classes that make it a more diverse, versatile school.  Albany's Theatre Department is where I earned my degree, and it is an unsettling feeling to think that after my graduation, there was only one more class of incoming Freshmen who will sit like I did in the Performing Arts Center - PAC -  lounge, portrait of Agnes Futterer (who must be turning in her grave) looking down on them.  If I were to go visit after 2012 I would probably find that business or science had moved in to the PAC halls.  Instead of the Theatre Council meeting to discuss the next comedy and improv show, students will probably be discussing nanotechnology, Albany's real focus.  This is not to denigrate the work in science being done at Albany at all.  That's not the point - it's what I know they're giving up in order to make it happen.

No more listening to students talking about Strindberg or Ibsen.  No more comparing notes on shows from the past and how much working on them sucked but we'd totally do it all over again.  No more hanging out by the windows watching people as they enter or leave.  No more crowding around the tiny hall by the elevators after the newest cast list is posted.  No more PAC Rats, the Albany Theatre softball team.  No more student productions, no more backstage drama, no more long hours in the shop, no more anything that I remember from college.  It's like a part of my past is just being erased.

And that is sad, and it is frustrating to me that when schools look for budget cuts the arts and humanities are always the first to go.  Society needs art, it needs theater, in order to define itself; to create context for future generations.  Books, movies, poems, music; all of these do the same, but a play combines all of those art forms and challenges an audience to really think about the things they're seeing and feeling.  A play can be mindless entertainment, or it can confront societal issues, seek answers to larger - and smaller - questions about life, and do so with the kind of subtly and nuance missing from most other forms of social media.  Theatre, and art in general, set us apart from other primates.  "All the world's a stage," said Shakespeare, and I believe that.  When we tear a stage down we lose another part of the world.  I hate it every single time I see an arts program losing funding or shutting down.  Now it's happening at the University I graduated from.

So yes, of course I believe in the cause, I just don't know if I agree with the protest itself.

Contrary to what you might think, petitioning your government is an excellent way to get things done.  Congressmen and women do care about keeping the voters happy, and it's always a feather in the cap of an administrator when they can say they saved a program that would have died without them.  Furthermore, budgets change every year.  Albany is suffering a combined deficit over the last few years of $44 million, which led to these program cuts.  It could very well happen that next year New York State might release more funds into the education budget, and if protests were loud enough, they will probably use it to save the department - at least for a few more years. 

The reason I haven't signed the petition yet is that I just want to believe we can do more.

Signing online petitions, complaining about things over the internet, creating a Facebook page detailing how much you detest a certain act; these all seem to have become more common than actual protest.  Just one click and you can feel good about yourself.  It's very convenient, and then you don't have to do anything else.  That's your contribution, thanks for stopping by.

I don't buy it.  I don't want to feel a false sense of gratification that I helped change something because I clicked a link and wrote my name.  My first reaction was to send a letter to the University President asking how much money would have to be raised, and in what amount of time, to preserve the Theatre Department  (he actually wrote back a short time later, telling me someone in his office would send a financial report my way).  A few people on the Facebook page (I told you) have even gone so far as to say it is the job of our generation to take charge and make sure languages, classics, and theatre are preserved.  I wholeheartedly agree, just as much as I disagree with using this method to go about it.  I want to save the programs being cut, but maybe the answer isn't in petitioning the government.  Maybe it's in raising the money ourselves to donate to the school.  Since the current management has proven that even after tuition hikes, past budget cuts, and staff layoffs, they still can't keep the University from losing money, maybe it's time for members of my generation to take over those positions and prove they can do a better job.

The petition closes on October 18th, and I still don't know if my name is going to be on it.  If I sign it, will I feel like I've done something?  It sure doesn't seem like it's doing anything, but like I said, who knows?  People do pay attention to things like this.  I just don't know if I can get behind signing something that says "I think something should be done" and then not actually doing anything.

I support preserving and promoting theatre.  I support keeping humanities programs alive and vibrant in public schools. I also support working personally to make those things possible.  It's all well and good to trust your government and school board to fix the problem, but when they're the ones who created it in the first place, maybe you should explore other options. 

"All the men and women merely players," is how Shakespeare's quote about the nature of the world ends, and I, for one, want to know I performed my part well.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Sometimes, when I am overwhelmed with grief for those who are missing in my life, I wish I lived in a different society. One in which I was allowed to scream and cry and beat at the ground in the beginning, at the funeral, and get it all out right then, right there. Force and let flow all the pain out of my body at once so I can be done with it and move on, happy to live my life and only look back fondly at the part of my life that included this person.

But then I think, that’s not something that happens at once. A broken leg doesn’t heal in one go; how can I expect a broken heart to do as much?  No amount of wishing will make that so. So then I wish I lived in a society in which it was okay to be in pain, to hurt for years and years, no matter the cause.  To have been able to call in to work this morning and say, I’m sorry I can’t come in today, I need to scream and tear my hair out because my grandmother died two years ago.  I need a day for residual hurt. I'll see you tomorrow.

Monday, October 11, 2010

ali d. Bonus Post - National Coming Out Day

I'm not going to say anything here that hasn't been said before, but it still needs to be said. And I hope that if enough people keep saying it, everyone will start to listen.

I am straight. I am female. I am white. I am middle-class. I am politically conservative. I am Catholic. And I am an ally of the LGBT movement for civil equality (and personal peace of mind).

We live in a nation in which each citizen is supposed to be equal, but there are still civil injustices being done every day to men and women based on their sexual orientation, a trait that is no more their choice than their race. Not only are these men and women neglected by our government, but they are mistreated by some of their fellow citizens. They are ostracized, bullied, jeered, and in extreme cases, tortured.

IT. MUST. STOP. Not next year. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Right. Now.

Today (at least for the next hour) is National Coming Out Day, an "internationally-observed civil awareness day for coming out and discussion about gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues."[1] So today, I'm writing to make sure that everyone on the Internet knows that I throw my hat in with the LGBT community. They are people, and they deserve the same rights and respect as any other human being.

So to all my friends and family members with a queer identity: I love you for exactly who you are. I will support your campaign for equality in any way I can. And I look forward to the day that we can knock down the closet permanently.

Sellin' Out

There's a pretty insightful article today in the NY Times about Converse setting up a recording studio to give free recording time to up and coming artists.

This once again opens up a can or worms that's been perpetually been opened and closed since the start of recorded music -- selling out. Things have gotten more complicated in recent years; having your music in an advertisement is downright passe, especially since companies will use your music even if you don't want them to and then play it off later. There have been a number of ventures recently that go beyond just using a 30 second clip of a band's song. Converse has already sponsored a couple of collabo singles between hip artists, Nike has funded a few running albums/mix tapes and Mountain Dew have their own label.

So is all this selling out? Basically, yes. If you have the popularity or critical acclaim to be accused of selling out, and then you take money from a company then you are selling out. But it's not necessarily a bad thing. Bethany Cosentino aka Best Coast writes enjoyable indie rock songs. Here music and aesthetic are not based on authenticity, so the idea of her taking some money for Converse isn't some terrible art crime. She wears Converse anyway, and likes the company, so there's not much harm in writing on a new song when they come calling. There are still pockets of authenticity, i.e. punk and rap, but even within those genres the rules of the game keep changing.

Not all artists can be Steve Albini, and not all artists should be. But artists who make a genuine effort to record, release and perform their music without an corporate interference (be it from a soft drink maker or a large conglomerate that happens to run the record label you're on) should be rewarded by their audience. A number of bands have gone directly to their fans to fund their music at sites like and I'd like to see that system expand. If I'm still willing to pay $15 for an albums, I might also pay $25 for a signed copy if it helps that album get made. Plus even if a band doesn't have a single fan yet, there's always youtube, myspace and facebook.

Up until about 10 years ago there was a specific path for a band - play gigs until you sign to a label and then record albums and tour until you break up. The mistake people made when Napster emerged was thinking that a new magical system would emerge phoenix-like from the ashes of the major labels. But there isn't a system, just an ever increasing series of choices. In the end bands should make the decisions that let them sleep at night and put food on the table during the day. Even if that means washing down the food with a bottle of Mountain Dew.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Gentleman in Residence - Jess: Four Improbable Things I Do Every Day (In China)

Friendly Gentlereaders: I am proud to introduce Jess, who will be the first poster in our new Gentlemen in Residence series.

For the month of October, inagurual GiR Jess will contributing posts about her very exciting (and improbable) life teaching English overseas in Nanjing, China (population: only half a million less than NYC). You can also read about her adventures at her own blog, jesseract. But for now, we've got her here, so read on below and give her a Gentlemanly welcome!



Hallo, Gentlemen! My name is Jess, and I'll be guest blogging from China every Sunday for the next month. I moved to China largely because I'm impetuous and make poor decisions when I'm bored and unhappy (see also: joining the Navy, moving to D.C., breaking up with various boyfriends...), but I've been told that what I lack in rationality I make up for in bizarre adventures.

For my first post I've decided to give you a broad overview of my life in China, using, of course, a list. Enjoy!

4 Improbable things I do every day

1) Squat to pee

Everyone who reads my blog (or my Facebook, or my Twitter, or talks to me on IM, or has met me on the street and speaks English) is probably really tired of my complaining about the squatters. But I can't help it. Day-to-day, my life is not that different from life in the U.S. But every time I go to the bathroom and I'm confronted by a porcelain hole in the floor, it's a stark reminder that I am no longer in Kansas. I mean, even in Kansas they use toilets.

What, you want comfort? Capitalist pig!

2) Stalk white people

I am alone, adrift in a sea of Asian faces. I have found myself going blocks out of my way because I'm stalking white people in Nanjing. This has, at times, backfired, like when I followed a whole group of white people around the Nanjing museum for 20 minutes before I realized that they weren't speaking English, were actually Italian, and were beginning to wonder if they should alert the authorities about the crazy short girl who was ineptly attempting covert actions.

It's exactly like this, but in China.

3) Use chopsticks

I know what you're thinking: "Ok, Jess, I'll give you that squatters are gross, and, well, stalking white people isn't exactly normal, but you're in China. Even Americans eat Chinese food with chopsticks, even if they do it so poorly that they end up flicking pieces of broccoli across the room."

Yes, I agree. But I have only to show you one picture.

The horror.

See? Chinese people eat *birthday cake* with chopsticks. It's weird. Also, using chopsticks seems to have impaired my fork-using skills. By the time I get back to the U.S. I'm going to have to resort to shoveling the Chipotle burrito bol I've now been craving for 42 days into my mouth using my hands.

4) Carry toilet paper with me

Every time I reach into my pocket and pull out my little packet of toilet paper, I think, "My grandmother would be so proud of me."

Seriously, though, public bathrooms don't supply toilet paper here. What this means in practice is that upon the insult of the squatter is imposed the injury of having to dig through your pockets or your bag in order to wipe; precariously balancing so you don't actually pee on your clothes or touch the disgusting floor of the squatter. This obviously does not apply to boys.

Basically, what I dream at night.

One interesting thing, though, is that the Chinese have taken this opportunity to prove that capitalism trumps all: when you're walking on the street and you're approached by a guy who wants you to visit his club he's going to give you a little packs of toilet paper instead of annoying flyers. See, Americans, Communism, much like moving to China, is a better idea than a reality!

Gentlemen in Residence

We can talk about a lot of things here at These Gentlemen.

Throughout it's nearly two-year existence, we have brought you discussions from topics ranging from Facebook to Friday Night Lights, with seriousness from sex to Sesame Street. The crew here is a good one - we can claim host to conservatives and liberals, the religious and the atheist, living people and ghosts.


However, it was exactly because of this wide-ranging sphere of discussion that once upon a time, Jason Heat proposed to us all the idea of the Gentlemen in Residence program. Our discourse covers such a wide area that we are seldom apt to stop and stay with a single area of discussion. In short, we are qualified to talk about our lives, and our tendencies are to change our subject of writing with the same frequency as new things in our lives catch our interest. Don't get me wrong, we've had some awesome discussions here, but we've never taken the time out to really hone in on a single area of concern and write at length regarding it. That is where Jason foresaw the need for Gentlemen in Residence.

What we plan to do with this oft-discussed, now finally implemented system, is invite one new author to join our ranks each month. For the course of that month, you will be treated to a new post, appearing on Sundays, regarding the topic on which our new resident is far more qualified to discuss than we are. What will these topics be? We're going to let you be surprised. I think you'll like what we've come up with. Or rather, what we didn't come up with, and rather than go out and learn about it, just brought in someone new to talk about it for us. Whatever, same thing.

So while you can rest assured you will still be able to count on us for your daily dose of Art, Politics, and Life, now you'll also enjoy going in-depth in those areas with our guests once a week. I hope you're as excited about this new addition as we are. I think we're all going to learn something, and have some pretty cool discussions on the way. Also, if you think you've got what it takes to be a Gentlemen in Residence, let us know about it. We'd love to see what area of expertise you could bring to the blog.

As always, we are but Gentlemen.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Rocky Horror Glee Show: A Preemptive Strike

So, if you hadn't heard, some TV show that some people apparently like to watch is putting on a episode centered around some campy rock musical that some of us like to shadowcast.

I've never watched Glee. I've been a Rocky Horror fan/performer/cultist for 8 years.

I'm not going to comment extensively until I've seen the episode, but I just wanted to put it out there: this is... interesting.

Rocky Horror has always danced in strange circles around the mainstream. If you were a young adult in the 70s, you definitely know about it, and have probably been to it a few times. If you're super conservative, it's the devil. If you're reasonably liberal, you'll recognize that, yes, it's fairly transgressive, but not the most out-there subculture on the planet.

But my totally uninformed guess would be that the average Glee viewer - or at least a sizable portion of its audience - is not familiar with it.

This could go lots of different ways. The unfamiliar audience could see it as just another set of old rock n roll chestnuts that the show has dug up, and, man, weren't they freaky in the Seventies?

It could get backlash. Even if they don't watch the show, conservative media like to jump on any chance to make controversy. (Well, all media, really.) If not for the fact that Glee airs on Fox, it would be right up Fox News' alley to have a news segment about the controversial episode that features cross-dressing, cannibalism, incest and orgies. (Or at least, that features music from a movie that features those things.)

It could increase the actual Rocky Horror's popularity, particularly if they at all mention that, you know, there are still people putting it on, every weekend, in a large city near you. Us Rocky kids are probably both dreaming of and dreading the possibility of an upsurge in popularity; for one thing, we love an audience, and for another, we love to scoff at normals.

The real interesting thing to me is that this is probably the closest brush with the mainstream Rocky Horror has had in a while. It will be an interesting test to see if still has any power whatsoever to shock. After all, there are, in a way, two Rocky Horrors: theres the movie as it is seen by most not-straightlaced-people, as a fun, weird, Halloweeny diversion; and then there's the cult, featuring folks (like me) who are most likely to inspire a why's-it-such-a-big-deal-to-them? reaction.

We'll see, I guess.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Putting On My Game Face, or 'self-imposed sexism'

My post is a lot later than usual today because I'm just now getting back from an audition. This has actually been a pretty audition heavy week - Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and I could have booked one on Sunday if I didn't have a conflict for the show dates - which is awesome. What's not so awesome is scraping the gunk off my face every night before I go to bed because today's been an audition day. Because when I go to an audition, I'm expected to look my best, and I'm aware that looking my best usually involves concealer, a thick layer of foundation, blush, eyeliner, eyebrow pencil, eyeshadow, and some lip gloss.

As I'm washing my face for the second time to finally get all the makeup off, I start to think about this practice I undertake to get parts.

I hate wearing this much makeup on a regular basis, for a few reasons that I think are understandable:

1. It makes me break out (because apparently I'm still a 14-year-old girl). The whole point of wearing makeup, or so I'm told, is to cover skin blemishes. The more I wear foundation, though, the more I get acne, which makes me less cute, which makes me less cast-able, which leads to the need for more foundation. This leads to point two:

2. Chemicals are bad for my skin. The synthetic crap that the 160 billion-dollar[1] beauty industry puts into its products include:
  • Phthalates, known to cause birth defects, damage to reproductive organs, and lung, liver, and kidney cancers;
  • Sulfates, known to cause kidney and liver damage, skin inflammations, and cataracts;
  • Parabens, which can disrupt hormones to the point of causing breast cancer; and
  • Propylenes, linked to brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities, respiratory irritation, nervous system depression, pulmonary edema, and oh yeah, brain damage[2]
And that's just the short list. Buying products that avoid these toxins is possible - but often also extremely expensive, especially for a struggling artist fresh out of college.

3. It both causes itching and makes it impossible to scratch. Heaven forbid I walk into a room with a line across my forehead where I've removed my foundation with my fingernail. Embarrassing. It's a small gripe, but let me tell you, when I have a full face on, it dominates my thoughts 40% of the time.

4. It's a real pain in the butt to get off. I'm a low-maintenance kind of girl. My evening ritual usually involves little more than collapsing into bed. Occasionally I take my pants off first. The last thing I want to do when I'm tired is scrub my face in the bathroom sink so I don't swipe pretty colors all over my pillow while I sleep. (And wake up facing even more of problem #1 than ever before.)

So needless to say, having to get all dolled up for an audition, while not the biggest frustration in the world, is not high on my List of Loves. And when I really think about the standards set for us by the entertainment industry, it comes off as pretty darned sexist too.

Men aren't forced to cake makeup on in order to be more likely to get a part. Why do women cater to such an outmoded practice? If a boss were to suggest that a woman would be more successful in her workplace if she wore more makeup, she wouldn't waste half a second before she slapped a sexual harassment lawsuit on his ass. So why do we let audition coaches and casting directors and directors suggest that we glob on makeup before going to an audition? This is our job, and too much of it is based on looks and connections rather than talent as things already stand.

Now please don't misunderstand me. I am NOT saying that if you're a woman who enjoys wearing makeup every day, for whatever reason, that you're setting back the female cause. If you like it, then by all means, go for it! Hell, if you're a man and you want to wear makeup every day, who am I to stop you? But I personally do not like wearing a lot of makeup. And yet, a few times a week, I resign myself to glopping it on for the reason that I know it will make me more successful in my career. And that, if you ask me, is a big step in the wrong direction.

So... why do we do it?

[1] The Society Pages - The Beauty Industry: Spending and Routines

[2] Green Living Online - Six Makeup Chemicals to Avoid