The More The Mary-er!

I am picking up my world and moving it from Washington, DC to Davis, CA. My blog life begins here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

NJ Supreme Court decision: A response to Dan's recent blog entry

First, in order to understand anything I'm talking about, please read Dan's recent blog entry:

Brilliantly written, Dan. You have captured most of my major sentiments regarding this decision, yet I can't help but wonder what the practical implications are of the NJ legislature's future remedy to the court's decision. My position for some time has been that same-sex marriage, as you note, reinforces the institution of marriage, and in a contradictory way, creates fewer options for same-sex couples in how they define their relationships. This ideological position is one that I struggle with and that which others have suggested is one of privilege and a bourgeois mentality. That is to say, while I hold onto my ideological goal of refusing the sanctification and privileging by the state of certain forms of relationship over others, the economic situation, etc, of many same-sex couples requires a more practical avenue (not to mention the crossroads the "gay and lesbian community" finds itself in)

So, I guess my question is what happens if and when NJ decides that equal benefits be conferred upon same-sex couples (but not heterosexual ones) under this new form of “union,” whatever its name? If Dr. Chambers ( is correct about the role of heteronormativity in explaining the disconnect between “protecting” marriage while simultaneously upholding equal rights for gays (which I certainly agree with), what does this separate form of union (i.e. separating the homos from the heteros) do to undermine that heteronormative worldview? In a very practical way, it seems heterosexual couples in NJ need to demand entrée into whatever form of union is granted to homosexuals—to demand that whatever form it takes, it includes not just same-sex relationships. And then what does that mean? What label is claimed, and does this necessitate any kind of equal treatment under the laws of other states (for example, when that couple applies for benefits in a state that does not have an alternative form of marriage)? Would it have any practical implications for the cause of non-heterosexually-unioned couples?

Anyway, I realize my comments are somewhat fuzzy. I hope to return to this topic soon when I can write coherently.

Thanks to Dan for his amazing entry!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Part II: The land of gouda and startlingly throaty g's

Well, unfortunately, it has been much longer than expected since I posted the last entry. Ozzie's new apartment was supposed to have internet access long before this point in time (and still does not), which has completely thwarted my sincere commitment to writing regularly. As such, I am currently writing this blog entry while hanging over the ledge of the apartment balcony, connecting rather tenuously to the university's wireless signal off in the distance. Hopefully, I won't be cut off mid-sentence.

So, where was I? The last episode ended with a cryptic reference to a homeless woman and an "attack." Much has happened since this point, but to avoid anachronistic references, I think I will rewind a bit to one of the more memorable events of my time here. Ozzie and I were walking in the center of the city, when we were approached by a woman in the red-light district (obviously, we were walking through rather than to this part of town). She first spoke in Dutch and then, realizing I do not speak Dutch, switched over to English. She was small woman, rather thin, about 35 or so, and quite disheveled, really. I knew what was coming, of course, so I continued to walk, but slowed down enough to look at her. I answered that I did speak English (mistake numero uno), and she proceded to tell us that she had missed her train (what she was doing this far from the train-station in a touristy section of town, who knows...oh wait, well yes, it was clear). When I continued to walk, perhaps surmising that I was really not taking her seriously, she asked me, rather nicely in fact, if I could just speak to her for two minutes. I nicely, but matter of factly, said, "I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I can't." At this point, the sweet puppy-dog face she had previously been sporting contorted into a surprisingly vicious grimace and before I could blink, she was raising her arms, emitting a frustrated growl, and moving toward me at what seemed like lightning speed. At this point, my innate biological programming (that's funny if you know me) must have kicked in, because all I can remember is reflexively turning my shoulder to her and covering my face with my hands, not knowing what to expect. While extremely brief, moments like these have a way of extending their lives by a hundred-fold. The impact of her arm(?), fist(?), body(?) was not painful, but it was jarring, and in the moment, I was reduced to that single emotion of fear that is both debilitating and motivating at once. The blow caught me in the shoulder I had turned toward her. I could feel the force and frustration behind it, but there really was no pain--perhaps it ordinarily would have been but was suppressed by the adrenaline, or maybe she was really just too slight to do much damage, even to my own "frail" frame. Before I even knew what had happened, the woman turned, scowl intact, and made her way towards her next target. I was left there, thankful I hadn't been pushed over the side of the canal (or stabbed for that matter--the way she had raised her fist, in retrospect, seemed like she may have had a knife) but sort of sauteeing in the mix of adrenaline that was now coursing through my body. I was not hurt at all, but shaken to the core. In a way, it was just a minor event, no harm done physically, no insulting words exchanged, but the look in the woman's eyes and face, her Smeagol (Gollum)-like features, remained with me for the rest of the evening. I sure hope she was able to catch the next train.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Part I: The land of Gouda and startlingly throaty g's

As many of you who no longer read my blog because I rarely post know, I am now in Amsterdam with Ozzie as he prepares to re-enter the world of academia. I've been here now for one week and as one would expect from any new foray into a different culture, much has been taken in, and much remains to be processed. I will begin with a few observations and an accounting of some particularly odd experiences.

As anyone who is even remotely familiar with Amsterdam is aware, the city contains some of the most interesting architecture in all of Europe. If you look up at the rowhouses, you'll see that every one of them has a hook at the top, through which a long rope can be strung and furniture hoisted to any of the many-storied windows. One will also notice that the buildings all seem to be tilting outwards, the top front of each buildings jutting out noticeably more than the bottom. This is so that as furniture is being hoisted upwards, it doesn't bang against the front of the structure. Simple, yet ingenious. The Dutch are like this in just about everything they do--simple, yet ingenious. Even the hundreds of bridges that criss-cross the canals are obviously built with great care in both design and efficiency. And this attention to design does not stop when it comes to ordinary household appliances. Think Ikea only with substantially more class and substantially less chance of snapping in half after just a few months. All of this is why I am completely dumbfounded by their toilets.

Let's begin with a review of familiar toilet construction, at least as it is known in the good ole' US of A. Round (or sometimes oval) bowl, filled about half-way with water, with a hole at the bottom back of said bowl. You may not have realized this, but the water is a very important feature of the Number 2 evacuation process, decreasing the amount of unappealing vapors that escape into the air. More explicitly stated, the poop drops into the water and, depending on diet, either floats or sinks to the bottom, and then is quickly and efficiently flushed away to never neverland. Or is it the nether netherlands. Except for the occasional splash, the system works pretty well. Now contrast this will the most popular toilet in the land of smoked salmon and legal marijuana. Round bowl at the top, but look inside the bowl and you will find a flat shelf with an edge that drops down to a hole at the front bottom of the bowl. That hole has a bit of water down there, but the shelf I mentioned has barely a puddle. Now I'm all for water conservation, but think about this for a moment. In case the above description is not lucid enough, let me bring it home. Due to the design of this toilet, one poohs onto a shelf(!) The pooh then sits there, almost completely free of water, until one of several possible hidden buttons in the room are pushed so that the pooh is washed off of the shelf and down through the hole. Meanwhile, the vast pooh-to-air exposed surface area allows for the maximum degree of vapor escape, creating a sort of Chamber of Excretions (Rouling's next title), in which you must steep until finished. I won't even get into the efficiency or lack thereof with which the water is able to fully wash the undesirable, mortality-reminding, material away. Don't even get me started on that inspiring design feat. Every time I need to use a toilet, I simply cannot understand how this made it through the boardroom. If it were the US, I would speculate on the influence of air-freshener lobbyists to the toilet industry, but that would be too cynical here in "Old Europe."

Next installment: Attack of the Strung-Out Homeless Woman.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


I had this amazing dream last night. I dreamt I was in class of some sort (totally far removed from my real world...and they say dreams are just consolidated memories!) and the teacher/professeur was Christiane--my lovely French superviser from the clinic. She had just finished up class and upon departing, uttered, "Okay, well, I guess you're all fired home--metaphorically speaking!" As she was leaving, we all sort of looked at one another dumfounded, and I exclaimed, "That doesn't make any sense. 'Fired home?'" Another student (a friend by the name of Max from high school) said, "Well, she just never makes any sense." He didn't realize she had forgotten something from the classroom and was coming back at that very moment, so she overheard him. We all sort of downplayed Max's comment and just admitted we were confused by her little expression. So she explained that back in her village, whenever an employer wanted to fire an employee, it was required that he/she go to that persons house to do it, and this fact lead to the expression "fired home" which basically just means "you're dismissed." Okay, so my dreams are not terribly exciting, but what I found so cool about it (as Ozzie pointed out) was that my own brain manufactured something it (my brain) did not understand and then explained it to itself! Isn't that weird? How could I not have understood what "fired home" meant or at least heard it as a familiar phrase when my own brain had just manufactured it? And then--to repeat myself--my brain decided to clear up the misunderstanding that it had just created by creating an entire context for the expression that it did not understand. Those are some levels of metacognition, and I feel I had nothing to do with it. I was just an outside (yet inside) observer to the intricate (and bizarre) workings of my own brain.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

I don't give a dental damn!

I had the strangest dental experience of my life today. Went to the dentist for the first time in something like 5 years. Ew, I know, right? But I haven't had any dental insurance and no problems with my teeth, so whatevs. I figure I take pretty good care of them. Anyway, after a series of rather painful ex-rays (I hate those little plastic tabs you have to bite down on, which occasionally grind into the roof of your mouth), the dentist came in to talk to me about my teeth. She began by asking about my last dentist and whether there was anything in particular I liked or disliked about my experiences. I thought this was quite nice. I told her I like that he was very gentle and always told me what he was about to do, "Ok Aaron, you're about to experience the most excrucating pain of your life, okay?" But then she asked me how I would rate how much I liked my teeth: "On a scale from 1 to 10, how do you like your teeth?" I was a bit confused, but generally, i'm okay with my teeth, I guess, so I said 9. She responded, "So, what is it about your teeth that you don't like?" Again, a little perplexed, so I said, "Well, I guess people are always concerned about having yellow teeth, so I guess I've always thought my teeth could be whiter..."
"Yes, what else?"
"Um....well I have a small gap between two of my back teeth and sometimes food gets caught in there..."
"I see, go on..."
"Okay, well I had braces, but since I've had them off, my bottom teeth have gotten a little bit crowded, but I'm not too concerned about it."
"Very good....And how would you feel if we could fix all of those problems?"
Riiiight. And so it began. I said, "Uhhhh, fine, I guess." ("Jesus! I would be like so eternally grateful I'd probably put you in my will!")

She then proceeded to ask me if I would like to hear about what she saw on the ex-rays, and ask me how I would like my information: a little bit of detail or a lot. What? I opted for more detail thinking more information was probably better than less ("you have teeth"), and she said funnily enough most PhD students ask for the detailed information. But this consisted of her pointing to a clay (or something) model of teeth and telling me where the potential problem areas were (and giving me the scientific names for the teeth she pointed to.) The whole thing was like talking to a computer that was inches from my face and almost life-like. In the end, I didn't have any cavities, but found out I grind my teeth, and I was given a run-down of all of my "treatment options" which included a $370 nightguard, a $575 whitening, and a multi-thousand dollar "invisaline" teeth straightening device (like removable, invisible braces). I didn't want any of that (except the nightguard, which I can't afford), so I politely said I would keep the "treatment options" in mind. Is this contemporary dentistry? I felt like I was being sold a new car or something. How would you feel if we could fix all of that for you?(?!) What? Go away! Just clean my teeth. That's all I wanted--just for someone to clean my teeth for me, for once in 6 years. Not some dentistry shake down. And I have to go back tomorrow for that, so they can double bill my insurance company. I think I may bite someone if they ask me anymore weird questions. "How clean do your teeth feel at present? How would it make you feel if we could make them cleaner with this power saw?"

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Well, it's happened again. Almost two months have gone by without a post. I'm terrible. One of my goals before coming out here was to keep writing entries, no matter how busy I got. I guess I got pretty busy.

Another quarter has begun in the town that is Davis. It's weird how life is divided up into different segments that become so salient in different periods of one's life. Spring quarter 2006. Fall semester 1998. I noticed one time at St. Mary's (college) that when I was taking certain classes, I would often consistently write the wrong dates on my papers--homework, etc. When I was taking chemistry for example, I would mess up the date. I kept wondering why the date was from a particular time period, and then I realized that the dates I was writing were from the semester in high school when I took chemistry. Isn't that weird? Maybe it was just a coincidence. Anyway, yeah, quarters. It isn't even a quarter, really...more of a trimester. I guess they call them quarters because there are summer sessions. But summer is much longer than any of the quarters of the school year, and besides, the are two summer sessions. Shouldn't we be calling them quintiles or something?

I finally went skiing up at a ski resort near Lake Tahoe. The drive up there was absolutely stunning. Ozzie and I took the little white pickup truck that has become our salvation for access to anything remotely exciting, and drove up the mountain to an elevation of about 8,000 ft. There was the one particularly frightening road along the side of the mountain such that I could pretty much look out my passenger window and see straight down over the side of an enormous cliff. It reminded me of that old footage of the car speeding off the side of a mountain into a ravine. I swear Hollywood must have used that same clip for a thousand films. I wonder how many takes it took.

Skiing was blissful...the second day. The first day up I had a problem with my boot. It was just too tight or something and kept crushing my toes. On accident, Ozzie and I took a lift up to an area where there were only black diamond runs. That coupled with the fact that I hadn't skied in about a year and the boot fiasco lead to an interesting ride down the mountain. I basically fell the entire way, and by the time I got down, my feet were hurting so bad I couldn't continue. The next day was much better, though. I got a better pair of boots and ended up skiing for about 5 hours.

We spent one night up there with my friends Chris, Paul, Christin, and Else-Marie. Funnily enough, I had some of the best sushi of my life there in the mountains bordering Nevada. Afterwards, we took a stroll across the border to NV (about 5 blocks from our motel) and visited a few casinos, strategically placed not more than 6 inches from the border. I played a few rounds of blackjack, but in the end, the house just had better luck. Funny that.

I've been trying to follow the various protests around the world. I'm quite concerned about this anti-immigration legislation that the House has put forward, not only making it a felony for undocumented immigrants to be in the country, but criminalizing any attempts by social workers, doctors, nuns, etc. to help them. It's just insane. Various cities across the country have seen the largest ever demonstrations. I guess that's the good news. Hopefully the threat of a political fallout with the legal voting immigrant population will be enough to outweigh the racist, fear-filled, public support of such types of legislation.

And in France, things are really heating up over the proposed legislation to make it legal to fire anyone under the age of 26 within a two-year period of hire without any justification. The protests are becoming reminiscent of the 1968 student uprising in support of workers' rights. Ozzie makes an interesting point that the legislation is intended to decrease unemployment, particularly among young people, 20% of whom are unemployed, (not counting students, I believe) by providing incentive to employers to hire in the first place. He says that in terms of economic history, lessening the restrictions on employers for their hiring practices (increasing flexibility of firing) has indeed, increased employment, and that perhaps the students' protests are misdirected--they should really be protesting the flexibility given to multi-national corporations whose policies threaten the security of jobs by uprooting from countries whose labor laws cramp their style and make it more profitable to do business elsewhere. It's such a complicated issue, but my sense is that allowing a corporation to fire an employee at any point up to two years after hiring them is excessive and could lead to discriminatory firing practices for which there is no oversight or retribution. At this point, I feel myself quite in favor of the protests and I'm on the edge of my seat wondering what will be the ultimate outcome. If nothing else, the French certainly know how to strike. Des greves, they call it. I am all too familiar with the process--when i went there to study in 2002, my university went on strike for over two weeks, taking out all of the desks and chairs from the classroom and piling them from floor to ceiling in front of all the entrances to the buildings. I'll have to see if I can dig out a picture to post. It was great. Oh, that was over an increase in fees, I think, or threats of privatisation of the universities.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Body Worlds

This quarter, I'm enrolled in what is fast becoming my favorite class ever! It's called Body Theory, another course in the Critical Theory area here at Davis:

Today, one of the students gave a fantastic presentation on plastinated human bodies--real human cadavers that have been preserved in such a way that allows them to be exhibited in Museums and used in university settings. What's different about this than the "normal" preservation of bodies for a med school anatomy lesson is that the bodies are often positioned in various states of action, with various amounts of skin and muscle exposed--mostly the cadavers have been completely skinned with the exception of some lips and scalp--a few "accents," if you will. So I will. Well, some of the cadavers are playing chess, others dribbling a basketball. One was a pregnant woman with her 8-month fetus, intact and exposed, for the appropriate consuming gaze. The entire affair is framed in terms of the educational value of the display of these bodies, but also with a definite artistic/aesthetic quality. It's not that these two things are mutually exclusive, but it seems the justifications used for this display are a bit fickle and seem tailored to the particular audience they are trying to captivate. Maybe there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I honestly don't know how I feel about the exhibits. The "artist" has received criticism from all ends of the political and social spectrum. One of the preserved fetuses was even stolen from a museum and has not since turned up! Suffice it to say, my curiosity was peaked by this presentation, and I find the whole thing fascinating, if not a little bit disturbing. Check it out for yourself! Perhaps I'll post again when I've collected my thoughts a bit more on the subject.

Meanwhile, Alberto Gonzales today defended the administration's surveillance program. I feel rather silly even commenting on something that seems so straight forwardly illegal, but I can't help but have the sinking feeling that these turds are totally going to get away with it! And if they do, it's the American people's fault! Not just the administration's. My sense is that people in this country, with a few exceptions, have completely fallen asleep. I'm guilty of this too. I have yet to make a phone call to my representative. I'm not one who puts all my stakes in polling, but it looks as though a majority of people don't seem to care that we're being spied on without a warrant! Even the poll questions that don't ask an idiot question like, "Do you think the administration is justified in warrantless spying to prevent a terrorist attack?" seem to indicate that a majority is fine with warrantless spying regardless of the specifics as long as it's part of the wider war on terruh. So, my official prediction is that Bushie and his cronies will come out of this one unscathed. Gonzales recently spoke at Georgetown lawschool giving a rather contradictory presentation of the defense rationale. During the middle of it, a group of about 10 or so (maybe more?) law students stood up, and unfurled a banner saying, "Those who would forsake liberty for the sake of security deserve neither" a quote from Ben Franklin. They had on Abu Ghraib hoods as well. Others stood and simply turned their backs to him in protest. After the speech, did Al stay to answer questions from these young, budding legal scholars? No! He got the hell out of there without answering one question. Fortunately, Michael Ratner, a constitutional scholar, was there to pick up the slack and point out all of the holes in his argument. How many people saw this on CNN? Anyone? Anyone?