Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010 goals

My 2009 hiking goals were as follows:
  1. through-hike Indiana's Knobstone Trail
  2. complete my Cumberland Trail 50-mile patch requirements
  3. hike in at least two new states.

I did the second this summer and completed the third just under the wire (California this summer and Arizona on Tuesday) but not the first. So, I guess it carries over to next year. My goal my 2010 is to backpack at least once a month. HOWEVER, this goal is subject to abandonment depending on where I move to. If I get a job in Alaska, I am not backpacking in Nome in November. Sorry, I'm a wimp.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Welcome to Arizona

Hanging with saguaro
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I hope everyone had a lovely holiday. I've been taking a blogging holiday myself, as you can tell. I spent Christmas with my family in Southern Oregon, and then I headed down to Arizona for a yoga workshop - and to see friends here in Phoenix. While the yoga alone is enough to kick our butts, on Tuesday I did a hike with my friend at Papago Park. The hike wasn't a long one or a challenging one, but it is in a nice urban oasis of desert landscape.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Canadian science fiction writer brutally arrested by US border guards. Now, at this point some of it is one person's word against another (the arrest itself is not under dispute). So, you know, maybe I should have an open mind that Watts just drove up and slugged the guard and was quite sensibly arrested. However, I'm tired of hearing people say something to the effect of, "Well, maybe he wasn't subservient enough." You know what? Being super-polite is a good idea, but you can't legally be arrested for failing to do so. Or even for being outright surly. Freedom of speech, people.

The least successful holiday specials of all time.

When you refer to famous academics, do you say the full name of a woman but just the last name of a man?

This is an interesting article for those of us who like books, but the very best part is the comment by KW following the article.

A turducken for the vegetarians in the house.

"Um, no, I'm not goofing off. This Sandman comic is actually a research project, yeah."

This law goes into effect immediately.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

What would you forget?

Recently, I went to a potluck dinner where we were all assigned dishes to bring, and a discussion arose as to what the most important dishes were. The idea was, if someone didn't show up, or brought an untasty , how badly would it impact the meal? (In this case, the china and silver were provided, and it was BYOB, so the discussion was only about the food. We were also ignoring redundancy - if three people are asked to bring side vegetables, one no-show isn't a problem.)

One person said bread was the least important thing. Someone else said, no, it was dessert. Both of these floored me, because I would argue they are the two most important items. Note, I'm not making any argument that I'm objectively right here - I think all this is a matter of opinion. But while I believe any element except perhaps dessert could be omitted, I want my carbs, and I'm a carb snob.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Meet the Bechdel test

If you've never heard of it, which I think most of my three readers haven't, it's a movie litmus test that originated here. The test is simple: "Is there at least one conversation between two female characters that isn't about men?"

The test can also be applied to novels, with one big caveat: Novels that use first person or tight third with a male protagonist are less likely to pass, and that's not necessarily something to get excited about. Movies, by contrast, don't generally glue a camera on one person's head and leave it there all film.

One of the better discussions of it is here. I see people object to this test with, "Well, there is this particular novel here, and this is why it doesn't pass the Bechdel's and it's OK." Sure, fine - the canonical example is The Name of the Rose. Setting a novel in a medieval monastery does indeed limit the potential for female-female conversations. But I think this misses the point of the test.* The test is better as a general diagnostic for a body of work - modern movies as a class, or the work of Robert Heinlein, or rom-coms.

The exception I would make to this is in a very particular class of movies/novels. This consists of stories set in the modern world (or a future similar to it) with a wide variety of characters and, if it's a novel, omniscient third narration. I read a novel recently, by an author who I would consider to not have reactionary opinions about the place of women, which had 39 speaking male roles, and only 5 females, the only major character of which is a damsel in distress (who is also the MacGuffin). In the book, it was clear that some women had power, because they are mentioned in passing, yet somehow every major character except the explicitly objectified female character was male. Maybe one or two of these gender decisions were driven by the needs of the story; the rest were like, "Well, I need a random person, and the default personhood is male." Needless to say, it didn't pass Bechdel. It pretty much ruined my enjoyment of a book I would have otherwise liked quite well.

Well, maybe you're saying, so what? Think about (third-person omniscient) books and movies that don't pass the reverse Bechdel's - no male-male conversations. All I can think of is The Women, although there are probably others. However, they are very rare. Start paying attention to Bechdel's and its reverse during your cinematic excursions, and then ask yourself what we can conclude about how genders are portrayed in our society.

*At least, IMHO. You can only put so much in a ten-panel comic strip. So you could reasonably argue for another purpose, and since it's a free country you can use the test however you like. I won't stop you.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Where's my flying car?

Predicting the future is always a dicey task, but you can't tell that from reading old education policy pieces. I feel like I've read a lot of articles from the 1970s and 1980s that take a current trend and assume it is the wave of the future. They never seem to anticipate that it's merely and ebb-and-flow phenomenon that will soon swing back, or that the status quo will be able to resist the reformist impulse. Remember the "private colleges will all fold" panic of the 1970s? Remember the predicted PhD shortage of the 1980s?

It's easy for me to sit here in my chair in 2009 and smirk, but the major lesson I've learned from this is not to count my chickens before they hatch. I tend to assume change won't happen, and if anything I'm too conservative in that.

The upshot is, you're never likely to open up your blogroll and see that today Turducken has predicted that soon we'll all be learning virtually, that public universities will sever their connections with their states, or that the adjunctification will increase to its logical end.