Archive for May, 2008

May 27, 2008

Weddings, bottoms, and other sinister tales

As some of you know, a couple of months ago the nice people at the New Indian Express offered me a biweekly column (it is called Practically Marzipan) in their saturday paper. Last week’s column (click on the long skinny picture to read) was about something I have spoken about here in the past – prejudice against people who are left handed.

My favourite story about my southpawdom is one I felt would be inappropriate for the column. As a very small child I only visited India once a year or so for family weddings and similar functions. My parents, being the sort of people who didn’t really mind their child growing up in the west and isolated from good Indian values, had never really drawn attention to my lefthandedness. In school the only attention really paid to it pertained to the handing out of lefthanded scissors. So I was understandably surprised, at the age of five or so, to come here and have distant relations draw back from my left hand when I handed them things, or to be told to do perfectly normal things “properly”. Being an inquisitive sort of child I demanded an explanation from my parents. The reason I was given was that (quoting from wikipedia) “…in some societies including India, it is customary to use the left hand for cleaning oneself with water after defecating. The right hand is commonly known in contradistinction from the left, as the hand used for eating.”. This made sense to me.

It followed, I concluded, that lefthanded people like myself would in fact clean ourselves with our right hands, and eat with our left. At the next family function an elderly relative attempted to swat my left hand away from my leaf plate and force me to eat with my right hand. I said indignantly, disgustedly and (this is the important bit) loudly “but I wipe my bum with that hand!”

Pandemonium occurred.
May 24, 2008

Survivor (Kindergarten edition)

I’ve just found this news item linked to on Trinity’s blog:

After each classmate was allowed to say what they didn’t like about Barton’s 5-year-old son, Alex, his Morningside Elementary teacher said they were going to take a vote, Barton said.
By a 14 to 2 margin, the class voted him out of the class.

Barton said her son is in the process of being diagnosed with Aspberger’s, a type of high-functioning autism. Alex began the testing process in February for an official diagnosis under the suggestion of Morningside Principal Marsha Cully.
Alex has had disciplinary issues because of his disabilities, Barton said. The school and district has met with Barton and her son to create an individual education plan, she said. His teacher, Wendy Portillo, has attended these meetings, she said.

Barton said after the vote, Alex’s teacher asked him how he felt.
“He said, ‘I feel sad,’” she said.

Alex hasn’t been back to school since then, and Barton said he won’t be returning. He starts screaming when she brings him with her to drop off his sibling at school.

Thursday night, his mother heard him saying “I’m not special.”
Barton said Alex is reliving the incident.
They said he was “disgusting” and “annoying,” Barton said.

Wtf. I know that kids in large groups at that age are often little assholes, but here it seems the teacher actually joined in. Having a group of kids individually tell a child why they find him “disgusting” and “annoying” cannot seem to me to be anything other than bullying. I cannot understand what the teacher hoped to gain from conspiring with the other students to publically humiliate him. When I was in primary school the kid we ganged up on was the one who picked his nose. I’m not sure what would have happened if we’d been given the chance to vote him out of the class.

Trinity also links to this excellent post by Amanda. Please read it:

Children aren’t born knowing how to behave towards other children. None of them are, autistic or non-autistic. They have to learn that everyone’s dependent on everyone else, that people aren’t better than others just by being better at something, and that tendencies to do bad things to other people are things we all have to fight, not give in to, if we want society to be remotely just to anyone.
And this teacher is leading these kids in the wrong direction to learn any of those lessons.

May 22, 2008

Books found and happiness

I have told this story before – years ago I was in the school library and had only a couple of minutes left of the period in which to choose a book. I grabbed pretty much the first vaguely interesting thing to hand, which was The Owl Service by Alan Garner. I’d never heard of it or him.
There’s very little I can say about The Owl Service. It’s weird and unsettling and utterly lovely, and I took it out of the library multiple times after. It became one of my favourite books. Then in 2004 I left school and no longer had access to that excellent library.
Since I left school, I’ve wanted a copy of my own. And it has seemed unattainable. It is not (I must clarify lest my bookhunting skills be called into question) that copies of The Owl Service did not exist in the country. One of them turned up in the British Council Library in Delhi, but in the children’s section which I could not access. Copies were rumoured to surface from time to time in Landmark’s Bangalore outlet, bought by friends who did not know I wanted it and therefore gifted it to other people instead. On my own trips to the shop I was either directed to the self-help section or told it was out of stock. So it was out there, just not accessible to me to read.

Why didn’t I order online? I probably would have, eventually. If I grew desperate. But as much as I love buying and owning and possessing books (far more than I actually read, tragically) I don’t like it to be too easy. I’ve joked in the past about it merely being sportsmanship – giving a book a chance to get away. I suspect, though, that it’s more practical than that. The books I want to own, that make me give out embarrassing noises when I discover them by chance in bookshops, are potentially infinite in number. I’m only ever going to actually own some, whether I order them online or find them in bookshops. Bookshops allow me to make the silly noises and stroke them and generally behave in an idiotic and pleasure-causing manner. Ordering all (or even many) of them online would merely make me broke. And while it’s sometimes frustrating to know that I’ll never own the full collection, it’s usually a nice sort of pain.

I digress. A couple of weeks ago Aadisht and I were in the children’s section of Landmark Bangalore (again!) and I wasn’t looking for The Owl Service. But I was scanning the shelves and I saw it, next to A Small Pinch of Weather by Joan Aiken. Neither had a price tag. Both turned out to be bizarrely inexpensive.
I read it on the flight home last week. I read it again today. It really is as good as I remember.

May 18, 2008

Not a review: Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian is the Narnia book I have owned the longest and read the most, and despite my odd relationship with these books over the years I’m still rather fond of it.
I watched Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian on saturday. I’m not sure how well it works as a whole – parts of it felt rushed and possibly bewildering if one hadn’t read the book. But it was extremely entertaining and had plenty of pretty people and trebuchets. A few thoughts:

  • Why didn’t they make The Horse and His Boy first?
  • Susan is far more likeable than she is in the book. This not just because I have a crush on Anna Popplewell. Book-Susan is made annoying. Movie Susan is quite likeable, despite her tendency to look disappointedly at Peter and Caspian. Susan’s behaviour in Prince Caspian (the last book in which we actually see her) sets up her fate in The Last Battle. The movie seems to do this with her confession to Lucy about getting used to living in England and how long can this last and so on. I’m not sure it’s enough.
  • I’ve enjoyed how these movies deal with Peter’s character. He’s incredibly bland in the books, and is never really tested or found lacking by Lewis. Here, he’s flawed, occasionally nasty, and very much a teenager. I’m hoping they’ll do the same to Lucy at some point.
  • At the end of Prince Caspian, Peter and Susan learn that they can’t come back to Narnia because they’re ‘too old’. Their growing up in the movie is shown by Susan attracting multiple males and being attracted to one of them (this is the girl who gets kicked out of Narnia for wearing lipstick, so hey) and Peter affecting strange alpha-male behaviour, picking fights with every young male in the vicinity.
  • Wholesale disregard for plot allows the two prettiest people (Susan and Caspian) to gaze mistily at each other. It also means Susan is actually present during most battle scenes. Lewis would have disapproved. Susan’s gifts in LWW are a bow-and-arrows and a horn to call for help when she (inevitably) cannot defend herself; here she takes out an impressive number of Telmarine soldiers before falling over, shrinking back, and needing Caspian to Ride Heroically to the rescue.
  • Face-shaped, face-guarding armour with built in fake beard? I want.
  • Miraz describes the Telmarine conquest of Narnia in terms that are very familiar. Savage land, animals, not people, civilization, the bringing of. This makes Trufflehunter the badger’s insistence (the quote is taken from the book) that Narnia was never right except when humans ruled sound familiar as well. They gave us the railways, you know. I wonder what Lewis thought of colonialism. But then, we know what he thought of brown people.
  • The Telmarines, for some reason, have Spanish accents but occasionally sound Indian. Except Ben Barnes, who occasionally seems to be going for a Russian accent instead. I don’t know. But when in Narnia don’t trust any accents that aren’t BBC English. You have been warned.
  • If the Telmarines are brownish and bearded, how brown and bearded will the Calormenes be?
  • Did they borrow most of the props from The Lord of the Rings? Did they borrow Caspian’s Riding Heroically while being chased through a river from there too?
  • The fighting trees are brilliantly done. I’d always imagined them (as dryads) drifting over the surface of the ground – here, the roots play an active role. And you really get the feeling, when you see how deeply they’re rooted so that the ground is literally churning beneath the Telmarines, that the land itself is fighting back. I approve.
  • Miraz’s widow is quick to follow Telmarine-with-a-conscience back into our world. Speculation about the parentage of Caspian’s little cousin occurred.
  • Was it necessary to spoil an otherwise excellent scene (the caving in of the tunnels under the battlefield, thus causing Telmarines to fall into convenient pits) by having one piece of earth fall conveniently in front of Caspian? Making a ramp that enabled him to Ride Heroically into the sunlight? Sigh.
  • The song that plays as the children leave Narnia is awful. Why? Most of the soundtrack was perfectly decent.
  • Susan’s dress in this scene, though, is something I covet.

The next movie will have a dragon. And a sea-monster. And ships, and amusing one-legged creatures for comic relief. But no pirates*. And, tragically, no Susan.

*It seems a waste, in a ship-movie.

Edit: hilarity from PunkAssBlog

May 14, 2008

I just stare mournfully into CCTV cameras, myself.

This story, which I found linked to on Gaurav’s blog, pleased me greatly.

Unable to afford a proper camera crew and equipment, The Get Out Clause, an unsigned band from the city, decided to make use of the cameras seen all over British streets.
With an estimated 13 million CCTV cameras in Britain, suitable locations were not hard to come by.
…Afterwards they wrote to the companies or organisations involved and asked for the footage under the Freedom of Information Act.

It is joyous!

May 10, 2008

A 101 post (of sorts)

“Feminist, Fangirl, and Maker of Fine Omelettes”

This was for quite a long time in the “about me” section of my blogger profile and so is probably familiar to some of you.

One of the things I fangirl is the internet. I have a crush on the internet. I love that it’s this huge, chaotic mess that allows for things like serious groundbreaking academic work, and really perverse football slash, and LiveJournal communities dedicated to pictures of baby animals.
Back in February, Amit Varma wrote this gloriously geeky article in the Indian Express:

The blogosphere is a meritocratic space. Each blog finds the audience it deserves. If you like economics, you’ll find tons of good economics blogs, often much better than anything you’ll see in the mainstream media, because they’re written by specialists, not generalists. You want gardening? Literature? Technology? You’ll find content in any niche you can think of.
There is a lot of junk on the internet, but readers navigate through it easily, and soon settle on a few sites they regularly visit. Information percolates so quickly that a good new blog doesn’t take much time to build a readership. You write something nice, people who like it link to you, their readers check you out, and so it grows. Marketing and hype are generally wasted, and everything is viral. If you provide compelling content, readers come. If you write rubbish, readers go. Competition is the best regulation.

And this exemplifies the stuff I love about the internet. Who wouldn’t be excited by a system that has space for pretty much anything, that is completely free, where your rewards are based purely on merit, and the like? The internet is really very sexy.

But then there’s the “feminist” thing too. I’ve been female on the internet for some years now. More, I’ve been a female who blogs under my real name. There’s a reason comments on this blog are moderated. Then there was the Kathy Sierra incident. It seems (cue shocked gasps) that the internet does not exist in a vacuum. How about race? How about that bloggers’ lunch with Bill Clinton in Harlem that somehow only white people attended?

Apparently some of those nasty meatspace power dynamics have cunningly leaked in here too. Who would have thought? And they’re there affecting who gets heard, and by how many people, and by which people, and yes, who gets book deals. And so on.

What I’m saying, or should be, is that it’s inevitable for people who are naturally excited by concepts/ideas to focus on the concept itself and stop noticing the cultural context within which the idea exists. But only if they’re the people who that cultural context is made for, who are not constantly alienated by it.( Note how I cleverly do not use that word.) Except you can’t separate things from their contexts because their contexts inevitably influence them.

Which brings me, inevitably to the Open Source Boob Project. I was going to say a lot more about this when it happened but was lazy and by the time I started lots of other people had said it for me. But to me, this is a classic case of the sort of thing I’m talking about. A world where sexuality and bodies aren’t stigmatised? Undoubtedly a good thing. Approaching women in a male dominated space and asking them if they’ll consent to participate in a Social Experiment where people can come up to them and ask to touch their breasts? Um.

Context. It’s important.

And so are omelettes.

May 7, 2008

How not to help women’s sports

Via Feministing, the WNBA has decided to market their players more effectively. This is necessary, of course, because women’s sports never do get the level of marketing or coverage that men’s sports do. So how are they doing this? They’re giving the players makeup and fashion tips.
The thing is, for me, it’s not just that women’s sports get less attention and air time (8%, someone quoted in the Feministing post said?), it’s what sort of coverage they get as well.
A year and a half ago, I wrote:

It gets worse when it comes to women’s sport. I was in England during Wimbledon this year, and even The Guardian felt that it was more important to talk about Maria Sharapova’s screams and grunts on court than her tennis. FIFA’s Sep Blatter said a couple of years ago that female footballers needed to wear sexier shorts, and every teenaged boy knows that the Australian women’s team once posed for a nude photograph – the only thing about women’s football that they know.

This is just more of that, isn’t it? If women want attention to be paid to women’s sports, they’re just going to have to be pretty and feminine. But then, of course, no one is actually paying attention to the women’s sports any more.

“You’re a woman first,” Brown said. “You just happen to play sports. They enjoy dressing up and trying on outfits, where back in the day, everyone just wore sweats.”

I’m reminded of this incident.

In the meantime, The Huffington Post reported that the passion fruit recipe had appeared under Mrs. McCain’s name in the Jan. 16 issue of The New York Sun, in an article that also included a recipe from Michelle Obama (apple cobbler) but not one from the spouse of the other Democratic presidential candidate. The article did include Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

You’re a woman first. You just happen to play sports. You just happen to be a presidential candidate. You just happen to be at this convention. You’re a woman first. And this means (it has to mean) you like to wear make-up and pretty clothes. You are “mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces and entrepreneurs”. You bake cookies! You have breasts. Does anyone really believe this is helping?

Why do I do this? Because it’s fun and shallow and easy and I like looking at hot sweaty men? Well. Yeah. But there’s more.

May 6, 2008

The Socks of Fortitude

Aadisht posted many months ago about the discrimination faced by adult fans of superheroes in the underwear drawer department. Careful research has shown us that this is true of socks as well. While a small female person can walk/be carried into a shop and find herself swamped in adorable Powerpuff Girls ankle socks, an adult female (and presumably an adult male) does not have this option. It seems they simply do not exist.

It is ridiculous. All over the internet I see anguished posts by mommybloggers who wish to protect their children from ugly rampant capitalism by not buying them clothing with corporatised cartoon characters on them. Whereas those of us who are fully immersed in it and wish to advertise this (such as, for example, Powerpuff Girls fans in their 20s with size eight feet) are not given the opportunity to do so.

The clothing industry, I conclude, is made of Fail.

May 2, 2008

Regarding non-appearance of brilliant blog posts

I am in Bangalore (right now, tomorrow I’ll be in Chennai) with the PL. Faithful Laptop Nigel has accompanied me, but I can’t be bothered to do the research that the posts I want to write would require until I’m back in Delhi. So I’ll probably be seeing you after the 14th.