Monday, February 26, 2007

Counter of boiled dead fish larvae

alright, i guess an explanation's in order.

after my sophomore (2nd year) at college (uni), i got a job as an assistant in an envronmental laboratory at a nuclear power plant. the plant didn't have a cooling tower, it drew it's cooling water from Long Island Sound, ran it through a closed system, and dumped the boiling water back into the Sound. The lab's job was to assess the impact this had on the ichtheofauna (fish) of the surrounding water. We did this by dropping ultra fine nets into the water in front of the giant pipes where the hot (temp, not radioactive) water came out and collected many, many, many, many, many samples of the crap that came out with the water.

What we caught were shredded, boiled fish larvae and eggs. They had to be preserved in formaldehyde (yuk!), labelled, and analyzed under a microscope. I would take a jar, strain and rinse the formaldehyde and dump the contents (about a pint's worth of shredded fishy crap and plankton) into a dish and look at it carefully under a microscope. I would determine the species of the gross, boiled, shredded, disgusting dead baby fishes and record how many of what species and at what stage of development got fried by the system. also eggs. how many people do you know that can tell the species of a fish from it's egg? huh?? huh??? that's what i thought. (caviar don't count.)

Then we'd put the crap back into the formaldehyde, record the data, and stuff it all on a shelf somewhere so the Big Cheeses who own the plant can manipulate the numbers to prove that they're not destroying the fish population of the Sound.

When I took the job Ithought I would be doing good, solid, environmental research. I didn't realize that I would be used to justify the continuation of an abominable environmental practice brought about because the residents of the extremely posh nearby communities didn't their costal views spoilt by a giant cooling tower, which would then lower their property values. So we commit genocide on the fish instead. Fair trade.

I suppose I could have described the job as "lab assistant," or even "corporate whore," but that just wouldn't generate the same intrigue as "counter of boiled fish larvae," would it? :)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Random stuff I've been

Oh fine then. Everyone else is doing it. I might as well. I'm sure you're all dying to know this:

7 Things I Have Wanted to Be:

1. Artist
2. Astronaut
3. President
4. Dianne Fossey (before she was shot)
5. Olympic gymnast, figure skater, cyclist, rower (at different points in my life)
6. thin and pretty
7. smarter (normal brain, not Asperger's/face-blind)

7 Things I Have Actually Been

1. Professional cleaner of moldy test-tubes
2. Professional counter of boiled fish larvae
3. Professional rock-shoveller
4. Professional truck-driver
5. Licenced pesticide applicator
6. Substitute teacher
7. Director of Development and Marketing for a professional theatre company

quite the resume, no? And that's less than half my employment history. And I'm not even 30 yet!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Blinded by the stars

It's funny how things work. It's so easy to watch the news and become complacent, to allow yourself to be decieved into thinking that everything is crap and everyone on the planet is an asshole. We all have one, but not all of us are one. Everywhere you look there are nice people doing selfless things.* These people deserve baked goods. (I can't afford gilt statuettes, i'm sorry.)

In order to publicly recognize the selflessness of particular bloggers who have recently gone out of their way to do very nice things, I hereby create the following awards:

The award for the Most Helpful Comment goes to Just a Girl, for pointing out to me the blindingly easy way to put my old counter in my new sidebar, when I tried 10 other unnecessarily complex things and came up dry.

The award for Most Accomodating (aslo known as Most Willing to do a Stupid Task for No Visible Reason) goes to Dave, for assisting me in a failed experiment to fix my header. That the experiment failed was no fault of his. I just need to learn more about HTML coding.

Then there are some spurts of generosity that are so beneficent, so outrageous, so totally uncalled-for, that baked goods are simply inadequate thanks. These people were not asked for anything, but spontaneously and without any provocation bestowed upon me gifts both pragmatic and thoughtful. For these people, nothing short of homemade booze can express my gratitude.

The award for Most Random Giving of Most Random Kitchen Appliance goes to the immortal LC, who sent me a waffle maker. Oh, but not just any waffle maker! No, mis companeros, this waffle maker makes heart-shaped waffles! Romantic breakfasts in bed just got a whole lot sillier.

And finally, the award for the Most Thoughtful Warmer of Toes by Someone With Whom I Do Not Have A Sexual Relationship goes to our very own Timorous Beastie, who at Christmas time remembered that I have perpetually frozen toes owing to too many years of snow-shovelling, rowing, and falling in freezing cold rivers and sent me a bunch of chemical toe-warmer packs to keep the ol' tootsies toastie while I'm sculling and cycling here in the frigid British Isles.

The downside of this little award ceremony (if I knew hot to make my blog play music I would have for this post) is that you don't get to wear fancy tuxes and ball gowns and walk down a red carpet. On the other hand, you do get to escape being accosted by Joan and Melissa Rivers, so really it all comes out in the wash.

Thanks, everyone!

*If, when you read that statement, the first thing that leapt to your mind was Hugh Grant's voice saying "Love, actually, is all around," you need to cut back on the rom-coms. Serioulsy.


Thanks, Dave. I really appreciate your help. Sadly, my little experiment didn't work. I have figured out a way in my HTML code to replace the green background and goofy little wheel logo with an image from the web. I found the image I wanted (that green key design), but it needed to be eited a tad (it wasn't long enough in pixels, so I had to photoshop it to copy and paste segments together to make it longer).

The problem now is getting the new, lengthened image onto the web so I can paste the URL into my code. This procedure worked with any other image I used from the web, but not from images posted on my own blog. So I figured that if someone else posted the image I could then past the URL into my code and make it the background header for my blog. With me so far?

Problem is it didn't work. Anyone know why?

It should be that difficult. I can paste any image from the web directly into my code. So how do I publish this particular image onto the web in such a way that I can use it????

Also, (and this is still a very pressing question), why won't the New Blogger (not the Beta version, the newer version than that, which is what I've just converted to) accept the HTML code for my stat counter??? I'm really annoyed by this.

If there are any really hard-core coders out there with a bit of free time who would like do demonstrate their superiority, I will even copy my code into a text doc and email it to you, so you can see exactly what I'm dealing with. (As it is I've been pretty successful working with this new template. Besides changing a bunch of things they give you options for, I managed to find the bit of code that determines the thickness and color of the border around my avatar and change it from being thick and orange to thin and grey. Whee! (small victories.))

Thanks for your help, Dave. That the experiment failed was no fault of your own, therefore you still get a prize. To collect just tell email me your snail mail address to

In addidtion, I will send out prizes for successful solutions to the above two coding problems. (Blogger help is no help with this -- I've already looked.) I can't say at this point exactly what the prizes are, but I specialize in baked goods. "Yummers!"

Friday, February 23, 2007

In need of assistance - doubletime!

See this image?

Here's what you need to do:

  • Left click on the image to view full size
  • Right click on it
  • Save it to your computer
  • Compose a new post, and upload this image into the post. You must do this from your computer and not from the web or this won't work! (I don't think...)
  • Publish the post
  • Come back and leave me a comment telling me you have done this
First one to complete the above steps wins a prize.


Bored with the orange

Everyone else seems to be doing it lately, and after more than 2 1/2 years I finally got bored with the orange and white color scheme. Thus, time for a spring cleaning of the blog. There are a few kinks to be worked out (for some reason Sal's link on the sidebar is smooshed), but overall I think the effect is easier on the eyes, which is what I wanted.

The two things that I really don't like tho are
a) at the bottom of the sidebar where the stuff runs out there's just a long, blank, white space down to the end of the posts. Is there some way for me to continue the sidebar background color down to the bottom of the page?
b) that goofy, wheelie logo in the upper left. I was hoping I could replace that square with a photo of my own, but there doesn't seem to be a way to alter it. I think it might be built in to the template. Any genii out there got any genius idears?

What do you guys think of the new look?

UPDATE! AAAAAG!!! I just realized my beloved popularity indicator counter is gone! I still have the HTML code (saved it before I changed the template) but there dosn't seem to be a way to add it back in. Help me, Obi-Sal-Kenobi; you're my only hope!!!

UPDATE II: I tried pasting the HTML code for my counter into my template just to see what would happen, and it told me that there was an XML error. Does that mean the new blog is in XML and not HTML? And does that mean that I have to get a new counter and start ALL OVER????? I'm so annoyed! I had over 34,000 hits! I felt loved, I tell you, LOVED!

The batteries in my camera were flat. This was the only pic I was able to take before they died. I'll get some more this weekend, I'm sure.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Spring sprang!

The crocuses are running riot, the daffodils are smiling up at the sun, and the delicate, fluffy cherry blossoms observe the scene.

Pictures tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Questions no one is asking

There's much ado in the Church of England, lately.

(Sorry, this is going to be a very long post. I don't expect you to read it.)

Yesterday it was revealed by The Times that the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches are working toward a reconciliation that would put the Anglican church back under the authority of Rome. Wha????? Are you KIDDING?!

I have loads to say on this, but first I want to discuss the other big news in the Church of England. Anglican Bishops from around the world have been meeting in Dar es Salaam to discuss what to do about the whole gay issue. The gist is that the conservative arm of the church, namely the African contingent, is pissed off at the North American arm of the church (the Episcopalians) for ordaining a gay Bishop and giving blessings to same-sex unions. (oh the inhumanity.) Since Canterbury has, in the past, been quite liberal on the gay issue, it was assumed that The Church was headed for a schism, whereby the conservative contingent would pack up their marbles and go home. The shock development is that Canterbury told the Episopalians to toe the line and then put the most conservative Bishop in Africa in charge of the Americans. (They're gonna love that.)

You can imagine how thrilled I am with this. I'm not Anglican (hell, I'm not even Christian), but I can deal with going to church with the Pirate because the values of the Anglican Church are much more in line with my own. Since I'm more concerened with values than with orthodoxy I am comfortable in an Anglican church, whereas in a Catholic church I just sit and cringe and spend an hour becoming increasingly angry.

But this changes things. The C of E has just done a whole lot of backpeddling on an issue where previously it was a leader in compassion and understanding. I want no part of an organisation that actively discriminates against gay people. I refuse to be associated with that kind of intolerance.

But here's the question no one's asking (we finally got to it -- aren't you thrilled?): Canterbury did what he did to preserve "unity." All throughout the debate there has been a fundamental assumption that "unity" is a good thing. Here's what I want to know: Why?

Why is unity such an inherently good thing? What's wrong with a schism??? If you've got an organisation where half the members strongly feel one thing and the other half strongly feel the other -- it's an issue where no one is going to change their mind and there can be no compromise -- why force them to play nicely? Why not let them go their separate ways? Wouldn't everyone be happier then? Let them play their separate games in opposite corners of the schoolyard where each group can make its own rules. I would genuinely like to hear your thoughts on this. Why is unity assumed to be the best course, at any cost to people's consciences?

There's another half to this issue. It marks a growing trend in the Anglican Church towards a much more conservative organisation. Reunion with Rome? Accept the authority of the Pope, who is known to be freakishly conservative on issues of sexuality and sexual mores??? I have a hard time believing that.

It comes along with that same need for "unity" though. They all want to be one big happy. I just don't understand this mentality. Lots of the Big Bishops in the CofE seem to be for it. Canterbury is for it.

But here's the question no one's asking: What does the Queen think? Because technically the Queen is still the head of the Church. Canterbury can talk a blue streak, but unless the Queen accepts the authority of the Pope it's just a pipe dream. Both churches seem to think this reconciliation is feasible, but I want to hear Liz's thoughts on the matter. I suspect they would go something like this.

Canterbury: We want to reunite with Rome.

Big Liz: Fuck ahff.

The other big question is, of course, what do the punters on the ground think? I'll eat my hat if the majority of Anglicans would be happy to have the Pope in charge again. And that naturally begs the question of How did the Bishops become so far removed from their parishners' ideals? This whole thing is just a giant kettle of worms, but it's fucking historic. Charles doesn't want to be the Head of the Church in England. He wants the title changed to Head of the Churches. Plural. Thereby doing away with an official state religion, giving all religions equal rights, and transerfing the ecclisiastical authority of the monarchy to Canterbury, which then would give Canterbury the right to have the final say on reuniting with Rome. What a fucking circle jerk! This is making my head spin, but I can't shake the feeling that I'm watching major historical changes unfold before my eyes. It's exhilerating, in a I-can't-believe-they-just-did-that kind of way.

Questions? Comments? You know what to do!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Egad! It's been a while...

Sorry for the radio silence, peeps. I got kinda busy there for a few days. By way of apology I'm going to post a photo of Bluto in all his furry, seed-munching glory. I love how my moblie phone and hairbrush completely dwarf him in this pic. Heehee.

In the news:

  • On Wednesday the Pirate came over for dinner. I fixed a nice meal, NOT because of VD, but because a, I hadn't done it in a while; b, he gave a very successful presentation at the office on Monday and I wanted to recognize that (a grand poombah slapped him on the back afterword and said, "That was bloody good, Pirate, bloody good indeed!); c, I had just bought the new Jamie Oliver cookbook (yes, I adore him. sue me.); and d, he was scheduled to leave for India on Friday and I knew we wouldn't see each other for a few weeks. It was a lovely evening, as are all evenings with my Pirate.
  • Since the Pirate wasn't going into the office on Friday (he was packing and leaving for India), I told him that if he wanted he could come over thursday evening and stay the night and have one last shag before setting off for the subcontinent. He had a lot to do before he left and said he probably wouldn't have time. "No worries," said I. Then on Thursday I'm sitting and listening to a paper about indexing marginalia on all British-produced manuscripts from 1375-1509 when i get a text: "See you in an hour." Guess who couldn't get on a plane without his farewell shag? I had already agreed to go to the boatclub Valentine dinner, so I phoned the hostess and asked if I could drag the P along. "No worries," she said. So we went and had fajitas with the boat club, and then had our farewell shag. So thursday was good.
  • Then I was at a 2-day conference on Medieval studies on Fri and Sat. I didn't give a paper, but I hosted a couple sessions, and had a really good time. It was a small conference and everyone was very chummy. On Friday I got a free meal at an Italian restaurant out of the deal, so even better.
  • Sunday (and this is the good bit), I cycled down the boathouse with R, who also has a buggered back, and we took the double scull out for a light paddle. R and I move really well together, and we get along well as friends, so she is my favourite co-paddler. We did 6 k (which sounds like nothing but is huge progress for both of us), and had a really nice time. And guess what? No back pain! So I'm going to beging slowly reintegrating myself back into the club when work and time permit. Whee!
  • Sunday afternoon (and Friday morning) I spent making huge strides in my research, as Flatmate B is teaching me how to write software programs in Basic that I can use to do computer-aided linguistic analysis of medieval texts. We've written a couple programs together, and I'm getting more comfortable with some of the concepts. After I get the hang of this it will increase the quality and scale of my research by orders of magnitude. For the first time in months I feel really really good about my work and where it's going. (And yes, Sal, after I get the hang of Basic I am going to move on to Python. We're already hitting the limits of what Basic can do.)
And that's just all the diary-type, day-to-day schlock of what's been going on for the past few days. I've also had some really stimulating discussions about religion and world affairs that I'm eager to write about, but I don't have time at this moment.

The Pirate is now in India, spending 2 weeks living in 5-star hotels and playing cricket. Lucky bastard. So I'm back to being lonely and blathering on about the P to anyone who will listen, but I must confess I'm getting loads done now that I have my weekends back.

So that's what's going on. Given the current state of the world, expect some more political diatribes in the near future.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Order of Operations

I hesitate to write this, because it's going to sound like one of those gahdawful self-help books, an also becuae I'm actually thinking of writing aforementioned self-help book, purely for the money of course (and why give it a way free if I can sell it?). But I decided to let you Be My Guinea Pigs. (Now why don't they ever put that on a candy heart, i ask you.)

Here's the basic premise:

There are two ways to structure your life and make decisions.
1. Figure out what's feasible and choose from the available options, or
2. Figure out what you want and find a way to make it feasible.

Number 1 is perfectly practical and many people do it and it will bring a modicom of success with relative safety and ease. But it's inherently limiting. That method of reasoning will always, in the end, be a cage. It might be a very big cage, and you (as many people are) might be very happy living in your corner of it. But there's a lot more out there beyond the bars.

The second thought process is more risky, but the rewards are far greater. It's harder. It involves exploring and discovering your actual desires, instead of selecting from a few options before you. It's like the difference between going to a restaurant and deciding what to eat based on the menu selections, and taking a few minutes to stop and thinking 'what kind of food do i want to eat,' and then figuring out where to get it or how to cook it.

I have always lived my life by the latter method, but i've only recently become aware that this is what i was doing, and it's different from what i observe a lot of my friends doing. What do you think of all this? Would you find this sort of advice interesting/useful? Do you think other people would? Yes, it would make me a whore to the system. But I'm doing it because I've identified needs (money) and I'm trying to figure out ways of achieving them. Thoughts?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Happy VD

Does anyone out there actually like VD? Everyone I know complains about it. So why do we perpetuate this unwanted, unwelcomed, angst and guilt-ridden commercial holiday by buying roses, chocolates, cards and jewelry?

Here's the fundamental problem: happy, loving couples don't need a cheesy, fake, commerical holiday to express their affection and devotion, and lonely people really don't want their noses rubbed in their singlehood. So who is this for???

I'm almost disappointed that the Pirate is coming over tomorrow night. He was going to come over tonight, and I was going to spend VD learning programming in Basic from Flatmate B, with the aim of teaching me how to write software programs that assist my linguistic analysis of medieval texts. I thought learning about computer programming sounded like an awesome way to spend VD. But it turns out that tonight is inconvenient for the Pirate, so he's coming around tomoz instead. That's ok. He knows how I feel about the day, and he won't do anything. Becuase when I told him "I hate VD, I don't celebrate it or mark it in any way (except to complain a bit more than usual), so please don't buy me anything or do anything special," he had the good sense to take me at my word.

When I told him, "don't buy me anything for Christmas becuase you're spending a fortune on a plane ticket and having you there is the best gift you could possibly give me," he believed me. And I LOVED that he believed me. He didn't assume that I was saying one thing while meaning another. He respected me enough to know that I was honest with him and not playing mind games. And you can't imagine what a relief that is. I've finally found someone who doesn't assume I'm playing mind games just becuase 99.9% of women do and think it's acceptable. News flash: it's not. Cut it the fuck out.

So VD will be just like any other evening with the Pirate: relaxed, fun, romantic, and a wee bit silly. Because every day I spend with him is like Christmas, my Birthday, VD, and the Fourth of July all rolled into one. It's wonderful beacuse it's about him and me and our bond, and artificial, arbitrary holidays have nothing to do with it.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Weekend update

I've had so many ideas for blog posts going through my head lately, but I havn't had time to write them down. Argh! Why is it that time and inspiration never seem to arrive on the same train?

In the meantime I'll just give you a quick rundown of the weeknd, and try to squeeze in some of the philosophical stuff later this week.

Friday the Pirate came. Over. Came over. Yeah, that's what I meant. We saw For Your Consideration at the Watershed. Good flick. I've enjoyed Christopher Guest's other films, so I wasn't worried about this this one. It's a satire of the American entertainment industry. I think you'll find it amusing. It's only 90 minutes long, but I spent 88 of them laughing out loud. The Pirate enjoyed it, too, after he figured out we weren't seeing Hot Fuzz. Go watch it, and if you like it, go out and rent Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, and A Mighty Wind.

Saturday we had to head into London again, so the P could spend an hour in the nets at Lord's, practicing for his upcoming cricket tour of India. (He leaves this Friday.) It's a bit of a pisser, though, to spend 2 1/2 hours in the car each way for 1 hour of activity, so after his practice session we stopped at Kew Gardens on the way out of town. I had never been before, but it was better than I ever imagined. Clean, well-kept botanical specimins with not a sign of infection or infestation anywhere, and not a branch, limb, or leaf out of place. There is a special exhibition on called Intensely Tropical (not very original) that's a display of orchids and bromeliads. Now, I've worked in the tropical plant industry, I've managed warehouses FULL of orchids and bromos (as they're known in the biz), AND I've lived in a tropical rainforest for 3 months, and this blew even my socks off. It is absolutely spectacular. Go. Go RIGHT NOW. You have never seen anything like this ever in your life.

That evening we came back to Brizzle and had dinner with friend of the Pirate's at Krishna's Inn, one of my fav currie restaurants in England. Try the Lamb and Spinach, it's to die for.

Sunday was a blast. We went ape. (Click the link, watch the vid.) It was like a giant playground junglegym for silly, athletic grown-ups. So, perfect for us really. The disappointing bit was that we were stuck behind some really really slow, scared people, and the nature of the course is such that overtaking is nearly impossible. We still managed to pass 5 other people though. There are tarzan ropes and cargo nets and swining logs and mad long zip lines. It was a blast. And there was still snow on the ground in the Forest of Dean, so between obstacles we pelted each other with snowballs. I finally feel like I've had winter.

Right now I'm eating a home made mixed berry chocolate yoghurt smoothie.

After a long, trying ordeal in search of a pub serving food we ended up at Clifton Sausage, where we had a long, emotional, in-depth conversation about our philosophical differences. There was no resolution, nor will there ever be. I will never agree that there is a god, that this god created the world, which eventually fell into moral decay, and that the best way to remedy this was to knock up a poor, Palestinian Jewish girl. The Pirate will never agree that science can teach us far more about the nature of the world than spirituality, and that it is perfectly possible to live a happy, meaningfull existence without confidence in a blissful, divine hereafter or threat of eternal suffering. But here's the thing: I asked him way back when if he could accept our philosophical differences, if he could love me and live with me, knowing that I don't and never will agree with him on this point, and he said he honestly didn't know. Last night I asked him the same question again, and he said "yes." I can't wait to give the same answer to one of his questions.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

14 1/2 minutes of fame

It's a big week in the world of The Bitch. LC interviewed me over at Liars and Lunatics, and the illustrious Miss Annie has designated me one of her very prestigious "Blonks of the Week." Autographs are free, and all further requests for appearances should be directed to my agent.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

B-A-N-A-N-A-S! B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

Go! Bananas! Go, go bananas!
You lean to the left
And you lean to the right
Then you peel down the middle
And you *HUH!* (pelvic thrust) TAKE A BITE!

The Pirate and I had a little superbowl party all our own this weeknd (that was the most anticlimatic Superbowl I've ever seen. The most exciting 60 seconds of the game was the kickoff and return.) Turns out he does get ITV1, so we bought some junk food and hunkered down for the night.

I noticed that his housemate, who was gone for the weekend, had left behind a bunch of bananas that were rapidly becoming inedible. They had reached the point of being useful for [say in Sean Connery voice] one thing only: banana bread.

You know I'm fairly handy in the kitchen. (Or you should. Come on over and let me cook for you.) But this was an unfamiliar kitchen, with no comfy recipe box containing all my secrets, and almost no ingredients. There was no baking powder, but the flour was self-raising and not plain. I'm not used to working with self-raising flour, and I had no idea if the leveners contained in it were the right proportions for my needs. Also, there were no eggs, no butter, no vanilla, no rum, no nuts, and no brown sugar. Oh, and no loaf pan. (Bloody bachelors.) So how exactly did I intend to make banana bread? Improvization.

It wound up being more of a cake than bread, but it was so good I decided that you could do it as a layer cake and cover it with buttercream or cream cheese frosting. I'm seriously contemplating that for the P's birthday, and decorating it with yellow roses and dried banana chips. Wouldn't that be yummy?

Ok enough dithering. Here's the recipe: (and I can honestly say that this is my first original baking recipe, hence the pride):

3 large or 4 small uber-ripe bananas (more brown than yellow, really really soft)
3 Tablespoons butter, soft, or marjarine
plain yogurt, a generous blob, approx. 1/3 cup
milk, a splash. your guess is as good as mine.
tsp. of vanilla or rum, your choice
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups self-raising flour
tsp. ground nutmeg

in a large bowl, mash the bananas smooth.
add butter and sugar, blend all ingredients until thick and creamy
add yogurt, milk, nutmeg, and vanilla/rum. blend thoroughly.
add flour slowly and blend in. (add first cup, mix until blended; add second cup, etc.)

batter should be very sticky, like dumpling dough. spread batter in a greased 9x13 baking pan, bake in a 350 F (175 C) oven for approx. 20 minutes. When dry on top and golden-brown, test with a toothpick. If toothpick comes out clean, it's done.

Serve warm with kisses and praise from very happy (and impressed) man.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Why Nasty Stereotypes Can Be Good

Raising the Bar on Already Unattainable Standards of Beauty

An article over at GSE's prompted a discussion between my flatmate and I on the questionable ethics of elective cosmetic surgery (as opposed to reconstructive cosmetic surgery, which, I think everyone agrees, is kosher). The article is about an extremely unfortunate woman who has spent years of her life and nearly 200 thousand pounds in an attempt to make herself look like Barbie (c), the plastic doll from Mattel. This sad woman (that's sad in the sense of pathetic, not unhappy) has based her entire existance around the singlular premise that no one will love her unless she is beautiful; and not just any kind of beautiful, mind you, a specific kind of beautiful defined by a narrow and physically impossible formula, the basis for which is the aforementioned doll.

The woman, the self-described Real Life Barbie, views herself as an ambassador between beautiful and "ordinary" people. (Clearly ordinary people can't be beautiful.) Her goal is to eliminate the stigma surrounding people who elect to undergo cosmetic surgery and get them the "respect they deserve."

I have several problems with this. I don't think I need to pursuade pursuade people too much to point out that spending money on surgery is no more worthy of respect than spending it on any other luxury status symbol -- admiration, perhaps, but not respect. People, all people, are deserving of basic human respect, regardless of whether or not they are superficially beautiful (and when I say "beautiful" here, I use the word according to RLB's definition). Her comment seems to suggest that us "ordinary" people (her word), are less worthy of respect, a notion which is obviously bollox.

Even though her statement suggests that, I don't think that's what she means. I think she's trying to undo the stigma attached to people who have boob jobs and lipsuction and botox etc. Sure there's a stigma. I know when I am aware of a woman who's had botox or breast augmentation my first reaction is to roll my eyes. I make certain assumptions about her character, judgement, values, and personality. I assume such a woman is of weak character, that is, easily swayed by external influences such as media images, lacks the judgement to determine the most judicious use of her money, values appearance over substance, and is insecure and/or vain. Am I wrong?

Some would argue "yes," that it is precisely that stigma, those stereotypes and assumptions, which are detrimental to surgically "enhanced" people and society as a whole. RLB wants to eliminate these stereotypes so that more people feel free to have cosmetic surgery. And therein lies the danger.

I'm about to argue that some sterotypes, stigmas, perceptions, and social pressures can actually have a positive, normatizing effect on society.

First, lets imagine a world where RLB gets her wish: cosmetic surgery is the norm, every woman over the age of 16 has a D-cup, a 25-inch waist, no cellulite, and a pert little nose. No woman over 40 has any wrinkles, grey hairs, or the capability to express emotion through facial expressions thanks to botox and face-lifts. The horror of living in such a cookie-cutter world scares the crap out of me. Why would we all want to look the same? More importantly, why would we all want to look the way someone else decided was attractive??? On a fundamental level, that's what we're talking about: trying to squeeze ourselves into a mold of someone else's notion of how we should look.

"Yeah," you say, "but we already do that. It's just a matter of degrees. Women wear makeup, dye their hair, spend hours styling it, follow fashion trends like hounds behind a bleeding rabbit, wriggle themselves into body-shaping undergarments, shave their legs, arms, and often pubic hair, endanger their health on extreme diets, develop eating disorders, and all in the name of trying to look like a supermodel. Why is surgery any different?"

You're right, it is a matter of degrees. You're right about another thing: in many ways, surgery isn't much more extreme than many of the things we already do. That doesn't mean surgery is a good idea; it means that we should seriously consider curbing many of the things we already do!

By putting cosmetic surgery in the same category with makeup and shaving, you're adding it to the norm. You're including it in the things that every woman is pretty much expected to do in order to attract male attention. You're saying, "You're waxed, made-up, tressed and dressed. Great. Now do something about those tiny tits."

I've gone on before about how I thing shaving all your body hair to be sexually attractive is creepy, but that's not all. It's a fairly extreme measure. Think about it. It takes time, effort, money, and if you're a waxer, pain. Regular pain, every 4-6 weeks. That's more than just running a comb through your hair. That's pretty hard core when you think about it. And it considered normal. It's standard, expected. The men who are willing to tolerate pubic hair on a woman are few and far between (and, I suspect, mostly over the age of 40. For women of my generation, finding a mate who's happy to work through the fuzz to eat you out is nearly impossible.) Men willing to tolerate leg or underarm hair are beyond endangered, they're nearly extinct.

So what happens if we remove the social stigma from cosmetic surgery? We raise the already unattainable beauty bar that much higher. We add it to the list of standards. We de-value the rarity of the one-in-a-million Barbie build, and make it a requirement. In the same way that sending every Tom, Dick, and Harry to a cheap state university devalued Bachelor's degrees, thereby requiring everyone to get one just to stay in the game, if RLB gets her wish, we'll all have to be 36-25-40 just be considered not ugly.

I already resent the fact that I have to shave my legs and put on make-up to be considered not ugly. When I was lonely and dateless you wouldn't believe (or maybe you would) the number of people who told me I needed to "make more of an effort." I shudder to think that my daughter might have to grow up in world where making "a bit of an effort" starts with body-altering surgery.

What ever happened to variety, the spice of life? Glory be to God for dappled things, variation, and the differences that make us unique, wonderful, AND beautiful. Cosmetic surgery should not be admired, should not be a marker of respect, and should certainly not become the standard. But there is more you can do to help the cause than just rolling your eyes when you see a fake pair bounce past you on the street. Everything comes down to money (sadly), and the image of the Barbie body and the need for that kind of beauty is financially driven. So stop driving it. Don't support the image. Don't by glossy, celebrity mags where every page is a bunch of photos of semi-famous people surrounded by captions that do nothing more than offer approval or disapproval of the famous person's appearance. Don't put money in to the pockets of the media moguls who are doing everything they can to make you feel inferior just because you don't look like Paris Hilton. *shudder* Boycotts work, and if we all unite and say "fuck you" to the fashion, cosmetic, surgical, and Hollywood industries, wouldn't then the world be a nicer place?

Friday, February 02, 2007

cloud and lining

the bad news is i just broke the news to the team that i won't be rowing any more this season. i'm going to cry for a little while now if that's ok with you.

the better news is that the employment agency is on a mission, and they've already got me an interview next week for an admin job that pays 8-some an hour. it's a start.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

In Search of the Superbowl

The Chicago Bears are in the Superbowl this year. This NEVER happens. It's like snow in July.

As it happens, the Bears are the Pirate's favourite American football team. He's nuts for them, has been ever since he were a wee nipper. I like the Superbowl becuase it's fun to yell at the TV when there's something on besides the US Congress.

The Problem: I don't own a TV, and the Pirate doesn't get ITV1.

Anyone out there planning on watching the Superbowl? Can we join you? I'll bring crisps...