Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Never mind

Just saw a group of 10- or 11-year olds being led across an intersection, against the light, by their teachers. In front of a garda van. So I'm just gonna stop worrying about that. ('Cause I was losing sleep over it, y'know.)

In other disturbing news, got an invitation on tribe.net from some dude I don't know asking me to join a tribe called "Asian women WHO love white men". (Yes, with the word "who" capitalized like that. Don't know why.) After I stopped shuddering in horror and could type again, I declined. Then I thought, Hey, maybe it's a joke, maybe it's a tribe devoted to abusing people who think they can mask their racism with sexism! Maybe this "Timothy" person is an Asian dude who thought the tribe was hilarious! After looking through his profile, though, I really really doubt it, and though it didn't have anything "worse" than what you'd find in the alternative ads in The Stranger, I still feel like I really need a shower after having been exposed to this guy. Even over ethernet lines. Yeech.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Individual vs. Collective Good

Should I feel guilty for crossing the street against the light right in front of a class of impressionable -aged schoolchildren, who were being herded and lined up by their guardians to patiently await the light change?

Reading: P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves in the Offing. I had to stop myself from staying up all night reading it. I'd messed with my sleep schedule enough this weekend.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Ah, Europe

Two important competitions were decided today. The first is the FA Cup, which Arsenal won, beating Man U by 1 penalty kick. I care nothing about this (other than a residual preference for Arsenal from when I lived in Manchester), except that I caught the last half of the match and it was so close even I got kind of caught up in it.

The second is the Eurovision 2005 contest. For those of you who don’t know, and I’ll bet money that that’s most of you, it’s an annual song contest, with one entry from each European country (and, uh, Israel; yeah, I don’t know either). It’s geared towards pop acts and the songs are absolute, total crap. So, naturally, it gets lots of people very excited. Ukraine hosted it this year, in Kiev, and they had to set up a tent city to house everyone who came to see it. Now, when I say absolute total crap, I mean it. This is the 50th anniversary of the contest, and, as far as I can tell, the best song to have won in all fifty years was Sweden’s entry in ’74, Abba’s “Waterloo”. Which says a lot.

Now, I normally would care nothing about this competition, either, except that in recent years it switched from being judged by a panel of “experts” to being judged by people voting in from their phones, which means that all the acts suddenly got much more photogenic and there are more scantily-clad dancers on stage. The rules are that each country ranks their top 10 vote-getters and reports to Eurovison central, which doles out points. No matter how small your country is, you get the same number of points as anyone else to give out. (So, just for example, let’s say you’re a small island nation with a mere 4 million people; you get the same voting power as Germany’s 80 million people. Hey, it’s kinda like the EU! But I say too much.) However, and this is key, you can’t vote for your own country’s entry. This results in a pattern of voting that is, in essence, a reflection of what goes on in Brussels and gives a great picture of what Europeans think of each other. For instance, Turkey and Greece normally never vote for each other’s entries (except for this year, it turns out), and the UK always gives high points to Ireland’s entry because there are so damned many Irish living over there. For the same reason, Germany tonight gave 10 points to Turkey, even though their song sucked so much no one else was voting for it. The Baltic states always vote for each other, likewise the former Soviet states and Sweden, Norway and Denmark always vote for the other Scandinavian states. It’s just fascinating watching the results roll in and seeing who gives high points to an entry that everyone else had so far ignored, and who ignores an entry that everyone else has given high points for.

Another interesting thing about the Eurovision contest, which I think also says a lot about modern Europe, is that so many acts come from countries other than who they’re representing, and the same goes for the writers of the songs. The winner this year is Greece, with the singer Elena, who was born in Sweden. (And whose winning song includes the lyrics “you are the one, my number one” and “you’re my lover, undercover”. Hey, I warned you it was utter crap.) And I believe Ukraine’s entry was written by an Irish dude living in Sweden. What surprised me was that the vast majority of the songs were sung in English. Oh, a few acts stubbornly insisted on singing in their native languages (and of course, France would probably rather pull out of the contest than have a song in a language other than French, even though their lead singer this year was Israeli-born), but everyone else sang in English. The hosts spoke English. The different countries reported their rankings in English or French, with most opting for English. Jeez, no wonder English speakers never bother learning a second language.

All in all, a fascinating day of television.

Reading: Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, in preparation for seeing him speak at the Hay Literature Festival.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Two things

Two funny things that have happened to me at German passport control (keep in mind I've only been in Germany twice, so this is a high percentage):

1. Passport dude flips through my passport to find a place to stamp. He turns to his colleague and starts gesturing and talking in a high, excited manner. I don't know any German (except for how to say "white asparagus"), but it's clear to me what he is on about. He points to the "entry" column of the passport and then the "departure" column and is obviously ranting to his colleague about how clear the columns are and why the hell don't people stamp entry and departure stamps in their proper places. He goes on about this for a good couple of minutes, turning to different examples in my passport from when, in his opinion, less than competent people have put their stamps in the wrong places. He then carefully stamps my passport and gives it back to me. I turn to the page to see the Frankfurt stamp aligned and centered in its proper "entry" box. Way to go in dispelling stereotypes about Germans, passport dude.
[Edited to add: I've just checked my passport and all the German stamps are not only in the correct columns, but they're also positioned in the little rectangles. The other countries just randomly stamp wherever there happens to be room.]

2. Bored passport dude takes my passport and swipes it through the computer. Seeing something interesting, he sits up and squints closer at his screen, and then at my passport and then at me. Does this again a couple times. Says nothing to me. I am about to ask if something's wrong when the supervisor dude standing behind him catches sight of the monitor and comes over to peer over his shoulder at it. Reads the screen, scrutinizes my passport, looks at me. They do this for what seems like forever, but don't speak to each other or to me. Just before I break down and start screaming, "What?! What?!" he stamps my passport and waves me through, thoroughly bored again.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Rags to...uh, well, more rags

Reading: A fascinating series in the New York Times about class in America. The overview talks about the class structure and mobility in "classless" America. There's even an interactive graphic to see where you fall on the ladder! It says that I am about 69% of the way up this ladder. Only my wealth keeps me from being among the really elite. (Dammit! Once again, I am held back by not being rich.)
Apparently, class mobility has been falling for decades. If you're born to poor parents, you are now more likely to stay poor than someone from the '50s. Likewise if you're rich. Despite this, most Americans still feel that it is easy to move up the ladder (or down, which no one seems to take into account). And a healthy percentage of Americans really believe that they will succeed and get their part of the American dream, which explains why so many people oppose the inheritance tax, even though they believe that the playing field isn't even.

While I am smugly delighted in finding proof that the rich are indeed getting richer and the poor getting poorer, with a wider and wider gap between the haves and have nots, I am also enough of an American to resist the idea that even if you work hard you still may not be successful. As well, my own personal experience has very much been a pull yourself up by your bootstrap kind of thing, so it's a hard concept for me to wrap my head around. To some extent, it's because it’s always hard to understand why everyone else doesn't make the same choices you do. (Or is that just me?) But the second article in the series, on class and health, gives a good picture of how choices are limited by money, position, power, etc. I am waiting eagerly for the third article, on marriage.

Speaking of templates...

Two weird inter-related things. I was roaming the city this weekend with my (male) visitor. We saw Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, in which a guy says that men and women can't ever really be just friends (hmmmm...sound familiar?). Meanwhile, there was wild speculation on the part of my housemates about whether I and my visitor were lovahs. (I was all, No way! He has a girlfriend! And housemate was all, And that's stopped people when?) (I live with heathens.) You see? It's impossible to get away from this.

Hey, if you're bi, does it mean that you can't ever really be just friends with anyone? How terrible.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

In a tourist town

I was a tourist this weekend. It actually felt really good, especially since it was in Dublin and I didn't have to be one of the stand-on-a-busy-street-corner-and-lengthily-consult-my-map kind of tourist.

But now I'm sick. And it sucks to be back at work.

Saw a hapa kid from the bus the other day. And its mother was carrying one of those re-usable Tesco shopping bags, so they probably live here. So that's a good sign.

Reading: Taking a break from A Suitable Boy with Margaret Mahy's The Catalogue of the Universe (YA sci-fi/fantasy- nothing exciting has happened yet, but I already dislike the main character 'cause she's all tall and pretty and smart and shit [Hey, I never said I wasn't shallow]) and Jennifer Crusie's Faking It (trashy romance- the female protagonist is an artist who fakes paintings and orgasms; truly a Renaissance woman).

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Let's say you are in the market for a diamond. For your budget, you can get a larger lab-made diamond or a smaller natural diamond. Assuming the same quality in terms of clarity and defects and what not, which do you buy? Why?

Now, keep in mind they're both diamonds, and as such are just tetrahedral carbon.

Reply to the blog or e-mail me with your answer. I'm polling everyone I know. I don't have a reason for doing so; I'm just curious.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Gay people love me

Last night I accompanied a friend to the Temple Bar Music Centre for their queer and alternative night. (I realize hanging out with a bunch of gay people doesn’t do much for my personal romantic life, but that’s a subject for another blog.) As we came to the entrance, the bouncer said Hello and asked if we knew “what was going on tonight” before stepping aside to let us in. If I hadn’t been so surprised by the need to warn people, I would have answered, Yeah, hoyay! instead of looking kind of confused.

Inside, it felt and looked like the whole Irish gay population under the age of 25 was crammed into the Music Centre. It also looks like only gay people are hipsters in Dublin, which explains why I’ve seen so few hipsters around the city. At one point I was thinking maybe I should become one, just to make it feel more like home. I had almost started looking for messenger bags. But I digress. Anyway, it was a great crowd, if a little young, but I guess you have to start somewhere.

I’ve become used to getting warm responses from people when I tell them I’m from San Francisco, but I was unprepared for the instant gay street cred I got from last night’s crowd. At one point I was introduced to some people and when they discovered I was from S. F., their response was an incredulous, Well, why the hell did you move to Dublin?! It was suggested more than once that we should carve out S.F. from the North American continent and tow it over to Europe. Anyway, I was a hit, which is good for my friend, ‘cause he brought me along as fag hag for the night to help him pick up guys. I myself was hit on by lesbians and got the phone numbers of a very gay dude and his fag hag who apparently had a great time drinking and dancing with us. (For the record, I stopped drinking early on in the night and so was sober for most of it. No matter what other people may say.)

The night was great fun, though. I got to wear my cool shoes and it’s always nice being told you’re gorgeous, even if it is by flaming gay boys. (If only the straight Dublin boys would get their act together.) It’s also good to see that Dublin supports such a great gay population, even if, for some reason, they’re still moshing over here.

Reading: Still on A Suitable Boy. Sheesh.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

I love Irish drunks

True to their international reputation, the Irish do indeed spend a lot of time drinking. They have the highest per capita alcohol consumption rate in Europe, if not the world. This isn't as surprising as the fact that, apparently, half of the Irish population doesn't drink, which means the other half drinks twice as much.
And when they drink, they really drink. Where I come from, i.e. the world outside of Ireland, drinking until you vomit is embarrassing; it's a sign that you've had too much and can't hold your liquor and have no self-control. At this point, your friends would push some water at you and pour you into a cab, making soothing noises and gently shaking their heads in disappointment. Here, vomiting is simply a stage in the night's drinking. Not only are young people not embarrassed to be throwing up in the streets, they're almost proud! Like, Once again, I've overcome my personal alcohol threshold and forged new ground! Their friends help them wipe off their mouths and the whole group once again stumbles down the street to the next pub. I have never seen so much grossness in the streets on Saturday and Sunday mornings as in Dublin.

However, maybe because they spend so much time drunk out of their minds, the Irish are the best drunks I've ever met. They are the nicest, funnest, most genial alcoholics I've ever had the pleasure of drunkenly slurring at in a bar. In all my time here (and I've spent a lot of it out in the pubs), I've never seen a violent altercation in a bar. During St. Patrick's Day, when the whole Irish population plus almost as many tourists, were out in the streets hammered out of their minds, there were 600 arrests in the whole country. As one of the lab guys quipped, that's barely one episode of Cops in the States! I think maybe the violent drunks have been selected out of the population, Darwin-style.
The first time I encountered drunks in Ireland, seven or eight years ago, we thought, Okay, best to avoid the drunken Irish boys. But now I remember that we were in Temple Bar, which, as I've learned, no self-respecting Irish person actually drinks in. It's mostly kept in business by tourists and English groups over in Dublin for stag or hen nights. So the leering and drunken shouting? Probably not by Irish people. In fact, the Irish boys here have been perfect gentlemen to me. No matter how drunk, they usually make sure I get myself into a cab and always look faintly concerned if I tell them I'll walk or take the bus. (Not that I've ever had any problems with the bus, or with walking around the city.)

So yes, they may all be alcoholics, but they're the best kind.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

I'm a judgmental bitch

I met a chick a couple months ago who boasted that she was going to read all the "classics". She felt that she "should" have read them and was going to read three a year. I assume until she dies or until she runs out of classics. I know I'm not supposed to judge, but that's about the most bone-headed idea I've heard since Bush's forest fire management plan to cut down the trees so they won't burn. First, what a way to turn reading into a pleasure-sucking chore. Second, assuming she lives for another 40 years, that's only 120 books. Third, what the hell constitutes a "classic"? If Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are classics, is Uncle Tom's Cabin on her list? If Ulysses is a classic, are The Iliad and The Aeneid included in her 120 books? Is Beowulf? If Oscar Wilde's plays are classics, what about Tom Stoppard or Aeschylus? And those are just choices from the West! What a fuckwit.

As you may be able to tell, my feelings about this run rather high, and completely out of proportion to the actual importance/merit/relevance of this issue. I mean, really, why should I even care what this woman chooses to do with her time? But I do care! I don't just find this project distasteful; I'm actually angry about it. And I can't figure out why. Is it because she has the temerity to think that she alone can decide what book is a "classic" and what's not? Is it because I harbor some secret guilt about not liking dead white male authors? Weird.

Word of the day: Bushenfreude. Okay, it's not particularly new, but what an awesome word. Coined by Daniel Gross for slate.com, it describes the odd situation of people who hate Bush but benefit from his tax cuts. He first noticed this juxtaposition of conspicuous consumerism with conspicious anti-Bush sentiment when he saw a brand spanking new BMW with a bunch of Howard Dean yard signs tossed onto the back seat. Had he taken a picture of this scene, I'm sure it would have fuelled even more red state anger about those rich, hoity-toity liberals (and who says their anger would not have been justified?).

Reading: Finished One Hundred Years of Solitude and feel that I read it too fast. It must have been awesome in the original Spanish.

Monday, May 02, 2005

More places to live

Reading: Yet another reason to move to New York! A literary map of Manhattan, showing where fictional New Yorkers lived. What a cool project. If I find such a map of London (and it must exist, right?), I am going over there with it right away. Hmmm, that reminds me, there's a literary pub crawl of Dublin that I've got to do one of these days.

Saw the Hitchhiker's Guide movie this weekend. Two words: knitted Marvin. I must have this. Someone should have a pattern up on the web by now.