Whatcha Gonna Do With All That Juh ... um, Brains

Is it anything less than awesome that every time I drive onto the campus of Mills College, I happen to have a hideously misogynistic song blasting on my radio? I'm already concerned that just by virtue of being a man at a women's college, I'm one step away from someone pointing and screaming "Oppressor!" every time I walk by, like some sort of womynist body snatcher. Okay, it hasn't happened, but that doesn't mean it won't.

This is not by design, or at least not by my design. I arrive at the same time Tuesday and Wednesday evenings for class, and apparently all the radio stations I listen to are on commercials at that time, except for the hip-hop station. And, of course, the hip-hop station features some of the most misogynistic lyrics around. In case we need an example, how about these deeply respectful lines from Plies' "Shawty," a top-10 Billboard single: "I taught her how to talk to me while she take pipe/& opened her up & showed her what a real n**** like/I told her I don't usually do this, I don't f*** on the first night/cause after I beat ya baby I'm liable to mess up ya whole life."

Even the supposedly progressive hip-hop artists don't really treat their women well. I don't think Kanye West would "do anything for a blond dyke" ("Stronger," second verse) because he wants to sit down with her and discuss how to overcome the marginalization of the LGBTIQ community through Western society's heteronormative metanarratives. I think it's because he wants to ... you know. Get bizay.

But then again, it's not like a lot of chick-pop singers are all that affirming, once you get into their lyrics. How about these lines from "Because of You," Kelly Clarkson's top-ten ode to disenfranchisement: "Because of you/I find it hard to trust not only me/but everyone around me/Because of you/I am afraid." Yeah, way to take agency. Or from "When You're Gone," by mascara princess Avril Lavigne, which peaked at #24 on the Billboard Hot 100 earlier this month: "And the clothes you left/they lie on the floor/And they smell just like you ... I can hardly breathe/I need to feel you here with me." No wonder you can hardly breathe, girl; you've got your damn nose all up in your ex-boyfriend's dirty laundry. Maybe you and Kelly should stop acting like your whole existence revolves around someone else and start living your own lives. Don't even get me started on Pink's orgasmic-heavy-breathing-as-drum-track on "U + Ur Hand," an ostensibly empowering ode to rejecting guys at bars.

So hip-hop tells women they are whores, and pop tells them they are powerless. At least jazz music is fair! Jazz doesn't do any shit like that. I mean, I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the best-selling jazz records of all time were recorded by men. (I'm not counting pop singer in wolf's clothing Norah Jones.) Additionally, women are never hypersexualized by jazz.

Wait, that's different. That's just some guy at the label who put a Bettie Page pic on a record of Fats Waller covers. Fats had been dead for years when this came out. Plus, that's from the '50s. It's not like they make current jazz artists get all sexed-up to sell records.

Um. Never mind.


You Know You Are A Graduate Student When

You know you are a graduate student when you scour the library for a book by a French postmodernist philosopher, written in French, even though you do not speak the language above a second-grade level.

Also, when you encounter a statement such as this one.

Does this mean, then, that differance finds its place within the spread of the ontic-ontological difference, as it is conceived, as the "epoch" conceives itself within it, and particularly "across" the Heideggerian meditation, which cannot be gotten around?

What, exactly, are you supposed to think when you read a sentence like that one? Fortunately, the author has a sense of humor. Here is his next sentence.

There is no simple answer to such a question.

I'll say.


I had to post something new. Bridget's memorial service is tomorrow. Seeing her here is crushing me. Denial, callous -- use whatever words you must. But I have to move on, if only in my blogger persona.


Bridget O'Brien, 1981-2007

So Bridget died the other day. I hadn’t been in touch with her for several years, partly because she was a globe-trotter and I am a boring, sedentary type; and partly because we were friends for a time but not super close. Regardless, her death hits me hard. Her obit is here.I am listening to Radiohead while writing this, which I hadn’t even thought about when I plugged in my head phones. Turns out this was a terrible idea; Radiohead is just about all the Daily Bruin peeps were listening to back in 2000-2003, which is when I got to know Bridget. There’s nostalgia and then there’s oh shit, remember that time we all camped out at Joshua Tree and ate those brownies, and that’s when you realize those days are gone in more ways than one. So I’m turning Radiohead off now.

As Mari told me on Thursday, Bridget wouldn’t want her moping around, and even if Bridget wouldn’t give a shit if I moped around, I won’t. Instead I offer this anecdote as a small and inadequate tribute. In early 2004, back when I was still a reporter, I came up with the idea of writing a story about California college graduates who get the governor’s signature on their diploma. No big deal, except one of the world’s biggest movie stars was just elected governor, and it would be a fun story to see what students thought about having The Terminator’s signature on their diploma.

The rub was that most students would be graduating in May or June, and would not receive their actual diplomas for another three months, or longer. When there are more than 100,000 students graduating at once, the process takes a while. But I knew a small number of students had finished their studies in the middle of the year, and would have been among the first batch to get Schwarzenegger’s John Hancock on their certificates. After asking around a few friends, I discovered Bridget fit the bill.

So I did a cursory interview with her, as well as a few other friends and acquaintances who were still in school. Bridget provided the best quote and agreed to be photographed with her diploma; in fact, she basically made the story. Without her, I not only would have had to work a lot harder to find someone with the diploma, but the story wouldn’t have been as good.

But what we’re talking about is not Bridget making my story better. What we’re talking about is Bridget being Bridget. The interview I had with her was cursory; she said she wasn’t really excited about having Arnold sign her diploma. It makes the diploma seem like a bit of a joke, she said. Then she got more into it, finally delivering the money quote: “I got a B.A. in geography, but I think my diploma is B.S.”

This, of course, is awesome. I committed a minor ethical breach right after she said this, asking her if she really wanted that quote to be on the record, because I knew she had concocted it as a funny comment, as an exaggerated version of what she really felt. “Are you sure you want to say that?” I asked her. “This story is going to be all over the place. You might get hate mail or something.” (This was a distinct possibility; the story would go on the Associated Press national wire, and someone like Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh could get a hold of it and declare the public universities in California to be a hotbed of smartassed communists.)

But Bridget would have none of that. She would not back down from her quote, and in fact insisted that I use it in the story, which I did. This to me is textbook Bridget. Looking at her, you wouldn’t expect she was a person who went against the grain. But she lived her life the way she saw fit, and didn’t care if you didn’t like it. She finagled a press pass to an XFL game in Los Angeles in 2001, having her picture taken on the sideline with Vince McMahon. In 2002, she engineered a Daily Bruin end-of-year banquet slideshow that included just about every photo it was not supposed to include: Patrick making the Zoolander male model face; Linh dressed like a gangsta chick; at least a dozen pictures of people flipping the bird at the camera; and me standing on my toes to grab a bottle of booze. Her professional career as a photographer took her to places like Nicaragua to hang out with dirt-poor farmers for a series on fair trade coffee—Nicaragua, land of junta horror stories and Reagan-era dictatorships, not some cushy resort nation like Costa Rica where there is no army and the beaches are whiter than government letterhead. More recently, she had been taking pictures for a pornography business in Australia.

What I feel is the greatest loss here is that Bridget was one of those people who did the things that most people just kind of thought about but never actually did. She traveled the world, sometimes to scary places; she launched a career in a field that is extremely difficult not only to break into, but to remain successful at over the long run; she married a rock musician—who, tragically, was also killed in the accident—and went on tour across Australia and the U.S.

Even though I hadn’t kept in touch with her while most of this was going on, I heard snatches of things, and I always knew that she was out there, doing her thing, living the life. It’s people like her that keep the rest of us going, especially desk jockeys like me who have nothing but computer screens and carpal tunnel syndrome in our futures. She was a touchstone for me; she was proof that there is something out there, an adventurous life, a world in which people with spirit and heart and a little bit of craziness can not just survive, but thrive.

A part of that spirit has died, as death diminishes all of us. But Bridget wouldn’t want us moping about it.



Is anyone else amazed that this license plate is not yet taken?

This is a screen grab from the California DMV website where you can sign up for personalized license plates. They have strange names for them in this state; depending on the background pattern you select, you might be able to get a Memorial Plate, a Coastal Plate, etc. The one above, personalized with no background, is an Environmental Plate, which costs $41 up front and $30 annually.

I know that looks like I Photoshopped it, but it's real. You can fill out the form yourself at the site.

If the license plate you dream of was already taken by someone else, the page would look like this:

Well, that blows. What if you are a badass Cali h4x0r who wants to show off his skilz ovr teh n00bsauce? zOMG u C4n 60 +0 7H15 $173. Because there are fewer such idiots in Alaska:

Ha ha! That'll show those frozen loggers. w00t!!1!1one!!

Anyway, I am disappointed with this post, because I had originally wanted to find online the list of all assigned personalized plates in California, and then pick out a few to make fun of. What I instead found was the site where you sign up for one, which is an inverse way of doing the same. But this won't be as creative, because I could never dream up all the ridiculous things people would put on their license plates.

(I wasn't a complete failure in this regard. SUSHI, ALCOHOL, DOS, GRNSPAN, FATTIE and L8RSK8R are already taken. Good to know the state is just as full of idiots as everyone believes.)

There is a way to extrapolate from the sign-up website what plates have already been taken, but I fear it is beyond my skills. Apparently you can do something with javascript that will give you the list of entries that return a "not available" response. This is how someone from outsports.com was able to determine the NFL won't let you order a personalized jersey labeled ASSCLOWN or PIMPJUICE from their online store. (Entire list here.)

Maybe one of my techie readers can figure that one out, and then we can have fun with all the soccer moms who got "MOMS SUV" and "LUV CATS" on their cars. Until that time, though, we'll just have to dream.


Things They Don't Tell You When You're Young

You will start to go gray well before you are middle-aged.

I want you to know that this picture is a photograph of my hair. I have tweaked the contrast and the hue in order for it to show on your computer screen exactly what I see every morning: I am 29 years old and I am going gray.

This is not all that shocking, of course. Not only have I been the proud yet circumspect owner of a handful of white hairs since I was 23, but this situation is actually quite common. Once you start to get a few of your own gray hairs, you begin noticing them on the heads of other people who are around your age.

Still ... WTF. I am too young to have white hair. At least if this was a unique situation, I could feel special.

Take Steve Martin. His hair was completely white by the time he was 35. In fact, this may have been a blessing for him; zany young comedians are grains of sand on the beach, but a zany comedian who looks like a conservative older gentleman is the gnarled and twisted outcropping that everyone stops to look at. Similarly, the premature gray gives Anderson Cooper an air of maturity, a lot of people believe. Of course, his mother is Gloria Vanderbilt, so it doesn't really matter if his career got a boost from his hair or not. He did write an amusing quasi-blog posting about it once, here.

But that's not me. I found a few white hairs six years ago, but they never moved very quickly toward turning my whole head gray. I am just a boring, average male whose hair is on a slow path toward grandfatherly melanipenia.

Well, at least I'm not this guy. He's only 31, people.