Down to me, the change has come

29 07 2009

My new best friend:

Because of him/her/it, I am now able to sleep (mostly) in peace, and Jasper has been downgraded from Vampire Kitty to Hyperactive Kitty.

And no, this teddy bear is not stuffed full of catnip or some other contraband. He is simply soft and floppy and about Jasper’s size.

Backstory: Jasper bit, as all kitties do, and I did the whole withdraw-attention thing to get him to stop. He did not.

I’d lift him off the desk or bed, place him close to the ground, and drop him. He’d jump back on and resume biting.

I advanced to the water bottle. He didn’t like the squirt, but it provided only a temporary deterrent. At times, it only meant that I’d have a damp cat leaping toward my face. Repeatedly. In the middle of the night.

What to do, what to do. He’s a kitten, kittens bite. But, shees, so much? Every moment he’s awake?

So I did what any semi-sane and extremely tired kitty-owner would do: I searched online for solutions.

Many opinions: Just say No! Tap his nose. Don’t tap his nose. Blow in his face. Don’t blow in his face. Squirt him. Don’t squirt him. Confine him. Wait it out. Put your finger in his mouth and hold his tongue down [honest!]. Distract him.

Ah. I’d been trying aversive operant conditioning, trying to get him to associate bad things (shouts of No! physical removal from the bed and desk, water squirts) with biting, but all it was doing was pissing him off.

And, of course, pissing me off, because while I would never ever ever throw the kitty across the room, when said kitty is raking his tiny and sharp incisors across my skull at 4 in the morning, I am sorely tempted to do so.

But, distraction. I could give that a whirl.

I had held off from doing so, not wanting Jasper to associate something benign (play, a toy) with biting, but, as numerous commentators pointed out, this is what kittens do.

They’re also not the brightest of creatures, so any concerns I might have about Jasper associating biting with positive feedback is, well, overestimating the intellectual capacities of a months-old id.

That night, then, when Jasper launched his attack, I removed him from whatever appendage he was gnawing on and stuffed the teddy bear into him. He immediately transferred all his tooth-and-claw energy into teddy, and left me alone.

Sweet honey on the rock, he left me alone.

Granted, he still wakes me up, and sometimes I have to push the teddy toward him a couple of times, but thus far he’s more than willing to beat the shit out of the stuffed animal rather than me.

(Bean still prefers to beat the shit out of him if he dares even to paw at her tail. I figure that’s for the two of them to work out.)

During the day, I distract him with various toys (mice, plastic rings, wine corks, etc.), and while he still jumps all over my keyboard and likes to chew on books, his taste for my flesh has waned.

He’s more relaxed, I’m more relaxed, and, most importantly, I can actually enjoy him.

A gentle, positive approach. Thanks be to teddy, it works.

Who knew?

They’re clouding up the images of my perfect day

27 07 2009

Two things.

One, I don’t much like how much morality infects politics. The rules, the norms, the players, the goals, are not the same.

Yes, I’ve read Foucault (oy, have I read Foucault), and I don’t think he’s in the main wrong about the creative repression of power in all spheres of life. That said, the  circulations of power are distinct, and even amidst such power moves, there are phenomenon which manage to corral meanings to themselves counter or even indifferent to dominant narrative. Thus, morality and politics each generates its own terms of existence.

Geek-speak out of the way, I am therefore bumfuzzled by my reaction to the question of whether a legal market in solid organs (kidneys, mainly, tho’ perhaps also partial livers) ought to be set up.

I have long opposed organ sales, oppose the sale of blood and plasma, and give the hairy eyeball to the sale of human eggs and sperm. (I’m also not crazy about the patenting of biological material, nor of whole creatures, as, for example, genetically engineered mice.)

But is this due to a general skepticism toward capitalism, a critique which begins in the sale of a person’s labor and which can, by logic, extend to the sale of a person’s parts? If so, the opposition is grounded in the ontological claims of socialism and would therefore be, politically speaking, acceptable.

(Never mind that the ontological claims of any political or economic theory are likely to be shot through with moralisms. That’s another post.)

No, my problem is that while I am generally skeptical of capitalism, I think my opposition to the sale in body parts can be—dammit!—traced to an unspecified moral unease.

Even this wouldn’t be problematic were I not also—or at least, until very recently—adamantly opposed to legislation to legalize organ sales.

You see the problem: impermissible moral/political comingling!

I have a wide anarchistic streak (which at various points runs parallel to various libertarian arguments), but I also don’t trust capitalist-markets to protect and promote the basic conditions of existence necessary to a human life.

But what of a regulated market? Or even a socialist market? Could such a regulated social market perhaps avoid the problems associated with the current system (organ shortages, black market sales, exploitation of organ sellers) without amplifying or otherwise legitimizing the horrors of those black market sales?

(There’s also the question of whether those (as a class) in need of an organ in any way deserve or have rights to organs—but, again, another post.)

I’d still be leery of even a well-run regulated social market (which could be configured in a variety of ways), but the leer would be merely moral; as a political matter, I don’t know that I could oppose it.

Dammit. My biases are clashing. I hate that.

Two. On the uselessness of most political and social commentary.

(I know, given what I just wrote, this is rich.)

I was laying in bed this morning listening to NPR and a promo aired about US policy and China and India and . . . *click*

Like it fucking matters, I thought. This group says jump UP and that one DOWN and then SIDEWAYS and DIAGONALLY and then someone suggests perhaps we should discuss this in terms of diving rather than jumping and everyone goes Oooh, how contrarian or revisionist or just plain crackers.

The Chinese & Indian leadership will do what it will do and the people will do what they will do and we’ll all occasionally look at one another and say So that’s what’s going on and be utterly and completely wrong—or maybe even utterly and completely right—and we’ll never know, one way or the other.

It’s not that I think political analysis or political action is useless—my heretical side has not yet overtaken its orthodox counterpart—but that for it to be of any use, it must be specific, oriented in a particular direction, and always always always aware of its own limits.

Natural scientists work off the null hypothesis, and statisticians build error into their calculations. Politics is a hell of a lot more complicated and unstable than physics (except, perhaps, in its quantum form, and even then. . . ), but pundits are a hell of a lot more arrogant than physicists in describing their reality.

Oh, christ, I’m about to go off on a digression on scientism and the misguided adoption of physical models of knowledge by the social sciences and the wretched belief that to understand is to control, but, y’know, it’s late and I’d really just wrap this all up.

So a shortcut: By all means, try to understand. By all means, share that understanding. But fer the love of pete, don’t think this means anything beyond the understanding itself.

But I don’t suppose one gets to be a pundit by regularly declaring, ‘But I could be missing something. . . .’

Everybody do like a monkey

25 07 2009

Jasper is a-growin’ along, getting into the plants and such:

And, of course, he has to chew everything he can get his mouth around:

I love his little pink tongue slipping out amongst the black.

Wait. What? These photos don’t really look like Jasper?

Oh, but they do! They do look like Jasper. They’re just. . .  not, mm, him.

Yes, it occurred to me this past week how much the Vampire Kitty looks like a lemur. Especially when he’s all riled up and his eyes are wide and round:

(Sorry, it’s a lousy shot: I was futzing with the exposure. And he’s tough to shoot when he’s riled up.)

Well, take my word for it, he does look like a lemur.

It’s only fitting: I used to call Chelsea (among other things) my monkey kitty. She was agile in her leaps and incredibly dexterous with both her paws and her mouth.

Bean, well, Bean is not so dexterous. She gets called Panda Bean with some regularity, along with all the other varieties of bean: lima Bean, navy Bean, kidney Bean, garbanzo Bean. . . .

Anyway, since one of Chelsea’s other names was Sweet Pea, I had a whole legume theme going.

How will Jasper fit in all of this? Well, his paw-pads do look like black beans, but, given his temprement, I think I’ll go with a bastardized ‘Gonzo bean’.

(And yeah, that’s Gonzo from The Gone-Away World. What, you haven’t read it yet? Why not? Go, go now! Read that book! And if you can’t find it at the library and you don’t want to shell out for the hardcover, it’s coming out in paperback in August or September. You’ll have no excuses, then!)

Christ, where was I? Oh, yeah, in need of a life.

Okay, I’ll go take a bike ride now. Get out of the house, do me some good. . . .

(Top photo by Jaromir Kaderabek, found thru Bing. Here’s the post from his website; Polish, I’d guess. Wait: maybe Czech. Anyway. The second photo was also found thru Bing, and was taken from a post at k-punk.)

(By the way, I’m finding Bing a hell of a lot easier to use than Google. Yeah, I know it’s Microsoft, a big-bad-corporation, but I think Google is a big-bad-corporation, too.  Anyway, using Bing fits my motto of ‘No brand loyalty!’, i.e., always be willing to switch to something better.)

Bike. Yeah. Okay, then.

No more words

24 07 2009

I think I shocked my bioethics students tonight: A number of them visibly started when I referred to the process of selective reduction as ‘killing’ fetuses.

No one said anything one way or the other, and the discussion (on multiple births) continued on its merry way.

Why would I do that, talk about killing, I mean? There’s a perfectly fine term for the procedure whereby the number of fetuses in a woman’s uterus is reduced to a more manageable (for her, and for the remaining fetuses) number, so no need to bring up the distasteful associations of ‘killing.’

Except, of course, that’s what happens during a selective reduction: After examination and evaluation of the fetuses, a needle is slid through the woman’s abdominal wall and into the heart of the fetus. A potassium chloride solution is then injected into its heart, and the fetus dies, after which it is reabsorbed into the surrounding tissue.

It is not, strictly speaking, an abortion, which involves the evacuation of the uterus.

And the situation is utterly unlike that of an abortion. When a woman gets an abortion, it’s because she does not want to be pregnant, does not want to be a mother. When a woman undergoes selective reduction, it is precisely because she wants to continue the pregnancy, because she wants to be a mother.

How awful, I said, to be in that situation: She has to kill her potential offspring in order to save her potential offspring.

I understand why people want to refer to this as selective reduction, especially those who perform and undergo the procedure. About the only thing worse than the situation itself is not having this as an option.

And the term itself is accurate enough: fetuses are selected and the number is reduced.

Still, I think it’s a form of moral cowardice for those of us who support the ability of women to decide on this option not to speak honestly about what’s involved, i.e., killing.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts on abortion the necessity of recognizing that abortion involves killing—not as a means of decrying the so-called tragedy of abortion—but as a recognition of the morality of the decision to abort, and, most importantly, of the moral capabilities of the woman who makes the decision.

We’re not a bunch of weak sisters who must be shielded from the consequences of our own actions. We may be sad or relieved or numb or any number of other emotions, and our feelings about it may change over time, but we can handle it. Really.

I’ve become even more adamant about avoiding euphemisms since Chelsea’s death. I killed my cat, I kept saying to myself, and told C. over beer and whiskey.

C., thankfully, did not correct me, but another friend admonished me when I told her I ‘mercy-killed’ Chelsea. Don’t say that, she said. You put her to sleep.

My friend was trying to be kind, but, no, I did not put her to sleep. I lay her on the table and put one hand on her chest and another on her ears and talked to her as the vet shaved her leg, soothed her as she cried a bit as he slid the needle in, felt one, maybe two breaths, then watched as her eyes dilated and she stilled.

I didn’t need the vet to tell me she was gone.

She wasn’t sleeping. No, Chelsea sleeping was curled up, tail nestled along her body or wrapped around her nose. Chelsea sleeping was her face tucked into her paws or her head twisted upside down, her body corkscrewed.

Chelsea sleeping was her soft purr into my ear as she propped herself on my shoulder or beside my pillow, her breath steady puffs in, out, in, out.

No, I know what I did to my beloved kitty, and it wasn’t putting her to sleep.

Rooting thru my rutabega

19 07 2009

I am a lousy sick person.

I don’t ‘soldier on’ or ‘buck up’ or ‘git er done’ or any of that when I’m sick. Nope, I drag my sorry carcass home, try to sleep, sleep some more, and then, mm, sleep.

A little bit of reading, online and off, but no writing, no blogging, no trying to get in front of my class prep, no errands, no exercise.

Sleep, cough, sleep.

Of course, Jasper-the-vampire’s nocturnal rampages do add a bit of a variety, but not of the helpful sort.

(Okay, so, yeah, I watched some ‘Buffy’ on Hulu. Sue me.)

(And when the hell are they going to get more seasons?!)

Anyway. There’s the weekend.


Reading a story in the NYTimes on Green-Wood cemetery and wondering, once again, about my [lack of] plans for the forever-future.

No, I wasn’t that sick.

Still, the thought recurs: Where to rest my bones? Along with, Who will do to the digging/burning/tossing into the sea?

For better and for worse, New York is now my city, but I don’t know that I want to be buried here.

Bills and money and work and dating and life and writing  and I’ll spend my time worrying over my funeral.

Sounds about right.


Is there anything I could have said about the Sotomayor hearings that hasn’t already been said?

Didn’t think so.


The virus that ran rampant through my body got in the way of my responding to a post at The Pursuit of Harpyness on the response to the death of a 69 yo woman who had given birth to twins 3 years earlier.

. . . And I was going to discuss it in brief, here, but then it got all out of control and so I made it a different post. Which may or may not get posted.

That’s how it is.


This American Life is airing a story about bedbugs, and just finished a piece on cockroaches crawling into peoples’ ears.

Good lord.

Makes me want to puncture my eardrums.


This course I’m teaching is kicking my ass.

I’ve taught a version of it—bioethics—to undergraduates before, but it didn’t go well, so I completely revamped it. Out with a general discussion of genetics and stem cells and biotechnology, and in with concentration on human embryonic stem cells and assisted reproductive technologies.

(An aside: I’m using Liza Mundy’s Everything Conceivable to survey the ART field. Recommended.)

So far, so good, but man, shit has changed since I last taught it. This is the bummer about teaching about tech: Unlike, say, the ideas of Plato or Machiavelli, technologies do change, and are changed by the societies into which they’re introduced.

In other words, I can’t coast.

I hate that.


Re-entering the world of biotech and bioethics has caused me, once again, to question whether I should have stuck with it.

I know, I can only make decisions based on the information I have at the time, so retrospective decision-making is pointless, but.

But when one is dissatisfied with one’s current life, and one’s previous life had its pleasures, it’s tough not to wonder why I ditched that previous life.

Again, I know: how easy to forget the dissatisfactions of that previous life.

Still, I’ve spent my life jumping, and landing always with an eye toward the next jump. When I moved to New York, I said, That’s it. This is home.

Only I put a hidden asterisk by the declaration: (*If it works).

As if this place, and my life in this place, is supposed to work for me, as opposed to me working for my life.

I am not the first to note that a person carries her troubles with her, so it shouldn’t surprise me that my dissatisfactions have made their way to Brooklyn.

So now what? I bitch about the something more and the something else and then do nothing more or nothing else.

Can I blame that on the cold virus?

We’ve got Trouble

9 07 2009

He’s lucky he’s cute.

Little bastard bit me on the nose this morning.

Perhaps I should have named him ‘Trouble’. Or ‘No’. Or ‘NoBiting!’ or ‘NoGoddammit!’

(Bean’s name for a time was BeanGoddamit!)

My entire body is apparently a chew toy, and everything in the apartment can be pressed into service for play.

Except, of course, Bean. Bean puts up with nothing.

Perhaps I should develop a convincing yowl and hiss.

Wait, what was that?

5 07 2009

Re: the soon-to-be-former governor of Alaska. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Some Freepers are peddling the line that she’s too good for politics, and her decision to ditch is evidence of her superior character—as opposed to, say, an inability either to govern or to develop the skills necessary for political leadership.

And as to complaints about Everybody Being So Mean To Her: If she can’t handle Katie Couric and David Letterman, how the hell could she handle Netanyahu, Putin, Mubarak—or Pelosi or Reid, for that matter?

Fair, unfair: Neither of these matters in political campaigns. Read some Machiavelli, fer cryin’ out loud—and if that’s too much to ask, remember Vince Lombardi.



I know I have issues with community. It’s less that I’m enthusiastic about CAPITAL-I! individualism than I am suspicious of the group—especially a group which claims special status based on its group-ness.

Yeah, I have a past with cliques, the push-pull of wanting to belong and wanting to tell others to fuck off, but I don’t want to reduce this to psychology.

No, I want to reduce this to principle: Don’t tell me [who’s not a member of your group] that I’m less worthy [because I’m not a member of your group]. As a political matter, don’t claim rights based on your group which are denied those not members of the group.

In practice, of course, groups are often religious communities, and the rights claimed are based on the freedom of religion, not on the rights of the group.

All kinds of ways to take off from here, but, after my friend E. called me out on my bias yesterday, I think I need to stay right here, and consider what is principle and what is, simply, prejudice.

Background: I’ve mentioned previously encounters with religious folk which I’ve considered insulting. In one case, two women wouldn’t take an item from my hand, but asked that I set it down before they would touch it. In the second case, a man responded to my outstretched hand with a mumbled request that I withdraw it, out of respect for him and his religious beliefs.

In both cases, I took their reactions to me to be based on their religious beliefs, and further inferred that they thought I was lesser or would somehow taint them with my touch. In both cases, I (behaviorally) respected their expressed wishes, but I was also offended.

E. was puzzled by my response, especially to the situation with the two young women (religion unknown; from their dress, either Christian or Muslim was a possibility). Why do you think that has anything to do with you, she asked?

Because I was there!

Yeah, but they weren’t asking you to do anything offensive.


As to the second case, with the no-handshake man, she focused on his explanation for why I should respect him. Why would he assume you’d know about his religious beliefs?

Another good question. I assumed he was Hasidic, although he wasn’t wearing a fedora and it was so dark that I couldn’t tell if he had peyos, but, as E. pointed out, Orthodox men will wear the shawl—and Orthodox men will shake a woman’s hand.

Yes, I agreed, I’ve shaken hands with Orthodox men, and, come to think of it, I don’t know for sure if he was hasidim.

Given my skepticism toward groups and my disdain for patriarchy, I bundled together a few pieces of information about this guy into an unmerited heap of a conclusion. I thought it was about the group and the group’s beliefs about women and his expectation that I alter my behavior to suit him—and I was offended.

But maybe it wasn’t really about me. Maybe, as E. pointed out, his English just wasn’t that great, that he didn’t know a more polite way to make his request.

Well, dammit, E., what are ya doin’, making me rethink these things? I was so comfortable in my anti-fundamentalist stance and here you go redirecting my attention. What the hell kind of friend are you, anyway?


I’m fine with my skepticisms and criticisms, but I’d rather not be reactionary. So I’ll follow this redirection, see where it takes me—and try to keep my biases out of my way.

Thanks, E.


Inspired by a segment I heard on WNYC about members of They Might Be Giants banning certain phrases, I humble ask for the retirement of the following (I direct this to myself, as well):

  • Meh
  • Wow. Just wow.
  • Batshit crazy (I do like this one, but, Enough.)
  • Just sayin’
  • teh gay/s
  • ZOMG! WTF?! ROTFL, et. al.
  • Meme (I have always hated this term. Always. Goddamned genetic reductionists.)

I probably should ban ‘heh’, as well, but no need to get all Puritan, here.


Jasper update: He is on,

or off.

No in-between.

A little less smelly (gave him a washcloth rinse yesterday), but still in need of a dunking. With soap.

Very friendly, and eager for a lap. Good purr.

Ten week-old kittens have really tiny heads. Tiny teeth, too, but sharp.

Still working on the biting. No biting.

Working on the staying off of computer keyboard, too. He’s logged me out of Firefox a couple of times, opened about fifteen help windows, and at one point sent my computer into hibernation. Fancy feet on that boy.

Not so much in the litter box, however. Jasper has no litter skills. Yes, he uses his wee box (a cereal box with the back cut out, lined with a plastic bag), but he’s a bit fuzzy on the whole covering-one’s-leaving concept: He’ll scratch at the air, at the floor outside of the box, on the wall next to the box, but actually in the box? Not so much. [I know, I should retire this one, too, but it’s too good to lose!]

I hope his skills improve when he moves to the big box.

He has gotten within a foot of Bean, who has responded with hisses and yowling. At one point she swiped at him, but, as he was a good foot-and-a-half away, nothing happened.

Still, at some point there will be contact, and he will learn that Bean is Queen.

She came in through the bathroom window. . .

3 07 2009

. . . well, no. Through the front door, actually, in a cat carrier. And she’s a he, Jasper, the newest member of this absurd household:

He’s about 10 weeks old, 2.1 lbs, found wandering around Jackson Heights and brought to Brooklyn Animal Control.

(He’s propped up on my wrist pad watching me type this right now, which is preferable to having him rolling over the keyboard.)

Jasper’s shelter-given name was Felicia—but, as much as I like cross-gender names, Felicia didn’t cut it.

He is, as you can see, all black, with gold eyes. Feisty, given to chewing on my toes, ankles, and knees, and perhaps more adventurous than a kitten who just got his balls lopped off should be. He’s also a bit stinky, but, due to the aforementioned lopping, can’t be bathed for awhile.

Bean is thoroughly unimpressed.

I had mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I wasn’t ready for another cat. I still tear up when I think about Chelsea’s last days, and Bean and I had settled into a comfortable routine. Why mess with that?

But I think that admission nudged my thinking along and toward a new kitten: It made me realize that I would miss Chelsea no matter what, and that I shouldn’t use her as an excuse for not bringing a  kitten into the household.

Yes, a kitten is disruptive, and that’s all right. That’s what I tell Bean, anyway.

And I’ve fucked up so many times in my life

2 07 2009

I’m slowly getting used to being a failure.

It was a little hard on the ego, at first, but after that first nip of recognition, things have been much easier.

I’m not being glum, or trying to elicit an ‘oh-you’re-not-a-failure’ response; I’m simply recognizing that by any of the standards I’ve set for myself, I haven’t done much.

I’m alive. That’s one point in my favor.

Didn’t use to be: To be alive was evidence of failure. I was supposed to be dead, and was not.

Now I’m all right with that. In fact, it’s downright fine that I’m not dead.

Okay, so now that I’m alive, I’m off charging up the professional ranks and blazing new theories and astonishing my colleagues with the discipline of my thought and the brilliance of my prose. Tenure? Hah! Why, I’ve already attained a full professorship! Students are scrambling to study with me; other universities are recruiting me. My articles are must-reads.

Oh, wait, no. That’s someone else entirely. I’m an adjunct professor at a CUNY college, with no job security beyond the semester.

What about the writing career? Two novels! Two more in the pipeline! Short stories! Plays! Pulitzers and Tonys and National Book. . . oh, sorry, that’s not me, either.

I live in a junior one-bedroom on the far side of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, with wine boxes serving as bookcases and drawers and end-tables, chairs covered with fabric remnants because I can’t afford to get them reupholstered, socks kept in milk crates, and Trader Joe’s beer in the fridge.

I’m forty-mumble-mumble years old and I live like a grad student. Only I have fewer prospects than a grad student, what with consciously turning away from any attempt at a tenure-track position and not caring quite enough about money to live otherwise and all.

And I’m all right with that. When I was in SmallTown I ran into a cousin I hadn’t seen in, oh, a decade, and each of us mentioned that our lives may not look like other people’s, but they work for us. We nodded at each other. I’m not rich, I mused, but I am free.

And I am. Not free of anxiety (especially not anxiety over—natch—money) or dissatisfaction or anger or any of the other nonsense that comes with a messy (i.e., human) life, but free of the sense that my life belongs to anyone other than me.

So by most American standards, I’m a failure; by my own standards, I’m a failure. But I’m also free to laugh about it, and let it go, and maybe, someday, not to think about success or failure.

It’s not so bad, this failure thing. Feels kind of like freedom, actually. Not bad at all.