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The best article in this week's New Yorker is Ian Parker's "Lost" (abstract only available online) about Iceland's financial collapse. It includes the following bits that are by turns awesome, hilarious, interesting, and depressing:
Someone threw an egg that hit a wall and splashed a drop or two onto the policewoman's shoulder. Two bananas landed at her feet. Iceland's protests had a consistently culinary theme: skyr, Iceland's yogurt-like specialty, was often involved; that day, milk and cheese had been thrown onto the lawn in front of the Prime Minister's office; and at an earlier protest I had seen a bag of potatoes spilled onto the sidewalk by the Parliament building - potatoes being the gift brought by Iceland's Santa Claus to children who are out of favor.

Iceland certainly had resources - fish stocks, geothermal power, a highly educated workforce, beguiling pop stars - but it was hard to understand how this had been leveraged into "luxury and vulgarity," as Magnason put it.

When, in the middle of the nineteenth century, Iceland began to make its way toward independence from Denmark, the experience was more one of self-discovery than of revolt. "The rhetoric of Icelandic politics is steeped in the nationalist fiction of the 'struggle for independence,'" Hálfdánarson said. "I don't think the Danes were particularly sad to let us go."

Margaret Thatcher is one of his great heroes - after a glass of wine, he imitated her voice precisely - and another is the libertarian philosopher Friedrich Hayek, the subject of his Oxford doctorate.

When the krona did fall, some detected underhandedness. It was reported, for example, that foreign hedge-fund managers had flown to Iceland and had bragged in the bar of the 101 Hotel about their plans to bet against the krona. But as one senior and unsentimental Icelandic financier put it to me, "If you're so vulnerable that five idiots from the East Coast, drunk in a bar, can destabilize the currency, then it's not a proper currency."

(In a similar spirit of ironic self-laceration, a Web site called New Iceland, owing something to The Onion, had launched with such headlines as, "'It's Tempting, Very': Prime Minister Haarde on Selling National Treasure Björk to a Bulgarian Circus.")

At the Icelandic Red Cross, Katla Thorrsteinsdóttir said that the number of calls to a help line for people feeling down, or suicidal, had risen by fifty per cent. Her own dismay was evident. "The only thing that I know is that I will be here tomorrow," she said.

And, when two thousand people met on January 20th, it was with the idea not of making speeches but of filling the area with noise that would be heard inside Parliament. Beneath posters referring to events occurring in Washington on the same day - "Yes we can!" - they beat on pots and pans. This was the start of a noisy week: an open-ended, roaming protest that the local press came to call the Kitchenware Revolution. "Or you could call it the Night of the Long Spoons," Magnason said. That first day, the police were pelted with foodstuffs (including "occasional trays of pasta," as The Reykjavík Grapevine, an English-language magazine, put it) and in return used pepper spray.

On February 1st, Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir, a widely trusted, left-wing, and gay member of Parliament, became Prime Minister of Iceland, heading a new coalition led by the Social Democrats.
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I've now had two email conversations about this week's New Yorker, even while the issue sits on the desk in front of me so I can write about it, so I clearly need to just make a post about it and be done with it.

Ariel Levy's Lesbian Nation (abstract only available online) is one of those articles that I might have read anyway but definitely remembered to read based on the fact that there was a Jezebel post about it. The article is an interesting look at the history of the Van Dykes, lesbian separatists who traveled around the country from Women's Land to Women's Land in the 70s. It reads much like any other similar story: a charismatic leader inspires a revolution, a new idea comes in that divides the community, eventually the community falls apart and people go their separate ways, and the charismatic leader ends up leading a relatively everyday life in the current day. Specific interesting points from this article:

  • The first expert she quotes is a man, Todd Gitlin, author of The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage.
  • "The feminist Ti-Grace Atkinson went so far as to claim that her brand of celibate 'political lesbianism' was morally superior to the sexually active version practiced in her midst. Atkinson was not alone in this martyred line of reasoning; a 1975 essay by the separatist Barbara Lipschutz entitled 'Nobody Needs to Get Fucked' urged women to 'free the libido from the tyranny of orgasm-seeking. Sometimes hugging is nicer.' This argument was never particularly compelling to the lesbians in the movement who were actually gay."
  • Lamar Van Dyke, the charismatic leader in question, says, "If you look at me, there's no question about it: I'm a dyke. I am gay. If you don't think so, there is something really wrong with you." I'm really bothered by this, and I'm not sure exactly how to articulate why. It's something about you can't know that about people just by looking at them. I think it's also part of the generational difference. "'Your generation wants to fit in,' she told me, for the second time. 'Gays in the military and gay marriage? This is what you guys have come up with?' There was no contempt in her voice; it was something else - an almost incredulous maternal disappointment."
  • The new idea that divides the community is BDSM. I'm actually surprised The New Yorker went there. I think of them as being fairly staid, but maybe they're not so staid as I think of them being.
  • Lamar now works for Speakeasy in Seattle, "and she had just bought the first new car of her life, a black VW bug. Van Dyke also owns her house, but she doesn't use credit cards. That would cross some kind of line. 'I don't want to be a capitalist pig,' she explained."
  • The article is an interesting historical counterpoint to a Jezebel post about lesbianism as a political choice from earlier this month. The most striking thing missing from the history lesson that shows up in the modern discussions is the way these kinds of communities look down on and exclude trans folks. The other thing that gets left out that I saw in the Jezebel article and discussion is the idea that men are half the population of the world; any solution to the world's problems needs to include them.
The second interesting woman-focused article is Rebecca Mead's profile of opera singer Natalie Dessay (abstract only available online). I particularly like the way she treats the push and pull between acting and singing in the opera world - increased theatricality bringing in more money versus the wish to keep opera pure to the singing - and her acknowledgment that opera plots are notoriously thin. I also like it that Mead mentions the way Dessay's job keeps her away from her family - "she can sometimes go a couple of days without even talking to her children on the phone" - without going into any kind of hysterics about her being a bad mother, or even, really, much more detail about it. The focus is on Dessay as an artist, not Dessay as an example of motherhood, good or bad.

The third interesting woman-focused article is Nancy Franklin's TV column about Dollhouse and the DTV transition. My mom said the article "adds nothing to the chatter, but Nancy Franklin writes well." She's right on both counts. Franklin says, as the rest of us have been saying, "Only people who are willing to cut Whedon endless slack could find anything much to draw them in to this show . . . at the core of the series is an unpromising performance by Eliza Dushku." She also says of Eliza, in my favorite part, "the primary qualification that Dushku brings to the part is that she graduated with honors from the Royal Academy of Cleavage." Quite frankly, I think Eliza, or at least the folks at NBC Universal, know this; the best part of Eliza's Hulu ad is the part where she says, "eyes glued" just as her movement focuses your attention on her breasts. I also very much liked what Franklin has to say about actresses in general: "In terms of gender studies, it is notable that Dushku's demeanor as a zombie is much the same as the demeanor many actresses her age resort to when trying to project an image of themselves as unthreatening and 'feminine': a slouchy walk, a bobbly head, and ever-parted lips. Would someone please show these actresses a movie starring Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Irene Dunne, Bette Davis, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, or Judy Davis?" Both [livejournal.com profile] norwich36 and I were struck by the inclusion of Cate Blanchett in that list. Like many people, I'm sure, I first saw her in Elizabeth, where she just blew me away. It turns out I've actually seen her in five other things and I have a number of her other movies in my queue. The only bad things about Franklin's column is that it makes the writing in Denby's movie reviews on the next page seem particularly uninspired in comparison.
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I swear I was doing book research when I stumbled across Up and Then Down: The Lives of Elevators, which I remember seeing and not reading when it was originally in The New Yorker. It's highly entertaining.
An over-elevatored building wastes space and deprives a landlord of revenue. An under-elevatored building suffers on the rental or resale market, and drives its tenants nuts. In extreme cases, when the wait becomes actually long, instead of merely perceptibly long, things fall apart. The Bronx family-court system, for example, was in a shambles last year because the elevators at its courthouse kept breaking down. (The stairs are closed, owing to security concerns.) This led to hour-long waits, which led to missed court dates, needless arrest warrants, and life-altering family strife.
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From a New Yorker Talk of the Town bit about family members in the White House:
Doug Wead, the author of "All the Presidents' Children," pointed out that the extended families of First Ladies have long had the run of the place - Louisa Catherine Adams, he said, brought in a niece who seduced all three Adams sons, and "some nephews who kept bedding the maids."
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October's book was Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding by Scott Weidensaul. The book is, as it says, a history of American Birding. Since it's over three hundred pages long, I really have to wonder what a longwinded history of American birding would look like.

The book is an interesting survey of American birding, including the ways in which birding and ornithology have intersected and separated and intersected again over the years. Weidensaul weaves in his own birding experiences as jumping off points for the history, which works instead of being annoying, which it could easily be. I particularly appreciated his skill in choosing entertaining anecdotes and humorous quotes:
One woman wrote to say she was so unhappy because the cats in her neighborhood killed birds. We were going to write back and suggest that she collect the murderous felines and read the Audubon circular to them; but we restrained ourselves and advised her to feed the cats. (Elliott Coues, quoted on page 143)

The introduction to every volume carried the same put-up-or-shut-up message:
The reader is reminded again that this is a cooperative work; if he fails to find in these volumes anything that he knows about the birds, he can blame himself for not having sent the information to

--The Author
(Cleveland Bent, quoted on page 182)
He also does a very nice job of including the contributions of women from times before women started being included in academic and other ventures outside of childbearing.

The book ends on a message of conservation and Weidensaul's affirmation of the birding for the enjoyment of watching birds and understanding of their ways school of thought over the obsessive checking off of lists school of thought.

Overall, it was an interesting book. Some of you might enjoy it; for [livejournal.com profile] archivecats, this is upgraded to highly recommended.
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There's nothing like squeaking in under the wire, and that's what I'm doing this month. I just finished the book, and even though it's already past my bedtime, I'm writing my LJ entry, and then I will have fulfilled my self-imposed assignment for July.

This month's book was On Royalty: A Very Polite Inquiry Into Some Strangely Related Families by Jeremy Paxman. A chapter or two into it, I thought, "If I'm going to read a Royals book for the 900s, I should really return this in exchange for Tina Brown's The Diana Chronicles. But I didn't. Instead, I worked my way, very slowly, through On Royalty. It's not that it's a bad or uninteresting book, it's just a little slow.

Difficulties:
  • I had the impression that it would be about a larger array of royals, when it was mostly about the British.
  • The book assumes a much larger knowledge of British history than I have.
  • There are Britishisms I didn't understand. There's so much crammed into the book that it mostly doesn't matter if I didn't get the exact meaning of every Britishism.
Things I enjoyed:
  • It has some bits that are quite funny.
    For most of the time the British royal family is not now, nor has it been for generations, spectacular. It is hard even to describe it as much fun. It reflects the people of Britain.
  • It has some fascinating asides about varying figures in Royal history. Did you know, for example, that the man who almost became the king of Albania instead died of blood poisoning in 1923 because he "had taken the advice of his former tutor at Oxford who told him that his blindness could be cured by having his teeth removed"?
  • It led me to some interesting history on Wikipedia. I read all about Marie Antoinette.
Perhaps the funniest thing about the book is that he keeps referring to democracy/republicanism as more sensible than monarchy, and yet the British just aren't ready to give it up: "Republicanism, for all its commonsensicalness, remains a hobby like campaigning for phonetic spelling." In his acknowledgements, he tells us that, "Bill Purdue, Reader in British History at the Open University began his exhaustive commentary with the words, 'I enjoyed reading this manuscript, even though I am largely in disagreement with the author's sentiments and thesis.'" (Oddly, I found the British-style single quotes less irritating in this than I do in fiction. [I refuse to read fiction with single quotes for dialogue.])
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The July 21 issue of The New Yorker (the one with the controversial Obama cover) has an interesting article by Jill Lepore about the rise of children's literature and the publication of Stuart Little. Apparently Anne Carroll Moore, who was the arbiter of what constituted respectable children's literature and what did not ("Her verdict, not any editor's, not any bookseller's, sealed a book's fate. She kept a rubber stamp at her desk that she used, liberally, while paging through publishers' catalogues: 'Not recommended for purchase by expert.' The end."), was not a fan of Stuart Little: "Worse, White had blurred reality and fantasy - 'The two worlds were all mixed up' - and children wouldn't be able to tell them apart."
Tearing the pages out of books and rubbing out words that might worry their little one - it was just what Katharine White had been complaining about all along. In Stuart Little, her husband backed her up. And, in her next children's-books column, she, in turn, vindicated him, lamenting the pitiful state of a literature "careful never to approach the child except in a childlike manner. Let us not overstimulate his mind, or scare him, or leave him in doubt, these authors and their books seem to be saying; let us affirm."
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This month's book is Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer, who you may have heard of as the author of Into the Wild, which, if you are a Di-Phi person, you may remember Lucky raving about.

Under the Banner of Heaven purports to tell the story of the murder of Brenda and Erica Lafferty by Ron and Dan Lafferty. To get to that, however, Krakauer covers the entire history of the Mormon church and its major fundamentalist spin-offs, with special attention paid to violence, polygamy, and the history of Mormons hearing directly from God. It's completely fascinating. It's especially fascinating if you've watched Big Love, because I kept seeing the genesis for those characters in the real-life people Krakauer talks to and about. (Mary Anne Mohanraj, at the polyamory panel at WisCon, said she lived in Utah for a while, and she said that "It's not my poly," but it's fairly true to life.)

I also love Krakauer's use of the footnote, so much so that I may next read The Footnote: A Curious History. There are a couple of footnotes noting permissions to use material, but the majority of them contribute useful information that doesn't fit neatly into the narrative. My favorite one tells us, "The part of town lying on the Arizona side of the line is officially called Colorado City, and the portion on the Utah side is officially named Hildale, although old-timers ignore both appellations, preferring to call it Short Creek, which was the town's name until 1962, when it was legally incorporated and renamed. The United Effort Plan is the legal name of the financial trust that owns all the church's assets, including virtually all the land in town."

If you're at all interested in the history of the Mormon church, which is, after all, an integral part of the history of the US (and possibly the future; Krakauer quotes Harold Bloom who says that "within sixty years governing the United States will become 'impossible without Mormon cooperation'"), I highly recommend the book. It's well-written, informative, and fascinating.
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This month's book was Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910 - 1939 by Katie Roiphe. I picked it up because I kept seeing it on the new books shelf at the library, and I was intrigued by both the idea and the extremely specific title. The book is exactly what it says: portraits of marriages in London's literary world between the wars. I liked it better before I googled the author and found out who she was (I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader).

Roiphe says that "each chapter is structured around a crisis in a marriage and how it is resolved or not resolved," but that's not really true. The stories are more diffuse than that, and nothing is ever resolved because life isn't that neat. The stories are interesting, though, and nicely scandalous. Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf's sister), for example, lived with her husband (Clive Bell), her lover (Duncan Grant), and his lover (David "Bunny" Garnett). She had two sons with Clive and a daughter with Duncan. They raised Angelica, the daughter, as Clive's child, and, in fact, Angelica didn't know until she was an adult that Duncan was her father. She later married David.

I found myself irritated with Roiphe's habit of repetition: "The earl did not believe in affairs with members of one's own social class." Then, in the next paragraph: "He believed in affairs with members of a different class, and marriage with members of his own." I was also irked by her portrayal of Elizabeth Von Arnim's marriage to John Russell as a woman's fascination with a manly man rather than an abusive marriage. By the time I got to the end of the book, I was also bothered by the way that her conclusion was that every wife was unhappy.

I do have to give her credit for including, as one of the marriages, the relationship between Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge. There are also bits that made me laugh: "During this time he was mildly distracted by an affair with his housekeeper, a Miss Young, who wrote him detailed letters about his animals and the upkeep of his estate."

Overall, I found the book fun to read while reading it, and I enjoyed reading the Wikipedia articles about all of the people in it, but after I was done with it, I find myself disappointed; I think it could have been more than it is.
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Self-promotion. I'm in complete denial about this. I'm not in denial that I wrote it. I'm in denial that it is what it is. I keep thinking to myself, "It's not really NSync slash," but that's not really true. I need to find some way to deal with the fact that it is simultaneously NSync slash and something I wrote. More than that, I have to deal with the fact that I actually like it. It's not quite as "See JC. See JC suck cock. Suck, JC, suck" as I wanted it to be, but I'm still rather pleased with it.

I think part of what's helping my denial along is that it feels very "any two guys" to me. The only character in it who feels real to me is Christina. Britney's sort of real, although that's probably just because I like the idea of a drugged-out Britney. JC and Justin are just the guys who are friends that the story hinges around, but since I don't really know anything about JC and Justin, they could be any two guys who've been friends since childhood.

A river in Egypt. Speaking of Egypt and things that are on crack, Herodotus had a strange idea of what the Nile looked like.

Advice. Save a sheep, shag Russell.

Lo-trips 1. Viggo doesn't need to be so serious all the time. What does this have to do with you, me, and our time together? I need some cheesy, gay porn, hand job lines for a scene I keep thinking about. Leave your suggestions here.

Lo-trips 2. I thought I was done with the Jedi lo-trips, but my brain keeps telling me I have some loose ends. And it's trying to suggest Henry/Liv. I agree that there are loose ends, but I'm not so sure about the Henry/Liv.

Lo-trips 3. Henry's getting married, both in my head and on the small piece of paper I wrote on at work today. Unbeknownst to Viggo, Henry and Orlando have kept in touch over the years. Viggo and Orlando have not.

Where is Viggo's house? Is it really on the beach? Would he have a beach house by the time Henry's old enough to get married? Would the wedding be close enough to Viggo's house but far enough away from Orlando's that it would make sense for Viggo to invite Orlando to stay with him?

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Ruth Sadelle Alderson

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