November 28, 2005

I can't do a thing [cue chorus] about the weather.

To those who say that Californians should not complain about the cold, I say:

It was 46 degrees in Berkeley when I woke up this morning, and my house has no working heat. Interior temperature of house minus exterior temperature equals only what heat can be produced by two sleeping humans and two sleeping cats distributed throughout a drafty, poorly-insulated five-room house. Jacob's calls to the landlord are growing steadily more emphatic, the pile of blankets on the bed is growing steadily higher, and as for me, I spent last night with the flannel sheets over my head to keep my nose from freezing.

We watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last night (while huddled under a blanket). My god, it was fantastic. It's some of the finest work I've ever seen from the Burton/Elfman/Depp machine, and this is coming from someone who recently saw Edward Scissorhands for the first time. I have to coin a new term here, to describe a character who is not merely acted but in fact Depped, that is, brought to the most hopelessly weird sort of life possible. Willy Wonka is wholeheartedly Depped. He's twitchy and fake and pins down discomforting and uncomfortable with equal thoroughness. If I were given the choice of spending eternity locked in a room with either Willy Wonka or the four horrid kneebiters of the tour group, I'd pretty much have to flip a coin. That brings me of course to Charlie Bucket, who is excellently played as The Most Adorable Good-Hearted Urchin Ever. My Urchin Meter overloaded three minutes into the movie and hasn't been working since. Also, my Silly Meter went haywire during the Oompa-Loompa dance sequences -- starring Deep Roy, Deep Roy, Deep Roy, and 53 more Deep Roys. The name itself sends me into fits of giggles.

I do have to admit that I've never read the book or seen the first Willy Wonka movie. I may be ascribing brilliance to the movie where the credit properly belongs to one of the older versions. But I can't possibly imagine that Gene Wilder was ever such a glorious Wonka. In my mind he's forever Leo Bloom, wholesome, naive, mildly fraudulent perhaps, but hardly one to turn a girl into a blueberry. A blueberry! And then giggle while she rolls around with 13 Deep Roys doing backflips on her stomach.

Heheh. Deep Roy.

Posted by dianna at 01:00 PM

November 23, 2005

But this is not how my morning is supposed to start!

It's a bureaucracy day after all; the various student information systems are rolling dice to see which answer they'll give me about my student status at any given time. My financial aid file is complete (or it isn't complete) and has been processed (or hasn't been processed), my major is anthropology or it may be undeclared, and all offices have now been informed that I'm readmitted or perhaps they haven't been.

I decided to start off bright and early by calling the Financial Aid Office just now. I do not go calling Financial Aid Offices willy-nilly; no, I was responding to a message on one of the automated information systems which told me, "You have not been sent an offer letter. Please call 642-6442 for further information." I called, a receptionist answered, I summoned all my coherence and explained about the message. An irritated sigh floated through the phone.

"We do not send offer letters!" the receptionist snarled. I trembled and meekly wrote down the email address that she gave me for a financial aid counselor to whom I've already written. I frankly have no idea what she means; is it that offer letters are now online instead of on paper? I've noticed this already but I have no online offer letter either. Is it that offer letters are the forte of some other office? She certainly didn't say so. If there's nothing to be gained by calling the Financial Aid Office about an offer letter which may or may not exist, then why did some cruel database send me unarmed and unforewarned into the lair of the Surly Aid Arbiter?

That does it; I'm spending the rest of the day in my pajamas watching Batman and eating bonbons. Fuck you, Berkeleyeaucracy.

Posted by dianna at 09:35 AM

November 22, 2005

Two quick recommendations.

First, food.

Vegan Red Chili frozen tamales by Tamale Molly are delicious. I found them in the frozen dinners aisle at Berkeley Bowl this weekend and oohed and aahed my way through them for dinner on Sunday. Delicious. A package contains 3 tamales, for about $4.25, and there are at least three vegan varieties available as well as some non-vegan. Eating an entire package in one sitting is unwise. I did it anyway and was painfully stuffed but deliriously happy. They're just spicy enough to make my eyes water (meaning they're far too mild for anyone else), and the corn filling is soft and sweet and mouthwateringly lovely. Besides, the company that makes them is apparently a nonprofit organization -- they donate 85% of their profits to the Tucson Food Bank and the other 15% to other community charities.

Second, agh.

If you, my reader, are ever placed in charge of selecting a multi-line phone system for a business, do not under any circumstances select Bizfon. They provide an easy-to-use, expandable system with individual voice mail and a large number of useful tools for forwarding, answering, remote access, directory assistance, et cetera. They also have the buggiest damn system I've ever tried to use, and their approach to dealing with it is to deny it by providing absolutely no troubleshooting resources. "In the unlikely event of a problem," the manuals cheerily suggest, "just call Customer Care!" It's a funny thing, but the first thing that happens when our phone system goes down is that my calls to Customer Care stop getting through. The second thing is that everyone clusters around me to tell me to fix the phones, which has an effect on my mood that makes it fortunate for Customer Care that I don't have access to them.

30 days from today will be my last day here. The phone, I will not miss.

Posted by dianna at 04:15 PM

November 21, 2005

On my voicemail this morning.

"This is a--"
"--for L--"

"--zeitgeist. I need you to call me as soon as you get a chance, because your mother has fallen under the wagon and she needs to be removed with the Jaws of Life. If you do not return--"

"--for many--"

I swear to fucking Christ I'm not making this up.

Posted by dianna at 03:58 PM

November 20, 2005


Something just clicked about my going back to school. No, I don't mean in my head. Someone threw a switch in the great machinery of Berkeley beauracracy, and now the gears are revolving ponderously and servo-operated arms are stamping out the component parts of my brand new shiny Studentness. Today I fished an email from some automated campus notification system out of my Gmail spam folder and read in it that a change had been made to my spring registration. When I looked it up I found that not only have I been moved from waitlists to proper registration for the classes I need, my financial aid application has finally been processed and I am being offered a way to pay for said classes. Shocking! Please, Berkeley, don't be so forward! Put your skirts down you hussy! At least wait until Dianna's bought you dinner and met your parents!

This means that the day off for school business that I negotiated with my boss is now a day off to sleep in and eat pie. Monday: work. Tuesday: work. Wednesday: pie. Thursday: more pie. Friday: swear off pie. Saturday and Sunday: reconsider swearing off pie. That takes us almost to December, which is a good month for pies.

I've heard that 2006 is a good year for pies as well.

Posted by dianna at 01:44 PM

November 16, 2005

Is it March yet?

I cannot be reached for new blog entries at this time, so I give you a five-second anecdote that I saved as a draft and never got around to posting.

Scene: the kitchen, between coming home from the grocery store and making dinner.
Dianna (continuing previous sentence): we should put the rice in, and then the mushroom soup, and then the frozen fake chicken, but not the soup after the chicken because we don't want to repeat my mistake verbotim.
Jacob: Verbotim?
Dianna: Verboten. No. Verbaten. Wait, no.
Jacob: Well, it is also verboten, I suppose.
Dianna: Verbatim? Verbatim. (casting bewildered look around kitchen and sitting down heavily in a chair) My brain just stopped working.
Jacob: Uh-huh. Time for calories.

I think he should write a book called Care and Feeding of Your Dianna. Chapter 1, Care, could say, "See chapter 2, Feeding."

Posted by dianna at 01:43 PM

November 14, 2005

Po.... bre mio.

Mike Doughty is moving to Portland... why can't I?

I'm attempting to pick up reading Red Earth and Pouring Rain where I left off a few months ago. Somehow right near the end of the Book of Blood and Journeys, before the Book of Revenge and Madness (this book goes in for dramatic titles), I just stalled out and didn't want to read it any more. I got myself more or less re-oriented and read a good long piece of it on BART today, and I'm enjoying it. But there's still something happening that always happens to me when I read anything set in a remotely real world -- yes, I am still talking about the book narrated by a typing monkey born of the union of a woman and a piece of candy. All the same, typing monkeys and sugar-conception are remarkable phenomena in this setting. It's the ordinary actual world with strange and mystical events happening in it, not an invented fantasy or science fiction world, and this is the problem for me.

Zach mentioned world-building today, which explains a lot about my taste in books. My interest in stories has always been tied to the degree to which I can use them as backgrounds for personal fantasies. As a kid, I absolutely always had my head occupied primarily with some elaborate invented life based on the setting of something I'd read, and secondarily with things like what my feet were doing and was it dinnertime (the fact that I occasionally addressed family pets by entirely the wrong name has led to my persistent fear that I will someday call Jacob something which I will be forced to explain). I can't tell you how many years I spent mentally inhabiting Xanth, the USS Enterprise, the Tsurani Empire, and Redwall. Most of them so far, really. If I could find a plausible place for myself in a given setting, I'd devour the book several times to get all the details right and then walk around writing myself into it. If I didn't find a way that I wanted to fit into the story or the world, I wasn't interested.

I now permanently inhabit an outlandish soap opera that doesn't contain any literal magic, monsters, or yet-uninvented technology, but my need to have fictional worlds defined for me persists. This is not to say that the worlds necessarily have to be unreasonable or unreal, but they do have to be built. They have to be wholly envisioned and laid out -- how do people talk, what do they eat, what do they look like, how do they travel, what do they wear, was this always what they ate and wore, oh, why not, give me the whole story, what is their political organization, their religion, what else controls them, what can and can't they do, where are all of these places, no, really, where, draw me a map, can you get over there from over here?, why not, hasn't anyone tried, and so on -- all the billions of things that you really have to figure out if you're creating a fantasy (and in that I include the future worlds of sci-fi) world from scratch or even from pieces. The problem comes in with the fact that the real world is more or less known. It isn't necessary to specify that grass grows from the ground up and is green, because everyone knows that. So it's rarely explained. The loving appendices full of details and no, listen, there's this other thing I came up with and it's cool and has internal logic -- those are generally absent in works set in reality.

Based on that fact, I've learned to regard reality as something tedious that doesn't make for good books. I get this twitchy restlessness when I'm trying to read a book set in a world that doesn't require exhaustive explanation. Yes, yes, the boy who swallows a whole set of movable type is remarkable, but when you say he had to wash the ink off of his skin, did he take a shower or sit in a bathtub? Did they have bathtubs there? Private bathrooms? Public ones? Maybe a river? Where was he living? Okay, the letters clicked in his stomach when he lay down to sleep, but if I can't picture the room in which he slept, how far it was from his home, whether he paid rent on it and to whom, who else lived there with him, what the blankets looked like and what they were made of, and what he had for breakfast before he ate the letters (and I can't picture any of these things because they're going on in India, which you the author know well enough not to describe but I don't know well enough to imagine), then why the hell are you telling me any of this?!

I have to tear myself away from these lines of thinking and remind myself to pay attention to the story even though the backdrops have holes in them, and that's when I get twitchy. So, to return to my original point, Red Earth and Pouring Rain is very good, but I'm always hesitating to pick it up and read. It doesn't have room for me; the world just isn't defined enough that I feel inclined to make space for myself. Mom, the story won't scoot over and it's on my side.

Posted by dianna at 07:50 PM

November 13, 2005

Men died, women died, children died. But they went.

Snoqualmie Book Reviews and The Sci-Fi Canon Project jointly present Dune, Three Ways.

The first way is, of course, the original book by Frank Herbert. The second way is the feature film by David Lynch, and the third way is the Sci-Fi Channel's six-hour miniseries. It should surprise no one that a 500-page book packs in more background and character development than a six-hour miniseries, and a six-hour miniseries still manages to contain more than a two-hour movie, and as a result the book is the most fleshed-out and comprehensible while the movie is the least. But I'll be torn apart by Lynch fans if I assert that comprehensibility is the only arbiter of a story's value, and, indeed, they have a point. There's comprehensibility, there's visual style, there's the sheer enjoyment of watching. Call it a three-by-three matrix; Dune Nine Ways. Can you even imagine how long nine Dunes would be?

I have to start with the book, at least a little; it's the source of the characters and story, so it's the standard. As standards go, though, it's got its flaws. You can't get much more overblown than the story of the universe's long-awaited superbeing and the fate of the known world, unless of course you take frequent psychedelic metaphysical-masturbation breaks. Frank Herbert does so. He also makes extensive use of the colors black and white: the good guys are great, the bad guys are really terrible, this is absolutely the most important and widely-recognized thing going on in the universe but god forbid we should have moral ambiguity.

And yet, somehow, it's a good book. That's largely because it's so full; there's a ton of backstory and politics. There are 30 pages of appendices at the end of the book in case you ever wanted to understand how Kynes first met the Fremen or what the history of religion in the universe was before Muad'Dib came on the scene. I suspect that, much like J.R.R. Tolkein planned out languages and cultures before he wrote the books to use them, Herbert came up with all of the background first and then let the story write itself. It makes for good reading; when details are fleshed out that are relevant, interesting, but not actually necessary to get the gist of the story, it seems more like reading a news clipping than a novel.

All of that fleshing-out suffers in translation, though. As I re-watched the movie I noticed how much of the script was used directly from the book, or rather, excerpted directly from the book without Herbert's exhaustive explanation. "The gom jabbar kills only animals," says the Reverend Mother to Paul, but skips the arrogant Bene Gesserit philosophy of humans and animals that makes the remark make sense. Paul quotes his father in the movie as he does in the book, saying, "He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing," but it's apparently simpler and quicker to say that he destroyed spice production than to explain that he only conspicuously demonstrated the ability but never intended to use it. The miniseries does a better job on that count; a few dramatic lines may be sacrificed, but everything that's left is in its proper context. I suppose it's a luxury that comes with having six hours in which to work.

It's also a luxury that comes with sticking to the story instead of improvising. David Lynch improvises like crazy, with varying degrees of success. The Harkonnen heartplugs are, to my mind, brilliant. They're nowhere in the book, purely a Lynchian invention, but they sum up the Baron effectively: he's appallingly cruel and capricious. You could imagine him ringside at the archetypal Roman spectacle, shouting for more blood. If you had to drive that home in ten seconds of film, I can't think of a neater, more effective way to do it than to have him pull out a servant boy's heartplug just because he's happy. How about the weirding modules? Not, I think, so successful. They make filming fight scenes easier, but turn the weirding way, the ultimate weapon, from an art consisting of immense personal discipline into just another gun that anyone can pick up. They also confuse the source of Paul's power; the weirding way is part of the Bene Gesserit training, but the weirding modules are an Atreides weapon.

That's a problem of the movie overall -- Paul's power is made to look like it comes from his father. Duke Leto is the book's whipping boy; he's kind and well-intentioned and utterly impotent. "For the father," says the Reverend Mother dismissively, "nothing." He is not a controlling power in this story, and even as his fatherhood goes there is as much of Leto's father (arrogant, self-aggrandizing) in Paul as there is of Leto himself. He's not training an army in the weirding way; he doesn't even know it. He's got no business telling Paul how the sleeper must awaken. He doesn't know anything about sleepers. The name Kwisatz Haderach would be gibberish to him. Paul's power, all of it, comes from his mother and Leto never even knew what kind of power she had.

I'm running out of segues, but I'd really like to talk about the desert for a moment. If it's not too much trouble, you know, in a story about a desert planet. The thing about deserts is that they're hot, and dry, and pretty fucking boring and bare. If this description is inspiring you to think of grand, swelling, ominous music and a general preponderance of drama and action, I think you may be insane. Deserts are stifling and miserable and slowly suck the life and energy out of you. You cannot appropriately convey this by making 3/5 of your movie consist of glowing nighttime action sequences with an earth-shakingly loud, grandiose, four-note score by fucking Toto. Put some beige in. Turn the lights up. Turn the music down. It's hot, everyone's exhausted by the million small problems of living in a barren miserable environment, they've got headaches and sand in their teeth and they're thirsty, and they and their ancestors have been waiting hundreds of fucking years to stop living like this.

This is where I have to come to a complete stop and just praise the everloving fuck out of the miniseries. The miniseries paid attention in class, and got an A on the test because it paid attention to the fact that the biggest, longest-running war on Arrakis was the war of attrition between the desert and the Fremen. Behind this Big Story of the Atreides and the Harkonnens and the Spacing Guild and the spice, there is the small story of saving the water from your sweat and learning not to waste moisture crying for your dead. And behind that there is the bigger story of adding up all of those saved drops until you have enough to change an entire world; that's the dream of Liet-Kynes, the dream the Fremen committed to even though they knew it would take hundreds of years to come to fruition. If you don't know that, you don't know the Fremen. And if you don't know the Fremen, you don't know Muad'Dib, and if you don't know Muad'Dib, you don't know the story. So what's the point?

The point could be the characters; that's a good place to go next. I'm going to froth at the mouth a little here; just be warned. There are a few places where the casting and directing of people as characters go to extremes of both excellence and awfulness. Take the Baron. I do so love the Baron. You have to love the Baron! He's corrupt, lascivious, violent, megalomaniacal, and a scheming evil genius. In the movie he's a comic grotesque, a pile of sores, jiggling hairy flesh poking out through his robes, a greasy spitting utter fucking dirtbag. In the miniseries he's fey, superior, smarmy, and talks in rhymes -- just to make sure you realize that he's thinking way ahead of you. They both work gloriously. At least, they both work gloriously by themselves. One of them fails to live up to his relationships with other characters, and I'm sorry to say that means it's time to bag on Lynch again.

You can't talk about the Baron without talking about Feyd-Rautha, his lovely and sadistic nephew, and you can't talk about Feyd-Rautha without talking about extreme unsavoriness. Feyd is the young, still desirable version of the Baron, at 15 (yes, 15 at the start of the story) just growing into his bloodthirsty malice but already cruel and arrogant. The Baron of the book looks on him not only with avuncular fondness but also with unmistakable lechery. âSuch a lovely boy,â he says, âwith such a lovely body.â Eeeeeuch! Did I fail to mention the Baron is a pederast? His bedroom is decorated with statues of naked boys; he buys slave boys so he can drug and fuck them. This means, David Lynch, you have to cast someone as Feyd who it's remotely plausible the Baron might find attractive. Not Sting; it doesn't say anywhere that the Baron likes muscley 30-year-old rock stars. The miniseries gets the gold medal for this one, making Feyd an attractive, graceful, 18ish boy with an infuriating air of sarcastic, superior courtesy. He and the Baron flirt so vaguely and casually that you're already trying to scrub yourself down before you figure out why it was that your skin was crawling. That's exactly as it should be; that's what House Harkonnen is about.

To praise Lynch again for a moment, the movie's Piter de Vries is stupendous. The Mentats are supposed to be human supercomputers, and if you take an intellectually superior human and multiply him by a factor of ten, it stands to reason you'll get someone ten times as irritating as the most irritatingly superior geek you know. He's pedantic and socially ungraceful; he lectures and rolls his eyes at the idiocy of his audience, and, in fact, he's a weasely nerd with terrible hair. The Mentats in the miniseries, de Vries included, are Any Advisor, composed, coherent, and friendly. It hardly gives the impression that there's anything remarkable about them. I can't support it. I have to believe that if you train someone into geniusness from birth you'll wind up with a freak; just look at my high school classmates.

This is more costuming than characters, but I was asked a few weeks ago what I thought of the Spacing Guild agents. This was one of the things I had to re-watch the movie to figure out; I couldn't for the life of me remember what they were like. I've got it straight now: contemptuous industrial-punk-looking dictators in the movie, obsequious chinless monks in the miniseries. They're both all right. You can figure that having that much power makes them used to sneeringly ordering even the Emperor around, or you can figure that having that much power makes them used to being sacrosanct and not having to assert themselves. Me, I slightly prefer the mousy version, if only for the contrast between the massive political power they wield and the watery-eyed passivity with which they wield it. The Lynchian ones are more stylish, though, of course. I don't think much of the navigators themselves, which in both adaptations are distorted creatures that don't look remotely human anymore. The movie version is wattley and grotesque, and folds space by blowing it around through a mouth that looks more like an ass than any other mouth I've ever seen. The miniseries version is fragile and batlike, and points delicately to where it thinks space ought to go. It's all a game of how-the-hell-do-we-show-this, since Frank Herbert never explained how exactly the spice gas mutated them. In the book two Guild agents reveal themselves to be actually navigators, meaning whatever the mutations are, they're not visible. It's an appealing thought, but hard to show visually.

I do have to talk about Paul, I suppose. He's a bit of a problem. As a character in the book, he's unthinkably arrogant, demanding, and generally unlovable. Yes, yes, he's the Messiah, he's the superbeing, he's the salvation of the human race, but you really just want to slap him every time he goes off on one of his prescient visions. As Kyle MacLachlan in the movie, dear god, he's more slappable than the book could even approach. It's not so much because he's self-important, it's because he repeats himself constantly and won't shut up. In the miniseries, he's slappable more along the book's lines; he orders people around and harps on his own greatness. Both get the point across, but only one does it the way the book suggested. Chalk it up to a difference between adaptation and interpretation, I suppose.

That's the bottom line of this review: the book sets up an idea, the movie interprets it, the miniseries shows it as it was written. If you were thrilled with the book, watch the miniseries and find it authentic, plausible, and complete. If you weren't thrilled with the book, watch the movie and find it tweaked, stylized, and heavily edited. And speaking of authentic, for god's sake, I know it was 1984 but people who don't have water to wash their hair do not have perfectly clean, blow-dried curls. Put that in the paragraph about the desert; Note To Costumer: More Grease.

I can never seem to refrain from adding one last thing. The whole book is told through a framework of Princess Irulan's obsession with Muad'Dib. Each chapter starts with an excerpt from one of her books on the subject; there's the Manual of Muad'Dib, the Collected Sayings of Muad'Dib, Muad'Dib: A Child's History, Muad'Dib: Family Commentaries, and a half dozen others I can't remember. It's a nice touch; you could say, âIrulan is obsessed with Muad'Dib,â but it's more subtle to let the reader get 100 pages in before really noticing that she's spent her life writing about him. The movie's nod to that framework and that fixation is to show her as a narrating talking head twice or three times and otherwise ignore her. The miniseries says the hell with the narration, the hell with the excerpts, and instead works her in as a character who happens to be studying Paul with a phenomenal singlemindedness. She even seduces Feyd-Rautha to try to get an explanation of the feud between House Atreides and House Harkonnen, and frankly, anyone who'd touch Feyd-Rautha without three layers of protective armor is really hell-bent. It's one of the few original leaps the miniseries makes and a very nice counterpoint to the book's approach.

Here's my real last word, then, to get back to my original three ways. If you want comprehensibility, read the book, watch the miniseries as a second resort, and throw the movie into a lake. If you want visual style, watch the movie, watch the miniseries second, and feed the book to your dog. If you're just looking for the optimum balance of satisfying and enjoyable, watch the miniseries and fling both movie and book under the wheels of a bus. Take your pick. The comparative study is fun, but when you calculate the hours of my life I've spent on it, between reading, watching, and blogging... well, I think it's high time I look into some new hobbies.

Posted by dianna at 12:52 AM

November 11, 2005

Dancing about architecture

My imminent departure has been announced at work, which leaves fifteen architects scratching their heads and trying to figure out what exactly it is that I'm leaving to do. Anthropology's clear enough, but my attempts to explain that I'm focusing on archaeology seem to have confused the matter.

Last week I asked an architect if I could borrow his X-acto knife for a moment. He held it out. "This one?" "Yeah, I just need it to cut this paper off this box." He withdrew his hand and put the X-acto back on his desk. "It's for architects! Not historians!"

The Southern architect and the shorter project manager both, blessedly, get it. She was talking to me about cliff dwellings and ancient empires yesterday. He found me looking at a heap of papers underneath the plotter and shook his head. "That's too new," he admonished, "you have to dig down further to find the old stuff."

The JCA, or junior Canadian architect, is having some trouble. "Dinosaurs," he guessed yesterday, and I reminded him that archaeology, unlike paleontology, only deals with human timeframes. The Southern architect's mention of petroglyphs got him straightened out, but also steered us back into general anthropology territory. The JCA mentioned the anthropology museum at the University of British Columbia, full of First Nations cultural artifacts. I nodded excitedly -- lord knows I like museums -- and pressed him for more details.

He looked thoughtful. "It's a lot of glass," he said. Glass?, I wondered, trying to formulate an intelligent question about it. "And concrete," he continued, "these big arches. It's really open."

Reasons to escape architecture #572,316: Once they teach you to look at buildings, you can never see anything else.

Posted by dianna at 01:49 PM

November 09, 2005

They say it's easier to go back.

I find myself skeptical.

I got my Tele-Bears appointment times (for those of you not affiliated with UC Berkeley, Tele-Bears is the ridiculously cutesy name of the automated class registration system) yesterday; my Phase I appointment was on October 24. The fact that I wasn't officially, or even unofficially, readmitted until a week later should apparently not have deterred me from signing up for classes. Phase II, also known as "well, the people with early appointment times roasted you on a stick in Phase I, so see who you can still screw out of what's left" begins on November 14, so I'm scrambling to sign up for whatever I can get before then.

Whatever I can get needs to include a Methods course, an American Cultures course, an International Studies course, a Social/Cultural core course, and two additional upper-division anthropology electives. That's the list for the next two semesters, anyway. A reasonably responsible approach requires taking two or three of those things this semester.

What I actually find myself with is another matter entirely. At the present time, the only class for which I am successfully registered is a lower-division LGBT Studies class on alternative sexual identities and communities in contemporary American society. That's my American Cultures class, because Anthro isn't offering anything for American Cultures this semester. I'm waitlisted for a class on European society, which could be my Social/Cultural core and my International Studies class combined, if only I could get off of the waitlist and into one of the 45 officially open seats. You see, my category for this course is full. What category is that? Why, undergraduate students and declared anthropology majors, of course. It's a classic Berkeley bureaucracy problem: I need the class because I am an undergraduate anthropology major, but I cannot sign up to take one of the seats which have been set aside to make sure that undergraduate anthropology majors can take the class, because Office X didn't mention to Office Y that I am an undergraduate anthropology major. Yet. By the time Phase I is over I'm sure the message will have been delivered.

It goes on. I tried next to sign up for Anthro 128M, Oral History, Oral Traditions, and Archaeology, thinking that it would make a nice Methods class. Upon clicking "submit", I learned that I cannot sign up for that class because I do not meet the department's criteria for it. Which criteria? According to the catalog and the enrollment information page, there are no enrollment restrictions on that class. Perhaps I am too tall, or I didn't click "please", or my left big toe is too large relative to the toe next to it. Students wishing to take 128M for credit should not have the letters Y, J, or C in their middle names.

For all that I gripe, I feel certain that this red tape is merely an indicator that I am inexorably approaching studentdom. It's a strategy I got from a demon-infested maze in a Piers Anthony book: if someone is trying to eat your head, you're going in the right direction. Perhaps this is why Berkeley has such a reputation for permissive attitudes; if every direction you try leads to someone trying to eat your head, does that not mean that all of them are right?

Posted by dianna at 11:08 PM

November 08, 2005

A stranger with your dorky

That was supposed to be my brilliant title for the previous entry, but I forgot it just when I went to post. Katie and Chester, please feel free to continue damning me.

I got an email last night reminding me to check my Tele-Bears appointment times online, which means that I really am a legitimate Berkeley student once again. I'm actually looking forward to making massively complicated charts of class schedules and breadth categories and final exam groups that I can pore over to figure out which classes to sign up for. Massively complicated charts are a particular specialty of mine; for a final paper in my Southwestern archaeology class, I made a chart so complicated it needed to be written over 35 notecards and strung together with a matrix of tape across the front of my bookshelf. You had better believe there's more where that came from.

Other, dorky, things I'm looking forward to include carrying stacks of books around the library; I've never quite gotten over the thrill of showing everyone that I'm an actual college student doing actual research. Being able to wear t-shirts with dumb things on them, instead of being respectably bland between the hours of 8 and 5? I'm looking forward to that too. I have silk-screening supplies and I'm really not afraid to use them to make myself appear foolish.

Consider, for instance, the dingir sign. The dingir sign is a cuneiform symbol that was used in, I believe, ancient Sumer (I need to consult my class notes here) to indicate "that which comes next is hereby designated as divine". It's basically an HTML tag, like saying [god] and [/god]. Putting it on a t-shirt would be ridiculously self-aggrandizing, an ancient history equivalent of those ThinkGeek shirts with cutting insults in binary. I'm planning to do it.

The secret real reason why I need to be back in school is so that I'm too busy to put things like this into practice.

Posted by dianna at 10:55 AM

November 06, 2005

I suppose that is out of context.

I've recently gotten my hands on the excellent album "Give Up" by The Postal Service. It's been shuttling back and forth between my discman, my stereo, and my laptop for several days now, by which I mean that I like it quite a bit.

One thing keeps bugging me, though. There's a line in the first song, The District Sleeps Alone Tonight, that says, "It seems so out of context/ in this gaudy apartment complex."

I can't hear it without thinking of this Gaudí apartment complex. I've been told that it doesn't fit in with its surroundings very well, but I still can't figure out what that has to do with the rest of the song.

Posted by dianna at 05:45 PM

November 05, 2005

Upper and lower monkeys.

I took a class on primates a couple of years ago. It was on primate sexuality, actually, but stop snickering. The thing I most frequently remember from it is the idea of displacement as a way of determining the social hierarchy of a group of animals. Animal rank is more a matter of submission than of dominance, when you get right down to it; once rank is established, the animals at the top don't often have to exert themselves to prove it, because lower-ranking animals will give way to higher without a fight. It's just easier to acknowledge that you're outmatched than to constantly need to have it proved, particularly if you're the one who'd be getting the crap beaten out of you in the proving.

So you watch when two animals find themselves in competition for something -- a desirable place to sit, a piece of food, whatever -- and wait for one of them to defer. If animal A is enjoying sitting on excellent rock X when animal B walks by, but gets up and moves and lets animal B have the rock, animal B is the higher ranking one. Pretty simple, really. I've started noticing my own deferring behavior, which turns out to be incredibly embarrassing; I move aside for squirrels and cross the street to avoid eight-year-old humans.

And I regret to say, when Gato fucking Malo comes back in my yard, chasing Bella once again, and they come yowling out of the side yard and under the porch in a 75%-white-25%-black fur tornado, I do not charge under the porch with fists and feet flying to assert my controlling interest in that cat. I duck into the house to get a big stick and put some proper pants on*, and then I stand on the safety of my porch waving my big stick threateningly over the porch railing in the hopes that Gato Malo will be suitably intimidated without me needing to come in contact range with him again. Ultimately, this means I wait tremblingly for him to decide to leave, and then go and collect my cat when she comes out from her hiding place in the crawlspace.

Even at nearly ten times my opponent's size, armed with a big stick and armored in pants and shoes, I'm the lower monkey around here.

*Pants note: I do not mean I was standing on my porch indecently clothed, I mean I was wearing a skirt which would have been even less protective than the pajamas I was wearing the last time I got into it with that bastard.

Posted by dianna at 11:47 AM