10 good things, 2nd week of February 2020

1. I just discovered that Jens Lekman and Annika Norlin released an album last year called Correspondence, and I listened to it last week on the way to work, and it’s all so quietly powerful in its seeming mundanity. I think my favorite song is “Forever Young, Forever Beautiful,” which has some classic Jens lyrics:

You should have seen him in his summer clothes 
The short pants that gently exposed
His calves that spoke of hidden treasures
Golden ratios, unknown pleasures

2. I consolidated books and glassware so that I could empty, dismantle, and store one of my IKEA bookshelves, creating some space that I could fill with a little dining table. Now I can eat meals at a table, not on the sofa or at my desk. The first meal was steak, asparagus, and polenta on Valentine’s Day.

3. The next day, I accompanied my Valentine to Cal Arts to hear a Master’s student there play Derek’s composition “Savino,” a piece for solo marimba and tape, that latter of which is the recording of New York State Senator Diane J. Savino’s speech in support of marriage equality given on December 2, 2009. Like the speech, Derek’s composition is beautiful, but in a very different way as it intricately punctuated Savino’s humor, wisdom, and love. I don’t have video of the Cal Arts student’s performance, but here’s the percussionist who commissioned the composition Brandon Ilaw.

4. I made a chocolate soufflé on Saturday night, and I think it came out perfectly. I’ve made chocolate souffles before, but for some reason, this was the richest, fluffiest, and it didn’t collapse. I’m not exactly sure what I did right-er this time, but I think one thing was not over stirring the batter, which tends to screw up the egg whites. The recipe is Bittersweet Chocolate Soufflé by Melissa Clark from The New York Times

I made a soufflé!

5. This article in The New Yorker: Was Jeanne Calment the Oldest Person Who Ever Lived—or a Fraud? I love a good high-nerd yarn, and this one is full of lies and skepticism and competing methodologies and a crotchety old French lady.

6. I wish I could have photographed the facial expression of the flummoxed woman in my AIDS Fundamentals class when I mentioned that Iowa once sentenced an HIV-positive man to 25 years in jail for not telling his sexual partner his status — even though he wore a condom and had an undetectable viral load. I thought her head was going to explode she was so appalled. He was eventually exonerated and the law was changed, but it’s still hard to believe it happened in this century.

7. I can’t stop listening to the audiobooks for Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson series – an urban fantasy with werewolves, vampires, fae, and so on set in Washington’s Tri-Cities. There are definitely some things I could do without, like the weirdly stereotyped gay divorce lawyer Kyle and the narrator’s camp voice for him, but my commute hasn’t sucked for a couple weeks because I’m entertained enough.

8. These shoes I got 60% off at the Reebok outlet at the Citadel. Derek called the color “electric salmon.”

Reebok Nano 2s in "electric salmon"

9. I’ll be moderating a panel titled “Navigating Stigma and Addressing Peer Aggression, Harassment, Discrimination, and Exclusion for Queer- and Trans-Spectrum Students and Faculty” at the annual meeting of the Association of School and Programs in Public Health next month.

10. I stumbled onto the pilot of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist on Hulu; Zoey suddenly hears people’s inner monologues, but only as popular songs, and usually accompanied by dance routines. There’s a lot of stuff that I’m going to automatically love about it, in particular Jane Levy, Skyler Astin, Alex Newell, and lots of singing and dancing. But, omg, Peter Gallagher playing Zoey’s father, who is suffering from a degenerative neurological disease that has left him unable to speak, gets to do heartbreaking stuff like this.

“Campus Rape Hysteria”

I came across this sign on the way to one of my lectures this past week. It irritated me, and I took this picture to show a friend later. But then one of my students came up to me after class and told me how she was being sexually harassed by another student in a particularly vulgar way. And I got angry. As anyone who is paying attention knows, Trump’s rise and election has emboldened the people who had previously been quiet about their misogyny, racism, and jingoism. While I can’t directly blame Trump for my student harasser or for this event, I can state without much doubt that discourse about sexual harassment and sexual assault has devolved over the last year. And if we don’t call it out, it will get worse. Here’s me calling it out. I’ve annotated the sign to point out all of its problems, obvious and not.
[image_mapper id=”2″]

Academic rigor, journalistic ethics, and “partisan hackery”

[UPDATE: I’ve made a lot of changes below. Most are typos. Some are in response to critics of my own integrity. I’ve tried to deal with all of them . Let me know if there are other errors or changes that need to be made.]

It’s been a while since I allowed myself to get righteously indignant enough about someone wrong on the Internet to write a 708-word Facebook comment, and that was just the longest one. And now a whole blog post! But Naomi Schaefer Riley, who is a blogger for The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s website, wrote two blog posts — “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations” and its follow-up “Black Studies, Part 2: A Response to Critics — that are, yes, such egregious displays of arrogance and incompetence that they deserve a good screed in response. However, more importantly (and more professionally, since this new blog is meant to be less screedy than the old one), they can serve as a teaching moment. Continue…

Bad Teacher wasn’t so bad

Bad Teacher was exactly what I thought it would be. Filthy and funny and not too good. My review got cut weirdly, so here’s the uncut version. (The LGBT Weekly version is here.)

Bad Teacher
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg
Starring Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, Justin Timberlake, and Jason Segal
Very Rated R
At your local multiplex

I had one wildly incompetent social studies teacher, a woman who didn’t feel the need to put any effort into her work beyond what was necessary not to get fired. I had a math teacher who got high at lunch every day and then sprayed her room with strawberry air freshener to mask the smell. And I had a professor whose excuses for not returning papers became more preposterous as the papers got later and later. But Elizabeth Halsey, who Cameron Diaz plays in Bad Teacher, is not just lazy, dishonest, and prone to being inebriated at work. She’s also a thief, a tease, and a bully, and she has the mouth of a particularly dirty sailor. She’s also stop-dead-in-your-tracks-to-look hot.

Diaz is stunning, as beautiful and sexy as she is aware of how to use her looks. One of the reasons that is Diaz is inarguably one of the great comedic actresses of her generation is that she uses her beauty, and her body, as either a distraction, a prop, or a foil. When Elizabeth walks down the hallway of John Adams Middle School in heels and a mini skirt, she’s tartly elegant, just exaggerated and inappropriate to get a few giggles. But when she puts on a movie for her students, and then wraps herself in her coat and curls into an awkward, misshapen ball on her chair, her willingness to look ridiculous, even ugly, pulls out the audience’s laughter.

Unfortunately, Diaz’s almost effortless comic skill is not matched by the film surrounding it. Elizabeth is only teaching, or “teaching,” as way to pay the bills while she tries to score a rich husband. She thinks that she needs a breast enlargement to do this, and to raise the $10,000 she needs, she does increasingly bad things. One potential husband is a new substitute, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), who is also pursued by Elizabeth’s absurdly perky nemesis Amy Squirrel (the hilarious, slightly insane Lucy Punch). Meanwhile, the gym teacher Russell Gattis (Jason Segal), is pursuing Elizabeth, who responds to his invitation to a date with, “Are you still a gym teacher? Then no.”

While the screenplay, by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, crackles with pointed, often filthy one-liners and tart, loony exchanges (particularly between Lucy and Elizabeth), director Jake Kasdan doesn’t seem to have much control of the actors’ timing. So, too often the scenes fall flat, especially when the actors aren’t as experienced or instinctual as Diaz or Segal. As adorable as Justin Timberlake is, and as lucky as he was to have been in last year’s best film, The Social Network, he’s not much of an actor, and in his scenes with his ex Cameron Diaz, he was out-classed and out-acted. A few times, he was used as a sight-gag; when he dances badly and sings badly, the audience’s laughs are based on its previous knowledge of his better work, not about the character he’s supposed to be playing.

That said, I laughed out loud several times while watching Bad Teacher, even during some of Timberlake’s scenes. The younger men in the audience when I saw the movie were particularly enamored with the movie, especially when the issue of breasts was first and foremost. While Bad Teacher is a female-driven comedy, unlike Bridesmaids, it is not a depiction of a remotely realistic female; Elizabeth is a male fantasy, a hot and dirty, bawdy and easy cartoon. She’s a like a Will Farrell character in the body of Victoria’s Secret model. Which is a pretty funny thing.