Itemizing my goodbye list to LA

My plans took a bit of an unexpected turn, and I'm leaving LA in a month. Strange. Yet, I feel like the work I've been doing is hitting a wall, and after 7 months there, it's not unreasonable to admit that things have not developed their own momentum. 2 months in Morocco, though difficult, were definitely more productive, and more self-sustaining, than the work in LA. It'll be interesting to see whether fieldwork in SF will be better, if I will be able to gain the traction that I have experienced in the past with various research projects. I can't tell if this is a U.S. phenomenon, or if this is an LA phenomenon, or what it is that feels sticky and undynamic.

Apparently in an act of desperation, LA is planning on recycling sewage water. I have found the water in LA already heavily chlorinated, unpleasant smelling and makes my skin dry and itchy, so I can't even imagine recycled water. Clearly they have to do something, as I see all sorts of water waste all the time in LA, and that can't be good.

As you can see -- my posts of late have been uninspired, for though my life is going great, work has plateaued.


Something clever in The New York Times

I missed this column when it was first printed, a couple of weeks ago, but it's an excellent and witty criticism of those who argue Obama has only gotten where he is because he's black. Colson Whitehead writes about his experiences as "The Guy Who’s Where He Is Only Because He’s Black" in an extremely humorous way. Little of what he says is radical, but it's a good satire. For all my reservations about the ways in which the two Democratic candidates have been portrayed in the media, I find the rant against Obama's success as being a "benefit" of his race is a pretty excrecable and flimsy position. I suspect that my attempts to explain why I still think Clinton's media and public treatment as misogynist has occasionally sounded as though I object to Obama on some less savory grounds. But I do think we, as Americans, treat race and gender radically differently, and that sexism can be hard to pinpoint.



Posting while I'm grouchy is perhaps not the wisest idea (they have been drilling the concrete outside my apartment since 8:30am, starting week 2 of apartment complex destruction/construction), but I think it adds a nice curmudgeonly flavor to my blog, don't you think?

Malcom Gladwell covered an intellectual "venture" group in last week's issue of the New Yorker, which re-imagines the role of the venture capital firm -- called, uninspiringly, Intellectual Ventures. (I'd post a link, but since I'm about to rail against them, why increase their web traffic?) I haven't finished the Gladwell article yet (I am reading it at a glacial pace) because it irritates me so greatly.

The gist is that many of the major innovations occur to more than one person around the same time, and there's a firm that tries to tap into the wealth of multiple intelligent people hypothesizing together. Unsurprisingly enough, all the members of this group are men. How very "innovative". It seems that if you actually want to think about how to do things differently or address long-standing problems in a field, having diversity of men and women would be useful. One of the recent podcasts I listened to of my favorite CBC podcast interviewed Ruth Hubbard about her work as a biologist and her application of feminist interpretations to biology. She talks about re-visiting The Origin of Species and thinking about how evolutionary biology anthropomorphizes the animal world and genders and westernizes it (she gives the example of using the term "kingdom" as a basic example). Clearly diversity in thought can come from all sorts of people, genders, race, etc, but it angers me that this organization exists without really including women. On their "staff inventors" they have one woman among 25 people, and there are no women on their "managing directors" board.

Ick. I hope they fail.


Two things, on fieldwork and also on the magic of PR

I will preface this post with the caveat that I'm exhausted and probably feeling unreasonably sensitive, but I came home to receive an email from one of the first non-profit groups I tried to work with when I moved to LA that was incredibly passive aggressive. Everytime I would email to follow up on a project they would not respond. Then they'd email me weeks later and ask where I was. Today I got an email saying they were "sad" that we were never able to "get going" and have me help them out. They mention they had a lot of work for me to do, but every time I would try to organize a time to meet with them or try to follow up, the guy who runs it, would fail to reply to my emails.

Because I've also had problems with the minority women's health organization, I feel that I really need to understand what it was that I did wrong -- as my default interpretation is that I failed somehow. I think some of the issues were with the medium of email -- all contact existed in the ether and there were no "sites" where I could go to do anything. Even with the minority women's health organization, their limited staff made it hard to gain access to the work space because it always had to be highly coordinated to let me in.

I went back and looked at the emails I'd tagged with their label, and in many of them, I propose a date or a set of possible times, and I never hear back from them. I offer to help with a proposal they wanted to work on, and they didn't reply. There's lots of evidence, it seems to me, that suggest I have tried repeatedly to be available and initiate projects, but there are no replies to these attempts. I sound whiny -- I know. I'm just baffled at the forms of miscommunication, especially since I seem to be the constant in both these circumstances. But I fear making that analysis makes me terribly self-centered. Fieldwork is not about me, but as a good friend recently pointed out, Margaret Mead and her posse believed one had to have gone through many years of therapy to be an anthropologist. On the upside, I've had that....

I write sometimes about the strange digital and technological integrations into popular knowledge and access to information. The other day, before I left town, I got an email from the PR person at the exhibit I mention last post (see below). It was incredibly unnerving to get an email the day after I posted it, though obviously she has an alert set for any references to their exhibit. She informed me that the inventor of the preservation medium used in the exhibit will be speaking in early June. I'm hoping to drag my neighbor/running partner/sole tolerator in LA along for moral support. She seems to be pretty game for any sort of weird anthropological adventure that involves bodies or autism or medical freakshows.

I do feel mildly guilty for disparaging the curation. I thought about it this weekend, and it is in a child's museum...it's not like they've mounted it at the Met. Still, I think of two museums in Philadelphia for kids, the Please Touch Museum and the Benjamin Franklin Science Museum, and they both felt far more accessible and kid-friendly (at least in my very hazy distant memory). I found it unnerving that the museum in LA had a McDonald's inside it, yet the exhibit had a portion devoted to the effects of obesity and why it can kill you. Was no one thinking about the contradictory messages they were sending? There were a lot of cases displaying the hazardous effects of cigarette smoking, and it would not have surprised me if the museum also had a Philip Morris wing, or some such thing.

For the few who read this -- forgive the incoherence. Will come back and edit it soon.