Gravity's Rainbow

botany, shoes, books, and justice

March 28, 2020
by sarcozona

How the expectation of relief changes pain

Pain is a complex experience

…I enjoy the waiting. Once I have decided that today is going to be a tramadol day, and I’ve given myself a deadline before which I absolutely will not cave in and take it, my experience of pain is transformed. Rather than grinding and hopeless, it feels charged, electric. The difficulty I have standing up (or sitting down) begins to feel noble. The constant, miserable, and exhausting stretching I do to relieve pain and stiffness in my joints acquires a warm-up quality.

I am already removed one degree from my own experience and it is a little more observable, a little more interesting.

From Carlyn Zwarenstein’s Opium Eater: The New Confessions.

February 19, 2020
by sarcozona

You know you want this

I am very much looking forward to reading You Know You Want This after reading this interview with the author.

at 36, I have a handle on power dynamics and gender and all of this stuff. And it just seemed to me that at 20 – which is an adult, officially, at which age it is acceptable to go on a date with someone in their mid-30s – how could you possibly engage? It seems to me, now, so young.” One of the reasons Roupenian wanted to write the story was to explore how hard it is to delineate what is going on when attraction and repulsion combine, and when – as one tends to at 20 – one is lying to oneself about being in control. In such a case, she says, “the complications of it are more subtle than just, ‘Here’s this jerk who’s hitting on me.’”

Certainly when she was in her teens, she says, she would have benefited from the conversation around feminism being more nuanced than “everybody shouting ‘Girl power’ and ‘Girls can do anything!’ Which was great, but also, a lie.”

One of the questions Roupenian asks repeatedly in her fiction is to what extent one can ever clearly see the person to whom one is attracted. It’s a tendency among women to interpret their partners in a way that, Roupenian realised recently, is deeply gendered and completely unhelpful. “Often in relationships between men and women, there is this weird pact that it’s the women’s job to interpret their relationship for the men. That they have a right to say, ‘The problem with you is that you’re afraid of commitment, and if only you would show up at my house at an approximately reasonable time then we would be fine.’ And that is bullshit: that the men are ready to outsource their own understanding of themselves to the women, and that the women will do that job so the men will do what they want. And yet it’s a sort of agreed-upon game.”

Does she really believe no one has power over anyone else? “Emotionally, I do believe that’s true. But I think it requires a lifetime of learning to recognise the patterns.” For Roupenian, it has been a case of recognising a tendency to overestimate the extent to which “someone else has control over my happiness and ability to move in the world”, and, by extension, her control over others: “That if you’re unhappy it’s my fault, and my job to fix it. I do have a responsibility to make other people happy – you have to be a good person. But that is contradicted by the thing I have felt increasingly as I get older, which is that I do not have the power to make you happy; my ability to fix you is so limited; and my desire to fix you is complicated. For me, the process of getting older and seeing things more truly has been realising how little power we have over each other.”

feeling like loving someone meant trying to save them. For a long time I thought that was a critical part of loving someone, in a way that I do think codes female. It seems deeply embedded in ideas of what it means to be a good woman. Of helping people fix themselves; changing them a little, seeing the subtle violence and reaching for control.”

February 16, 2020
by sarcozona

Don’t touch the art

Alberto Giacometti's "Man Walking" Sculpture. Thin and elongated figure with a rough surface leaning forward with one foot in front of the other in a walking posture

Alberto Giacometti – Man Walking

I went to the local art gallery while they had a big Alberto Giacometti exhibit. Giacometti was a sculptor and his figures are very elongated and textured. The proportions are alien, but expressive. I wanted to touch them so badly, but, of course, that wasn’t allowed.

So much art seems made to be touched, especially sculpture and fiber art, but once it’s in a museum that’s not allowed. It’s frustrating. It feels like going to a restaurant that only lets you smell and look at the food, but not taste it.

I also visited a Vikky Alexander exhibition. She has a very good series of photographs of shop fronts and malls with all their reflective and transparent surfaces. I found it very upsetting – this kind of design is confusing and overwhelming and empty. I find myself confused and upset in many modern spaces, especially those devoted to selling shit. This exhibit helped me understand some of how that happens.

February 9, 2020
by sarcozona

Nationalize the Irvings

The Irvings are a Canadian family who own the Atlantic provinces. That’s not hyperbole – they’re in the top 5 North American property owners – and they own much of the resource extraction and development, transportation, and English-language media in the Atlantic provinces – especially in New Brunswick.

The Irving empire was founded more than 100 years ago. Kenneth Colin (KC) Irving, born in 1899, took advantage of a decline in traditional colonial businesses in Canada’s Eastern Provinces in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to move into oil, gaining control of its distribution like a smaller-scale John D Rockefeller. He then moved into timber, steel and mass-market retail, proving to be a merciless negotiator and skilful wielder of political influence. Today his three sons follow the same approach. As the biggest employer in the Eastern Provinces and the driving force behind industrial activity, the Irvings have made serfs of the local population. No antitrust legislation can contain their appetites.

And they don’t just own everything that can be nailed down, they’ve effectively bought culture and politics in the region as well.

Their philanthropic pretensions fail to mask their interference in public affairs, both at federal level and in New Brunswick and the other Atlantic provinces, where they act like a second government. Few sports complexes, museums or university research centres (energy, forestry, sustainable development) are not Irving-sponsored.

And they’ve basically been handed the incredible forests of the entire region – and they don’t do a good job with them.

New Brunswick has also entrusted the Irvings, directly or indirectly, with managing its huge public forests, while constantly downgrading its requirements. The latest ‘Forest Management Manual for New Brunswick Crown Lands’ reduces the size of buffer zones between forests and habitable areas, authorises more clear-cutting, increases scheduled production volume and cuts protected areas from 31% to 22%. The legislation has effectively created a free trade zone for the family: the natural resources department requirements cannot be modified without their agreement.

Anyone who acts counter to the Irvings interests can end up losing their careers – including scientists and and civil servants.

The 2015 dismissal of Eilish Cleary, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, caused a sensation: she was investigating the use of glyphosate by Irving forestry companies. Rod Cumberland, a biologist formerly employed by New Brunswick’s natural resources department, and Tom Beckley, a professor of forestry at the University of New Brunswick, came under pressure when analysing the impact of this weedkiller on local fauna and the lack of transparency in the provincial government’s management of forests.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, they also avoid taxes and get the laws changed so there’s less of them to pay.

The Atlantic provinces are poor and their services, though subsidized federally, are also often poor. The Irvings exploit these provinces, especially New Brunswick, and have so captured the political apparatus that it’s very difficult to create change internally.

The federal government needs to get serious about taxing wealth. Nobody should be able to gain this much power in a democracy. We need to break up or nationalize monopolies. We need to tax the fuck out of high incomes, estates, and rent-seeking. The Irvings aren’t good for anybody but the Irvings. Let’s break them up and tax them fairly and so they can be contributing members of society instead of parasites.


December 9, 2019
by sarcozona

Desks for short people

I am 5’3″ (160cm) and I was beginning to think that finding a desk the right height for me was impossible.

I’m just half an inch shy of the median height of women in North America. You’d think this would be easy.

But the industry standard for desk height – 29 inches – is bonkers. Median height for women is a little over 5’3″ and for men, a little over 5’9″. The “standard” desk height is too tall for nearly all women and ~85% of men.

Bizarrely, it’s easy to find desks an inch or two taller and nearly impossible to find one shorter. This is fine if you’re 6+ foot tall, less so when you’re 9 inches shorter.

A lot of ergonomic desk stuff is designed to help adapt people who aren’t 6 feet tall to desks designed for people are are. But it’s a kludge and works best for folks who are a little taller or shorter than 6′ (like most men) and works very badly for people who are quite far from 6 foot – like the majority of women (especially Hispanic and Asian women).

Many people use adjustable height desks or workbenches, many intended for standing, to get the right height for them. But almost no adjustable desks go down low enough – many bottom out at 29″ high. After a full day of searching adjustable height desks and workbenches, I’d found just two options –

  •  Uplift’s V2 with the commercial frame, which will set you back at least $1800 CAD (with shipping and duties and taxes – but is “only” around $700-900 in the US) and
  • the ‘Nomic station, which is beautiful and highly customizable and better priced – but still close to $1000 CAD with shipping, duties, and taxes (again, much cheaper in the US!)

I liked the ‘Nomic station a lot – it’s unique and clever and I think quite lovely. I also like their bare bones website and and found emailing with the company to be a very pleasant experience. If I get a fancy job, I’ll probably get one. But right now I’m a grad student and I’m trying to be thrifty.

So I started looking at children’s desks. Most of these are tiny plastic pieces of junk and, horrifyingly, many were still too high. But the options were actually better.

One option that I think would work for a lot of people are the adjustable height tables sold as “activity tables.” They’re most often found in classrooms and are very sturdy. They usually sell for around $200-$400 – and because they’re for children, they often come in some exciting colours.

But what I ended up going with was the Ikea Påhl desk. The Påhl has 3 heights ~23″, 26″,  & ~28″. The lowest height works best for me, but you can adjust it in further fine grained increments with furniture risers (or by drilling more holes through the metal legs?).

Ikea Pahl

Ikea Pahl

The desk comes in 2 lengths: 37inches and 50inches. The legs come in all white, but also a cheerful green or pink. And best of all it’s dirt cheap – just $80 CAD.

It felt so bizarre and wonderful to sit at a desk that is the correct height in a chair that fits too. I hadn’t realized how much having to use a footstool or stack of books affected me – it’s so much more stable to have my feet on the ground and I can shift and move around so much more!

It also feels amazing to actually just put my keyboard on the desktop instead of using a keyboard tray. I do like a slightly higher surface for writing by hand, so I stick a big textbook down as a writing surface when I need it.

It’s not quite as nice as the fancy adjustable height desks – I can’t change the height at the push of a button or by turning a handle. It would be nice to be able to do that for specific tasks and to get the height right to the exact millimeter. Or even to be able to shift to working while standing sometimes.

I also wish it was a little big longer – 60 inches instead of 50. But if I really want the desk to be that long I can get a desktop that long and just screw the legs into it. And I may end up doing that eventually because I can’t see the surface of this desk lasting that long. One of the corners was dented and one was cracked when we bought it (New! But we were too lazy to take it back.) The coating isn’t sprayed on evenly either and it’s rather light feeling. But it’s the right height and it holds my stuff up and it didn’t cost a fortune and I am so happy to have a desk that fits.

But I’m furious that I had to buy a children’s desk as an adult with a completely normal height. I’m furious that going to work instead of working from home causes me incredible pain because everything is designed for a tall man. I’m furious that when I asked for a keyboard tray at work, I was told that grad students didn’t get funding for ergonomics. I’m furious that almost all women and many men with desk jobs have to use shitty equipment that doesn’t fit their bodies and injures them.


October 5, 2019
by sarcozona

Changing our eating habits is so fraught because eating is about far more than food.

Ancient humans must have decided, once their bellies were full, that there was more to life than mere survival and staring mortality in the face. They went on to build things in which they could find distraction, comfort, recreation, and meaning. They built cultures in which death became another rite of passage, not the end of everything. They made structures to live in, wrote songs to sing to each other, and added spices to their food, which they cooked in different styles. Humans are supported by a self-created system of meanings, symbols, rituals, and etiquette. Food and eating are part of this.

The act of ingestion is embroidered with so much cultural meaning that, for most people, its roots in spare, brutal survival are entirely hidden. Even for people in extreme poverty, for whom survival is a more immediate concern, the cultural meanings of food remain critical. Wealthy or poor, we eat to celebrate, we eat to mourn, we eat because it’s mealtime, we eat as a way to bond with others, we eat for entertainment and pleasure. It is not a coincidence that the survival function of food is buried beneath all of this—who wants to think about staving off death each time they tuck into a bowl of cereal? Forgetting about death is the entire point of food culture.

via Diet Culture Exists to Fight Off the Fear of Death – The Atlantic