Announcing a Book Giveaway

Happy Independent Bookstore Day, fellow readers!

I’ve decided to share my love of reading with a free drawing for two books.

Enter by May 15 for a chance to win one of these books:


Now through May 15, you can enter this drawing one of two ways (bonus bovine points if you do both):

  1. Subscribe to my newsletter
  2. Submit a question to Why Can’t I Eat My Dog?

The two winners will be announced in the next edition of my Serious Rachel newsletter, which goes out toward the end of each month. I’ll be in touch with the individual winners via email to discuss delivery details.

Good luck, and happy reading!

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April 30, 2016 · 9:30 AM

Poetic Interlude: Through Train Car Windows

An imperfect mirror
At 80 degree angles
Rounding underground curves


Filed under Wordplay

De-skilling the American Workforce: Saturday Night at Shakey’s Pizza

This happened about a year ago.

One evening, my partner and I were craving the flavors of our youth more intensely than usual, so we set out to find a Shakey’s Pizza*. MoJo Potatoes on our minds, we entered the restaurant about 8pm. A tad later than our usual suppertime, but we weren’t the only ones with similar plans or eating schedules.

A familiar, mostly jubilant, racket burst forth from the entertainment corner, where kids were trying to best the ski-ball game, exchanging real currency for fake in the hopes of amassing enough to purchase the latest in disposable doodads. A few small groups of adults sat eating and chatting. The smells were wonderful, the floors predictably sticky. We made our decision and approached the counter.

There were three, maybe four people working the closing shift that night. One of them was busy cooking, and another rushed over from minding the soda station to take our order before dashing off to attend to another of their many duties.

We settled at a table and waited for our order, talking mostly of how many MOJOs we thought we could eat. A little while into our wait, an employee came to inform us that they had run out of dough to make the large pizza we had ordered. Apparently, Shakey’s restaurants receive shipments of pre-cut dough, an allotted number for each pizza size. Unable to make more dough of the appropriate size, the employee offered to make us two medium pizzas instead. A generous offer (and a little too much pizza, but we aren’t ones to refuse the prospect of leftovers). In due time, the employee returned with two steaming pies and we dug in. Only on our way home did I begin thinking about what had led to our one pizza transmogrifying into two.

In telling us why there were no more large pizzas, the employee had revealed the company’s business model, which seems to place more faith in market research than in the overworked people left minding the store. Instead of providing restaurants with lump sums (heh) of dough or, here’s a thought, the ingredients to make dough, Shakey’s thinks it best to rely on predictions of how many pizzas of each size will be sold and provide pre-cut dough produced off-site. Had they more faith in their workforce, they might trust their employees to cut (or even make) the dough themselves. There would be no running out of sizes, just running out of dough.

But no. Shakey’s denies their employees the agency needed to improvise. By providing pre-portioned ingredients, the company removes the need for its restaurant employees to have or develop culinary skills. I wonder how easily the person in charge of cooking that night would be able to do so in a different pizza establishment. Are all chain pizza places so proprietary in their ingredients & processes that the people assigned to carry out the warming of the food have knowledge specific to that particular pizza place? Inquiring minds want to know…also I’d like the recipe for MOJO Potatoes, please.

Personal anecdote alert: I worked at Starbucks for a while, and I can’t operate an actual espresso machine because we pushed a button to “pull” shots. The transferable skills I learned there had more to do with customer service and pastry arrangement than making lattes (okay, I can also steam milk pretty well).

I know many of you must have similar experiences–of skills so specific to certain companies that making a horizontal career move means at least feeling as though we’re starting at the bottom again. With so many corporate chains employing so many people, I wonder if it’s becoming more difficult to transition from one service job to another because of the specialized knowledge we learn in order to succeed at each company.

What do you think?


*Yes, some of them still exist!


Filed under Contemporary, Power

Introducing “Why Can’t I Eat My Dog?”

Culturally curious?

Ask an anthropologist!

WCIEMD power puff

Pose your most indignant questions about arbitrary taboos and other confusing social phenomena to:

Why Can’t I Eat My Dog?
an advice column for the culturally curious

Answers to your questions may be featured in my monthly Serious Rachel newsletter, and on this very blog whenever I feel like it.

Thanks for writing in!


Filed under Animals, Check This Out!, Meta

Forcible Consent: (in)Humanity & Submission on Star Trek

About a month ago, I sat through a season four episode of Star Trek: Voyager that left me feeling deeply uncomfortable. No, not the one where B’Elanna succumbs to oxygen deprivation and declares her misguided love for Paris. As troubling as that installment was, it was an arc in the first few episodes of season four, culminating in “The Gift,” that had my jaw on the floor.

A brief background on the episode before we wade into the (un)ethical subspace of the Delta Quadrant:

After striking a tenuous alliance with the Borg to defeat a common enemy, our wayward crew finds itself playing host to Seven of Nine, a member of the Borg whose connection to the Collective has been severed for the standard techno-magical reasons. A few other Borg henchmen are unceremoniously dispatched from Voyager after they betray the crew’s trust, leaving Seven of Nine to advocate for itself. (It should be noted here that the Voyager crew think of Seven of Nine as female, although at this point the Borg probably considers such gendered designations Irrelevant.) The crew digs into their effective captive’s history, discovering that Seven of Nine was once a little girl who was abducted and assimilated by the Borg. At that point, Captain Janeway makes it her mission to bring Seven of Nine back into humanity’s fold.

7 of 9 borg

Seven of Nine, badass Borg

This is not the first time Janeway’s leadership has made me uncomfortable. I’m not sure I’d follow her home, especially if the option of joining Holo(hottie)-Chakotay in his coup were to worm its way out of its interactive fictional exercise and into reality. The point is, Seven of Nine wants to return to the Collective, or, barring that, be dropped onto the nearest hospitable world. Both of these requests are denied, as is her more basic request to maintain her personal (or species?) agency.

A crucial aspect of “The Gift’s” plot revolves around the ethical question of whether to return Seven of Nine to her original human state. Because she is no longer connected to other Borg, the Doctor determines that the human parts of her body are rejecting the Borg technology. Captain Janeway seizes upon Seven of Nine’s biological history as proof positive that she is fundamentally human and must, deep down, wish to become so again biologically. Janeway denies Seven of Nine the choice of whether to undergo what amounts to both major invasive surgery and a change in biological identity, instead claiming this as her prerogative, citing Noble Human Reasons.

In doing so, Janeway denies the Borg as a species the dignity of personal agency. And since what little humanity is left within Seven of Nine doesn’t readily (or recognizably) asset itself, Janeway takes it upon herself to speak on its behalf and give it more weight than the (very loud) assertions of the Borg part of Seven of Nine. Thus Janeway leverages her power as captain to declare Seven of Nine’s Borg identity invalid, clinging to the idea that what was once human must still be fundamentally so. She orders the Doctor to medically extract and enhance Seven of Nine’s available human biology, enabling it to completely eject her Borg DNA and technology. The Doctor, for his part, enables Janeway, and Seven of Nine is forced to become human against her will through a process that amounts to medical torture.

Why the Doctor doesn’t invoke his Hippocratic oath, as he did when Tuvix expressed his desire not to die (season 2, episode 24), is a major unanswered question. The Tuvix episode did a much better job of representing the complexity of the ethical dilemma at hand. There’s little such nuance here. Viewers are made aware of the opposing arguments [read: Seven of Nine’s position about her own body] only so they can be shut down by the characters who occupy the positions of power in the Federation hierarchy and along the moral axis of the cast.

One of the most maddening weaknesses of Star Trek‘s otherwise inclusive philosophy is its insistence that humanity is the pinnacle of existence. The episode is SO SURE of Janeway’s moral high-ground that it’s disturbing, which points to Star Trek‘s occasional failure to achieve the progressiveness it prides itself on espousing. Janeway’s position amounts to one of human species supremacy, echoing centuries of colonial white supremacy, and she imposes it on a being who is already in a disadvantaged position and has little recourse. Janeways repeatedly ignores Seven of Nine’s clearly stated desires and staunch refusals to grant consent. But in a heartbreaking irony, resistance for this Borg is indeed futile.

7 of 9 human

Seven of Nine, reluctant human

Once again, the female body is stripped of its agency and remade into society’s image. This time literally. Viewers are meant to side with Janeway’s view of the situation and cheer when humanity triumphs and they are able to count Seven of Nine (see what I did there?) as one of their own.

Perhaps contemporary discourse surrounding consent and identity politics is what’s causing me to react so negatively to this plot and character developments. I don’t doubt that the episode’s moral stance was better received when it aired in 1997. But today, these blatant denials of someone’s personal agency simply do not fly (puns are always intended).

In the Delta Quadrant, the perception of humanity eclipses even the Prime Directive.


Filed under Beginning of the Body, Gender Trouble, Power, Television and Movies