Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tuesday evening roundup

First, the good news...

...followed by 'just when you thought this situation couldn't possible get more WTF???.'

This is interesting and makes a lot of sense. It reminds me of having dinner with a friend over the holidays. We went to this Moroccan restaurant in Charlestown. I ordered two appetizers, because they were] what appealed to me most, of the entire menu. That cost about the same as an entree, but it was less food. But I just couldn't get excited about the vegetarian entree options (couscous with root vegetables- yawn) and I don't go out to dinner to be bored. My dinner companion (always to be relied upon, almost to the same extent as my mother, for unnecessary comments) said, 'that wasn't a very good choice.' [Shrug.] I realize that's not quite what the article is about (almost the other way around, really) but it's the same principle: when it comes to food, you want what you want, and the psychology of price is secondary.

By the way, my roommate has not annoyed me at all since he got back on Sunday night. He's continued to be himself-- subtle things that I wouldn't have noticed had he not established a pattern early on--like saying, 'I'm going to go get my uniform ready.' Which signifies that on some level of consciousness, he feels the need to provide a reason for leaving my presence, whereas I wish he wouldn't. But he's been otherwise unoffensive. He did tell me yesterday that I got him into eating almonds. I asked him how I managed to do that-- I mean, I think that first weekend that we were both in the house, and some friends came over and we made a big salad and I invited him to join us, there were almonds in the salad, but they were by no means the notable ingredient (there was also smoked salmon, goat cheese, and avocado, among other things). He said he'd seen that I kept them around, so he started eating them, and now he's hooked. Which is good; almonds are good for you. But it's a bit odd to me that he'd try something--especially something as simple as almonds, that you'd think most people at his age would have discovered and either dismissed or embraced--just because he saw them in my pantry.

He has his own cabinet of food, but for some reason he put his syrup in mine, where I keep the honey, jam, etc. (not complaining-- there's no shortage of space in that cabinet--just saying so you don't think I was going through his stuff). So as I reached for my cocoa powder, I caught sight of the ingredients: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and a whole bunch of chemicals. Actually, it's almost admirable that there are no explicit pretenses of "maple"-- maple is nowhere on the packaging, although I'm sure there's some marketing of the maple concept in the product's color. I've not tried it, nor will I ever, but I'd bet it's been engineered to taste like maple syrup.

I'm telling you this because I saw Food, Inc.

I really, really recommend that you see Food, Inc. I don't care how little time you have. I don't care how far from you it's showing. Just see the f*ing movie. And then proceed to reclaim the nation's food system.

Monday, June 29, 2009

pot calling the kettle ugly

On the topic of hideous animals, the World's Ugliest Dog was crowned yesterday. If you ask me, the winner doesn't hold a candle to the runner up (click through the slideshow).

Times change

The racial aspect of Michael Jackson's persona was long alien to me; I was very young when he was already hugely popular; I imagine that it's the way a child of three or four years old today would grow up to see a black presidency, i.e. as 'is that a big deal?' I was in grad school before I ever heard anyone talk about what Michael Jackson meant to black kids at the time, and it's unclear to me whether the anyone in that case--my friend Tomika--felt that way because she was a few years older, or black, or a combination of both. By the time I was in kindergarten, Michael Jackson was a post-racial phenomenon, and not because of anything going on with his skin. All friends wanted for their birthdays were his tapes.

A lot has been written in recent days about how far we've come from Stonewall and how sexual preference or whatever you want to call it is less and less of an issue every day. Frank Rich's column is the best and most comprehensive, and also most mindful of what hasn't changed. As for the others, some ask, which came first, acceptance or Will and Grace? Which begot the other?

Do times need to change more before we're a nation of fewer hate crimes and a more equitable legal system? Or will a more equitable legal system, and stronger anti-hate-crimes legislation bring about a cultural paradigm shift? Or do we need both to feed off each other?

Yesterday I (kind of) wrote about how adulthood has made me tiresome. In my twenties, would I have been above talking about homeownership and a sluggish metabolism? According to Russ Douthat, I'd be even more boring were I not single, i.e. part of a "consumption partnership.”

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday evening roundup

We'll trade ya Joe the Plumber for this guy any day.

There are so many things wrong with this article, I don't even know where to start. Thankfully, this book review in the same section addresses some of the wrongs in the first piece.

Speaking of book reviews, Jill Lepore brilliantly takes on the anti-sanctimommy sanctimommy genre. Here are some brilliant excerpts from the review:
I used to like that conversation. Lately, though, it’s been getting old: all the mothers want forgiveness; all the fathers want applause. A few years back, in “Confessions of a Slacker Mom,” Muffy Mead-Ferro admitted that during her pregnancy she did not actually buy a gizmo that was supposed to pipe Mozart into her belly; in “Dinner with Dad,” Cameron Stracher offered an account of his valiant year of getting home in time for supper. Frankly, I’d just as soon stipulate that most baby gear is worthless, stupid junk and that eating dinner with your kids is really important.
and something I did not know:
In 1969, the Washington Post renamed its “For and About Women” page the Style section; other newspapers followed suit. Parenting blogs like the Times’ Motherlode are basically a throwback.)
and another excerpt:
Within two years of Children’s first issue, Hecht and Littledale had changed the magazine’s name, a decision that made a lot of sense, since all this business about parenthood, then as now, has very little to do with kids. By 1931, Parents’ Magazine boasted two hundred thousand subscribers. Middle-class mothers and fathers turned out to be a very well-defined consumer group, easily gulled into buying almost anything that might remedy their parental deficiencies.

I could go on, but you may as well read the whole thing, while it's publicly available.

Also in the New Yorker, James Wood writes a great opening paragraph:
Sometimes, the soft literary citizens of liberal democracy long for prohibition. Coming up with anything to write about can be difficult when you are allowed to write about anything. A day in which the most arduous choice has been between “grande” and “tall” does not conduce to literary strenuousness. And what do we know about life? Our grand tour was only through the gently borderless continent of Google. Nothing constrains us. Perhaps we look enviously at those who have the misfortune to live in countries where literature is taken seriously enough to be censored, and writers venerated with imprisonment. What if writing were made a bit more exigent for us? What if we had less of everything? It might make our literary culture more “serious,” certainly more creatively ingenious. Instead of drowning in choice, we would have to be inventive around our thirst. Tyranny is the mother of metaphor, and all that.

The book he reviews, from the review, reminds me of "La Disparition" by George Perec (please forgive the missing accent mark), for the occasional breakdown of the fourth wall, but also for the way the novelist embraces the restrictions, real or imagined, to enrich the book.

The book that I have not read, by reminding me of "La Disparition" takes me back, as does the fiction piece in this week's New Yorker, which reminds me of "La Casa de Asterion," a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, which was love at first read. I didn't know what hit me; I don't know if it would have the same effect now-- maybe it's because at the time-- I was a senior in college-- I'd never read anything like it.

It'd be easy to wax nostalgic, look back on those times as the era in which I cared, the era before I was tiresome, before I became that (proverbial) guy. The one who talks about mortgages, paint finishes, plumbing, and so on. Or more to the point, the one who talks about weight loss. I had many worries back in the day--which is why it wouldn't be accurate to look back as if nothing mundane ever infringed the unfettered intellectual utopia that I lived--but I certainly never thought I'd give this much thought to matters of weight. And I know that ten years from now, I'll be amazed that I did.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saturday afternoon roundup

Man, good thing I don't live in a culture where you're a loser if you're not an engineer, lawyer or MBA. I mean, I was born in such a culture, and my mother still ascribes to its values, but I don't have to live there. Funny that I could have written, "good thing I don't live in a culture of arranged marriages," since that's what the article is about, but that actually scares me less than a culture in which being an engineer is socially desirable.

Colbert King urges humility in the public flogging of Gov. Sanford, while Sarah Kaufman brilliantly weaves his antics into a ballet review:
Kenneth MacMillan's three-act ballet "Manon" contains enough sex, deceit and sudden disappearances to rival South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's recent news conference. But it is even more unnecessarily rambling. And it goes into many more sordid details you really wish you didn't have to see.
I love it.

Saturday morning roundup

No jokes from yesterday's Body Shop-- no held positions, really-- although Chris did make us do bicep curls with the body bar and resistance band combined. The tape he brought was a Michael Jackson/Madonna combo--didn't have one of just Michael Jackson. And it was all Michael Jackson, all day and night on the radio-- a lot Michael Jackson, I should say, because as I channel flipped and caught an earful of more contemporary music, I thought, 'they don't make them like that anymore.'

Listening to Billie Jean, PYT, Smooth Criminal, etc., I thought he gauged the 80s and reflected them in his music, but then I wondered whether it wasn't the other way around: whether his music defined the music of the 80s.

I'm the first, under most circumstances, to balk at the media's prominent placement of celebrity news in the face of actual news, but not this time (suck it, Hugo Chavez, although it sure is a godsend to the latest adulterer-politicians. Whose dalliances, as one more columnist points out, would be far less newsworthy had they not built a platform around sexual morality.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday evening roundup

Steven Pearlstein writes up some concentrated truth.

Those of you that think the sanctimommy is a creature of myth ought to read Judith Warner's latest post. The shenanigans she describes are indeed horrifying, but I'd argue she's overpersonalizing the phenomenon: people say dickish, obnoxious things to everyone, not just moms.

By the way, I do not own a bundt pan, and I hope to never associate with any group of people that sponsors a function centered around bundt pan-baked goods.

I like the concept in this article, but after the first few paragraphs, I just don't get it.

Check out the tenth photo in this album.

Pick your poison

The Times' two articles commemorating Stonewall are worthwhile reads; the first one also directly invokes an age-old, ever-relevant theme, exploding daily on the front pages, that also abutted against the central theme, if there was one, of the play I saw last week (Rock'n'Roll): work through the power structure, or subvert the power structure?

Does this mean that I'm particularly evolutionarily advanced: I don't have to go out of my way to cut myself to demonstrate my ability to recover from infection; I manage just fine without trying.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shoutout to the gofug girls

First of all, I LOVE ven diagrams. They are so useful, and yet so underutilized. I loved Marshall's Cecelia ven diagram on How I Met Your Mother, and it is ever so appropriate to the point that Jessica makes here.

And it is a very good point: Kate Moss can pull anything off. Sadly, in addition to being able to pull off all sorts of clothing that would look like crap on just about anybody else, she is also able to pull off a commercial following for said clothing. Such that people who have no business trying to pull off what she pulls off, try to pull it off. I've actually addressed this issue on these pages before, at least once (Athens airport), so I'm thrilled that the Gofugyourself girls are on it.

And while we're on celebrities, can the Post please stop stalking Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhall? Who the f* cares where they've been sighted?

And while we're still on the topic of celebrities, I'm absolutely shocked about Michael Jackson. Equally sad about Farah Fawcett, but she was before my time, so not as much of a shock. With Michael Jackson, I imagine this is how people must have felt when Elvis passed away.


Yesterday, Sam, the fitness instructor who was teaching Body Shop, told us a joke to take our minds off of the fact that we were holding a side raise for a minute. Try it. It hurts. But I digress.

So, what do you get when you cross an elephant with a rhino?

[Shrug] 'Eleph'ino.

Oh no they didn't

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board has always been uber-conservative (well, at least as long as I've been reading the paper, and a lot longer), but prior to the Murdoch takeover, I never found its political leanings to creep into the paper's reporting. A couple of stories in today's paper showed some partisan snark, and one, in particular, just pissed me off.

Are you f*ing kidding me? The WSJ is comparing public sector student loan forgiveness for employees to financial sector bonuses? Million dollar bonuses, per person, for companies receiving bailout dollars, versus up to $10,000 (for particularly hard-to-recruit-for positions; usually less than half that for others). Some schools do it to. The whole "it's unheard of in the private sector" is absurd. The whole point is, you want to recruit and retain qualified people to lesser-paid, public service positions. The $10k reimbursements go to people like lawyers, who could make a hell of a lot more at a law firm. In the case of my agency, at least, each reimbursement comes with a three-year commitment to stay, or else you have to pay back the whole thing, which a third more than what went toward your loans, because you paid income and payroll taxes on it (you can technically get the taxes back, but it's a big pain). Anyway, the implications in the article are just absurd and out of context.

Anyway, let's move on to the latest in the Sanford commentaries. I liked what Jon Stewart had to say: "Just another politician with a conservative mind and liberal penis." I started reading the e-mails but I felt dirty so I stopped.

Back on the topic of rude people in theatres: I think it's great when performers talk back.

I'll wrap up on a cuter note.

Thursday morning roundup

When this broke, my former project manager called (for unrelated, i.e. work related, reasons) and mentioned it. He echoed what I'd been thinking--that he couldn't wait to hear what the comedians had to say. It's such a gift to them. I also couldn't wait to read what Gail Collins had to say; I knew it'd be good. I am surprised she didn't give him credit for dragging his wife to the press conference, but one of the Post columnists did that. I usually find Post reader comments to be too out of control, but some of these are genius.

I was hoping, for the sake of newspapers everywhere, that this would not bump, for example, Iranian election aftermath off the front pages, and in the case of the Post, also not bump the metro accident. Thankfully, that's been the case, although I wonder whether it's because this infidelity stuff is no longer news

In other real news, if you think our nativist xenophobes are scary, Northern Ireland really has some work to do.

Meanwhile, in Russia, hell has frozen over, in a good way.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

So sad

The Post releases names and profiles the lives of the victims of Monday's metro accident.

Wednesday morning roundup

Before last week, I could have said it'd be cool to be a fly in the wall at the White House. In any case, here's an excerpt from the life of a fly on the wall of the Nixon White House. You may be surprised to learn that he has some advice for American Jews.

Speaking of flies, you may be wondering what PETA is up to these days when it's not defending them. The answer, as I've already told some of you, is giving me inspiration for a slutty Halloween costume. And as one of you replied, I won't even need any facial hair this time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


So, I thought that my crown was going to cost me $350 on top of my insurance coverage, so I put that much in my FSA. Turns out, insurance covered it all. Who knew?

So now I have $350 to use up. Here are my options:

1) Leave it; who knows what emergency I'll get myself into between now and March.
2) Get my wisdom teeth pulled. They don't bother me, but my dentist has recommended it several times (an oral surgeon would do it, so she has nothing to gain). Cons: pain, followed by liquid diet.
3) Get my hammertoe fixed. That does bother me, but I don't want to be out of commission for two weeks. But it would be nice to be more comfortable in nice shoes. Haven't done the math on this one (figured out how much it would cost and how much my insurance would and would not cover)
4) Is fat camp an allowable expense?
5) Lifetime supply of bandaids.
6) Is medicinal marijuana legal in Virginia? Could combine that with extraction of wisdom teeth.

Too bad I can't use it for my vet bill.

Anyway, I'll put a poll up tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing your votes.


I participated in an MBTI workshop at work today. I became newly curious about MBTI in light of my roommate issues; I wondered about my personality type and what it meant in terms of getting along with other people. I hadn't thought about it before, since it's been a while that I haven't gotten along with anyone apart from my mother. At my previous job, there were a handful of colleagues that made my blood boil, but they tended to piss everyone off indiscriminately; You would be hard-pressed to find, among the people with whom I clashed, one that everyone else didn't also want to throttle. I've gotten along swimmingly with all my colleagues at my current job, and with all the roommates I've had for the past fourteen years, and with various travel companions (again, with the exception of my mother). I'm not telling you this to convince you that I'm blameless; I'm letting you know that I've had little reason up to now to think about my personality as a factor in my interpersonal interactions.

With the MBTI, there was what I thought, beforehand, that I was (INTJ), what I predicted I'd be as we went through the workshop (INFP), and what I turned out to be (ISTP). Clear I, clear T, and very slight S and P. I was skeptical, but as I read the overall description of that permutation, it fit me really well. Then again, they're kind of written like horoscopes: flattering and sufficiently vague that you're bound to see yourself in yours.

The N/S exercise we did was to write up a recipe for spaghetti and meatballs as a group. Afterward, one of the facilitators commented that things have really changed and these days, with longer commutes and such, people just pick up dinner, especially single people, some of whom might be in this workshop. Which was an odd set of generalizations to make as someone teaching us about individual differences. But I digress.

This made me thing I was an N: I like to cook more than I like to bake, because I prefer to go by instinct than to follow exact measurements; I try new recipes from cookbooks, but often improvise. I almost never go to the store with a list. Then again, I won't walk into a fabric store and get all these ideas... perhaps because I don't know how to sew (beyond the basics). The idea of designing a garden according to one of those plots suggested in magazines horrifies me; I'd much rather throw some seeds around and see what turns up.

So is it just situational? I like flexible cooking directions, but solid, detailed driving directions, with landmarks thrown in so that I know I'm going the right way (or not). A couple of weeks ago, when my friend stopped by, I gave her very specific directions and marveled that she managed to get lost (I'm good at getting lost, but this took skill), and was frustrated that she didn't listen.

I don't like to plan travel itineraries by the hour; I like to show up some where and see where my mood takes me. That said, when I travel for work, I want to know exactly when and where I need to be at each moment. Where does Type A fit into MBTI? Later, I learned that this was a P/J issue, not N/S.

Anyway, I'd guessed N, but turned out to be slightly S. Who knew?

It makes sense that I'd be a T. A lot of sense. I mean, I've made no secret about being incapable of human emotion. And it's not that I'm sympathetic or feelings-driven, but I am situationally-driven-- I think circumstances matter and hard-and-fast rules are of little use in the face of human factors. This is why I don't get along well with many engineers. What, then, makes me such a strong T?

The last one's tough, and my preference was slight. I do make lists, but as a general outline, not a straightjacket. I like some structure; I wouldn't enjoy self-employment.

What about you? What are your experiences with MBTI? Do they reflect who you think you are?


The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Moment of Zen - Iran's Voter Turnout Above 100%
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJason Jones in Iran

BTW, that's just the moment of zen, and it's a pretty good overall episode.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Monday evening roundup

As you may have gathered, I'm a big fan of Jon Stewart's... but I wouldn't go this far.

Marion Nestle on the is-organic-elitist issue.

John Kelly is right to take on the manners of some moviegoers; the dude who wrote this second letter, however, needs to get a life and get over himself. As do these seriously f*ed-up people.

I'm in good company.

RM update

On Sunday, RM was attempting to once again prove his valor and willingness to do stuff around the house. Which he does anyway. Actually, it started on Saturday morning when he saw me taking out the lawn mower.

RM: Hey, that's my job!
A.: It is?
RM: Yeah!
A.: When did that happen?
RM: Well, I've been doing it.

Um, no, you haven't. I think he's mowed twice--which is fine; I like mowing.

A.: I'm not ready to cede the mowing.
RM: Well, if there's anything you need me to do around the house...

So, last night, I got in from the store and was scrambling to some get things done before heading out to Marisa's. It was an hour and a half before Gracie's dinner time, and she was whining up a storm. In addition to being annoying, that's also distracting. I find myself hurrying, spilling things (more so than usual), etc. So after she wouldn't shut up, I picked her up and stuck her in the yard. As I was heading out...

RM: I can let Gracie in.
A.: She's come in anyway, the minute I open the door.
RM: No, really, it's not a problem: I can let her in.
A.: Um, it's her dinner time. She'll be in in a heartbeat.

Sure enough, I opened the door and she came in.

RM: Anything I can do?
A.: Well, the trash needs to go out, but not before I scoop, so I'll just do it when I get home.
RM: I could scoop and then take the trash out.
A.: You don't have to, but if you really don't mind, it would help.

He didn't. Which is fair, because I told him he didn't have to--because there's no reason that he should clean up after my cat. But it's impressive that he's constantly talking about doing whatever it takes to help (he's even said, "whatever you don't like to do, tell me-- that can be my job"), but doesn't actually do what I suggest/ask. Then he tries to compensate by offering to do things that aren't helpful.

I've established, many a time, that I live where I do because I love being able to walk everywhere. When I posted the room for rent, I thought that would be a major draw. To most people.

Last week-- the same time I asked him if he wanted anything, and he offered me $20 to get him whatever I thought was best--he also said, "you're walking? That's great."

Um, the supermarket is a five-minute walk from the house. Because of the way the streets are designed, it's necessarily a longer drive than it is a walk.


RM: I walked out to see the fireworks along the river yesterday [I think it was Alexandria Day]. Then I asked someone how long it would take to walk to King Street, and he said about five minutes. So I went over to the jazz place. But the walk back, that was long!
A.: It's a fifteen-minute walk from King Street Blues.
RM: That's a long walk!
A.: No, it isn't. That's pretty much as good as it gets between downtown and a residential area. You can run to the airport, but find the walk to and from King Street to be long?
RM: Well, that's running. But the nice thing was, I could have as many beers as I wanted because I wasn't driving.
A.: That is a plus.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Working on it

Remember how on Friday afternoon, RM said I could count on him if I ever needed anything-- anything at all--and I wasn't sure what he meant by that? Turns out, not much.

Last night, I came in from the backyard and asked whether he'd let Gracie in before he turned in.

RM: Er...
A.: ...or I guess I'll just let her in now.
RM: Yes, better that you let her in now.

I went back outside; couldn't find her, came in to get my flashlight.

RM, in a tone that suggested he'd be doing me a huge favor: If you're tired, I can let her in.
A.: I'm not tired. It's not a problem.

It's not that I didn't have two minutes to let the cat in; it's that I like to leave her out there, in the fresh air, where she can get some exercise, for as long as possible. She likes being outside. But she can't stay out overnight-- she's just not street-smart enough (although RM did leave her out there once, and then denied it-- told me he found her under my bed... which was true, after I'd let her in).

Last week, I asked him if he wanted anything at the store as I was heading out.

RM: The truth is, I don't know what I want. I go in there and I'm lost. How about this: I'll give you $20 for you to get whatever you think is best.
A.: I have no idea what you want to eat.

I'm not taking him under my wing and teaching him to cook, first of all. I don't think he honestly wants to learn, and I don't want to spend any quality time with him.

Earlier in the week, I'd asked whether a (wilting) head of lettuce was his.

RM: Doesn't matter: you can eat my food if you want.
A.: Thank you, but I don't want to eat your food. I also don't want food to go bad, and I'm asking because I was under the impression that it was yours, and so I haven't been eating it. But you haven't either, so I just want to make sure.
RM: I don't know. When I buy that kind of food, I forget that I have it.

This is very annoying to me because I hate to see food go to waste, and it's particularly annoying because I feel that he's buying fresh food because he sees me buying fresh food. But buying it doesn't do much good if you're not going to eat it. And then I feel compelled to eat it, and especially in the case of greens, I have plenty of that right now through the CSA, without having to consume my roommate's forgotten food as well.

Also, making one's own food takes time and some skill, and you have to want to do that. Because of the cornucopia of greens in my fridge, I made two kinds of dressing. Is he going to take the time to stir the lumps out of the tahini, or even squeeze a lemon (or grate the lemon zest for the miso dressing)? Once I post this, I'll go pick up the blender that I ordered this morning, so I can make (a) zucchini souffle, (b) lentil-red pepper-roasted garlic puree, and (c) chocolate tofu pudding. Not that I haven't made any of this stuff without a blender, but I've decided that I'm ready for things to be easier. But I digress.

I noticed also during the week that RM bought a massive amount of fruit, i.e. more than any human can consume before it goes bad. Today, he mentioned it.

RM: I'm leaving Tuesday after work and I'll be gone until Sunday...
A., not out loud: Wooooooooooooooooohooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
RM: ...so please help me with this fruit, or otherwise throw it away.
A.: Thank you.

Throwing away food, as discussed, is not really an option for me. I guess he's trying to be generous, but I don't want to eat that fruit. First of all, pineapple is a big pain in the ass. He buys it, and I have to cut it up?

By the way, Kevin also bought lots of fruit that he let go bad, and I resented him for it, too.

I know I'm kind of being a jerk. I half-jokingly blogged yesterday about how it's good to keep RM around so I don't entirely surround myself with people who have turmeric in their pantries, but it really is important to me to (a) not lose the ability to live with people, which I think is a valuable skill, and (b) not become my mother. In this case, that means not resenting someone, much less chewing them out, whenever they try to help. It kind of scares me that that's my gut response whenever RM tries to do something nice. Mind you, most of the time there's some serious error in judgment on his part, but other times, I need to be more tolerant and accepting. I'm working on it.

Sunday afternoon roundup

Another reason to see Food, Inc. It's this case in particular, among all the recent food poisoning incidents, that underscores the point: who the f* knows what's in all that processed food and how it got there? Nicholas Kristof also talks about the film in his column.

Why the revolution may be twitterized, but twitter won't make a revolution. Neither will posturing.

Ever thought about how people actually live on $2 a day?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fair and balanced

The Post piece on the clusterf* that is Afghanistan's agricultural sector asks whether agriculture can thrive without some government support. In case you haven't recovered from that assault on the omnipotence of the free market, I offer you the latest installment of When Marxism and Agriculture Don't Mix. See also every other example of when Marxism and agriculture tried to mix.

Phone call

I called mom. She was pissy, perhaps because I hadn't yet written her letter.

A.: Well, send me the details.
Mom: I've told you the details!
A.: Before you told me that I'd be expected to write a letter. I don't remember them.
Mom: I'll tell them to you tomorrow, when I imagine you might call? I mean, don't suppose Father's Day means anything to you?
A.: When is dad back [from NYC]? Is he coming back tomorrow.
Mom: Tomorrow night.
A.: Okay, talk to you then.

from artistic to lowbrow in one post

I went museum hopping with my friend from out of town. He'd gone out with colleagues last night--and I went to the ballet with other friends--and this would be a good chance to catch up and also guide him through DC's offering of museums. We started with the National Gallery-- I figured that was a must-see--and after lunch at Teaism, I thought it would be good to go to the Sackler.

I LOVE the Sackler-- it's probably the museum I've been too more than any other. I love the Monkeys Grasping for the Moon, I love the surrounding gardens, I love the permanent exhibits, and I usually whatever special exhibits they have, which in today's case didn't disappoint. Nonetheless, I didn't feel comfortable bypassing the National Gallery, and I'm glad we didn't.

After our very pleasant stroll through the sculpture garden and then the other various gardens between Teaism and the Sackler, we walked into the museum. I heard my name, turned around. It was Em!

Em: A.!??
A.: Emily!

Emily introduced me to Dina. I introduced her to David.

Em: Oh, so you're the one who took her away from my happy hour?
David: She told me she was looking for an excuse to get out of it.

That's actually a long story. David and I were initially going to go out Friday night, to a poetry reading at the Middle East Institute, in it's beautiful courtyard, but between making those plans--and telling Em I wouldn't make the happy hour, thus arranging to go out for coffee instead, David discovered he'd be going out with colleagues on Friday, so he and I went out on Thursday. I told Em as much, in the interest of full disclosure, and told her I'd be too much of a zombie for the happy hour anyway--and later that I'd be going to the ballet that night--and she was cool with it, especially since we'd have coffee. This is more than you need to know, but I didn't want you to think that I'd run out on my friend's going-away happy hour.

Em's move is an end of an era for me at work. It is and it isn't-- she's relocating to our Seattle office, so she'll even be on the same e-mail--but it'll be weird to not have her nearby. When I first started, it was she that welcomed me to the cuberhood, showed me the ropes. And eventually militarized my cube with plastic army men in various combat scenes.

At coffee on Tuesday, she asked me if I wanted her collection of Indian spices, since she wouldn't be taking them with her across the country, and I gladly accepted, told her I had just run out of turmeric. She told me she had plenty of turmeric.

Things like this, by the way, are another reason, in addition to the overarching reason that is rent, that I keep my roommate around. I am aware that without people like him, I'm in danger of surrounding myself entirely with people exactly like me, and that's just not healthy. I mentioned as much to David on Thursday. Turmeric is a part of his pantry, too.

I swung by Em's cube on Friday to collect the spices. She'd forgotten them at home, will bring them by when she pops into the office next week to get the rest of her stuff.

A.: I love that dress! It's a great style.
Em: Thanks! I do like the whole wrap dress thing, and thanks to you I know who Diane Von Furstenberg is.
A.: You didn't know before?
Em: Nope; you told me.
A.: How did that come up? I do remember introducing you to Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Em: You did that, too.
A.: And in return, you introduced me to Dickipedia.
Em: I did!

Later, at the museum, we headed down to the Tsars and the East exhibit together. I'd seen it once, quickly, when Wendy was here, before the concert at the Freer, but it only got better with a second look.

Em: Did you see that video?
A.: I did. I sent it to my mom so she could stop bugging me about what I'm doing with my life.
Em: I sent it to everyone I know.
A.: Part of me is loath to spread around anything to do with Lou Dobbs.
Em: That's true, he's such a dick!
A.: OMG, we should check his Dickipedia page!
Em: You know he has one.
A.: He must!
David: Who's that?
A.: Lou Dobbs? He's a ranting populist/racist television "reporter" that is constantly seeking new ways to blame immigrants--especially those from Mexico--for all the nation's problems.
David: Seems you have a few ranting TV reporters.
A.: Yeah-- the others have more diverse portfolios. Nativism is his niche. But he did report on our workplace, so there's an inoffensive three-minute clip of his show floating around.

We enjoyed exploring the rest of the exhibit together. I wish they could stay in town longer, but they'll both come back from time to time for work travel if nothing else. That's another nice thing about DC-- people are always coming through for work, and you get to see them. And they get you out to the places you love, but that for some reason, you don't usually get to otherwise. And they get you out to new places, too.

There's a lot going on here. We object to the DC is newly hip chatter. In January, a cloud was lifted off the entire country, not just the capital.

Saturday morning roundup

A silver lining of the recession: navigating Home Depot is about to become easier. Also, were you aware that...
"Economists and analysts forecast that it will take up to 10 years to return to 2007 levels of consumer spending — which makes now a good time for retailers to re-imagine the future."
or that "innovations like Neoprene and Teflon came out of the Depression"?

Just like a New York newspaper--ironically, the one that owns the Boston Globe-- to characterize Dorchester as "a touch neighborhood." First of all, isn't it a little big to be "a neighborhood"? Second, there are too many neighborhoods in Dorchester to be able to characterize it as 'tough' in its entirety. And this is coming from someone who used to live in Dorchester (but not in a triple decker, mind you).

Having been to Hawaii on business, more than once, this Aloha Fridays thing throws me. In my experience, people where Hawaiian shirts to work every day of the week. But that's my only disagreement with (and glib comment on) that very sad yet very true article.

A Palau diplomat defends his country against the insinuation of membership in the Coalition of the Billing.

Ray Bradbury's contributions to humanity are many; enough, I guess, to make up for having helped to launch Arnold Schwarznegger's career.

Gail Collins assesses the GOP's options for 2012.

Wouldn't you?

Once or twice, as I was watching the ballet, I thought of Rahm Emanuel.

Baublehead encounter

I was in the Main Hall of the Kennedy Center talking to some friends--I believe we were saying how all you had to do to establish yourself in a tropical paradise was to join an insurgency in Western China-- when out of the corner of my eyes, I saw the Baublehead walking toward the Opera House. She has that distinctive a look: I could spot her amid a sea of people.

After the show, I got in line for a shuttle bus to the metro. I don't consider myself especially gracious or patient, but apparently, I'm among a small minority of people who wouldn't push elderly or blind people out of the way to get on the next bus (or elsewhere on the metrorail system). I had to wait a few minutes for another shuttle, but I got to Foggy Bottom just in time to catch my train. Just as I sat down and thought how great it was that I didn't have to wait 18 minutes for another train, I once again, out of the corner of my eye, caught sight of the Baublehead. Who sat right next to me.

Now, thankfully, I had already pulled out my New Yorker and was so deeply immersed that it was normal for me not to look up, and she's actually more socially adept than my roommate, so she didn't read "A. immersed in a magazine" as an invitation for conversation; also, she was with other people, so after a minute or so, she got up and sat with them across the aisle. Unfortunately, I did look up eventually, and our eyes met. I nodded and smiled; she did the same.

Mercifully, there was no single-tracking or other metro incident that night, and I managed to emerge from the train without further contact with the Baublehead.

Friday, June 19, 2009

RM update

I came home a bit early today. RM apparently had the day off, but he was out when I got in. When he got in, he said hello, and offered a hug.

RM: Is everything okay?
A.: Everything's fine.
RM, open-armed: You look like you need a hug.
A.: No. I really don't.

RM: I'm going to go down to the Mall. Take the metro.
A.: Do you know where you're going?
RM: Yes, through the back...
A.: I mean, which stop, which line...
RM: Only one line going that way [pointing north]!
A.: No. Actually, there are two...
RM: Oh.

A bit later, on his way out

RM: If you ever need anything, anything at all, I'm here.
A.: Okay...
RM: Really, if there's anything at all.
A.: Is there a reason you think I might need something?
RM: No. I'm just saying, that's what friends are for. Friends with a small "f," I mean.

I didn't say 'you can go away so I can get on with my pre-ballet nap.'

Friday afternoon ramble

The Post's front-page story is a must-read for a million reasons. I have too much to say about it-- I don't even know where to start.

I have almost as much to say about Robin Givhan's column, and I'm going to actually say some of it. Where to start? First of all, this isn't the first time Ms. Givhan has talked about TV as a common cultural language, and she makes a really interesting point. I briefly read a review of "Year One" that said that making a funny film with Jack Black and Michael Cera would be so easy a caveman could do it (and yet, the critic says, the filmmakers didn't pull it off). But putting that reference out there, and knowing that people would get it, is an exercise in trusting in cultural literacy. But I digress.

As for the Cosby show, one silly critique I recall hearing--and the one that apparently sparked "Married with Children"--was that the family was much too functional. Now, my family is nothing like the Cosby's, but that's not to say I couldn't like it.

Next, the point she makes about Sex and the City is interesting. It's also a theme in Will and Grace, but not the one she associates with the show in the article: those "layered," "flawed" women whose professional life is apparently seamless but whose personal life is a mess. Are those women prototypical?

Finally, what is it about women struggling with their weight, especially women you wouldn't expect, like Phylicia Rashad? Does that mean the rest of us are just screwed?

I also wanted to say a bit more about Rock'n'Roll. I can even tie it into a mom story: I fell in love with Tom Stoppard my first semester at Smith, when we read "Arcadia" in a class. My mom hated the very idea of that class, berated me about it non-stop, thought it was the biggest waste of money ever. That was probably where she began her tradition of throwing a fit whenever I told her what classes I was taking (and later, what job/intership interviews I was going to). I guess she had a point: that class probably never gave me any useful job skills; but it really helped teach me to think, to write, to engage in ideas. I'm not sure I'd have dragged myself out on a Thursday night (much less dragged out my friend, after dinner) if I didn't appreciate what an amazing playwright he is and what that's worth. But I do, and almost fourteen years later, I'm benefiting from it.

What else about the play? It even managed to get in a Che allusion without mentioning Che. Which is especially impressive since it's a play about communism and its symbolism vs. its reality. And I don't remember the exact line, but at one point, Max talked about the absurdity of catalogs from which you could order hammer-and-sickle socks. Che t-shirt, anyone?

Finally, watch last night's Daily Show in it's entirety-- it's worth it.


I went to see Rock'n'Roll last night. The Post warned me it would be thought-provoking, but I had no idea to what extent-- so many ideas, flying around, making my brain work. It was excellent, and timeless--so relevant to the world today.

And my friend got out of his meetings early, so we went to Cafe Citron instead of Whole Foods. I had their white sangria for the first time-- it was very good.

Earlier in the day, I had lunch with an old grad school friend. The lunch turned kind of unpleasant when he got very nosy and in not so many words asked me about my salary (I didn't tell him), and then went on to say slam the public sector. For example, he asked whether I wanted to work for the government forever, and I said probably not forever but I'm happy now. He said he imagined it would be nearly impossible to transfer over, because the private sector requires a different skill set. I pressed, asked for examples. Don't really see how you can say that for an entire sector. He said, for example, that private sector workers work harder and work longer hours. I countered that I have colleagues that often work weekends. He couldn't really back up his generalization, but was insistent. I'd like to think that I have transferable skills, and I'm pretty sure that I do, but I wasn't offended-- rather, I felt kind of bad for him because I think the attitude was coming from his own defensiveness and insecurity. I'm glad I got to continue the day, away from that lunch of silly cheap shots, on a higher note, with adult conversation and intellectually stimulating theatre.

Friday morning roundup

It's about time. Some of these things are no-brainers. I cringe sometimes about giving to Smith because of how much money they waste--something not lost on me when I was a student there.

These revelations are shocking for many reasons. This one scares the crap out of me:
"The North Korean insurance monopoly sometimes took advantage of the geographical and political ignorance of brokers and reinsurers, according to the London-based insurance expert. Some brokers and companies, he said, thought they were dealing with a company from South Korea, while others were unaware that North Korea is a secretive totalitarian state with one of the world's worst human rights records."

These homebuyers who defy the location, location, location mantra don't regret their decision.

When I first read this, I thought, why would credit card companies annoy their "best" customers, but I quickly realized that it's because they consider them, i.e. those most likely to pay their bills fully and on time, deadbeats.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


...and lowered "standards". Again, nobody, but the families involved, would care, if it weren't for the hypocrisy. And then there's this.

Stupid furball

Yeah, @$$hole. Maybe if you want me to keep your whiny @$$ around, it would behoove you to shut the f* up and let me get some sleep.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Whole Foods

My friends who are now married (see St. Lucia travel notes) actually met at that very Whole Foods in Arlington.

Meanwhile, speaking of Whole Foods' prepared foods section, I feel kind of guilty about taking a friend of mine, who is in town for work, there tomorrow for dinner. But he won't be ready until 6:30, and we're going to see a play at 7:30, and Whole Foods is right across from the theatre, so Whole Foods it is. I'll take him somewhere more interesting on Saturday between museum hops.

Wednesday evening roundup


And while we're on the topic, here's an oldie but goodie.

It's funny how people trying to sell you stuff will spin it; it's even funnier that often, we buy it.

On a quasi-related note, more on the topic of faux-populism in the way of screwing over the poor by crying elitism in the face of policies and initiatives that would actually benefit low-income people.

Grist has a number of posts on the highjacking of the locavore movement, in the form, for example, of Lay's potato chips as advertising themselves as local food in CA because the potatoes were grown there. Well, the other day in the store, I saw peaches labeled as "locally grown." In Georgia.


Why am I up? I have a long day ahead and could have used a good night's sleep. It's not like I can catch up on sleep any time during the day, like the ungrateful little pain in the @$$, whom I house and feed, that woke me up at 3:30am. I couldn't go back to sleep.

When my roommate was further putting his foot in his mouth by explaining his behavior--i.e. elaborating on his 'I see you as a sister comment'--he said that it was purely endearing, he sees me like a Gracie. I said that I was not Gracie to him. He didn't seem to understand why I found that offensive.

And actually, he's more like Gracie to me, except that he does pay rent. If only I could not renew her lease. But they're both equally unreceptive to feedback. Have I ever fed her earlier just because she's woken me up, or been annoyingly vocal? Then why does she keep doing it? Her behavior is understandable, because she has a small brain.

With roommate, I'm not sure what the issue is. When we had our discussion, I was trying to be as open as possible to his perspective: we have different communication styles, and mine wasn't direct enough for him. But the more I think about it, the more I feel manipulated: I had been direct, and he chose not to listen. I told him everything he needed to know. So where does he get off telling me that I needed tell him when he was doing something that was bothering me? What good is telling him if it's going to go in one ear and out the other? Just because you ignore something because you don't want to hear it, doesn't mean I haven't told you.

As before, he hasn't done anything new to incite my ire, but I guess since Gracie has, and I see parallels, I'm taking my anger out on him. He did show another sign of Not Getting It last night, by informing him that he was going to be back late the following evening. Have I not established that I don't give a f* about his comings and goings, that he doesn't need to make me aware of them?

BTW, no roundup this AM... nothing blogworthy yet. Peace out.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tuesday evening roundup

A sign that air travel has gotten horrendously uncomfortable.

A fun quiz, with a must-see clip at the bottom of the page.

Double standards

Are you f*ing kidding me? Why is this even an issue?

Monday, June 15, 2009

the next county over

Oh, thanks to my friends, I'm no longer years behind in terms of Youtube sensations. Not a day after a friend sent me this clip did I start reading about it all over the place.

As I suspected

While RM's behavior has yet to start bugging me, it's creeping back into noteworthy territory. Like being effusively friendly the other morning. He's still trying too hard. Then, today, he came in, changed, came downstairs.

RM: Look at that! I hadn't even seen your outfit!
A.: My outfit?
RM, pointing to his shirt: I just threw this on, didn't even notice you were wearing the same color.

I'm wearing a black t-shirt. He was wearing a black t-shirt. There's a connection if I ever heard of one.

And it's bringing out the bad in me (not the worst, yet). It's hard for me to convey how anathema it is to my culture, to everything about the way I was raised, it is for me to not offer food to other people. It's second nature. It's also genuine-- I've been in situations where I've offered someone food-- for example, a granola bar to a coworker who hadn't eaten all day, when we were running to a meeting--and they've not taken it out of not so much politeness but genuine concern not to eat "my" food, but that's not the way it works. When I offer you something, it means I want you to take it. I don't see it as mine, and I always see food as something that's meant to be shared. Well, yesterday, I made moussaka. When I came downstairs to take it out of the oven, RM was eating one of his frozen meals. I wanted to offer him some, but I didn't, partly because I didn't want to imply/betray that I didn't acknowledge the frozen meal, but also because I didn't want to engage in a gesture that he would take as one of friendship. If it had been one or the other factor, I probably would have just offered him some, but amid both, I did not. I did offer him wine, since I'd opened a bottle to make the moussaka. And today I offered him flatbread--fresh out of the oven, too--because he came in and said his dinner was an apple. But then he did exactly what I didn't want him to do, i.e. make a big deal out of it. Just have a piece of flatbread, or two, and move on with your life. No, it's not impressive-- you mix flour and water, set aside, and pour in a baking dish over rosemary. No-brainer if there ever was one.

And that's really it-- I don't like to make a big deal out of anything I do-- it's other people's antics that are my fodder. I generally shy away from introspection, especially when it's out loud.

For example, yesterday, after a friend of mine left:

RM: Did I hear you speaking Spanish?
A.: You did.
RM: You were good!
A.: Do you speak Spanish?
RM: Not really. But you sounded good.
A.: Shrug.

And all things being equal, he's not doing anything wrong; someone else might appreciate what he was saying. I don't know that I didn't appreciate it, but I just didn't want to make a big deal out of it.

So the other thing is, he's saying my name more. Maybe because he's heard that statistic about how women overwhelmingly like hearing their name. True enough, he's not saying mine correctly, so it just grates. I suppose I could correct him, but I just noticed it-- because he didn't used to say my name as much or at all.

It's funny because I just had this conversation with my cuberhood neighbor at work. Someone had apparently walked by and said, "Hi, A." (but it was the wrong A.), but I didn't notice.

CN: Does it bother you when people get your name wrong?
A.: It used to bother me a lot, but now I hardly notice, at work anyway. It bothers me when people who should know better do it.
CN: When did it stop bothering you?
A.: When I lived in Wales after college. Brits are systematically bad at names, and even my close friends there got my name wrong, over and over again. It's like they didn't hear the difference. I'd correct people three times and then give up. A friend of mine there, who was Turkish, had the loveliest name: Isminur. Three syllables, hardly a tongue-twister; but she was told that she'd better come up with a nickname, so as not to confuse people. It was unbelievable.

I don't understand why people repeatedly get my name wrong, but they do, chronically. I've gotten good, over the years, at not noticing when it's people I hardly know, but considering that my roommate thinks of me as a sister, you'd think he'd get my name right.

Yes, he still tries. It's one of those things where he knows it academically, but it doesn't translate into reality. I'm not immune to this phenomenon of understanding something in theory, yet not being able to apply it to my own life-- portion control, for example. For him, it's introversion-- he understands that it exists, and he could describe it on paper, but it's beyond him to comprehend what it actually means in reality. He's trying, and that's probably how he ends up with the manic-sounding fakeness that came across the other day. I'm starting to wonder whether extroversion is just extreme self-centeredness, the channeling of yourself through other people. If he's so energized by other people, why does he ask questions to which he doesn't care about the answers? Why not ask about something interesting? When I do answer--say, venture a "day was fine; had a meeting," he tunes out at the second part. Also, a while ago he made a point of showing me the desktop of his laptop; it was a photo of himself, looking alpha-male, on a boat. He said that was when he was happiest. You'd think that someone with a family would maybe have his family on his desktop, rather than himself? It wouldn't occur to me to have a picture of myself on my laptop (unless it was a group picture). Currently, it's Bartholomew Island (Galapagos) that adorns my desktop.

Roommate's post-conversation antics haven't annoyed me--yet. But I do find them noteworthy, and I have a feeling I'll have more to blog about shortly (I'll be pleasantly surprised if I don't), so I figured I should set the scene.

Monday evening roundup with some mom blog

MSN brings us the Customer Service Hall of Shame. You won't be shocked at the "winners."

Nor will you be shocked that mom has asked me to write another complaint letter. It's not a lot to ask, given that she gave birth to me and stuff, but (a) she gives me so little to work with:

A.: Could you send me the details?
Mom: I've just told you the details.
A.: Not enough for me to put together a coherent letter.

and (b) she admits that the letter won't resolve the issue; it's an exercise in principles, a warning to others (she wants the letter addressed to AARP). In case members join the same health club.

Oh, so the issue is that she developed a gym-class related injury and quit the gym on her doctor's orders. Except the gym wouldn't take the doctor's note and required the doctor to call. Which he/she did, but for some other reason it wasn't good enough. They also demand proof that it's a permanent, rather than temporary injury. The gist is, they're requiring about the same amount of paperwork, in order to cancel her membership, as one would require to take out a mortgage. These days, anyway-- not back when they were handing them out to anyone with a pulse.

The stupidest f*ing thing I've ever heard. And you'll recall that I almost said that about something the other day, but couldn't say it definitively, because I've heard a lot of stupid things? Well, I'm more confident about this one.

Monday morning roundup

When I read the following line from an article about the Forbes family, I thought, somewhat unfairly, that it applied quite well to Tom Friedman:

“When things go your way, it’s easy to think you’re a genius,” said Steve Forbes.

While the Forbes family may no longer be living it up, as much, it's good times ahead for some of the Gitmo Uighurs.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I don't fall in love (especially with a whole genre) for nothing

Do read this.

Preachy post

I have to be very careful when discussing specifics related to my job, but I will say that my last project has made me even more passionate about real food and even angrier about the food industry. It makes me angrier still when they play the populist card, the natural-is-elitist card. There’s some truth to that: there’s a smugness about the Whole Foods “lifestyle” that has made me cringe even before the industry started mocking it. But when you get down to it, mass-produced, processed food takes a greater economic, health and environmental toll in the long run. Organic doesn’t, shouldn’t have to be elitist. I don’t buy everything organic, but, for example, I’ll only buy organic soy products. I do aim for the least amount of processed food as possible, and I really believe in appreciating good food. So I’m glad this guy, among others, is doing what he’s doing.

By the way, I’ve not seen “The Goode family”—I don’t have a tv, and I haven’t sought it out online. I do think that Che is a great name for a dog, and I realize that I’m very much the person the show is making fun of, but when it comes down to it, I’d rather try than not do anything at all.

And so you have, on one end, the people that try to hard, and on the other, the people like Stephen Colbert’s character, that will microwave a Styrofoam cup for 72 hours as a f*-you to the planet. And in between, you have people like my roommate, who just doesn’t know any better. In that sense, he strikes me as an anachronism, coming into the house with disposable plastic bags that hold frozen waffles and uber-processed “maple” syrup. Did I ever noticed what Kevin bought, ate? He had fruit-sweetened ketchup and whole-wheat pancake mix. He recycled but didn't vote, didn't think it made a difference. If everyone like him had voted for Kerry... well, whatever, too late now. I guess what I'm saying is, it's not a live and let live issue. Not doing anything is a choice, and it has consequences. I'm not trying to elevate myself into righteousness-- I'm not an envirosaint. But it never hurts to do what you can.

Sunday morning roundup

Barbara Ehrenreich on the already poor vs. Nouveau Poor. She writes,
The current recession is knocking the working poor down another notch — from low-wage employment and inadequate housing toward erratic employment and no housing at all. Comfortable people have long imagined that American poverty is far more luxurious than the third world variety, but the difference is rapidly narrowing.
I guess, but it's not narrowing that much. Ten people to a house is one thing; fifty is another.

Frank Rich infuses contextual sophistication into the paranoid rhetoric debate.

Holy crap, Maureen Dowd and I have the same optometrist. Who knew?


I've not been to many museums in DC that charge admission, although some (Phillips, Corcoran, etc.) are moderately priced and well worth it. I've not been to any of the pricier ones, including the Spy Museum, Newseum and Museum of Crime and Punishment, and when I pass any of those on the way to or from work or happy hour, I don't see lines out the door, but I just don't know how busy they do or don't get. I'd think that in a city where you have so many varied and amazing free museums, it'd be tough to get visitors (or locals) to shell out $20 or so for museum admission. But it is DC, and there are a lot of visitors, and some of them are bound to go, so I guess it's not an altogether terrible business model. We can only hope that that's more than can be said for this place.

Now here is a museum worth the price of admission.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rambling post

Fear not, T. Even though RM is making an effort, you have to remember that in his heart, he still doesn't get it. This actually came up during our talk.

A.: We had that conversation almost immediately after you moved in: I'm generally not up for conversation after work.
RM: But I pulled back after that.
A.: Kind of. You backed off more easily, but the way it appeared to me, you still pushed the limits of what I would tolerate in terms of conversation, instead of respecting the fact that I didn't want conversation at all. I was still the one doing the work.

The funny thing is, MBTI workshops in the workplace are meant to teach people to work together in spite of different styles. You learn to recognize that someone has a different style, so, presumably, instead of clashing, you work around it. So I figured his early designation of me as an 'I' meant that he actually understood what that meant and how to deal with it. But it was more like a game: 'you're an I. Cool. I guessed right.'

By the way, this isn't going anywhere-- there's no juicy story that this is leading up to. I'm merely letting you know that there probably will be one in the future, because even though he's acknowledged hearing that we're roommates, not friends, he's still somewhat unwilling to accept it. When he came downstairs, in his whites-- he was going to a banquet, instead of walking out the door, went back into the living room, where I was sitting, to ask a question about directions, to which he didn't need an answer.

RM: Er, A.-- N. Glebe-- that's not the same Glebe that hits Rte 1?
A.: Not really, but they connect...
RM: So is that faster than taking GW Pkwy?
A.: I don't know. Did you check google maps?
RM: Yes...
A.: ??
RM: There were two possible ways.
A.: I couldn't tell you which one is better.

And it's not that I couldn't bring myself to yield a 'you look nice,' which is what he was clearly going for; it's that I didn't know how to say it. "Nice whites" just doesn't sound right. It's not that I'd never told Kevin that he looked snappy, but for some reason, it didn't feel right. So I didn't acknowledge the whites, and I could tell he was disappointed.

Much as I vent about my mother, there are things about my upbringing for which I'm grateful-- two types of grateful: directly grateful, i.e. grateful for the things mom deliberately did, such as put a roof over my head, value education, etc.; and indirectly grateful, for the things that mom didn't do on purpose, but from which I nonetheless benefited. One of the latter was to make the option of living with her, as an adult, no option at all. The people described in that Post article I posted a couple of days ago, as well as some people I hear about, must not mind living with their parents (and I don't mean people who have lost their jobs and have no other choice; I'm talking about the postpone-adulthood crowd).

Another thing that my mother did for me without trying was teach me to fight back when pushed into a corner. She achieved this by regularly pushing me into a corner, as a result of which I came to understand that appeasement would get me nowhere in the long run, but more importantly, that there was no reason I had to stay there, even though she pushed. It is very--tempting would be the wrong word-- natural to feel obligated to relate on someone else's terms, when that person establishes terms and just expects you to follow along. But you don't have to.

This is vaguely related to roommate, in the sense that just because he's hurt by the fact that we're not friends, doesn't mean I have to let him define the terms of the relationship. But really I thought of it because I finished "Comfort Me with Apples," and, more to the point, read the part where Ruth Reichl's mother insists on visiting for Thanksgiving--buys the ticket without asking first--and then proceeds to rearrange the furniture to her liking. When Ruth and her boyfriend protest, she said she was going to invite the people she met on the plane over for a gathering and couldn't possibly host them in the house in it's prior condition. (In case you were wondering, yes, she is Jewish). When Ruth stands firm, her mother announces that that's it, she's leaving, and Ruth, to her own surprise and to her mother's, says 'fine, leave.' She does insist that she's welcome to stay, and that leaving is her (the mother's decision), but that she won't pander.

I've been through similar situations many a time. Mom was shocked when, many years ago on a family vacation, she suggested we all go our separate ways and meet up at the end, and I said, "fine." She fully expected me to freak out and beg her to reconsider, as I had yet more years before. I'd had it.

We all have our rules of interpersonal interaction, and successfully manipulative people are very good at throwing down theirs as if they're standard. Often, they fool themselves, too, and they don't realize that they may have won the battle, gotten what they wanted, but that the person with whom they're interacting registered it as a defeat, perhaps one where the fight wasn't worth the effort. It wasn't free, though-- after a while, people who will compromise once, twice, or for years, will eventually have had enough. It's really much healthier for everyone involved to not play these games in the first place.

Friday, June 12, 2009

People of Washington rejoice!

Screen on the Green is back. I guess Facebook is good for something.

Random post

First of all, roommate update/educational moment: The only non-personal roommate issue that came up yesterday is that I asked him to recycle. So today, he asked me whether the plastic container that had held his dinner was recyclable. I indicated the triangle on the bottom. He said "Ohhhhh."

Now I'm about to say something that's going to sound racist, but it's actually just classist, if that's any better. I say this as someone who has studied (and fallen in love with) Latin American literature and--the classic disclaimer of someone about to say something offensive--has many Latin American friends. Why the f* are the people blasting music down the block listening to such CRAPPY music? Why? Why am I hearing a Latinized, muzaked version of "Groovy Kind of Love"?

Friday evening roundup

This summer in chick lit, complete with links to excerpts.

If this isn't quite the stupidest thing I've ever read about, it's because there's a lot of stupid $hit out there.

Tom Toles pretty much captures Virginia's primary and, today, echoes the ideas brought up in my previous post.

Is it fair to blame the fearmongers?

Krugman's compelling argument follows a must-read roundup in yesterday's Eye Opener. Nor has the phenomenon escaped Judith Warner's notice.

See also a scary example:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The reset button

A good thing happened in the roommate situation: we had a genuine conversation. Things had gotten so bad that even he couldn't take it anymore. He initiated a discussion; he agreed that he was trying too hard to be my friend, and agreed that he'd stop. I agreed to be (even) more direct when he does things that bother me. He explained that he'd never had a roommate before-- that he'd only lived with his wife and kids, and they're all extroverts, so he had different expectations. He seemed genuinely willing to try to stop trying. He'd even wondered to himself why he'd been trying so hard. Hopefully, you'll have a lot less roommate blogging to read from now on.

Thursday evening roundup

My reaction to the last line of this article was WTF?? Apparently, that view was widely shared.

Passport comes through again, also in the WTF department, international a edition.

How not to try to take your foot out of your mouth.

On what I hope is a lighter note, the Post asks whether delayed adulthood is the new normal. For the record, I have a book called "Mid-life Crisis at 30" but I hate it. One of my favorite lines (of the article, not the book) is "Isn't it possible that these delayed adults are taking what the shrinks call a "developmentally appropriate" old feeling and giving it a new name, like the bananas that are now marketed as "all natural" when in fact they have always been all natural?" That's how I felt when I first saw onions in the supermarket touted as having no cholesterol.

Thursday morning roundup

Interesting personal history of the SCOTUS.

I'm not sure whether this is enough to make me feel better about Virginia's state government.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wednesday evening roundup

More horrifying news out of North Korea.

A nuanced, impassioned column on democracy in Russia.

Last night's Formidable Opponent:
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Formidable Opponent - Don't Ask, Don't Tell
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorStephen Colbert in Iraq

Passport roundup

I finally got a chance to catch up on Passport. Here are some highlights.

To each her own

I ran into someone at work on Monday, whose baby was due today, who said she was a bit disappointed that she felt fine and didn't look nine months pregnant.

Wednesday morning roundup

I reiterate that while it's no less than tragic that so many people doing important work are persecuted for it, it's heartening that people keep doing it.

Susan Jacoby asks a good question.

I guess it's true: my people do run the media, and the government.

I agree with Maureen Dowd's overall message, and I'd agree that it's "not the same" here, but I'll have her know that "here" is hardly a cultural black hole.

I just love the title of this unextraordinary, yet encouraging column from Kathleen Parker.

By the way, in case you were wondering, I was one of the four people that voted in the Virginia primaries yesterday. It was eerie to see that normally-crowded-on-election-day polling place with nary a soul apart from the volunteers. And yes, I voted for Mr. Deeds, and not just so I could say it. I'd actually made up my mind before the Post endorsed him-- upon watching the debate. He's more socially conservative than I am (not hard) but I he convinced me he was the right man for the job.

On friends

Remember my post a few weeks ago about the conference freebie of a Bohemian crystal that roommate left around, presumably because he'd seen that I had an actual Bohemian crystal downstairs? In my post, I was perplexed at what he meant by leaving the corporate-logoed crystal around, and found it presumptuous, and just *incorrect,* to equate the conference freebie with the crystal a friend had brought me back from Prague.

Well, last night, I had an analogous reaction to this guy's take on friendship.

A good friend had invited some friends over to his apartment to celebrate his 30th birthday. It was a very fun evening, and as I was chatting with people at the gathering and talking about how various people knew the mutual friend, I thought back to how this friend, and another friend with whom I'd corresponded earlier in the day, have been through a lot together. We've been friends through a lot of difficult as wonderful experiences, and we've been there for each other. This friend, in particular, was there with me the evening I broke down in a movie theatre as the emotional toll of a much-needed but still upsetting breakup caught up with me. I've been there for my friends under similar circumstances, which inevitably come up over the years. They don't have to be especially difficult circumstances-- being there with people, and having people there with you, through the milder ups and downs of life, is what also strengthens friendship.

So who does RM think he is to presume friendship after less than six weeks of our having met (much less managing to annoy the crap out of me in that small timeframe)? In previous posts, I've only addressed this glibly: there are people with whom I like to spend my free time, and he's not one of them. That is a true statement, but it's not the key issue bearing on the state of our 'friendship.' How dare he presume a place in my life comparable with that of my actual friends?

Should he once again choose to play the friendship card, I'll be more than happy to set things straight.

Response to comments

(1) I've made similar comments about people who attempt international relations analysis without training: some can pull it off, but it would behoove most to leave it to people with training or at least experience. It's such a minefield-- probably as with creating writing--and even medicine--it's one of those things that even the luminaries get wrong sometimes, much less the rest of us who are merely 'trained.' It's also one of those fields where what the training teaches you is, you never know, and a sense of certainty is your worst enemy.

(2) If I were to swap this guy out, I wouldn't get another roommate: it's just too much hassle (or the odds of getting someone worse). In fact, when his lease expires, I don't think I'm going to get another roommate. By then, I'll have gotten rid of my second mortgage, and while the extra income would be helpful, it would be less comparatively helpful.

The events of the weekend made me think about whether it was time to evict, and then something work related happened that almost gave me an excuse to do so, but he backed down. He's annoying, but it's nothing I can't put up with for less than half a year, especially given how infrequently he's here. And I don't think it would come to kicking him out, because before that, it would come to--I would owe it to him to--very directly articulate everything that I've been haphazardly saying. Which it may come to if he continues to fail to get it, which I'm predicting will be the case.

I guess the other thing I'm saying is: it's not that bad. We have very minimal interaction, and it's a distraction. I wouldn't say it significantly lowers my quality of life-- I just like to bitch about it. Perhaps I'm just optimistic that this time he'll back off. I mean, "take your gift back" is a clear message if I ever heard one, but then again, I'm not the one whose ability to understand messages is in question. In a way, I'm looking at this as an opportunity to practice my conflict resolution skills.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


There's a knock on my office door. There's also thunder in the distance outside.

A.: Yes?
RM: I think it's going to rain today.
A.: Yes. I think it is.
RM: Are you taking the metro?
A.: Yes.
RM: Okay, good.

Monday, June 8, 2009

My [enter placename here]

I was thinking, while my Paris is no one else's Paris, my Bluefields, for example, is probably not that different from Marisa's. It's not that we didn't have vastly different experiences; it's that, from what I understand, we left with a very similar impression, taste, sense of the place.

What about my Galapagos? It was hardly unique in most ways, and yet it was because of the people I was with. I wouldn't go back, because I don't want any other memory of the Galapagos distinct from the ones from that most amazing trip. Yet, as a place, the Galapagos I experienced was (were?) the same as the one(s?) experienced by most travelers these days. After all, a friend who went months earlier swears that the animals in my pictures are the same as those in his, only months older.

Some friends said of my China pictures that they have photos of the same places and in some cases same people--thirty years earlier--although my China was worlds away from theirs.

I feel the same about my Istanbul and my Delphi as I do about my Galapagos, but in different ways. I think lots of people share in Istanbul, and I just happened to have a great time there with my friends, and that will always be my Istanbul. As for my Delphi, it was characterized by intermittent rain and cool air, and a lack of crowds, as well as by the shared experience with Kate. My Delphi would be a different Delphi had I gone in high tourist season. Perhaps it would be like my Bruges, which was disappointing.

One more, then I'll stop: my St. Petersburg. Which is vastly, vastly different from that of any non-Russian who's gone, one of whom quite stupidly said to me that he was surprised by my references to poverty, since he hadn't seen any there. My St. Petersburg is one of belonging, family, stories-- stories like 'in that spot over there, when we were in grade school, one of our classmates was hit by a stray bomb.' My St. Petersburg is also the one I cycled through at midnight on a white night, the one that feels thoroughly mine, even though I've spent much less time there than Paris and don't quite know my way around. Is it as much mine as Boston is mine, even though its locals could immediately call me out as a foreigner? Then again, they'd call out my parents as well, and it's certainly theirs. And many locals of Boston would immediately call me out as a foreigner, too. Which to me just means that it's not up to them, it being whether or not it's your city. It's how you feel when you're there and when you think of it.

On gifts

When I read Robin Givhan's column on Saturday, I didn't find it particularly post-worthy, but last night's roommate episode changed that.

As I've established more than once on these pages, I'm a say-thank-you-and-appreciate-the-thought person when it comes to gifts, so I feel guilty, not to mention awkward, rejecting one. Of course, the pivotal issue wasn't the gift as much as the giver and my relationship to the giver, but it was also the nature of the gift, in relation to that relationship. If you follow me. While I'm not so traditional that I believe that gifts of jewelry are only appropriate between the married and engaged, my relationship to my roommate is not one that allows for such gifts. It--maybe--would have been slightly less inappropriate if it had been closer to my birthday, but the fact that it was a full month later, and any reasonable person could be expected to acknowledged that he missed my birthday, and move on, made it even less appropriate. An appropriate, and welcome, gift for the nature of our relationship would be his buying some toilet paper for a change.

He put me in a very awkward position, but I refused to let him define our relationship toward friendship by foisting this box on me. I have never misled him; it's true that when he first moved in, I showed him around, invited him (i.e. bought him a ticket to) a fundraising event at which I was volunteering so he could try out different area restaurants, etc. But in my language, that was 'welcome to the neighborhood,' not 'be my new BFF.'

I don't want to go all Deborah Tannen on you, but there is certainly a communication gap here. There's a name for this phenomenon, but it escapes me, so you'll have to settle for an analogy. Say you're pretty softspoken, but you're talking to someone who tends to yell. You model what you see is the appropriate volume, but the other person thinks, 'I can't hear her, I'd better talk louder,' and you think, 'now it's worse, I'd better speak more softly to set an even stronger example,' except that the other person thinks the same. And that's pretty much what's happened here: I go out of my way to define my relationship with my roommate as nothing more than neighborly, and he then goes out of his way to be my friend. I retaliate by being even clearer in my boundaries; he reacts by challenging those boundaries. Which pisses me off even more, and makes me want even less to do with him.

In a way, it almost makes me understand my mom better: I understand why she sometimes snaps. Of course, in her case, there's a lot more going on, but a constant refrain is, 'how many times have I told your father..." Meanwhile, I can see how he tunes her out. Of course, often when I interact with my father on an issue that involves getting things done (say, switching gates at the airport), I get extremely frustrated with him and get the impression that he just doesn't listen. It's like that song--angry anymore. I'm willing to summon as much patience as I can for my dad; I don't see why I should have to for my roommate.

I missed another good opportunity, today, to flat-out tell him to back off. And I blame him.

I'd just gotten in; it was pretty late. He came in a few minutes later, just as I was sitting down to my dinner of celery with hummus. Because I was starving and it was instant. We exchanged pleasantries. He was about to go for a run.

RM: Am I still a decent roommate?
A.: Sure...
RM: Okay.

What I wanted to say was, "You're a great roommate. Great. The issue is your trying so hard to be my friend." And I was perfectly willing to say it-- just not in a drive-by fashion. Why would you bring something like that up, if you wanted a real answer, when you're about to leave the house and I'm holding a celery stick?

Getting through this guy's thick skull is like trying to communicate with Gracie: nothing works. Except I can't even spray him.