Monday, August 31, 2009

I listen to old French music when I get into my nostalgic moods, and tonight I was too lazy to get up to get hard copies of old French music, so I sought it out on Youtube. I went for two of my favorites: Yves Montand's "Bicyclette" and Jean-Louis Marat's "Le Train Bleu," complete with that extra nostalgic kick in the butt: "entre Lyon et Geneve": Warning: the video is cheesy. But the song is beautiful.

The reason I bring this to your attention is that RM came in, thought it was beautiful and soothing. I don't know about soothing-- it's pretty depressing (and the man speaks French, so he'd know that). He asked me to play the video again... and stayed in the doorway until I found it, played it. It was a good thirty seconds, and it was awkward. And now I have that song in my head, but I guess that beats "Tabouleh."

The (other) city

ETC, tell your friend that if he wants to meet single women, all he has to do is move to DC. The numbers are in his favor, and that actually has a self-multiplying effect: men in DC know that the numbers are in their favor, so most of them are especially full of themselves, which makes the few who aren't more attractive to women. I could go on and on about dating (and also, not dating) in DC. I can ask many a friend to contribute. I probably have this conversation once a week, with different/alternating groups of friend. I don't even remember who it was that said it was because the men are all power-hungry and take themselves too seriously. That was weeks ago. That could be part of it, but I like start with the most basic possible explanation: they are full of themselves because they can be. The most widely cited figure is seven single (straight) women for every one single (straight) man. You have the married, the gay and the leaving-the-country. With those kind of odds, it's not hard to feel good about yourself. The upshot is, no need to take dating classes; just move to the nation's capitol.

Roommate update

He's trying to kill my patience with a thousand paper cuts. I know I thought I wasn't going to get annoyed about stuff like this, but taking stuff out of the trash is getting old. Who knew that aluminum cans could be recyclable? Still, in and of itself, that didn't annoy me, because I'd rather dig through the trash than have to make conversation with him. Dinner wasn't that bad, because it was pretty easy to get him to do most of the talking. A while ago, he'd hinted that he'd wanted to ask me all about my life, and there was a little bit of that, but managed to give short answers and get him to talk a lot more about his. He asked me what I did when I spent time online-- did I surf the web? I didn't think quickly enough to say that I mostly watched porn, or anything equally interesting, so I just said that I mostly read the paper and e-mailed with friends. He asked me what was going on in the world; I shrugged. I don't think he understands this whole reading the paper thing, which scares the crap out of me, because he's an 06, and it would be best for the country if he saw staying informed as a civic obligation rather than an exotic activity.

To his credit, he did clean. He also inadvertently made himself useful-- he caught me pensively staring at my pantry, lost in analysis. I thought out loud, "do I want bulghur or buckwheat for lunch this week?" He voted for buckwheat. I must say, it's quite nice with black beans and roasted vegetables. That--well, mostly the cleaning--put him back on my good side, but then he had to forward me some sort of listserv notification of something that my employer is going to be doing, FYI. But I try to keep my employer out of my weekends, as well as my personal e-mail, to the extent possible. Doesn't always happen, but it doesn't help when he forwards me things. That I'll find out about anyway soon enough (and sure enough that notification crossed my path several times today, and it didn't help to have seen it on Sunday). What got him firmly back on my shitlist, however, was knocking on my office door this morning to say goodbye before the workday. Boundaries. There's just no need for that kind of thing.

Monday evening roundup

Check out the Daily Show's compendium of Glenn Beck's finest moments. This is very relevant to this blog, because Glenn Beck is my mom's hero. Nonetheless, I don't think any of the videos in the link are as good as the one I embedded a day or two ago.

Check out these really beautiful photos of Ramadan around the world.

Grist on why boycotting Whole Foods is not the answer. The writer of that piece evokes a great concept: "when a protest is only a click away." I understand that gives people an illusion of influence, especially given how powerless we feel as voters. But taking (cheap) action for the sake of taking action, without regard for the potential consequences, is masturbation, not activism.

Thankfully, my ab workout, which tends to happen during class, at the gym at work, has never had this effect on me.

Monday morning roundup

A great article on feedback and criticism. I'd love to send it to my mother--especially in light of her obsession with making me a better person through scathing, insensitive comments--but she'd miss the point. The cultural and generational analysis is worthwhile, but I especially relate to the bullet points:
¶Criticism is judgmental and accusatory. It can involve labeling, lecturing, moralizing and even ridiculing. Feedback focuses on providing concrete information to motivate the recipient to reconsider his or her behavior.

¶Criticism involves making negative assumptions about the other person’s motives. Feedback reacts not to intent but the actual result of the behavior.

¶Criticism, poorly given, often includes advice, commands and ultimatums, making the person receiving it feel defensive and angry — and undermines any benefits. Feedback, on the other hand, looks less at how the person should change, but tries to prompt a discussion about the benefits of change.
How is the handling of the response to Hurricane Katrina comparable to Cash for Clunkers?

Roger Cohen has a knack for writing remarkably boring columns about interesting topics.

I'd like to think I'd never treat my parents this way. I fully anticipate, however, that if they ever move in with me, they'll drive me up the wall. I also think this is interesting in the context of aging:
There is a misguided assumption that baby-sitting is sustenance enough for the aging, said Moina Shaiq, founder of the Muslim Support Network, which brings seniors together. “We are all social beings. How much can you talk to your grandchildren?” Mrs. Shaiq said.
I've heard it come up a lot among mothers, too.

Egyptian culture is showing signs of increasing openness.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I'm ready for him to go away again

So I may have a gratitude problem: it may be that I should be grateful that roommate is cleaning, rather than annoyed that he's wasting water on dishes that are already clean. To be sure, I'm grateful when he cleans the common areas. I'm just annoyed when he does my dishes, or generally does things for me that he has no business doing. And be aware that I'm not concerned about my water bill--it doesn't change. I'm concerned about water as a natural resource.

He saw me bringing my laundry down--I'd put it down for a second to turn off the light--and grabbed it for me, said "let me help you with that." I rolled my eyes. I was on the phone when he came in from his outing into town, and vaguely noticed that he spent a good twenty minutes at the sink, presumably washing dishes. Except that all my dishes were clean. And we've been over this: I don't necessarily put them in the dishrack, because they're wet, and other things in the dishrack are dry (and I can't be bothered to put them away). The point is, he doesn't need to wash my dishes for me anyway. It's just too much.

Which makes me thing that in addition to this gratitude problem, I may also have a Goldilocks problem. I never got why Mike, my roommate in Boston, would do a sinkful of his own dishes and leave, say, a bowl that I'd left soaking in there. I thought that was pretty pathetic. If I'm washing stuff in the sink, I'll pretty much wash everything. But that's different, because you're already washing dishes.

So, two months left. Do I tell the roommate to cool the charm offensive? Because it is driving me nuts. Or do I feign gratitude, or even try to see if I can muster some of the real thing?

***
After I got off the phone, I asked him how his urban expedition had gone. He had a great time, got off at Foggy Bottom, went to the Kennedy Center, etc.

He then proceeded to describe to me the cross streets around the Foggy Bottom metro.
In detail.

I nodded.

He continued.

Why he might think that there's an aspect of the Metrorail system that he can illuminate for me is anyone's guess. I mean, once you get east of Capitol Hill on the blue and orange lines, I have no idea what's what, but I'm pretty familiar with Foggy Bottom. This whole thing wouldn't have been a big deal if he'd stopped at "24th and M" or whatever he said, but he kept going. I just don't know why. Oh, well.

Sunday evening roundup

Effective social movements 101, health care reform edition.

Men's underwear is quite the economic indicator.

crazy. pills.

OMG this is f*ing amazing: Whereas this is just wrong.

Sunday afternoon roundup

A twist in the VA governor race. In sum,
"he described working women and feminists as "detrimental" to the family. He said government policy should favor married couples over "cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators." He described as "illogical" a 1972 Supreme Court decision legalizing the use of contraception by unmarried couples."


In terms of learning from one's national history, Russia is not Germany. Even in the Post's obituary pages, you can find a nonchalant reference to "Russians' growing nostalgia about the Stalinist period."

Scare tactics.

I've never found anyone to bring out the social implications of fashion like Robin Givhan.

A friend and I were just talking about this talking every day thing.

Were these people raised in a barn? You don't extend other people's invitations, especially to weddings.

I want to throttle my roommate

See the previous post if you haven't already.

I just got in from a long, beautiful bike ride. I want to take a minute out of slamming my roommate to once again proselytize over the Mt. Vernon trail. It's is breathtakingly beautiful. So much so that as I was riding, I thought, the clarity of the water and the clean reflection of the trees reminds me of the Canadian Rockies.

I did wake up early this morning--around 6am--and left for the trail shortly thereafter. The morning is the best time to go, because there are fewer people, the temperature is perfect, and the water is usually more still. I thought of what RM said yesterday, and it continued to infuriate me. If I am up at 6am on a Saturday, I most certainly do not want to chat. And honestly, I almost never want to chat. Why can't he understand that?

And I thought, what a selfish prick. It's like, no matter how clear I make my preferences, he continues to impose the nature of relationship that he wants.

And I thought, my mother would say I should be grateful that he offered to take me out to dinner--just like theoretically I should be grateful for the (now-returned) earrings--but I'm not. I didn't want to go out to dinner. You can't make me want to spend time with you, and you can't make me appreciate things that I didn't want in the first place. Martha and I were talking about this, because the behavior fits a pattern-- it seems like it's helpful and altruistic, but none of it is about you; it's about him.

I mean, it was a great bike ride--in fact, I felt so insufficiently kicked in the butt that I opted to take the Wilson Bridge trail after I returned from Mt. Vernon, and then I rode to Whole Foods. Oh, and does Remy Moustafa have an Alexandria counterpart, because I'd love an Alexandria rap. Why the f* can't I get bike parking at Whole Foods on a Sunday morning? But I digress.

I really enjoyed my bike ride, and I'm still not actually in a bad mood, but I still wanted to throttle RM. He was sitting at the dining room table when I walked in; he asked me how the ride was, I said great. Then he said, "I just woke up! I feel great! I must have slept for 11 hours!" And I just thought, "f* you. That's what I would have wanted to do yesterday, but you decided to come in and make noise because you assumed I'd be awake and up for a chat."

And the funny thing is, I wasn't *angry* about his having come in and woken me up when I thought he'd forgotten something. That would have been fine-- we all forget things sometimes, we all have to wake people up for legitimate reasons on occasion. But the fact that he figured that I was up and feeling sociable, and so didn't bother to be quiet until it was too late, was annoying enough, and this morning's self-congratulations on how well rested he feels is just the turd icing on the shit cake of my accumulated exhaustion. I cannot tell you when I last slept in (sleeping in until 6am on a weeknight doesn't count).

I know, wah. It's not like I'm working multiple jobs and/or single-handedly raising kids or otherwise partaking in thankless, exhausting activities; I'm exhausted because I've been spending a lot of time with friends. I am, nonetheless, exhausted, and I know that roommate's being well-rested in no way contributes to that exhaustion, so I shouldn't begrudge him his well-restedness. Nonetheless, I just want him to shut up.

That feels better. Now I can go on enjoying my morning and reflecting upon the breathtaking bike ride.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sleepy (and here's why)

I can be slow on the uptake sometimes. I've noticed that I can have a delayed reaction to something someone has said, that it can take time for the full meaning to register and annoy and/or infuriate me. I think I developed this as a coping mechanism for dealing with my mother. But how I got this way isn't the point.

Over dinner, my roommate told me about his thought process this morning, and it just hit me how silly it was.

He was going to an event in DC and then staying with a friend in Maryland. He had a seminar (for work) that started early in the morning, so he was going to go straight from his friend's house, but decided to stop at the house instead to drop off his car. He thought I'd be up--at 6:30 AM, on a Saturday--and that we'd get to chat. He figured it was a fair assumption, since I often am up at that hour in the morning.

I guess. I guess it was fair to figure that I might be up. It surprises me, though, that it didn't cross his mind that I might not be up.

His thinking is very linear that way: I had coffee two days in a row, so I'd want it the third. I'd just always been afraid to ask; I'm often up by 6:30 on weekends, so I'll always be up at 6:30 on a weekend.

In reality, I have coffee sometimes and almost always make it a point not to have it three days in a row so it doesn't become a habit.

In reality, I do go out *sometimes* on a Friday or Saturday night, and sleep in on Saturday. I mean, several days this week, I slept in until 6am during the work week (and thankfully, he opted not to knock on my door to ensure that I hadn't overslept).

He knew I had dinner plans. We were actually up past midnight talking, and I was looking forward to sleeping in. But whatever, I don't begrudge the guy the right to come into the house to get his stuff. Sure, the alarm woke me up. I managed to go back to sleep for a little while.

But it boggles my mind that he was surprised that I was still asleep.

When he pulled up to the house, he saw that my shade was pulled and that the lights were off... and thought, "oh, she's probably up but reading in the dark or something."

WTF?

Then, he came in, and didn't see me downstairs. Still didn't make the connection that I may be asleep at 6:30 AM on a Saturday.

It wasn't until he came upstairs and saw that my door was closed that he started moving more quietly.

Does this thought process make any sense to you?

Am I allowed any variety in my life, as far as he's concerned, or does it just mess with is circuitry? Oh, in case you were wondering, he is an engineer by training.

Again, I forgive the initial assumption that I'd probably be awake. It's how much evidence to the contrary it took to shake that assumption that blows my mind.

And there's an out of sight, out of mind thing going on, too:

RM: You haven't done yoga in a while!
A.: Yep, I've been doing yoga.

Wouldn't it be less presumptuous to say, "I've not seen you do yoga in a while"? But it's like he doesn't see it, so it doesn't happen.

I'd better go to sleep, because I'll probably face questions if I'm not up pretty early tomorrow.

I'm going to office space the ice cream truck

As we speak, i.e., as I write, there is an ice cream truck playing some really f*ing annoying "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." I'd like to file a complaint. It's certainly been going on longer than whatever the ordinance allows.

I survived restaurant week. Woohoooooo!!!

I've come to hate restaurant week. The dinner is not a good deal, and I never want to eat that much food anyway. Lunch at Ceiba was nice--I do love that place--and dinner at La Bastille was pretty good--but the best meals I had were at non-restaurant week places. Just Alexandria holes in the wall with really good food and low-key vibes.

I do have to tell you, though, that it broke my heart last night, when it was all quiet in the restaurant--it was just us and the waitstaff, and they were sitting around a table, chatting, and I couldn't understand them. I could understand them enough to think that I should have been able to understand them, but I couldn't make out a single word. Ironically, the first time I ever went to that restaurant was when Heather, Lisa and I decided to go after class and see if we had sufficient linguistic ability to order in complete sentences. I think we chickened out. But it was fun, and I kept going back. And now I can't understand a word.

In any case, it was good to catch up with my friends. We got to reminisce about the good old days. Beth reminded me of how we shared a gym locker in grad school. That seems like ages ago, and it was. We talked about dating debacles past--I didn't even have to bring up any of my own, it was just good to hear other people's. Not that I wish them on my friends, but it's heartening to know that they happen to everyone.

The ice cream truck is still going, but it's muted since I've closed the window. I really should call the police on that thing one of these days.

We also talked about how we can't deal with the Post. It was really good to discuss this with someone who felt exactly the same way: it's great to get the local paper, especially when it's more than the local paper, but that feeling of having to read it just weighs on you. I'm trying to look at it as a charitable contribution: just like I don't feel compelled to read Amnesty International's entire newsletter, I shouldn't feel like I have to read all of the Post.

Grrrrr

How do you politely say to someone, “I’d rather read than spend time with you”?

My roommate is still trying to be my friend.

I’d just gotten off the phone, after a long conversation, with an actual friend… after having spent the morning on a long walk with an actual friend… after having had a long dinner the night before with actual friends. I went upstairs to read the paper when RM said, “let’s do something together tonight.”

A.: Er… um… well, I don’t have other plans tonight, but I’ve been really busy and haven’t had a lot of time for myself, so I need some catch-up time.

This is true. I’ve also used it before, and it was also true. But it’s even more true this weekend.

Actual friend with whom I was just on the phone had remarked that people like RM—in the context of this conversation, it was someone she’d dated, but she tied in RM—people who go out of their way to do things “for you” aren’t actually thinking about you. It’s always about them. But I digress.

How do I say to RM, “Spending an evening with you, or even an hour of an evening, is not a good use of my time”? Because that’s what it comes down to. But it’s a terrible thing to say. But he’s put me in that position: I shouldn’t have to come up with an excuse to not spend time with him, just because he happens to live in my house.

Said friend and I also discussed manipulative people. As we were talking, I sat on the futon downstairs, and found crumbs on it. I was livid. This is not something I’m uncomfortable bringing up with roommate, but I wasn’t about to leave them there until I got off the phone, so there’s no longer evidence. My comfort level notwithstanding, I know that if I did bring it up, he’d get all overapologetic and overcompensating, maybe sheepish. And I just don’t want to deal with it. His past behavior being such that I don’t want to deal with it, he is manipulative.

More later… off to mow the lawn.

Saturday roundup

Hello, my friends. You know it's been a fun month when I've not managed to get a single weekend roundup out first thing in the morning.

Scene-in goes to U Street, which is just blocks from where I used to live in the District many years ago.

Monsanto continues to take over the world. Now that I've said that I guess I'd better find a lawyer.

Friday, August 28, 2009

okay so I'm not yet getting ready for dinner

I... don't...understand...

One man takes helicopter parenting to a whole new level.

Friday evening ramble

Speaking of small talk, I generally prefer my business transactions (haircuts, spa treatments--because I get so many of those, etc.) without it, much like I prefer my papaya without cat hair, but these are things in life we cannot entirely control. It's not so much that I hate talking to people, although sometimes I don't feel like talking to people--it's like what that woman whose introvert blog was reviewed by Gulliver said--it's that I prefer substantive conversation. So, this morning, I was actually relieved when the guy cutting my hair started dishing.

Now, I have to say that my honeymoon with the Aveda Institute had already come to an end. I knew it was only a matter of time, but I also know that I've had bad experiences at non-Institutes, and I've had more good experiences at AI than at many salons and spas. If I have any issues with AI as far as haircuts go, it's that they're very cautious and err on the side of boring, which is the opposite side from that erred on by everyone else who's ever cut my hair. So this morning I made a point of being very clear that I needed face framing; my hair just doesn't work with out it.

BTW, afterward, the stylist instructor came by and gathered a couple of students around to demonstrate how to work with really curly hair. Then, she said to me that I had beautiful hair and that women paid a fortune to get perms that would do what my hair did naturally. Take that, mom and your accusations of "Hagrid hair." Of course, it may well be, as mom would say, that the instructor was just being polite. "Beautiful" is not a concept I associate with my hair, apart from the color, and that's perhaps because I'm sick of people telling me to get highlights or at least cover the gray. Cover your own gray and get the f* off my back. But I digress.

My haircutter, who is black, had a red mohawk. And an on-again/off-again relationship with an Italian-American man from Brooklyn. Who cheated on him and made fun of him for having taken ritalin as a child. He asked me if I was dating anyone. Keep in mind that the Institute--at least the hair part-- is a big, open space, with a bunch of adjacent hair stations. I gave up a few details of my recent dating history and steered the conversation back to his much more interesting drama.

He also talked about how his suburban friends think he's nuts because he never rode a yellow school bus as a child--in DC, you just take the metro, or, for field trips, a regular chartered bus. One of his friends said, "but there're crazy people in the metro." I said, "there're crazy people everywhere, including on the roads." He concurred.

I left with a pretty decent haircut and some amusing insights. Then I went to the gym for a torturous class. Chris had us do more bicep curls, in a row, than any of us thought humanly possible. Later, he had us do pushups with our feed on the stability ball. Those SUCK.

Anyway, I'd better get ready for dinner. Happy Friday!

This is SO my family

Yup, we recycled before it was trendy. And my parents still reuse things to an extent even I think is obsessive.

Speaking of sensible shoes, today's Manolo post is hilarious.

Roommate update: drama level low but steady

There's been nothing egregious; in fact, we're back to the charm offensive. And I could stand for less charm.

Let's recap: He's here for another two months; until two weeks ago, he was away for three weeks, and when he came back, he landscaped both yards; and he's been good about respecting my space.

In return--or to some extent, because I don't want to deal with it--I'm determined not to let things [that we've talked about] bother me-- things being recyclables in the trash, crumbs in the toaster oven and elsewhere, etc. I've brought these things up enough times that if he doesn't get it by now, it's a lost cause, and it's more efficient for me to salvage recyclables and clean out the crumb tray than to get him to do it.

What's harder to deal with, actually, is what's been hard to deal with all along: his being too nice, his trying to help.

I mentioned the other day that I saw that he was about to make coffee, so I asked him to make me a cup. The next morning, he asked me whether I wanted coffee, and upon thinking about it, I said, "yes, please." This morning, I didn't want coffee. He made me some without asking (which is fine--I saved it for tomorrow morning, and it's not worth mentioning in and of itself). It just fits into the theme of doing what he thinks I want and going out of his way to do it (although I suppose in this case there was no going out of his way).

Then, he fed Gracie. And that just pissed me off.

She has a breakfast time. I deliberately don't feed her before that breakfast time. I deliberately do not feed her in response to whining. And if he doesn't know that--and I'm pretty sure it's been explicitly discussed--he should.

So this morning, I was upstairs and she was at her food bowl, whining up a storm. I said, "I'm coming, Gracie." So he gets up and feeds her.

No, no, no, no. Please only feed my cat when I'm not home.

But I didn't say anything. It's just not worth it at this point.

I just want him to stop helping. Is that okay?

Anyway, the icing on the cake came this afternoon, when he came in and brought a friend over. They're going to some festivities in town. RM went upstairs to get his stuff together, leaving me to entertain his friend. Which I kind of resented, because I wanted to read the paper and not interact with a human. But I had to listen to this guy for ten minutes. This is what happens when you let people into your life: they let other people into your life to waste your time.

I'm sorry. I've had very little time to myself over the last month, and I'm going out to dinner with friends tonight, so I was relishing my me time. I calmed down when it turned out to be only ten minutes, but while it seemed possible that the small talk could go on for a while, I was not a happy camper.

I'm giving you a topic. Discuss.

The issue of unelected officials (in this case, judges) making decisions with potentially significant political and diplomatic implications is an interesting one, and it was central to International Criminal Court negotiations. A related issue came up in a conversation I had recently--and also in that Grist review of "The Cove" that I posted a couple of weeks ago: what is the right entity to negotiate on behalf of a population? Why are elected officials preferable? After all, they're beholden to parties, such as lobbyists, whose interests may generally differ from the population that those officials represent.

I'll take my metro without misguided symbolism

When I posted the Economist's ode to Moscow's (and St. Petersburg's) metro systems a few days ago, I hadn't realized that it left out a not negligible element, i.e. a step backward in Russia's process of coming to terms with its history.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lunch: a Thursday evening ramble

Does your loyalty lie with Sheetz or Wawa? Bonus: the article has a ven diagram reference.

I prefer Sheetz; where I used to work, it was the best lunch in town. Their soft pretzel eggwich melt was out of this world. It was also a team bonding ritual, the field trip to Sheetz was.

Coincidentally, I was thinking today, before I saw the article, how cool it was to be going out to lunch. This is the first job in as long as I can remember where I can actually meet people for lunch. In Boston, I worked on an island, so meeting friends in town was out; as a grad student in DC, I was broke and too busy, although occasionally I'd go out for lunch with the other research assistants at the think tank at which I worked part time. I think we actually finagled a happy hour once, too, at which I fell in love with Garrett's fries, not to mention their gin and tonic. But I digress. After that, I worked in the middle of nowhere for a few years, so Sheetz it was. And like I said, Sheetz was awesome. Sheetz will always have a place in my heart. But in that era, I couldn't meet random friends for lunch.

So it hit me, as I was heading out meet a friend--restaurant week, as well as the well-timed absence of my friend's overbearing boss, prompted the outing--that I'd always wanted to be able to do this. Just to have the possibility. I was living the dream that had been up to a year and a half ago inaccessible to me by virtue of an ocean or a series of highways. And now, without a second thought, look at me! I'm heading out to meet a friend for lunch.

Apart from the exotic aspect of the whole thing, it was really nice to actually get *out of the building* for lunch. It was nice, as I walked out, to run into and be greeted by several people on their way back from lunch. It hit me that I had friends and acquaintances in the office--that I was settled in enough to have friends and acquaintances in the office--to the degree that I can randomly run into some of them as I leave the building. Mind you, I usually hit the gym for lunch (and then eat at my desk), and I definitely have gym/locker room friends and acquaintances. That hit me the other day, too. I even have a go-to gym buddy for "could you help me zip up my dress" and perhaps vice versa.

So in addition to the symbolism of being able to go out to lunch, and the epiphanies that come on the way to lunch, it was fun to be out to lunch with a friend.

***
Back at the office, I met with a couple of my teammates. Somehow, we got to discussing liquid lunches and workplace drunk-dialing etiquette. For example, when is it appropriate to drunk dial a colleague's cell versus his or her work number? I said I was a big fan of workplace drunk-dialing and tended to call work numbers, because that way, when you're in your hotel room in Hawaii, and you've had a few, and you're watching CNN and something infuriates you, but it's the middle of the night on the East Coast, you can still unload your fury on someone's voice mail.

Thursday morning roundup

Kristof says our healthcare system is fit for livestock.

Italian women have had enough.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pearlstein on health care reform

This is excellent. Although it's kind of scary that when I read "eliminating all federal farm subsidies" I got very excited and was just about ready to sell out meaningful health care reform in service of that cause. I quickly collected myself.

Morning conversations

I got to sleep in a little this morning, since I had an early meeting at a place half-way between home and work and would meet my team there. I was nonetheless groggy--just like people who exercise tend to overcompensate with food later, I react to the knowledge that I'll have another hour to sleep with a tendency to stay up later... and it backfires just as much, since I wake up around the same time anyway. In any case, I came downstairs just as RM was setting up the coffeemaker, and I actually asked him whether he'd make me a cup. He said he'd be very happy to, and indeed, he seemed thrilled to be in the position of being able to help me out. The coffee hit the spot, and I resolved to be more tolerant of his quirks (but not genuine annoyances). So it was that I shrugged off a comment earlier this evening about "learning from me" about eating healthy-- I got a McD's coupon book in the mail and offered it to him rather than sending it straight to the recycle bin. I asked whether he ever ate there, and he said he used to but now he's learning from me... and I think that's weird. I mean, did he not know before he "learned from me" that eating healthy was an option? What exactly have I taught him? But I digress.

I met my team onsite. G. pointed out her non-matching blazer; she'd spilled "grape" gatorade on the matching one that morning. That's so the kind of thing that I often do, although in my case it would be tea or toothpaste.

After the meeting, we took the metro to the office. It was packed, and I was surprised to see hordes of people get off at Archives. Hordes do not get off at archives between 6-8am. B. pointed out that those were the tourists: their one-day metro passes become active at 9:30, and that's when they flood the system. Thank goodness for that rule, because we don't need more people on the metro during morning rush hour.

G. also said she hated the metro for the germs. I said I hated driving--people here are so crazy and stupid that they're more dangerous than metro germs. Also, with all the horrendous signage, you're prone to getting lost. This sparked a conversation about the worst trouble spots for getting turned around. J. said that there was an article recently about a study that found that someone taking GW Pkwy to Rosslyn (which is one of my frequent routes), going the speed limit, cannot possibly read the signs in time to make a decision as to where to go. He said he'd send it if he manages to find it.

As we walked into our building, I put my suit jacket back on. G. told us that when she worked at Arthur Andersen, the management insisted that suit jackets be on at all times, should a client be present. They also discouraged employees from frequenting fast food restaurants, should they be seen there by clients. I remarked that perhaps the management's efforts would have been more effectively directed toward discouraging employees from helping Enron cook its books.

Wednesday evening roundup

The Onion.

More transparency in government is not always better.

Newsflash: cupcakes are trendy. Turns out they're also recession-proof.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tuesday evening roundup

When I read this--here's a quote: "Although some may view that sought-after 100% designation as a welcome benefit, Bunker said, being diagnosed with a disease that generally kills people within five years far overshadowed any monetary gains."--I thought, 'that's f*ed up.' Then I read this, which surpasses the f*ed upness of the first article by leaps and bounds.

As with many counterterrorism, irrational fear resulting from misunderstanding health care reform distracts from things we actually should be worried about.

Okay, we're going lighter from here.

Even though I'd never taken a writing class until a year or so ago as part of on-the-job training, I couldn't agree more with Stanley Fish. And if I may say so myself, I think our collective lack of writing skills is sad. I recently thought of that great line in "Sleepless in Seattle," when Rosie O'Donnell's character says, "So he can't write! Verbal ability is a highly overrated thing in a guy, and our pathetic need for it is what gets us into so much trouble." Such a classic.

The Economist, or at least its travel blog, Gulliver, says not to bother with silly travel gadgetry. Sound advice, if I may say so myself (do bother with noise-blocking headphones, which they don't mention). I think it's hilarious that they slam travel pillows, after the Post ran a whole article on them in this past Sunday's travel section.

BTW, Gulliver finds paradise in Russia's metro systems.

I found this article on money management for couples fascinating, but less for the money management angle and more for the idea that opposites attract because of people's sense that their own way of doing something isn't quite right. I've definitely done that (again, not so much with regard to money, but things like decisiveness). And then I've always come to regret it. It's like how for a long time, I really admired people who knew what they wanted to do with their lives from an early age, and thought there was something wrong with me because I was all conflicted and confused. And then I realized that many of those people weren't really any more sure-- they just thought they were because they weren't as introspective--and now they're just as confused. So yes, I'm aware that my ways of dealing with careers/money/food/etc. aren't perfect and so I'm in awe of people who have it figured out, but then I realize there's a reason I handle those things the way I do, that a process of thinking it through and trying out different ways eventually brought me here.

Jay just shared this with me, and I sure wish I could be sure it's a joke.

Tuesday morning roundup

As nice as it is that this dude isn't throwing a temper tantrum and packing heat, he's still wrong. Here's some sound advice: turn off the Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and use your f*ing brain. Nobody wanted to take over the car companies or the banks. As for fears that "a universal coverage system would dole out tax dollars to “lazy and irresponsible people who play the system...”" do you mean the unemployed?

Our society's seeming inability to discuss complex issues with nuance and thought just gets scarier:
The debate over Dr. Emanuel shows how subtle philosophical arguments that have long bedeviled bioethicists are being condensed, oversimplified and distorted in the griddle-hot health care debate. His writings grapple with some of the most complex issues of medical ethics, like who should get the kidney transplant, the younger patient or the one who is older and sicker?
Thinking conservatives--even the AEI--are getting worried about the soundbiting of public discourse. The Post comes to Dr. Emanuel's defense.

Really, the Guardian and Independent? Your editorship considers Wikipedia a legitimate source?? I love Wikipedia, but I wouldn't cite it in a newspaper (and I'm not allowed to cite it at work).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday evening roundup

Fascinating article on tribal loyalties, corruption, and regionalism in Afghanistan. And another on less complex challenges to stability:
Frustrated, Governor Massoud said his “government is weak and cannot provide agricultural officials, school officials, prosecutors and judges.”

He said he was promised 120 police officers, but only 50 showed up. He said many were untrustworthy and poorly trained men who stole from the people, a description many of the Americans agree with. No more than 10 percent appear to have attended a police academy, they say. “Many are just men from the streets,” the governor said.

The Afghan National Army contingent appears sharper — even if only one-sixth the size that Governor Massoud said he was promised — but the soldiers have resisted some missions because they say they were sent not to fight, but to recuperate.

“We came here to rest, then we are going somewhere else,” said Lt. Javed Jabar Khail, commander of the 31-man unit. The Marines say they hope the next batch of Afghan soldiers will not be expecting a holiday.
As to whether it's a war of choice, Kagan responds to Haass:
But there is a deeper reason, as well, for Obama to claim necessity in Afghanistan. It is part of what increasingly seems to be a striving for moral purity in international affairs by this administration. Obama and his top advisers apologize for America's past sins, implicitly suggesting they will commit no new ones. And that goes for fighting wars. No one can blame you for fighting a war if it is a war of necessity, or so they may believe. All the inevitable ancillary casualties of war -- from civilian deaths to the occasional misbehavior of the troops to the errors of commanders -- are more easily forgiven if one has no choice. The claim of necessity wipes away the moral ambiguities inherent in the exercise of power. And it prevents scrutiny of one's own motives, which in nations, as in individuals, are rarely pure.
and
As Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out long ago, Americans find it hard to acknowledge this moral ambiguity of power. They are reluctant to face the fact that it is only through the morally ambiguous exercise of their power that any good can be accomplished. Obama is right to be prosecuting the war in Afghanistan, and he should do so even more vigorously. But he will not avoid the moral and practical burdens of fighting this war by claiming he has no choice. An action can be right or just without being necessary. Like great presidents in the past, Barack Obama will have to explain why his choice, while difficult and fraught with complexity, is right and better than the alternatives.
I may have issues, but if I had $4-8k lying around, I can assure you I would not spend it on ankle lipo (or any kind of lipo, for that matter).

You guys know I love Grist, especially their food writing... at least when it's political food writing. Much that they've posted about preparing food has actually just annoyed me. Take this zucchini fritter recipe. Now, I've actually posted my zucchini fritter recipe on this blog, because enough people have asked me for it. People looovvvvveeee my zucchini fritters, so I come to this fight from a position of strength. I am usually tolerant of alternate recipes, but this one just horrifies me!

Squeeze out the water? There's zucchini flavor in that water. Of course then you feel like you have to compensate with scallions. Now, I'm a big fan of everything in the onion family, but (Russian-style) zucchini pancakes let the zucchini speak for itself and don't overwhelm it with competing flavors. To keep your fritters from watering, watering, don't salt them until they're frying.

Still "having to wonder"

RM came in a few minutes after I did. I was in the process of packing my lunch for tomorrow-- I tend to cook a bunch of food on Sunday, and then apportion out into smaller tupperware throughout the week. I made a really great lunch dish for this week-- black beans, spinach, red rice, salt and pepper: easy, inexpensive, healthy and delicious. As I was apportioning it, I thought, "that's it-- it's that easy to eat well on a budget." Dry beans, frozen spinach, etc.

Then I turned to making my dinner, which was also easy, inexpensive, healthy and delicious. I cut up some grilled pepper, zucchini and broccoli that I'd roasted earlier (maybe $1.50); spooned out some baba ganoush (oh, $0.50); toasted a whole grain tortilla ($0.30), spread some goat cheese on it ($0.50), and topped it with a serving of (wild caught) smoked salmon ($2). I wasn't thinking of the nutritional value or the price as I was making it-- I was just thinking about how tasty it was going to be--until RM came back downstairs and said, "wow, that looks healthy."

Shrug.

I hadn't thought about it.

It's like that cliche: "you can make yourself happy or unhappy; it takes the same amount of work." Similarly, you can eat healthily and unhealthily; it takes the same amount of work (and almost as little money). And it tasted great.

Why am I going on about this? First of all, I found RM's comment curious. Who says that? Who remarks on the apparent health of another person's meal? Would I ever say to him, "man, that looks utterly devoid of nutritional value!" And--presentation is not always a factor in the things I prepare, but this time, the plate looked good--I was surprised to hear him say "healthy" rather than "good." When I recovered from the oddity of what he'd said, I actually responded with, "it takes as little work to eat healthily as it does to eat unhealthily."

Also, you'll have noticed, on these pages, my rants about the nation's food system. You'll have heard me say that the elitism arguments are a bunch of horseshit. I made myself a delicious dinner in less than ten minutes for less than $5 (and a similar lunch for the week for less than $1 a serving-- mind you, that would go up were I to use organic spinach). I realize that a frozen dinner will come to under $5, and takes even less time to heat up than it took me to compile my meal, but isn't it worth the extra $1.50 and five minutes of effort? Don't let the food industry sell you on the idea that real food is labor intensive or expensive.

How’s Gracie Trying to Kill Me Now

Here’s another one to file under “mom is always kind-of-right.”

When mom irritates the shit out of me and I call her on it, she falls back on the argument that I should learn to control myself and not be so easily irritated. This isn’t exactly fair, because by the time I snap at her, my other cheek has probably been turned for some time and through some serious bullshit, but she nonetheless has a point: I can’t change her; I can only manage me. That’s the core lesson of many an office politics/dynamics class, and of clinical psych 101: your power against external events (and people, and animals) is in how you react, and that’s something. (See this post on mom-narcissism--apparently mine isn't unique in justifying abusive behavior as a personal favor for the greater good).

I can try to reason with mom, tell her that having to listen to her backseat drive/tell me I have Hagrid hair/point out that I’ve gained wait/etc. ad nauseum would unnerve a saint. Just because my reaction is ultimately up to me, doesn’t mean she can’t also control herself and refrain from trying really hard to push me over the edge. And yet, I concede her point: my reaction is ultimately up to me, and it would behoove me to grow immune to agitation. I can at least reason with Mom (although I would also refer you to Barney Frank’s dining room table analogy about the utility of doing so); there’s even less utility in reasoning with Gracie.

This morning, after I’d already fed her, she decided to start whining. I don’t know why. It was a grating, needy, unnerving whine. I was running a little later for work than would have been my preference, and I was slicing a pepper to have as a snack with my hummus. Gracie let out a “rrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrr;” I told her to shut up. She let out another, even more annoying one. I got agitated and sliced right into my thumb, which proceeded to bleed profusely. I dealt with that, dealt with my pepper. She didn’t stop whining. I screamed at her—at that point, she knew I meant business, and promptly shut up. I’ve blogged before about her ability to pick the absolute worst times to be needy and whiny, and how inevitably they exacerbate my already agitated state. My thumb still bleeds when I change bandaids, and Gracie still has the nerve to whine for no good reason. And my mom has a point: I can’t change her; I can only train myself to tune her out.

Monday morning roundup

A conservative on health care reform.

The perils of trying to capture the complex nuances of human emotion through binary code:
“Sentiments are very different from conventional facts,” said Seth Grimes, the founder of the suburban Maryland consulting firm Alta Plana, who points to the many cultural factors and linguistic nuances that make it difficult to turn a string of written text into a simple pro or con sentiment. “ ‘Sinful’ is a good thing when applied to chocolate cake,” he said.

The simplest algorithms work by scanning keywords to categorize a statement as positive or negative, based on a simple binary analysis (“love” is good, “hate” is bad). But that approach fails to capture the subtleties that bring human language to life: irony, sarcasm, slang and other idiomatic expressions.
I've half-joked about my struggles with portion control, but I've actually embraced it of late... not in a measure-and-weigh-your-food kind of way, but more simply, eating slowly and not eating more than I need to/want to. This is much easier in the absence of my mother and away from situations that encourage overeating, but even in restaurants and events where tempting food abounds, it's just somehow hit me--all of a sudden, really-- that too much of a good thing isn't worth it. There will always be more of that good thing, at times when I actually feel like partaking. Which is why, as I read this, even before they quoted the author of "French Women Don't Get Fat," I thought "portion size." I agree with the other stuff she said, too--walking more, eating more fruits and vegetables--but what really hit me in the first half of the article was, there's only so much of that that one's body will want to consume. It would be hard to eat a lot of something with that much butter, and so on. So just have a little.

As for me, I won't be buying "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Too meat-focused, too labor intensive. My next cookbook purchase will be Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian," and that will only happen once I actually need yet another cookbook.

RM update: shrug

RM actually bought some perishable (not to be confused with fresh) food. He came in yesterday afternoon with lots of bags of groceries and started unloading. I said I'd move some of my stuff in the fridge so he'd have more room. He said 'oh no it's fine,' and that he had enough space, but it turned out that his idea of having enough space was formed by his not really understanding fresh food, which, unlike packaged food, doesn't do well underneath heavier food. And while I offered to consolidate my food for purely altruistic reasons, rather than quasi-selfish ones, it was only because it didn't occur to me that it wouldn't occur to him not to place his boxes of food directly on top of my grapes. No damage was done before I moved things around, but like much that RM does, I just had to wonder.

And when I say, "I just had to wonder," that's exactly what that means-- that it doesn't so much bother me as remind me what a different person he is, what a different world he inhabits. I'm also still grateful that he cleaned up the backyard, which looks great, and that he's not making a big deal of a situation that I did not manage well--one that is too complicated for this blog. As I've written before, I think it's good to live with or otherwise interact with people with different habits. And in two months in change, I'll have to find a different way of doing that.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

More Sunday roundup

Bosnia's not doing so well.

Let's all give the Hitler rhetoric a rest.

A travel writer explores a very pertinent dilemma:
Almost any traveler who has ventured into nature or the developing world has to grapple with such moral dilemmas. Some people think it is cruel to swim with dolphins, because it forces the animals to be kept in captivity. Others refuse to visit authoritarian countries such as Zimbabwe, fearful that their tourist dollars will help prop up repressive regimes. And almost anyone wanting to catch a glimpse of an indigenous culture -- in the rain forests of Ecuador or the yurts of Mongolia -- has to be aware that the very presence of a foreigner likely alters and distorts typical native behavior.
She later writes:
So is it unethical to visit the long-necked women? It is clearly true that money spent to visit them supports an artificial village from which they essentially cannot leave. On the other hand, many of them appeared to prefer living in virtual confinement as long as they are paid and safe. According to what they told me, their situation beats the alternative of living in a repressive country plagued by abject poverty and hunger.

I don't feel guilty about visiting the Padaung, but my feelings might be different if I had traveled solely as a tourist rather than as a journalist. And I certainly don't like their lot in life: Shouldn't everyone have the freedom to live and travel wherever they want?
You've heard me wax nostalgic about France. I haven't, but certainly can, do the same over French food, and so it crushes me that there's now a consensus that it's not what it used to be.

What always struck me about French food was its freshness and emphasis on flavor and quality ingredients. It was about bringing out the best in each vegetable, grain, etc. and making the meal so much more than the sum of its amazing parts. I really learned to love food in France (and Switzerland). I guess there's solace to be found in the idea, according to the article, that the tradition lives on, albeit outside of France.

Sunday afternoon roundup

Nicholas Kristof laments the decline of the family farm.

Frank Rich answers the question in my previous post, as follows:
...the biggest contributor to this resurgence of radicalism remains panic in some precincts about a new era of cultural and demographic change. As the sociologist Daniel Bell put it, “What the right as a whole fears is the erosion of its own social position, the collapse of its power, the increasing incomprehensibility of a world — now overwhelmingly technical and complex — that has changed so drastically within a lifetime.”


Oh, I resubscribed to the Post. [Shrug.] I'll let you know if I find anything good.

Immigrant childhoods

I love the Mediterranean Bakery first and foremost for its hummus and baba ganoush, which are both out of this world-- and I mean heavenly. Their other stuff is good and hard to find elsewhere-- bulk olives and feta; bulghur, buckwheat, etc. But there's something more the that place than its products-- it's its essence. It's an international food store like the ones I grew up going to, and like the ones I still go to with my parents when I'm in Boston. Those are Russian stores, and there are no good Russian stores, to my knowledge, in northern Virginia (I maintain that the Russian Gourmet is a joke). I've heard there are some not bad ones in Rockville and other Maryland suburbs, but getting there tends to be too much of a hassle. But I digress.

Going to the Mediterranean Bakery feels like coming home, in a good way, even though "home" comprises the mixed experiences of an immigrant childhood. It feels like I'm activating a latent part of me that I often forget is there. I mean, you wouldn't, unless you were especially perceptive and maybe even if you were, see me in the street and think, "immigrant." Actually, some people do, and they're also immigrants. They just know. Other people don't believe it-- I don't fit their concept of immigrant. And it's not something that I prioritize as a factor in my identity; I actually learned not to, a long time ago, as a survival mechanism. It's something I now draw on when I feel like it, but it's something that, in my efforts to hide it from the outside world, I've managed to put out of my own field of vision, to the extent that I, myself, often forget about it.

But that doesn't mean that it's not there, or that it doesn't influence who I am. As a contributor to today's Times puts it:
Like school, “Thirtysomething” felt urgently essential and yet confusing — always the signs that a given issue had to do with America and the fact that I was an immigrant — and every week I tuned in hoping to learn how to talk the adult talk and maybe soon walk the adult walk.
and
Even after 27 years of being American, the last 8 as a true citizen, I was once again filled with a foreigner’s panic and reverence at the show’s slice of American life. But the reasons were different this time. I was drawn to “Thirtysomething” not for what it could teach me about life as an American adult, but because of its very distance from the American adults I am and know. I was watching not to emulate their lives, but because theirs are lives I just don’t see, period.
BTW, that contributor teaches creative writing at Bucknell. If you see her, tell her I loved her article.

I've recommended David Bezmozgis' "Natasha and Other Stories," written that more than anything else I've ever read, it made me feel my childhood in my bones. His upbringing among immigrants was in Toronto, mine in Boston, a friend's--with whom I shared that book-- elsewhere, but I bet it would resonate just as powerfully for the vast majority of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who came here as children. It may resonate almost as much to immigrants from elsewhere--there are definitely common threads in the immigrant experience.

My family got to Boston before the massive waves of Russian immigration, so assimilation wasn't so much a conscious choice as the way forward. That didn't make it easy or seamless... it just made it inevitable. That's why I still marvel at the fact that I can pass for American-born. Everyone's experience is different--everyone to some extent picks and chooses how Americanized they become and also accepts a greater or lesser level of assimilation that is beyond their control. Like an accent, if you moved late enough to keep a foreign one.

I don't want to romanticize the experience--like I said, it wasn't seamless--but I think it was easier here than in other places where I've lived, even Britain (Zadie Smith's "White Teeth" covers that well). You'll recall the press' taking note that other countries, like France, couldn't have come up with a Barack Obama (although that one did come up with a Sarkozy--which begs the question of whether you then have to be a Bobby Jindhal: so conservative as to be non-threatening).

What I'm getting at is, even though growing up foreign in America in the 1980s wasn't painless, it was doable. I hope that's not changed and not changing for the worse, for the more xenophobic. The yellers at the town halls scare me, even though I'd never doubted they were there. Now that they're coming out of the woodwork, people are asking whether they represent the vestiges of a more homogeneous society. Maybe it is all about health care and not at all about racism; maybe they're not channeling health care reform as a proxy for fear of a demographically changing country. Maybe it's some of both and even they can't tell the difference. What do you think?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Someone remarked the other day that my mom blog wasn't really a mom blog.

Are you--all five of you--going to get even more bored by the lack of drama once roommate moves out in a few months? Alas, by then, the holidays will be approaching, and those always bring mom drama, so fear not.

Until then--and especially while mom still isn't talking to me over the New Yorker article incident (i.e. my refusing to e-mail her my e-mail address--which she has--plus detailed login instructions)--all I can really do is rehash old mom stories and tie them into new things, like this excerpt from Robin Givhan's column:
The reality is that a good portion of the culture has become loudly vocal about how clothes don't matter and how it's snobbish or shallow to suggest that they do. But clothes are part of our broader aesthetic obligation to each other. That commitment pushes homeowners to mow their lawns and not be a blight to the neighborhood. It makes them think twice before painting their houses in psychedelic stripes. The desire to be aesthetically respectful means guests give consideration to what they wear to a friend's wedding or mourners take care in how they dress for a loved one's funeral.
This reminds me of an older post-- one that I thought was in my top ten but is actually here. The whole thing is worth a read, if I may say so myself--especially for those of you who enjoy the "not sexy" posts--but I will excerpt here the part relevant to what Ms. Givhan is saying:

Mom: What are you wearing to Julia's wedding?
A.: A pink dress.
Mom: Oh, I have cute red shoes that would go with that.
A.: Red doesn't go with pink.
Mom: You're so concerned with what society thinks!


I just love that. What's so incredibly absurd about it is that the whole point of coordinating an outfit to wear to any special event, much less a wedding, is (a) a symbol of respect for the occasion and its honorees and (b) a social act. It follows that it's one of those situations where "what society thinks" matters. It in turn follows that my mom's statement was hilariously ridiculous in the context of what we were talking about. She just cracks me up.

Roommate update

So far, so good: roommate has remained relatively inoffensive (although I did have to take some recyclables out of the trash), and after the three-week separation I'm better able to appreciate rather than resent his good intentions. He called me today--it was pouring down rain--to offer me a ride from where ever I was, in case I was stuck (I was volunteering several blocks from my house, and the rain had let up a bit by the time my shift was up). I'm not sure whether this would have annoyed me a month ago-- it would at least have struck me as nice but unnecessary-- but today it just struck me as nice.

Also, I was out late last night, as I had been Monday and Tuesday nights, and I was glad he was here to feed Gracie. I was also slightly annoyed earlier in the week:

A.: Thanks for feeding Gracie last night! [He'd just gotten back, and it hadn't been pre-arranged]
RM: Not a problem. You were out late!
A.: I was.
RM: Ooooohhhh....
A.: No, not "oooooohhhh." I just had dinner with a friend who got back from vacation, and then the metro was slow.

He fed Gracie again last night; I thanked him.

RM: You were out late! I was up later than usual--watching a movie--and you still weren't back. I thought, "she's having a great time! she's probably doing crosswords..."

I thought that was really funny-- that roommate thinks that that doing crosswords on a Friday night is my idea of a good time. And what can I say? It is.

And I'm genuinely glad--see, I'm not even saying that I don't care--that he's getting out and exploring the area. He told me that he'd walked along King Street and actually gone into some of the shops--although I balked when he said he was going to walk back to the King Street metro and metro one stop--but then he realized it would be just as well to just walk back to the house. He also biked almost all the way to Mt. Vernon and said it was beautiful. Again, what can I say? I like it when people agree with me.

***
I inadvertently timed my Netflix reactivation date to coincide with The Daily Show's and Colbert Report's three-week hiatus. I'm quite excited about that.

Saturday roundup

Accolades for "shut the f* up" in action.

Please, please, please read this Time's comprehensive article on the nation's food system. Read Grist's analysis thereof, too, but not as a replacement of the original. And then read Ezra Klein's piece on cheap food.

I believe in multi-party democracy and hope for constructive opposition.

The tragic and unconscionable impact of a f*ed up detention system.

Gail Collins is always worth a read.

An oldie but goodie. A (hilarious) classic, really.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Some accountability after years of getting away with selling bad movies.

I love Hawaii. I don't miss the very long flights (or the screaming children that almost invariably populate them), or epic work hours, or horrendous traffic... but I miss the landscape, and some of the people I used to work with. And I think this is interesting:
Public intellectuals do not exist; public debate is rare, except on issues that transgress religious dogma. Hawaii is noted for its multitude of contentious God-botherers. One hundred sixty-three years ago, Melville remarked on this in “Typee.” Yet “tipsy from salvation’s bottle” (to borrow Dylan Thomas’s words), they stick to specific topics (same-sex marriage a notable example). No one else pontificates. It is regarded as bad form for anyone in Hawaii to generalize in print, as I am shamefully doing now.
Is income inequality in this country reversible?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This makes the whole ordeal worth it

My roommate told me I've had a huge impact on him and his family: now, when he's at home, he goes around and turns off the lights in all the rooms but the one(s) he and other people are in. His wife thought he was insane. He also no longer runs the AC all day, etc. He'd just never really thought about it before. Maybe he'll keep spreading the gospel.

Thursday evening roundup

Why do those crazy liberals go on about how pollution is a problem? I wonder if I tell my roommate about this, should he opt to go fishing in a stream, will he say "and??" Mercury is not made of corn.

Some perspective for those of us who fret over bad hair days.

Saints preserve us... or in this case, the Venezuelans.

A quick, global perspective on health care, and another wry, humorous one from Paul Krugman. Here's a long but interesting article about the French system. I'll excerpt the fabulous last paragraph:
Yet even the smallest budget moves are proving controversial. Local residents are up in arms over a cost-cutting measure that makes patients pay €1.10 an hour to park at the hospital. "It's a scandal," says retired local Communist politician GĂ©rard Eude. "It goes against the very idea of universal health care."
The Labor Department is back.

Fascinating, must-read Freakonomics post on the value of protests.

I highly recommend last night's Daily Show in its entirety. And not just because I love Tim Gunn. At least check out the coverage of Barney Frank's town hall. Also check out Dionne's take on guns at town halls.

Thursday morning roundup

Steve Pearlstein says the public option is overrated; Ezra Klein disagrees. They discuss. In any case, Rachel Maddow is right that the Democrats need to grow a pair and remind themselves who voted for them.

I guess there's something to be said for not mincing words. I can't say there's something to be said for counterproductive sops to industry.

Gail Collins on disgraced politicians and reality shows.

On this anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, I'm planning on going to a photo exhibition at the Wilson Center on Prague through the lens of the secret police.

RM update (no drama, but still)

So far so good with RM. Mind you, it's been two days, but he's gone above and beyond the call of duty. I'd gone out to dinner on Tuesday night and came home to a fed cat and clean, mowed backyard. And we caught up briefly both yesterday and today, but I didn't feel like I was mired in a conversation either day, and not just because he, also, had things going on-- he was actually respectful of the fact that I was tired and had $hit to do. He's also making himself useful by agreeing to consume the leftover gorp and cookies from the camping trip, because I sure as hell don't need to.

At this point, you may be waiting for the "but." It's not so much a "but" as a "really??"

RM: I brought pictures of my garden, in case you wanted to design something like it.
A.: I definitely want to get going on the garden. I've been holding off because I haven't had a chance to go to the hardware store to get wood for the raised beds. Is your garden on raised beds?
RM: No, it's just on the ground. You don't want to do that?
A.: Well, in this area, there's a good chance that there's lead in the soil.
RM: And that... reduces the nutritional value?
A.: It's poisonous.
RM: Oh.

Call me an effete elitist who perhaps needs to "get the facts," but I'd rather go with the raised beds.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wednesday evening roundup

OMG this is so spot-on. I live near the projects--and have lived near various projects over the last six years-- so I get plenty of ice cream truck music, and it drives me up the f*ing wall. I'd like to enjoy a summer evening without ice cream truck music.

However, I find it unfortunate that parents feel like they have to issue disclaimers, proclaim themselves non-health nuts. I am *not* an effete organic food zealot with too much free time on my hands, in case you've thought otherwise, and I really wish organics would shed that image (and the premium). In this age of obesity and fake food, it's okay to want to exercise some choices over what you and your kids eat. Doing so should not be shunned as a symbol of snobbery or smuggery (like it is in the Corn Refiners Association ads). Besides, it is, after all, the poor that are baring the brunt of the results of our food system.

A very interesting history of home ownership in America. Among other things, this article touches on the extent to which we are unaware of "the government's invisible hand."

These Letters to the Editor in response to the Times' pieces on women in combat make some very good points. I didn't post the original articles because they're quite long, but they're worth a read (and linked from the letters).

Anne Applebaum's excellent piece on what's at stake in Afghanistan's election.

Grist reviews "The Cove":
Japan buys off tiny, impoverished nations like Dominica, St. Kitts, and the Marshall Islands, plying them with expensive building projects in exchange for backing for Japan’s continued violation of IWC regulations. The sense that this official bribery is a practice not unique to Japan calls into question whether international policymaking bodies can be forces for positive change in the world.

This depressing realization casts a cloud over the The Cove, and, for that matter, the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen. After all, what does the work of people like O’Barry matter if, in the end, everyone’s fate is decided by cold-hearted, suit-wearing bureaucrats, who, behind the closed doors of conference rooms, trade our futures for a few bucks?


This week's conversation blog also addresses animal cruelty. I appreciate Ross Douhat's evoking our society's tolerance for hidden cruelty. Many years ago, I'd worked with someone who became a vegetarian for philosophical reasons: he asked himself, about eating meat, whether he would kill it himself, and when he realized he wouldn't, he didn't think it was more acceptable to outsource the killing. He'd since started eating meat. I almost come down the other way: if I had to kill an animal for food, I would. But I don't, and I certainly don't have to cause mass deforestation for sustenance, so I choose not to. I do, however, have to cause massive carbon emissions to go on the vacations I want, so I do. Speaking of which, last week's conversation blog really makes me want to be in Tahiti or on the Almafi Coast.

While we're on the topic of sustainability, let's legalize marijuana if it means making it sustainable and organic.

Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, have written a provocative magazine piece. Those are some seriously inspiring women, and some seriously infuriating horror stories. Interestingly, this article, which sings the praises of microfinance as an anti-poverty tool, comes at a time that I'm in the midst of an ongoing debate over microfinance. I'd post some of the counterarguments, but the arguer has expressed hopes to never end up on my blog. Here's one take on the cons.

The Atlantic metablogs the Whole-Foods-Health-Care debate. The Economist advocates my favored prescriptions for many such ills: shut the f* up.

I've been meaning to post this excellent discussion/book review on the Gospel of Judas for a while, but wanted to wait until I had the time of energy to actually discuss it (I've now realized that's not going to happen). It's very much worth a read, and I encourage your comments.

Jon Stewart and Wyatt Cenac on exercising one's rights:
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Gun Show - Barrel Fever
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and Jon Stewart mocks CNN's new segments:
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Wednesday morning roundup

I absolutely chose to pay more for walkability.

A straight, bona fide conservative is leading the legal fight for equal marriage rights.

Have I mentioned that I've been apple-less because Giant was out of organic apples when I got back on Sunday, and I couldn't bring myself to buy them at Whole Foods? I guess I can go to My Organic Market, but that would entail getting in the car.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tuesday evening roundup

First of all, can I just tell you that I nearly had a minor breakdown because my laptop was not responding to its power supply--much like last year when furry little bi&ch broke it-- and this is just grief I don't need right now, especially since it would have been roommate's fault. He got back tonight (can't blame the dude for being away for the better part of three weeks) and turned on the AC, which entailed coming into my office to close the window (this is allowed), but he disconnected the power supply from the laptop in the process (it was disconnected when I got in and the battery was half-gone). It just slipped out again and then I had to creatively twist for it to work. While it may be time for a laptop upgrade soon, this one works perfectly as far as I'm concerned (when it's not giving me various power issues) and I'd like to keep using it.

Anyway, here's your roundup:

Richard Cohen on McCarthyism 2.0.

Ezra Klein has been on my $hit list of late for playing stupid devil's advocate on food issues, but I like his analysis of the Whole-Foods-Health-Care-gate.

A very interesting article on Who is the Taliban? Notable is the McDonald's analogy as a brand/franchise (I smirked because I thought of Remy Moustafa's McD's rap, which is not that great, but the Tom Friedman reference is hilarious).

On a related note, let's still care about Afghan women, even when it's not the Taliban infringing on their rights.

Stress response is self-perpetuating. On a bright note, I've conquered my propensity toward stress eating.

This Goop spoof is hilarious. Also good is the Fug girls' take in New York magazine.

The kids entering the work force are different from you and me. I discovered that years ago when a bunch of my young punk coworkers didn't recognize Pink Floyd's "Learning to Fly."

Just when you thought HL Gates' arrest was ridiculous, this is f*ing AMAZING.

I can't find this online, but the Time article on exercise has generated quite the backlash. However, it's already past my bedtime, so I'm still not going to slam it to the best of my ability.

One of the things we talked about this weekend on our camping/hiking trip is how we can't stand whiny hikers. You know what you're getting into-- you know it's not going to be a leisurely stroll--so shut the f* up. It's not easy for any of us, but we're not going to whine about it because that's not going to get us where we're going any faster. Anyway, one of the things I appreciate about exercise is that it develops in you that tolerance for discomfort.

I took a Taerobics class at work today... it was quite the butt-kicker. And I would have had dessert at Ceiba anyway, so it wasn't like I was overcompensating. BTW, Ceiba is amazing.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday evening roundup

Tom Philpott responds, calls out the anti-agri-intellectuals.

Anaphylactic shock is no joke. I should probably get a not expired epipen.

This comes off as an anti-exercise rant even though the author acknowledges the health benefits of exercise. More on this later.

I like the praising of the tourist trap as a monument to successful capitalism, but as for the rest of the article, I agree with David Gibbs.

A reminder that for many, health care reform is indeed "no abstraction".

Agree with both sides on this. The LOC has no business hosting Lynndie England, but they have a right to do it and we as a society need to move away from death threats as a debating tactic.

Great quote:
Sen. Elbert D. Thomas (D-Utah), then chairman of the Senate's Education and Labor Committee, urged passage by telling fellow lawmakers that the war was everybody's business. "When once total war . . . is undertaken, the sooner we bring home to our people the fact that all are responsible for the war, all might suffer by the war and therefore all should sustain the losses, the better off we will be in a social and governmental way," he said.


The date palm is the Olive Tree and the Lexus in one. And it's not doing well.

I don't think newspapers should be pro-government, but must the Guardian glorify the Taliban?? Here's a more nuanced perspective.

Sobering (changing) statistics on homelessness. Although I hate to nitpick... but is it fair to present "with a bachelor's degree" and "with mental health issues" as mutually exclusive categories?

I am hardly a hard-core camper, but I think glamping is a bunch of crap. That said, having forgotten cards and boardgames, we did watch Youtube from Alex's blackberry on Saturday night. And Alex was the last holdout to get a cell phone (among people who have actually gotten cell phones).

Monday morning roundup

I suppose if people are going to blame the President for everything, a six-pack-ab backlash is the least of his alleged crimes.

Two (similar) columns on the real costs of concentrating health care costs toward treatment of the elderly.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday roundup

Robin Givhan points out that town hall hecklers' poor style matches their behavior, and evokes mom:
For anyone who has ever been in relationships with shouters, they will know that few things irritate venters more than having their high-decibel rants met with the exaggerated serenity of Nurse Ratched.


This bull$hit about how the rich are hurting too and it can be hard making ends meet on $300k/year is getting old. I hope the Post knows it's going to get some hate mail for that one.

A profitable church parts believers from their money.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Saturday morning roundup

Even in the seedy underworld of K Street, karma's a bi&ch.

Speaking of karma, I'd hate to come back as a lab rat, but if I do, I want to be part of the yummy chocolate tests.

There is a special place in hell for people who exploit the vulnerable and desperate.

Freedom's just another word for nothing else to lose.

***
I really, really hope I'll talk to you again tomorrow evening, and not before... but there's that chance we won't get a campsite. Sigh. In any case, have a good weekend!

Friday, August 14, 2009

F*ing Remy Moustafa

I was handling parsley earlier this evening, and thought of and it's been stuck in my head ever since.

***
Can someone (Hans? Although I figure you're out camping yourself) tell me why my self-inflating sleeping pad won't deflate??

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