Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sunday roundup

The International Criminal Court would do well to branch out beyond Africa.

Industrial chemicals really f* up workers, and OSHA is not on it. For more failures in safety regulation, see coal. A friend of mine, who is libertarian and from coal country, recently shrugged off the dangers of coal (to the miners and people who just happen to be closest to the pollution it wreaks) as "when your contract with god is up, it's up."

Is it right to sell the site of Wounded Knee? Is it right to develop over the Berlin Wall?

Two reflections on two men with two countries each.

It's heart-wrenching to break up with a child.

Our principles are easily bent to utilitarian concerns.

The military might consider domestic outreach to civilians.

Chip and Dan Heath's roadmap for better decision making.

Frank Bruni on child-rearing.

I'm in no position to disagree with the experts, but I'm going to anyway:
Eating her fruits and veggies, even if she can get them at a decent price in her neighborhood, won’t do much for the single mother who has three children, an hour-long, multi-bus commute and an angry boss who can easily find another employee if this one shows up late.
Depends on how you define "much," but eating those fruits and veggies will serve her more than not eating them. Ultimately, I disagree with the message of the column, which is that we're at the mercy of external factors. I'm not suggesting that people aren't entitled to their stress responses to stressful situations, but I can't agree with the idea that we can't manage that stress. I recently spoke to a friend who had had PTSD (she is better now). She talked about how wanting to recover, helped her recover. I may be misstating things, but her point was that optimism of sorts will help get you through, and most mental health professionals will agree that we have a choice, at some level, in how we choose to respond to the events in our lives.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday evening roundup

Walmart is strangle-holding part of the food system.

On gender bias in STEM. By the way... and I say this as someone who barely passed high-school physics: the oversimplifications in the third paragraph of this profile of Fabiola Gianotti are glaring. But the rest is pretty inspiring.

Victoria's Secret is not marketing to pre-teens.

OMG this is the f*ing cutest thing ever.

Saturday morning roundup

China's pollution comes at a great cost.

Has Germany put too many eggs in solar?

Business has a place for artists.

Check out these cool pictures of Mars. Cool photos of other stuff at Retronaut.

I sometimes find myself in the bizarre position of defending the likes of Kim Kardashian, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Upton. Here's another one for Upton (this too).

Friday, March 29, 2013

Buzzed Friday evening roundup

Half a bottle of wine and a grasshopper taco (what?? they're sustainable... and yummy--love that crunchy shell) so don't hold me to high grammatical standards.

You know what I don't love? The new 'compose' in Gmail.

It seems almost flippant to go from all that to this extremely poignant article about the broader effects of sexual assault. It will make you cry, and scream.

Also poignant, but not tragic: a soldier brings his cat home with him.

Will Indiana pass ag gag?

Persuasion is not manipulation. Reading that reminded me of RM. There's getting what you want through buy-in and getting what you want while leaving everyone else feeling slimed.

Here's another thing not to tell your daughter. And another.

Stars are more colorful than we can see.

What?? [First-world problem alert:] I should cut back on liquid smoke? At least I can keep the smoked salt and smoked paprika.

Friday morning roundup

Will the Taliban take Karachi?

Have I mentioned that there are a shit-ton of antibiotics in meat?

Are poor, rural students out of reach for elite schools?

Smell that olive oil.

On that topic--the one addressed in the Well post, on the importance of fats to satiety--I have to mostly agree but kind-of disagree with this SoulVeggie post on Daiya cheese. I really see no point in eschewing fat in general, and I know the issue that vegan nutritionists take is with expressed oils, and Soul Veggie has it in for olive oil for that reason. Shrug. It's fine. As for Daiya cheese, of course its nutritional claims are absurd, but anyone with a brain has got to be able to figure that out (that said, given the success of gluten-free marketing to non-celiacs or non-allergics, I question the nutritional savvy of these consumers). This is touched on in the comments, but the issue is that, no, Daiya is not good for you, but it's also not bad for you. It's a sometimes-food. If you're going to Daiya to meet your nutritional needs, you have bigger problems.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thursday evening roundup

A poignant interview with the woman who knew her son wouldn't survive past toddlerhood.

The absurdity of misandry as a concept.

I like Alexandra Petri best when she's not trying to be funny, and her WTF-North-Dakota post is compelling.

A new book on sex in the Middle East.

I've never really bought Vali Nasr's reasoning on anything, but here are two challenges to his analysis on Afghanistan.

Sigh. Even organic compost may be fraudulently so.

Oh, WMATA: you're just not detail-oriented.

Really cool-looking sea slugs!

And some engagement photos gone really wrong.

I love these t-shirts.

Thursday morning roundup

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's flirtation with the military raises eyebrows.

Interesting ideas on the military-industrial complex and military-intellectual complex, but I kept wishing he would state them more clearly, with fewer words.

In Idaho, a biology teacher--teaching the reproductive system--gets in trouble for using the word "vagina.:

Thank you David Brooks for also bemoaning the dearth of men of marriage material.

These statistics on gadget choice really get me wrong.

These starfish and coral pictures are amazing.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wednesday morning roundup

Bad statisticians have subverted justice around the world.

Babies pick up on conflict even in their sleep.

I am loving the #SafetyTipsforLadies hashtag. One of my favorites:
Some good ones also seem to have been deleted, like the one atop Jezebel's compendium.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tuesday evening roundup

Peru feels the environmental damage of oil contamination.

What's the deal with North Korea.

The manliness crisis hits the military.

What?? Antibiotics in my organic apples?

Alright, I'm sorry I dissed the bugs. Bugs are pretty cool.

Women make great business decisions.

I love this quote about brain-technology analogies:
Because we do not understand the brain very well we are constantly tempted to use the latest technology as a model for trying to understand it. In my childhood we were always assured that the brain was a telephone switchboard. ('What else could it be?') I was amused to see that Sherrington, the great British neuroscientist, thought that the brain worked like a telegraph system. Freud often compared the brain to hydraulic and electro-magnetic systems. Leibniz compared it to a mill, and I am told some of the ancient Greeks thought the brain functions like a catapult. At present, obviously, the metaphor is the digital computer.
Your weight issues are your weight issues. Nobody else is imposing them on you by virtue of being thin. On a cattier note, I have to love this New Yorker cartoon.

And just when I questioned the quality of the New Yorker, they gave me a phenomenal "Shouts and Murmurs" (almost never happens) and a very decent piece by Lena Dunham. As much as I don't care for "Girls," (disclaimer: I haven't seen much of it because I couldn't take the first twenty minutes I did see), I have to admit that she's a talented writer. And there's no denying she's had an impact on discourse. Anyway, some parts of the article I loved:
After what feels like decades of making ill-advised forays into Spartan Chinatown living rooms and pretending to enjoy wine, I have met someone I love and respect, and I want to make decisions that honor and consider him. It would be a mistake to create a situation that compromised his comfort or made him less likely to squeeze me all night long.
I'm sorry but I love that. I love an open statement that it's perfectly legitimate to accommodate a special person in your life. I also found this terribly lovely:
Once, in a friend’s office, I saw a childhood picture of her husband on which he’d drawn a thought bubble saying, “I can’t wait to meet you, it’s going to take a long time, and there will be a lot of trouble along the way, but this is how it must be.” It struck me as impossibly romantic, the nicest thing you could say to someone, really.
Why am showing these signs of sappiness? That's so not me. But I'm just feeling sappy.

Tuesday morning roundup

You've got to hand it to Egyptian conservatives who talk about rape. At least they put it all out there:
“Sometimes,” said Adel Abdel Maqsoud Afifi, a police general, lawmaker and ultraconservative Islamist, “a girl contributes 100 percent to her own raping when she puts herself in these conditions.”
“You see those women speaking like ogres, without shame, politeness, fear or even femininity,” declared a television preacher, Ahmed Abdullah, known as Sheik Abu Islam.
Such a woman is “like a demon,” he said, wondering why anyone should sympathize with those “naked” women who “went there to get raped.”
When it's that transparent, it's just that much obviously absurd.

Meanwhile: if you were intrigued by your local male victimhood movement, the one in India will rock your world:
The site is heavy with pictures decrying the treatment of men (“Men, this is how the world sees you,” reads one photo of a roll of toilet paper) and petitions like this one, which declares, “Rape is a shield for a woman to harass men sexually and get away with it.”
Writing about the new antirape law, another Facebook commentator introduced a possible future strategy for the group’s members: “Now it’s better to avoid women, like u avoid cobras…”
You do that, guys; I have a feeling the ladies won't miss you.

But you should talk about money before you get married.

Victor Ehikhamenor, in his appreciation of Chinua Achebe, speaks to the power of the written word:
One of my older sisters had warned me that some parts of the book were so tragic I would cry. I never knew until then that written words could elicit such emotions.
On a lighter note: I'm glad someone is holding the groundhog accountable:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Monday evening roundup

China's water is tragic.

Myanmar sees increasing ethnic violence resonant of the Balkans.

Wow, Ford (and India), that's one f*ed up ad. Someone thought that was okay?

A lot of men are not reading market signals.

Women are curvy by definition.

The case(s) against ethanol.

Metro's hydraulic leak mess may not be one-of-a-kind.

The White House cannot, apparently, be trusted with food safety.

Sigh. Who buys processed foods for their toddlers?

I have to sort-of agree with the base argument this guy is mocking. Fat is good. Just not animal fat. While we're making nuanced distinctions (and commenting on what not to feed to young children), "carbohydrates" are not the same thing as "refined sugars." Also: the science of eating (not specifically food).

As much as I enjoy some of the pretty sciency pictures, I'm one of those vegans who's not bothered about insects. Let's look at awesome science pictures that don't involve bugs: turquoise ice on Baikal. You can also learn about dinosaur sex and check out this adorable polar bear.

This article about how sometimes it's not best to follow your dreams is, true to the headline, liberating. And I love the (Buddhist) concept of detachment from outcomes. Which made me think of another fable--this time Hindu--that evoked my mom: the Saint and the Scorpion (I'm not suggesting I'm a saint, nor mom a scorpion). But it is useful to keep in mind that her abusive tendencies are not personal, have nothing to do with me; they are her dharma.

I'm not sure why, but this cartoon also struck a spiritual chord. On a related note: there is no need to openly disapprove of people's lifestyle choices and opinions (which is not to say that you have to agree with them).

Snowy Monday morning roundup

As much as I resent the groundhog right now for lying to us--as much as I am ready for spring--I have to admit, it's beautiful out there.


Sarah Conly on why the Big Gulp ban is not without legal or philosophical precedent.

Wow, some people--I guess they're called extroverts--actually like talking to people, and those of them who have worked as toll collectors at the Golden Gate Bridge will miss it.

On minimalist and manimalist parenting.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday afternoon roundup

Imitation is a harmless form of non-bigotry?
Essentially Lindsey advocated a respect not just for Israel but also for the Jewish people, who were, after all, chosen of God. For many old-guard Protestants, who grew up hearing Jews described as “Christ-killers,” this shift was disorienting. It’s hard to overstate the traditional distrust, separatism and anti-Semitism that marked American fundamentalism until then.
We'll take it?
Protestant fundamentalists believe that the Jews are (at least until Jesus’ return) God’s chosen people. If Christ himself was Jewish, and followed Jewish tradition, the thinking goes, why shouldn’t Christians consider the ways their savior actually lived and practice the rituals he practiced? Many evangelicals have traded contempt of the past for a respectful, almost fetishistic view of Jews and, now, Jewish tradition. What this means in practice is extremely complicated. There’s a big difference between building bridges across cultures to foster understanding and building bridges so you can run across and ransack the other side.
I agree with the author (Maud Newton) and with Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr:
“Belief in Jesus as a deity or savior is incompatible with Judaism. It takes a special kind of presumption to declare oneself a more authentic version of a religion other than one’s own.”
The real problem is that, fundamentally, this fetishistic view of Judaism and the role of Israel in the advent of the end times sees Jews as a people to be herded together so that another group can achieve its eternal reward. To me that’s a troubling catechism. It’s ultimately not so far from the “Christ-killers” narrative of yore, just with an Israel-friendly varnish. 
 More on fat and feminism:
While I’ve been blogging about pernicious beauty standards, about the need for realistic images of women in media, about loving your body, I’ve been hating mine. I’ve been hurting myself. I’ve been starving.
The reasons it started are manifold and aren’t really relevant right this second. And in case you’re wondering, I’m doing much better now. The reason I want to ask your forgiveness is because feminist leaders are not supposed to fall down this hole. Feminist leaders, especially those who are former Presidents of the Princeton Eating Concerns Advisors for god’s sake, are supposed to know better. After all, we know all about the Beauty Myth and we know how photoshop works and we know that it is a radical act to resist the homogenized impossible unattainable commercial vision of what beauty is. We know all this.
And yet--I can tell you that knowing that you should accept yourself isn't the same as actually accepting yourself. I hated everything about wanting to lose weight, particularly the conflict and self-absorption. So what I'll add to the above is, it's all about accepting your feelings. That means, "even though I know that these are bullshit societal standards, and I can't believe I'm falling prey to them, I fully and completely accept the fact that I want to shed the fat." And of course, also accept your body as it is. But I also want to emphasize this: you are not going to hate yourself into a better body. I never starved because, let's face it, I love food too much and that love overcame any preferences about my body size, but I can still tell you that starvation and overexertion will get you nowhere. Love yourself, love your body, and love your food.

OMFG, what is wrong with these people? This is the female equivalent of dudes shooting their packages off. Another thing we ladies can leave to the men as far as I'm concerned--as much as I love the acceptance--is naming that which doesn't need a personalized name. You know who could actually use more awareness with regard to lady parts? Whoever neglected to notice them here.

Sunday morning roundup, Part II

What immigration reformers have learned from LGBT activists. Are you listening, food movement?

Speaking of the food movement, here's a recent success story.

We've been talking about the nexus of science and beauty, so I thought it time for another shout-out to science for suggesting an unprocessed way for cookies to taste even better.

What lessons is China gleaning from the collapse of the Soviet Union?

James Andrew Lewis explains Chinese cyper-espionage quite clearly. Paul Farhi defends the media pre-Iraq. Carlos Lozada gives us more clich├ęs to avoid. Ezra Klein explains Cyprus quite clearly and interviews Chrystia Freeland. Of particular interest (my emphasis):
There’s a question of do you buy the Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers theory of the world, or do you buy the manifest destiny, I-have-the-royal-jelly and you don’t view? There’s no one way of seeing the world, and different people are different, but for me, the most vivid statement of the royal jelly view came from Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who said if a man is not an oligarch, something is not right with him. The great thing about the Russians is they’ll say that kind of stuff directly.
and (emphasis mine, again)
Yuri Milner, the Russian billionaire, set up a prize in theoretical physics where he gave three million bucks each to what he thought were the nine best theoretical physicists in the world. The reason he did that, he said, is that he thinks that the way our society allocates brainpower against work is not ideal. He thinks the work he does is kind of boring and humdrum and doesn’t make that much of a difference in the world but leads to these huge rewards, while in his view, the most defining and important work, the work that makes us human, is grappling with understanding the universe. George Soros will say that he thinks the most important human endeavor is to be a philosopher. You encounter that sentiment less often among the anglo saxons, because we’ve persuaded ourselves that the heroes of our social narrative our businesspeople.

Sunday morning ramble and Part I of roundup

Testing out my new iPad keyboard here... it's... interesting. I have not yet figured out how to link from the iPad without typing the html codes, which is a pain. I did it for years but I've since been spoiled. Wow--the tablet itself autocorrects to "iPad" but the keyboard just tried to autocorrect to "Piaf." Who knew?)

Speaking of Piaf, I've had several arguments with my coworker, who keeps insisting Marion Cotillard played Coco Chanel in something or other. Sight, it was Audrey Tatou. Entirely different French woman. But I divagate. I'm hoping to be able to blog roundups during my upcoming work trip, but I'm only bringing my iPad, so we'll see if that will happen.

This is significant because I got my smartphone a year ago. A week or two before it arrived, touch screens confounded me. I remember driving around with my coworker, trying to use her iPhone for navigation and to find restaurants, and I just kept losing things.

On a much less first-world-problem note: immigrants in solitary confinement. Also see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's poignant short story, "Checking Out."

Renewable energy is not (no pun intended) a pipe dream.

I agree with Hoagland's message but I got lost in his verbosity and preachiness. He quotes Thoreau, but would that he learn from his style. I should have quoted Thoreau in Friday's ramble about industrial agricultural and the connection between consumer and prey. Take,
Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it. 
On the topic of industrial ag, I will quote another great man: Mark Bittman. There is so much wisdom in that column that it's hard to pick an excerpt. but I'm going with this:
Really: Would I rather eat cruelly raised, polluting, unhealthful chicken, or a plant product that’s nutritionally similar or superior, good enough to fool me and requires no antibiotics, cutting off of heads or other nasty things? Isn’t it preferable, at least some of the time, to eat plant products mixed with water that have been put through a thingamajiggy that spews out meatlike stuff, instead of eating those same plant products put into a chicken that does its biomechanical thing for the six weeks of its miserable existence, only to have its throat cut in the service of yielding barely distinguishable meat?
Why, in other words, use the poor chicken as a machine to produce meat when you can use a machine to produce “meat” that seems like chicken?
I don’t believe chickens have souls, but it’s obvious they have real lives, consciousness and feeling, and they’re capable of suffering, so any reduction in the number killed each year would be good.
If that’s too touchy-feely for you, how’s this? Producers have difficulty efficiently dealing with the manure, wastewater and post-slaughter residue that result from raising animals industrially; chickens, for example, produce about as much waste as their intake of feed.
Then there’s the antibiotic issue: roughly 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in this country are given to animals, which has increased the number of antibiotic-resistant diseases as well as the presence of arsenic in the soil and our food. Work in meat and poultry processing plants is notoriously dangerous. In 2005, Human Rights Watch called it “the most dangerous factory job in America,” and nearly every test of supermarket chicken finds high percentages — sometimes as high as two out of three samples — of staph, salmonella, campylobacter, listeria or the disease-causing antibiotic-resistant bacteria called MRSA. Bill Marler, a leading food safety lawyer, told me he assumes that “almost all chicken and turkey produced in the U.S. is tainted with a bacteria that can kill you.”
But do read the whole thing. And then roll your eyes at McDonald's' latest breakthrough.

On another food note: I've found my lunch for the week, minus the sauerkraut.

Oh, Grey Lady, are you begging for mockery?
I eventually decided against setting up a special blog label for posts that discussed comments regarding the size of my ass. But now I'm wondering if a label is warranted for posts that discuss animal sex?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Saturday evening roundup

Science loves beauty. Case in point,
with explanation here.

Sloths! Exposure is good for their survival.

Adam Gopnik laid down a dare last week. You may recall my feelings about Mr. Gopnik: when I find myself reading something in the New Yorker and thinking, this is a bunch of hippie crap, it generally turns out to be written by him. And so when he quoted Dr. Johnson in one of his crappy posts,
...Dr. Johnson said, rightly, that anyone who decides to write something believes herself to be wiser or wittier than the rest of mankind, and that it is up to the rest of mankind to decide if she is.
I finalized my decision (as one of the rest of mankind) to not renew my subscription to the New Yorker. It's just gotten too expensive--yes, I know good journalism is expensive--for how inconsistent and yet time-consuming it is. I'd like to read more books, and the only way that's going to happen is if I quit the New Yorker. And since the New Yorker wants to charge me an exorbitant amount to keep subscribing (I don't want their weekender bag or a discount at their silly store), it's an easy decision.

Saturday morning roundup

Dean Burnett on why science is just not for the female brain. As for me, I understand enough to not buy ionized water, but I'm not clear on the definition of nothing.

Slow news day, Kathleen Parker? That column is a complete waste of space, devoid of new ideas or information.

Now, you know I don't care for double standards, and that goes both ways: I don't think it's cool to objectify men, either. 

Check out these beautiful, colorful mollusks.

Some Jews are vegan, and the Times is on it for Passover. I have not yet decided whether I'm going to dietarily observe Passover.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday morning roundup and ramble

The Sri Lankan government is not being held accountable for its human rights violations.

Oh, the made-for-mockery Lululemon saga. Even the modestly talented Alexandra Petri pulled off a very decent riff. (The only funny thing about her age-of-the-universe post is the caption on the photo, but do check out Phil Plait's helpful post, to which she links). Not that you were wondering, but I do yoga in shorts (I can't pull off tree pose if the heel of my foot has to rest on fabric rather than skin) and those shorts cost me $5-$15.

There're lots of books on happiness, and there is much overlap in the themes among them.

I was having a conversation with someone--don't ask me who, even though I think it happened this week--about the ethics of eating meat. I said that I did not believe that eating meat was inherently unethical, which is not to say that it's not inherently cruel (which is why I nonetheless prefer not to do it). And I'm able to not do it because I have a choice, and I acknowledge that not everybody has a choice. But I did not initially become a vegetarian out of compassion for farm animals; I initially became a vegetarian out of compassion for the planet. And I continue to distinguish between the consumption of animal flesh in general and the production of food from animal flesh through industrial agriculture.

I've been a vegetarian (sometimes pescatarian, most recently vegan) for over twenty years, and I've heard it all: all the silly comments about why plant-based eating makes no sense. The misguided nutritional protestations and the even more misguided philosophical arguments, the most misguided of which is the idea that eating meat is natural--we're entitled to kill our animal cousins to survive.  And I agree that we have to kill to survive--like it or not, the space we take up on this planet comes at the expense of the space of others. But we're not animals, and we--especially we in the developed world--have a choice about how much to kill. I'm not going to tell anyone else how to make that choice and I don't want to hear anyone else tell me how to make that choice, but I will argue that we have a choice. And I'll argue that the ways of industrial agriculture is worlds away from how our ancestors managed the ethics of killing animals in order to live.

Animals--animals for food--were not historically seen as chattel. They more often had spiritual and theological symbolism. Ancient hunters were not without guilt at the taking of animal life and they engaged in rituals to show respect for their prey, and to allow them dignity in the way they died. We had a profound connection to the food that nourished us, kept us alive. That connection is not any less important because there's a more populous world to feed; if anything, it's even more important.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thursday evening roundup and ramble

Anne Applebaum on South Africa.

David Remnick on the Bolshoi as a microcosm of Russia.

Confused gluten-eschewers make life more difficult and costly for actual Celiacs and others with legitimate gluten issues.

The Times reaches out to younger readers:
Snowflakes under a microscope look cool. Most of this other stuff looks gross (with a few exceptions).

I very much identify with this story on feminism and body image (not the orgy part, though). The bottom line is that it is okay to prefer to look a certain way. Acceptance is one thing and preferences are another. And it is true that you have to be okay with yourself to change yourself.

On a quasi-related note, I was talking to my dad the other night on Skype, and as usual, I directed the camera at Gracie. She is, after all, much more interesting to look at. At one point, she started rolling around and showcasing her belly. Dad said, jokingly--and with a lightness that is lost in translation--"aren't you ashamed? how are you not ashamed of that belly?"And as much as I don't love that belly--it's just not healthy--I love that Gracie has no shame about it. I mean, what's she going to do with shame?

Was there something else I was going to ramble about? It's all a blur. Oh, I can now tell you that I've sampled three vegan pizzas in the Chinatown area, and I declare District of Pi's the best. Busboys and Poets' is quite good, and Z-Pizza comes in third.

Since we're talking about pizza sampling and weight, I'll tell you that I've gained five pounds. I was trying to gain two or three and overshot, but it's all good (until it comes time to wear a swimsuit).

Thursday morning roundup

Peru's boom--like most mineral-based booms--leaves many behind.

For those of you like me who struggle with the physical sciences but nonetheless feel the need to understand things that are important, here are some plain-English (or at least plainish) answers to your Higgs boson questions. In other news: the universe is much older than previously thought.

Of course you can tell stories without reinforcing belief systems. They're the basis of our civilization (they being religious/mythical tales).

Esquire: women are ornamental.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


"Cinderella" was a lot of fun. I love a happy ending (and great dancing, and cute kids in bee costumes... but I digress).

I was brooding when I left the office for "Cinderella." For no reason, I just wasn't in the most positive mood. I thought, "I'd love to talk to a friend, and I'd love a glass of wine." But where was I going to get a friend on the way to the Kennedy Center? I suppose there were plenty of places to get a glass of wine, but drinking alone was not what I had in mind.  So off I went... and then, the craziest thing happened: I ran into a good friend, who asked if I had time for a drink. Only just, but it was perfect.

What's even crazier is that this is not the first time this has happened. Remember my trip to Budapest? How, on the way to the airport, it just hit me that I could really use a friend, but I figured that I’d have to go the rest of the week (until I got to Prague) without companionship... and then,  right there on the Dulles bus, I was greeted by an old grad school friend. And then, the same feeling hit me in Budapest: I could just really use a friend right now, but I guess I'll just have to wait until Friday. Except that I managed to find--or god managed to connect me with--a friend. A vegan, in the middle of this big meat capital. It was perfect.

Wednesday morning quick roundup and big rant

Not much of a roundup today but here's a poignant essay on today's Iraq.

As an unmarried, unengaged woman who is not in a serious relationship and who leans against changing her name, I have no dog in the name fight, except that I don't believe it should be a fight. Nonetheless, I'm going to call out Julie R. Rodriguez for her condescending, annoying blog post. First of all, Ms. Rodriguez, I certainly don't hope that you have Celiac's, but that's pretty much the only good reason for having a gluten-free wedding. I would say I die a little inside when people with no actual gluten issues go gluten-free, but I don't care enough; it's their loss. I do die a little inside when women wear unflattering clothing on their wedding day, and honey, that suit looks terrible on you. I'm not taking issue with your decision to wear a suit; I just think you ought to have bothered to find one that fit you better. Finally, I die a little inside when people like you, who have managed to actually make a career as a writer--hence your pride in your name--showcase some boring, repetitive, pointless writing. Your argument is just silly: you go out of your way to explain why your name is important to you, and you say you understand that other women don't necessarily have that attachment to their names, but then you go on to tell them that they should have an attachment to their names anyway. You can't make that decision for other people. Their life is not their life. Who cares what name is on your well-stamped passports of yore? You're still the same person. I repeat that my strong feelings on this matter are not based on my own choices; it just angers me when women lecture other women about their life decisions, or declare themselves saddened by them. Do you want to hear what makes me die a little inside, Ms. Rodriguez? How about the prevalence of rape in this country and the world? (Maybe pull your head out of your ass and read the news?) How about girls getting shot on the way to school? Assaults on our reproductive rights? I could go on, but I think that's enough to make the point that there's enough out there to make us die inside before we start imposing our personal beliefs, values, and experiences on other women in order to judge their personal choices.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tuesday evening roundup

What the hell is wrong with India?

Parsing the feminist housewife meme.

Here's a refresher on dating don'ts. I'm definitely in dating fatigue mode. Had a perfectly reasonable date tonight--the dude was even interesting and held his own in keeping the conversation going--but I'm just not inspired. Do I deserve to be?
You think the desert of men-who-are-really-nice-and-well-intentioned-but-just-not-for-you will extend on forever and ever. No oasis in sight. Not a drop of butterfly in the stomach. Just student loan interest rates and boredom for the rest of eternity. You’ll die there on that dry island populated with men whose lips will never touch yours. Die of guilt for not liking them. The spoiled she-beast you’ve become, the woman who thinks she deserves excitement.

Tuesday morning roundup

Gawker brilliantly calls out CNN's Steubenville coverage:
For readers interested in learning more about how not to be labeled as registered sex offenders, a good first step is not to rape unconscious women, no matter how good your grades are. Regardless of the strength of your GPA (weighted or unweighted), if you commit rape, there is a possibility you may someday be convicted of a sex crime. This is because of your decision to commit a sex crime instead of going for a walk, or reading a book by Cormac McCarthy. Your ability to perform calculus or play football is generally not taken into consideration in a court of law. Should you prefer to be known as "Good student and excellent football player Trent Mays" rather than "Convicted sex offender Trent Mays," try stressing the studying and tackling and giving the sex crimes a miss altogether.
It's perfectly understandable, when reporting on a rape trial, to discuss the length and severity of the sentence; it is less understandable to discuss the end of two convicted rapists' future athletic and academic careers as if it were somehow divorced from the laws of cause and effect. Their dreams and hopes were not crushed by an impersonal, inexorable legal system; Mays and Richmond raped a girl and have been sentenced accordingly. Had they not raped her, they would not be spending at least one year each in a juvenile detention facility.
More from Amy Davidson:
There was no note suggesting that the judge’s verdict might have vindicated that decision, or that maybe sixteen-year-old girls in places like Steubenville would be a little safer now.
Worse, one could take away the impression that a nice girl doesn’t press charges, rather than that nice boys do not, as was the case in Steubenville, take a girl who has drunk too much and bring her from party to party, assaulting her in a car on the way, until they end up in a basement where they strip and assault her again, and try to make her perform oral sex—except that she is not conscious enough—and then take photographs of her naked body.
And all of these people cannot then carry on as though the one who caused the trouble was the sixteen-year-old girl who was raped—and who, according to testimony in the trial, has been dropped by her friends, ostracized, and put under every sort of pressure—and not the rapists.
Telling those teen-agers that there shouldn’t have been consequences might mean another victim, in another town, years in the future. It also affects what sort of men the boys become, and one has to think that Richmond and Mays, too, have an interest in that. Does it destroy a teen-ager’s life to take him off the path of being an adult rapist? Perhaps it is too abstractly (even annoyingly) philosophical to ask what the “better” life is—one in which you have a remote shot at being in the NFL, or one in which you might be a person who treats others decently? Still, the question is worth asking.

Obsolete monitors are a toxic mess. Those old tubes are not easy to recycle.

Farm land is highly priced now, but who knows where crop prices will take land prices.

Know what's in your food.

Dudes: there's a hazard on your pants. If there's an award for best academic paper title, I nominate "Zip-related genital injury."

I'm old even by DC's unmarried statistics.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Monday evening mom blog, ramble, and rehashed travel notes

Dad told me (last night) that mom threw a big tantrum on Saturday. This surprises no one; mom has been pulling her Saturday tantrum for so long that dad coined the term, "Mom's Saturday tantrum." The trigger for the tantrum varies; it could be, for example, food found outside the fridge—when I would visit, mom would find a sprig of parsley that I'd taken out to cook with and accuse me of having left out overnight. The trigger didn't matter; mom would find a reason to have a fit, because she thrived on it, or thought she did. The conceit was usually the same: “All I ever do is clean up after everyone, and all you ever do is make a mess.” If this is not atypical for moms in general (or in stereotype), it is quite the meme for Russian moms. It’s a constant on “Russian Girl Problems.” (Side note: story of my life; actually, so many of those are the story of my life. Wow.).

Perhaps because the "all you do is make a mess" mentality is that common, it historically struck me as annoying but harmless. Over the years, however, I’ve come to see it as fundamentally unhealthy for oneself as well as one’s family, and it frightens me when I see myself falling into it in any way. The “I’m always cleaning up after everyone” mindset is appealing, even when it’s not true or when I don’t care/mind. For example, last fall, when I was driving myself crazy making the work trip happen, I thought toward my coworkers, “Do I have to sit there and make sure you fill out every single field on these forms? I’ve already filled out everything I could fill out for you.” This was reasonable, perhaps, but it didn't serve me. Nobody asked me to fill out his forms as well as mine; I opted to, and doing so made my job easier. And I didn’t actually mind. So why was I so drawn to the indignation drug? It was a cheap high that faded fast. Was it that, my whole life, I’d watched my mother get high on indignation? It seemed like the natural thing to do.

The key to stepping away from any drug is realizing that you don’t need it, that it’s just a cheap, fast-fading high that leaves you and the people around you feeling bad. It doesn’t resolve the source of indignation (this is especially, inherently true when the source of indignation is concocted in order to justify the indignation). You have to be able to say, “I’m more powerful than this. I don’t need indignation to feel valuable or valued to the people around me. I'm valuable in my own right.”

Note: sometimes frustration is warranted, and suppressing that frustration is counterproductive. I recall this time last year, when I was exceedingly frustrated with my then-bf for not meeting me half-way in planning for the Prague trip. I was justified in thinking, “I’m doing this and this and this and this, and all that I ask is that he send me three pieces of information, and he can’t even be bothered to read the e-mail in enough detail to send me all three?” But just because the frustration was justified, it still wasn’t serving me. I was not feeding off of the frustration, but in trying too hard to suppress it, it came out in other ways. It did not occur to me—and I still don’t know if this was the case—that F. was deliberately disengaging because he never wanted to go (I assure you that I never held a gun to his head; I gave him more than enough leeway. But he fed off the righteous indignation of sacrificing himself for what he thought I wanted, so he may well have been disengaging out of passive-aggressiveness). My point is not, “never get frustrated; let everything go.” My point is, figure out what’s actually bothering you and address it at that level. If nothing’s really bothering you, chances are, you just get off on yelling at people or feeling superior to them (see indignation-drug discussion, above). If what’s bothering you is the parsley outside the fridge, put it back in the fridge. If what’s bothering you is that your daughter is too inconsiderate to put the parsley back in the fridge, have a calm, constructive discussion with her about that, making clear that it’s not the parsley; it’s the pattern. If what’s bothering you is that your bf is not meeting you half-way, do call him out on his behavior but make sure you’re clear that that’s the issue (again, it’s not the action, it’s the pattern). But I digress.

Mom’s most recent Saturday tantrum was over the paper mess in the living room of my parents’ house. Mom makes a hobby out of shuffling papers (mail, etc.) from one drawer in one piece of furniture to another. I don’t know exactly what happened on Saturday—either does dad—but in essence, she accused dad of moving a piece of paper, maybe losing something, maybe throwing it away. In classic mom style, she got accusatory, hateful, paranoid, and generally nasty. Once she was over it, she proceeded as if nothing had happened.

I pointed out to dad that this was not a sign of dementia, in that this fit-and-forget has been mom’s MO as long as I have known her. He pointed out that he knew that, but that her fits were getting nastier. This is probably true. He added that she was increasingly lashing out—with the aforementioned nastiness and paranoia—at the people closest to her. I knew he meant Nina’s parents (among others), though he didn’t specifically mention them.

I’ve watched mom turn on people for years now. In fact, I’ve recently rethought the dramas I observed and heard about in my childhood: mom's epics, in which she always cast herself as the righteous hero. I’ve thought about some of the people—including my cousin (my dad’s niece)—that mom vilified when I was little. I now wonder whether things went down according to my mom’s version of events, and if not, whether I needlessly lost out on relationships with family as a result. My dad didn’t really try to counter her stories—maybe he thought it wasn’t worth it.

But I've moved on from anger at mom to compassion. This shift was solidified as I read Marshall Goldsmith’s “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful,” which was provided to me at work as part of leadership training. It continues to strike me the extent to which business skills are also interpersonal skills. Mr. Goldsmith touches on this in the book, writing that people who have made a point of systematically improving their working relationships by consciously changing their behaviors, have also seen improvements in their family lives. He writes of a Buddhist tale, "The Empty Boat," of which there are various versions and interpretations, but the gist is that a man out in a boat, in the dark or fog, yells at another boat to change course, but the other boat does not, and the boats collide. The man is furious and yells at the other boater, until the fog lifts or moon comes out or the boat gets closer, to reveal that there is no other boater: the offending boat is empty. Because he has no one to be angry at, his anger cannot be sustained; it dissolves.

What Goldsmith takes from the story is that anger is pointless: every boat is essentially an empty boat, or it may as well be. Even if there’s someone in the boat, they’re just doing what they know how to do, based on their programming. I can get angry at Gracie for being whiny when I’m trying to get things done, but what’s the point? I can’t get angry enough to make her stop whining. Mom has provided the perfect negative role model for this since I was a kid: she would always get angry and yell, and it certainly had an impact on me—I gradually withdrew—but it didn’t change the offending behavior, if any, or make me work harder to make her happy. It had the opposite impact: I realized that nothing could make her happy—that she would yell no matter what, because that’s what she wanted to do—so I stopped trying. But, coming back to the present: I've also let go of any anger or resentment toward mom. She does what she does because it's what she knows to do. I'm not going to come near her boat as long as it is a threat to me, but I'm also not going to direct any anger toward it.

This made me think of another well-worn Buddhist tale that could also apply to mom: The Muddy Road (Tanzan).
Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was falling. As they came around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross at an intersection.
"Come on, girl," said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.
Ekido did not speak until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he could no longer restrain himself. "We monks don't go near females," he told Tanzan, "especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?"
"I left the girl there," said Tanzan. "Are you still carrying her?"

There’s probably a spiritual or mythological fable for every aspect of human relationships. I got to thinking about how ‘healthy’ Buddhist stories are compared to ancient Greek ones—those were some petty, f*ed up gods, and they made for some great stories. [Side note: I’m not going to see “Metamorphoses” this year; I saw it last year, and it was disappointing. That kind of play has to be held up by impeccable acting, which the production we saw did not deliver. I’m a sucker for mythology and for theater, so I especially appreciate it when the forms are combined (“Argonautica” was awesome; “Ion” was not; “Ramayana;” “Conference of the Birds” was not).]

I'm a sucker for mythology largely because my mother made a point of reading it to me. When I think about it, some of my favorite childhood memories are reading things with my mom, and talking about them. Even as a child, I was taken aback at the $hit that the Olympians pulled. The Egyptians, too (creation by masturbation--really??). Also, the gender dynamics in some Russian fables, written into verse by Pushkin. But I digress. For Halloween one year--my mom was always one for creative costumes that few would understand--she made me a Medusa costume. She sowed a bunch of rubber snakes onto a swimming cap. It was awesome, but it was lost on a lot of people.

Our foray—Kate’s and mine—into Greece was not wasted, even though Delphi was the only place we really saw. I qualify with "really" because we did get in some nice views from the train from Istanbul to Thessaloniki and even more on the bus from there to Delphi. And we saw the lesser parts of Athens as we made our way from the bus station to the airport—the city was shut down in a transit strike, and we decided to sleep at the airport rather than risk getting stuck.  I think, in that process, we saw the Parthenon from far away (i.e., downtown), but really it was all about Dephi, and Delphi blew my mind.

Because I'm such a sucker for mythology, I could really feel the spirit of the place. Also, it was off-season, and there was hardly a soul to make it feel like a tourist destination. It was just the land of the oracle. I'm so inspired by the thought of it that I have to post pictures again.

Monday evening roundup: women, stars, and food

In some states, being subject to a restraining order doesn't mean you can't have guns.

In other f*ed up news, here's what a regional Indian official had to say about the sexual assault in Agra:

Over the weekend, a senior official in Madhya Pradesh told the Times of India that the Swiss couple erred by staying in a place where there is a higher ratio of men to women. “They apparently lost track and took a wrong turn and decided to halt for the night by the side of a village brook little realizing that the district with 85:100 men-to-women ratio is not the safest place for women,” he told the daily.
Zimbabwe arrests its opposition activists and human rights lawyers.

Ladies, is your tablet too androgynous for your needs? Would you prefer one customized for your special lady-habits, like dieting and make-up?

I love Heather Havrilesky's article on TV's new heroines, even as I'm not sure I agree with it. Some excerpts:  
Yet here, too, an alarming number of accomplished women are also portrayed as spending most of their waking hours swooning like lovesick tweens — whether it’s Emily on “Emily Owens, M.D.” (a knowledgeable doctor who loses focus whenever her super-dreamy crush enters the room), the title character of “Whitney” (a garrulous photographer who is nonetheless fixated on her looks and her ability to keep attractive romantic rivals away from her man), or Mindy of “The Mindy Project” (a highly paid ob-gyn who’s obsessed with being too old and not pretty enough to land a husband). Even a classical comedic heroine like Liz Lemon on “30 Rock” is frequently reduced to flailing and squirming like an overcaffeinated adolescent. The moral of many of these shows doesn’t seem so far off from that of those fatalistic female-centric magazine features that seem to run every few months; something along the lines of, “You can’t have it all, ladies, and you’ll run yourself ragged if you even try.”
Maybe it's just me, but I find Mindy and Liz very relatable (except that they're a whole lot more successful than I am; if success is their excuse for having a mess of a personal life, what's my excuse?) So I can't agree with this assessment:
Time and again, we, the audience, are cast in the role of morally superior observers to these nut jobs. At times we might relate to a flash of anger, a fit of tears, a sudden urge to seduce a stranger in a bar, but we’re constantly being warned that these behaviors aren’t normal. They render these women out of step with the sane world.
But I do really like the personal note on which she ends the piece:
“All smart women are crazy,” I once told an ex-boyfriend in a heated moment, in an attempt to depict his future options as split down the middle between easygoing dimwits and sharp women who were basically just me with different hairstyles. By “crazy,” I only meant “opinionated” and “moody” and “not always as pliant as one might hope.” I was translating my personality into language he might understand — he who used “psycho-chick” as a stand-in for “noncompliant female” and he whose idea of helpful counsel was “You’re too smart for your own good,” “my own good” presumably being some semivegetative state of acceptance which precluded uncomfortable discussions about our relationship.

Over the years, “crazy” became my own reductive shorthand for every complicated, strong-willed woman I met. “Crazy” summed up the good and the bad in me and in all of my friends. Whereas I might have started to recognize that we were no more crazy than anyone else in the world, instead I simply drew a larger and larger circle of crazy around us, lumping together anyone unafraid of confrontation, anyone who openly admitted her weaknesses, anyone who pursued agendas that might be out of step with the dominant cultural noise of the moment. “Crazy” became code for “interesting” and “courageous” and “worth knowing.” I was trying to have a sense of humor about myself and those around me, trying to make room for stubbornness and vulnerability and uncomfortable questions.

But I realize now, after watching these crazy characters parade across my TV screen, that there’s self-hatred in this act of self-subterfuge. “Our future depends on the sanity of each of us,” Rich writes, “and we have a profound stake, beyond the personal, in the project of describing our reality as candidly and fully as we can to each other.”
That I can definitely relate to.

Telescopes have been around for a long time. You may be thinking, "you've jumped themes here! how is this supposed to make women cringe?" Well, did you know that the Ancient Greeks explained the Milky Way as Hera's spilt breast milk? One story has it that Heracles bit down too hard, which is what woke her. Ouch. Other mythological explanations here.

While we're on the topic of the heavens: solar flares have the potential to wreak havoc on earth. 

While we're on the topic of physical sciences: particle physicists are really f*ing up-in-arms about the whole "God particle" thing. They really hate that $hit. 

Surprise! Industrial food lacks flavor. One unexpected takeaway from that article is that TVP (what they call HVP, which I'm guessing is the same thing) can be more flavorful than animal meat. I don't use TVP a lot--I'm a genuine fan of real food--but sometimes it hits the spot. Similarly, I don't use isolated gluten a lot, but I don't eschew it, as this guy recommends. The bigger issue with that advice is the very concept of "never" foods: apart from, say, cyanide and polonium, there is really no such thing as a 'never' food. Rice cakes may not be great for you, but the occasional one is certainly not going to hurt you. I find this "never" concept fundamentally damaging--and this is coming from someone who never eats meat and only eats dairy when she can't help it, i.e., when traveling. But go ahead and eat seitan; don't fear it. I don't make it often because it's one of those foods--along with popcorn--for which I have no sense of portion control. I can dispatch four of five servings in one sitting. Just yesterday, to indulge my seitan craving without making myself vulnerable to the temptation of eating it all at once, I made the chickenless nuggets as chickenless patties (without the crunchy corn-flake coating). This was more because I wanted to have them for lunch for the workweek, and the coating would get soggy. Anyway, they turned out deliciously. All this to say, don't eschew the gluten.

Are you f*ing kidding me? Just make your own baby food. Take 15 minutes to cook your own organic quinoa. Or your own organic sweet potato.

While we're singing the praises of plant foods: type-2 diabetics can eat fruit.

Lastly but not leastly: why people write.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday morning roundup

Ivory is not okay.

India is determined to remain a contender for violence-against-women capital.

Russia's nationalistic nostalgia brings about a Cossack revival.

Charlene Schiff leaves this world with her teachable horror stories.

Where is the outrage over the backlog of unprocessed rape kits? This is an issue in DC, too.

More coffee growers are taking ownership of the supply chain. Also: microfinance is not always the best idea; try microsavings.

Rhode Island is among the states that saw a doubling of food stamp participation. This is fascinating:
Of the few jobs still available in Woonsocket, many were part-time positions at grocery stores like his, with hours clustered around the first of the month.

Pichardo catered his store to the unique shopping rhythms of Rhode Island, where so much about the food industry revolved around the 1st. Other states had passed legislation to distribute SNAP benefits more gradually across the month, believing a one-day blitz was taxing for both retailers and customers...

Pichardo had placed a $10,000 product order to satisfy his diverse customers, half of them white, a quarter Hispanic, 15 percent African American, plus a dozen immigrant populations drawn to Woonsocket by the promise of cheap housing. He had ordered 150 pounds of the tenderloin steak favored by the newly poor, still clinging to old habits; and 200 cases of chicken gizzards for the inter-generationally poor, savvy enough to spot a deal at less than $2 a pound. He had bought pizza pockets for the working poor and plantains for the immigrant poor. He had stocked up on East African marinades, Spanish rice, Cuban snacks and Mexican fruit juice.
What actually went down at Bretton Woods?

Foreigners (i.e., non-Spaniards) are taking up Flamenco.

GMO labeling is about transparency.

Do we need twist-ties or plastic clips?

Alexandria's waterfront will be rezoned.

Um, I love Sweden, but I don't take my lifestyle cues from Sweden. Especially not as the home of Ikea. And I don't think the body-image uproar is surprising or a big deal.