Monday, October 30, 2006

Wide awake an hour early

In an OCD neo-Luddite way, I've always put Stonehenge as the background on my home computers. So this comic today cracked me up:

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The downward spiral into debauchery

The past two years have brought social faux pas, mainly bad fashion choices, at various dinners for allied organizations. I remembered at the last minute that tonight was the annual dinner for just such an organization (making it the 4th weekend in a row where I've worked at least one day). And the LWV has a rather older, more conservative membership. The skirt, blouse, and heels I chose this time were perfectly fine --this time an entirely different embarrassing episode took place.

One of the LWV women came up to say hi to both me and the woman sitting next to me at the dinner table. (It's worth noting that the woman next to me was a union organizer I serve on several committees with, and she brought her partner to the dinner. She stood up to greet our mutual acquaintance; I remained seated to eat my salad, because I hadn't eaten in six hours and the food took forever to come out.) The LWV acquaintance half-hugged me from behind, so I reached my arm akwardlybehind me, to try and pat her on the shoulder. Turns out my arm was longer than I thought, and instead of completing an awkward hug, I groped the other woman's boob for several seconds. Her partner gasped loudly, then tried to make light of the situation by declaring that everyone at the table should feel up their neighbor. From the others at the table I heard "Oh my" and "Oh dear" and saw shocked faces. I could only stammer profuse apologies and then feign interest in the program highlights.

Ironically, I went as a flasher to a Halloween party yesterday.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Catching up on the Atlantic Monthly issues I haven't read, and the magazine's "150 Years of the Atlantic" has excerpts from past articles. One, from 1930 by Reinhold Niebuhr, struck me as particularly insightful:
"We [Americans] are not prosperous because we are imperialists, we are imperialists because we are prosperous. . . We are a business people who know nothing about the intricacies of politics, expecially international politics, and in the flush of youthful pride we make no calculations of the reactions to our attitudes in the minds of others . . We hold oursleves aloof from international councils because we feel ourselves too powerful to be in need of counseling with others, but we are able to practise the deception of imagining that our superior political virtue rather than our superior economic strength makes such abstention possible and advisable . . . "
For one, I've always thought Reinhold Niebuhr was an interesting person. Plus it's from one of the 1930 issues, and I'll read anything from or about the 20s or 30s. (I'm four months behind in my Atlantics, I have to be selective).

Monday, October 23, 2006

Comp Day

I realized the other day that I've worked for three straight weekends. This Saturday was my department's annual all-day leadership workshop for chapter and club leaders from across that state. It took two hours to set up the room and two hours afterwards to pack it all up. Uff da!

The Saturday work day was preceded by an awesome concert the night before. Wasn't expecting Jamie Cullum to be as energetic as he was onstage -- he ran around, jumped up and down, sang, and played the piano for over two hours. It's funny, I have both his albums, but together I don't think they make up two hours; what made the concert really long were the improv jam sessions on the piano, sax, trumpet, and drums. The visual effects were pretty good --black and white live camera shots of the piano keys and the microphone. I knew he was a good pianist and vocalist, but came away from the concert realizing the boy can scat, too.

Treated myself to the usual anything-I-want-for-dinner event, which happens three times a year (after Lobby Day, the spring conference, and this fall training). It was a little harsh, though, since I chose the old bar and grill stomping grounds which closed and has become a slightly pretentious Mediterranean place.

Watched Valmont. I hadn't realized it was Dangerous Liaisons, I just knew it had Colin Firth in it. The book is a good 200 years old, so I already knew the DL storyline. The basic story is that Annette Bening's character tries to get revenge on the man who jilted her by having Colin Firth seduce the man's teenage fiancee, who in turn is trying to sneak around with her young music teacher. What was fun to watch was the acting. Annette Bening is just brilliant at being diabolical, scheming, and two-faced. The teenagers do a great job of being doe-eyed, not yet cynical kids who are so easily manipulated by the adults in their lives.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Purple plane haze

I watched School of Rock while unpacking. Like every "low" culture-teaches-"high" culture-how-to-have-fun movie, it was predictable and formulaic. The cool things about this one were the moments when Jack Black tells the kids they're great. It's weird, his character's an obnoxious jackass in other parts of the movie, but to the kids he gives incredibly supportive, morale-boosting comments.

In general it was a good movie to unpack to. Cuz there wasn't really anything substantive to distract me and draw me in to the characters or plot.

Gwynned and Powys and Normandy, oh my!

Medieval historical novels and mysteries are perfect because they are so far removed from anything relevant to my life (except that one medieval history course seven years ago). Since I randomly found a medieval mystery by Sharon Kay Penman back in July at the St. Louis airport, I've been on a kick of hers.

Here Be Dragons
was perfect for a 9-hour cross-country trip. It's the first of Penman's trilogy about the wars and dynasties of England and Wales in the 12th and 13th centuries. Basically, this first novel is about Llywelyn the Great of Wales and his wife Joanna, King John of England's illegitimate daughter. It spans a good 40-something years, from Richard I's to Henry III's reign. What I liked was that Penman frequently used the viewpoints of children and women to introduce new storylines and events. Since theses are the voices omitted from chronicles, I appreciated her creative license and imagination. (Those voices were absent from the Robert the Bruce trilogy Grandpa made everyone in the family read years ago.) I liked how she didn't attempt to put modern notions into the minds of her female characters; she made them believably strong within the religious and gender confines of the times.

More fascinating was Penman's depiction of the relationship between Joanna and her father, the notorious John of Robin Hood legend and Magna Carta grievances. Throughout the book, Joanna struggles to come to terms with the atrocities her father committed against so many people, and the kind and merciful parent she knew. I'd also forgotten the extent of the almost-incestuous ties between all the nobility of the era -- but by placing the reader in the middle of all the plots to marry off daughters to create political alliances, Penman does a good job of conveying how powerless women of all stations were in determining their lives. A little family tree or chart at the beginning would have been helpful, but it also would have given away half the story. (Strangely enough, all those marriages didn't really prevent any wars. And meanwhile the Pope kept excommunicating and un-excommunicating leaders and placing whole countries under interdict, then re-extending the sacraments to them. It's kind of a wonder that the Reformation needed the printing press three centuries later in order to happen....)

Penman also tells of a very multi-ethnic and multi-lingual Britain: Saxon descendents who don't speak French, French-speaking Normans who still don't identify with the land they've ruled for over a hundred years, Welsh feuding with each other and the English Marchers settling in the borderlands. She seems to romanticize the Welsh a little more than anyone else, but I guess that's her perogative, since the book is about Llywellyn's attempt to unify Wales.

The one embarrassing thing was worrying that the person on the plane next to me, a sweet little old lady who reminded me of my grandmother, was reading the sex scenes over my shoulder. But I don't think she was doing that. They were pretty tame, anyway. . .

Waiting for the second book to come from the library.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


This morning, when I had to wake up ridiculously early on about three hours of sleep, there was a COCKROACH in the bathtub at the hotel. That was not a cool way to start a lobby day.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Mr. Smith

No matter how happy a trip it is, every time I go to DC (and it's been at least twice a year for the past 4 years now) I get "The District Sleeps Tonight" stuck in my head. Or at least, ever since I first heard the song about 2 years ago, it gets stuck in my head. It usually randomly plays itself in my head while I'm walking around on empty streets in the evening, either randomly exploring or on my way to meet people.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Rain and snow and sleet

A while back, I questioned a possible anachronism in Chicago. Today at the uber-cool National Postal Museum (where I just spent 2 hours), I learned that Lindbergh earned his nickname in the midwest doing mail runs in 1926, and "Lucky Lindy" caught on nationally after 1927. While that doesn't shed any light on the year that Chicago takes place, it gives one more year for the song to be accurate.

I love museums.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

It's beginning to look a lot like...

Heard this song on the radio a couple of months ago, and it made me a Fountains of Wayne fan. (Before that, I'd really only heard "Stacy's Mom," which is okay too, but didn't grab me.)

It only comes to mind now because, since I slept all day, I now can't fall asleep when I should, and am putting together a holiday playlist. "Valley Winter Song" has such a pretty melody! It's not a holiday song, but I'm putting it on cuz I like it so much.

"Those days are past now/ and in the past they must remain..."

Hmmmppph. Getting older!!! Can't ... do ... redeyes ... anymore! Had a list of people and places to visit today, but scrapped it all for several naps. It ended up being good, though, cuz I got to email Xtina repeatedly about her upcoming stopover in Seattle, which I wouldn't have been able to do if I'd been out sightseeing, shopping, and gabbing.

Randomly decided to fly into Baltimore instead of National this time, for the adventure of taking the express bus to the Kiss and Ride (love that so much better than Park & Ride!) and then the Metro. All so that I'd get into the city before noon. If I were younger and spryer I might do it again. But alas, those days are over.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Beltway Baggage

So it's weird, this is the first short trip where, because I'm not risking being made to throw anything away at the security checkpoint, I'm actually checking more than I'm carrying on. I'm usually the one who manages not to have to check stuff because I pack light and carry a big wonking bookbag.

And yay! It's my laptop's first trip out of the Northwest.

I Cannot Tell a Lie

I usually don't turn down free tickets, like advance screenings of movies like Man of the Year. In the film, Robin Williams plays a late-night talk show host who decides to run for Prez as an Independent because he and his young, hip viewers are disenchanted with party politics. Meanwhile, Laura Linney works for a voting systems company (Diebold in bad disguise) and discovers a glitch in their system that makes the wrong candidate win. Jon Stewart in 2008? How many votes were cast in Ohio, again? What's a paper trail? Practically ripped from the headlines.

It tried, it really did. But Man of the Year fell flat on its face. It tried to be a social commentary on politics and democracy and the media, and it really needed to take Sociology 101 first. Scattered character rants about democracy and illusion and TV and public opinion that are supposed to be oh-so-deep ended up sounded amateur and uninformed. (It was like Chuck Klosterman, trying to wax political.)

Other classes or professional-development workshops the scriptwriters needed to take before writing the screenplay:
  • Campaigning 101. You don't switch from talk show host to presidential candidate and have your network team be your campaign team. Um no, despite what the movie was attempting to say rather badly, running a TV show (even a political one) and running a camapaign are nowhere near the same thing.
  • Computer science 101. I don't know nothin' about creating software, but I do know that the supposed "computer glitch" in the movie's plot is a basic function that has to be specifically programmed in. It's a simple sorting rule, and it can't be an accident. (It would have made for a better movie if there had been a conspiracy, though....) Mica and I laughed hysterically (in an otherwise silent theatre) whenever the "glitch" confused the characters onscreen. Then again, we were also probably the youngest viewers there.
  • Pre-law and/or Marketing 101. There's a scene where the voting-systems corporation throws a press conference to pre-empt the Robin Williams character. Seriously, the "press conference" was nothing but slander, and if they were really all that big and powerful, their lawyers wouldn't have allowed them to say any of it in front of cameras. Not only was it defamation, it was basic bad PR.
  • Politics 101. Congress is on recess during most of the time period this movie is supposed to take place.
  • Media 101. Who calls a press conference the day after Thanksgiving, the biggest shopping day of the year?
In addition to all that, the dialogue was bad, there was a cheap scare (I yelped rather loudly), and the romance was horribly awkward (Linney's character was just spineless and annoying). There were a ton of cameos by media celebs -- SNL cast, Chris Matthews. Jeff Goldblum was pretty cool, but then I've had a slight crush on him since Independence Day.

It could have been an okay movie, instead of just a crappy one. The premise is good. But none of the jokes are funny (it's Robin Williams, he's done most of it before), despite the fact that the advance-screening audience (all at least 20 years older than us) roared with laughter and guffawed when they were meant to chuckle. His schtick is accents and voices. We get it. I couldn't will them to stop laughing when they were not-so-subtly told to. It was awful.

Man of the Year was most of all a "Me too! Me too!" Baby Boomer reaction to Gen X/Y cynicism. But this imitation jadedness fails to be intelligent. It can only steal clever quotes from Mark Twain and soundbites from CNN Headlines (one of the speeches rips off Barack Obama at the '04 DNC, and I recognized a few other phrases that sounded familiar). The end of the movie chastises non-party voters for "voting for change for the sake of voting for change." And that's just simply not true.

Clearly, this movie was written by people who don't vote and don't care about democracy. And not because they're disenchanted with the political system -- but because they're lazy.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Hard core

The post-college, pre-e-coli, pre-PIRG rollerblading injury (let's just say 2001 was a difficult year) still causes pain, and I got to a physical therapist every now and then. During this latest session, the PT said that improving my posture would help with some of the back issues. He suggested sitting on a pilates/exercise ball instead of on a chair because it forces you to balance and sit up straight.

This summer, while visiting a friend in Beantown, I encountered an entire office that has converted to the exercise balls. (Sheesh, nonprofit hippies....) So I was familiar with the idea. Plus I get enough of the "core" rhetoric at the gym. However, I was not about to bring a 65-cm ball into the office, throw out my office chair, and open myself to ridicule and rolled eyes. To say nothing of the awkward silences and pronounced pauses that are more prevalent in ye olde workplace!

So I bought a cheap one for my desk at home. It's a little odd, and I've almost fallen off it several times (see previous post on being easily distracted; this time it was by mosquitoes that came in when I opened my windows to try and get rid of the fish smell.)

Anyways, the ball is growing on me. Maybe I should name it.

Brain Food

I don't think I've had breakfast on a regular basis since high school. But I've
actually had breakfast the past two mornings. I usually don't, I just guzzle coffee. But I've noticed that when I eat breakfast, I am remarkably alert pre-lunch. Usually I'm incoherent. Apparently breakfast is good.

Who knew?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Your cheatin' heart

I forgot to reorder my Netflix queue and get a happy film. So I ended up with Ulysses (which I got because it's Banned Books Week and James Joyce's novel always gets a mention, but I didn't want to read a thousand pages to see what the fuss was about) and Closer. Closer is shorter, so I watched that.

This film was kind of depressing. Basically, there are two couples, and two of them have an affair. Fallout ensues.

It was incredibly realistic, in that the characters do little petty things and make under-their-breath snarky remarks that people do in real life. But none of them seemed to be happy together to begin with, so when they kept saying "I love you," I didn't really believe them. Most of the film is dialogue between the various couples, and they're mainly arguing about their sex lives. Since they weren't really portrayed in happy, loving relationships, their reactions seemed to stem more from possessiveness than betrayal or heartbreak. I didn't think the characters were particularly well-developed. They spoke snippets of reality, but to me it was an incomplete picture. I realize that's one of the main points of the film (hammered into the viewer by the fact that Julia Roberts' character is a photographer, and Natalie Portman's character goes on a diatribe about art and photography and sadness and beauty.) I found it believable, but not compelling.

And the theme song was "The Blower's Daughter," a terribly slow, depressing song with a slow, gray, depressing video. It matched the gray tone of the movie.

It was all just depressing.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

On your marks ...

My landlords let me know that a couple days ago, they saw some guy running through the back yard at 2 a.m. They very casually said "At first we thought he might be a friend of yours, but then realized your lights were off. We checked the courtyard, and everything seemed okay."

Because I send guys running at 2 in the morning.

I'll take it as the compliment I'm not sure it is. . . .

"You, sir, are a fishmonger!"

Xtina's post reminded me that I've been using my George Foreman grill a lot lately. It's really easy --get home really late, plug it in, take off coat and shoes, put slab of fish and a few vegetables on, empty out purse, flip over the food, turn the TV on, grab a plate, take food off GF. It's quick and easy.

I figured out that fish is pretty inexpensive, not to mention healthy. And it's fun buying different kinds of fish every other day.

The problem is, my apartment has smelled like fish for almost a week now. I can't quite figure out why. I last "cooked" fish Monday, and it's been almost a week. The cable guys came over to install something, and opening all the windows and doors didn't get rid of the fish market feel. Neither did spritzing perfume strategically in corners. Oh well. I get used to it after a while.