Saturday, December 29, 2007

We Can Do It!

I really love the Massachusetts affiliate's design for its annual meeting. Then again, I like any homage to Rosie the Riveter.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Desperately in need of a dram...

Picture, if possible, a PTSD-suffering plesiosaur escaping towards the open ocean and jumping à la Free Willy over a net barrier, to escape the bombs being fired at it by trigger-happy British soldiers who think it's an invading German submarine.

That, in a nutshell, was The Water Horse. My sister was really excited to see it. Pregnant women should not be allowed to pick movies for their relatives to see in theatres on Boxing Day, amidst dozens of small children. They shouldn't be allowed to drag their Kiwi husbands, either, especially if the guy can't stop laughing loudly (making me laugh) through various parts of the film, much of which was filmed in New Zealand.

The film asked viewers to pretend the tale of the Loch Ness Monster didn't exist until World War II. The famous (and fake) photograph, which I believe was taken in the 1930s, is the center of this very predictable
and clichéd storyline filled with bad accents.

I'm still traumatized.

There are, however, images of Ben Chaplin to comfort me...

Monday, December 24, 2007

So This is Christmas

It's time for the annual posting of my favorite Christmas essay. In past years I've posted it along with another favorite tale, that of the Christmas Truce (a product of my pre-adolescent obsession with the Great War ...which, granted, led to studying it in college.) However, the Christmas Truce story and the lyrics to "Christmas in the Trenches" seem a little too uncomfortably close to "Christmas in Fallujah," this year, so I'll omit it this year and link to John Lennon's classic, "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" instead.

Well, and also I need to get a political fix out of my system: I didn't know there was some unspoken rule about not talking politics at a bar (or just that one in particular), and got "reminded" about it at karaoke last night while "talking" to a person with ...interesting... political leanings. Oops! So here's a blatantly political statement, in a space where I know it's welcome. =)

And here's the perennial favorite affirmation of holiday hope and magic:
Is There a Santa Claus?
(Francis P. Church, from the Editorial Page of The New York Sun, September 21, 1897)

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

"Dear Editor--I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in The Sun, it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O'Hanlon
115 West Ninety-fifth Street

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Every Time a Bell Rings...

Apparently zombies are everywhere. Just when I thought they didn't quite *go* with the holiday season, a la I Am Legend, they popped up in the Christmas book I just read. It was a little unexpected.

Back when the Seattle Public Library briefly offered personalized reading lists, I filled out the online questionnaire and got a list of suggested books that I'm now re-reserving for my holiday break reading. For some odd reason, based on my answers, the resident librarian recommended a bunch of books with bizarre, bizarre plots and scenarios. The Stupidest Angel was one such book.

Turns out, until the zombie part, it was also pretty funny. The basic plot is: an angel whose mission is to grant a child's Christmas wish ends up creeping out the residents of a small town in northern California. Christopher Moore draws on familiar Christmas stories -- the angel, obviously, is similar to Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life. My favorite and hilarious homage: the town's pot-growing cop sells his marijuana crop to pay for a Japanese sword for his kitana-loving wife, who practices martial arts in part to stay sane; she, in turn, saves money by going off her anti-psychotic meds in order to buy him a really expensive and beautiful bong. ("Everywhere they are the wisest. They are the magi." O. Henry would be, um ... proud ... )

The book also has a murder plot. And then there are zombies. But it's all pretty funny, and Moore's writing style is, well, sarcastic and brilliantly irreverent. I found myself laughing almost as hard as I did while reading David Sedaris' Holidays on Ice at a bus stop. Almost. There's just something about the madness of the holiday season that makes it ripe for parody.

And then a friend's family's annual holiday party promptly got zombies out of my mind. Woot.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

From Cathedrals to Catastrophe

I had just finished reading the fourth book in Sharan Newman's medieval mystery series when La Otra Hermana y su marido dropped by the house to forage for food; finding none, they suggested going to see I Am Legend. So I went.

It was terrible. Except for Men in Black (and possibly Enemy of the State, depending on my mood), I'm not generally a big fan of Will Smith's movies; I Am Legend was no exception. I didn't read the book, but the film's plot was horribly unoriginal. It essentially combined 28 Days Later with Castaway, and threw in a scene from Old Yeller for good measure. There was even a sad and badly thought-out attempt at theology: Will Smith says at one point, "God didn't do this. We did." (Therefore, what, don't try to find a cure for cancer? Because it might create zombies and destroy the world?)

The movie did have its moments, though. Some of the gestures and behavior patterns of Smith's character are funny and yet heartbreaking, like talking to mannequins and reciting dialogue from Shrek. The routinization keeps him sane in his isolated existence as the last man left alive in a post-apocalyptic New York. (The amazing set of overgrown, deserted city streets is the only other cool thing about the movie.)

The fourth book in the Catherine LeVendeur medieval mystery series, however, was quite good. It's been a few months and countless boring articles on research methodology, so I forgot what happened in the third book. But the great thing with a mystery series is that the reader is quickly caught up to speed on the relevant histories of the main characters.

Strong as Death was a different spin on ye olde story of a group of pilgrims making a journey of faith and finding out that they're all connected in sinister ways. The Crusades usually figure in there somewhere. There's usually a monk with an unholy past and a rich widow. Did Chaucer start this trend, I wonder? Regardless, it's a standard scenario in any medieval mystery series. Newman just added some good twists involving secret Jewish heritage (more came out of the woodwork! Just when we thought the drama died down! And of course, it being a murder mystery, anti-Semitic mobs keep coming after half the characters in the book.)

So now, of course, I'm re-hooked and have to wait for Book 5 to arrive from the library.

Monday, December 17, 2007


I watched The Good German while wrapping Christmas presents, which is again not the best holiday scenario. Need to work on that.

Stylistically, it's brilliant. It's shot the same ways as an old film noir. The ending and the poster imitate Casablanca. I haven't read the book, so I don't know if the movie is based on it or not, but the plot is also rather similar to Casablanca (American guy goes to politically charged area, meets his old girlfriend, who is now married to a politically important guy who needs to escape. Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful friendship...) The ostensibly neutral eye of George Clooney's journalist character even parallels the apolitical attitude of Humphrey Bogart. At any rate, Casablanca is a great movie, though propagandistic, and I could rave about it forever. Suffice to say The Good German gets major points for not just its homage to it, but for its dedication and adherence to the entire film noir genre.

Howeer, it falters a bit in the question I think it wants to pose, about whether or not there could have been (or can be) "innocent" citizens when atrocities are committed under their noses. The film takes place in postwar Berlin, when the city is divided into sectors by the Allies, and a black market where food, people, information, and other goods fuels the city. Enter George Clooney, who's just trying to report on the Potsdam conference. There's a murder. There's the legacy of the Holocaust. There's the issue of survival, and what people do to survive in wartime. There's a disturbing rape scene. Lastly, there's the issue of guilt. In theory it's all very good. But I think those themes all could have been a little stronger.

So then I read Connie Willis' collection of Christmas stories, Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. It fit with the post-wrapping activity, but not with all the heavy post-film thoughts still running through my head.
Though I've only read about four of her books, I still don't quite know why Willis is considered a science fiction writer. (I know, I know, time travel counts as science fiction. That's my own bias.)
At any rate, I liked her collection of Christmas stories. They ranged from bizarre to cute to more bizarre. The cute ones were predictable and truly saccharine, in the holiday spirit, of course. I appreciated the more bizarre ones, like "Epiphany," about a minister who gets this weird feeling to just head west in search of Christ's Second Coming. You spend the story thinking he's gone off his rocker and also wondering why it's a Christmas story -- then suddenly on the last page, when there's no real resolution, you realize it's an allegory for the Three Wise Men. "Hats" was funny and bizarre, too -- aliens take over people at Christmastime, making them all nicer, and people wearing hats are the ones who are possessed.

One more Xmas present left to buy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Baby, it's cold outside ...

I was multitasking, writing holiday cards and watching Cool and Crazy earlier today. (Note to self: don't multitask while watching a movie that's in Norwegian with subtitles. You miss half the movie.)

Cool and Crazy, which I could not convince Mi Hermana and bro-in-law to watch even though I dragged the DVD all the way to Michigan for Thanksgiving, is a short documentary about a men's intergenerational choir in a small Norwegian fishing village. Essentially, the choir is their livelihood. The film interviews various choir members and ends with their singing tour in Russia.

I don't recall how this got in my Netflix queue, but what the hell, I worked with it. The Norwegian folk songs were a great soundtrack for holiday card-writing. The times I looked up to read the subtitles, I discerned that a lot of the older guys in the choir considered themselves ladykillers back in the day (and were very excited to go to Russia), that there was a token communist singer who made choir practice and the road trip to Russsia reeeeally interesting, and that the landscape and town shots were very well done (the stark contrasts in colors were amazing. But other than that, I'm not sure that it tried to say anything political or economic (though a few of the conversations for the camera were Cold War-related), and I always look for some political message in documentaries. Need to stop doing that. I think this one was just about guys from a small economically depressed town, who sing.

Kind of like The Fully Monty, but Norwegian fisherman instead....

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Need to operationalize our variables a little better next time...

(Research Methodology paper due tomorrow by email....)

Hypothesis 1 proved true for the first three hours. However, our results might be questionable because my bro-in-law decided we should tell La Madre I either got kicked out of school or evicted from my apartment for not paying rent, and he ended up telling her both. The result was that La Madre saw me, said "Oh, it's you. Hello. But you're supposed to be getting here next week." (Polite hug, then bro-in-law presented his scenarios that we forgot to include as control variables.) "What? But you have money in your bank account. Why didn't you pay your rent? Bink, are you flunking your classes? Why are you flunking your classes?" All incredible ironic statements, of course, though La Madre was serious....

Then, of course, the bro-in-law decided to be funny and say "So can we go get him out of the car now?" and La Madre rushed out onto the porch to see if there indeed was some random guy I brought home waiting in the car. I was not amused.

Later in the evening, though, after La Otra Hermana and I went over to Grandma's to talk politics and baseball, I returned to the house to find La Madre rushing around wailing "Now I have to do laundry! And go grocery shopping! How long have your sisters known you were coming today? Haaaaaa, why do you girls do this?" --thus lending validity to Hypothesis 2.

Also, words I never though I'd hear La OH say: "Oh! I'm a swing voter!" (This was after I told Grandma I didn't think Clinton would be able to pull in enough swing voters, and I had to respond when La OH said "What's a swing voter?" But regardless, words I never though I'd hear her say. Must share with Nuestra Hermana en Michigan...)

Friday, December 07, 2007

One semester down, three more to go

Back in July, when I bought my roundtrip ticket to Beantown, my original return date was Dec. 15. However, in September, when I realized I wouldn't have to sit for an exam (just slave over papers I could email), I switched the date to Dec. 8. Mis Hermanas know this -- in fact, one of them (La Otra Hermana, the one that's still preggers) is picking me up from the airport.

La Madre, on the other hand, is unaware that I'm flying in tomorrow. In fact, just yesterday, she emailed me to say "BINK! What is your itinerary for the 15th? I NEED your flight information ASAP, Bink!!!! Why have you not emailed it to me? Are you okay in Boston? Are you busy with school?" (She's an uber-organized scheduler....)

So we thought it would be funny not to tell her. I asked La Otra Hermana to feign a craving for lasagna (my favorite homemade meal, which La Madre made every college homecoming for me), but she refused, thinking that would be a dead giveaway.

However, La Madre also famously does not take surprises well. After much consulting with Mi Hermana en Michigan and La Otra Hermana, we agreed on the following hypotheses (to use the research methodology terms for a paper I have due next week)...

Hypothesis 1: La Madre will stare in happiness masked as annoyance, say something like, "Oh, it's you. Hello. What are you doing here?" and lock herself in her room to cope. (This is what she did when Mi Hermana's then-boyfriend/now-husband brought her avocados, her favorite fruit, as a gift when he visited for the first time.)

Hypothesis 2: La Madre will sigh in happiness masked as drama, and declare, "Why do you girls do this to me? Why? Why??? Now I have to go grocery shopping! And vacuum your room! And this house is a mess! Ahhhhh! Why do you girls do this??? Oh, why me???" (This was what she did when her church elected her as treasurer, even though she refused to officially run but had a lot of ideas for re-organizing the financial records.)

Nosotros Las Tres Hermanas honestly don't know which will prove true...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Lessons learned the hard way no.s 1738 and 1739

#1738: Always check the weather forecast before breaking in new shoes, especially if you're attending an event where you'll be standing for two and a half hours.

It wasn't the standing, in and of itself. It was the fact that when I walked to the T it was merely cold outside, and when I exited the underground station downtown, there was a full-on snowstorm, icy brick streets and all. It took me 10 minutes to stagger 5 blocks to the event, and it was worse two and a half hours later.

Unfortunately, heels don't double up as ice picks. I tried.

#1739: There is no such thing as overdressing.

I also had my Northwesterner complex about underdressing, so I decked out in what I thought was overdressing for a friggin' rally. (A rally, people! Local politicians get up, tell you why they endorse so-and-so, there's usually some child who's trotted out, and then the candidate gets up and guilt-trips you into signing up to canvass in New Hampshire before the primary, which you will try to get out of by volunteering to phonebank instead. Very different from a fundraiser, where you look snazzy to convince fellow donors you're important.) At home, the elected officials themselves frequently speak in public in jeans and a T-shirt. This time, I was Banana Republic head to toe, except for the shoes.

Turns out, I was dressed entirely appropriately, but underaccessorized (not to mention bedraggled, with snow-wet hair), and thus still under-attired.

Who knew?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Verily, Ventriloquism

Mi Hermana used to watch America's Got Talent, but I've never seen an episode. However, a friend sent me the youtube links for all five of the performances of the guy who won the cycle this summer. Awesome!

Here's my favorite:

Friday, November 30, 2007

Christmas 2.5

Yay Mashable:
Christmas Wish List: 12 Things We Want Fixed on the Web
How freaked out was I when I Yelped something (where I'm registered my Gmail), and it almost appeared on Facebook (where I'm registered with my Yahoo)? Geez. I mean I know I clicked on the box that lets them gather info on me, but that was a little freaky....

... is in the Heart

Watched Searching for Asian America last night, mainly because I couldn't convince Mi Hermana and bro-in-law to watch it with me when I was in Michigan, and I really want to get to the other films in my Netflix queue. It features three profiles of Asian Americans: Gov. Gary Locke, two Filipino doctors in Oklahoma, and actress/artist Lela Lee. The documentary has three episodes, which I think were part of a larger PBS- and NAATV-affiliated airing.

The segment on Gov. Locke was great. In 2003 when he gave the Democratic response to Bush's State of the Union address, I was in Orlando for a conference. I have no shame in admitting that I skipped that evening's social activities (which included free wine, btw) to watch Gov. Locke deliver the address on TV. Like most public officials, he did some good things and some not-so-good things (including cutting some child care funds that partially paid my salary and got me laid off from my first "real" job out of college. But whatever. No bitterness... I got to meet him several times, before he axed my funding stream, and he was a nice, everyday, humble dude.) At any rate, it was a good episode. It was also fun to recognize other Washington State politicos in all the shots.

Episode 2 randomly featured two Filipino doctors who settled in Guymon, Oklahoma. They were best friends in med school, then moved to the States and drama happened. Aside from their experiences as the only people of color in the town, they had a falling out. The interviews with them focus more on the immigrant experience: one wants to stay in OK, the other wants to eventually go back to the Philippines. I don't quite know why these two guys were featured, exactly. To tie in current experiences to a historical perspective? To reinforce cultural ties to nations of origin? It was an interesting segment but ultimately a little out of place.

Angry Little Asian Girl's Lela Lee was the focus of the last "episode" in the documentary. I first started reading her ALAG comic strip when I was in college and was something of an Angry Little Half-Asian Girl. (I've mellowed. A lot. Really!) Back then, the strip was solely about the ALAG dealing with stereotypes of Asian Americans, and it was edgy because it directly countered the image of Asians as quiet, submissive, cute little people. Since then, Lee has branched out and added other characters -- the strip is now Angry Little Girls, of all backgrounds. In Searching for Asian America, some cultural commentators mention that the strip also became wildly popular with non-Asian women, because some of the same expectations of silence, submission, and cuteness are normal socialization modes for females in general. That one was a great segment, too.

One thing I did find weird was the emphasis on telling how each of the featured people met their spouses. I couldn't figure out if it was an attempt to humanize them all more or to ironically link them back to the stereotype of Asian family ties. At any rate, it was obviously part of the formula for the episodes: interview person, tell beginning of story, interview friends and family, then suddenly throw in how they met/dated/married their partner, then tell rest of story through interviews of everyone.

Good stuff for procrastinating!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Speaking of deconstruction...

Procrastinating once again, this time not wanting to prepare a presentation on Derrida and Foucault. Ack.

So I'm reading the "Issues" statements of certain presidential primary candidates, and comparing them.

One funny thing I'm noticing: under bolded headers, often on the same page, some campaigns haven't decided to go with the first or third-person narrative. It's a funny schizophrenic detail. Under "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" a candidate might write "I believe in the American Dream." But seven lines later, under "Health Care," is written "Smith believes everyone should have quality affordable care." Even on the more in-depth pages where all the headers are points about the same issue! I doubt it's intentional, but who knows? Disassociation with certain issues? Different staffers? No clear communication memo? Hmmm....

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The legacy of Census2000

Either it's early-onset schizophrenia or cute baby nieces make me happy, but I've been smiling absurdly and silently narrating my activities ever since getting on the plane in Detroit: "Tia B is going to practice her presentation now. Auntie B could really use a pint of beer... I'm going to get on the bus, oh yes I am!" Etc, etc, etc.

Oy. There's a new addition to the voices in my head!

At any rate, Mi Hermana is already beginning to filter TV shows for her 2-month-old. (Sesame Street = good, very diverse, inclusive of all kinds of families, etc. My Bed Bugs, a local show on the local PBS channel = bad because only one character has eyes that aren't blue or green. Mi Hermana was particularly vehement about that last point... Note to self, make sure all future presents will not cause parental rant sessions...)

But we watched Shrek the Third for ourselves, though. It was terrible. I liked the first Shrek movie and tolerated the second, but the third was pretty bad! King Arthur, who is a fairy-tale high school geek, somehow inherits the kingdom of Far Far Awayland? And even Rupert Everett, reprising his role as the evil Prince Charming, couldn't get me to pay more attention to the film.

Of course, it was hilarious and ironic that in the film, Shrek and Fiona have kids, and there's a line where Shrek says all babies do is cry and poo (I think we all turned to stare at Harmony at that point...) But though it was highly relevant, it wasn't that great. I still like the original the best. Like The Matrix, the Shrek movies just keep getting worse.

Before I left the Wolverine State, however, I did guzzle quite a few glasses of wine and bottles of beer, accompanied by the new parents. (At one point I was even giving the baby her bottle while taking a swig from mine. Mi Hermana refused to take a picture, but allowed one of my near-empty steins to be photographed on a restaurant table with the sleeping baby in the background.)

We were drinking to the end of a family tradition, with the news that La Otra Hermana will not be following the Filipino tradition of the-mother's-maiden-name-as-child's-middle-name. Our surname is a hearty British one, and our other bro-in-law "doesn't like European names," and therefore doesn't want one as part of his kid's (though strangely is OK with his wife's....) Our nephew, due in late February, will have three long Samoan names, and we'll all have to learn the particular consonants of the South Pacific ("T" is not the same, for instance.) All of which in and of itself is cool, of course (Mi Hermana is, after all, a linguist), except for the fact that nobody on our Mom's side has ever not had the maternal surname as middle name. At least that we can trace. So La Madre is upset about this denial of her heritage's traditions. Mi Hermana and bro-in-law, los nuevos padres, on the other hand, are also disturbed that half the child's heritage isn't going to be reflected in the name.

Suffice to say, Nosotros Las Tres Hermanas, ourselves spanning the spectrum of what little mixed kids look like, have been yelling back and forth about "looking" multiracial, "ethnic" names, dominant cultural perceptions, internalized colonization and assimilation, the role of skin tone, and the rest of the gamut of identity politics. It is, of course, incredibly ironic that we're arguing about a Filipino tradition not being honored with a British name in a child who will be half Samoan New Zealander.

Meanwhile, I'll use any excuse to drink...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In the Ford Presidential Library

When the airline loses your luggage (and with it your 5 books of Thanksgiving homework) for almost two days, it's sometimes a good thing when your brother-in-law is getting his Ph.d in the field where you got your B.A., because to fill up your luggage-less time when not attending to the cutest niece in the world, he gives you his books to read.

Carried to the Wall was a interesting approach to the legacy of the Vietnam War. By examining first both American funerary traditions and the history of Western war memorials, the book then goes on to explore how the items left at the Vietnam War Memorial are part of changes in those histories, and how they help the living come to terms with both the death of soldier loved ones as well as a national narrative about the War itself. The things left at the Wall then become part of a living memorial, and the National Park Service dutifully documents and stores every item. The book, written by the bro-in-law's advisor or reader or something, was a little depressing in that it was about, well, death and the various ways the dead are remembered, especially ones from a war fought by an internally conflicted nation. But it was insightful. Hass also details the political drama behind the vision and design of the Wall, which of course also fit into the larger issues of personal and national memory.

And when the cutest niece in the world is being a miniature crab apple and fights her instinct to fall asleep, it turns out a playlist of Beatles songs and humming "Flower of Scotland" and "Scotland the Brave" works, and she zonks out. It gets old, though. Other times, though, she's awake and just wants to party.

So we watched Madagascar, which I admit I didn't view with any critical depth because I was alternating between cramming in my recently-delivered homework and walking the baby (as well as changing diapers for the first time ever). It seemed like it was basically a twist on the City Mouse and the Country Mouse tale: not all animals should imitate Free Willy, and anthropomorphic stories let children know everyone has a "place," however that is construed.

But a deserted Ann Arbor offers little aside from the Ford Presidential Library, so after a day of rest from turkey over-ingestion, Mi Hermana and I left the baby with my bro-in-law and headed out to do some outlet shopping. (The Fundraising Queen has a theory that discount shoe stores in non-urban areas have a better selection of city-appropriate shoes, and of course I immediately sent her a text message confirming the validity of her hypothesis, at least when applied to the wilds of Michigan. I 've been overdue for a replenished shoe collection for quite a while.)

Then we had fun shopping for baby clothes, both boys' and girls'. Because of course, aside from the bundle of harmony (wink wink) we left back in Ann Arbor to hit the retail gauntlet, there is another family bundle of joy (wink wink) due in late February. Tia B went a little, um, crazy buying baby shower gifts and the niece's Christmas presents. . . .

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Grad school in a nutshell!

With um, two presentations, one short paper, one long paper, and one final left for the next two weeks... Thanks to the FG for posting The Procrastination Flow Chart!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"I can hear 'em callin' hogs... I can sniff the fragrant whiff..."

Last year, while stranded in St. Louis for several hours, I learned that the airport there has a wonderful used book store. Yesterday, while stranded in Philadelphia, I learned that the airport has an excellent wine bar. (The food was just OK, but the candlelit tables were also a welcome break from Hudson News and food court chaos.)

Also, airport art is brilliant after three glasses of wine! (Seriously, Philly had little shapes of birds and planes --but no Superman-- arranged in flocks that made up bigger birds and planes! I even stopped to examine the tiny figures. And put my nose up to the glass box...)

So I have no idea if it was the three glasses of wine or the book itself, but I was tearing up while reading parts of Joe Trippi's memoir of the Howard Dean campaign in '04. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything was really inspiring. Actually, I started reading it on the plane from Boston before getting stranded in Philly, so it wasn't just the wine and candlelight.

Of course, I may be a bit partial because while reading the descriptions of the 1200 audience members at Seattle's Town Hall in the spring of '03, the 15,000 in downtown Seattle that summer, the hundreds of thousands of repeated small-time contributors, and house party organizers, I kept thinking "Awww... I was there! That was me!" Trippi provides a riveting account of how the Dean campaign snowballed from a tiny backwoods Vermont office into the nation's first --and arguable only-- internet-supported presidential bid, the first in fact to utilize blogs. (The myth is that the campaign was only internet-based, but it wasn't.)

(Because I really know how to pick 'em in the primaries... I was a Bradley fan in '00, the only other presidential cycle where I've been eligible to vote. I think I've mentioned before, I love primaries. In the spirit of Thursday's approaching feast, the Dem primaries are like huge Thanksgiving family dinners where everyone has to negotiate who will host, who will carve the turkey, and who has to take the wine away from Uncles Sharpton and Kucinich...)

So perhaps it's appropos that, four years after I made my first political contribution to a candidate (I'd previously refused, donating only to ballot initiatives or the anti campaigns), I'm studying the influence of technology in mobilizing young voters. And guess what, there are still limited resources, almost no academic research in the area, and new applications are being poo-pooed by traditional politicos, who wonder how and why Stephen Colbert can be more popular than "real" Democrats. We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.

At any rate, Trippi's book is great. Like any memoir, you read it with a grain of salt because who isn't biased when it comes to writing about themselves? But Trippi actually manages to get beyond the issue of how he was involved with the campaign -- he keeps calling for a paradigm shift in campaign strategizing, for a recognition that voters will actually respond to participatory democracy, for a realization that politics and technology are not mutually exclusive. And he keeps emphasizing the importance of young voters. In any description of the Dean campaign, Trippi repeatedly emphasizes it was decentralized and the vague online community "out there" were the ones coming up with ideas and innovations-- and he relates it to similar trends in the consumer market, like Google and Linux and some other instances where the bottom-up nature of computer culture had proven wildly successful.

I also got a second-hand campaign high while reading the pre-Dean autobiography parts. The guy worked on tons of campaigns.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I'm still allowed to skip one general in 10 years...

I finally finished the book I don't remember why I selected for my book review. The Good Citizen: How a Younger Generation is Reshaping American Politics is certainly timely --countdown to the caucuses and the primaries! Woot woot. Russell Dalton, the author, looks at different constructions of "citizenship" and what it means to be a "good" citizen. Through various charts and tables, he illustrates that older individuals do things like vote in large numbers, join the Elks or other civic organizations, and remain loyal to other social groups like churches, labor unions, and political parties. Younger adults, on the other hand, don't vote so much, but volunteer in large numbers, and express political interest in new and different ways.

But then Dalton takes forever to show that the difference between "duty-based" citizenship (what the old folk do) and "engaged" citizenship (what the young 'uns do) manifests itself in things like views on the role of government, tolerance attitudes, and beliefs about civil rights. Dalton also points to changes in education from World War II through the 21st century as key to understanding the shift from duty-based views to engaged citizenship. Seriously, though, it all took like forever. And the book is only about 200 pages. Or maybe that's just my engaged-citizenship ADHD age bias showing? Dalton draws on surveys and re-presents the findings in pretty easy-to-read formats. But I think he essentially said it all in the introduction and the first two chapters. The first two chapters are definitely worth reading, though, and the rest is worth skimming -- nobody else really presents a positive view of young adult political trends, it's always doom and gloom and how young people are ruining American democracy, and Dalton definitely takes the opposite stance.

And now, I must contemplate packing for my Thanksgiving trip to the state that caused so much trouble with its primary...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

LAPD does a 360

It only took how many Orwellian days?
LAPD ditches Muslim mapping plan (LA Times)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gotta stop wearing those fishnets

Unsure if I ever blogged the first incident (though I've certainly ranted about it enough), I was once mistaken for a prostitute three times in the same night while waiting for a bus. That was about two years ago. Based on that experience, I now know how men pick up prostitutes (they pull their cars up a little ways away, and wait, and keep looking at you through their rearview mirrors).

And it happened again! I was waiting for a bus, alone, fairly late, last night on my way home from karaoke, and the same thing happened. Except this time when I looked over at the car in shock to see if what I thought was happening was really happening, the guy raised his arms as if you say "Deal or no deal?" So I whipped out my cell phone and called a cab. I don't care that I was mistaken for a hooker (ironically I was wearing a big puffy ski jacket the first time, and a long wool coat the second), I'm a little more concerned about my safety.

And why are women alone at bus stops late at night assumed to be prostitutes anyway???? Arrrgggghh. Oh wait....

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

As the writer's block kicks in for the political science paper due on Thursday

As the holidays approach, I'm beginning to miss all the prep and mapping for legislative session. And as I'm stuck merely studying political goings-on for at least the next year and a half, after six years of actually working on issues, I am TOTALLY JEALOUS of a friend who's a congressional fellow in DC right now...

I can carry my CSPAN and NCSL bags around to make me feel better, though...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Le, la, les, l'

While not writing papers yet again, I watched Eddie Izzard's Definite Article. I needed a laugh.

I liked it a lot better than Unrepeatable, maybe because the topics of his jokes were a little nerdier. In Definite Article he had bits dealing with Roman history (he mentioned Vercingetorix which, believe it or not, is my cousin's middle name), St. Paul's letters to the Corinthians, playing musical instruments, and learning languages. That was the fun part -- if you didn't know a little French and German, you didn't get any of that bit of the routine, which was hilarious. Half the time, his stream-of-consciousness routine seems so unplanned (and you can tell some parts are), but then he always gets back on track.

And the man casually used "lugubrious" in a sentence, not as a joke. Brilliant.

Also, I've noticed that of the few comedy shows on DVD I've been watching lately, many end with the comedian leaving the venue, getting into a car, and driving away. Is this some weird cultural reference I'm not getting? Where and how did this start? This could be yet another research question to prevent me from writing my end-of-term papers....

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Because LAPD has such a good record in community relations...

WTF??? I'm speechless besides all the cursing that comes to mind!

LAPD defends Muslim mapping effort (LA Times)

What's that Martin Niemoller quote again?

Section 1158

While procrastinating and not writing any of my big papers due next week, I came across this BBC article on a game designed by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees. It's intended to be a tool for teachers, a sort of 101 on what the UN

Didn't quite know what to expect (SuperMario? Wolfenstein?), so I went online and played it.

The entire game is clicking on items in different rooms: click on the items you want to throw in your knapsack when the soldiers knock on your door, click on the rights you sign away, click on the people you ask for help, click on the doors you open when you try to find your interpreter, etc, etc.

The characters are clearly supposed to be children or youngish people, as are the hurdles the player-as-refugee goes through (like school). Overall, I think it actually does a decent job of highlighting a hypothetical, from police storming into the hypothetical house, to being interrogated, to fleeing and nobody helping, to coming to a new country and having to navigate different aspects of everyday life. In the first third of the game, it also subtly explains what the UN might consider an indicator of refugee status qualification. (It does this during the "interrogation" section, where if the player doesn't give away rights and agree with the government, there are smacking sounds and blood drops appear... That was a little disturbing, though rooted in reality.)

I'm assuming the intended audience are, to be overly blunt, privileged American children who have never met an immigrant or a refugee. With that in mind, the "case studies" presented in the game are interesting, as are the choice of countries and particular situations to highlight. (The seven profiles in the second part of the game are all either from the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East, or the subcontinent/South Asia --gee, any subtle religious undertones?-- and I'm positive that's not a representative sample of asylum-seekers in the U.S.) And the nonthreatening lighter skins tones of the game's characters probably make the stories a little more palatable for the parents of the intended audience. Of course, I'm cynical in my old age...

What was particularly cool was that the game didn't stop with the nighttime escape from the home country: it took the player through the confusing process of integrating into a new home in a different country. It made the player try to understand what it might be like to not understand a language, to be the recipient of mean comments, and to try and start a new life.

It's an interesting and fairly creative introduction to the idea of human rights, the UN, and refugees.

And yet another way to procrastinate. The papers will be written! Sigh...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

When you want the option that isn't listed

Thanks to the FG, who posted this on "the FB," I know that according to USA Today's "Candidate Match" game, Kucinich, Gravel, and Giuliani (tied with Richardson) are apparently most aligned with my answers to USA Today's questions on the war, health care, immigration, equal marriage rights, the environment, and experience.

(I knew Kucinich, I've know that for years. But I'll still never vote for him. He still really, really creeps me out, and I don't know exactly why, as I kept telling another friend on Facebook. Personal biases, perhaps.)

At any rate, unless I register to vote in the Massachusetts primary, I'll miss the Washington State caucus. Decisions, decisions...

For more procrastination, maybe I should retake the quiz! Ooooohhh! Or critique its internal validity, which would be an excellent way to avoid doing the survey reading for statistics class tonight.

My excuse lately is that if it's related to politics and somehow involves technology (very conveniently undefined), then it's not really procrastinating. It's, um, tangentially related to my research-gathering. Yep. That's right...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The forest for the trees

I had this weird feeling all today, thinking something wasn't quite right. For starters, I kept thinking it was Tuesday instead of Monday, and some nagging instinct kept telling me something was important about the first week of November. But I went to the presentation on PUBLIC POLICY summer fellowships, including several at the state LEGISLATURE; emailed my program director about alternative energy INITIATIVES in Ohio; wrote a few more sentences in my research outline on mobilizing young VOTERS; and then went to the department monthly happy hour ("the department" being Law, POLICY, and Society). And in between walking to all of those events, something wasn't quite right.

Turns out, it was 10 years of behavior ingrained in my mental calendar. It just now hit me -- I won't be voting this year, in either the Evergreen or the Bay State. And Massachusetts doesn't have same-day registration, so I can't rush out and remedy the situation in the wee hours tomorrow morning.

This is what happens when you're not involved with a campaign!!! Or the DMV had computer crashes the THREE times you try to switch your license and voter registration, so you finally give up and decide to vote back home, but then forget to have your absentee ballot sent across the country, and La Madre is in Michigan and can't forward it to you!!!


It's also slightly ironic, given that one of the books I chose to read for a class is The Good Citizen: How a Younger Generation is Changing Politics. I haven't finished reading it yet (was planning to finish it and the book review paper over Thanksgiving), but the first few chapters that I have read set up the author's views on "duty-based" constructions of citizenship (ie, voting, going to party meetings, etc) and "engaged" models of citizenship (ie, signing petitions, lobbying, protesting, boycotting, etc). The main idea of the book is that the under-35 bloc conceives of civic engagement in vastly different terms, without as much emphasis on the voting part as previous generations. The half of the book I haven't read yet apparently goes into the pros and cons of this trend.

Still. The first time in ten years I've missed a general! I skipped a few primaries back in college, and more than a few special elections.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

One extra hour!

Lady Grace and I tried to go to the Peabody Museum this morning, but got a lost, as I'm learning is fairly common in the Boston area. Which was fine, because it was a gorgeous sunny Sunday, so we ended up taking a really long walk around Cambridge. But with an antsy 2-year-old in tow, we decided to find a decent brunch place, and stumbled upon the lovely Upstairs on the Square. We didn't realize it was a reservation kind of place, but luckily the staff took a liking to Lillian, Lady G's toddler charge. She was cute and well-behaved, and despite it being very crowded with college students being wined and dined by visiting parents, we got seated immediately without reservations (we were thinking the cute and well-behaved part had something to do with it), and about four staffers kept coming up to say hi to her throughout our meal.

She did keep trying to grab my mimosa, though, thinking it was the OJ she usually has for breakfast. I managed to keep it away from her, and tried to give her some of my melon and prosciutto instead, but she wasn't a fan of either. And then we had to play the rearranging game, where I'd move the salt and pepper and sugar to the opposite end of whatever side of the table she would crawl towards.

And then it occurred to us halfway through brunch that we probably looked like a young couple out for Sunday brunch with our kid. (It explained some of the comments other patrons and the staff said to both of us.) Hilarious!

At any rate, I liked the decor at the restaurant. It was an interesting blend of classic, with fun colors and subtle animal prints. I like subtle animal prints...

And then I had to get back to the paper-writing. Sigh. It was a nice autumn morning of procrastination, though.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

This is where procrastination leads you

Courtesy of the Harry Potter Alliance:

Then again, it's kind of vaguely related to the paper I'm not writing, right? The internet? Mobilizing young people in new ways? Redefining political participation?

Back to "research" ...

Lessons learned the hard way no.s 1736 and 1737

#1736: Several mean-spirited people will drive through massive puddles just to splash you when you're walking home with your groceries in the rain. It's a cruel, cruel world.

#1737: Fava beans should be shelled before you put them into your salad and take a bite. So a recipe that supposedly takes 10 minutes really takes about 50, and your fingers get wrinkled from the emergency re-boiling and soaking session.

Who knew?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

These young 'uns...

While researching city initiatives on alternative energy sources and "green" technologies, I found out that the current mayor of Pittsburgh, the youngest in the country, is 27 (pro tem at 26 following the last mayor's death.)

I feel really, really old...

Saturday, October 27, 2007

When no press come to your press conference

On the one hand, as an organizer, I know it's one of the worst possible nightmares. On the other hand, even those not in public affairs know to give more than 15 minutes' notice:
Fema sorry for 'fake' conference (BBC)

The US Federal Emergency Management Administration has apologised for having its employees pose as reporters at a hastily arranged news conference. No actual reporters were able to attend Fema's televised briefing on the fires in California on Tuesday because they were only given 15 minutes notice. . . .
Perhaps slightly understandable with small organizations, but completely unacceptable from a government agency...

Friday, October 26, 2007


Unfortunately, Season 4 of Six Feet Under is what I have at home from Netflix, and that'd just be depressing to watch right now. So I turned, as so often since I've gone TV-less, to the online selection.

Puccini for Beginners was exactly what I needed: an indy situational comedy with overtly intellectual references. I'm not an opera-goer, so I didn't get some the opera comments or analogies (except the obvious ones), but there were plenty of funny asides about Kant, philosophy, and sociology.

The basic plot is the transformation of commitmentphobe Allegra (and you don't need a music background to understand the name's significance), who breaks up with her girlfriend and starts seeing both a woman and a man who, of course, turn out to be exes themselves. Hilarity and heartbreak ensue.

I really loved the movie. The dialogue was smart, the characters had depth, and it was a perfect mix of tradition and modernity. I also liked the way the film addressed stereotypes, sexuality, and relationships of any kind: they were interesting and piquing conversations, but not the main drama. In all, a wonderful and short (82 minutes!) way to transition from pondering the Bhavacakra to writing the outline for the presentation on the role of postmodernism and linguistics in critical legal theory. . . .

Obla di obla da ...

One of these days I should write a soap opera inspired by real life. Actually, I believe my cousin in Santa Barbara had a one-woman play that ran for a while in LA, inspired in part by nuestra familia loca.

1. It's fun window-shopping for baby clothes. And it's fun not having to limit myself to the baby girls' or boys' section, since one sister just had a girl and the other one will be having a boy soon. These kids, I swear, will be uber-spoiled, if Auntie B has anything to do with it!

2. La Madre famously declared she didn't want to know the gender of her first grandchild until it was born, and we all managed to keep it a secret from her. She announced her intention to remain ignorant of her second grandchild's gender as well.

3. A few days ago, aforementioned cousin posts her Facebook "status" as wondering about the California wildfires. I post a comment on her wall, saying I hoped the fires weren't too close and that she was OK. Two hours later she sends me an FB message saying her father/my uncle just died in the hospital. Go Facebook, giving relatives 3000 miles apart another way to face their dysfunctional realities.

4. I call my brother-in-law and sister in Michigan, who have not heard the news. Except for emergencies like sudden deaths, we usually get family news via official memos, which attorney Grandpa would send routinely via USPS. However, since his recent demise, the family news circuit has experienced some missing links.

5. I call La Madre, who has not heard either. La Madre, as is Her way, immediately denies it ("What? No, she must've misunderstood." "What? The baby was born? No, they're just playing a joke on you.") La Madre calls Grandma, with whom the late uncle lived until his hospitalization, and receives confirmation of the details. Grandma was not doing well with the news, and had been a little slow in spreading it.

6. All of us had a very complicated relationship with the uncle, to severely understate the point. The cousins are flying in from LA and Madrid. Another cousin, who was apprehended a few months ago near the Mexico border as he attempted to escape parole, is currently awaiting arraignment for what I believe is his third strike (again, no update memos since Grandpa passed away); he used to call his father, at Grandma's, every day from the county jail. With the fourth sibling, they'll make the funeral arrangements, which is a horrible, horrible task for any child to do, no matter their relationship with their parent. It's unclear at this point what the service will be, if there will be one, but I will be unable to attend.

7. Grandma --who lost first her youngest son (my dad) six years ago while insanely driving across the country in an old '88 Toyota to attend her husband's 60th law school reunion in Connecticut, then lost her husband (Grandpa, the Talisker-swigging king) this past February after finally deciding not to drag his battle out any longer, and now has lost her second-youngest son-- is one of the strongest and bravest and smartest and sympathetic women I know.

8. Pregnant sister goes to check up on Grandma, and decides to let Grandma in on the secret of the baby's gender, unaware that Grandma had been understandably fixing herself some very, very strong martinis.

9. Grandma swears not to tell La Madre the gender.

10. Once Mi Hermana leaves, Grandma immediately calls La Madre to congratulate her on her forthcoming grandson.

Lala, how the life goes on...

The Fox!

This is only like the third Halloween that I've ever dressed up or done anything, so I'm still getting the hang of coming up with a costume. (An inexpensive costume is key... )

Year 1 I plunked on the cattle horn headband I got in Austin and was a very mild "cow" girl, and at a different party plunked on a beret and was Simone de Beauvoir. Fairly unoriginal. Year 2 I intended to be a skeletal flasher, but couldn't find an affordable skeleton, and since I found a funny shirt with a bikini-clad lady, used that instead and accidentally became a hooker.

Year 3: Soy Zorro! Because maybe Don Diego was just the front, and it was really his secret twin sister riding around California defeating tyranny. Nobody ever suspected a woman of doing anything cool...

Haven't decided whether to wear pants or a skirt yet, and I still have to make my tin foil sword.
Also, I briefly freaked out that I might accidentally be the McDonald's Hamburglar, until I realized he's in a striped outfit.

En garde!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bundles and bundles

The other sister had her ultrasound today, and they learned the baby's gender. So in addition to having the cutest niece in the world, born a mere 4 weeks ago, and for whom I will be the Cool Aunt, I'll also have a nephew come late February or early March, for whom I will probably end up being the Political and/or Heathen Aunt by default.

Apparently the doctor told them either the baby was really large for its stage, or they miscalculated the conception date. I'm a fan of the first explanation -- the kid is half Samoan, after all. And the groom's side of the family are all well over 6'3".

Meanwhile, I still have never changed a diaper in my life...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bronze is still a medal

Captain Blunder and the Awkward Silences finally had a trivia team, and we came in 3rd! The ol' Captain wasn't the team name, but still. Xtina, freshly licensed to perform marriages and funerals and other such official ministerial business, brought her sister and a friend, who both amazingly knew car logos and sports and pop culture stuff that have been bogging us down for eternity.

The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place teams were all only one point apart. Which means if we'd bet just a few more points on one of our answers, we might have won. But I'm not complaining about 3rd! Or the fact that we had more than a 2-person, Humanities-heavy team!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What's it all about?

The other movie we didn't end up watching last weekend was the 2004 remake of Alfie. I've never seen the original with Michael Caine, but on a purely superficial note, I'd prefer to see Jude Law in the title role.

I expected to hate the movie. (I should stop with the expectations going into movies, they haven't tended to be right lately.) While I didn't love it, or even really like it, it was decent. I thought it was going to be the overdone and highly unrealistic cad-finds-right-woman-and-settles-down story, but it wasn't. Whatever the original was like, I'm sure this version altered some of the subplots substantially -- I doubt that erectile dysfunction, abortion, and interracial relationships were part of the original script. (Or maybe they were, but I really don't feel like watching Michael Caine play a womanizer to find out! Aauugghh.) At any rate, Law was a great Alfie. The style of the movie fit well, too -- he talks directly at the camera half the time. Aside from that, though, there was no real insight into his character or behavior.

There were also some really good black and white stills at the end of the movie.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Aaaaaand with two more outs left in the top of the 9th, I can already hear the cars, honks, and cheers from the bars on Comm Ave.

I still can't quite get used to how late baseball games are played on the east coast...

The First Rule of Fight Club

Regardless of who wins tonight...

Like any sports fanaticism, there is no real logic (except geography) to my postseason baseball rules.

These have been the rules for over ten years:

1. Root for the Mariners.
2. If the Mariners are not in it, root for the Western Division team that is.
3. If there's no Western Division team in the ALCS, root for whatever American League team's city is physically closest to the west coast, except the Rangers, Indians, or Yankees.
4. Root for the American League team in the World Series.

Park 'n Ride

I reordered my Netflix queue last weekend, moving to the top two movies both I and Lady Grace had on our lists. Turns out we didn't watch any TV in the evenings, we just sat around talking politics with her parents, which of course was awesome! However, it also left me with two movies I didn't really want to watch on my own but now have to, since I still have them.

Riding in Cars with Boys was one of those movies. First of all, there are very, very few Drew Barrymore movies I actually like. So that should have been a tip-off. Secondly, I didn't read Beverly D'Onofrio's memoir, so I don't know if the movie is very true to it or if I'd even like the book. Regardless, I think the girl-gets-pregnant-in-the-60s thing is overdone. The plot definitely addressed a lot of good issues, and portrayed what is probably real life for a lot of families struggling with addiction, poverty, and lost dreams.

The film had its moments. My favorite is the one where you realize the guy driving Beverly's car isn't her boyfriend but her son. And then, of course, you know where the flashbacks to her life as a 15-year-old are going to lead... There are a lot of other moments that are also so pathos-ridden that you can't help but empathize. Then again, there are also a lot of clichés. But in general, I felt like I knew where the plot was going the whole time, and I don't tend to like movies that I can predict.

Big Brother Wants YOU to...

The Actor's Gang came to campus, and since it was only $5 --$5!!!-- for students, it was a pretty good deal.

Michael Gene Sullivan's adaptation of 1984 was brilliant. Instead of telling the story in a linear fashion and having to change the sets or the scene every ten minutes, the entire story is told through acted-out flashbacks during Winston's interrogation and torture. It's pretty true to the subplots and general spirit of Orwell's classic, which I haven't read since sophomore year in high school.

There was a Q & A with the actors afterwards, and the biggest thing the obviously left-leaning audience kept returning to was the similarity to the certain current political realities. But somehow I think the fact that the play itself didn't try to make any allusions to Guantanamo or the PATRIOT Act was more powerful, because the audience could make those connections on its own. Orwell's scenario is such a scary dive into the nature of power, surveillance, manipulation, and fear that anyone in any audience can somehow relate to it.

The one scene in the book that I've vividly and traumatically remembered is the one with the rats. And throughout the play, I kept thinking "Oh hey, they cut out that scene!" But oh no. It's kind of a crucial scene. It's there.

Ironically, I passed tons of posters on campus advertising the play and the tour dates, but I never stopped to read the details. I accidentally read about it in the free newspaper over some stranger's on the T yesterday! And ended up running into some people I knew there. Small world.

Afterwards, the honking cars and whoops from bars told me who won Game 6 of the ALCS.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Captain Blunder and the Awkward Silences

Sigh. Xtina and I have been fated to sail alone from pub to pub in search of a good trivia place, bailed on by friends, relatives, coworkers, and fellow grad students alike, for ten weeks.

Okay, not really ten weeks, that was just for literary drama.

But we will reach Ithaca one day!

Marching towards Bethlehem

The other day a coworker and I had the age-old lunchtime debate: will a white woman or a black man become president of the U.S. first?

I tend to think the former; my coworker thought the latter. It was interesting, though, because our backgrounds naturally predisposed us to our answers. I have the resume filled with civil rights and multi-racial coalitions, and work with immigrant populations and communities of color, and I'm pretty pessimistic about progress in American attitudes about race. She on the other hand went to all-female schools her entire life and has been very involved in mainstream feminist groups and pro-choice organizations, and despite the huge gains for women in the past 40 years, is more cynical than anyone I've ever met about American perceptions of women as leaders.

The question might overly simplify the issue of social inequality by ignoring a hell of a lot of other groups, but in some ways it's more realistic and cuts straight to the chase. (I remember first having the debate during lunch in high school!) The issue isn't which oppressed group "trumps" another by becoming more assimilated or "accepted" or mainstream. The issue is more about achieving economic, social, and political equality, and the role of power, though the word "power" itself has certain meritocracy-crushing connotations.

It was a pretty interesting half-hour discussion.

This week's obsessions

My new sherpa-lined fleece hoodie, which I got at an outlet store in Kittery for an unbelievable price, is warmwarmwarmwarmwarm, and I don't want to ever take it off!!!!

Unfortunately, it's also SO warm that it's inducing a dormitive state as I am attempting to summarize the postmodern linguisitic theory in Critical Legal Studies. Or maybe it's the subject matter...

At any rate, this week's procrastination resources have been:

* "Hips Don't Lie," that great danceable song by Shakira. Can't get enough of it lately. Don't know why.
* Wonkette
* Visiting the websites of all the presidential candidates, from both parties. It's, uh, school-related. Okay, not really. But an unempirical eye can still make observations... and not do homework.

Fred Thompson on myspace. That is a scary, scary thing...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Esto Perpetua

From ME to ID...

The Larry Craig scandal is kind of old hat, but this video still cracked me up.


Spent three days up in Maine with Lady Grace, to:

1) Visit her host/adoptive parents on beautiful Orrs Island, near the quaint little quintessentially New England town of Brunswick. She hadn't been home since Easter --unacceptable, given that her parents rock! Had a dram (okay, several drams of Oban) with her dad, the one who got 8% as an Independent in the ’06 race for Congress. Nothing better than drinking whisky and talking politics into the wee hours of the morning. He’s also a Northeastern alum and so was curious to hear how my first few weeks in grad school have been. Of course, I raved about the recent poli sci prof we had lead a class discussion just this past Thursday, which led to more discussions about the current political and social climate. (I did keep returning, perhaps randomly and alarmingly, back to how excellent our speaker was – I feel that can’t get enough recognition, since I’m now the biggest worshipping fan….) Her parents are also huge peace activists and were telling us of all the events they’re planning, their latest arrests, their conversations with people, etc. Plus they just got back from a trip to Paris and had a lot of other great stories.

2) Go shopping in Freeport and Kittery. I have a new niece to buy cute stuff for, after all. Got quite a bit of my Christmas shopping already done! Woot woot.

3) Attend select Homecoming events on Mayflower Hill. We skipped the football game and stopped by the houses of some faculty and staff we've kept in touch with, who all decided to vent to us about all the latest shenanigans of the administration and spoiled students. Then we grabbed one drink at the pub. And damn, the place has changed! There are like four new buildings, everything else has been renovated, and the Student Union has been completely rearranged. The pub has been moved, so has the old concession-like area, and both have been uber-sterilized. We ordered cheese fries, and instead of using real cheese like they did six years ago, they used gross Cheez Whiz. It was odd walking around, and I felt like a ghost haunting a past life. I didn’t jettison any baggage into the pond or burn any incense on the quad to excorcize the bad chi, but I think overall the brief visit was good for the karma.

4) Get some allergic love from three cats. I had the foresight to bring both my pills and my inhaler, and both saved my life.

5) Re-catch the cold I just got over. Yay frigid northern temperatures.

The stars up north were phenomenally amazing, the shopping was good, and it was great to catch up with folks. But it was great to see city lights once we hit 95 South!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I hope Gore wins

(Of course, I'm sure it'll go to a deserving individual whether or not he does...)

Setting aside all debate about whether one organization or medal should hold so much social and political currency, or the fact that humanitarian efforts, human rights, and peace are inherently and undeniably political to begin with, the aftermath would play out so hilariously: "For his efforts to find policy solutions to the issue of global warming, which truly is a worldwide issue, and for the added burden of having to do this in America, which is not only one of the biggest environmental polluters but also home to most of the people who doubt the existence of the issue in the first place, the Prize goes to..." And then the predictable reaction: "This is a European, liberal, anti-American conspiracy! Partisanship! Biased political statement! Waaaaaa!" And the American President, who technically lost a past election to the prize recipient, would have to congratulate the recipient on becoming the fifth (I think) American ever to get the prize, on being recognized by the world's most prestigious award organization for crusading against fixing something said President doesn't believe exists in the first place.

You can't make this up!

Monday, October 08, 2007

As the World Turns

The Reverend X lent me her copy of The Better World Shopping Guide. It's a pocket guide to socially responsible companies, broken down by product (banks, bath, meat, shoes, etc). Each company in each area is given a grade, based on their environmental practices, human rights record, animal testing practices, community involvement, and a few other categories. It was short enough to read on the bus to work this morning.

I was curious about some of the rankings, and wanted to see some of the background research or even reasons some companies got better grades (they're not always given in the book), but either the Better World Shopper website has been having issues all day, or it's my unknown benevolent neighbor's wi-fi connection that is wonky. At any rate, I was unable to see why Chipotle was the only fast food chain given an A+. (The only time I ever ate there was about a year ago, in D.C., fleeing the aggressive HRC clipboard canvassers in Dupont Circle. It was about 5:55, and I thought their shift ended at 6, so that by the time I got out they'd be gone. Alas, their shift ended at 6:30, so they all converged on me. One even said "We saw you go in there. We were waiting." This is all the long, rambling way of saying I'm shocked that a company with incredibly, incredibly crappy burritos is apparently the most socially responsible. For some reason I thought they were owned by McDonald's. Now if only they could work on flavor....)

Good news: I'm doing great on food across the board (everything from meats to seafood to produce to juice to milk to booze), and bath/body products, and cleaning and laundry supplies. My record is fairly OK on financial institutions, mainly because La Madre has worked for credit unions for the past decade, so that's where all my meager savings are.

Bad news: Clothes and shoes. But I knew this. Sigh. I'm not giving up my Freeport stop this weekend....

Sunday, October 07, 2007

As I walk through the valley of the ...

I had the Cherry Poppin' Daddies' "Zoot Suit Riot" stuck in my head the other day. Ever since it came out, I've been slightly conflicted about it. One the one hand, it's a super catchy song. On the other hand, the Zoot Suit Riots were not a happy chapter in America's racial history, and bopping happily without acknowledging that doesn't sit well with me. Then again, that whole album is brilliant in that it's all fairly subversive material; all the others songs are also about a darker side of reality, set to swing. With art, discomfort is usually a good sign. It spurs discussion.

I think I subconsciously got the tune stuck in my head because I've had American Me in my movie queue forever. Any movie about violence, prison, and prison gangs is not going to be a happy one, and American Me was no exception. It starts with the Zoot Suit Riots in 1943 and ends in the early 1990s, and traces the lives of three friends who form a street gang in East LA, get sent to juvenile hall, re-form their gang, get sent to state prison, re-establish their monopoly on the drug trade, then get out of prison and re-adjust to getting on top of the drug trade outside. It's a brutal, disturbing, uncomfortable tale that doesn't spare any details of the killings, rapes, drug overdoses, and racial and ethnic tensions it depicts.

Back in undergrad sociology classes, we had to do a lot of readings on gang formation, prison group dynamics, and "street" economics. It's possible to study and explain social structures without justifying them. But part of me, probably because I went to an urban public high school, albeit in a small wannabe city, finds it pretty scary. It wasn't some distant issue I can discuss from the "safety" of the suburbs and the supposedly "better" schools -- from grade 6 onwards we had speakers come and talk to us about the dangers of joining gangs, why we shouldn't join gangs, why we should turn in peers if we know they're bringing guns and knives to school. Most of it was adult paranoia., which is not to lesson the reality of the cycle of violence involving gangs or drugs and prison. But I do also know the colors of some local gangs, and have friends who were affected by family members who joined gangs.

However, most of me doesn't like the gang film genre. Because one, movies about gang wars highlight only the gang aspect of life in a particular locale, ignore everything else around it (the schools, the families, the churches, the positive stuff that goes on, etc), and present an image that "those people" in "those neighborhoods" live, breathe, and die only gang-related activity. And two, "those people" are usually Latino or black or Italian or Irish working class, and they're always, always, always men. And based on heavily prevalent cultural images like that, everyone "knows" (it's necessary to bust out the postmodern quotation marks) what life for "everyone" is like in Compton, East LA, South Chicago, the Bronx, or South Boston.

The movie is based on true stories, there's no denying that. It presents the reality, filled with drive-by shootings and gang retaliations and prison rape, for many, many people. But another part of me also wonders if movies like this one actually feed conservative policy stances. Lock them all up! Harsher sentences! Get them off the streets! Ignore the root causes of poverty and crime! Ignore why kids form gangs to begin with! More band-aid solutions! Keep standing downstream! It was the kind of shocking and tragic film with the statistics at the end and no concrete advocacy positions: "Last year, 3000 people died in gang-related activity. . ." leaving the viewer to infer their own course of action.

So THEN! I called up my bro-in-law, who hails from East LA, whose sister is a cop in an anti-gang unit there, who is getting his doctorate in American Ethnic Studies, and whose Netflix queue I stole the movie from, to rant about the movie. It turns out we have ...different views. One of the first things he said was, "Yeah, I grew up there," and then proceeded to say that the movie spurred a lot of dialogue and was one reason why neighborhoods got grants for community centers and other youth activities. Drawing from my own advocacy experience in getting federal afterschool funding, I know that the messages you spin to different partisan lawmakers in order to get an appropriations bill passed can sometimes be drawn from unhealthy stereotypes: "Look what these kids will do if they don't get a community center! They'll go out, get guns, and shoot innocent bystanders, possibly you!" Then he pointed out that the film is trying to highlight the cycle of violence (by starting in the '40s with the zoot suiters and pachucos, then ending in the 90s with the third generation of kids forming their own gang), and how it will continue to be a cycle unless something is done. He pointed out that the film came out about the time as Boyz n the Hood, and has a lot of similar elements, such as humanizing stories from the hood, and that these LA gang movies were from the era of Pete Wilson, who is not well loved in the non-affluent sections of California. But that brought me back to how the film doesn't suggest anything on its own, and the "solutions" a mainstream audience can draw are that kids in East LA are naturally prone to violence, will all drop out of school anyway, should all be locked up, more cops should patrol their neighborhoods, and again, root causes of violence and poverty and power can be ignored. I am definitely more cynical. But then, my city wasn't the one with the Zoot Suit Riots. Or the one where the Crips and Bloods began.

We reached a happy medium eventually, and agreed that the film can be interpreted in many ways, that we each had valid points, and that he was not as jaded as me.

The documentary in the Extra Features section of the DVD was actually better than the movie itself. I think the "Making of" section did more of the humanizing and explaining than the film's script -- they interviewed gang members and community members who'd been affected by gang violence, highlighted positive community activities, and put things into better social perspective.

And now, must find happiness and subliminal messages somewhere, to get my mind off the movie. Where's Winnie the Pooh????