Wednesday, February 28, 2007

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt (and his campaign contributions)

The small things can make you stay sane in an otherwise chaotic legislative session.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) are co-sponsoring a great bill that would repeal the REAL ID Act.

So we have to encourage people and their Senators to support the Akaka-Sununu Bill.

With a straight face.

Can't do it. I'm cracking up just typing it.... it's very therapeutic.

So is trying to figure out loopholes in FEC regulations. Very fun. Also very dorky. And others around may not fully understand or share in the excitement. But still fun.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Measuring my life in coffee spoons

Back on the bean. It lasted three months, the longest I've ever gone without coffee. There was no real reason I quit, and no real reason I started up again. It was just a whim. I got off the bus and went into a branch of a local cafe that I haven't been to in about six months.

And one of the baristas was an old friend from middle school, recently returned to Seattle. We'd lost touch after we both studied abroad in college.

So relapsing and getting back on the bandwagon brought me back into contact with an old friend. See, good stuff can come from a bad habit.

Nothing but the good crack from now on...

Actually, it's been a great week for reconnecting. This weekend, my old college roommate called and we had a nice long catch-up chat.

I like reconnecting with cool people! Warm fuzzies.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Talofa! Tofa!

My sister and I put Samoan Wedding (New Zealand title Sione's Wedding) in our respective Netflix queues because we thought we might gain some insight into our new future brother-in-law's beginnings. (The other sister's fiance is both New Zealander and Samoan. But we're not getting all Margaret Mead. We know there's a huge difference between Western Samoan, New Zealand Samoan, and American Samoan cultures, accents, and history. And unlike Mead, we're not trusting just this source...)

Anyways, the film has been hailed as the first New Zealand Samoan comedy. Apparently it also holds New Zealand's record for opening weekend films, and is one of the country's highest-grossing films ever.

As "multiculti" films go, it follows the genre and typecasts pretty well. The mother who cooks good ol' soul food. The racial profiling by the cops. The white guy putting on the ghettoface, trying too hard to be a down-home bro. The character with both an Anglicized name and an "ethnic" name. The "ethnic" girl who sleeps with the "ethnic" guy who normally only sleeps with white girls. The too-neat ending, with the 'hood or community as the central nurturing identity factor.

Cheesy though these kinds of movies are, I enjoy them. In general, I think they're just crackball comedies that normalize perceptions of difference -- whether they're about ethnic, religious, or sexual minorites, or all three. Half the time, the serve the purpose of validating on-screen the social experiences for people whose partial realities are rarely portrayed outside of small ethnic film festivals or university cultural studies classes (American Adobo, Where's the Party Yaar?, Yellow, American Desi, The Debut, Touch of Pink, Saving Face). The other half of the time they're surprise hits (Bend It Like Beckham, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, East is East, Real Women Have Curves, Better Luck Tomorrow). I've tried to find common factors in why some of these films go mainstream so easily, but I can't find anything. It's a mystery.

This one was good, too. It had its funny moments. It had its corny moments. Must now consult with sister about new insight into kiwi accents and humor.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Supply and demand

Have to take a stupid econ class now. Two grad school admissions committees have contacted me saying "You're great, would you be willing to take an intro econ course beforehand *if* you're accepted?" Arrrggh. I avoided this like the plague in the undergrad realm! So I had to write back, saying "Why yes, I've just enrolled in order to brush up on these skills."

So, to escape the coming statistics homework and market-theory analyses, I am taking solace in movies.

Saw The Lives of Others, the German film about an East German playwright under surveillance by the secret police. Great movie.

Good foreshadowing scenes, too (the only available unregistered typewriter in East Germany can only have red ink? And when it smears on one character's fingers, it looks like the blood later smeared on another's? Hmmmm....)

One thing's a little hazy, though, and that's the motive of the Stasi agent for not turning in the playwright. His reasons seem to waver between an awakening appreciation for art, and the fact that through his own loneliness he can live a little through his subjects. But this little uncertainty works well with the rest of the story, since so much of everyone else's behavior is also shrouded in silence and secrecy.

The overall tone is pretty dark, including the colors. Towards the end of the movie, after reunification, the story almost ceases taking place at night or on empty streets. The sky and daylight are shown, and there's even more color, most notably in the graffiti on building walls.

But there are a lot of humorous moments, too. The last 15 minutes are a wonderful combination of tragic, bittersweet, funny, and apropos.

While watching The Madness of King George, I kept thinking about Sir Humphrey from Yes, Minister, because the same actor plays George III. It was an okay film. I spent most of it simultaneously looking up the real-life histories of the female characters online. In more than a few scenes, I was also very grateful that modern medicine doesn't tend to torture patients as much.

Rupert Everett is great as the Prince of Wales and future Regent. I barely recognized him or Helen Mirren underneath the wigs.


I laughed for a good few minutes when Trivial Kate passed this on:

Germany's World Cup Baby Boom

Last summer's mix of sun, beer and excitement during the football World Cup appears to have produced a massive hormone rush in German bedrooms, gardens and back alleys. Nine months on, birth clinics across the country that hosted the tournament are reporting a much-needed baby boom. . . .

(Der Spiegel)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Out of dollar bills now

After a dry spell of no karaoke for two weeks, we finally went to an old place on a new night, thinking that maybe the hipsters and the frat boys wouldn't be there. Shouldn't have assumed!

But that wasn't the worst of it. The worst of it was that the host had the people who tipped the most sing first. Per song! And he didn't even announce that this was the policy (although after three hours, a badly written sign went up announcing the rule.) Having been to a lot of karaoke places around the city, this is *not* standard practice. Most hosts have rotations that they stick to, and patrons tip discreetly. This dude checked how much we tipped, then placed us accordingly. And he sucked as a karaoke host (he sang along! Who does that?) I think that was a record for shortest karaoke stint ever for us. I, for one, refused to stay too long for this ridiculous pay-per-song practice.

Cuz really, that J-Lo song wasn't worth paying to sing...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Girl Anachronism

When left to my own devices, I listen to music that is either political/protest folk, sad old ballads, techno, cheesy boy bandish, or Latin pop. Anything beyond these categories, people have to introduce me to.

As it is with the Dresden Dolls. They totally rock. A while ago, someone introduced me to a few songs from their second album, which were great. From that album, there are basically three songs that I really love: "Girl Anachronism," "Coin Operated Boy," and "The Jeep Song."

A friend recently gave me the third album. And the whole thing is amazing, from "My Alcoholic Friends" to "Mandy Goes to Med School" to "Sex Changes" to "Sing." There's more piano action and a more amazing display of vocal exercises on this latest album. It also references my favorite Christmas story, so naturally that's another big plus.

"Sing" is probably my favorite right now. Mainly because I'm itching for karaoke this weekend.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The new guy

I'm not a huge Bond fan. But I really, really liked Daniel Craig's debut as 007. The opening credit sequence was a unique and creative take on the traditional Bond openings. The theme song wasn't cloying and annoying. The fight sequences were innovative and awesome. As a "pre"-Bond film, it works well too -- he's the cockier Bond of the earlier films, but still suave. The plot twists were great, as well as emotionally agonizing. And Judi Dench is excellent as M, as always.

I also like how the ending isn't neatly summed up.


Have decided today especially, and the next few days, are going to be all about not thinking too much about anything. Vegging a lot. Wining and dining. A friend gave me a romance novel, which I read last night, for exactly this purpose. (Well, actually, she gave it to me because we both discovered we'd been obsessed with Regencies as adolescents and were critiquing the genre.)

But The Common Man also recently posted a fun dilemma: would a lion or shark win a fight in outer space? I say the lion. But I'd be interested in how others weigh in.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Thanks to The Scot for passing this on:
"Which SuperVillain are you?"

I have no idea who Mystique is!

I hate ICUs

It's weird to think you can schedule someone's passing, but I guess when all you have to do is tell the doctor to take a patient off life support, you can schedule it. I guess if I were Grandpa, I'd want to be surrounded by children and grandchildren in the last moments, rather than alone in a hospital bed.

When requesting time off from work and in cancelling social engagements for tomorrow, it's technically incorrect right now to say it's a "death in the family" because it isn't yet. So I've been saying "due to a family emergency," which is deliberately vague but prompts more questions.

Said my goodbyes alone today instead of waiting for the family to arrive for tomorrow. Afterwards I went to the hospital chapel, mainly to avoid walking home with a blotchy face.

Hospital chapels are interesting places. At least this one was. It was both interfaith and nonfaith, if that makes any sense. There was a little desk with scriptures from three religions, low lighting, and flowers, and that was it. The background music reminded me of a massage therapist's room. In fact, the whole place was more like a relaxation room. Which is probably one of the points of having a hospital chapel.

It was a little ironic, though, for an agnostic to grieve for the biggest atheist she knows in a chapel.

Monday, February 12, 2007

What the puck!

Despite spending four years at a small college with two great hockey teams, I'd never been to a hockey game before. Going to see the local WHL team play was definitely a highlight this weekend. And going with a drunk Canadian was perhaps the best initiation!

And one man in his time plays many parts

Haven't really been in a movie-watching mood lately. What with going back and forth between the hospital to visit Grandpa and various meetings for work and volunteer stuff and dinner and drinks with friends, there hasn't really been time.

But I did manage to watch Intermission the other day. I think it's the first movie I've seen where Colin Farrell doesn't fake an American accent. It was a short, quirky film, and I liked it well enough. The movie follows about a dozen different, intersecting stories of couples or friends or coworkers. Overall, I think it was a movie about expectations, either ones that people have of themselves or each other. There are several couples who, for various reasons, break up, and the newly single folks shuffle around into new couples that may or may not work out. There's the cop trying to prove himself, and the petty criminal trying to do the same. There are the grocery clerks who can never do good in the eyes of their boss. And best of all, there's the reality TV documentary producer, who tries to chronicle parts of these people's lives. I like the title because of its irony in light of the characters' troubles: there's no set script in life, so there's no intermission per se. At the same time, this is a film with a finite running time. A little surreal watching the stories play out and connect in bizarre ways, but definitely good.

And speaking of surreal, having a doctor tell seven family members in an ICU that they should consider taking their relative off all the machines because there's little hope definitely counts. The doctor seemed to have more trouble telling us we needed to consider it than we did discussing the matter. As I found out three months ago, I hate ICUs. Didn't think I'd have to visit one again so soon.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

And it's a banned book, too

I saw a commercial for the upcoming Disney movie Bridge to Terabithia. I remembered I liked the book, that we had to read it in 4th grade, and that I cried because the ending was sad. I remembered it took place in Virginia, and mentioned DC and the Vietnam War somehow (I thought it focused on the Memorial). Beyond that, I forgot specifics. So I borrowed it from the library. It's a kid's book, so it was a short and easy read.

Turns out, it is really sad. It does take place in Virginia. It only mentions the Vietnam War once. And I cried again re-reading it.

Jess is a fifth grader in a poor rural area; he has four sisters and lives on a farm. Leslie is a girl who moves onto the neighboring property. Her parents are writers, interested in politics and music, and she calls them by their first names. And of course they're atheists. Jess and Leslie become friends, build a fort in the woods, and make up stories about defending their imaginary land of Terabithia.

The driving force of the story are the class and family differences between Jess and Leslie. Even if Jess has to help out on the farm and his family can't afford a lot, and Leslie's family reads too much and doesn't own a TV, they can escape to Terabithia away from the rest of the world.

Another subtle theme is gender construction, which is kind of subversive for a kid's book. Leslie's a tomboy who doesn't wear skirts, and Jess gets all these comments for being a boy who likes art. Even the names of the two characters are kind of androgenous.

I doubt I'll go see the movie. But I wonder if Disney will focus too much on the make-believe adventure fantasies of Terabithia (which aren't detailed in the book), or downplay the huge financial and cultural diffrences between Jess and Leslie.

I have no idea why I thought the Vietnam War Memorial was central to the plot of the book. I must be thinking of some other book I read 20 years ago.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Don't Know Much About ...

In Intro to History a very long time ago, if you didn't know the answer to a question, all you had to do was drop "epistemological significance" or "ontological content" into a sentence, and you were fine. In Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, Michel Trouillot incorporates both into a polemic on the nature of "truth," history, and cultural production.

A first half of the book is theory heavy, which is really cool. Trouillot highlights the differences between positivist and constructivist approaches to the field of history and narrative production. In the second half, he focuses on the Haitian Revolution, the Alamo, and the making of Columbus Day to illustrate his point about how power influences historicity -- he highlights in particular the roles of agency and structure in what he calls "silences," or the differences between "what happened" and "what is said to have happened."

In a sense, "silences" are inherent in the field of history, which relies on primary sources. In recording anything, certain details are always omitted. And Trouillot's "what happened" can only be "knowable" through very limited --and often conflicting-- lenses.

While discussing narrative formation, Troillot straddles the role of observer and participant pretty fluidly. His writing style alternates between personal stories and flashbacks, explanations of the process of historical production, and then his own interpretations.

Parts of the book were slower than others; and some were intuitive (duh, social structures like education influence who has access to recording and interpreting historical narratives). But overall it's a really good dive into questions about the role of the historian, how histories are created, and the social significance of the ensuing cultural battles.

I even ran to wikipedia to look up more about the Haitian Revolution.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Fleming, in a lab, with mold

2007 has been interesting so far.

Found out the hard way this week that I am allergic to penicillin. Which really, really sucks. For now, at least. In a week I should be okay. But for the immediate future, am armed with an inhaler and other necessary treatments, and knowledge of how to get to the closest ER in case the symptoms get worse.

It was kind of funny watching my family doctor, who's known me for a while, frantically flip through my chart and exclaim "How did we not know this???!!!" But I guess in 17 years, she's never prescribed it for me. La Madre confirms I never took it for anything before that. And I guess they didn't at the hospital when I had e coli, either.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Finally saw The Graduate. I knew half the story, the part about Dustin Hoffman being seduced by Mrs. Robinson, an older woman. Didn't know the rest of the story, about him falling in "love" with her daughter Elaine.

I put the word in quotes because the movie assumed it made this clear, when it didn't: they went on one date, while he's still screwing her mother, then suddenly he's stalking her at Berkeley and wants to marry her. Elaine, for her part, plays all the cruel mind games she can.

Dustin Hoffman was great as the insecure, recently-graduated pushover. Despite being hailed as a brilliant scholar, he keeps falling for every tiniest, stupid manipulation the Robinson ladies pull.

Overall, women aren't portrayed very kindly in this film. They're all scheming --even Ben's mother makes a few petty cutting remarks. Meanwhile, the men are all one-dimensional.

But there are some really creative shots that alternate between Ben lounging around at home trying to figure out what to do with his life, and sneaking out to be with Mrs. Robinson. And the soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel is really great.