Thursday, December 24, 2009

Whate'er the course, the end is the renown

I finished the last book in my new favorite medieval mystery series. The Witch in the Well was a superb tenth book and series finale! It had everything: a castle (with secret tunnels!), a siege, a myth, a few happy endings, a few sad endings.

Sharan Newman wrapped up some loose plot ends by bringing all of her surviving characters under the same besieged fortress to wait and see if an ancient prophecy comes true. ZOMG, so cool! (Mainly, the secret passageways were the coolest part.)

The tale was appropriate closure for readers to the life and times of Catherine LeVendeur in 12th-century Paris. The series was predictable at times, but was creative and entertaining enough to make me rush to the library in search of each successive book . If nothing else, it's brilliant because it incorporates both the story of Abelard and Heloise and medieval Jewish merchant life into the narrative. (The intellectual, plucky heroine helped. Just sayin'.)

Sigh. Now I need to find a new series...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Whirlwind, part trois

It's amazing that there are only two and a half more weeks left in 2009! The last few weeks have gone by quickly.
  • Thanksgiving in Michigan was a welcome respite, though I spent my nights writing post-election analyses after the kiddies went to bed. I thought I'd have more free time to read or veg out, but that didn't happen -- though I was able to catch up on "Glee," most of the TV I watched was Sesame Street. I miss my niece and neffy already, but will get to see them at Christmas.

  • Mi Hermana and I woke up at 4 am on Black Friday to do our part to stimulate the local economy. (Hey, Michigan can use all the help it can get.) The main reason was that La Pinguinita wakes up at 7 and then runs around. So we woke up at 4 and took the 8-month-old, who required only to be put in a stroller. Oh, the suburban rebellion! The parking lot at the outlet mall where we did our holiday shopping was already a third full at 4:30am. (Stores opened at midnight, so we were already late.)

  • The fellowship changes into a full-time position with the new year, though the organization is undergoing some reorganization and I won't have a title for a while. In the meantime, I'll be helping mobilizing constituents on progressive issues and it keeps me in the political mix, so I'm happy.

  • I did have time to read the next installment of my favorite medieval mystery series, however. Sharan Newman's The Outcast Dove is, unfortunately, not about the heroine I've grown to like -- the star of this book is another character. There's a murder. It's Easter and Passover. There are monks, mobs, and Jew merchants. Like the previous books in the series, Newman throws in some heavy-handed stuff -- in addition to anti-semitism, this time we also have autism (or so the reader infers, since the concept didn't exist in the twelfth century) as well as slavery. It was a decent mystery story, though. A few plot threads from the earlier books were wrapped up. And I rushed to the library to pay my fines and check out the last book in the series...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Policy wonk alert!

ZOMG, the Washington State Secretary of State's office has created a redistricting boardgame!


As the Washington Bus put it,
"What could possibly be sexier than redistricting legislative districts? Exactly: not a damn thing. With the 2010 census rearing its head, the prospect of a significantly re-drawn legislative landscape is looming large. Your local political world will definitely be shifting… and remember: all politics is, in the end, local. Want to get a jump on the good times? Check out the Secretary of State’s Redistricting board game. We kid you not."

Friday, November 13, 2009


I mentioned the death penalty in passing in that last post, taking for granted arguments against it and barely even relating it to the movie I watched.

But, as usual, my old roomie The Common Man is far more articulate than I. (I sputter -- "What? Who? That? No! So wrong! Gaaaaack! Arrrrgh.") He phrased his anti-death penalty arguments much better in his recent return to the blogsphere, in which he posts about the recent tragedy at Fort Hood and execution of the DC Sniper:
"... emotional reaction to these crimes is exactly why justice is not served through execution. Justice is a bitch goddess who constantly disappoints us; yet, to be effective, she must remain blind to the emotional undercurrents that make me want to slam Hasan and Muhammad into walls again and again . . . And, as several studies have demonstrated that execution does not substantially deter crime, there does not seem to be a rational reason for capital punishment. The world may be a better place without Muhammad in it tonight, but justice (whose guarantee is the basis of civilization and of our society) is not served by it."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tomorrow is Another Day

I've been sitting on these for a few weeks. Now that the election's over and I have time on my hands again (at least theoretically), maybe I can catch up.

Set entirely in New York, Kal Ho Naa Ho is a Shah Rukh Khan movie I hadn't seen yet. While I do tend to hate romantic comedies, Bollywood dramas are perfectly acceptable. This one was, as expected, incredibly cheesy. But I do love Preity Zinta, who usually plays relatively strong-ish as well as book-ish female leads. Here, though, I was a little disappointed. It's basically one big love triangle: she likes Shah Rukh Khan, who is dying of a heart condition and wants her to hook up with her school buddy. I wasn't the biggest fan of the storyline. Also not down with the faint homophobia. But of course, it's a shameless tear-jerker, and I was sobbing by the end.

Changeling was one of the most pro-death penalty movies I've ever seen. I thought it would be a nice, quick film to watch while working from home one day, and it turned out not to be merely a movie about how the corrupt LAPD (is that redundant?) conspired to toss Angelina Jolie into a mental institution when she insisted they didn't find her missing son and "returned" a different child instead. While I appreciated the points it tried to make about how women have been traditionally dismissed and demeaned in society, I thought those themes were secondary to the larger point of the story, which was that a serial killer needed to die. It was rather disturbing.

Lastly, National Treasure has been on TV twice this election cycle --funny enough, one of those times was on the local CBC station! And I am a sucker for watching the thing in its entirely once I see that it's on.

So inaccurate. So improbable! Such a rip-off of Indiana Jones. Too ready to perpetuate the Founding-Fathers-knew-best-and-were-superhuman mythology.

So bad. SO GOOD!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Several drinks later...

I accidentally showed up in photos in both the PI and Times at a mayoral candidate's event.

Just like Forrest Gump!

Oh, what a night!

I have a backlog of blog entries, but the most important announcement: election night ROCKED!

The ballot measure I spent the most time working against went down big-time, even in more conservative, anti-tax counties. In fact, Benton County, which has never rejected an initiative by the state's resident anti-tax "Initiative King" rejected this one. It was heartening to watch the early returns. (I'll be back on the job hunt in a week, but for now it's great to bask in the glow of victory.)

And then, Washington voters approved the state domestic partnership law that the state legislature already passed this spring. (The same is not true of the state where I went to college, which, on the same night, voted to overturn the marriage equality law its legislature passed earlier this year.)

Setting aside the horrible idea of anyone's rights being put to a vote, here's a great local article that offers some hope.

I'm proud of my state for being the first to not vote down a pro-gay ballot measure. It won by a narrow margin, to be sure. But it won nonetheless.

The tide is turning...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Entre el mar y una estrella

Few writings can make me feel intellectually inadequate. This one did:

After seeing Neil DeGrasse Tyson on The Daily Show a few months ago, I checked out his book from the library (after I paid my fines, of course). Death By Black Hole is not exactly written for astrophysicists, but for those of us who haven't taken any science course in over ten years, it might, uh, seem like it wasn't meant for our kind...

The book is actually a compilation of articles Tyson has written in magazines, so the chapters are fairly short. Tyson's humor comes through in every chapter, too! Though half the content was beyond what this bear-of-very-little-brains could hope to remember about planets and gravity and the speed of light, what I liked best about the book was its focus on knowledge. It wasn't about what we know about the universe, it was about the fact that we keep learning more about it. Each chapter was really just a history of what humans used to think about various aspects of the cosmos. The last chapter, in fact, was an incredibly beautifully-written essay against intelligent design in schools, and it fit perfectly with the theme of the book.

In other news, the new fellowship started last week, with an organization that provides online strategies for progressive campaigns. It's been extremely busy, to say the least! I'll be working with the No on 1033 campaign through the election -- including working with Micaela again! Woot.

Fingers crossed this horrible initiative doesn't pass; it'll be a ton of work for the next six weeks, but I'm already having fun, and it's a nice change of pace.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Whirlwind, part trois

As the world turns...
  • Spent many days in August as a coalition volunteer, observing the signature verification process for Referendum 71. Unfortunately, it qualified for the ballot. Washingtonians now have to re-approve the domestic partnership law that our legislature already overwhelmingly passed this spring.

  • Saw a local production of The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. The hometown being rather small, it turns out an old colleague's nephew is the owner/proprietor of the theatre. Said former colleague saw Lily Tomlin in the original play, a one-woman act which ties together stories from a bag lady's perspective. Watching it was amazing, as watching most one-person acts are: the actress switched characters, voices, and personas so quickly but brilliantly and effectively. I definitely liked the second half of the play more than the first, partly because it incorporated more stories and characters, and partly because is deftly addressed the ideas of what art and life and craziness really are. And of course, I'm a sucker for the existential agonies.

  • A friend and I celebrated her no-more-studying-for-the-bar-exam status by going to see Up, which I LOVED. It was sad, uplifting, cute, and bizarre all at the same time. We weren't the only ones sniffling in the theatre! Most of all, I thought the movie did a beautiful job of navigating the gulf between being kid-friendly and addressing "grown-up" issues like death and loneliness. There were talking animals, old-time adventure tales, and cool things that fly. Another theme I appreciated was the revisiting and reevaluating of childhood ideals and heroes as an adult. Also, the little boy is vaguely Asian. Kudos for that (if not the absentee overworking father, by extension). Wonderful movie.

  • Some college friends were in town for a wedding, which was great. Got to show off the home town again, which is always fun.

  • Heresy, the latest in the medieval mystery series I'm addicted to, was good but a little predictable. (Sometimes that happens with mysteries.) In addition to the theme addressing the anti-Semitism of the Middle Ages, Sharan Newman has been slowly increasing the role of "heretical" fringe groups or cults in her stories. In this book it all weaves together against the backdrop of an ecumenical hearing, once the Crusaders from the last book have all left town. Also, one of her minor recurring characters had a more prominent role, and I figured out before I read the historical epilogue that he was destined to become one of the very real and more famous Archbishops of Canterbury. I credit taking Mediaeval History in a very cool medieval town with the fact that I remembered the name and the date for the particular character/real-life cleric.

  • Inglourious Basterds is a good movie to watch after several strong drinks with friends. It's deliberately irreverent, and the viewer needs to pretend that WW2 didn't really happen as we all know it did. Once you get over that, it's a movie about the movies. The characters are all one-dimensional archetypes, but they're supposed to be; besides, they're all incredibly well-acted. Oddly enough, it's violent but not as violent as I expected it to be; the wacky factor might have detracted from that a bit.

  • Saw Elephant's Graveyard at the same theatre mentioned above. Another excellent production! The play was incredibly well-written, though an utterly depressing true tale about a small town in Tennessee that decides to impose capital punishment on a circus elephant at the turn of the last century. Much food for thought, as there were several themes to unravel: the nature of public spectacle, justice, revenge, race relations, the role of religion, childhood/loss of innocence, etc. . . . With no intermission, little air circulation, and heavy subject matter, there was little choice but to try Seattle's new frozen custard place afterwards.

  • Lastly and most recently, a nonprofit I've long supported had a film-going fundraiser, and attendees got to choose a movie to see. I opted for Ponyo, having seen a preview at Up. It turned out to be cute and weird and vaguely Little Mermaid-esque .... aaaaand also unexpectedly chock full of sexual imagery and innuendo, from practically the first scene, where a crowd of jellyfish float through the ocean with -- I swear-- penis-looking appendages bobbing happily up and down. (I wasn't the only one who noticed that and the many, many other similar scenes and themes. A friend called Ponyo, an inexplicable sea-water goldfish who wants to be human, the "little sperm that could.") There are several gaps in both plot and reality, as well as countless " WTF?!" moments. Like my friend, who in addition to the "sperm" comment read the film as an evolutionary and environmental warning, I got all the "life-cycle" themes: children/old people, mothers/fathers, high tide/low tide, ocean/earth, prehistoric/future. I love the ocean, so I also appreciated the scenes of a town that lives and breathes by the sea, adjusting to the magic and menace on a daily basis.
And now, for autumn!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Mountain lions or cougars and bears, oh my!

Not quite as funny as the bear that wandered around the city a while back, but the latest urban wildlife visitor has been caught after several sightings:

Funny enough, when I was a kid I loved the huge slide at that park. But climbing up to the top of it involved maneuvering around heavily wooded areas, and I always thought some wild animal would leap out of the trees at me. I think I can feel justified in this premonition, a quarter-century later.

There probably really are monsters under the bed, too. And sharks in the bathtub...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In the jungle, the mighty jungle

David Horsey,
(one of my favorite political cartoonists)

I also just re-read the eulogy Sen. Kennedy gave for his brother Robert in 1968.

Friday, August 07, 2009


The FG posted this on the FB, and I think I woke up the neighbor's dog from its nap with my laughter. HILARIOUS.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Whirlwind, part deux

In all the summer haze, re-learning to walk away from drama, and interviewing for various jobs, I left some draft blog posts unpublished. They're updated and condensed here...
  • Mi Hermana was in town last week, with the new neffy. Mi Pingüinita is talking now! It's so damn cute, as is the new nephew. Perhaps because he has the same genes, he also looks like a penguin to me, so I've started calling him my Pingüinito. ZOMG, SO CUTE!
  • Influenced by last month's current events, I read the Persepolis books while house-sitting and watching the news, and loved them! They were fairly quick reads, and I couldn't put them down, despite the heavy subject matter. The books are the autobiography of a girl coming of age in the new and changing Islamic Republic, and they're poignant insights into the personal interactions of citizens in an oppressive regime.

    I liked the first the best, though they're both excellent. The first had narrative amazement of a child who doesn't quite fully understand the political realities around her, who still plays around in her own filtered ideas about God, nationhood, and communism. The second book has Satrapi first in Austria, then back in Tehran after her life in Europe takes a vastly different turn than expected. The second book addresses more of the "personal is political" aspect behind subversive acts.

  • In the Company of Men was both brilliant and horrifying at the same time. Aaron Eckhardt is, as always, excellent. Here he plays a complete asshole who makes a deal with his coworker where they both simultaneously date a deaf woman and then dump her at the same time. Eckhardt is the epitome of a smarmball: charming in public and to parents and clients, but the guy who cracks sexist, racist, and other offensive jokes in the company break room and is willing to step all over colleagues in order to get ahead himself. The film is more a harsh critique of corporate culture than of the central misogynist plot.

    However, I emphatically recommend watching your Netflix queue closely so that you don't accidentally get it shipped to you during a few weeks in your life where you are extremely cynical and slightly bitter about a certain more personal situation that, after watching this film, you see (perhaps unfairly) in an entirely new and unflattering light.

    Just sayin'.
  • Ms. Tungsten moved back to upstate New York, in a chaotic apartment-vacating frenzy. I'll miss her in the Emerald City!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Oh, those hot summer nights

A few days ago, Seattle officially had its hottest day in recorded history (103!), and it was not pleasant. Even though The Scot and I escaped most of it by hopping from movie theatre to air-conditioned restaurant to movie theatre to air-conditioned restaurant, it was still not a happy time for the Northwest. Films, alcohol, and food were definitely the way to go.

So, ironically and not surprisingly, I had a massive one of these the next day:
(I did, however, manage to hydrate and be coherent enough to attend a city council candidate forum later in the afternoon...)

The movie itself was okay. It had its funny moments, its jock humor, its questionable portrayal of women and Asian men . But that was all to be expected, given the plot of the movie. Other than that, I liked the format: Las Vegas bachelor party lose the groom and has to retrace their steps from the night before. There are missing pieces, and totally random clues to their wild and "memorable" night, and I think the movie does a funny job of capturing that "OMG, what happened?" post-drinking state of mind that is, uh, familiar to many. I also didn't really buy Bradley Cooper as the teacher/family man, and the dentist's shrewish girlfriend was a little too over-the-top. There were places where the movie hinted exploring lost youth, growing up, etc. But then it didn't. It wasn't really that kind of movie.

Bruno was better. Unlike Borat, the line between what was fake and what was real was a little more defined, but still savvy and socially relevant. And I swear, there are scenes where Sacha Baron Cohen could have gotten his ass killed in a hate crime, which of course makes it all the more salient.

The film has been criticized for being an over-the-top stereotype of gays; but that's the point. (So was Borat, but there was no outrage in America over the over-the-top stereotype of Kazakhs or other central Asians.) You take it with a grain of salt, but the reactions in the interviews and scenes are real. Like Ron Paul. He got an interview with Ron Paul!

Like Borat, though, many of the scenes that expose ignorance were relegated to the South, to poorer areas, or to under-educated populations. There's a danger, I think, in thinking the intolerances Cohen exposes can only be found, overtly or otherwise, in those Americas.

...Which brings me back to The Hangover. At one point during the film, I thought maybe --maybe-- the communal memory lapse of four frat-boyish white guys could be interpreted as a messed-up journey to others' stereotyped realities: in a city where whatever happens stays there, they get tased by police, duped by a black drug dealer, attacked by an Asian gang, trapped into marriage by a hooker milf, have their money quickly disappear and their expensive car destroyed, and are each physically altered in some way. And in the end, they return safely to their suburban country club wedding with vague memories and some snapshots of their adventures on the other side.

That analysis was fleeting. When I walked out of the theatre, I realized ... nah. Sometimes imagery is just jumbled, and some compilations are just meaningless. Then again, sometimes they're not.

... Which brings me back to the other hangover. NEVER DRINKING IN 103-DEGREE HEAT AGAIN!!!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sun breaks

Wow, it's been a long time since my last post! Meanwhile, Seattle's been experiencing a heat wave, and I've been trying to enjoy the weather. After all, it's the first summer in decades that I haven't been trapped in an office during most sunlight hours.

Apropos of nothing, this Onion article was hilarious:
Study: Abstinence-Only Lunch Programs Ineffective At Combating Teen Obesity
The Onion
WASHINGTON—According to the findings of a recent Department of Health and Human Services study, school lunch programs that teach children to avoid all contact with food may not be an effective method of reducing teen obesity rates.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Lesson learned the hard way #1764: Even if you know you don't really want something anymore, your stubborn nature might make you keep fighting for it simply out of habit.
"Habit" can also be a euphemism for "desperation". . . Realizing this, however, indicates the possibility for growth-- or so one hopes!

In related behavior patterns, I discovered (and ate) ice cream sandwiches in my hosts' freezer, then ran to the nearest grocery store and bought good old, tried-and-true Ben and Jerry's.

Then I vegged out.

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay surprised me. I liked it. I wasn't the biggest fan of the first movie, and I admit I watched this sequel after a number of cold dessert products and several glasses of wine (which, also surprisingly, went well with the ice cream). The two title stoner buddies set off for Amsterdam to follow Harold's dream girl and smoke legal weed; through bizarre, slapstick scenarios they find themselves mistaken for terrorists and dumped in Guanatamo. They escape and make their way across the South to Texas, where Kumar's ex-girlfriend is marrying a Republican frat boy. (And yes, guess who they run into in Texas?) Along the way, they encounter others' prejudices and stereotypes as well as their own; however, these are frequently dispelled only to be revalidated.

It is not a deep, poignant film about the great melting pot that is America, nor is it a particularly thoughtful movie about tolerance.
It included a wedding-wrecking scene, a well-documented pet irritation of mine. It's just a story about two dudes who want to get high, check out chicks, and make bathroom jokes ... and apparently that's all the rest of America wants, too. Even El Prez in Crawford.

Also, I'm a fan of Kal Penn. And NPH. Rob Corddry was great as an irrational Homeland Security agent.

The whole thing was actually fairly predictable. But really, I just needed to sit there staring at a flickering screen, shoving spoonfuls of ice cream into my mouth and sipping shiraz occasionally.

Damn, I need to go running tomorrow ...

All astonishment once more

Thanks to the FG for posting this. I love all these social media retellings of P&P!

Pride and Twitterverse

My favorite excerpt:

DM to @LizzyB
In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire & love you.

[series of DMs between LizzyB and Darcy]


Can you deny that you made Bingley quit Twitter thus destroying my sister’s chance for happiness?

I cannot. I even deleted all her comments on his blog so he wouldn’t know she was reading. Marry me anyway?

And don’t even get me started on your offenses to poor Wickham.

Wickham? Oh yes, poor downtrodden Wickham. #eyeroll

Gah! You are so haughty!

And you are such a hotty.

Ugh. You are the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed upon to marry. okthksbai

[Msg to LizzyB from Twitter: Are you sure you want to block Darcy? BLOCK]

You have blocked me on Twitter which leaves me no other recourse than to email you an honest account of my dealings with Mr Wickham. In short, he is a pedi-perv who tried to bone my sister when she was but 15. He had hoped to marry her for her fortune, but I stopped him. So there.

[Msg fwd to JaneB from LizzyB]

@JaneB Oh shit. Have I ever made a mistake. Darcy = good. Wickham = bad.

Check out the rest! Love it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

All astonishment

One of the friends for whom I'm house-sitting was really excited for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou when it came out a few years ago. She was ultimately a little disappointed that it didn't live up to her hype; that might have colored my opinion while watching the film, because I was bored and indifferent to the characters and the plot.

It's supposed to be both a parody of and a tribute to Jacques Cousteau, I believe. Bill Murray's aging explorer deals with bad relationships, a possible son, an elusive sea creature, evil rivals, and pirates. (Actually, the fact that the pirates spoke Tagalog was kind of cool. It's not a language usually heard in American films.) His quirky, ragtag crew are all misfits of some sort, searching for a deep-sea jaguar shark that the scientific world doesn't believe exists. There are metaphors in there, to be sure. I just wasn't very drawn in by it all.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, on the other hand, rocked! I admit, the skeptical part of me, the Austen purist, thought at first that nothing --nothing!-- should be allowed to soil the sheer, brilliant piece of literature that is Pride and Prejudice. But that damn Intellectual Property class has affected my thinking more than I thought it could: the great thing about public domain works is the possibility for endless creative engines.

And it worked! Fighting zombies actually fit in with the much-beloved P&P characters; the fight scenes were a bit random, but also completely hilarious. The book followed Austen's original pretty closely, including most of the dialogue. Grahame-Smith took a few small liberties with the general plot (the biggest one involving Wickham's fate, which had me rolling with laughter), but other than that remained reverently faithful to the story itself.

All of England are fighting the zombie hordes, and I loved how the fact that the Bennet sisters studied with Chinese zombie-fighting kung fu masters still marked their class status, true to one of Austen's themes (wealthier citizens studied in the Japanese warrior schools).

A good, quick read that can really only be fully appreciated if readers are familiar with the original ... but enjoyable nonetheless for those that aren't.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

R & R

Housesitting for some friends for the next week and a half -- a welcome, quiet break from the babymania! While trying to figure out dishes in order to use up all the perishable foods, I mixed myself a tasty concoction: Absolut Peach and lemonade. Normally, I'm not a fan of peach-flavored things, but it was good!

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Obla di, obla da, life goes on!
  • The wedding was awesome. It was at a bar, which was a first for me. The ceremony itself was less than four minutes, and consisted only of the exchange of rings. Fun times!

  • While I was preparing to head out to the wedding, La Otra Hermana was giving birth to my new niece. It took them a day and a half to agree on the name, but it's Repeka -- the Samoan version of Rebecca, pronounced the same.

    The neffy now demands more attention than ever, and wants to play nonstop (which is fine with me, since I've never quite been sure what to do around newborns) . . .

    Also, in the ever-small world of Western Washington, a classmate from middle and high school is a nurse at the birthing center where La OH had the niecester.

  • I'm totally moved out of the old apartment in Boston! Woot. My back is killing me after sleeping on an inflatable mattress for a week, but a few hours of yoga today should start to remedy that.

  • During my four-hour layover at the Cincinnati airport, I got ridiculously excited to try Chick-fil-A when I saw it at the food court. (A friend, who grew up all over the South, raves about Chick-fil-A; one opened up in Bellingham recently, and she seriously drives up every couple of weeks for some fast food chicken burgers. She ignores the company's religious indoctrination program.)

    At any rate, I decided to give it a try. Not bad, for fast food. I was also extremely hungry.

    Also: I realize Cincinnati is just across the Ohio River from Kentucky (a dorm-mate from the area would go on about this my freshman year in college), but I was not expecting to hear so many Southern accents!
And now, loads of laundry...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Wicked smaht

Xtina and I, once again known as Captain Blunder and the Awkward Silences (this time accompanied by a trivia newbie friend), finally came in first place at pub quiz!

My last night in Beantown, too. It makes sleeping on an uncomfortable inflatable mattress worthwhile...

Woot, woot!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The list, the list, the list is getting smaller...

Got back from a weekend camping trip in the Olympics to find an email from my program director that I passed the comps and thus have the degree.

The resume has been updated accordingly.

And now, off to Boston again for a friend's wedding!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Toil, sweat, and tears

It sucks to be repeated told you are overqualified for jobs. But on the upside ... at least they call to tell you? Um.

To console myself, I've begun a cycle of running to the beach, experimenting with various recipes and other cooking-related phenomena, and vegging out. I couldn't get into Veronica Mars after 8 episodes, so I've started The Wire. However, the neffy makes it hard to watch DVDs because he's learned how to turn the TV and DVD player on and off.

I have, however, managed to get some solid vegging done during his naps or when he and the rest of the fam are at church. . .

I'd seen the last hour of Blood Diamond several times, but I finally watched the film in its entirety. And I liked it. To be fair, though, the fact that it addressed the issues of both conflict diamonds and child soldiers got it on my good side immediately. Unfortunately, that's also the downside: the movie was more a vehicle. Leo's romance with Jennifer Connelly was a little out of place, and the story could have worked without it as well as her, and possibly him. (But, as La Otra Hermana pointed out in one of her few political commentaries that I agree with, tales about "Africa" are generally only understood by "the West" through a white experience there.) Also, I didn't quite buy Leo's mercenary -- though well-acted, the character's sudden transition from arms- and diamond-smuggler to noble humanitarian wasn't that smooth or believable.

But in all, I really liked the film. It had a compelling story with, for the most part, interesting characters. It got preachy at times, but then I guess it had to.

Sin City was different. For half the movie, I was really disturbed. For the other half, I was fascinated by the graphic-novel adaptation style and narration. In a few interlocking stories about serial killers, prostitutes, mobsters, corrupt cops and politicians, some of the plot twists were predictable; some induced cringes, as crime tales can do.

Overall, it was well done. The visuals alone were creative: comic-style animation based on real footage, drawn in black and white with only certain key colors to contrast.

I'm a sucker for narrative form that is somewhat disjointed and often incomplete, and that's part of the reason the movie fascinated me. The stories weren't necessarily that unique, but every level of presentation was.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Post-exam boredom

There's nothing to do but sit around and wait now. Really, all I've been doing is job searching, jogging around West Seattle, trying to cook different foods, and meeting up with friends and family.

Oh, and vegging out. As usual.

When I first saw previews for Nacho Libre a long time ago, I was not interested in watching it. Then Mi Hermana called to say that her hubby the Latino Studies Ph.d candidate was watching a bunch of old Mexican films starring a well-known wrestler, and that they were going to watch Nacho Libre because it parodied many of the old movies.

So of course I put it in my Netflix queue.

Clearly, I did not get the parodic references. But it was a little obvious that the whole movie was, in fact, a parody of something -- most of the scenes were way too random. (Mi Hermana told me later which scenes she remembered from the original films.) (Also, how sad is it that I recognized the little weird kid from Hannah Montana?)

At any rate, Jack Black plays a Mexican priest who masquerades as a wrestler. He's the cook at the parish orphanage, and has a crush on a nun. His wild-man sidekick makes fun of him for being fat, and he makes fun of his sidekick for believing in science. Suffice to say, I laughed my ass off -- something I was not expecting to do at all!

Book Three in the Artemis Fowl children's series didn't take that long to read. A former colleague gave me the first book as a going-away present, and I'm now hooked. Not in a Harry Potter way, but still vested in the series in ways that are possibly unhealthy for an adult.

The Eternity Code follows our teenage criminal mastermind as he attempts one last scheme: to blackmail a multimillionaire using fairy technology. Naturally, the dwarves and trolls and gnomes and fairies and centaurs don't like this, and send a retrieval team to the human world.

I like this book the best so far, perhaps because the two underlying themes are that people can change and that aging and growing up are not necessarily bad, scary things. Artemis has been slowly growing a conscience along with friends as the series progresses, and in this installment his long-lost father renounces the family business of evildoing and pledges to do nothing but good. Meanwhile, the Fowl bodyguard deals with having to retire early and pass the torch on to a hot-headed successor.

Ah, summer! Time to come up with a more extensive reading list...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pre-exam denial

The comprehensive exams have been written, fretted over, and emailed ... but before they even started, the procrastination continued.

Perhaps because of the impending four-day intensive exam (though our department admin assistant was kind and emailed them a day early), I felt little connection to the 18-year-old protagonists in Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist.

I'm not the biggest fan of the graduation genre to begin with, whether it's high school or college. I just can't relate. Loved the friends I made at all the schools I've attended, but I still couldn't wait to get the hell out and get on with life.

At any rate, Nick and Norah stars Michael Cera, who doesn't seem to be able to leave his Arrested Development typecasting, which fits well with this high school breakup tale about a music geek who can't get over his ex until he meets this really cool chick who also likes the same type of music he does.

It's cuter than that, actually. As the graduation genre goes, it was slightly more creative in that it revolved all the drama around the indy band scene. (Also, positive inclusion of Asian-Americans and gays!) I just had a hard time relating to all the underage drinking and clubbing and friends-with-benefits and band-chasing --some of us barely (or never) had that experience in college, let alone high school. And the cynic in me kept thinking the teenage lovebugs wouldn't last in their planned long-distance relationship, even if they both go off to universities in New England.

In fact, I spent most of the film shaking my cane at the TV screen.

Oh, do I sound jaded? If so ...

Quantum of Solace -- pure and excellent eye candy! As Bond films go, it was definitely a disappointment after Daniel Craig's debut as 007 in Casino Royale. (But honestly, how do you beat that? It was amazing.) Still, this second Craig-as-Bond film was decent. It tried to follow up on the whole "explaining Bond's psyche" theme, but I thought that was unnecessary.

Cool gadgets and flashy computer technology, good chase scenes and exciting fight sequences. What more is needed to take one's mind off of studying?

Monday, May 04, 2009

Triple X

The neffy has been over a lot. He claps for himself now, when he accomplishes something new ... like dragging a kitchen chair to the fridge and climbing on it just to grab the magnets we deliberately placed out of his reach.

Following his innocent and youthful example, I've been similarly celebrating ... or rather, dragging out the celebrating in order to avoid studying statistics. Birthday drinks, brunches, and happy hours have also given me good excuses not to study for the upcoming Master's-qualifying exams. I've officially been a thirtysomething for over a week now, and love it!

In other news, because La Madre used all her vacation time to visit the new neffy in Michigan and the soon-to-arrive new niece, I skipped my graduation ceremony.

So I was a little shocked and disturbed to hear on the local Seattle news that, had I walked, I would not have been allowed to shake my dean's hand as is the tradition because of H1N1 paranoia.

Guess the mumps scare the week I left disappeared rather quickly!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Domestic policies

La Madre, for some strange reason, wanted to watch At First Sight when it was on TV a few nights ago. It reminded me of Charlie, an old film based on the short story "Flowers for Algernon." The plot of those stories: a mentally retarded man undergoes experimental treatment that suddenly makes him a genius. He learns how to navigate in his new world, and attempts to convey what it was like in his old one. Then the treatment reverses, and he has to return to his former self. We read the short story in 7th grade and had to watch the movie. We compared. We contrasted.

Here, of course, it's blindness that is the focus, but the plot is essentially the same: Val Kilmer is a blind man who falls for Mira Sorvino, who convinces him to undergo experimental surgery to make him see. He finds it difficult to cope with the changes in worldview (no pun intended). Then the effects of the surgery diminish, and he becomes blind again. Apparently it is based on a true story as well as a book by Sir Oliver Sacks.

I was underwhelmed.

At any rate, it was kind of predictable, and even La Madre called it boring. (This from the woman who will voluntarily watch Doctor Zhivago in its entirety.) Afterwards, we watched a Hallmark Hall of Fame made-for-TV movie about a Polish woman (played Anna Paquin) who rescued 2500 Jewish children from the Nazis.

Whereupon I realized that if this was at all indicative of the next two weeks of my life, I would need several good stiff drinks.

In between writing cover letters, reminding the neffy why we don't hit auntie, jogging to the beach, karaoke-ing, and studying for the upcoming qualifying exams, I managed to watch The Hebrew Hammer.

In a nutshell: the Hammer is a Jewish superhero out to save Hanukkah from Santa's evil son, who wants to abolish the elves' labor laws and the North Pole's highly tolerant holiday attitude in favor of an anti-semitic, pro-Aryan, Christmas-only season. The Hammer enlists the help of the Kwanzaa Liberation Front to save the holiday season.

Clearly, it is a Comedy Central movie. Good for a laugh while doing crunches! But I liked it and its general (if undeniably satirical) spirit of inclusion and self-parody.

Also, who knew Adam Goldberg worked out? Just sayin' ... there's a scene where he's frolicking around in boxer briefs, for which I stopped doing post-jogging stretches in order to watch uninterrupted.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

No song unsung

IknowIknowIknow, this is probably overkill because I've posted this to listservs and Facebook, but watching this video of a Britain's Got Talent contestant is providing me with a whoooole lotta procrastination inspiration as I churn out my last two papers.

Plus, I sing the song at karaoke every now and then. :-)

And I listened to the Les Mis soundtrack nonstop when writing papers during ye olde undergrad years.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

With all the frills upon it

Mi Hermana and I both have burned champurrado (Mexican hot chocolate that is also commercially available in Swiss Miss-like packets). So it was nothing short of an Easter miracle that the two of us managed to prepare a damn good Mexican/Filipino/Anglo Easter brunch:

From top, clockwise: nopales (cactus) con juevos y tomates, lumpia (Filipino egg roll), peas and asparagus (steamed with the ham), jamón, and fruit salad with mint and orange juice dressing. I forgot to put the potatoes on my plate, but Mi Hermana made them, and Mi Cuñado y su madre said they were good.
All washed down with mimosas!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Accidental analogies

In a great unfortunate juxtaposition that vegging out sometimes brings, while packing for Ann Arbor last week, I watched the episode of 30 Rock where Alec Baldwin applies Harry and the Hendersons to everybody's life ... right before watching Mrs. Brown.

I barely recognized Billy Connolly or Gerard Butler, though that was possibly the point. Dame Judi Dench was, of course and as always, superb. Her reclusive Queen Victoria was a poignant portrait of a widow latching on to someone (Connolly's Brown) as a comforting tie to her late husband.

More unexplained, however, was that of Mr. Brown -- aside from a general "God save the Queen" reasoning, viewers don't really get a sense of why the heck he's such a devoted servant and subject.

It was awful, not being able to get Harry and the Hendersons out of my head. I saw the whole thing through the lens of taking a creature out of its element: Brown is just a wild Scot who belongs in the Highlands, where he learned plain talk and loyalty and to never doubt his instincts. To illustrate this, there's a scene where Brown and his brother run naked in
to the freezing ocean, another where he alone notices (and charges at) a potential assassin, several where he shows how dutiful he is by not gossiping with or like all the other servants, and many more where he helps the queen get out of her state of mourning just by treatin' her like other folk and makin' her have some real no-frills fun. Unlike Harry, Brown doesn't get to go home after showing the aristos how enjoyable life can be if you're unpretentious and direct; (spoiler alert!) he dies in captivity.

Gaaaaaack! Damn 30 Rock! I haven't even seen Harry and the Hendersons in decades!

Thankfully, I had the next book in my addictive medieval murder series to erase Alec Baldwin's Harry lectures from my mind.

To Wear the White Cloak
brought the LeVendeur family back home to
Paris, amidst more antisemitic riots and crusading knights. Unlike the previous books, this one had a comedic ring to it: bumbling clergy employ bumbling country servants to spy on our heroine and her family, who are entertaining bumbling country gentry and pretentious merchant socialites alike. It was one of the biggest comedies of error I've seen in a mystery series. Enjoyable, of course -- just a marked contrast to the tone of the first books.

The flight to Ann Arbor was uneventful, and the Pingüinita has been taking up most of my time. The new neffy is cute as all heck, and I need to figure out a nickname for him. He's a rather chill baby; all he does is sleep. The Pingüinita has been a diva ever since birth; and now that she's both getting her toddler molars and encountering a baby rival for adult attention, she's determined to command even more presence.

So far, we've been to playgroup, a toddler dance party at the community center, and several A2 parks and playgrounds. What strikes me most since I saw her last (over Thanksgiving) is how much she repeats sounds and can talk. The one that never ceases to crack me up: "eyes" are "ass" (or, more accurately, "assssss.")

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Freedom and Unity!

(The motto for the state of Vermont, where the legislature just overrode the Governor's veto on a marriage rights bill..)

The Green Mountain State is now the first to give gay and lesbian couples marriage rights via the legislature rather than the judiciary.

From the Burlington Free Press:
Vermont legislature overrides veto
MONTPELIER — Vermont has become the fourth state to legalize gay marriage — and the first to do so with a legislature’s vote. . . . The vote came nine years after Vermont adopted its first-in-the-nation civil unions law. . . . It’s now the fourth state to permit same-sex marriage. Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa are the others. Their approval of gay marriage came from the courts.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain

(That's the state motto of Iowa...)

Iowa Supreme Court says marriage ban unconstitutional
It was unanimous! Woot.

Reading the opinion while packing for Michigan, and I can't stop smiling.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A bump on the head

Oh yes, the veg-out continues. I've figured out I'm more productive if I alternate activities: Hulu, sort through Census data, Netflix, read one scholarly article, meet up with friends, research state policies, Boggle online, work on paper outline, Scrabble online, read about survey methods, meet up with friends, etc. . . .

I realize that The Squid and the Whale got rave reviews, but I found it boring. The portrait itself was believable and tragic -- a couple divorces, and their kids become part of the battle terrain as well as side-takers on it. All the snide, under-the-breath comments that people make about family members or exes were very real and depicted very succinctly. But the movie was just that: people being cruel to each other. There was no before or after, and very little sense of why else it was tragic.

We nev
er saw the family when it was supposedly happy, so I didn't find myself caring all that much when it became fractured. Jeff Daniels (though he looked uncannily like my father, with his beard) was great as the arrogant literature professor; but then again he was pretty arrogant, so I found it hard to empathize. Likewise with the eldest son, who is only just learning to navigate a relationship. Laura Linney was okay as an up-and-coming writer whose looming success threatens the ego of her famous ex-husband. But the youngest son was the only one of the family that evoked any sympathy from me: in trying to be fair to all of his loved ones, he ends up hiding his own suffering and acting out in various self-destructive ways.

Also, I'm kind of not a fan of films where the title has to be explained in a monologue towards the end of the film itself. It reads like a bad short story assigned for a high school class. ("In the story, what does the squid represent? The whale?") Most of the time, I think subtly is the best approach. It's better if viewers aren't smacked on the head with it.

Last weekend, Xtina found out that someone she knew was in Northeastern's production of The Vagina Monologues, and we managed to book it across Boston in a record 45 minutes to buy tickets and get seats. It's always a good show, and I hadn't seen it in a few years. It's also one of those shows that I think is best seen as a college or community theatre production (the last time I saw it was an all-Asian American cast). Somehow the subject matter, both raising awareness about violence against women and celebrating female sexuality, are more poignant and personal that way.

A coworker suggested Eat Drink Man Woman. I hadn't realized it's the same plot as Tortilla Soup (also in my queue): widower chef with three daughters deals with their problems as well as his own aging and loneliness. I got SO HUNGRY watching the endless scenes of Chinese food being prepared and served and eaten. The story itself was generally predictable but cute; it was obvious which men, if any, the sisters would marry or hook up with. And my coworker gave away who the father ends up remarrying, so that wasn't a surprise either. Still, it was cute. And unlike Squid, the food metaphors didn't have to be explained.

Lastly, Living in Oblivion. Films about the film industry always seem like inside jokes I'm not quite allowed to get. But this one worked! Steve Buscemi is an indy film director trying to make a movie on a shoestring budget. He is perpetually thwarted by vain or frustrated actors and the bizarre mishaps that arise from a cheap set.

I liked the dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream sequences. It lent another layer of dissection to the notion that the film industry is a "dream factory" where both our fantasies and fears are embodied.

And again, it didn' t smack the viewer over the head with anything.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Brave old worlds

In the ongoing state of denial about the economy and student debt, I figured a good "first" would be going to see a type of show I've never seen before, while supporting a friend. So I went to see one of The Common Man's old roomies in a figure skating exhibition. It featured all skill levels, and was intergenerational, free, and local. Plus I got to unabashedly sing along to the rockin' numbers during some of the routines. (It's MIT, I didn't look weird or socially awkward or out of place at all...)

Then, because Netflix Online Viewing is also free, I watched St. Elmo's Fire.
I tend to hate high school graduation coming-of-age tales, so I appreciated the fact that St. Elmo's Fire was not a teenybopper flick. And though it overly glorified "college days" to the point of extreme annoyance, overall I thought it did a good job of covering the emotional transition out of the sheltered, privileged life on a small liberal arts campus (or university, in this case, since the characters are all recent Georgetown alumni).

Problem was, I had problems sympathizing with the characters' quarterlife crises and coping with the "real world". Maybe nine years out it's just hard to relate!

The other fascinating thing was watching it twenty years later, when women have made significant (though as yet incomplete) strides in terms of careers and financial independence. The main struggles of the female characters
involve being valued for choosing to work and not get married. And there were relatively positive references to gays and being gay! For the mid-80s, I think both of those issues were big. Also, the movie scored points for having an open ending: normally it irritates me if there's no resolution, but I make exceptions for vaguely existential situations where the uncertainties of life are the resolution, not the particular scenarios of the film.

Switching saints . . . The Difficult Saint was Book Six of Sharan Newman's medieval mystery series to which I've become addicted. After returning from Scotland, our feisty, intelligent twelfth-century heroine travels to what would be present-day Germany, to prove her sister innocent of murder charges.

In Book Five, Newman shocked her readers (okay fine, just me) with a horribly violent ending. In Book Six, she kills off one sympathetic character and has yet another horrible thing happen to another main one.
She's also been slowly building up a scene for violent (and historical) anti-semitic riots, and in the sixth book it all finally explodes. In fair Trier, where we lay our scene. Between anti-semitic mobs, warring German barons, and scheming Church officials, there's a murder mystery to be solved.

Mysteries are always good escapist tools for avoiding digging through Census statistics! As are fairy tales, quite literally...

I read The Ordinary Princess back in middle school when I read all of M.M. Kaye's books. (This is her one children's story; the rest are murder mysteries or historical fiction.) Twenty years later, I still love it. It's a cute, short tale about a princess who is cursed by her fairy godmother to be "ordinary", and so goes largely unnoticed by her kingdom and potential suitors. She is, however, free to be herself.

It's no secret that I typically despise fairy tales because of their gender dynamics. This book isn't at all a feminist retelling; indeed, it does nothing to challenge either the classist or heteronormative assumptions about fairy tales, princesses, or marriage in general. But it's cute. Like the movie I started the weekend with, it had slightly daring ideas for its time.

Speaking of the times ... Census data are calling.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Systems analysis

A friend posted this (where else?) on Facebook. As I'm starting to dig through all the research for my final final final graduate paper ever (WOOT), which focuses on various economic disparities related to digital access, I found it hilarious.

(pictures for sad children -- more here)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

¡Fiesta Trio!

Neffy #2 arrived on Tuesday! He was 7 lbs, 9 oz and 20" long.

(Mi Hermana's C section itself went well, but she reacted badly to the morphine, apparently... and the new neffy had to spend his first few hours in the ICU. They're both fine now, and will leave the hospital tomorrow.)

As if the Pingüinita didn't already look like Dora the Explorer (as well as a penguin), now she has a baby brother to complete the cartoon portrait!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Remotely controlled

I spent the last week of spring break taking recuperative, narcotic-induced naps; in between, I sorted through La Madre's very eclectic DVD collection.

The Italian was a Russian film, a cute but rather sad tale about an orphan who discovers his birth mother is alive and runs away from his orphanage to find her. He is then chased by the orphanage directors and adoption agency representatives, who all want to make a lot of money by adopting him off to an Italian couple. Hence the title.

It probably sounds like a comedy. It is not. That's all I have to say about that. But it's cute, in its own depressing sort of way.

Then, because I knew not what I did and can probably legitimately blame it on the drugs, I watched Evan Almighty. To further unjustify my actions, I thought it was Bruce Almighty. (Took me fifteen minutes before realizing they were two totally different movies, though Evan is apparently the sequel to Bruce.)

It was cute. Ridiculous, but cute.
It would totally have made Sunday School fun twenty years ago (also, I have no doubt it is being shown in various houses of worship nationwide). Steve Carell is a modern Noah, a newly elected Congressman (coded as Republican) who is told by God (who else but Morgan Freeman?) to build an ark for a coming flood. His family and fellow politicians laugh at him, of course, and in typical Carell fashion there are bizarre antics. But the flood is actually (spoiler alert!) the result of greedy, irresponsible corporate actions condoned by greedy, irresponsible Washington Beltway insiders.

I liked the environmental stewardship message; I was vaguely uncomfortable with the message about religion and government overlapping so comfortably, especially at God's behest. Also, the flood scenes with no significant damage to DC buildings or human life were a little unbelievable. It's all in good fun, though. Great movie for kids!

The Pursuit of Happyness was painful to watch. Whatever true story it was based on is, of course, an amazing one. But the way it translated to the screen made it seem as if it could be everyone's story, too.

Will Smith plays a broke, struggling salesman who perseveres and by the sweat of his brow joins the ranks of the uber-successful. He starts out in dire straits as it is, then keeps shooting for a competitive internship at a prestigious investment firm, for a 1-in-20 chance of landing a high-paid position. Like Job, every bad thing imaginable happens to him along the way, but he never loses sight of his goal. His wife leaves, his landlord throws him out, he becomes homeless, his kid's child care provider turns out to be no good, he loses a shoe in one scene ... Complete with footage of Reagan speeches, the film also juxtaposes lines outside homeless shelters with the luxurious of investment bankers. Look! Will Smith works hard and makes it -- everybody else should, too! Ignore all the structural and moral problems with an economic and social policy based only on notions of complete self-reliance! This story can be the rule, not the exception!

It was enough to inspire me to wean myself from the highly addictive drug regimen so I could go outside and play and see peeps before I left. All I had to do was pull myself up by...