Thursday, January 29, 2004

A Texan's Notes on Snow

—An impending snow can be sensed—the way you can smell rain before it falls or the way animals worry themselves before tornadoes. Not by me, you understand—all colds are the same to my palate—but by friends from farther north who smell home in a wet freeze.

—In the taxonomy of flakes, the loveliest are the fat, lazy puffs falling in no particular hurry. The tiny zooming pellets, on the other hand, are your best hope for a snow day the next morning. I imagine kids press their noses to windows and silently urge on these flakes. I know I was.

—Freezing rain falling on a blanket of snow will crust the top over. This is the dog's favorite snow. He kerplomps all over the backyard, in love with the sound his paws are making—like a spoon cracking the shell of a creme brulee.
Everybody is getting one.

Imaginary Stalker Ex Boyfriend, on E-bay.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Get real

Further proof that the air in those ivory towers of academia sometimes gets a bit too thin. Some assistant professor of culture and communications at NYU argues in the Post today that reality television is merely the first step in John Ashcroft's quest to catalog our brain waves. And I just thought that was the Patriot Act.
We don't immediately think of reality television -- with its ever-present cameras and microphones -- in relation to the larger context of government surveillance. Perhaps this is because, in a post-Sept. 11 era, the recording and watching of others -- and ourselves -- has become a component of our everyday lives.

But reality TV does play a crucial role in mitigating our resistance to such surveillance tactics. More and more of these programs rely on the willingness of "ordinary" folk to live their lives in front of cameras. These people choose to have sex, get married, give birth, compete for prizes, work, fight, weep and brush their teeth in front of millions. We, as audience members, witness this openness to surveillance, normalize it and, in turn, open ourselves up to such a possibility.

She goes on to cite bloggers as people who open up their private lives to public scrutiny. Whatever, lady. All this crap I write? 90-94% bullshit. Talk about gullible. She probably really believes that her internet lover really is a muscular anthropologist with tenure.

"Many of the rest of us," she notes, "just allow video cameras and computers to follow our every movement through city streets, stores, subway stations, schools and apartment buildings." Allow is a funny word. I don't like that camera snapping pictures of my car as it zips through red lights on Constitution Ave. any better than the next guy, but you know, it didn't really ask my permission.

But back to reality TV. I may be normalizing public surveillance of private lives, as she suggests, but if John Ashcroft is the spiritual muse for America's Next Top Model, then I'm with him all the way down the runway. At least he'll have given me something amusing to watch while the federal agents red-flag my Amazon wish list.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Oh the weather outside is frightful...

...but winning pub quiz is so delightful! I don't know how much of our victory should be credited to the fact that the rest of the city was snowed under, and I prefer not to think about it. After long years of throwing back the bitter tequila shot of our own abject ignorance* at Mother Egan's pub quiz in Austin, and then regrouping for the past 6 months up here in DC, we finally pulled off top honors and took home first prize. The dubious team name was "Dude, where's my snow day?" (shut up, we didn't know we were going to win) since "John Kerry On My Wayward Son" didn't get a second's consideration. And unlike the grand tribal councils we used to assemble for pub quiz in Austin, we pulled off our coup with only 4 team members. (And since I only contribute last names of Peanuts characters and offer moral support, it's really like 3.5 members). Next week, our dynasty will probably fall, but at least our bar tab will be paid for by this week's winnings!

*I totally ripped off that line.

Friday, January 23, 2004


A big happy birthday to Kriston, who is one step closer to his mid-twenties today. (Horror!) But don't feel too bad; he's celebrating with a fajita and margarita party, and I'm sure he'll be bellowing Alabama tunes by the end of the evening for old time's sake.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Taxicab confessions

When I was 18, Toronto was my first destination of my first trip to Canada. It was a bright, frigid spring after a miserable muck of a winter in Chicago, and my then-boyfriend and I were on a weekend lark over the border to that wonderful arctic land where they let young people drink.

There was this hotdog vendor that my boyfriend was adamant we find. He had been to Toronto before, and insisted that this vendor was a character you didn't want to miss. After some wandering, we happened upon the man in question. He was a burly, bristly slavic fellow with beefy arms dwarfing his beefy wares. When we approached his stand and placed our order, he eyed us critically from under a shag eyebrow.

"You lyook like khappy yong people. Are you khappy?"
"Um. I guess so. Yeah."
"Goot. Be khappy. Because life is coming like TRAIN to KNOCK YOU DOWN."
And with that he slapped the weiners across the counter.

It probably wasn't the first time I received advice from a stranger on the street (nor was it the last, as anyone who has run into a Russian babushka can attest), but it certainly made a strong impression.

Nowadays, like most people, I rely on cab drivers for unsolicited words of wisdom. And so I was delighted when my fairy godmother in the form of a spirited old lady cabdriver picked me up and battled mid-day traffic by "pulling out aaaaaaaaaalll my bag of tricks." She was chirping and laughing the whole ride, ruminating on where she should take her next fantastic vacation. "You travel for fun a lot?" I asked. "Girl, please! I go everywhere." And as I was stepping out of the cab she sang out for all the world to hear, "Spoil yourself in 2004, honey! Spoil yourself in 2004!" My New Years Resolutions have been thusly modified.

A few hours later, I hailed down a creaky old cab with an ancient driver. It was dreary outside and cold, and he had the blues howling from his stereo. It felt like hot chocolate to my ears. As he wheeled us through sidestreets, taking all sorts of backroutes that would land us at the exact point in the block that I requested, I said that it seemed like a big task to remember all the block numbers in the city and exactly where they connect.

"Young lady," he said carefully, "I am 83 years old. I been living in this town since I was 7. I have driven cabs, delivered lumber, delivered clothes..." he trailed off and then started up again. "I got married when I was 18, and had 6 kids by the time I was 29."

I marvelled, and asked if he had many grandkids.

"I have twelve grandkids, and twelve great grandkids. My oldest grandson is 47."

"That's a lot of kids to spoil!" We had already pulled up to my stop, but I stayed still for a minute.

He chuckled. "I'm working for my great grandkids now."

"Well I think your great grandkids ought to give you a break."

"Oh no. You know, the day after my daddy retired, he marched right out and got another job. I said, 'What are you doing going out and getting a job? Why don't you sit still?' And he said, 'Son, you lay around all day, you just get rusty.' That's what I say. You lay around, you just get rusty."

He looked happy with himself.


You know you haven't had enough of Howard Dean's barbaric yawp. To hear NPR's take on it, go here. Trust me, you'll laugh.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004


New, updated list of
Things My Obsession With America's Next Top Model is Causing Me to Miss:
1. Paul Auster reading from his newest book. (last week)
2. State of the Union Adress (this week)

Somehow, I don't feel much guilt about this choice. The choice between hearing borderline anorexics despair over their non-problems and hearing the word "nookyular" ever again in my lifetime is a no-brainer.

Maureen Dowd and the other haters can get over it. Argyle is hot, and Clark is rocking the vintage chic, even if he isn't doing it on purpose. That said, I still can't cough up the $16K (and counting) that the famous sweater is currently going for on E-bay.

Reality Campaign

With all this wild speculation about the newly blown-open democratic field, I had a spark of near-genius. Nobody knows who the democratic nominee is going to be, and nobody will know until probably much later on in the game. A corollary issue: networks and political parties alike are always bemoaning the lack of ratings for the broadcast of party conventions. NBC doesn't want to waste valuable broadcasting time with a bunch of old gross politicians mugging down with their hairsprayed wives when they could be showing a bunch of young gross kids chowing down on worms for money.

The answer is simple: turn the Democratic primaries into a reality TV show. I don't know how they elect the nominee, but I know it has something to do with these primaries and numbers of delegates and so on. So clearly at some point, we'd have to obfuscate primary results so that there would be drama at the convention. But this could be great. After Gephardt was literally voted off the campaign trail last night, that would have been the moment for his scathing "confessional" to willing cameras. And then we cut to the winners confessionals, with Kerry dropping his F-bomb right and left. "FUCK YOU, Howard Dean!" and so on.

At the end, the final 3 or 4 candidates would all be at the convention, in front of a live audience (who can phone in their votes? no?). Donald Trump or Tyra Banks will sit them at the boardroom table (or spin them down the runway) and offer salient critiques of their campaigns, complete with vidoe snippets of embarassing gaffes. Then Donald Trump will fire somebody, Tyra will announce that so-and-so will not be America's Next Top President, the final two candidates will hold hands, and then Chris Harrison (of The Bachelor) will saunter on-stage, pause for like 10 unnecessary dramatic minutes, and then hand a red rose to Wesley Clark.

This will not only make exciting TV, it will cause the entirety of middle America to support the democratic nominee. Did Chris Harrison hand GWB a rose? I don't think so. Not the winner. And the Republicans can scramble and get Evan Marriott of Joe Millionaire to hand a sapphire necklance to Bush, but it will be too late.

I'm waiting for the call, DNC. I'm right here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

This is how much I suck

Paul Auster, author of the much-admired-by-me New York Trilogy is reading tonight at a local bookstore, and I'm skipping it to watch reality television.

Potential Excuses:
1. I go to a lot of lectures and briefings. I can skip a book reading.
2. My reality TV-watching evening is doubling as a catch-up-with-a-friend evening, which is a worthwhile use of time
3. I'm voting, so that's enough enrichment for one evening
4. It's cold
5. He's just going to read out loud something I could read to myself. Can I read America's Next Top Model if I miss it? No, I can not.

And with that warm rush of rationalization, I feel fully justified in my decision. So there, hatas.
Read this for a good laugh.
I've been happily listening to Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes warble and wail for many years now, but sometimes I think I'm getting a little too old for all this. Desaparacidos, the political wing of the Bright Eyes empire, has cancelled their appearances on the "Plea for Peace" tour. Supposedly there are conflicting schedules, but I am guessing that Desaparacidos intuited that a big tour would probably involve consumerism, which they are so anti-, thus creating an intractable dilemma. Dude.

Plus, apparently Desaparacidos are wont to take off their shirts on stage and then a bunch of people start kissing. This is slightly more annoying than Conor's little affectation (which I noticed only during the most recent show, now that he's turned 21) of taking long slugs in between songs from a bottle of red wine. I mean. Seriously.

If President Bartlett is now endorsing Howard Dean, what does this do to the Bartlett test? Do I have to agree now? And who will I vote for today in the DC primary? Eeny meeny miney mo is still the leading contender.
I don't need no stinkin' predictions

So I'm reading this Atlantic article about the administration and its pre-war planning. A popular theme lately, eh? And James Fallows, who wrote the article, interviewed Douglas Feith, undersecretary for defense. Fallows is complimentary of Feith: he is forthright, he speaks clearly, he gives more than the usual party-line. But, call me crazy, is this a little bit too forthright for his own good? Observe:
When I asked [Feith] what had gone better than expected and what had gone worse, he said, "We don't exactly deal in 'expectations.' Expectations are too close to 'predictions.' We're not comfortable with predictions. It is one of the big strategic premises of the work that we do."

The limits of future knowledge, Feith said, were of special importance to Rumsfeld, "who is death to predictions." [wha??--ed] "His big strategic theme is uncertainty," Feith said.

Okay, everybody who's comforted, raise your hands! I'm no undersecretay of defense, but I am a veteran 4-square ball player, and Feith's response sounds a lot like that kid who is totally called out for double-bouncing that says "I meant to double-bounce. In my rules you have to double bounce or you're out."

So it's not that they didn't have a plan so much as, like, I mean the future is way tricky and what if you plan for something and then something else happens? Then you'd feel pretty stupid, wouldn't you? I am glad that the Pentagon operates like I do with my career.

But the sad moral of this whole story is that they did have, or should have had a pretty good idea of what was to follow. Government bodies such as State, USAID, and the CIA spent a lot of time creating a large body of knowledge regarding "predictions" for Iraq. Regional experts offered their authoritative testimony. Many of them predicted precisely the scenario we are now in. The problem isn't that the government didn't know, the problem is that the administration didn't want to know:
"...nobody will find a piece of paper that says, 'Mr. Secretary or Mr. President, let us tell you what postwar Iraq is going to look like, and here is what we need plans for.' If you tried that, you would get thrown out of Rumsfeld's office so fast--if you ever went in there and said, 'Let me tell you what something's going to look like in the future,' you wouldn't get to your next sentence!"

Let me just reiterate that this is not a nefarious turncoat squealer like Paul O'Neill. This guy is on Rumsfeld's side. It's plug-your-ears-and-say-LALALALA foreign policy. Seriously. There are predictions and there are contingencies, and if you don't know that, you won't last five minutes working for Mr. Trump. oops, wrong fiction.
Word to the wise

My spidey senses have been all aquiver lately. Since my political barometer is based entirely on intuition, innuendo, and astrology, you can take this or leave it. But I feel that I come to you at the turning of the tide. [For those of you paying attention, I just put a spiderman and a Lord of the Rings reference in 3 sentences. I am going to go dump my boyfriend and then kill myself.]

It seems to me that things are turning around for the dems. Or at least turning down for the pres. Paul O'Neill's allegations are just one of many recent indictments of our Dear Leader. The Carnegie Endowment report on pre-war intelligence and missing WMDs in Iraq may have only confirmed conventional wisdom, but it did so with the research, resources, and influential name of respected experts and scholars. It warranted a response from Colin Powell, who was all "yeah, we didn't have a smoking gun, but shut up!"

Then there's the Mars nonsense that is pretty widely derided. I will be doing more research on this topic tonight by watching the Daily Show. Jon Stewart said that they would have a guest from NASA on to talk about Mars and "why we're....there. And why President Bush want to send...more stuff...there. [stage whisper to camera] I think it's 'cause he's given up"

What with Mars and the Mexicans (M&M policy?), Bush seems to be shuffling a big deck of cards called "My Ideas" and having Cheney pluck one from the deck. I expect "National Foam Party" to come up any day now. Which is cool because I never went to one of those in college because I scoffed at frat parties, but I secretly wanted to because it sounded like the Slip'n'Slide party I always wanted to throw but didn't due to liability concerns. Don't even try to touch my run-ons.

Anyway, I'm going to do you all a favor and let you know that UPN's America's Next Top Model is premiering tonight. It was the best reality TV show ever in its premier season, thanks to bitchy indie rock scientist Elyse, and I'm hoping this season won't let me down. Also, contrary to all expectations, Donald Trump's reality show The Apprentice is totally hilarious. I always knew those business majors were comic gold (they take themselves so seriously!) but nobody ever cashed in on this idea until now. Grovelling has never been so sad and so wonderful.

You can tell my self-enrichment plans for the New Year are going really well, huh?

Monday, January 05, 2004

Get ready to die!

Okay, I've sufficiently recovered from my a.m. trauma to report the following incident.
First the background:
In my otherwise youthful office, there is one elderly secretary woman. Not only is she the only elderly woman, she is the only secretary. Perhaps this isolation is what causes her to constantly bellow inappropriate remarks at the top of her ravaged smoker's lungs. I have become used to this behavior, mostly, and try to sidetrack her with questions about grandchildren so that she will act like a normal grandmother.

But this morning, my first day back at work after the long holiday, my first work day of the new year, my fresh-page new-leaf day, was shattered in the first half hour.

The elderly secretary woman was barking to a senior personage behind me about her smoking habit. How it's such a compulsion. How she has to have it. And then she followed up with a statement that accompanied a mental image which will haunt me to my grave:
[very LOUDLY] I don't know what I would do if I quit smoking! I'd probably have to start masturbating in public or something.

AARRGGH! Strike my inner eye BLIND dear HEAVENLY FATHER. This is how I start my New Year, people. Beat that for shitty Monday mornings at the office.

Balk the vote

I can't decide whether or not I should vote in the DC Democratic primary. It's coming up in the next week or so, so I have to come up with a stand on this. On the one hand, I believe very strongly in civic duty and all that. Since I work for an organization promoting free and fair elections in emerging democracies, it would be a little hypocritical of me to shirk my political freedoms here at home.

On the other hand, my candidate Wesley Clark is not on the ballot. And there's no write-in. So should I vote for a candidate I don't really support, thus falsely inflating the number of backers he can claim? DC activists are urging democrats to vote in the primary, saying that the early primary date was chosen as a way to draw the nation's attention to DC's lack of voting rights. I'm all for parading my disenfranchisement with a mournful, martyred expression for others to see, but I'm not certain how voting for Carol Mosely-Braun will accomplish this. "Look at DC voters!" the nation will say. "They want to elect Al Sharpton! Let's make sure they never get to elect a representative!"

Not sure what to do about it, but I'll probably vote because the peer pressure in this town leans heavily towards being a good citizen, unlike the peer pressure in high school or in other towns which leans heavily towards smoking pot. All those kids in high school who were running for student council prez instead of crouching below a fragrant fog behind their Oldsmobiles in the parking lot? Yeah, they're running this town. Whereas the latter stayed in parents' basements and also Austin. I wonder where all the clarinet players landed?

All this is truly an attempt to take my mind of the horrible thing that happened this morning that I'm still too scarred to write about. Give me a few more hours and I'll try to share the horror.