Friday, February 22, 2008

quote of the day

"Our whole American way of life is a great war of ideas, and librarians are the arms dealers selling weapons to both sides."
-James Quinn

Thursday, February 21, 2008

dreams, excerpt of the day, & other oddities

Nick and I were exchanging dreams over lunch this afternoon. By which I mean sleep dreams, not aspirations. Nick's apparently been spending his nights dreaming about politics. Clearly he's the intellectual amongst us. I, on the other hand, had a very vivid dream about John Francis last night. More specifically, John Francis and his gorgeous, blond, long-haired, girlfriend. The gorgeous girlfriend started kissing me in the middle of an over-crowded bar we happened to be drinking in. John Francis was pissed. Nick said, "Wait, Em, is this real or a dream?" I said it was a dream, duh. He said, "How is this different from your real life?" Having never made out with a gorgeous, long-haired blond in a crowded bar before, I wasn't sure how to take this. I kind of wish my real life were more like the one Nick seems to have invented for me.

This dirty little light switch just in from stepbrother Erik. Thanks, Erik, you're clearly a heathen after my own heart! And for the decidedly unsqueamish, the 'Scourged Jesus' fiberglass statue...

Someone in a biology class at the University of Michigan has been naughty lately.

Chiung-Yin posted this article the other day and as a bona fide library geek, I couldn't help but spread the word - library patrons given the option of dancing off their late fines.

The city of Obama, Japan, weighs in on our presidential election. No surprise as to who they're backing.

Have I mentioned how much I love my state and its governor? I still do. Spitzer and the Catholic Church are at loggerheads over the state's support of abortion rights.

Mark Bittman posted about the good vibrations of food the other day and it made me laugh aloud.

And here, the excerpt of the day, from an article in The Nation:
When asked if he thought the men at Guantánamo could receive a fair trial, Davis provided the following account of an August 2005 meeting he had with Pentagon general counsel William Haynes--the man who now oversees the tribunal process for the Defense Department.
"[Haynes] said these trials will be the Nuremberg of our time," recalled Davis, referring to the Nazi tribunals in 1945, considered the model of procedural rights in the prosecution of war crimes. In response, Davis said he noted that at Nuremberg there had been some acquittals, which had lent great credibility to the proceedings.
"I said to him that if we come up short and there are some acquittals in our cases, it will at least validate the process," Davis continued. "At which point, [Haynes's] eyes got wide and he said, 'Wait a minute, we can't have acquittals. If we've been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can't have acquittals. We've got to have convictions.'
In an entirely different vein, I don't know much about Wisconsin. There is a woman  whom I had a huge crush on many years back now, and the little I know of Wisconsin pretty much comes from her. They seem to drink a lot there. And like dogs. And eat cheese. And apparently it tends to be quite cold there in the winter. Even now, years later, tidbits in the news about Wisconsin seem to jump out at me. Like the fact that their primary was this past Tuesday (Obama took it). And then there is this.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"Oriol Vall, who works with newborns at a hospital in Barcelona, says that the first human gesture is the embrace. After coming into the world, at the beginning of their days, babies wave their arms as if seeking someone.

Other doctors, who work with people who have already lived their lives, say that the aged, at the end of their days, die trying to raise their arms.

And that's it, that's all, no matter how hard we strive or how many words we pile on. Everything comes down to this: between two flutterings, with no more explanation, the voyage occurs."

-Eduardo Galeano, Voices of Time

Monday, February 18, 2008

sidewalk, revisited

odds & ends VIII

I know I'm being obtuse, but it continues to rile me that the Environmental Protection Agency, at least in its current incarnation, seems intent on allowing the destruction of as much of the environment as possible before next January. This doublespeak grates on the nerves, to put it mildly. Can't these people just rename themselves the Corporate Protection Agency or the Environmental Destruction Agency and be done with it? Why is honesty such a bad, bad thing? I'm keeping my fingers crossed that, come this time next year, the EPA nomenclature will no longer be a lie.

Speaking of incarnations, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry upon learning that my heroes Harold & Kumar, of White Castle fame, will be making their great escape from Guantanamo Bay this April. This article in today's Times, on the shifting place that Guantanamo holds in popular culture and the world's imagination, was fascinating. It got me thinking about the little I know of my parents' experience being stationed at the Guantanamo naval base back in the early 1970s. It mostly consists of mangoes, officers' dances, flying cockroaches, and gin and tonics, honestly, though that could be mostly my own imagination at play. Then there was the Guantanamo made famous back in 1992 by Tom Cruise and Jack "You Can't Handle The Truth" Nicholson in A Few Good Men. And somehow we've moved all the way through injustice and torture and horror, all the way back around to (hopefully) satirical humor. I'm not quite sure how I feel about this, despite my undying devotion to good old Kumar and Harold.

I was pleased to see, though, that Samantha Power, renowned author of A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide and founder of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, is coming out swinging for Obama this election cycle.

And last, my favorite bookstore in the whole wide world was featured this month in BookSense. Should you ever find yourself on beautiful Fidalgo Island, stop by the Watermark Book Company and give Patti a big hug for me.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

weekend roundup

Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers, has a new book coming out about the dumbing down of America. You may recall the moment Miss South Carolina earned her fifteen minutes of fame awhile back, but you'll be blown away Kellie Pickler's bright and shining moment on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader if you haven't seen it already. What seems most disturbing to me is not the stupidity, per se, but these girls' utter lack of curiosity about the world in which they live. Kind of reminds me of a certain resident in the White House who can't be bothered to read the newspapers himself because he has people to tell him what they say. And who really enjoyed reading The Stranger a year or two ago. Not that The Stranger isn't an amazing book, but it's a book most of us read when we were fifteen, for Christ's sake.

Mom & Paul joined the insanity that comprises a caucus last weekend out in Washington State and were pleased that the vast majority in their location went on to support Obama. I still can't quite wrap my head around this whole caucus notion, though, and Gail Collin's recent piece describing the process really didn't do much to convince me that it works. At all. Not to mention friend Maia's experience at the Democratic caucus in Anchorage, Alaska last week. Democracy in action, indeed.

A therapist was murdered earlier this week here in Manhattan, on the Upper East Side. I am left with this image of thousands of Manhattanites neurotically obsessing over this with their own therapists in the coming weeks. I got it out of my system on Thursday during my session with Sarah, was reassured that especially at night she always checks the door before buzzing anyone into the suite. But it does make me wonder about the lives of professionals who interact daily with unstable, depressed, needy, sometimes desperate people.

The tale of a Texas mayor 'rustling' a dog made it into the Times this week. I really don't know about Texas. Can we change our minds, let it be its own country after all?

As the CNN lead put it, this is a case that melts in your mouth. Take that as you will.

I posted a rather mocking link about the Saudi Arabian government the other day, and its antipathy towards Valentine's Day. But unfortunately the Saudi government continues to demonstrate its unabated antipathy towards women. Most recently, the story of Fawza Falih's upcoming execution for being a witch is enough to make your blood curdle.

On the homefront, Senator Joe Lieberman declared this week that waterboarding isn't really torture because it's only psychological. And besides, according to Lieberman logic, we're at war, so even if it is torture, which of course it isn't, it would still be okay! I can't believe I voted for this guy, even if only for VP, back in November of 2004. Maybe he should go read this article, an interesting take on the American waterboarding controversy from a British perspective. Or even better, he should absolutely read this piece by Malcolm Nance, a "20-year veteran of the US intelligence community's Combating Terrorism program."

this week's ipod mainstay

I've been listening to State Radio lately, can't seem to get enough:

Gang of Thieves
Story of Benjamin Darling, Part 1

Friday, February 15, 2008

milford & miss pig

It seems the McNeil pets, at least the last two standing, are often wanting to go somewhere, peering hopefully out the front windows of their various homes, just waiting for their rides.

First there was Miss Pig, who's been perching on that table, gazing out through the slats of the blind, for years now. And recently Milford has picked up the same habit, staring intently out Nate & Shanna's front window at the goings on along 120th street.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

making stock, taking stock

There's been a turkey carcass in my freezer for a couple months now, amicably cohabiting with four ice cube trays, a carton of past-its-prime vanilla ice cream, and a tupperware container of frozen, if homemade, squash soup dating back to I'm not sure quite when.

This turkey carcass was a gift from Nate & Shanna, the remnants of Shanna's strange, intermingled family Thanksgiving dinner this past November. I tend to make soups, soups being pretty much the extent of my culinary expertise, and they thought I might make use of this dead bird.

I'd kind of forgotten about it despite its domination of my little Manhattan apartment-sized freezer. But I finally remembered it and pulled it out of the freezer Saturday morning, unwrapped its multiple layers of plastic bags, wigged out a little at the roasted apple slices still caught in its body cavity, the frozen shreds of skin hanging mangled off the bones, but mostly at the realization that it didn't quite fit in my 12-quart stockpot.

I ran out to the grocery store anyway, bought a leek, some garlic, a couple onions, a bag of carrots, a couple turnips. Started running coldish water over the frozen bird in the sink, hoping to thaw it out a bit, finally lost patience and threw it in the stockpot, added cold water, set it on the stove over medium heat. Peeled the head of garlic, smashed cloves with my beloved Global knife, tossed those in. Rinsed and quartered the onions, carrots, turnips (all unpeeled), tossed those in. Cut the leek in half lengthwise to get the dirt out, cut off the roots and the uppermost dark green bits, threw in the rest. Found a handful of sundried tomatoes in a plastic bag in the fridge, threw those in. Also some salt, and some peppercorns, probably a teaspoon's worth or so. Simmered for a really long time, hours and hours, stirring now and then, skimming some of the fat off the top, mashing the carcass down. Eventually it pretty much fell apart, all the skin and meat fallen off the bones, and I figured that was probably long enough.

I don't have a sieve fine enough for really getting all the turkey gook out of this concoction, nothing better than a typical pasta strainer, actually. But finally, a good use for one of Chris's old t-shirts left behind last year!

Which brings me to the second half of my title this evening. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, in case you've been living under a rock or in a cave or something. And this time last year was not a particularly great time for yours truly.

Last winter I started chain smoking again, lost over twenty-five pounds, went to a psychiatrist for the first time in my life since regular old therapy clearly wasn't cutting it, joined the infamous Prozac nation, and, perhaps most shockingly, gave up cooking. Stopped feeding myself and my friends, stopped looking forward to long wintery weekend afternoons of chopping and baking and stewing in preparation for people I loved coming over for an evening of eating and drinking and talking and watching movies and all those things I'd adored for so long.

Yet here I am, a year later, still in one piece. Twenty pounds heavier, though I figure that's preferable to not eating or sleeping or wallowing in the depths of despair. Better to be plump and happy, I say, than skinny and miserable. I'm also chalking it up to having given up cigarettes last August, hopefully this time for good. Almost two weeks off the Prozac now, and doing all right. Cutting back the regular old therapy to every other week, after almost six years of every week and even awhile of twice a week.

And spending an entire afternoon making a huge pot of stock was one of the nicest afternoons I can imagine. Lauren called and teased me when she found out I had no particular plans for this stock, no guests coming over, just this huge pot simmering away on my stove. A few ladles worth went into an odd stew on Sunday, I suppose a bastardized version of posole, but the rest has now taken up residence in the freezer just waiting to be brought out and added to some other weird concoction.

It's good to enjoy cooking. And to not be overwhelmed by Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

quote of the day

I really don't see why the Clinton campaign has its panties in a knot over MSNBC newscaster David Shuster's comments about Hillary pimping out her daughter. I mean, trashing Chelsea has been central to the Republican modus operandi for, oh, fifteen years now -- why should 2008 be any different? What's a little good old-fashioned family values between friends, and if a major Republican candidate for President of the United States of America can do it without consequence, why can't some lowly news anchor?

"Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno."
-John McCain, 1998

In other news, who knew that Patty Hearst was into dog shows?? American Woman, Susan Choi's fictional take on the infamous Symbionese Liberation Army, was a favorite book of mine a few years back.

Lastly, I thought I was down on Valentine's Day this year, but I ain't got nothing on the Saudi Arabian government.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

in the news

Voters in Bexar County, Texas, were disappointed to find out that Super Tuesday wasn't so super for them after all.

People tend to mock New Jersey but I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't time to change that tune. New Jersey has become probably the most progressive state in the union these last few years, and that's something to admire.

Given my recent pet situation, and given how torn I'm feeling about getting another cat, I found this article from Salon very comforting. (For all you non-Salon readers out there, just a heads-up that you have to click on "Enter Salon" in the upper right hand corner in order to access Salon articles. No sign-in necessary though!)

Mark Bittman, aka the Minimalist of the New York Times dining page and author of my beloved and well-thumbed How to Cook Everything (now also available in a vegetarian edition!), has joined the blogging epidemic with the brand spanking new Bitten.

Columbia University has a way with attracting interesting students, it seems. I suppose it's commendable that she used identity theft to get an education, at least.

On a more serious note, the heartbreaking and infuriating story of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner who was accused of being a Taliban leader but in fact was an Afghan war hero for resistance against the Soviets back in the 1980s and later against the Taliban itself. Unfortunately our military didn't really go out of its way to figure out his actual identity, and he has since died of cancer in Gitmo.

On a lighter note, and bringing me first to the Northwest, is this story of a leatherback turtle that swam from Indonesia to Oregon!

And then there's the craziness of Washington State politics and the thrilling news that Obama swept all three states yesterday, winning handily in Washington, Nebraska, and Louisiana.

That said, I just read an old editorial by Anna Quindlen (fellow Barnard alumn, I might add), on our political leaders and their superior wives. This was written back in 1992, mind you, but it still holds true today. I mean, much as I like Barack, I think that I'd rather be voting for Michelle.

Friday, February 08, 2008


Nick and I had a moment yesterday, one of those funny, odd moments that make you laugh out loud and wonder how humanity manages to exist at all.

We were walking south on the west side of Broadway after meeting up on our usual corner after work, on the prowl for a cheap beer. We had decided on the Abbey, a perennial favorite of ours despite its mediocre food, on the east side of Broadway at 105th Street.

The streetlight changed and Nick, ever the pragmatic one, said, "Let's cross."

"I always walk on that side of the street," I shot back, and kept walking south.

Nick took this in stride, but after a moment he looked at me and said, "That doesn't make any sense at all. What are you talking about??"

And what I'd meant, really, was something along the lines of, "Nick, the inertia is kicking in big time right now. We are on this side of the street now, and we will remain on this side of the street because it is easier than changing directions at this particular point in time."

But rather than admitting to this insanity, I tried to act as if I usually walk on that side of the street, and so on this fine and beautiful evening had decided that we would be wild and daring and would instead walk on this side of the street.

I tried to explain all of this to him, in all its ridiculousness, and this led, in typical Nick and Emily fashion, to a wide-ranging and probably nonsensical discussion of the differences in the ways men and women communicate, incorporating gentle mockery, grandiose generalizations, and even an inappropriate reference or two to certain unmentionable sexual situations.

Eventually we got to the bar and turned our attention to far more important things, like what kind of beers were currently available on tap and what exactly is a superdelegate, anyway?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

politics as usual

I love these ancient voting machines we still have here in New York, the ones where you duck behind the curtain, pull that huge lever from left to right, cast your vote with these little switches that mark your candidates with an X, then pull the huge lever back to the left again, theoretically recording your vote. There's just something so intrinsically appealing about this, and about all these little old men and women manning the voting booths and mishearing our last names so it takes them ten minutes to find us on the voting rolls. I guess the little old lady at the table for Election District 77 wasn't much more awake than I was this morning, because she kept hearing my name as McMale, and I don't think I was mumbling that much, even if it was only 6:45.

Anyway, my excitement and faith in the political process lasted the entire time it took me to get to work. Then I saw this proposed legislation banning restaurants in Mississippi from serving fat people. As William Saletan of Slate so eloquently put it, "Banning people from restaurants based on appearance. In Mississippi. Great idea."

On the other hand, Obama won 75% of the expatriate vote in Indonesia today so he's off to a good start, even if that's only about 71 votes.

Monday, February 04, 2008

pre-primary blues

I should leave by seven o'clock tomorrow morning to be able to go vote and still get to the library on time to open shop, coffee and newspapers in hand. And you know what? I'm still tearing my hair out (such as it is), still feeling torn about who to vote for, and it's driving me crazy. There was a piece today in Salon that pretty much gave voice to things I've been feeling for awhile now. And yes, I know I said I'd be voting for Obama the other day, and I probably will, but it's a strange, exhilarating feeling to have two people I actually want to vote for, and it's a wickedly delightful feeling to realize that there's probably not one Republican who feels as pleased with their choices as millions of Democrats are feeling tonight.

Andrew Solomon, a dear friend of mine and one of the founding members and masterminds behind ACT NOW NY, has been rallying the troops in support of Obama here in New York these past weeks. A shout out to him, and to Nate, Lenny, Chris, and all the rest of these unbelievably dedicated (if sometimes annoying!) idealists I'm lucky enough to get to spend so much of my time with. So check out this video, if only because Scarlett Johansson looks cute in a recording studio and remember that if you're going to drink, drink liberally.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

bridge, 2.1.08

winter II

mythologies undermined

I was talking with a friend recently about the fantastic story of the Danish Jews during World War II. The story, specifically, of their survival in the face of the Nazi Occupation. The apocryphal story of the Nazi proclamation that all Jews must wear a yellow armband sporting the Star of David followed, the next morning, by King Christian himself parading through Copenhagen wearing a yellow armband sporting the Star of David, followed, soon after, by thousands - no, millions - of Danes, both Jewish and Christian alike, wearing yellow armbands sporting the Star of David.

This was a favorite story of mine from childhood days, going back at least to fourth grade when Amy Beth Crow and I spent entire days playing odd make-believe games of fleeing the Nazis, hiding in secret attics, behind secret doors, escaping (usually on bicycle) into the imaginary night (though of course always home by supper).

I couldn't have told you, until today at least, where I first heard this tale, but it has been a core truth of mine for decades now. I've spread the word as if it were fact, have wrapped it around myself as proof positive that not only individuals but entire societies can be good and honorable and true.

This year, 2008, marks 75 years since Hitler was democratically elected to power in Germany. There is a fascinating editorial in today's Times about the ways in which societies commemorate opposition to terror. Germany has spent much of its recent history struggling to come to terms with itself, with the horror it perpetrated upon the world (see Jane Kramer's Politics of Memory). But what I found fascinating about this editorial is the idea that Germany (though not Germany alone) has chosen to commemorate the wrong people. Or rather, not 'wrong' people, but people who were ultimately destroyed by their opposition rather than people who survived.

The story of the Danish opposition to the Nazi occupation is the perfect example of this. Not many people seem to know about this opposition, and the ensuing survival of the vast majority of the Danish Jews, even amongst my sometimes frighteningly over-educated group of friends. Instead, we commemorate things like the Warsaw ghetto uprising -- unarguably courageous, but in the end, fatal. It is worth noting that the Polish Jewish population was, for all intents and purposes, completely wiped out by World War II, as opposed to the Danish Jews.

So I read this editorial and started wondering about King Christian, and about this beloved story I've carried with me all these years, and wondered where I first learned of it, and what the specifics were. You can imagine my dismay when I learned, at least according to Wikipedia, that this story is in fact not true, that it became legend with the popularity of Leon Uris's Exodus, which must be where I first heard of it, since Exodus was one of my favorite books in fourth grade (I was a weird kid, okay?).

But this is sort of an amazing idea in and of itself. The Danish Jews survived, and it is argued that they survived largely because of incredible efforts by the Danish people as a whole to hide them, to help them flee Denmark to more welcoming countries, to incorporate and adopt them into non-Jewish families. Yet this doesn't make as good a commemorative story, as good an accounting of the bravery of a people, as a valiant king and an adoring people, and so it had to be dramatized, through Exodus and probably other early sources.

In the end, I'm not sure where I'm going with all of this. But I like the idea of holding up as an example a more subtle resistance -- not that the martyrs aren't important, because they are. But if enough people resisted evil, or at least stood up to injustice, on a daily basis, perhaps we wouldn't need as many martyrs anymore, and the world would be a better place.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

politics, facial hair extraordinaire, old friends

I've been debating with myself about whom to vote for on Tuesday, and I've decided, much as I respect Hillary, and much as the notion of a woman president excites me, that I will be voting for Obama. I won't go into all the gory details here, but I truly think that America is crying out for new blood, by which I do not mean that we have become an (entirely) vampyric nation, but rather that we can handle no more Bushes or Clintons, at least for now. Nicholas Kristof wrote what I found to be a very cogent argument in this regard, well worth reading.

Which leads me, in its way, to yet another small confession. I loved Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. I really did (and no, despite what you might think, I was decidedly not stoned at the time). So it pleased me to no end to see the other day that none other than Kumar himself, or at least the actor that played him, is stumping for Obama. Be still my beating heart.

My beloved alma mater announced its new president last week. I, and my entering class, had a soft spot for Judith Shapiro (fondly known amongst some of us as J-Shap), having been Barnard newbies all at the same time, but Debora Spar seems like a good replacement.

Former Romanian Priest jailed for exorcism murder of nun. And check out his beard. If I could grow facial hair, I'd grow a beard just like that.

It broke my heart a little bit to see John Edwards bowing out of the presidential race earlier this week, but he managed to bow out with grace, leaving the political landscape changed for the better in his wake.

Have I mentioned before that I love my state? I love my state. A New York appellate court decided yesterday that we have to fully recognize gay marriages from other states (i.e Massachusetts) or countries (i.e. Canada). This is still a long way for allowing gay couples to marry here, but it's at least a step in the right direction.

Last, but definitely not least, I spent Thursday evening out on the town, drinking till dawn (or at least till way past this girl's bed time) with a Republican. Honestly. It turns out they're not all bad! In fact, this one is decidedly good! A boy I've known since 7th grade, now all grown up, married, soon to be a father, and a sweetheart to the core.