Tuesday, September 30, 2008

'awakening mocha espresso,' or, why its best to avoid the drink & shop

I went to Duane Reade this evening with the intention of buying one of my typical utilitarian bottles of cheap shampoo. You know, something along the lines of Suave or Johnson's Baby Shampoo. With a 'do like mine, after all, there's really no need for the fancy stuff. In fact I not infrequently end up just using bar soap.

But what did I end up with tonight? Some ridiculous concoction called "Awakening Mocha Espresso Shampoo." And why, you might ask? Because it smelled good. This is what happens when you set me loose in a drug store after a margarita or two.

It was only when I got home and bothered to read the not-so-fine print on the back of this undersized (and overpriced) bottle that I fully realized perhaps this was not the way to go.

"Create rich sable tones with this exclusive blend of espresso bean extracts and cocoa bean oils for full-bodied, multi-dimensional color, along with sheer silk proteins to add a glowing luminescent shine."

Monday, September 29, 2008


My boss, a couple months ago, asked me somewhat randomly if I had ever read any Ursula K. LeGuin. Little did she know that Shevek was one of the greatest heroes I had as a teenager; that when Cindy and I made up (or started to make up) an entire language, I called myself Shevek-am, or Little Shevek; that I realized Dave and I would be lifelong friends the first night we met and somehow randomly bonded over The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas; that The Eye of the Heron made me cry; that Julie used to tease me about skimming through The Wind's Twelve Quarters at the drop of a hat; that Orsinian Tales has been on my favorite books list since the summer of '89 when I unearthed a worn-out, dogeared copy in the used bookstore in Pullman, WA; that I've been meaning to re-read The Farthest Shore (having read it at the tender age of 10) ever since first coming up against death, but have never quite gotten around to it.

Needless to say, while I acknowledged that indeed I have been known to read a bit of LeGuin, I thankfully managed to leave it at that.

There is a sign on 125th Street, just east of Amsterdam Avenue, that I walk by every so often on
my way to the train. I smile every time I see this sign because it makes me think of The Dispossessed. I was walking along 125th Street with Nick not too long ago, after one of our weekly dinners, and I finally stopped and took a picture. And I laughed because of all the people I could be walking with, it was Nick, and he got it.

"There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of a boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. For seven generations there had been nothing in the world more important than that wall.

Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon
which side of it you were on.

Looked at from one side, the wall enclosed a barren sixty-acre field called the port of Anarres. On the field there were a couple large gantry cranes, a rocket pad, three warehouses, a truck garage, and a dormitory. The dormitory looked durable, grimy, and mournful; it had no gardens, no children; plainly nobody lived there or was even meant to stay there long. It was in fact a quarantine. The wall shut in not only the landing field but also the ships that came down out of space, and the men that came on the ships, and the worlds they came from, and the rest of the universe. It enclosed the universe, leaving Anarres outside, free.

Looked at from the other side, the wall enclosed Anarres: the whole planet was inside it, a great prison camp, c
ut off from other worlds and other men, in quarantine."

If a thing can be neither inside nor outside the wall, where can it be?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

for your saturday morning viewing (and reading) pleasure

Head of Skate

Gail Collins on McCain's debate performance: "After all that, when the wandering debater finally showed up Friday night, he just looked like a smallish, grayish, slightly grumpy guy with a grizzly obsession."

What's the deal with conservatives and bears, anyway? Here's McCain ranting about the measly little $3 million that Congress allocated to studying grizzly bear DNA, and then there was Justice Kennedy preoccupied with the welfare of Washington, DCers in the face of rampaging grizzlies back in March, as if this were a reason to overturn the ban on handguns.

Also, though I haven't really followed Chris Rock's career, I kind of love his take on this presidential election.
Given the national economic situation, Rock explains, he'll "go with the guy with one house. The guy with one house is scared about losing his house."

Lastly, Paul Neuman passed away yesterday and the world lost one of the good ones.

And there you have it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

palin on russia

Heartbreakingly similar to a certain Miss South Carolina snafu not so very long ago...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

quote of the day, or, rush & geography

"Do you know he has not one shred of African-American blood?... He's Arab. You know, he's from Africa. He's from Arab parts of Africa. He's not -- his father was -- he's not African-American. The last thing that he is is African-American."

(Rush Limbaugh, apoplectic about Obama's heritage)

If your mother is from Kansas and your father is from Kenya, you're Arab? I think maybe the drugs permanently addled poor Rush's noggin.

Also, John McCain can't partake in a 90-minute debate tomorrow night because he and Palin have to run back to the Washington to fix the economy? And instead wants the first presidential debate to replace entirely the vice presidential debate? Really?? Does anyone else find this... ridiculous? Not to mention frightening that Palin's own people don't want her debating Biden?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

feels like fall, or, mortality and living wills and decisions not yet made

It feels like fall today, appropriately enough: the air crisp, sun-kissed but cool, and sad in a way that is unique to the season.

I tend to get sick this time of year. Nothing serious, just a cold. A waking up one morning with a sore throat, a feverish ache around the eyes, soon followed with a cough, sniffles, sneezes. This lasts a couple days, no more, and then abrupt health again.

Towards the end of high school and throughout college, though, it was often much worse, exacerbated by lack of sleep (years of intermittent insomnia, combined with unforgivable paper-writing procrastination) and reckless living (lunch hours spent chain-smoking Marlboro 100s and mainlining coffee in the chill autumn air, shot after shot of tequila at 3 am). A week or weeks of bleary-eyed confusion, constant hacking, hoarse voice, and the smell, somehow, of wood smoke lingering in the back of my throat.

Now it is a mere nuisance, and also a sure sign that another summer is over, that winter is on its way.

The mother of one of my best friends is dying. He does not know exactly when or exactly how she will go, but it's coming. Today, next month, maybe not until after the winter has turned again to spring, but this too is on its way. They are not close, this friend of mine and his mother, and have a long and complicated history together, but still, the experience is real and present and horrible in ways I can only imagine.

My own mother called me last night to check in on this friend, to learn of any further developments. We talked for a long time, she and I -- about dinner plans, about weekend plans, about the apples on her apple trees and the apple sauce therefrom, about what we each would want in the face of incapacitation. (Two weeks, if there is even an outside chance at recovery, and then a letting go.)

I remember my father, just before his death, grabbing at the sleeve of one of the EMTs, demanding that they not cut him open, that they not go to extreme measures, and the EMT calmly replying that he would have to tell the doctors that himself.

He didn't have to in the end because there was no saving him, and there were no end-of-life decisions to be made.
And for this, in a way, I am grateful.

Yesterday on the phone, this friend kept using a certain turn of phrase, a specific string of words, that I imagine he picked up from the doctors, and whose purpose clearly was to hold something at bay. He kept referring to the fact that it was not yet time, in the face of his mother not having a living will, for "moral and ethical decisions to be made."

Last night I asked my own mother to make all of this stuff official now so that some day, hopefully very, very far in the future, but whenever it comes, we will not be confronted with these same decisions. I don't know that I could stand it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

last friday morning

Last Friday morning in the shower, in the middle of rinsing off the lather from Shanna's left-behind Japanese cucumber body wash, I discovered a lump on my left breast, hovering beneath the surface. A decidedly there lump, nothing ambiguous or ill-defined, but smooth and firm and unarguable, surrounded as it was by pale, soft flesh.

Much to my consternation and dismay I found myself falling into something approximating shock, convinced in that moment that not only had I been found out, found guilty (of what, exactly, I do not know - a certain well-documented fatalism, perhaps, abruptly rendered asunder?), and sentenced to a slow & painful death, but also that I would suffer through it alone. And for two days I hovered in a circle of -- not panic, though panic certainly broke through in moments, but aloneness, hours of silence and solitude interjected with sudden outbursts of attempted connection: a Gmail chat with Marti during quiet moments at work on Friday; a phone message left for my Ari-love Saturday afternoon; an all-encompassing Dave hug that evening in the pitch-black hold of a rusted-out ship as I cried into the front of his T-shirt; a calmer, more rational exchange with Andrew & Chris later that night in a cab ("When did you first notice it?," "Is there a history of breast cancer in your family?"); and finally breakfast in a Hell's Kitchen coffee shop with Chris Sunday morning (cappuccinos -- mine hot, his iced; a corn & maple syrup muffin, a blueberry muffin, a scone, an unread newspaper), and an awkward but heartfelt offer to accompany me to the doctor, followed quickly by talk of possible Christmas plans.

And then a quiet Sunday at home making soup, brushing the Llama-monster, doing laundry. Followed by a joyful Monday morning moment of realizing that the lump, this frightening, body betraying, soul invading lump, was smaller than it had been the night before, that fingers had to press more forcefully into soft, pale flesh to discern its presence.

After these days of living somehow outside of my body, of feeling disconnected, severed, from my physical self, it has taken a little while to fully breathe again. But what amazes me (with a little distance, a little space, between me and this initial discovery) is not so much the abject loneliness that felt so overwhelming at first, but rather the trajectory of reconnection with the rest of my world, the part of my world that holds and carries the people who love me, the people I hold dear.

First the computer confession holding emotion at bay. Then the message left for Arielle giving voice to fear without anyone actually listening, a one-sided exchange of near- (if momentary) hysteria. And then Dave, who could tell when I arrived at the bar that night that something wasn't right, asking immediately, "Ca va," and then again later, more insistently, "Ca va?" And finally, Chris and Andrew, a taxi ride to their apartment, a late night feast of apples and tomatoes and goat cheese, a tooth brush kept in their bathroom just for me, kisses on the cheek and hugs good night.

So here I am, practically lump-free, breathing in this almost-autumn air with a quiet pleasure that is hard to describe. And I will call Dr. L tomorrow and set up an appointment, get checked out, just to be sure of things, to be sure again that things are alright.

Monday, September 15, 2008

the palin interview, other (better) women in the news, and some of the many things i do not know

I did not watch Charlie Gibson's interview with Sarah Palin last week, was kind of actively trying to avoid it. But then Erik, step brother extraordinaire that he is, sent me this link today, and glutton for punishment that I am, I had to go watch the damned thing.

It's even worse than reading the quotes in the papers.

A word, though, on Gibson's definition of the Bush Doctrine, which he generously provides for Palin once it becomes painfully clear that she has absolutely no idea what he's talking about ("His worldview?" she inquires, nodding hopefully, wide-eyed as a deer in headlights). Gibson suggests that the Bush Doctrine revolves around the concept of the preemptive strike in the face of imminent attack. I would argue, though, that the Bush Doctrine is substantially more extreme than this, that it goes beyond preemptive to preventive. Preemptive implies that we are in immediate danger of being attacked, and so we attack first. Preventive implies that there is a chance we might at some point in the future be attacked, and so we attack now. But to think that we have the right to invade sovereign nations and overthrow foreign governments because there might be an attack seems to me an egregious form of hubris, and one that has gotten us bogged down in a preventive war in Iraq when we should have been taking out Bin Laden, who of course actually did attack us, in Afghanistan.

Enough of that, though, it's way over my head. Of course I don't have the gall to think I can run the world, either. But one thing's for sure. If I did, I would know this stuff inside out.

On another note, Alaskan Democrats (and even some Republicans and maybe a born-again Christian or two) came out in force in Anchorage this past weekend in a demonstration against Palin. My beloved Maia, of Own the Sidewalk, partook in said protests, of course, and made it into the Washington Post! (Maia, if you're reading this, tell your mother she'd for sure have my vote!)

Lastly, I don't really understand at all what's going on down there on Wall Street, or the implications of Merrill Lynch selling itself to the Bank of America, or why the federal government won't bail out Lehman Brothers the way it did Bear Stearns, or what it means that this same government is asking for $75 billion dollars to 'prop up' AIG (and what this means for my friends who have AIG retirement plans), or any of this stuff. But I do know that a picture caption on the front page of the NY Times today, "[Treasury Secretary] Henry M. Paulson Jr. said that consumers should remain confident about the soundness of the American financial system," chills me to the bone.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

night on the pier II

There's a barge anchored in the Hudson River just off 26th Street and 12th Avenue. Someone had the brilliant idea of turning it into a bar (known as The Frying Pan), and this is where a small group of us gathered last night to celebrate a birthday.

Anchored next to the barge is another boat, a smaller, perhaps older, definitely less well-kept boat -- the original Frying Pan, in fact -- and somehow the powers that be have not quite gotten around to boarding it up yet, though I can only imagine the whole place is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

There's a piano below decks, and a catwalk, and a couch upon which Dave and I sat and chatted for a bit. There's a lot of rust, some chairs, some rope, and not much else, really. There is the lull of the river, a certain quietness, and a comforting near-complete darkness that one rarely finds in this city, broken only by cell phone glow and camera flash.

night on the pier

Saturday, September 13, 2008

some of the peole who love sarah palin

Somehow I completely missed the recent Congressional hearings on the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, but was so entertained while reading about them (and watching some of the testimony) yesterday that I just had to share them. (Mom, here's a little more catch-up on what's been going on in the world, since you've been escaping all things media this past week in Idaho!)

Elaine Donnelly, founder and president of the Center for Military Readiness and scourge of gay military personnel everywhere, waxed poetic on her fears about the "exotic forms of of sexual expression" that would result from allowing gays to openly serve in the military and "passive-aggressive actions common in the homosexual community," whatever that means. Even some Republican Congresspeople got in on the act of calling her on her craziness, and many of the Republican Congresspeople that she claims support her failed to put in an appearance at the hearings. What I'm not clear on, and what nobody seems clear on, is why this woman was asked to testify in the first place. She's never served in the military, has no background in psychology, and no apparent expertise in this area whatsoever other than a deep and abiding fear and loathing of gay people. But she loves Sarah Palin!

Here are some more people who just can't get enough of Sarah Palin, which you think would be reason enough for every swing voter to swing our way, no?

And last, here's the ever lovely and entertaining Jon Stewart on the Don't Ask Don't Tell hearings.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Community Organizing

Columbia University will be hosting a forum on "Service and Civic Engagement" tomorrow and in attendance will be not one but two, yes, two presidential candidates right here in our very own Alfred Lerner Student Center. I'm hoping that someone will get around to asking McCain why his convention just last week was hell-bent on demonizing community organizatizers (did you see the weird, creepy mockery that was Giuliani and Palin?) and what exactly is so bad about working to help poor communities at a grassroots level.


I know everyone's probably sick to death of the already infamous "lipstick on a pig" brouhaha, but just listen to the actual quote. It'll take less than a minute. And it seems pretty clear to me that the pig in question consists of all of McCain's policies that are pretty much in lock step with Bush's policies --"economic policy, health care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy, and Karl Rove style politics" -- to be exact. So where's Palin in this? And why are McCain's people crying foul when McCain has used this expression on at least one (or two, or, could it be, possibly even three) occassions? Stupid as it is, whomever says it, clearly it's a thing that politicians say. So to turn this into a smear is ridiculous and stupid and a waste of everyone's time. Don't we have more important things to focus on?

Okay I'm done.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

late summer dinner

I've been buying corn at the farmers' market near Columbia every Thursday for the past few weeks, and have been eating it in all sorts of ways. On the cob, off the cob and roasted with potatoes, added raw to a big bowl of roasted beets with a bit of goat cheese, and in soup. Here's an easy soup that I served yesterday for dinner for a couple friends who braved the Hanna remnants and came uptown for the evening:

Corn & Potato Chowder:

5 ears corn
3 heads garlic (the little ones you get at the farmers' market)
5 red potatoes, diced
bunch basil
vegetable or chicken broth
a couple hot peppers, whole
1/2 cup white wine

Cut the kernels off of the ears of corn, scraping down the cobs to get as much of the juice as possible, and set aside in a bowl, covered in saran wrap. Fill half-way a 5-quart pot with a water/broth combination, add several of the now-naked cobs, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add a pinch of salt, some ground black pepper, a handful of basil leaves, the hot peppers, and the garlic (peeled, smashed, and coarsely chopped), and let simmer for an hour or so.

Remove the corn cobs. Add water or broth as necessary, a bouillon cube if you want, and the wine, and bring to a boil. Add the diced potatoes, lower hear, let simmer for 20 minutes. Add the corn, simmer for just a couple minutes more, serve with a bowl of torn-up basil, preferably from your garden (or windowsill garden, as the case may be).

I served this with a big bowl of beets, roasted in olive oil, with a dash of salt, pepper (black and cayenne) and several sprigs of rosemary (also from my windowsill). Also cheese and crackers, carrots and hummus.

For dessert, vanilla ice cream with peach sauce.

Peach Sauce:
Peel and slice some peaches (I had 5), put in a 2-quart sauce pan with 1/3 cup bourbon, 1/3 cup maple syrup, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 2 sprigs fresh rosemary. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 1/2 hour or so. Either serve immediately over vanilla ice cream, or cool, then reheat before serving.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

'free people read freely,' or, why i love the ALA

The ALA (that would be the American Library Association, to those of you not in the know, or at least not full-fledged library geeks like some of us) has been an incredible advocate of free speech (and simultaneously the right to privacy*#) over the years, and recently did not disappoint. Earlier this week the organization released a statement, a simple, concise statement, reiterating its uneqivocal opposition to the banning of books.

The ALA, of course, has a long and respected history of defending our fundamental right to read against the equally long (if less respected) history of banning books. This year the ALA, along with numerous other bookish and freedom-loving organizations, will be celebrating Banned Book Week from September 27th through October 4th.

But what is so interesting, and so very pleasing, about the ALA's recent anti-banning statement is its timing. It followed by a day Time Magazine's expose on Sarah Palin's years as the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Included in this expose was the following paragraph:

[Former Wasilla mayor] Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. “She asked the library how she could go about banning books,” he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. “The librarian was aghast.” The librarian, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn’t be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire her for not giving “full support” to the mayor.

So in honor of libraries, librarians, and Sarah Palin, dig out those old, worn out copies of The Color Purple, Ulysses, Beloved, Arabian Nights and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that are lurking in your closet, or on your bookshelves, or boxed away in your parents' basement. Stand up for Harry Potter, Huck Finn, and The Chocolate War. Read.

*"Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association. Lack of privacy and confidentiality chills users' choices, thereby suppressing access to ideas. The possibility of surveillance, whether direct or through access to records of speech, research and exploration, undermines a democratic society." -ALA

# fascinating ALA panel talk on privacy vs. secrecy

Thursday, September 04, 2008

quote(s) of the day, or, tell us what you really think

“Honestly, I’ve never paid that much attention to Michelle Obama. Just what little I’ve seen of her and Mister Obama, Senator Obama, is that, you know, they’re a member of an elitist class of individuals that thinks that they’re uppity.”
-Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, GA

Let's start with the grammar. Somehow I don't think that the so-called elitist class of individuals or the Obamas themselves think that they are uppity. In fact, it's clearly Westmoreland himself who considers the Obamas to be uppity. But poor grammar aside, is "uppity" really a term that the Republicans want to start employing against the first black presidential candidate? I would hope that even in middle America, even in southern America, even in Georgia, we have progressed beyond the notion that an educated, articulate, intelligent black man is merely "uppity" (and not suitably deferential). I mean seriously, what century, exactly, is Westmoreland living in? Take a moment, if you will, and listen to the actual exchange between Westmoreland and the reporter. He gives this brilliantly stupid quote, the reporter asks, "Uppity?" and he replies, "Uppity, yeah, uppity," and she says, "I'm gonna quote you on that." It's quite a moment.

In other news, a heartbreakingly funny (one of those laugh or cry things) in the Onion earlier this week: Gay War Hero Awarded Posthumous Dishonorable Discharge At White House Ceremony.

In fashion news, Cindy McCain's rain slicker extravaganza estimated by Vanity Fair to cost circa $300,000! And we liberals are elitist?

And lastly, just for good measure, one more quote of the day:

“I hope we can keep making that comparison that running a political campaign is somehow comparable to being the executive of the largest state in America.”
-John McCain, hoping that the masses will forget that while Alaska may cover a lot of ground, it still has a tiny population of about 670,000 (to put that in perspective, substantially less than 1/10th of New York City)

As I type this, McCain is giving yet another desultory speech, this one supposedly important, reiterating (yet again) that a vote for the Republicans is a vote for change, despite their eight years in the White House.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

it depends on what the meaning of choice is

All the way back in 2006, when Sarah Palin was running for governor way up there in Alaska, she partook in a gubernatorial debate. During said debate, the three participants were questioned about abortion, and how they would respond were their daughters to be raped and subsequently find themselves pregnant. The answers given by Palin's two opponents, both Democrats, were typical, run-of-the-mill pro-choice answers. But Palin, bless her little heart, declared that she would, even in this extreme circumstance, choose life.

(No mention, however, on what her then hypothetically raped, now actually knocked up, daughter might choose.)

John McCain, back in the day, was similarly questioned about his own daughter (though without, I think, the rape scenario). And his initial response was, "The final decision would be made by Meghan with our advice and counsel."

How, exactly, is this not pro-choice?*

People seem too often to forget, or ignore, the fact that being pro-choice is not all about being pro-abortion, but rather about championing a society in which we have the right, the opportunity,
to choose to have a child as well as to choose not to.

*One might be tempted to suggest that John "Straight-Talk" McCain was for choice before he was against it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

quote of the day

"We wanna make sure that that VP spot would be a fruitful type of position, especially for Alaskans and the things that we're trying to accomplish up here for the rest of the US."
-Sarah Palin, Governor, AK

I'm not entirely sure what to say about this, other than wondering a couple of things.

Like, has anyone explained to this woman that as Vice President, she would be morally bound to work for ALL Americans, not just Alaskans?

Like, why is it even remotely okay for the Vice President's office to be turned into a "fruitful position" for any one group in particular, any one state in particular, and how is even suggesting such a thing not crass and unacceptable?

Like, how does declaring one's desire to turn the second-highest position in the land into one big pork-barrel fest jibe with her claim to be anti-pork spending?

And last, not to say anything against Alaska, because I actually really love Alaska, but what exactly is that great state trying to accomplish up there for the rest of the US? New and innovative ways to fight off those pesky Russkies? Cindy McCain, for one, seems to think that's enough.

But I don't.