Wednesday, December 24, 2008

TIME's Person of the Year

Like I do nearly every year, I tore into TIME's Person of the Year issue as soon as it arrived in the mail. Some of the POY choices have been kind of hard to guess in the past (I wonder how many people guessed Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last year and You (as in YouTube) a couple of years ago) but this year you had to be pretty clueless not to guess that the choice was President-elect Barack Obama.

Somewhat surprisingly, TIME writer David Von Drehle doesn't dwell on the historic signficance of Obama's election, instead citing Obama's competence as the main reason for the choice. But I think he's absolutely right in reading the national mood: we elected Obama above all because we believe he can get things done, with the symbolism coming in second place.

Some highlights from the article:
In the waning days of his extraordinary year and on the cusp of his presidency, what now seems most salient about Obama is the opposite of flashy, the antithesis of rhetoric: he gets things done. He is a man about his business — a Mr. Fix It going to Washington. That's why he's here and why he doesn't care about the furniture.

Obama is quoted as saying one of his goals is the following:
"Outside of specific policy measures, two years from now, I want the American people to be able to say, 'Government's not perfect; there are some things Obama does that get on my nerves. But you know what? I feel like the government's working for me. I feel like it's accountable. I feel like it's transparent. I feel that I am well informed about what government actions are being taken. I feel that this is a President and an Administration that admits when it makes mistakes and adapts itself to new information.'"
(Excuse me while I stand up and cheer for that one. How completely opposite is that from the Bush administration?)
The country had to be hungry for the menu he offered, and in that sense, his path's true beginning lay in the drowned precincts of New Orleans in the sweltering, desperate late summer of 2005...Spare us the dead-or-alive bravado, the gates-of-hell bluster, the melodrama of the 3 a.m. phone call. A door swung open for a candidate who would merely stand and deliver. Simple competence — although there's nothing simple about it, not in today's intricate, interdependent, interwoven, intensely dangerous world.

His arrival on the scene feels like a step into the next century — his genome is global, his mind is innovative, his world is networked, and his spirit is democratic. Perhaps it takes a new face to see the promise in a future that now looks dark.
Funny quote of the day, as seen in my Gmail:
"Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else." - Margaret Mead

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

So it's Tuesday night and I'm looking at five beautiful days off ahead. *sighs with pleasure* Finally, some time to relax, decompress, think about things a little. I'm sitting here listening to Pandora and eating my new favorite Christmas candies, chocolate-covered caramels.

Somehow the lead-up to Christmas seems shorter this year (maybe not being in "real" classes at school, not to mention being too damn busy to think about it much), and I prefer it that way. I did all my Christmas shopping in a couple of hours last week, and didn't even obsess about finding the perfect gifts. Does anyone really remember what they got last Christmas? I certainly don't.

I'm halfway happy, halfway not, but isn't that how it always is with me? Maybe 50 percent happy is about as good as it gets with me, so I'm not complaining.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Done

I'm finished then, with it all. I turned in my thesis this morning. I don't even want to explain why I turned it in on the last day possible in order to officially graduate this semester. Really, I'm not that bad of a procrastinator. But there I was yesterday night, like the slacker college kid the night before the term paper is due, adding more data, another graph, more explanations, trying to convert a file to PDF, wondering how I was going to burn a CD to submit to the grad school when my CD drive is broken. No, I really don't want to explain how I got into that situation. But I will say that it is all over.

I got to the Grad School office about 10:30 this morning, CD case and signed papers in hand and said, "I'm here to turn in my thesis." A woman who looked to be in her 50s glanced at everything and stamped one of the papers, and that was all. "Is that it?" I asked. How could it be that simple? I was expecting her to tell me something was missing, creating another crisis for me to resolve, or maybe for her to tell me to sign something to make it official, or even an interrogation on why I waited so long to turn it in. But nothing. Just like that it was finished.

I don't even want to think how many hours of work went into the contents of that CD. I feel like the last two months of my life are burned onto that disc, and now it will sit on a shelf somewhere, possibly never to be viewed again. The sacrifices were great. Was it worth it? I have to believe it was.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holiday cheer

I can't take credit for the Christmas decorations -- Mom's in charge of the decorating here. They are very pretty and cheerful, don't you think?












John Mayer bakes cakes. How awesome is that?
Ben Casnocha on why college graduates struggle to find rewarding work: "So there are two intertwined dynamics in school that I think contribute to the aimlessness of new college grads: an entrenched habit of rule-following (the real world has no clear rules and no clear authority articulating them) and the promoted philosophy of 'be pretty good at lots of things as opposed to extraordinarily good at one thing.' "

Thursday, December 11, 2008

So where do I start? There's a lot I want to write about. I've been checked out of this space for awhile. Three words: work, work, work. Even now, there's a presentation tomorrow I am very underprepared for, that I should be working on instead of writing this, but I don't care so much at this point.

I'm the first to admit I haven't been much fun lately. A mass of anxious thoughts, forced to work hours beyond what a person should work to retain her humanity. In a way it is amazing the amount I've gotten done. On the other hand, I'm basically a shell of a person right now. I think I've put aside my emotions to the point where I don't feel them anymore. This is bad, and I know it. I've justified it to myself by saying that it's only for a while longer, then I can unfreeze myself and be a "real" person again. But is that a compromise one should ever make? Sell your humanity for the sake of getting stuff done?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Thesis is finished (sort of)

I finished putting together my thesis about 20 minutes ago. A final draft minus some data that needs to be collected and whatever changes the committee suggests. It's exciting seeing the chapters all put together. It's a relief, too. Yesterday I was sure I wouldn't finish...

Friday, December 05, 2008

Not my day today. Is it ever a good day to get a parking ticket? NO. But no classes today at UTEP, no shuttles running, you'd think the parking patrol would have some mercy. Argh.

I think I also might have gotten caught on one of those red light cameras. I was in a rush, it turned out needlessly. Double argh.

By the time I got home my car's gas gauge was on empty. Kind of a metaphor for my life at the moment.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Newsweek covers the drug violence in Juarez:

The border between El Paso (population: 600,000) and Juárez (population: 1.5 million) is the most menacing spot along America's southern underbelly. On one side is the second-safest city of its size in the United States (after Honolulu), with only 15 murders so far in 2008. On the other is a slaughterhouse ruled by drug lords where the death toll this year is more than 1,300 and counting. "I don't think the average American has any idea of what's going on immediately south of our border," says Kevin Kozak, acting special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's office of investigations in El Paso. "It's almost beyond belief." Juárez looks a lot like a failed state, with no government entity capable of imposing order and a profusion of powerful organizations that kill and plunder at will. It's as if the United States faced another lawless Waziristan—except this one happens to be right at the nation's doorstep.

Really a fantastic article. I wish the local news media would write articles like these.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

This is why I don't watch more movies. Thanks to Stu for the link.

Friday, November 28, 2008

- This has been a strange week. I don't feel like myself.
- Maybe that's because my life consists of 1. Work. 2. Thesis.
- Well, I did manage to watch The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Thank God I'm not that nerdy. I don't think...
- Have I ever mentioned that I hate McAfee VirusScan? And my slooow computer. Frustration.
- It finally feels like November. "November Rain," anyone? Only it wasn't too cold when it rained yesterday.
- Will I crack under pressure? I've always come through before. On the big things at least.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Twilight the movie

Last night I did something I've never done before: I went to see the midnight premiere of a movie. I usually pass on such things. I would not camp out for the new Star Wars or the new Batman. But my sister wanted me to go with her and her friends to see the movie version of Twilight, a book we're both fans of, so at 11 p.m. yesterday I found myself waiting in line outside a theater in near-freezing weather with a lot of people I didn't know.

Luckily I came prepared for the weather -- besides my jacket I brought a shawl and wrapped it around my shoulders and around my head up to my nose. I looked stupid but I was too cold to care. A couple of surprises in line: I was expecting more pre-teen girls to be there, since they are the target audience for the books, but it seemed it was mostly high school and college students in line. Mostly girls, with a few guys dragged along by their girlfriends. I was also hoping to see some people dressed as wannabe Bella and Edwards, but no, I was disappointed not to see any of that.

After over an hour of waiting we were at last allowed entrance to the warm theater. Then we waited another forty minutes for the movie to start.

FINALLY the movie began. I generally go easy on movies adapted from books. *Of course* a movie can't be as good as a book (with rare exceptions). As long as the movie is true to the characters and the general mood of the book, I don't mind a few liberties taken with the story, details left out, the plot sped up. I think Twilight the movie hit the mark as far as that. The intensity of the Bella-Edward love saga is portrayed well, and as far as I'm concerned that makes the movie successful.

Half the fun of seeing a book made into a movie is seeing if the characters match up with what you expected from the book. Bella looked like the Bella from my imagination. I heard a few shrieks from the audience when Robert Pattinson, the actor who plays Edward, first came on screen. Yeah, he is dreamy. And the characters of Charlie, Jessica, Jacob, and Alice were all exactly as I envisioned, which was pretty amazing.

I won't nitpick the film's flaws, but notably there were a few soap opera-ish moments that produced some unintended laughter. Also, the novel itself isn't perfect -- despite its inventiveness, it's a little amateurish as far as character development -- and that comes through in the movie. The special effects were a bit of a letdown, too, especially after seeing the previews.

Some people clapped at the end of the movie. I did not. Still, I left the theater not regretting standing out in the cold until my fingers started to go numb, which is saying a lot. It was exciting, I have to admit. Maybe not everyone who camps out to see a movie is crazy. Maybe I'll even do it again someday.
Yesterday I came across this excellent blog about Magic Landing, the legendary El Paso amusement park. If you live in El Paso, you know why I discovered it yesterday. Sad story. Some people are idiots.

This post in particular has some awesome photos of the abandoned amusement park, back when it wasn't charred.

I never got the opportunity to go to the park when I was a kid, but I do remember seeing commercials for it on TV when I was about 5 or 6 and wanting to visit it really, really badly.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Question

Is it bad to spend every waking minute in front of a computer?

Friday, November 14, 2008

This really shook me up yesterday. Over 1,200 people murdered in Juarez this year. This time, a crime reporter who covered some of the drug-related violence, shot outside his home as he was getting ready to take his daughter to school.

It made me think about what makes the U.S. different from the Third World: here I can live and work without fear of violence. That should be everybody's right. It's not fair that I have that and others are denied it on the basis of geography.

The ongoing violence in Juarez (and Mexico in general) is a dire and urgent situation, and it frustrates me that even in El Paso we often turn a blind eye to it. Just because it's "over there" across that line, somehow it matters less? We just avoid going to Juarez, so it doesn't affect us. Problem solved. No. This is our community. We should be outraged. We should be crying out for justice. I don't see it happening.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

My latest 30-minute meal: Pumpkin Pasta. Flavors are pleasantly similar to pumpkin pie, though it's not a sweet dish.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The last time I'll ever mention Sarah Palin

Feminist take on Sarah Palin by Jenn on reappropriate.com:
"Sarah Palin is not a powerful woman, she is a woman with undeserved power. And Republican feminism simply needs to evolve beyond parading a series of beautiful, but ultimately brainless, women who do more to cater to preconceptions of the men as smarter, more qualified, and more adept than they symbolize the uplift and competency of women."

Yesterday

- My coworkers and I were still pretty euphoric two days after the Obama victory.
- My cell phone kept making some noises I had never heard before. I didn't pay much attention, but when I wanted to make a call, I realized the phone was dying, and those noises were like these little dying gasps, begging me to charge it. The phone flat out died before I could even start to make the call.
- My brain stops functioning after a 10-hour workday.
- I resurrected my heavy winter coat from the closet. It finally turned cold enough last night. I put my hands in the pockets and was surprised to find my gloves were still in there, the ones I had taken with me to New York.
- Dad's b-day. Number 55.
- Coffee before bed is not a good idea.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Couldn't be happier to see these words in the New York Times:
"Barack Hussein Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday, sweeping away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease as the country chose him as its first black chief executive.

The election of Mr. Obama amounted to a national catharsis — a repudiation of a historically unpopular Republican president and his economic and foreign policies, and an embrace of Mr. Obama’s call for a change in the direction and the tone of the country."

What a night, and no place more exciting to experience it than a newsroom. I really didn't think it was possible, even as the polls predicted Obama's victory.

I watched people celebrating in the streets on TV, and I kept thinking about what a crazy time this is. When did people suddenly stop being cynical about political leaders? This is something new. I feel like we're all on the brink, of what I'm not sure.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Wow, Election Day, finally. I feel like it's Christmas morning and I'm about to open presents...

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Hot chocolate heaven

I have a new vice: Starbucks Signature Hot Chocolate.

It was Tuesday before work, and I was in line at Starbucks. I was thinking of getting a cafe mocha, but when I got to the head of the line, I had changed my mind to hot chocolate instead. Somehow it seemed more comforting in the face of a long, pressure-filled day ahead.

"A tall hot chocolate, please."

"Did you want a regular hot chocolate or our Signature Hot Chocolate?"

"Um...what's the difference?" A hot chocolate is a hot chocolate is a hot chocolate, right?

"Well, our regular hot chocolate is made with our regular cocoa syrup," she said, clearly bored. She paused, and then her eyes lit up. "But our Signature Hot Chocolate is a blend of four premium cocoas. It's also available in Salty Caramel and Hazelnut flavors," she said enthusiastically.

Four cocoas? And what does salty caramel taste like, exactly? I would feel almost embarrassed to order the boring regular one, in comparison to that. It was like she was daring me to order it.

So I caved in and ordered the Signature. Really, it was so good it should be illegal. The beverage was so dense with chocolate that I think the next step would be drinking the hot fudge you use for ice cream topping. The whipped cream topping seemed a little gratuitous, but, hey, I enjoyed that, too. It was worth every one of the 400+ calories and insane number of fat grams. Problem is, now I'm going to want to order it every time I go to Starbucks...

Friday, October 31, 2008

I was sad to hear Mervyn's is going under, since it was always one of my favorite department stores. It was a reliable place -- I could almost always find clothes or shoes I liked there at reasonable prices -- and I can't say that about many other stores. Another victim of an unreliable world. I will miss it.
Fantastic in-depth analysis of the "Latino problem" at the L.A. Times by my blog hero Daniel Hernandez: "The paper feels as though it’s written about L.A. and not for it. Which is a shame. There are now countless Southern Californians who understand L.A. — whether by osmosis or by marriage — through the prism of its Latino texture. Everyone here interfaces daily with Latinos, speaks some form of Spanish, and knows Mexican culture and cuisine. In effect, everyone in L.A. is Latino. Does your morning paper feel like it’s at all cognizant of this?"

Explosive stuff, worth reading the entire 7-page piece. Hernandez exposes some very ugly realities about journalism and race, and I'm sure this "problem" extends far, far beyond the L.A. Times.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Tuned out

I'm on a roll with the blog, mostly because I've been on the computer for too long today. I wrote five more pages (single-spaced) for my thesis. Five pages?! I've been thinking about writing this particular chapter for months, and all I have is five lousy pages?

I've written some depressing posts lately. When did I get to be so serious? I was thinking today about how I used to care so much more about pop culture than I do now. I used to read TV Guide practically every week, and now I'd be pretty much lost if I read it, other than about "Mad Men," "Project Runway," and the news.

And music, well, I'm the wrong person to ask about popular music. When I was 17 I used to watch TRL earnestly. It was a pretty lame show, but back then I cared something about pop music, thought it was cool and all, so I watched it. Fast forward nine years later, my musical adventures consist of listening to jazz and classical music on KTEP on my car radio. Everything else annoys me. Too commercial, or I've heard it too many times before.

Awhile ago a friend told me to watch this on YouTube. So I did, and...was I supposed to think it was funny? I just didn't get it. Nor this. I will tell you a secret -- if I see something on your website from YouTube, I will rarely ever watch it.

Movies..."Made of Honor" was the last movie I saw at a movie theater. The movie was horrible, and so is the fact that I haven't seen anything at a theater since then.

Yes, I do live under a rock.
Interesting interview with Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, via kottke.org. I almost hated to read it because it spells out so many things about the show I've tried to figure out on my own. Still, it's very much worth reading if you're a fan of the series. A surprising chunk of the interview is about feminism, on which Weiner has some pretty fascinating ideas.
This spam e-mail that I receive at least once a week always gets my attention. The subject line: You’re not crazy, Everything is really FREE!

It's in reference to business cards, which I highly doubt are free. But I like the concept: one day you wake up and get an e-mail and realize the unfortunate truths about life are all wrong, the parts about having to work hard and earn money, etc., everything is really FREE.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Job description

Every day I am given a long list of tasks. To be successful, I must a) select the tasks that are most important to do, b) schedule them in the most time-efficient order possible, c) actually follow through and do those things well without getting distracted and d) tell my co-workers which things I did.

The problem is defined, but success still eludes me. My job is kicking my butt. *sighs*

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A not-so-bright future

I love a good satire, and "Idiocracy" is about as good as it gets, with writer/director Mike Judge jabbing a finger right in the eye of American society.

The premise of the movie is that two average humans from 2005, played by Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph, are chosen by the Army for a hibernation experiment. The test is supposed to take one year, but by some mishap they wake up in the year 2505. OK, so that part of the movie is not explained too well, but anyway, the two wake up and find that society has evolved (devolved?) to be so stupid that they are now the smartest people in America.

Judge (who also created "Beavis and Butthead" and "Office Space") creates an amazingly detailed world of stupidity. In his vision of the future, people are not just too lazy to think but literally incapable of logical thought. Decisions are based on their most primitive desires, and people have the attention span of fruit flies. Judge even has the morons of the future speak in a sometimes incoherent idio-speak, a "hybrid of hillbilly, Valley girl, inner-city slang and various grunts."

The city that Wilson's and Rudolph's characters encounter in 2505 is a futuristic ghetto, covered with slick ads but overall dirty and violent. Everest-sized mounds of trash lie outside the city. Corporations rule the future world, down to the very basics -- all food comes from fast food kiosks, and even water has been replaced in the taps by Brawndo, a Gatorade-like sports drink. Forget coffee, the Starbucks of the future are in the business of prostitution. The president is a rock star, and justice is meted out ancient Roman style, in a Colosseum-type venue.

"Idiocracy" is laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it also really made my skin crawl, which I suppose is the mark of a great satire. The movie gets scarily close to the situation in the U.S. today, after eight years of the Bush administration. Go down the checklist, it's all there -- the rampant reign of corporations, the dumbing down of the culture, the instant gratification mentality, the mindless reliance on technology, the moral decay, etc., etc.

Judge doesn't have many answers on how to avoid this fate, other than having Wilson's character tell people to "go to school and read books" and at least try to make a difference. Maybe it's beyond the job of a comedy writer to provide those kinds of answers. But at least Judge has done his part by giving us a very palatable but serious prophecy of a dim future.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A home is born

Despite all the turmoil with the housing market (which I don't quite understand), there are still a lot of new houses being built in my neighborhood.

I've gotten very familiar with the steps over the past eight months: first the gas and water lines are set, then the foundation is poured, then the wooden beams that form the house's structure are hammered together, then the insulation goes up. The grey stucco phase after that. At last the house is painted a pale earth tone color and a "For Sale" sign is planted in front.

I really do think houses have souls of their own, even incomplete ones. There's a sort of presence at construction sites that I can't explain.



The digging starts




A foundation is poured. Life officially begins.




Just like toothpicks




One day this will be the view from someone's living room. Nice.




I wonder if many people know this guy appears dozens of times inside the walls of their homes?




Reminds me of a cyborg




Grey and shabby




A paint job can do wonders

Friday, October 10, 2008

Got an interesting phone call last night. This is what it sounded like on my end:

Telemarketer: Hello, is this the _____ residence?
Me: Um, yes...(Inwardly groans...should never have picked it up)
Telemarketer: Great...blah blah blah...Did you know that Jenny...blah blah blah...taxes...blah blah blah...and Jermandy school spending...blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah
state representative.
So can I count on your vote for Jermandy?
Me: I'm sorry, but what was the candidate's name?
Telemarketer: (Finally speaking clearly) JOE MOO-DY
Me: Oh, Joe Moody. Is he a Democrat?
Telemarketer: Yes.
Me: Yes, then.
Telemarketer: Can we put up a sign for his campaign in your front yard?
Me: NO.
Telemarketer: Thanks for your support in the upcoming election. *click*

I think it's pretty bad if you can't even understand the candidate's name, much less his credentials, at the end of the sales pitch. Does she honestly expect to sway swing voters like that? I felt like I was like listening to a robot.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Coin toss

I've never been in love. A few flirtations that led nowhere are the sum of my romantic history. "Bridges to nowhere," so to speak, no real relationships.

It hasn't been hard to avoid, since 1) I'm not an exceptionally pretty girl, with the plain face and glasses and small bra size and nearly nonexistent sense of style and 2) I'm very shy. Getting up the nerve to talk to someone I have a crush on is like convincing myself to jump into a cold pool of water.

But I don't even know if I want to be in a relationship. Honestly, I just don't get men. I don't understand people who are wired to like porn, sports, and video games. Yeah, I have some great guy friends in my life who are incredibly smart and interesting, not to mention caring and kind. I have all the affection in the world for them. And I *like* guys, as in I can appreciate the hotness of, say, Brad Pitt, and I like the smell of cologne.

But deep down, I don't trust men, even the ones I know. I've seen relationships ripped apart by infidelity, and plenty of evidence to support the adage, "Men are pigs." I hate how easily men can say one thing and do another, or not say anything at all. Whether it's a Mars-Venus issue or men are all flawed beings, I don't know. But there's a fundamental rift in understanding that can't easily be resolved.

And even in a decent relationship where there is some level of trust, I think women still get the raw end of the deal. Women are expected to serve in a way men are not. A long time ago, when my parents were still married, there was a certain tone my dad would take when he called for my mom: "BE-YEH-TRIZ!" This was usually when something domestic was not up to par, like his pants weren't ironed properly or something in the kitchen wasn't in its usual place. There was an authoritative, almost parental note in it, like what he was really saying was, "Woman, get over here!" Maybe my parents' marriage was fairly old school, but two weekends ago I heard my friend's boyfriend take the same exact tone. "Get me another beer!" And she actually stuck her hand into the cooler, grabbed a beer and tossed it to him! Is this how power dynamics go in male-female relationships in 2008? Shudder. Thinking about that makes me thank God for my single life. I'm happy not to be expected to clean anybody's bathroom, do anyone's laundry, or fetch anyone's drink except my own.

You wonder why women sign up for this crap...but then raw emotion hits and it's all over, even for me. I do get jealous seeing happy couples. Weddings kill me. My cousin got married last weekend, and what I'll remember most is this look of perfect understanding and comfort that passed between her and the groom at the altar, a look that said, "We're in this together." The ice around my heart cracked and then melted away in a flood. Ah, love. I'm a fool for it just like everyone else. If the opportunity came, I couldn't turn it away.

Still, I don't see it as inevitable. For now I see love as a coin toss. There's a chance I'll be that woman with the successful career, who has travelled around the world and read tons of books, in whose life romantic entanglements have been far beside the point. But there's also a chance that I'll discover that happy relationships are not a fantasy and are perhaps worth making a few sacrifices for. For now, it's up in the air, and I'm watching the faces of the coin come up one after the other, not sure which it will land on.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Spot-on review in The Atlantic of the book version of Stuff White People Like:
[White People] may be white, but they’re not white—they’re members of the cool-looking pan-ethnic tribe, a tribe defined by economic and social status and by cultural and aesthetic preferences rather than by ethnicity.
...
More damning is the conclusion produced by a careful reading of this often fine-grained semi-sociological analysis: a good deal of the progressives’ attitudes, preferences, and sense of identity are ingrained in an unlovely disdain for those outside their charmed circle. In Lander’s analysis, much of their self-satisfaction derives from consumption (the slack-sounding “stuff” in the title is deceptively apt)—and much of that consumption is motivated by a desire to differentiate themselves from the benighted. Sushi, for instance, is “everything [White People] want: foreign culture, expensive, healthy, and hated by the ‘uneducated.’”
Curtis Sittenfeld on Michelle Obama:
"And contrary to her claims, Michelle is not the first person of her kind I've seen; she's actually recognizable as a very particular type, though it took me until after the convention to figure out what that type is...you're, say, 22 and somewhat clueless, and you go to work in an office where there's a woman eight or 10 or 12 years older than you who's not only visibly good at her job but also confident and friendly and well-dressed and busy with a life that features a cute husband and a nice house and maybe even a couple of kids. And you think maybe, if everything goes right, your own life could turn out like hers."

Friday, October 03, 2008

The languor of Youth -- how unique and quintessential it is! How quickly, how irrecoverably lost! The zest, the generous affections, the illusions, the despair, all the traditional attributes of Youth -- all save this -- come and go with us through life; again and again in riper years we experience, under a new stimulus, what we thought had been finally left behind, the authentic impulse to action, the renewal of power and its concentration on a new object; again and again a new truth is revealed to us in whose light all our previous knowledge must be rearranged. These things are a part of life itself; but languor -- the relaxation of yet unwearied sinews, the mind sequestered and self-regarding, the sun standing still in the heavens and the earth throbbing to our own pulse -- that belongs to Youth alone and dies with it. Perhaps in the mansions of Limbo the heroes enjoy some such compensation for their loss of the Beatific Vision; perhaps the Beatific Vision itself has some remote kinship with this lowly experience; I, at any rate, believed myself very near heaven, during those languid days at Brideshead.

- from Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Google, Cisco and Procter & Gamble have installed pods so employees can take naps at work. If only...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Once in a while a book reminds you of the amazing power a single book can have to change hearts and minds. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel about her childhood in Iran, is such a book. Satrapi's challenge is to make us care, to make us see beyond the black veils and the Ayatollah and the ranting Ahmadinejad, and she does so brilliantly. The graphic novel medium is perfect to convey the drama and brutality of the overthrowing of the Shah, the Islamic Revolution, and the Iran/Iraq War as well as to bring the young Marjane and her family to life. It's a lovely, haunting, and brave book that you must read.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Presidential Jeopardy on the Tonight Show

Funny and pretty scathing:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

- I'm debating the merits of breakfast. I always thought that "most important meal of the day" stuff was a bunch of B.S., but this week I tried eating a "real" breakfast of eggs and toast before work and 1) I felt really energized, more so than with my usual bowl of cereal breakfast, and 2) I was less hungry throughout the day (helpful as I am trying to lose a few pounds). On the downside, it is a little heavy to take first thing in the morning.
- All day at work we've been calling the events on Wall Street/the White House a "financial meltdown." Meltdown? Isn't that a little strong? For me that conjures up images of some kind of nuclear incident. What else should we call it, though? Large-scale financial upheaval? Financial tsunami? "Crisis" doesn't seem quite dire enough.
- The end of September is turning out to be hotter than the end of August.
- I want to write more but I don't have the time.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The blogger returns

So then, a step back into writing after not feeling like it for quite a while. This blog is at least partially a chronicle of my life, and in every life it’s normal to go through ups and downs. Still, I hesitate to bring my blog into the “down” with me, because then I might have to rename the blog as “Annette’s Daily Depression Report” or “Annette’s Daily Rant against the World.” But anyway, in the interests of finding a voice again, here we go.

My last year of grad school was seriously the best year ever. If I had it to live over again, I would. The main reason was that I became acquainted with a bunch of funny, smart, awesome people -- the kind of people who knew a lot about literature and listen to NPR and had been to law school and knew Latin, etc. The kind of people you could talk with for hours at a coffeehouse and not get bored. I think the real magic of friends is that they make you feel like you’re worth knowing. Being around them I felt funny, smart, and awesome myself.

It was an amazing year, but it was followed by a hard summer. A summer where I realized just how much I had come to depend on those friendships to feel OK about myself.

The thing about friendships that I didn’t consider is that they sometimes (actually, most of the time) don’t last forever. Even with the best intentions, with people I saw every day and had come to know like the back of my hand, the connections are always as delicate and tenuous as paper chains.

This summer my friends scattered and were nowhere to be found, and a serious of horribly long, lonely days began when there wasn’t much to do but ask myself, what the hell am I going to do with the rest of my life? It was as if the demons came into that empty spot in my life and I started doubting myself.

And of course my lonely trek only became harder when I got a new job and realized I wasn’t going to be returning to the academic life I knew. Going through a job change with all the people I used to count on basically out of the picture was really overwhelming. I was in shock at all the changes I was going through. Some might even say depressed.

During this period I found that I, a person who had been very much a loner for most of her life, couldn’t deal with being alone anymore. I now thought of aloneness as a failure. If I was worth knowing, why was I alone? So my thinking went.

The eventual discovery during this time was of how shallow my life had become.

Me, shallow? Me, the supposed “intellectual”, who is supposed to be above all that vanity stuff?

But there I was last year, taking pleasure in the latest office gossip and addicted to text-messaging. I had glommed on to Facebook, that mecca of social self-absorption. I had started to pay more attention than I ever had before to my hair and clothes. I desperately wanted to be pretty enough, witty enough, smart enough to impress people.

It wasn’t like I was being dangerously self-destructive, but in this whirlwind of socialization more meaningful things had been forced out. True introspection (something I used to be a queen of) had gone by the wayside. So had prayer and my religious life.

It has taken these long months to go back and really relish being alone. Friends are important, but they’re not everything. I don’t regret the things that happened in the last year, but I do wish they had been balanced out with more reflection and more grounded-ness. Take away all the so-called friendships, all the appearances, all the talk, and who am I, really? It’s the one question that matters, but it's a question I haven’t asked myself enough in the past year or so.

Introspection is back (clearly). So is religion. Is it the soul I’m in search of? Possibly. Eventually. But for now I will settle for a sincerity in my life that has long been missing. I’m back to my wholesome loner roots and I’m not changing for anyone.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

LOL

In case you missed it, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin (and Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton) on SNL:


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Amazing photos of Latin America on the website for Laberinto de Miradas, a traveling museum exhibit (via Intersections)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pleasant surprise -- the very last of my NYC pictures

I was pleasantly surprised to find more NYC pictures on a disposable camera that had been lying around my bedroom for months. It's still hard to believe I was there.


Cool iPod ad



Lake in Central Park (and a bit of my finger in the corner there)



People walking in Central Park on a Sunday afternoon



NYSE



Trinity Church through two buildings. Don't know the guy in the red jacket

Friday, September 05, 2008

Annoyances

The computers at my local public library branch, which appear to be brand new, have floppy disk drives but no CD-ROM drives. Maybe CD-ROMs are a little passe, but I haven't seen a floppy disk used in years.

Review: The Gum Thief

The Gum Thief seems like a novel Douglas Coupland made up on a whim after observing a couple of employees on a trip to Staples. Hmm, a novel about forty-something loser-ish guy and his twenty-something goth co-worker, that might be interesting. But get this -- instead of actually talking to each other, they communicate through letters filled with hilariously cynical observations about life. It's brilliant!


Funny that it actually kind of works. It's a crazy smoothie of a novel with a bit of everything in it. Mishmashed among the letters are a novel-within-a-novel, letters from Roger (the loser-ish guy)'s ex-wife and Bethany (the twenty-something)'s mom, and even some of Bethany's creative writing exercises: "Imagine you are a piece of toast being buttered..." It's a relief to find that Coupland's writing is still fresh and hilarious after 11 novels, and I ended up really liking these characters that seem so familiar I could swear I've met them somewhere before.

Still, this is no Microserfs, Coupland's '90s masterpiece. The novel occasionally veers from cynicism into genuine bitterness, unlike 'Serfs. Especially depressing is Roger's novel-within-a-novel Glove Pond, which is such a downer that I'd recommend skipping those passages altogether. When you take away the sarcasm, The Gum Thief ends up being a poignant and somewhat bitter reflection on aging, the Gen X generation now all grown up and passing on wisdom to Gen Y.

I wouldn't start with this novel if you've never read Coupland, but for fans of his earlier work, there are enough surprises to make it worthwhile.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

- My car battery = dead. Looks like I'm staying home for the evening.
- “By and large women believe that the workplace is a meritocracy, and it isn’t.” Some great advice for young women in the workplace.
- Sarah Vowell cracks me up:
When Barack Obama talks about an America as it should be, I’m guessing the best of all possible countries he imagines would look awfully similar to the ideal America just about every registered Democrat would dream up. Picture this: a wind-powered public school classroom of 19 multiracial 8-year-olds reading above grade level and answering the questions of their engaging, inspirational teacher before going home to a cancer-free (or in remission) parent or parents who have to work only eight hours a day in a country at war solely with the people who make war on us, where maybe Exxon Mobil can settle for, oh, $8 billion in quarterly profits instead of $11 billion, and the federal government’s point man for Biblical natural disasters is someone who knows more about emergency management than how to put on a horse show. Is that really too much to ask? Can we do that?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Persepolis is one of the best movies I've seen lately. I have a feeling the book will be even better...
Add "Spanish classes" to the list of things I've quit this year. Right below "piano lessons" and "teaching job." The classes were twice a week after work and by that time my brain was completely useless. Furthermore, the classes were on the expensive side, and I decided I wasn't benefiting much given what I was paying. It wasn't a total loss -- at last I can conjugate in past tense, and I know how to use the incredibly cool phrase "que padre." Progress.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Heard this morning on NPR: Songs for a nine-minute road trip. "Song 2" by Blur is always refreshing, but I really liked Neko Case's "Outro (With Bees)".

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fall angst

There's a heaviness to this time of year, the traditional beginning of the school year, where everything somehow takes on a new urgency.

I haven't faced a fall without classes to go to since I was four. Twenty-one years total, four of them spent in grad school. Technically, I could still be doing the grad school thing if I wanted to, having part of a thesis to complete, but I decided not to. Earlier this year I decided I was fed up with academia -- its disconnect to the real world, how people treat it as such a joke, a system to be toyed with with such little accountability. I feel more respectable being a working girl with a "real job" now. I'm moving on with my life. Finally.

But I miss it anyway. I miss collecting fresh syllabi and buying new books and seeing everyone after a long summer of slacking off. I miss my friends most of all. Forget everything I said in the last paragraph, I half-wish I was going back with them.

Predictably, work is in some ways easier than school -- no more reading and heavy intellectual lifting -- but in most ways more difficult. College was a good place for a shy, geeky person like me to hide. Work is much more fast-paced (at least this job), there are many more expectations, and I have to play politics, which I hate. The term "pro-active" has been tossed around, a term I hate. Sounds too much like Prozac, not to mention it's a word that was made up in a self-help book. I have yet to make any good friends.

In transition is the worst place for me. Depression and stress, I really don't know a good way to deal with those. Talk to someone, I guess. But what if all your conversations are superficial and you don't think anyone wants to listen to your problems? I turn to brownie sundaes and late-night journal entries, tears, music.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

My first attempt at making pesto was a success! I'm getting good at this cooking thing...
Interesting article about Aimee Mann in Jazz News: "There's something intrinsically classy about Aimee Mann. Class isn't a description one feels inspired to use much these days but there's not a moments hesitation when it comes to this gifted chronicler of the human condition. She's able to take discontent and armchair philosophizing and wrangle them into compact dissertations on what makes us tick."

Through a glass, darkly


Friday, August 22, 2008

The Waiter from Waiter Rant on the difference between writing a blog and writing a book:
"But I discovered early that blogging is nothing like writing a book. Writing a blog is like being the head guru in a commune of hippies. Writing a book, however, is like being a hermit in the desert...Psychologically speaking, writing a book is like getting into a knife fight with yourself in a phone booth."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Apparently, Rick Warren is quite a guy.
Quote from an interview with Javier Bardem: "The difference between an artist and a person that's crazy is that the artist has a two-way ticket and the crazy person only has a one-way."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The cheapest UTEP parking permit (for perimeter parking, which is beyond walking distance to campus) costs $80. That's messed up.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Storm drama

It's the storm season in the desert, and the most recent ones have been especially violent.
Last night, a little past midnight, it was raining yet again, this time with some fierce lightning.
I saw it all through the window from my computer desk. Am I the only one on the Internet a little past midnight on Friday night/Saturday night? Apparently.
One bolt flashed particularly close by and a second later everything was black.
Everything I had typed was lost, not that I cared, since it wasn't anything worth saving.
It was amazing how lost I felt in that moment. In the darkness, I wondered, what do I do now? No more computer. No TV. Not even a light so I can read. It's scary just how much of my life depends on electricity.
I had just decided to go to bed when the power was restored. Whew, safe again. My alarm clock flashed 12:00 over and over. I reset it before I went to sleep. By that time the rain had stopped.
Twice this past week I was caught in my Spanish class during rainstorms. It's become a routine where my classmates and I look out the windows and see the huge purple clouds forming and start worrying about whether we're going to be able to get home OK.
"Hay viene la lluvia," is what my Spanish teacher said, and she taught us the words for lightning and thunder: rayos or relampagos for lightning and trueno for thunder.
Thursday night after class I was afraid I was going to float away in my car on my way home.
I was literally driving blind at some points. I had the windshield wipers on the fastest setting, but I still couldn't see. When I finally could see, I saw that the rainwater was flowing by so fast and deep that it looked like a river.
It was probably stupid to even try driving home in weather like that, but hey, we all do stupid things sometimes. Home was an amazingly welcome sight that night.
If memory serves, the storm season will end in September, then we'll be back to dry-as-a-bone weather. Until then, a little more drama...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

What is a caper, exactly?

According to Wikipedia,
The caper (Capparis spinosa L.) is a perennial spiny shrub that bears rounded, fleshy leaves and big white to pinkish-white flowers. A caper is also the pickled bud of this plant. The bush is native to the Mediterranean region, growing wild on walls or in rocky coastal areas throughout. The plant is best known for the edible bud and fruit (caper berry) which are usually consumed pickled. Other species of Capparis are also picked along with C. spinosa for their buds or fruits.

The buds, when ready to pick, are a dark olive green and about the size of a kernel of maize. They are picked, then pickled in salt, or a salt and vinegar solution, or drained. Intense flavor is developed, as mustard oil (glucocapparin) is released from each caper bud. This enzymatic reaction also leads to the formation of rutin often seen as crystallized white spots on the surfaces of individual caper buds.
Along with a few billion others, I watched the Olympics opening ceremonies last night. Honestly, has there ever been a more spectacular event? I couldn't believe how well-choreographed it was. I asked my mom, who watched it with me, Do you think the U.S. could pull off something like this? We both said no.

I've decided to stay home this weekend. Tonight I'm trying out a new recipe. Brownies for dessert.

I'll probably spend some more time reading. I've gone on a book-reading binge lately, mostly because on weekdays I get home from work and I usually want to unplug from TV and technology and news. Reading books fits the bill. Current reading agenda: The Gum Thief, Eclipse, and The Book of My Life by Sister Teresa of Avila.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Brillante weblogs

La Brown Girl nominated me for this award:



Thanks, La Brown Girl! So apparently I have to nominate seven other "brillante" weblogs. OK, here we go:

Feeling Listless - Stu's blog always makes me smile.

NewMexiKen - The best.

Knit-a-little - I *love* her knitting.

After Hours/Unfinished Business - Frank, if you're out there, the blogosphere needs you back!

Tales from the Lake Shore - Interesting photos and notes from Chicago.

A Nun's Life - Great blog written by a nun.

Bitch Ph.D. - My feminist hero.

If you're nominated, here are the rules:

1. Put the logo on your blog.

2. Add a link to the person who awarded it to you.

3. Nominate at least 7 other blogs.

4. Add links to these blogs on your blog.

5. Leave a message for your nominee on their blog.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I think it's funny that my bank lets you choose between "Corporate" and "Gen Y" styles for their website. The corporate style is green and white with a picture of people in suits on it, the Gen Y style is orange and pink and has pictures of young people dancing around. As a member of Generation Y I'm a little insulted at being branded. Besides, does a bank really need to be "cool"? I'll be happy if they just handle my money correctly.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

TIME magazine on the closing of Bennigan's:
While the franchise outlets remain open for now, Americans who want to peruse oversize menus for oversize portions of unremarkable food in unremarkable settings may soon have to check out Applebee's or Chili's. Or Ruby Tuesday or T.G.I. Friday's. Or the scores of other family-style restaurants serving deep-fried mozzarella sticks beneath hypnotically rotating ceiling fans.

They're a lot harder to distinguish than they are to find. Bennigan's had an Irish theme, with burgers slathered in Guinness and a drink called the Blarney Blast, but it was about as Gaelic as Barack O'Bama. Its Fajita Chicken Quesadillas somehow lacked that old-country Dublin feel.

The cost


The house my family moved into in February is amazing--brand new, nice location, great comforts, amazing mountain views. I love it.
But I've never been quite so aware of the cost that has been paid by the environment for a home that I'm living in. The house is right next to wild desert, so recently settled that the scars of new construction are right up in your face every single day. This is what it looks like a block away:



I'm no raving environmentalist, but this is ugly. Seeing this every day I wonder, what the hell are we doing here, bulldozing the desert for middle-class comforts? Do we have the right?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

No milk in the house means I can't have my usual breakfast of cereal with milk. So I'm eating marshmallows for breakfast instead. It's just like Lucky Charms, only without the annoying cereal bits, ha ha.

I've never had a job before that required sitting at a desk for so long. Who knew a desk job could be so exhausting? My neck is stiff and my lower back hurts a little. My mouse hand is ache-y. My eyes are rebelling at the idea of more time staring at a computer monitor...yet here I am on my day off, you can't keep me away. I need to go outside and get some fresh air.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rain


Rain has been falling hard for hours this morning and it won't let up. There's a lake forming behind my house. I'm really worried.
Update: The rain stopped over an hour ago, but the clouds are still here. I don't think we've seen the last of Dolly here in EP.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I was so sad to hear on the radio that CS professor Randy Pausch died. His Last Lecture is something you need to hear, if you haven't already. Keep some Kleenex handy.

July = Storms



From Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather:
In New Mexico he always awoke a young man; not until he rose and began to shave did he realize that he was growing older. His first consciousness was a sense of the light dry wind blowing in through the windows, with the fragrance of hot sun and sagebrush and sweet clover; a wind that made one's body feel light and one's heart cry, "To-day, to-day," like a child's.

Beautiful surroundings, the society of learned men, the charm of noble women, the graces of art, could not make up to him for the loss of those light-hearted mornings of the desert, for that wind that made one a boy again. He had noticed that this peculiar quality in the air of new countries vanished after they were tamed by man and made to bear harvests. Parts of Texas and Kansas that he had first known as open range had since been made into rich farming districts, and the air had quite lost that lightness, that dry aromatic odour. The moisture of the plowed land, the heaviness of labour and growth and grain-bearing, utterly destroyed it; one could breathe that only on the bright edges of the world, on the great grass plains or the sage-brush desert.

That air would disappear from the whole earth in time, perhaps; but long after his day. He did not know just when it had become so necessary to him, but he had come back to die in exile for the sake of it. Something soft and wild and free, something that whispered to the ear on the pillow, lightened the heart, softly, softly picked the lock, slid the bolts, and released the prisoned spirit of man into the wind, into the blue and gold, into the morning, into the morning!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Upon reflection, these are the eight I'd choose. Don't ask me why.
"Moonlight Sonata" by Beethoven
"Ballade in G Minor" by Chopin
"You Get What You Give" by the New Radicals
"Four Seasons" by Vivaldi
"Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin
"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cindy Lauper
"Porcelain" by Moby
"Mickey" by Toni Basil

Sunday, July 20, 2008

In the comments for my post on Friday, Stu provided a link to the Wikipedia page for the BBC program Desert Island Discs: "Guests are invited to imagine themselves castaways on a desert island, and to choose eight pieces of music to take with them; discussion of their choices permits a review of their life. Aside from music, they are permitted one book, excluding the Bible or other religious work and the complete works of Shakespeare, which are already present on the island to force more original choices. They also choose one luxury which must be inanimate and of no survival value, though large supplies of champagne seem to be allowed."

Very interesting. Here is the list of what guests have chosen for the past six years (I like the more practical book choices, i.e. a book to identify tropical fish. I can't understand why anyone would take a blank book.) I think I would pick an educational book, like how to speak and write Italian, and for my luxury item I'd pick a piano. I'll have to think about my eight pieces of music.

Review: Woman: An Intimate Geography

In Woman: An Intimate Geography, published in 1999, Natalie Angier takes on a complex and often misunderstood subject: the biology of a woman's body. Angier goes over the basic machinery of the female body as well as the role of hormones in influencing female behavior. In the latter half of the book, she discusses society and evolution's influence on women's behavior. It's complicated stuff, but Angier does a fantastic job of condensing the information and conveying it in an entertaining way, with some really vivid prose.

The author has really done her homework for this book, referencing study after study on human female behavior as well as female behavior in primates and other types of animals. However, this is definitely not a textbook; Angier calls the book a "celebration of the female body." She does have a feminist agenda in the book, though it's an agenda I happen to agree with, so you won't find many complaints from me.

Angier takes on female stereotypes with a vengeance, complicating them time after time with examples from scientific studies. She succeeds in painting a more far-reaching picture of female behavior than most would imagine, particularly through her exploration of aggression in females. Angier also holds her ground well in refuting evolutionary psychologists who seem to traffic in gender stereotypes (the Madonna and whore dichotomy, the women as passive and monogamous and men as philanderers theory).

I'll admit that it took me over a year to finish reading this book. Why so long? I compare this book to chocolate truffle cake: delicious and rich for all the reasons mentioned above, but best in small servings. Angier's prose does get convoluted at times; what bothers me is that I can't imagine anyone talking the way Angier writes ("membranes ruffle up like petticoats" and "eggs pop apart like poked soap bubbles" and I don't think anyone in the history of the English language has used the phrase "a mutinous crew of mad-haired Valkyries"). It's clever but not very natural-sounding. Also, the book is quite dense in information, so a little time to digest each chapter is needed. Finally, the feminist agenda comes on strong at times, though Angier carefully bases her arguments in research.

Still, I loved this book almost as much as I love chocolate cake (which is saying a lot). Angier does an amazing job of unraveling some of the mysteries of biology and behavior. Also, Angier's celebratory tone is refreshing. I really liked that this is not just a factual book with health tips, which has been done, and is often done badly. Angier's research smashed so many of my previously held ideas about femininity to bits, and I love books that can challenge your ideas to that extent. This book is guaranteed to make any reader rethink her ideas of what it means to be a woman.

Friday, July 18, 2008

More blog neglect. I spent about four hours today reading Robinson Crusoe for a book club I belong to. That sounds odd. Why in the world would a book club choose Robinson Crusoe? Did you know it was published in 1719? Anyway, I spent my day off from work trying to catch up and meanwhile neglecting the blog. It's an interesting book--being stranded alone on a desert island seems like it would be sad, but in some ways it would be pretty awesome. I think it would be cool to have an island you could escape to whenever you want.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In the garden

I now have access to a digital camera--very exciting. I took these pictures in my backyard on Saturday.






Friday, July 11, 2008

I've missed journaling this whole past week. I get home from work tired and lacking the motivation to make a few notes about what happened that day. I should, since some funny/interesting/important things happen every day that I will want to remember later. Funny how when I didn't have a job I would write about the most inane things: Went to the store. Went to the library. Watched a movie. Now more interesting things are happening and I write nothing.


Yesterday was a monster day. I got out of work at 7. Then I went to my Spanish class for an hour. After that, I planned to meet a friend for her birthday dinner at a sushi restaurant across town. I was overbooked--class ended at 8:15 and the party had started at 7:30. I knew I wouldn't have time to stop at home, so after class I changed out of my work clothes into my "party clothes" (a skirt!) in the car.


The restaurant was crowded and club-like with loud dance music pumping out from the speakers. I said "Happy Birthday" to the birthday girl, a former classmate, and introduced myself to the other dinner guests, two girls and a guy, none of whom I'd previously met. I watched enviously as they finished eating plates of chicken teriyaki and rice. I had been too busy to eat dinner that day and I was starving. My dinner companions allowed me to pilfer off their plates while I waited for a tuna roll I ordered to arrive.

Talk centered around Brazil, where some members of the group had recently gone on vacation. I was out of the loop there, but my friend was good about including me in the conversation, which I was grateful for. We gave the obligatory updates about what we were doing for work and school.


Oh, food, how yummy. I devoured the tuna roll when it arrived and then ordered dessert, a cappuccino mousse, which was sadly disappointing for the calories. The idea of going dancing afterwards was floated around briefly, but by that time it was 10:00 and the consensus was that we were all too tired for it. I was admittedly glad the day was over. I drove home tired but satisfied, feeling sort of bad-ass for working AND studying AND somehow getting invited to a cool party, all in one day.


I know I overdid it a little that day, and the party was a roll of the dice, given I only knew one person there, but it turned out I had a good time, so all was well. Another exciting day in my glamorous life...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Drove home yesterday on wet, wet streets. Rain scares me after the floods of '06. Hours and hours of watching the rain fall, and there's nothing you can do to stop it. A reminder that weather is ultimately unpredictable, and powerful. I pray that it doesn't happen again.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sunday afternoon and I'm listening to The Police. It has been a long time since I listened to "the classics", i.e. "Roxanne", "Can't Stand Losing You", "Message in a Bottle", etc. My '91 Honda's tape player ate my tape of The Police's greatest hits five or six years ago. Now I have a 2-CD anthology I bought with some birthday money. Woo hoo, exciting.

I've spent the weekend trying to digest everything that happened this week at my new job. Upon reflection I feel equally tired and energized, which I see as a good thing. We'll see what next week holds.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Cool "subway slide show" in the NY Times. When I visited NYC I remember being surprised by how quiet it was on the subway. Like an unspoken rule of subway etiquette--don't talk. But alas, pictures can't bring you the damp, mildly gross smells of NYC's underground.
Interesting profile of Shigeru Miyamoto, inventor of Nintendo games like Mario and Donkey Kong (and now Wii Fit), in USA Weekend:

After a series of odd jobs, including playing the guitar in a bluegrass band ("which is not," he says, "a terribly popular brand of music in Japan"), he was hired by Nintendo in 1977.

At the time, Nintendo was looking for new ventures and badly overestimated the appeal of a coin-operated arcade game machine called Radarscope. The company wound up with a warehouse full of them in Redmond, Wash. "For some reason, I was assigned the task of figuring out what to do with the machines," Miyamoto recalls. He came up with a simple game featuring a character scaling a set of girders while avoiding barrels tossed by an oversize ape. That game, of course, was "Donkey Kong," and by 1982 its hero, Jumpman (later rechristened "Mario" in honor of the warehouse's portly manager), would appear on everything from cereal boxes to neck ties.

Monday, June 30, 2008

My lack of interviewing skills notwithstanding, voila, I have a new job. I won't divulge all the details, since this is a public blog, but I will say it is a job that involves news. It's a great job, really, a job I'm lucky to have been offered.

I am very excited about the new direction, but I'm also a little sad to think of what I'm giving up, mainly the placid life of an academic. Today was my first day and I think I'm still shaking all the cobwebs off my brain since I'm still in summer mode. I'm not used to any of it--dressing up, getting up early, dealing with co-workers. Time to relearn how to deal.

So much can change in a little over a week. I think right now I'm just in shock. Now that I've gotten what I said I wanted, what am I going to do with it?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

- Yesterday morning I went to a casino. I was doing well with a video poker machine at one point, but then moved to the slots and it was all downhill from there. I left the casino $20 poorer. Yeah, I'm a big gambler. I don't think I'll ever understand how people can just sit at slot machines and feed money into them all day. Isn't it just darn depressing to be in a dark room losing all your money? There's an occasional payout, but come on, can't people realize the general trend, that gambling is a habit where you lose money nearly all the time?

- In my continuing quest to learn Spanish, I was trying out listening to some Spanish-language stations and I found a really cool one: Orbita 106.7. The station plays a wickedly awesome mix of rock en español and alternative rock in English. Quite rare that you find a station that plays music in two languages. Unfortunately, the station doesn't have a website, so you can only listen if you're in the El Paso area.

Friday, June 27, 2008

I'm liking Aimee Mann's new album @#%&*! Smilers. The lyrics are up to the usual standards of cleverness: "You love me like a dollar bill/You roll me up and trade me in/And if you had the chance, you will/And if you get the chance again..." on "Phoenix." Also, the special edition CD comes with an awesome little book with the song lyrics and funny illustrations.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Border fence

TIME's cover story this week is about the new U.S.-Mexico border fence:
The fence is not likely to win any architecture awards. It's a hodgepodge of designs. The best--sections of tall, concrete-filled steel poles deeply rooted, closely spaced and solidly linked at the top--are blatantly functional. The worst--rusting, graffiti-covered, Vietnam-era surplus--are just skeevy walls of welded junk. Whether you think it's a sad necessity of a crude brutality, the fence is not a sight that stirs pride. The operative question, however, is not, What does it look like? but How does it work?

The article goes on to detail the effects of the wall on immigration border areas such as Yuma, Tucson, and San Diego. Living in El Paso, it's interesting to see how other areas deal with immigration and "the fence." TIME's general conclusion is that the fence is a deterrent, but only in combination with other enforcement strategies, like more border patrol agents.

One thing the article fails to cover in detail is the controversies involved in actually building the fence. Congress has allowed the Department of Homeland Security to waive all sorts of laws in order to build the fence quickly. The DHS is planning to build a new section of fence nearby, and of course, it's a big issue here. People in El Paso are generally opposed to the fence and the hasty manner in which it is being put up. The city of El Paso, El Paso County, and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (which represents the Tigua Native American tribe) filed a lawsuit against the federal government last month to slow down the fence's construction. Reports the El Paso Times:
The department wants to build 670 miles of border fencing this year, and Chertoff has said he would use authority Congress gave him to waive more than 30 laws that could get in the way.
...
[El Paso County Attorney] Rodriguez said the waivers allow Chertoff to bypass federal, state and local laws that leave the county wondering which laws it can and cannot enforce.
...
Tom Diamond, lawyer for the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo, said the Tigua tribe joined the lawsuit because the fence would impede access to parts of the Rio Grande where they have conducted religious ceremonies for centuries.

The U.S. government has the right to build the fence, but they need to do it the right way, with respect for local laws, Native American tribes, and the environment.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

- VH1 rolls out the series "I Love the Millennium" starting tonight. Um, isn't it a little early for this? Not that it will stop me from watching and having a delicious time reminiscing about the last eight years of pop culture.
- MySpace for Hercules and Love Affair, a disco-influenced band that was raved about in the NY Times. This seems like it would be awesome music to work out to.
- Nice review by El Paso Times writer Doug Pullen of Tom Waits' concert in El Paso. According to Pullen, Friday's concert involved "A cop on stage. A key to the city from a councilwoman in a black dress. A startled singer in a bowler hat at a piano." He writes, "Friday's performance play[ed] out like some twisted journey through a house of broken mirrors that reveal the ugly truths of man's most primal instincts, and the ragged beauty of the species' most tender, vulnerable moments." Wow.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Job interviews, lack of posting, etc.

Sorry for the lack of posting. I think I need to follow some advice from this article (lol, the cat picture).

In a strange turn of events, this week I actually managed to be halfway-busy. I ended up going on three job interviews. I don't generally like job interviews (who does, really?), but considering the circumstances lately, it kind of gave me a boost to be put to the test.

The first interview was a total bust. I ended up handing back my application and walking out. It did not seem like a good place to work. On Friday I went on two job interviews. As I was parking my car before the earlier interview, I ran over an empty beer bottle with my right front tire. A horrible popping noise resulted, and about a hundred jagged brown glass pieces exploded all around the sidewalk. Maybe it was the first sign that this interview wasn't going to go well. Yeah, I don't think I'll be called back anytime soon. But the interview after that one went OK, I think. *crosses fingers*

After I got back from the interviews, my sister called and we dissected the whole process. My sister just landed a great job, so she felt compelled to offer me some interview advice. I slapped my forehead just thinking about all the things I did wrong. I hate to think of interviewing as a skill. I like to think I can just be myself and let my qualifications speak for themselves, so that I'm OK just winging it, but "winging it" rarely works out for me. Even on the last interview that I thought went fairly well, I ended up rambling or not knowing what to say at times because I was so nervous. Hopefully I'll be better prepared next time.

Anyway, so the summer and the HOT weather continue. Temperatures have been in the 100s all this week. I can't say I love the weather, but it's better than cold. Yesterday was the first day of summer. This actually makes me sad in a way, because from now on the days will get shorter and shorter until December.

More posts soon, I promise. It's weird how at times when I'm reading, things will stand out to me, like, you must blog this. But sometimes stretches go by where that doesn't happen, and I don't want to post about things that are not that noteworthy, that no one is going to care about, so the blog lies dormant. I suppose the more you read, and the more diverse things you read, the greater the chances are of finding things worth posting. I'll work on it.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Equally shared parenting

There's an interesting article in this week's New York Times Magazine about "equally shared parenting." Writer Lisa Ekdahl provides some statistics on the typical distribution of labor in the home:
The most recent figures from the University of Wisconsin's National Survey of Families and Households show that the average wife does 31 hours of housework a week while the average husband does 14 — a ratio of slightly more than two to one.

But then break out the couples in which both husband and wife have full-time paying jobs. There, the wife does 28 hours of housework and the husband, 16. Just shy of two to one, which makes no sense at all.

She quotes University of Buffalo professor Sampson Lee Blair, who finds the "sadly comic" result that even "in married couples 'where she has a job and he doesn’t, and where you would anticipate a complete reversal, even then you find the wife doing the majority of the housework.'" Wow. How unfair can you get?

Ekdahl then profiles several couples who are committed to the idea of equally shared parenting. Most seem to arrange approximately equal work hours for both partners, for example, each parent arranging a four-day work week or working opposite part-time schedules. Then each parent will have certain designated times for child care. Household responsibilities are also roughly equally divided (though in all the profiled couples, it seems the wife still tends to do more of the chores and have more of a manager role in the household). One couple even tracks their time commitments with a color-coded chart.

It's a great article in that it's lengthy enough to give readers a look at how this really plays out in practice, rather than an airbrushed view of what some might dismiss as a "cute" idea. I'm struck by how, even in the profiled couples who seem to represent the (I'm guessing) very small percentage of Americans who make equally shared parenting a top priority, there is still a strong tendency for childcare and chores to default to the woman. The arrangement involves a lot of compromise and constant struggle against societal expectations. But despite the imperfections, I think if more couples did this, it would be nothing short of revolutionary--for women, of course, in countless ways, but also for men. Why shouldn't work and personal time be more balanced for all individuals, regardless of gender? It's an ideal that I think is very much worth striving for.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Some lovely words of advice from Alex the Girl:
Let go of the snark, your worries, your anger and fear and give into possibility, action, joy and life. Do. Do some more. Stop thinking about you. Stop blogging about just you and your kid and your pet. There's a world out there to connect to, really connect to. Being of use is more important than being popular. Think about the lady down the street, the person at the drive through, the man fallen in the street, about politics, the environment, healthcare, another country and then do something about it. Never stop at thinking.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Summer update

I don't have a job this summer. This means three months of trying to occupy myself until the fall semester starts. Is it good or bad to not work for three months? Ask me at the end of the summer. Here's what I've been doing lately:
  • One of my goals for the summer is to learn more Spanish. I signed up for a continuing ed Spanish class only to get a call a few hours before the first class that the class was cancelled due to low enrollment. This sucks. I guess I'm stuck learning Spanish on my own. My latest tactic is to read articles in Spanish-language magazines and look up every unfamiliar word in an Spanish-English dictionary. It kind of works, though I still can't speak Spanish worth anything.
  • Also on the agenda: brushing up on my web design and computer programming skills, in the hopes that these might be useful in a future career. I feel like I've forgotten everything I've ever learned. It's frustrating.
  • I've been reading a lot lately: novels by James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence, the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, short stories by Alice Munro. I tend to read mostly nonfiction, but this summer I'm reading a ton of fiction. Books are good, especially when you've got the time.
  • Oh yeah, and I'm supposed to be working on my thesis. It's a stop-and-go process--one week I'll get a lot done on it, and others I won't work on it at all.
So I've got some stuff going, and yet on these hot days I have the urge to dissolve into a puddle of laziness, stay in bed all day, watch TV non-stop or be glued to the Internet all day. Sometimes I give in, but most of the time I try to do something productive.

It must be hard to live like this all the time. It would seem like this type of life is easier than going to a regular job every day, and it is, in some ways, but in other ways it's more difficult. Mentally, mostly, and socially in not having people around to talk to every day. It will be a relief to go back to work, I think.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

TIME's Josh Tyrangiel sums up perfectly my aversion to Coldplay: "Get past the obscenities, and the criticism amounts to this: lead singer Chris Martin is a cornball solipsist, the melodies all have the same mass-produced 'character' as a Pottery Barn table, and Coldplay's albums sound like crib-safe versions of Radiohead--a band that, while commercially less successful, is infinitely more hip and worthy of adulation."

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Contact lenses

For a week I have been trying out contact lenses. I briefly wore contact lenses seven years ago but I stopped wearing them for reasons I only vaguely remember. This week I remembered the reason: because they irritate the hell out of my eyes. They don't hurt, really, they just dry out my eyes a lot. I've gotten more used to wearing them in the past few days, so I can wear them for about three or four hours now, but then I take them out and there is such relief to go back to wearing my glasses.

I admit I like the way I look without glasses, but is it worth the discomfort? With all the cleaning with solution and application of eye drops, contacts are just as bothersome as glasses, plus there's the irritation of having plastic in your eyes all day. I don't know how people get used to it. I think I'm giving up on contact lenses. Maybe LASIK is the answer, someday when I can afford it? I don't know.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

I finally sat down and watched Season 1, Disc 1 of The Wire. Not a show for the faint of heart, given that a) it's super gritty and violent, and b) you really have to pay attention to understand the intricate plotlines. So far I'm impressed. I'm not quite ready to crown this the greatest show of all time, but I do recognize that this is a more ambitious kind of TV crime drama than what came before. This is light years away from a Law and Order-type series, where basically the police and the attorneys are always good and the criminals are always evil. The series shows similarities between the criminal and the law enforcement hierarchies, which I think is pretty daring. Also, the glamour factor is reduced, and you can see how cops and drug dealers alike face politics and incompetence and hassles, just like in any other job. If you want to understand the criminal justice system, this seems like the drama that gets closest to what it's really like. On to Disc 2 then...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Pictures

Spring at the UTEP Library:


Sunset views:



The new season of 30 Days starts tonight. I love this show.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Brian Greene writes an eloquent argument on why you need to "Put a Little Science in Your Life":
But here’s the thing. The reason science really matters runs deeper still. Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive and reliable — a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations — for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on earth — not because they are declared dogma but rather because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences.

The whole thing is worth reading, especially if you're science-phobic.
If you have HBO, Recount is definitely worth watching. The film is about the chaotic aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, aka, the era of the chad. This is a well-crafted political thriller--twists and turns abound, even if we already know the ending. The film strikes the right balance of pointing out the absurdities of that election in a serious way and also incorporating many humorous elements. The writers and actors have some fun impersonating the individuals involved, especially Laura Dern with an over-the-top Katherine Harris, yet the film doesn't devolve into caricature. Kevin Spacey excellently captures the mix of cynicism and idealism of Ron Klain, leader of Al Gore's post-election fight. Gore and George W. Bush are portrayed only in passing and in voice impersonations; they aren't central characters, which I think was a wise decision. I was surprised at how many times I was left in suspense as I was watching this, my memory of 2000 getting a little spotty, which just goes to show why films like these are necessary. Recount is a well-executed and relevant analysis that never gets boring.