07 February 2009

25 Random Things (Laziest Blog Update Ever!)

Well, since at least a few of my friends who might still check this blog are stubborn holdouts who refuse to get on facebook, I thought I'd publish my facebook 25 things list here as well. Consider yourself tagged if you're reading this! I resisted doing it for a while, kept getting tagged and I have to say, people make interesting lists and it is, in the end, kind of fun to find out short tidbits about people you know well and people you don't know that well. See the Salon article for the hipster consensus that 25 Things is Okay. I hope to be a better blogger soon and actually publish the top 25 things to do in Florida for a week.

25 things about me...

Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

1. I have an ongoing devotion to Paul Krugman's writings and think he should just run our economy since he's predicted most of what's happened.

2. When I was 18 I was a hostess at the Good Earth Restaurant in Portland, where I worked the morning shift, during which a flock of elderly people would come in for breakfast every day. They nicknamed me "Peaches" because I wore a necklace that spelled out the word "Peace."

3. I am terrible at replying to emails or returning phone calls or letters in a timely fashion. But then you probably knew that. I always have the best intentions, though.

4. When I first moved to the East Coast at 19 I owned approximately two pairs of shoes -- hiking boots and Tevas. My first few days working at a Nordstrom shoe department they put me in the stockroom, I assume because I wasn't fit for public view. Selling shoes permanently warped me, however, because I wouldn't really want to count how many I have now.

5. I also have way too many crafty hobbies, including: ceramics, metalsmithing, jewelrymaking, silkscreening, sewing, knitting, felting, Ukrainian easter egg decorating (pysanky making), cardmaking, baking, and gardening. I'm not saying I do any of them well, kind of the opposite, but I like doing them.

6. When I was a kid I always wished my name was Victoria or Samantha. I begged my mom to let me change it. Now I don't mind that I can't ever find one of those mini novelty license plates with my name on it, I like it.

7. Favorite movie endings include Karate Kid, A Few Good Men, and Some Like it Hot. "Nobody's perfect," indeed.

8. I can spend hours happily doing jigsaw puzzles. Or sudoku. Or crosswords. Or kakuro.

9. I think the smartest year of my life was when I worked as an accounting grunt at Time Cafe in NY, where I got a free gourmet spinach salad every day (boosting brainpower, no doubt), my coworker Nancy and I would spend every lunch hour doing the Times crossword and we listened to nonstop NPR in our office all day, every day. Also, I didn't own a TV and spent my free time talking seriously about arty movies and engaging in political activism. I am a shallow, superficial slacker compared to this now. Ironically, the job itself was pretty mindless compared to what I do today, but I think the perks made me a clever critter.

10. One of my favorite phrases is "efficiency bunny" -- my friend Saru and I came up with this in law school, though I don't remember how. It basically means to be efficient in all areas of work and productivity in the same way bunnies are super-efficient at creating more bunnies. Plus it makes drudging through lots of work and being really productive seem cuter somehow.

11. When I was in first grade I got suspended from school for fighting because I punched the second grade bully in the face. He was totally a foot taller than me, but he was stealing from the first graders and I had a redheaded temper and a lot of righteous fury on behalf of the disadvantaged. I got detention several times in middle school for fighting as well. Oddly, I would then invariably befriend the person I had been fighting with while we were stuck in detention together and we would be BFFs for six months.

12. Even when I was a vegan for years, I made a "freegan" exception for the free chocolates they give away at the See's candy stores.

13. I have a huge soft spot for the old Hayley Mills version of "The Parent Trap."

14. My cat's full name is "Paola solleva l'asino" which translates as "Paola likes to lift her bottom" in Italian. She was named after my wonderful Italian teacher Paola, and the rest is probably self-explanatory.

15. I am paranoid about staving off dementia in my old age, so I have accumulated a lot of random information about how to avoid it. Every time I eat something with turmeric in it (curry, mustard, or sometimes I just throw it into things) I feel virtuous and hopefully undemented. This also might bear some small degree of responsibility for #17.

16. While my grandmother had Alzheimer's, I actually blame the movie "Iris" for #15, since Iris Murdoch definitely used her brain plenty. All the crossword puzzles in the world wouldn't have mattered.

17. In school I played flute and piccolo for 8 years, and took piano lessons halfheartedly for a year or two. This last year I have taken on trying to reteach myself piano and learn guitar for what will undoubtedly be my one-woman band. My progress so far has been somewhat, ah, limited, but hopefully the activity is showing my brain I really do care and want it to remain relatively intact.

18. When I lived in Albania, I worked as a bartender on Friday nights in the nonprofit embassy/expat bar "The Bunker Club," named after the bunkers Enver Hoxha built all over the country. I still believe firmly that this gives me bartender cred and am confident in my ability to make a drink, even though 50% of the patrons just ordered beer and most people say my drinks are way too strong. They just don't understand that makes me a good bartender.

19. My friend Anna and I started a poetry translation and discussion group for the poems of Cesare Pavese when we lived in Florence, Italy during our study abroad. Despite flyers placed around town, we were the only members who showed up for the poetry discussions. Shocking, I know.

20. I missed winning the Oregon state spelling bee contest at the state fair in Salem because of the word "karat." I still maintain that this was classism at work, since what did a kid like me know about jewelry? Also, I stepped in a giant sloppy cow patty on the fairgrounds that day, so all in all not my best day. I still "spell along" when I watch movies about spelling bees or the National Spelling Bee on ESPN. Good times.

21. I read all of the Sweet Valley High books then published by the time I started high school, along with Anna Karenina, The Iliad and Odyssey and A Tale of Two Cities. I definitely remember Sweet Valley better, and I am sure it had a greater impact on my development.

22. I would be psyched to go see things like Lord of the Dance and the Annie musical, but everyone I know is too cool to go with me.

23. I love going to bed early and waking up early, which is the opposite of my college experience, in which I dropped a noon class as a freshman because I had never been able to wake up in time to attend it by the time they gave the midterm.

24. My older brother and I used to catch crawdads and mudsuckers in the creek behind our house. It was kind of a blood sport, we were little heathens -- we certainly weren't eating them.

25. Whenever Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorns" comes on the radio, I am compelled to sing (and dance) along.

24 December 2008

Boughs of Holly

Halloween, Thanksgiving, election day, finals...I couldn't let Christmas slide by without a comment at least! I had good intentions to send out holiday cards and treats and do all kinds of seasonal things, but oh well. This is my wish for loads of holiday goodness and comfort and delights for all of you! It's been a hectic few weeks, traveling between DC and Philly and back to the left coast. It looked like I would be spending Christmas at O'Hare airport with a lot of other unlucky folks but I managed to switch my flight to standby to San Francisco and here I am. I'm now relaxing and dissertating with my fabulous friend S. as she gets ready to move north to teach for a quarter. I missed every single bit of the blizzards and craziness back home, which is good and bad, but if you were or are in the snow I hope you stay safe and warm and cozy!

23 October 2008

Three Things on Money

1. On the plane I caught up on my publications. 'Cause I read all of them, all the ones that are put in front of me. I had one of those rare moments of clarity while reading this article from the New Yorker's Politics Issue last week. Basically, one of the things the reporter talks to this two-job-working, two teenagers at home, single Ohio woman about is which candidate speaks to her economic interests. The whole article is trying to understand why white working-class voters so frequently vote against their economic interests (overriding answer is often racism, but there are complexities). It is her response that kills me. She doesn't trust any of them (understandable) and she dislikes McCain and Bush immensely. And she doesn't believe Obama's tax policies or that they will help her. She has bought into enough of the anti-tax rhetoric to assume that her small amount of money from her receptionist and office-cleaning jobs will be taken away in Obama's tax plan. Why? Because he promises not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000. She finds this ludicrous, because as she says, "how many people do you know that make that kind of money?" Since she said this to a New Yorker reporter, we can assume the answer is lots.

In a McCain speech last week, he actually plays on this fundamental misbelief by implying that only raising taxes on people making more than $250,000 couldn't possibly raise enough money to match their spending promises. The painful thing is that this Ohio woman really believes that there are only a handful of people who make $250,000 and even less who make, say, a whole million. Like, there's Bill Gates, and there's one or two other folks, and then there's all the forty-thousand a year people. She fundamentally can't believe that there are enough people with insane amounts of money because it is so foreign to her experience. And I understand this because I didn't grasp the reality of wealth in this country until I went to New York and then that school in Cambridge and met the scions of seriously rich families and people who considered themselves "middle class" whose parents had more than one million-dollar home. It's not that they are twenty percent of the population. They just control that much of the country's wealth. And since she can't imagine that, she can't believe taxing just the over-250,000 crowd would raise any money.

2. My cab from the airport to the hotel the fellowship foundation is putting us up in (more on that below) was interesting. The driver was Tibetan, and was very chatty. We started off having a good conversation about the cost of taxi licenses in NY and Chicago. I asked him how his night was going, he said he just started his shift, I asked when it ended and he answered "when I have a hundred million dollars!" Then at some point we started talking about the election. He told me that I was very wrong for supporting Obama, because "Bush is a great president." Really, I knew the twenty percent were out there, but I didn't expect to meet them in Chicago. He told me Bush is great because all other countries in the world hate America, Bush is scary and willing to go to war, ergo he's the only thing standing in the way of the rest of the world killing us. He also informed me that white people are the smartest people in the world, apparently as the Japanese are to the rest of Asia. But each time I disagreed (as I did with everything he said), he would wave his hand dismissively and essentially call me an idiot. I guess the subtext was really that white men are smart, 'cause he thought I was pretty foolish. He said McCain was superior to Obama mainly because McCain had already made money and Obama needed money. Since McCain had millions already, he was a safer bet. But Obama doesn't already have eight houses, so he was in the election to get stuff, so went his argument. I was really trying to engage in a debate with this guy because it's been a while since I had a conversation with someone who had such opposing beliefs to mine. Then, as we were debating whether all anyone in the world wants is money, he dropped me off at the Trump, which seriously undermined my argument. Embarrassing, but in keeping with the theme of the whole weekend. Money, money, money.

3. This hotel. It is ridiculous. Like, I could imagine in my lame way what a "luxury hotel" would entail, much like the lady from Ohio could imagine that there might be one or two people making more than $250,000, but not how much more. But I really couldn't have guessed, because why would you need such things? It's been the single most consistent topic of conversation among all the grad students here, because really, this is not how grad students live. Here is a partial list:
- The minute you come in, there are about five different sets of doors to go through. A different and ever more deferential person is there to hold each and every door open. It was all very Eliza Doolittle. One of the greeters came out from his front desk after I walked through the first door held open by another guy to walk me through the second door (held by another guy) to the concierge desk. Then after she checked me in, the concierge walked out from behind her desk to walk me through yet another held-open door to the elevator. It reminded me of how they roll at Nordstrom.
- Everyone who works there memorizes your name instantaneously and uses it in every interaction from then on. It's actually a little freaky. I realized by the third day that I was walking around downtown with this subtle added confidence that is only explained by the amount of deference the hotel kept providing. Even though I know it's fake, even though it was only a few short days, even though I've spent far more time on the deferential retail side where I know full well they're thinking many other things (I would be thinking, what are these losers doing staying here?), it doesn't matter. You cannot experience that kind of constant unearned deference and not have it build up your ego a bit. Imagine living your life like that. Why would we ever want to elect anyone rich? Their brains are damaged by this kind of crap.
- One guy at the conference forgot to bring his ID out with him to a bar downtown the second night. He had one of the hotel's complimentary umbrellas with him, emblazoned with the logo, and the bouncer literally said, "ah, I see you're at the Trump. Don't worry about it, come on in." Money really does buy everything and anything.
- The room has the standard enormous plasma TV, of course with DVD, etc. In the bathroom, however, (which is the size of my living room at home and completely over-the-top) the enormous mirror has a shadowy rectangle in it just below eye level. It just looked like some weird geometric mirror design to me. And there's a remote and channel list by the faucet. It took me several minutes to actually figure out there was another TV screen built into the mirror. So you can watch the stock market plummet while in the shower. Critical.
- The kitchenette is equipped with a personal espresso/latte maker with a range of different espresso blends to use.
- There is a pillow menu with ten different pillows, including body pillows of varying densities and handmade satin Himalayan aromatherapy pillows with handpicked herbs.
- The room service menu includes a $1000 Donald Trump dinner of his favorite foods and fancy wine. Also available on the menu, every imaginable kind of tea with a spectrum of water temperature options, Ivanka Trump's caviar breakfast for $625, and on the more "reasonable" side, snacks and "cocktails" for your cat or dog that cost five times what I will spend on my lunch at the airport today. Of course, the hotel also has a special service that makes you a $40 lobster sandwich (or whatever else) prepared for you to take with you as an in-flight meal. God forbid you be subjected to airport food!
- The turndown service comes in at night (after the room is cleaned and all your stuff is almost embarassingly organized for you during the afternoon) while everyone's at dinner and turns down your blankets, puts soft music on the Bose stereo with Ipod dock, puts the lighting on dim and the TV on a soothing aquarium screen saver.
- The gym equipment in the spa is entirely custom-made by Ferrari. There's a spectacular pool, naturally.
- The view from everywhere in the hotel is incredible. Overlooking downtown, it's beautiful. But the hotel is literally right smack on the river, probably the single most expensive piece of real estate in the city, I would guess. The gym looks out from the 14th floor over the riverfront and the city. Our dinners and receptions were held in ballrooms with thirty-foot ceilings, from which we could watch the Friday night fireworks along the river in awe. It really was gorgeous.
- I do enjoy the fact that I don't think the Trump or any other luxury hotel is overflowing on occupancy these days (it just opened this year) given the state of the market. Turn it into public housing, I say.

And now? I'm really, really happy to be home. No hotel, however fancy, can compare. In fact, I'm glad I don't have that weird lifestyle on a regular basis. I firmly believe it warps people's characters. And I wish that woman in Ohio could get a glimpse of the disproportionate wealth held by some in this country. I think she'd be all about taxes then.

21 October 2008

Off to Chicago

Today I get to fly to Chicago for my fellowship conference -- I'm excited and a bit nervous (the whole "presenting your research for senior scholars" thing). I love Chicago and it'll be great to meet other folks researching education, and of course, it's always fun to pal around with terrorists. One of the senior scholars is that guy who's been in the news a lot lately -- in addition to all his anti-American ways, he's now a well-respected education reformer and professor in Chicago, so it's a no-brainer for him to attend. I look forward to the awkward introductory jokes made at the various receptions and dinners this weekend. (I guess my presidential hopes are shot now though, drat!) Wish me luck with the schmoozing!

In other recent news, the annual corn maze adventure went off fantastically -- that is a lot of fun to be had for a mere $12. Spooky! And I've been trying to wrap my mind around the class I'm grading for this fall, on war, but I just can't do it. It's not that it's too complex for me, it's kind of the opposite. That sounds snotty and "elitist," I know, but if social history, culture, gender, race, capitalism and religion as categories of analysis and interpretation are all virtually useless and entirely secondary to examinations of tactics and weaponry, I've got to say, you've lost my interest. The students say things in their papers like "there were a lot of whores." That's the extent of their "social history." Then it's back to cannonballs. And I'll stop my complaining there, because I've been doing a lot of it lately. At least I can appreciate that it's an easy part-time job for me this term, but I have to say I've never used my brain less in a classroom, even, I think, in high school. And it's one of the most popular classes we offer -- I'm not sure what that says. Students prefer if they never have to do any critical thinking? Shocker!

26 September 2008

News and Such

So many things in the past week and a half. L.A. trip + reunion with good friends far away + beautiful wedding = happy smiles (see above, looking very Dawson's Creek/90210).

Two items of newsy interest passed on by the lovely Miss S. (now on blogspot!) this week: check out the Personalities of States and revel in the neuroticism or lack thereof (if you're from Oregon) of your home state. And for the future professors out there, enjoy the total lack of rationality in relying on student evaluations for tenure decisions.

Of course you've all heard about the Washington Mutual badness of last night -- as a WaMu customer I was of course concerned and immediately logged on to their site to ensure that my negative checking account balance was adequately protected. I do enjoy having no investments or income capable of being lost. Actually, I went to their site last night to see what they said about it, and this letter was posted there instead, from Monday:

To Our Valued Customers:

September 22, 2008

As WaMu's new chief executive officer, I am writing to discuss the extraordinary economic environment for all banks in the United States and why you can count on us to continue to serve you safely and soundly.

When I was recently approached about the opportunity to lead this great company, I did my homework to satisfy myself that WaMu has the capital, the liquidity, and the business plan to serve your needs and protect your money through these challenging times. Let me explain why I felt good about joining WaMu.

All financial institutions have been affected by the turmoil in the mortgage and financial markets, but WaMu is very different from the investment banks, such as Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, that you may have read about. Those firms have very different sources of funding than we do. WaMu's business is funded largely through the deposits that customers like you put with us. We also borrow billions of dollars from the Federal Home Loan Banks system.

Most importantly, your deposits are insured to the limits established by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). (WaMu partners at your local WaMu store are happy to work with you to maximize your FDIC insurance coverage.)

Capital ratios describe the financial strength of a bank. Our ratios continue to be well in excess of the levels that government regulators require of "well capitalized" institutions. We also have an ample supply of funds on hand to meet your needs and the needs of our other customers and our day-to-day operations.

These strengths, combined with our tradition of superior products and services, are why we continue to welcome new customers every day.

I also expect that comprehensive and constructive plans recently announced by the government will shore up confidence in the U.S. banking system considerably. These plans, if approved by Congress, would remove up to $700 billion of troubled assets from the balance sheets of American financial institutions. There are also provisions to protect financial companies from disruptive rumors and speculation that are fueled by abusive stock trading practices.

Other government actions are already underway and are expected to lend even more security to the nation's financial system. The Federal Reserve announced that it will open its discount window to financial institutions to enable them to purchase certain assets from money market funds. This provides increased financial flexibility. The Federal Reserve also recently granted requests from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley that will allow them to take deposits, thereby increasing the resources available to both companies. A more stable national financial system is good for WaMu and good for customers.

I came to WaMu because I think it is a great bank with a strong franchise and a solid financial position. We take very seriously our role as the stewards of your hard-earned money. I want to personally thank you for your loyalty and the opportunity to serve your needs.


Alan Fishman
Chief Executive Officer

I had to repost this here because it was of course taken down between last night and this morning. Hee. And yeesh. And ouch. And that's all I have to say about that right now.

Finally, on the victory garden front of the economic devastation, I would like to encourage you to make the following tomato sauce. It is like crack. Like delicious, delicious, addictive sauce of crack and tomatoes and garlic. I've made five batches so far that are now stored away for winter hard times. Didn't actually have much choice given how many tomato plants I put in this year.

Take a dozen or more tomatoes (they don't have to be the prettiest or ripest either), cut them in halves or quarters, squeeze gently to get the wateriness down slightly, and lay on cookie sheets (takes two) cut-side up. Take two or three heads of garlic, peeled, and scatter the cloves on the tomatoes. I also add about half a loosely chopped red onion, and then put salt, pepper, olive oil (don't skimp), a dash of balsamic vinegar, sprinkle of sugar, and any herbs you have lying around (I've used thyme, basil, parsley and some fresh oregano). Put it in the oven at around 250 or 275 for between an hour and an hour and a half. When everything looks soft and golden, crank it to 400 for about 10-15 minutes to fully set the caramelization. Remove. Blend or stick it in the food processor until creamy/chunky. Yum.

16 September 2008

Books, Movies and History

This weekend I presented at a political science/law conference at the law school here. It was a useful reminder about both disciplinary boundaries and the purposes of interdisciplinary work. In short, I don't speak poli sci. I speak history. And I speak law, at least in a semi-legitimate way. One of the complaints I heard the political scientists make was that the election coverage on the news right now never has any political scientists, instead they interview historians. I smirked a little, since I tend to think history is what's missing from most poli sci (though the best work in that field treats historical context very seriously).

We watched Penelope last night, cute, a bit silly, kind of the fairy tale of a rich girl accepting herself. As you can imagine, I would prefer that she were not quite such a richy rich, but it was cute enough. Last week we watched Last King of Scotland, which I both hated and liked. I hated it for most of the film, especially when I had the impression that the audience is supposed to be empathizing with James McAvoy's absolute jackass of a character, who has no redeeming qualities. The idea of showing the story of Uganda from the perspective of this irresponsible, idiot white guy who I suspect is supposed to be "charming" just ticked me off. I liked it for the last fifteen minutes basically. Forest Whitaker (who is incredible in this role) gives a badass speech at the end that calls out the "white man's burden" and I imagine that for those who identified with McAvoy's character in the rest of the movie, it was probably - hopefully - a powerful moment of awareness. So, I'm still of two minds about the movie.

I got to read lots of novels on my recent trip to BC, and I have to give a mini-review of one here. The Road is very good. And I don't think you need to read it. Seriously, I loved Blindness and recommended it to people, but that book was haunting and depressing and dark. And it's like a Disney fairy tale compared to The Road. So, I guess that makes The Road an effective book, and it's certainly well-written, but why do that to yourself? Read something with some human redemption. The world is already depressing enough much of the time.

Finally, if anyone has an efficient use for two dozen purple tomatillos, I'd love to hear it!

07 September 2008

Harvest and Tesh. Also, Bobcats Welcome!

It's definitely harvest time around here -- this is the haul from a casual picking this morning in the backyard, I got scared away from the broccoli, parsley, chard, and the other squash by the bees. (I'm helping bees! I feel absurdly happy about this. And, when I'm out there, I wish they weren't quite so all around me.) I've been drying cherry tomatoes all day -- pounds of them got picked on Friday, thanks to E -- so we can have tons of sun-dried tomatoes all winter without paying $10/ounce. I keep making plans for preserving things like the pears that are all over our yard or making and freezing batches of basil and parsley pesto. I'm clearly in squirrel mode, hoarding nuts for the cold season.

Last night, in a grad student experience that I cannot be alone in, I finished a paper that was due this morning (at 11:00 at night) and then decided to halve, seed and marinade my cherry tomatoes in preparation for drying them today. In awesome Saturday night badassery, I listened to the John Tesh show during my midnight tomato-gutting (a messy process). I learned so much important life information, people. Like, dress for the job you want! No flip-flops and miniskirts at work! Since at least 1/3 of the reason I went to grad school is a lifetime excuse for wearing tweed and professory clothes, I completely endorse this. I also learned that cars are expensive (!) and that the squatters in the foreclosed house next door are totally drug-dealers who you should call the cops on ASAP. Or, they could be bobcats. I'm hoping we'll get some bobcats in this neighborhood, maybe they'd like to eat some tomatoes. Plus, how cute? I promised kittens, and I deliver!