Friday, November 26, 2010

The Swan Thieves, by Elizabeth Kostova

When last I was hanging out with Elizabeth Kostova, I was sleeping with my lights on for fear that Vlad Dracula would come in the night and murder me horrifically, yet I was strangely excited to find her latest, The Swan Thieves, on the racks at the bookstore in South Station in Boston. The woman is a hell of a writer.

Kostova returns to her talent for writing incredible atmospheric tension in Swan Thieves. In it, a psychiatrist takes on a non-verbal, mysterious patient after the patient attacks a painting in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The attack is the culmination of a long period of strange behavior, and the psychiatrist - an amateur artist himself - goes to great lengths to solve the puzzle of his client's case. I'm reasonably sure that some of said lengths are completely unethical, but as the book is an exploration of madness and art, I think I can probably let it go. The mystery winds up as a commentary on the nature of creativity and the world of the mind, and it's beautiful work.

My one complaint, which is a holdover from The Historian, is that Kostova has some difficulty with writing from a male perspective. As a friend at work pointed out, her male characters notice things and speak about certain things in a way that feels unnatural to a male character (or at least to a straight male character). In the introductory chapter, I assumed that the narrator was a woman, only to discover in the second that it was a man. This wasn't necessarily because of overt gender typing (i.e. "all sensitive painter/psychiatrists must be women") but rather from the feel of the character's tone and focus of their worldview. It's a little bit hard to describe. Her male characters also describe other men in a way that denotes some form of physical and romantic attraction - I don't profess to know the minds of men, but I'm assuming that most of the straight men of the world (which Kostova's Swan Thieves protagonist certainly is) don't notice the lustrous hair or shining blue eyes of various men they meet, or if they do, it's probably not the first thing they go for. It just makes the read a little jarring, and in this case, it's in the service of a romantic entanglement that lends very little to the narrative.

This is a great book, and I'm glad I found it in paperback - The Historian nearly gave me carpal tunnel. The writing is top notch, and as always, Kostova's research and background are top of the line. You wouldn't think these qualities would be so important to a work of fiction, but the depth and interest that the added work contributes is really quite exceptional. A good one for the holidays!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why I Do Not Now and Will Not in the Future Care About Dancing With the Stars

A brief history:
  • John McCain makes a bizarre running mate choice in the Governor of Alaska, who is a staunch supporter of abstinence only sex ed, amongst other things.
  • Said running mate's young, unmarried daughter gets pregnant, chaos ensues.
  • Said Young Unmarried Daughter actually handles situation quite gracefully, despite some mayhem in the form of an engagement to the baby's father.
  • John McCain loses race, but Running Mate's public persona resonates with a certain swath of Americans.
  • Running Mate becomes ubiquitous, picks up numerous public appearances, quits governorship, halfway commandeers a grassroots movement, and refuses to ever shut up.
  • Young Unmarried Daughter becomes abstinence advocate (????????) and winds up on Dancing With The Stars.
  • Everyone loses their shit.


I know you hate the Running Mate, and I know her presence in the audience is irritating as shit. I am APPALLED by the fact that Running Mate has this kind of media presence when everyone knows she's going to be running in 2012. I am horrified that 27% of people in a polling group think she can lead the country, because every single media appearance she has ever put in has indicated that ZERO percent of people should think she can lead the country. I am disgusted by her "real Americans" rhetoric and think it's the least American thing I've heard in a long time.

I know her daughter is untalented and hasn't improved and just straight up does not deserve to be in the finale. I know that it's annoying that some psychotic Tea Party people have for some reason decided that voting this kid the winner of a fucking reality TV show is going to prove something to liberals OTHER than "we are willing to waste the shit out of our time." I don't get it either. I get that it's irritating and I get why you would want to retaliate by flooding the phone lines and whatever the hell. I am tired of seeing incompetence rewarded, too.

The thing is, I've been trying lately to come up with answers for my questions and my frustrations, because I've spent too much time getting upset about things and then having that upsettedness linger because all I did was bitch. I've thought a lot about Running Mate, and I've decided that a.) the best way to make her go away is to ignore her - not watching her shows, not typing her name, not clicking links to news stories about her, not paying attention to her, and b.) that I'm not going to worry about her, because at this point 73% of the people polled know she's a jackass, and that's probably enough to keep her away from the White House. I'm going to find someone better, and I'm going to volunteer on their campaign. I'm going to work for what I think is a better alternative, rather than obsessing about the worst case scenario.

So instead of voting against that Failed 2008 Vice Presidential Candidate's Daughter, I am going to write a letter to my Representatives and my Senators about why I think the TSA is overreaching and setting a dangerous precedent. I'm going to read up on economic developments. I'm going to call the White House and tell them I want DADT repealed. I'm going to read up on viable energy policy, maybe sign some petitions. I'm going to let my representatives know I want consequences for the financial sector's outrageous shenanigans. I'm going to think about the America I want to live in, and figure out how to get there.

I spent this election season prying people out of their houses with crowbars to get them to participate in the election in ANY form, but people are spending hours and massive effort freaking out about a failed candidate's kid possibly winning a TV show. This is a serious time in our country, and it requires active citizenship. I am going to be following through with the latter, and I hope you will too.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Wonder Woman Christmas Stocking

A friend of mine at work asked me if I knew how to knit a Christmas stocking, and I said "Christmas stockings are just giant socks...AND I LOVE SOCKS," which is actually a lie because I would spend my entire hippie-dippy life barefoot if that was an option [Aside: isn't that odd, considering the well documented shoe thing?], but I do love making socks. So without further ado, I present a simple, adorable stocking pattern for all your holiday knitting needs!

You will need:
Worsted weight yarn in a main color and an accent color - I'm using red and white in this pattern, but you can choose whatever colors you want. I like Red Heart SuperSaver yarn because it's cheap but plentiful, not splitty, washable, and easy to find at Michael's and other craft stores.
Size 8 double pointed knitting needles
A yarn needle

Start by knitting a gauge. I hate knitting a gauge, so much so that I will put off projects because I get bogged down in thinking about how I really hate knitting gauges, but you have to do it because a.) we all have to overcome our neuroses sometime, and b.) it will keep you from having a mutant stocking that looks like Sloth from the Goonies is coming over. You should come up with a swatch where 16 stitches and 24 rows equals about 4 inches. To adjust, change needle size.

Game Plan (and Advice From Mom)
This stocking is knit from the top down. When you get to the bottom of the leg, you'll be splitting off a heel flap, then picking up stitches on the side to continue along the foot. The heel flap feels weird. This is where the Mom advice comes in. Every now and then, I call my Mom and I'm like "MOM, what the hell, this stupid pattern is WRONG, there's no way I'm actually supposed to do that but it keeps saying I have to!" and Mom is all "sometimes you just have to follow the pattern." This is not unlike the time I got yelled at in Home Ec for marveling over the fact that these weird pieces of fabric were turning into a stuffed animal. It will work out. Sometimes you just have to follow the pattern.

Cast on 61 stitches (sts) over four needles with your main color. This is your leg. (See notes at bottom for personalization options.) Knit as long a leg as you would like - some people like long, drapey stockings, some like shorter ones. I'd probably go for about a foot. Now we're going to work the decrease rows.

DECREASE ROW: K1, SSK*, knit to the last three sts of the round, then k2tog, k1. This will give you 59 stitches. Keep working this row until you're down to 53 stitches.

*SSK = slip, slip knit. This means you slip 2 stitches just as they are, then you insert your left hand needle from left to right to knit the 2 stitches together. ("Just follow the pattern.") This is the purlside version of knitting two together.

HEEL DIVISION: K27 and slide to holder. If you want to have a different color heel, switch colors here. We will now be working flat for a while, and only on the remaining 26 stitches.
Row 1:
Row 2:
Sl 1, k25.
Rows 3-18: Repeat rows 1 and 2, purling on WS and slipping 1, knitting across for RS.

HEEL TURN: (MAJOR pattern following area here! Yes, you are actually supposed to be turning in the middle of the row.)
Row 1: sl1, k14, SSK, k1, turn.
Row 2: sl1, p5, p2tog, p1, turn.
Row 3: sl1, k6, SSK, k1, turn.
Row 4: sl1, p7, p2tog, p1, turn.
Row 5: sl1, k8, SSK, k1, turn.

Continue until you have 16 sts.

GUSSET: (If you switched colors before, now is the time to switch back.) Knit across your 16 heel stitches. With the same needle, pick up and knit across 9 of your slipped stitches along the right side of the heel flap. Knit your 27 stitches from your holder. Pick up and knit 9 stitches from the left side of the heel flap, and knit 8 stitches from your first needle to even everything out. You should now have 61 stitches and be ready to start your gusset.

Row 1 & ALL WS Rows: P across.
Row 2: K14, k2 tog, k 29, SSK, k14.
Row 4: K13, k2 tog, k29, SSK, k13.
Row 6: K12, k2 tog, k29, SSK, k12.
Row 8: K11, k2 tog, k29, SSK, k11.
Row 10: K10, k2 tog, k29, SSK, k10.
Row 12: K9, k2 tog, k29, SSK, k9—49 sts rem.

Tada! You now have something that looks somewhat like half a sock. The hard part is over!

Knit for about 6.5" from the edge of your heel flap, then decrease one stitch in the next row, leaving you with a nice, even 48 stitches. If you want your toe to be a different color, switch colors now! I actually like to even up my stitches so I have 12 on each needle at this point. Then you're going to begin your toe decrease, which is very simple:

Odd Rows: (1st needle)k1, k2tog, knit to end; (2nd needle) knit to last three stitches, SSK, k1; (3rd needle) k1, k2tog, knit to end; (4th needle) knit to last three, SSK, k1
Row 2 & All WS Rows: P across.
Continue these two rows until you have 16 stitches left.

Now you can finish the work and close up the toe. I like to load the stitches onto one needle (one from the left needle, then one from the right, left, right, left, right, alternating) and then knit them together and weave in the ends. I think this gives the cleanest seam, but you can also stitch them up with a needle if you prefer.

You may want to add a cuff to the top of your stocking. You can do this one of two ways - pick up 65 stitches (65, not 61, so that it can fold over) at the top of the stocking, and purl in the round for about 3 inches, then cast off loosely. You can also cast on 65 stitches, knit the 3 inches, cast off, and then whipstitch the cuff onto the stocking.

You can also make a hanger with a simple i-cord. Pick up four stitches from the edge of the stocking, and knit across those stitches for as long as you would like your hanger to be. JUST KNIT, DO NOT REVERSE AFTER EACH ROW. Crossing the yarn behind each row pulls the stitches into a cord as you go. When you're done, cast off and sew the end onto the start of the hanger.

You may also want to add initials or other decor to your stocking. My favorite alphabet can be found here, and I've included a bonus chart below.

Enjoy!! Ask questions in the comments if you have any.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Teleprompter, Teleprompter, in the Hall, Who is the Truest of Them All?

I'd like to talk a little bit about teleprompters.
Last week, Judge Alex Ferrer asked his Facebook fans who their favorite public speaker was. Yes, I am a Facebook fan of Judge Alex. I really like crappy court shows, all right? In any case, one of the responses read as follows:
Reagan makes the list because he spoke from the heart with passion and he loved this country and made us all feel good about being Americans. He gave us hope that we could do anything we put our minds to. He was not afraid to call evil, evil. He did this without having to rely on teleprompters because it came from his core beliefs. Our current president speaks really well, but only with a teleprompter. Without it, he rivals Bush in ineffective speaking.
First of all, some perspective on the Reagan issue in particular:
Reagan was a media phenom, and he was well versed in the use of a teleprompter. That doesn't detract from or add to his policies or his speeches. It just means he was very good at using an increasingly important tool in any President's communications repertoire. Dwight Eisenhower was the first President to use one (though he did not do so prolifically), and pretty much every other President since has used a teleprompter for their prepared remarks. I originally wanted to include pictures of each President since Eisenhower using a teleprompter, but a.) it seems that the Internet is so obsessed with Obama's teleprompter use that any search including the word returns 95% images or political cartoons about Obama, and b.) though it would be cool, I am only willing to spend so much time pleading with the Internet to surrender a picture of Jimmy Carter using a teleprompter, particularly given the preceding point. Instead, I can give you a script from LBJ's, and pictures of both Bushes using them.
LBJ's teleprompter script
The hysteria over Obama's teleprompter use has always seemed exceptionally strange to me, given what teleprompters actually do. Maybe it's more important to talk about what they don't do - teleprompters are not magical speech generators. Prepared remarks can be loaded into a teleprompter, which then can be used in a couple ways, depending on the skills of the reader and the amount of prep time available. If the speaker has time to memorize most of their speech, then they use the teleprompter more like a stage director than a script, for prompts and checks rather than a direct read. If not - and this is likely the case with most modern Presidents - then the speaker may read more directly. Using a teleprompter doesn't make the remarks any more or less prepared.
George W. Bush and his teleprompter
Major Presidential addresses are prepared ahead of time, and for good reason. These addresses have national and global importance and it's important to consider their content ahead of time. Advance preparation also helps the speaker get more comfortable with the address, which in turn improves their delivery. Everyone has a different style, but in my experience, political speakers use notes more than most other speakers because of the particular type of rhetoric usually employed and the probability of figures, foreign names or other details likely to occur.
Does Obama use a teleprompter too often? Possibly. There have been several stories about him trying to wean himself off of it and not having that much success with the process. That being said, I do not believe his success as a speaker is contingent on the teleprompter. He is slower and more contemplative when he's speaking without it, but that too seems fairly natural to me, considering he is operating in a world viewed through the lens of a media system that is hypercritical of any speaker. I would want my words to be rightly understood, too, and a teleprompter is one way to get as close to a guarantee on that front as possible.

Simply put, teleprompters are an important tool in any President or public speaker's arsenal as they work to communicate effectively to a massive audience. To waste time complaining over a public speaker's use of an important technology is to take precious time away from actual issues, no matter how they are technically presented.

Friday, November 19, 2010

This Friday, Everyone Gets a Bonus Kitten!

I got really busy this week and didn't front load my postings as much as I would have liked - a couple posts ran long and I have a few more still in the can that grew unexpectedly - but since it's Friday and Fridays are great, here's an adorable video.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Temporary Safety

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin, 1775

On September 11th, 2001, all the natural privileges that we have enjoyed as a nation shook to their cores. We have been blessed with a uniquely defensible geographical location, enough good will to protect us from many potential challengers, and the strength to try to spread the best of our politics and defend the world's weakest where we could. We haven't been perfect and we haven't always had the best intentions, but we tried, and that along with natural defenses of the blessings of liberty granted to us at the country's inception. It is easy to feel invincible when you have all of this on your side, and shocked when you realize you may not be as strong as you once thought.

It is natural to be fearful under these circumstances. On September 12th, there was a bomb scare at American University, and we spent much of the day half dressed in the parking lot across Wisconsin Avenue, wondering and worrying about what was going on and if the people who had brought down the Twin Towers could be coming for us. I still remember my friend Colin's tee shirt that day - a white Hanes undershirt with an American flag drawn on it in permanent marker. I would probably have sacrificed a lot of essential liberty for temporary safety that day. It was terrifying and unreal, and most of us hadn't even begun to deal with what had happened the day before. There's no way to quickly wrap your brain around a situation that could convince people leaping to the sidewalk from tens of stories up was better than what was behind and above them. There's no real way to be an 18 year old and think rationally about things when your Mom is calling you to beg you to come home and there are fighter jets going overhead every 15 minutes. There's no way to stand in front of the Pentagon and tell yourself that this is just one day, and it will get better.

We're almost ten years from September 11th now, and we're still scared, which I think is all right. I think something fundamental snapped in us that day, and we haven't been addressing it. When I think about how it might be made better, I often come back around to thinking the single best thing we could do for the American psyche would be to assign everyone a psychologist and give them a year off to work it out. No, it's not the continuing hurt that's of such concern - it's that we're still jettisoning liberty left, right and center for the sake of temporary safety. Even worse, we're not even getting temporary safety. We're just giving away our liberty.

I have never understood the TSA. Let me back up - I've never understood the DHS, because adding bureaucracy over the top of bureaucracies that are not cooperating in order to MAKE them cooperate sounds like pouring lighter fluid on a fire that won't stop burning your house down, but the TSA and the policies that govern it have always been the most confusing and aggravating part of the DHS. I am not sure where one would go to find a more reactive, convoluted approach to security. I am unconvinced that the TSA has even a modicum of proactive thought in its collective hivemind to foil a single terrorist, which I feel has been borne out by the "gee, that was lucky" captures of the last couple terrorist arrests.

Let me first say that the aviation industry was not one without use for security reform. There could have been some adjustments to policy and some development of streamlined, cross-the-board security standards. That being said, the TSA has not provided these reforms, and in fact has crippled an industry already sagging under the weight of its antiquated business model. It clamped down on one of the few sectors of aviation that was booming in 2001 - civil aviation - and had the entertaining but ultimately problematic effect of adding more expenses to the industry while also giving them a government crutch to lean on when they should have been examining said business plan.

Part of the shock of September 11th was the new mode of violence. Terrorists hijacked planes that had easily accessible cabin doors, no security personnel on board, and unprepared passengers. Work Friend Joe pointed out quite correctly that with the addition of locking, fireproof, bulletproof doors on the cockpits, about 90% of the problem is solved right off the bat. Locking down that area removes the possibility that the plane can be used as a guided missile. He also pointed out that if anyone tried to hijack a plane with a knife or box cutter or any kind of smallish blade, the entire plane would be pigpiled on that person in about four seconds, limiting viable hijacking options to explosives, which could be detected by more sophisticated trace-detection portal machines (or "puffer" machine; unfortunately these machines as they currently exist are oversensitive to dust and humidity and have been discontinued, though it seems that further research and development would be in everyone's interest), or guns, which are also reasonably easily detected. Any security measures you add on top of the locked door is more or less gravy.

Minor discursis: I have no idea why the TSA would ever have to go through my luggage. They have x-ray scanners for luggage and can see everything in there, plus I can't access it if it's under the plane. This is, quite simply, bullshit, and whenever I get one of those tags in my luggage saying they've rooted through my stuff, I get irate.

I'm not one to minimize the very real threat of terrorism. What I will say is that the fundamental nature of terrorist actions requires that the actors constantly look for new ways to subvert a security system to cause mass terror, and that makes constant vigilance from our law enforcement and security professionals one hundred times more important than added bureaucracy and invasive techniques that treat regular citizens who merely want to fly somewhere like criminals. The approaches to airport security that have been adopted since 9/11 have been of two primary types - reinvigoration of traditional techniques, and new, mostly technological developments. (I should note here that I refer to traditional counter-terrorism techniques as well; counter-terrorism is in no way a new thing.) By and large, it's been the traditional techniques that have nabbed the big terrorist threats. Let's take this article from the Heritage Foundation as a blueprint. Of the 19 cases listed, the vast majority were cracked with by police departments or by the FBI, organizations in place well before the creation of the DHS.

If the object is to keep terrorists off of our planes, it is clear that the TSA is not the organ achieving that goal. Should people be allowed to wander freely onto planes? Of course not. But given the TSA's proven ineffectiveness at proactively stopping terrorists, it seems ridiculous to give them free rein to move into more invasive techniques on the premise that they know what they're doing.

More specifically, it is unconscionable for a United States authority to demand that American citizens should have to give up control over their body in order to get on a plane. The Founding Fathers were concerned with our liberty, and political theorists throughout history have stressed the importance of our having control over our personal property. Our most fundamental property is our body - if we have nothing else, we have our physical being. We have the right to control it, and not to have it exposed by others at their whim.
We're getting a lot of promises right now: it won't cause cancer, images won't be saved, the photos will be blurry...except all of those are being refuted already. The image above is from a CBS news article discussing the potential health risks of these backscatter machines, one of which produced the image above. We have already had reports of people saving images from the machines.

The alternative to this? An aggressive patdown that includes a groin check. Something that's sexual assault if the person doing it isn't wearing a uniform.

At what point do we admit that the terrorists of 2001 have won? We have seen the TSA adopt techniques time and again that are reactive instead of proactive, while the traditional counter-terrorism bureaus keep doing what they're good at and actually catching the bad guys. The transparent catching up of the TSA with the terrorists would embolden me, were I a terrorist. Catch a shoe bomber = everyone's shoes come off. Catch an underwear bomber = groin check. Catch someone with liquid explosives = no liquids before security. Plane crashes into a building = no small aircraft taking off near DC. Looking for what terrorists have done before denotes a serious confusion about how terrorism works.

I hope that the outrage that has been building will convince the DHS that the techniques they are employing in this fight degrade us as humans and as citizens. It encourages an atmosphere of fear that encourages us to cede our rights with worrying speed, and I am not sure how much longer we can stand to do that.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler

I read this book for my Science Fiction and World Politics class, which is great not only because it's an excellent class with a very cool professor, but also because it's expanding my sci fi reading repetoire. As some of you may know, my friend Rose invited me to start a small press with her, which she wanted to focus on science fiction and fantasy books, and though I agreed to work on the project, I accepted with an "I don't really read/like much sci fi and fantasy" caveat. It's turned out to be a great experience, particularly because Rose and our partner-in-crime Dr. Bill are very well versed in the genre(s?) and have been very good about recommending things to me. Between my World Politics course and the press, I'm getting a much better background in science fiction and deepening my appreciation therefore.

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower is the story of things going wrong. The book begins in a pocket of relative safety in a post-apocalyptic world. Lauren Olamina lives with her family and neighbors in a walled community, surrounded by chaos of every kind, but mostly human danger. Olamina's life is made more difficult by her powers of hyperempathy, which make her feel other peoples' pain in an environment where violence is commonplace. One night, the community is attacked and most of its inhabitants, including Olamina's family, are killed. Olamina escapes into the night with a couple of survivors, and they head north in hopes of finding some safety, and for Olamina, a place to begin her religion, Earthseed. The section of the book where the group travels, slowly accumulating companions, is reminiscent of a light version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, where the travel and the road itself help convey the desperation of their situation. However, unlike McCarthy's work, Butler leaves more room for good people on her road, and Olamina's group is able to find some unthreatening people to band together. [NB: Saying there is more room for good in any post-apocalyptic travelcentric book than McCarthy's The Road is a little bit like saying someone who jaywalks is a less-hardened criminal than Charles Manson. I wrote about The Road a while back.] As they make progress, Olamina's companions begin to see the value in her Earthseed teachings.

I don't want to spoil the ending, because this is an excellent book that you should pick up on your next swing by Barnes & Noble. Butler's writing is gorgeous, and both characters and philosophical concepts are well rendered. Though the progress of Earthseed breaks off at a certain point (there is another book in the series which presumably expands on the concepts), Earthseed is a wonderful entry point into considerations about religion and philosophy and how they become practice.

I also enjoyed this book as an exercise in testing my worldview. The main character in this book is black, as are several others. Their race comes up several times, and each time I felt slightly jarred because I find that I do presume that most characters are white - not consciously, but the series of "oh yeah" moments I encountered demonstrated that it's something I do. I think this is probably pretty standard. After all, when we discuss literature, the relatability of characters often comes up quickly and remains central to the discussion; we insert our identities into what we're reading. In Parable of the Sower, the protagonist's blackness matters in the way she approaches the world and the way the world relates to her. Olamina's race is not necessarily a dominating theme in the work, but it does lend a different feeling to the overall effect. I found this book to be exceptionally good at bringing up the weight of the differences between races in a way that is neither perjorative nor congratulatory, but a way that IS inescapable, and demands that the reader consider what effects the characters' races have on them.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

For the Love of the Game: Concussions and the Nature of Sport

The NFL is talking about concussions and what to do about them again. This comes up in every high-contact sport on a pretty frequent basis and it's a worthwhile conversation not only because concussions are bad generally, but also because it cuts to the core of sports in general. To discuss concussions is to discuss the way sports have been, are now and will be in the future, and this is a topic that we've been dancing around for a long time.

Football is a violent sport, and collision is a fundamental part of the game. This is plenty of reason for studying what happens to the human body while playing the sport, and the verdict has been pretty much unanimous - it's damaging in the extreme. I don't think that's a reason to stop playing the sport. For me, the appeal of sports in general is twofold; the benefit comes from the spirit of competition and the experience of testing and watching people stretch the limits of physical ability. This is why sports that are more contingent on equipment than physicality, like NASCAR or shooting, don't usually do much for me. The oldest and most enduring sports are those predicated on the exploration of the human body, and team sports add the element of the mind, demanding that the individual athlete read and react to his teammates' bodies. Football qua football is certainly a phenomenal test of the human body, drawing on fine motor skills, sheer brute force, mental focus and speed.

If we're assuming that sport's goal is success through the use of one's body, we then need to ask how purely dependent on the human body these sports are. If we adopt the aforementioned view because it is true of the world's oldest sports, it stands to reason that there's also something added to the formula by human sport in the context of nature - performing on natural surfaces and environments, with simple implements that could reasonably be found in nature. Though the latter implements might have been refined over time, it's the rudimentary nature that adds something to the quality of sport. However, refinements matter. The human body developed in the context of nature, and it seems natural that the body should develop in a way that helps it deal with the challenges presented by the natural world. When you change dirt and grass to Astroturf, you add speed and slip. When you change baseball bats from wood to aluminum, you add power, give and accuracy. With every equipment and surface development, you change the body mechanics involved, demand different performance from your body and change the way the game is played. The more changes you make, the further you go from the origins of sport - our human bodies against other human bodies and the natural world.

You can't really discuss alterations of athletes and their sports without talking about steroids and growth hormones. At this point, these substances are at best an open secret. Given my explanation of why I like or don't like certain sports, I'm sure it's not hard to figure out that I disapprove of steroid use, but in arguing about it with various friends of mine over the years, it was my friend Scott who had the best argument for steroid use, and I think it is particularly relevant here. He pointed out that professional athletes are paid to be the best in their respective sports, and for that reason, they have access to the best trainers, the best nutritionists, the best workout equipment, the best medical staffs and an unlimited amount of time to capitalize on those resources. His argument logically followed that steroids, as known performance enhancers, should not only be allowed but would have to be taken by any player who took his paycheck seriously. I'm not sure I'm convinced, but the argument highlights another important element of human development in sports - these athletes have access to everything possible to transform them into supermen. [NB: As high schools feed into colleges and colleges into pro leagues, it follows that these methods trickle down as ascendant athletes work to be as prepared as possible to move quickly through the ranks.] Regardless of the ethics of performance enhancing drugs, it's reasonably easy to say that they take the human body beyond its natural limits, whether by adding a foreign chemical or by increasing the amount of a hormone already found in the body. The same could be said of the trainers, equipment, nutritionists and focus of professional athletes.

We can now see alterations to the natural stage for sports and to the athletic human body itself. This means that we are - right now, at this moment - playing sports faster, harder, and in the case of contact sports, more violently than they have been played at any point in history. The human body is startlingly good at protecting itself, as evidenced by our ability to heal, our reflexes, our senses and more amorphous qualities like our ability to feel fear and pain. Still, these defenses have been developed in conjunction with nature, and as we change our physical abilities in an unnatural way, we test the limits of these protections. When we also change the playing field, the balance is shifted even further from a rough natural equilibrium.

It bears wondering why we would want to pervert human nature and the playing field this way, and I think there are basically two answers for the modern athlete. The easy one is that eternal whipping boy of pro sports: the money. Paid as extravagantly as most professional athletes are, the incentive is there to ignore the hazards and to consistently push harder, faster, higher. The more complicated answer is the same as it always has been: the love of the game. Anyone who has fallen in love with a sport knows the incredible feeling of victory wrung from every cell of your body, or of watching another human being perform a miracle with nothing but their body. Sports inspire us because they are the human body - our shared human experience - held up to the light. When you love the game, you will always be reaching for that next miracle, whatever it takes. My glasses might have a rosy tint to them here, but I think that this love of the game and its experience make the money factor possible. Without the intensity of sports to draw us in, there would be no money with which to pay these athletes, nor pay for the facilities or the equipment or any of the other accouterments that provide financial motivation. Whether directly or indirectly, it's the love of the game that keeps sports moving towards these changes.

It would be dishonest to pretend that sports have only developed new ways to be dangerous, when safety equipment and rule changes have developed as well. However, this can contribute to additional danger. Just as the mental component of team sports is essential, so is the mind of the individual athlete. When encased in modern safety equipment, it's easy to feel invincible. These materials are lightweight but incredibly solid, and this can encourage athletes to take additional risks. Safety equipment often offsets the immediate, catastrophic damages that are the stuff of nightmares, like dramatically broken bones, deep cuts or severed muscles, but its protections can encourage athletes to take risks that open the door to more insidious injuries, like concussions and other internal injuries. Just as performance enhancing drugs can develop your muscles beyond what your bones and tendons can handle, safety equipment can encourage you to take risks beyond what your body may be able to handle. This illusion of safety can be just as damaging as the increases in speed and strength that technology and evolution have created.

So where does this leave us? Does the NFL have a duty to its players to keep them safe? To be honest, I think that there is an assumed risk in contact sports that professional athletes can certainly be expected to understand and take seriously. The main problem is that I don't think it's as simple as figuring out if it's their job to keep their guys from getting concussed into an early grave. For the immediate future, I think it would be wise for players to use the concussion helmets that are available and avoid the hits that are more of a concussion promise than a threat. That's fine. But it doesn't begin to answer the larger questions about the nature of football as a sport, or even of what a sport is. It's tempting to get bogged down in the current manifestations of these questions - this happens in politics, business, economics, you name it - but if we don't stop to consider what sport is and should be, then one day the ephemeral concerns will drop away and we'll see what a shell we've been left with. These are questions worth asking...for the love of the game.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Some Things to Remember

There are some things that are very obvious yet always bear mentioning. There are several that have come up again and again this election season and will probably come up many more times, because they're easy to forget when things are scary and unsure. They're worth mentioning because politics and governance aren't about winning in the moment, but about discussion over time. Politics occupy a strange place in our minds and lives - we love facts and we love proof, but politics is and always has been a matter of discussion. It's not even a matter of opinion, which in many ways would be easier. It's a discussion that humans have been having as long as we have written records and probably long before. I've had a hard time getting to a point where I can fully realize this and stop worrying about finding solutions to political problems that are so definitive that they will end the discussion once and for all. It's been hard because I am a child of the Enlightenment, and I want to believe that we can prove everything beyond a shadow of a doubt, with the magic of SCIENCE and the magic of PROGRESS. We can prove a lot of things, but politics is not something you prove, nor is it something you solve. It's something you discuss. With that in mind, here are a couple things to consider.

1. You will not die.
Politics is tied up with rhetoric, and much of our current rhetoric is guided by the media. The media has bills to pay, and drama sells. As a result, most issues presented through the media are given the same treatment as those local news blurbs about how your melon-baller could kill you dead. It's important to remember that no matter what happens - be it the collapse of the economy, representatives you hate being elected, bills you don't like being passed, whatever - you will probably not die. No matter how bad it gets, we're going to keep waking up in houses next to each other and seeing each other in public and living in communities together. This means that we're going to have to deal with what comes together. For me personally, this means maintaining communication and keeping it as civil as possible. You can disagree - and do so vehemently - but it doesn't change the fact that we're in it together whether or not we like it.

2. There is no final answer to politics, nor one final answer to ephemeral political issues of today.
Political questions don't go away. The question of slavery changes to the question of race relations in American society. Women's suffrage turns into a question of gender equity. The formation of a government shifts to the question of how to apply that framework to a growing and changing society. Politics deals with power and with the basic but complicated work of living together. There is no perfect balance for this - there are simply too many people, under our government and under others'. To stop discussing politics would be to arrive at totalitarianism, and history has shown us that even that doesn't last forever. There's no escaping the discussion of politics, and I don't even know that you should want to. As far as more contemporary questions, there's no real solution or endpoint there, either. If the Second Amendment was overturned and firearms outlawed, would we simply stop talking about that Amendment, or those firearms? Of course not. No law is a definitive proof, and even natural law requires extension to be put into use. The discussion is what matters, and it's the closest thing to an answer you can realistically hope for.

3. Very few political views are precise opposites.
Personally, I think the greatest danger in modern politics is the conflation of differing views with polar opposites. I refer again to the media at large here - particularly with the rise of what I'd call Opinion As News Media - where everything is packaged for easy and quick digestion. That's just incorrect. The abortion debate springs immediately to mind, thanks to the chosen banners of each side. Pro-life is certainly more emotional, but it's fundamentally silly as applied if you think about it for more than 10 seconds. It's the bottom line, to be sure, but it also sets the debate disingenuously. People who support abortion rights don't hate life. Most people who support abortion rights don't think abortions are awesome or weightless or even morally neutral. There's more than one life involved with a pregnancy, and that does matter. It's emotional and it's complicated, and the only way to even get close to any kind of detente is by being realistic and specific about how we think and feel.

4. Most people are not evil.
Some people are, most people aren't. I pretty much hated everything about the Bush Presidency, but I never doubted that George W. Bush wanted and thought he was doing the best things for America. I'm not thrilled with a lot of things about the Obama Presidency, but I think he wants and thinks he's doing the best things for America. There will never be a public figure - Presidential or otherwise - that every single American citizen will agree with. That doesn't mean that the people you don't like are bad people or that they're evil or that they hate America. It just means you disagree. This seems obvious, but a lot of us, and particularly the people in the media, are given to hyperbole when we are het up about an issue. You can disagree and even think people are assholes, but reducing people to caricatures of themselves with fangs and a shriveled black heart doesn't do anything for you or for the conversation. We can do better than that.

5. Being American is not contingent on agreeing with your neighbor.

Since the election, I've had a couple people tell me flat out or hint at the idea that I am unAmerican because I still support the President and I vote Democrat. Some of this has been People Being Wrong On The Internet! and some of it has been weird people eavesdropping on my phone conversation WITH MY MOM on the green line who then feel it is their business to give me shit about voting for Deval Patrick, which...what the HELL, guy?, but in every case, it's both infuriating and sad. This country is built on people disagreeing with each other and reaping the benefits of those disagreements. It's a long process, and it's a hard thing to get through, but I think what we've come out with is a pretty great government, even if it's having some issues with practice right now. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and bear in mind that we're all in this together and we're all Americans...and it's our job to set it right again.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

At Home: a Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson

I love Bill Bryson for so many reasons: his cantankerous old-man-itude, his wonder about everything, his excellent research, his terrific sense of humor...the list goes on. His list of publications reads like a catalogue of the curious mind, and this latest book is no exception. In At Home, he explores the ins and outs of the components of a home, which in turn bring in the entire experience of social life. The slight case of stream-of-consciousness-itis from which it suffers is easily balanced out by the fascinating selection of information that he has chosen. (Even this weakness becomes negligible if not compared to another work in the Bryson canon, the masterful and beautifully organized Short History of Nearly Everything.)

Bryson rightly points out that “Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up.” He then takes us through a tour of his home and the history that shaped it. It can be challenging to figure out how history is shaped by political and social trends, and even more so to figure out how less significant things develop, like the use of beds or forks. As Bryson explains, however, these things are all inter-related. Most of the developments of the past several centuries have served two purposes: to make life more comfortable and to denote wealth to outsiders. In many ways, it is precisely that simple, but the broader implications of that reality is a bit more complex.

Bryson takes us through the histories of public exhibitions, building materials, architectural trends, hygenic practices, social developments, and many more sections of family life, and the information he packs in is staggering. It's a bit hard to explain how it all fits together because that's the entire point of the book, but luckily, it's a lot like one of those magic eye paintings, where all of a sudden, the picture becomes clear from the right perspective. The connections of each set of information to its respective room are not always as clear as they could be, but the substance is engaging enough that I doubt you'll mind. If nothing else, this is a fascinating collection of miscellany, and well worth your time.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why Both Sides of the Debate Over OK State Question 755 on Sharia Law are Wrong

This measure amends the State Constitution. It changes a section that deals with the courts of this state. It would amend Article 7, Section 1. It makes courts rely on federal and state law when deciding cases. It forbids courts from considering or using international law. It forbids courts from considering or using Sharia Law.

International law is also known as the law of nations. It deals with the conduct of international organizations and independent nations, such as countries, states and tribes. It deals with their relationship with each other. It also deals with some of their relationships with persons.

The law of nations is formed by the general assent of civilized nations. Sources of international law also include international agreements, as well as treaties.

Sharia Law is Islamic law. It is based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teaching of Mohammed.

The above is the text of Oklahoma's State Question 755 (thank you, Ballotpedia). It appeared on the ballot with this summary: "A Joint Resolution direction the Secretary of State to refer to the people for their approval or rejection a proposed amendment to Section 1 of Article VII of the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma; creating the Save Our State Amendment; requiring the courts of this state to uphold and adhere to the law as provided in federal and state constitutions, established common law, laws, rules and regulations; prohibiting consideration of certain laws; providing ballot title; and directing filing." This measure passed, and now Muslim groups are suing over it and also (justafiably, I think) getting generally upset.

Let's start with the measure's passage. I think this is a bad question for three reasons. It boils down to there being a weak Constitutional case against it, a stonger Constitutional case against it, and then a basic Be A Human case against it. The weak Constitutional case is via the First Amendment, in which we say that we will "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The only reason I feel I must call this a weak case against the question is because there is some room in the language for a defense. First of all, the clause begins with saying that Congress shall make no law establishing or prohibiting the exercise of religion, and this isn't a Congressional act. Secondly, I think you could probably raise a reasonable argument that sharia law is in fact exercise of religion. In both cases, I think you'd be relying on an overly literal interpretation of the Amendment. The Constitution clearly intends that people should be able to worship freely, not that a religion-based legal system should be allowed to preempt the US legal system. More importantly, if we accept that the writers of the Constitution wanted free practice of religion, we must assume that the inverse of their positive phrasing would apply too, and that no religion should be singled out for a ban. Just as no one religion should be established as the religion of the country, none should be banned.

It's a little irritating to have to admit a weaker-than-you'd-like case via the First Amendment, but luckily we have Article Six to come in with a much stronger case against the Question. Article Six of the Constitution reads: "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." This directly addresses the international law component of Question 755. Regardless of how Oklahoma may feel about treaties agreed to by the Federal government, the Constitution says right out front that they supersede the laws of any state. This renders Question 755 unconstitutional, full-stop. [NB: to be quite honest, given the pairing with sharia, I am assuming that the authors of this question are less concerned about compliance with treaties and more with the encroachment of other legal systems on the US system. I freely admit that I read a fair amount of xenophobia into this question, but I'm trying to leave that out of most of this.]

Unfortunately, none of this amounts to a win for opponents of the question, who seem to have taken up the First Amendment argument. To begin: sharia law is not US law. You do not have a right to have your religious legal system supersede the US legal system, period. A judge or jury considering a case before them should be considering US law and US law alone. That feels a little silly to say, because...that's how the law works. There have been some pushes by various Muslim communities to have sharia govern their communities, but they have been rightfully smacked down in this country because this is America, and it comes with a legal system. If you want to layer sharia over the top of the legal system where you live, you are free to do that, but you are going to face the consequences for actions that violate US law. That's how living in a country works. If I lived in Saudi Arabia, I would expect to be held accountable to that country's law, even if I didn't like it and didn't believe in it.

This brings me to the Be A Human argument against Question 755. Sharia shouldn't be integrated into US law. It shouldn't have legal standing in US courts. It shouldn't take the place of US law. But State Question 755 is a response to a statement no one is seriously making. I have not heard of a single US legal authority - authority, i.e. not a blogger, not a columnist, not a commentator, not an interest group, but someone who has actual sway over the way our legal system works - seriously advocate for sharia law's incorporation. In the absence of such advocacy, State Question 755 is transformed into little more than a spiteful slap directed at Muslims. There are a lot of things I don't like about sharia law. I would never want to live under it and to be quite frank, I would be disgusted if our legislators were so weak-minded as to allow it to supplant US law or even become an integral part of it, but I don't think that America is about actively being spiteful towards people who are "not like us", and I think this because...who ISN'T like us? Which of us has a claim to majority? Which of us has family who have been here since the beginning of history? Very, very few. I know that this is a scary time. I'm scared too. But I don't think wasting our time on spiteful questions like this one or vilifying Muslims is going to help.

This Is Halloween, This Is Halloween

Remember my neighbors with the Halloween displays? Who go big for both Halloween and Christmas? It was another great year in the 'hood. These people are clearly awesome and I want to invite them to a party.
The Dead Man's Poker Room made another appearance. I am particularly enamored of the poker-playing coffin.
The primary theme this year was a grisly chop shop. I'm not sure if the choppers are supposed to be aliens or just skeletons or what, but I think we can all agree that the overall mind-blowingness makes the distinction almost irrelevant. Note the hands and feet hanging on the line behind them.

Of course, you're probably wondering how to transport your feet and such, but never fear...they have a courier service!

Monday, November 8, 2010

There Are Some Prerequisites For Getting My Money

There aren't actually that many prerequisites because as it turns out I am quite law abiding and also don't really like conflict, so basically if you are a freshly-scrubbed looking college student with a clipboard and an Oxfam shirt or you have the ability to issue parking tickets, you can get some of my money. That being said, one of the things I really must insist on is legibility.

I parked at Riverside last week, instead of my normal Westborough commuter rail game plan, and of course because the parking gods hate me I got a ticket.
I always enjoy parking tickets because they need so badly to justify their paper use. You could really just write "$5 IN THE DROPBOX OR WE'RE BOOTING YOU" but because the simpler a task gets the more frippery you need to put on the paperwork, they always have lots of random underlining and up-capping and "COMPUTER CONTROL" and what have you. The good thing is that I'm reasonably sure they will never know it was me because that license plate number is nowhere near readable.

Of course, we know I will totally pay this stupid ticket because I am a wuss, except for one thing:
WHAT THE SHIT IS THAT? Is that an H? I have to pay them 6H dollars? How do you even pay something in Hs? What is the exchange rate for Hs? This part is important because I am in grad school and that means I have like, four dollars on a good week, so if $6H is more than $2.50 I am going to need to buy more Ramen. 6H kind of sounds like 4H so maybe I need to groom a sheep or something. I blame this whole goddamn thing on pennies.


Dear pennies,

I hate you. The bottom of my cool kid backpack is AWASH in your stupid coppery pointlessness and my car cupholder is full of you. I don't know why the Mint keeps making you, because I have never met someone who wasn't like "pennies? Fuck pennies, oh my God." You are terrible and you make my life bad.

Love, Die Painfully,



So anyway I probably won't be back at Riverside for a couple weeks but I have to figure out how to pay $6H before I go back there. Otherwise I'm gonna have to steal someone else's license plates.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Brief Guide to IRT: Deadliest Roads (Spoiler: I Hate It)

The History Channel has developed some non-Hitler-based programming lately, presumably to compete with the Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch and other shows that do not focus on the Third Reich or Nostradamus. One of these programs is Ice Road Truckers, which people apparently like. I don't really understand the appeal. It seems to be an hour (half hour? I tune it out) comprised 5% of people driving and doing vaguely interesting Big Truck Things and 95% of bad CGI illustrating the TERRIBLE ICY DEATHS that the truckers could experience if something went wrong (which it does not). I do not find this to be interesting enough for a series. It's one of those things that could use a special or something, but the premise kind of begins and ends with "these people drive back and forth until the ice melts, and also are drama queens." I am not an executive at a TV channel, but if I was, I would employ a basic test for new series. I would ask myself: "Is there a concept beyond 'this neat thing exists'?" If the answer was no, I would call my Making Specials About Neat Things Existing Team and have them go at it, then sit back and collect my money. I do not think this is how executives work.

So okay I hate Ice Road Truckers, but what I hate even MORE than Ice Road Truckers is IRT: Deadliest Roads, or as I have come to think of it, Privileged Assholes React to Being Out of Their Comfort Zone by Swearing, Driving Aggressively and Refusing to Adjust Their Behavior and Driving to the System That Everyone Else on the Fucking Road is Using. They're now over in India, where - surprise! - the infrastructure is totally unlike both standard US roads and the ice roads they're used to. The roads are extremely narrow and kind of cling to the edges of cliffs, and everyone drives like a crazy person. The drivers are issued an Indian truck and a navigator who is familiar with the terrain. The drivers, finding themselves out of their element choose to do one of three things, to wit:
  1. Openly doubt the navigator and in some cases make a giant prissy show about how they're not doing something because it's "insaaaaane."
  2. Refuse to abide by the norms of the roads, thus congesting the entire road, in some cases for an epic distance, and always requiring the native drivers to work it out because clearly they are the problem, and CERTAINLY not the idiots steadfastly ignoring what the navigators are telling them. Again.
  3. Swear at, threaten and challenge the native drivers who respond to item #2 by honking, tailgating or generally getting frustrated with the assholes obstructing the road.
This show is fucking infuriating for so many reasons, chief amongst them being the complete snobbery of these drivers. Look. If you sign up for a show called "Deadliest Roads" when you are ALREADY on a show about (presumably) dangerous roads, the driving is going to be fucking hard. If you are going to India, and particularly in the Himalayas, you should probably pick up a paper or watch some goddamn Travel Channel or be aware of the world outside your cab so that you get some awareness of the fact that a.) India is not exactly noted for its slick infrastructure and b.) there is a lot of fucking UP in the Himalayas and that much up usually means a tricky ascent.

I'm sure that you've picked up by now that this show is deeply fucking irritating, and would probably like to avoid it, or at least get a foreshortened version. If you would like to take the latter path, here's what you do. You know how kids tend to go through an annoying repetition phase? Find three of those kids. Teach one kid to say, "holy shit, this is a sheer drop of a thousand feet! YOU COULD DIE IN A SECOND." Teach the second one to say, "these fucking people drive like assholes! Fuck them!" Teach the third one to say, "No, that's way too steep, I can't do that. I COULD DIE IN A SECOND." Then simply throw them in a room with about eight pounds of candy, and don't let them out until it's gone. Once the sugar high has really taken hold, tell them to go out in the yard and run around in circles for 15 minutes yelling their assigned phrase.

Notice how they don't stop when 15 minutes are up, even if you tell them to?

Welcome to the IRT: Deadliest Roads experience.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Lestranges: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Croc

One night I had something to drop off to my parents, so I called them on my way home from a Sharks game to make sure they were there. Despite normally being in bed sometime around 8, when I finally got my Dad on the phone, he told me they were up at our long-time neighbors', the Lestranges. I pulled into the neighborhood about ten minutes later and found them all in the kitchen, drinking wine and wearing Crocs. The Lestranges' daughter had just started working for Crocs and I guess they give you your own little store's worth of Croc crap to give out to your family and whatever weird neighbors you have on hand, so they'd all been kitted out in black Crocs with the furry liners. It was quite the scene. Because I am an awesome daughter/neighbor, I was like "yeah, everyone stand with your Crocs together and we'll take a picture" so I could mock them at a later date (in context, about a year later).
Needless to say, these deviant humans decided that I not only needed my own pair of Crocs, but also needed a set that had a pair of Bruins...plugs on them. This is not unlike telling me I need a bear trap with ebola slathered on the jaws clamped to my ankle. I hate Crocs, mostly because people insist on wearing them everywhere and this is NOT ACCEPTABLE FOOTWEAR, but also because they are hideous. I will, however, admit that they are extremely comfortable. I now wear them for driving and gardening.

The comfort, however, is kind of a problem, because it has in fact caused me to forget they are on my feet. On my weekly journey to Boston this past week, I got to Riverside and realized that I had forgotten to take my Crocs off. This whole Ph.D In Boston thing is a real test of my organizational skills, and I still fail at it occasionally. Here's how it works. I take the commuter rail in from Westborough on Tuesday. I have classes all day on Tuesday and Wednesday, and I stay with my sister in the North End during this time. On Thursday, I have one class in the morning, and then I take the commuter rail back to Westborough and go to work (about 10 minutes from Westborough station, which is FULL OF SPIDERS oh my God so many spiders). This all means that I need to take clothes for school AND work with me, in a conveniently portable manner - this means "my San Jose Sharks backpack" which offends my sartorial sensibilities but can't be helped - but of course I often forget that work happens after school because Thursday is a remarkably long way from Tuesday in my brain.


There I was at Riverside in my Crocs, and I thought to myself "hooray! I am a slob, and live out of my car." I forgot that I had recently cleaned my car (read: sorted through the landfill that is my back seat as Rich, Dad and I drove from Connecticut after returning a 2010 bright orange Mustang with standard transmission that necessitated my needing to re/learn driving stick within 12 hours to drive it in a parade before ultimately giving up and making Dad do it, and by "sorted through" I of course mean "put the trash in one pile and then shoved all the clothing and shoes into a formal gown I had in there and tied it at the neck for carriage, then forgot said dress-bag in the car numerous times") so rather than having thirty pair of shoes in there, I had three. My options were:
Extremely awesome Dav Peacock Rainboot-Shaped-Like-A-Cowboy-Boot. I nearly peed when I found these, because I have giant calves and most rainboots do not look awesome and adorable on me like they do on all the people with normal legs. I also have a longstanding desire for cowboy boots, but I am a snob and want NICE cowboy boots because obviously I need them to stand up to my busy schedule of cow-wrangling and also because I am a dork. These look like cowboy boots AND have peacocks on them AND are rainproof and therefore are 100% win.
My pink Nike Frees which I wear to the gym, except only a little, since I work out barefoot.
These Walk-Of-Shame-Tastic satin pumps, which are lovely and make my legs look great but do NOT go with my grad student outfit of "jeans and a black shirt with Sharks backpack."

I was concerned that my feet would get hot in the rainboots, because this weather is giving me issues with adjusting to actual temperature, and I didn't want people to think I was screwing people in the Political Science department or T stations or whatever, so I went with the sneakers. I feel like this entire episode probably says something really worrying about me but I am too tired to analyze it thoroughly.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

TRUE LIFE: My Congressman Remembers Me at the Low Point of My Fashion Life

Remember puffer jackets you guys? They were terrible for EVERYONE. However, like much of the fashion of the 90s, no one wanted to let this get in the way of a good time, so I wanted one super, super bad. For some reason, my mother decided to abet this obviously insane plan by getting me a reversible puffer jacket that was yellow on one side and yellow, red and green on the other. Again, because the 90s were really a huge problem, I wore this monstrosity yellow-side out, rendering myself visible from space. This is one of those times where I cut Rich a break for things like "parachute pants" because people just can't be trusted to dress themselves sometimes.

I wore this hideous jacket all over the place, but perhaps most notably to the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Worcester circa 1998. I was marching with the Jim McGovern contingent. This being a parade, there were lots of photos and such, and this did not bother me because I was wearing my AWESOME JACKET.

Fast forward three years.

I work a couple more campaigns for Jim and then I decide to go to American University (yay, go Eagles!) which is also his alma mater, and of course I'm all "I will intern for you!" I got myself some fancy Grown Up Style suits - which incidentally were also fairly horrid in retrospect since they were that long-jacketed 90s style - and I got on Metro and walked into the House Office Building. I immediately got lost because a.) that is what I do and b.) those buildings, much like the streets in DC, are clearly designed by a crazy person who hates interns, but I eventually found my way to Jim's office. He was wandering through and was all excited to see me, and then goes "oh, you have to check this out!" He takes me over to this big picture on the wall, and lo and behold, there is a picture of the front line of the Worcester goddamn St. Patrick's Day Parade with me and my giant yellow puffer jacket right up front, holding a Jim McGovern for Congress sign and looking cold. Yes, I know you are all jealous of me now that you know I am in fact so superfamous that my picture is hanging in a HOUSE OFFICE BUILDING.

On Election Night I went to Jim's victory party at Coral Seafood on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester (which is awesome AND has giant jellyfish lights which I know will appeal to some people), and as I was leaving I saw him and was like "I am so proud you're my Congressman, and I'm never sitting out another campaign." He gave me a hug and said "you've always been there for me, and I appreciate that. I see you every day in my office."

Maybe if I send him a picture of myself holding a sign, he can tape it over the puffer jacket shot.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

All Politics is Local (and Occasionally Trippy)

Okay so! Election Day was yesterday and if you voted, high five! Voting is important and you should always do it, even when you think you don't care, because if you READ and you EDUCATE yourself on the issues and candidates you will find that politics touches everything in our lives, and government almost as much, so secretly you DO care. I was a precinct captain for Jim McGovern (YAY JIM) in Holden, which gave me a lot of opportunity to be out Amongst The Populace and Also Their Dogs.


One of the other things precinct captains do is to pick up the numbers when the polls close and call them in to a TOP SECRET NUMBER*. Those of you who know me well immediately started laughing because a.) I am kind of an elitist asshole and b.) I love knowing shit before other people secrets so of course this was right up my alley and I totally felt like James Fucking Bond despite the fact that it's Holden so it was really just talking to the nice cop and then waiting for the kindly old ladies to figure out how the voting box printout worked**.

*Also known as "the McGovern HQ"
** That part was actually somewhat worrying.


Anyway, I spent a lot of Election Day driving around with another precinct captain dropping off "vote today!" doorhangers and such. These went to known Democrats, which was nice because it guaranteed an absence of encounters with people who do NOT like Democrats and feel very very strongly about it and occasionally will suggest that you should die in a painful fire with all of your family members and pets. It did not guarantee, however, that you will be able to skip people who are kind of weird. I got out of the car at the bottom of one driveway as the resident was getting into his car. I said hi and started walking towards him, but he put a hand up and yelled "WHAT?" at me, which of course made me start wondering if this was when the guns and/or attack dogs were going to come out, so I froze like a deer in the headlights and explained in what I hoped was a soothing voice that I was reminding people to vote. He said "thanks for the reminder," then decided it was time for a political pop quiz.

"Who said 'all politics is local'?"

"Tip O'Neill."

"Right. And who'd he train?"

"Err, the whole state of Massachsuetts, basically, but also..."

"JOE MOAKLEY. And who'd Moakley train?"

"Jim McGovern."


And then he got into his car.

My new canvassing friend and I went back to the O'Brien HQ, and when Awesome Ward Captain Nora asked how it went, I was like "well, mostly good, but for the crazy man who gave me a quiz about Tip O'Neill," and she goes "OH MY GOD, I MET THAT SAME GUY!" So I guess this guy just spends election season quizzing 20-something women on political lineage in Massachusetts. It takes all kinds, doesn't it?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Get Out There and VOTE Today!

Your vote is the atom of political participation: the most fundamental unit, the smallest piece, and the most important building block of citizenship. What you do after Election Day is your own business - I hope it involves reading political writeups, staying on top of what the people you elected are getting up to, writing them letters and calling them, and discussing politics with your friends, just to start - but voting is the use of your voice to participate in one of the most important and influential political system the world has ever seen.

Get educated and then get out to your polling place and make your voice heard.

Norman Rockwell, The First Amendment