Thursday, August 26, 2004

starting from a picture...

I was reading this article on MSNBC about the Bush's response to the Swift Boat Veterans ads (the one in which he still didn't condemned them) and I thought the featured photograph (credited to AP photographer Pablo Martinez Monsivais) looked strangely familiar.

I think this is what immediately came to mind:

I suppose they're still trying to cultivate that tough guy image or something. Or perhaps, this is a subtle point being made by the photographer: are we trying to glamorize a group of people that are, fundamentally, just a bunch of criminals? I'm probably just reading too much into it. I tend to do that. Of course, I keep wondering, who has to be Mr. Pink?

Anyway, I've recently been sucked back into following the political goings-ons as things started looking more hopeful, but it's just been getting worse and worse and I think I'm going to have to bury my head again. But before I do that, I figured I'd just throw in my two cents. Even though I know it's just me screaming into a pillow, venting my frustration.

It's an appeal to John Kerry, although I know he'll never hear it. (And really, what do I know?) Anyway, my thought is this: I really wish that the next time the press brings up this whole stupid controversy, again (or he has to address it in a speech or at a rally), I wish he'd just tell them that these people are just a bunch of partisan liars and smear artists, and could we talk about something more important, like say, getting rid of the national debt, or fixing health care, or actually funding our educational mandates, or protecting civil liberties and personal freedoms, or stopping the rollback of environmental protections, or developing a real energy policy that doesn't just give handouts to energy companies, oh yeah, and how about cleaning up that whole Iraq mess that the current Administration has gotten us into, (and, uh, Afghanistan? ...and what about Iran? ...and North Korea? ...Sudan?), and on, and on, and on...


So, did you hear that they discovered a "Super Earth" just 50 light years away? 14 times the mass of the Earth and it completes an orbit of its sun in just 10 days. Yep, it's pretty cool... Yep, hiding now...

Tuesday, August 24, 2004


I'd like to state, for the record, that I hate it when I leave the office and it's already dark out. I just find it kind of depressing. And it's not even Daylight Savings Time yet.

Oh, and Windows sucks. My home machine just crashed again for the second time in less than 24 hours. Just clicking between windows and all of a sudden: *click* reboot. Grrrr.

Monday, August 23, 2004

I'm getting too old for this

My friend Hedge (along with her just-friends friend DR) flew in on the redeye from L.A. last Monday. Their primary reason for the trip was to see the Prince concert happening at the Fleet center (having been unable to get tickets for one of his sold-out shows on the west coast), but obviously, it was also a chance for us to hang out on my home turf for a change, as well as an opportunity for her to visit Boston for the first time.

It was a good visit, but draining. Up early Monday-Tuesday; first, to be up when their flight got in so we could take them to the diner for breakfast before I went to work, then, so I could get into work at a reasonable hour (or unreasonable, depending on your perspective) so I'd feel less guilty sneaking out early in order to get into the city in time for the concert. Overall, the whole having to go to work thing kinda got in the way of proper hang time (these days, it seems to get in the way of everything), but we're all grownups and can make do with what we've got; nobody needs to be babysat, and Hedge and DR had their own list of things they wanted to do while they were here anyway. DR actually spent quite a bit of time in the basement where he set up basecamp -- conducting business on the phone (cell or internet) while catching Olympic soccer on Telemundo. And the SOOTTAD was able to take Hedge into town on a culinary excursion or two.

Tuesday night was the actual concert. We were running a bit late, me from the office, Hedge and the SOOTTAD from a trip downtown to the farmer's market at Copley and "lunch" at Durgin Park. Traffic on Storrow didn't help. But we got to the Fleet Center generally without incident: parking at the Common, meeting up with friends at Government Center and walking over the rest of the way. We were concerned that we might miss part of the opening set but it turned out we had nothing to worry about. The tickets may have said 7:30pm, but the lights didn't go down until close to 9.

I should state for the record that I generally dislike crowds and am no fan of stadium shows, and while I do retain fond memories of groovin' like it was 1999 and savouring the funk of Erotic City through high school, I'm hardly a Prince fanatic. But having said that, I was blown away by this show. The set list was amazing, as genre defying as the artist himself: flowing easily from a medley of 80's and 90's pop hits to an R&B ballad to funk/jazz fusion to a solo-acoustic singer-songwriter performance and back to the funk. Oh, and a 'Zep cover. The band, the New Power Generation, was awesome. Amazing solos, including a cover by the sax player of "What a Wonderful World." The best stadium show I've ever seen. (And maybe this is the old guy talking, but even though the show was rockin' and groovin' and pounding and flowing with energy, I was pleased to find that my ears weren't ringing the next morning.) And the gravy? Everybody (everybody) got a copy of his new CD, Musicology.

We were still juiced up when the house lights came up so we decided to look for a place to have a drink and maybe grab a late night snack. "No Beantown Pub" was the sole edict from the SOOTTAD. So we end up at the Last Harrah, the bar at the Parker House, and really what I'd consider an old school high-end bar full of dark wood and polished brass. Sadly, the kitchen was already closed when we got there, but I was probably the only one who was hungry, and I figured it'd be cool just to hang out, so we settle into a table towards the back of the room. We're something of a motley crew, half of us in jeans, the other half semi-funked-out for his Royal Badness, but hey, safety in numbers, and, as I'm coming to realize, Boston really isn't nearly as stuffy or formal as I would have expected. I still think we're causing trouble, as Hedge and others nitpick the brand of vodka that's gonna go into their lemon drops and the SOOTTAD ends up sending her first gimlet back because it's on the rocks instead of straight up. Nevertheless, we have two rounds of drinks, including one of the best Basin Hayden perfect manhattans ever (although sadly, the second wasn't nearly as good), before heading out again. It's a good time. They seem to play good tunes there, too -- I think we bal'd to some Ella Fitzgerald, but at this point, it's a little fuzzy. We probably would have stayed longer but they were cashing out for the night. Damn this city closes up early. (hmm, what time is it anyway?)

So out and about again. Now we're all hungry, and since we're already in the city, we hoof it over to Chinatown and end up at the Grand Chau Chow for some "cold tea" and decent eats. The chow foon (cao fen?) was good (make sure to order it dry fried) as were the pea pod stems. The oysters with black bean sauce were b'giant, but otherwise not particularly tasty. The SOOTTAD gave a definitive thumbs down on the General Gau's Chicken. I deny any responsibility -- I was still reeling from the manhattans at the time. If I had had my bearings, I would have ordered their house special fish dish. Regardless, it was a fine finish to an excellent evening.

Except for the part about getting to bed around 4am and having to get up for work the next morning.


Like I said, it always gets back to that having to go to work thing.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

clearing the haze

We were double-booked tonight -- two parties on a Friday night. Seeing friends that we just don't have much opportunity to see these days. I guess it's the plight of modern living: too much to do, not enough time.

I only have one drink at the first gathering, but it's on the strong side -- a Knob Creek manhattan, perfect, although a little warm, since I don't want to use up all the ice. We hang for a while and then move onto the next party. More friends that I wish I had more time for. I have only two beers, but it's enough to put me on the loopy-side of buzz. It's probably not so much, but I'm too lazy to stay focussed and I happily stumble around, doing my own buzzy version of silly walks. Nevertheless, it's a good thing that the SOOTTAD is driving. (on the way over, I'm thankful she's at the wheel when a moronic cyclist crosses our path against the light.)

Home again, home again, jiggidy jig. I'm craving savory (and really, I'm craving noodles, specifically) but I don't want to deal with Chinatown. ("Thank gawd," thinks the SOOTTAD) I settle on some Korean instant ramen; it's not the kind I'm used to, but it'll do. (the SOOTTAD picked up the most recent batch at Victory) How do I know it's Korean? The spice pack. (The "Seoul, Korea" in the fine print on the package is just the second form of ID) This one comes in it's own styrofoam bowl (which I'm not too keen on, environmentally speaking).

Just like the old cup o' noodles. But better.

Anyway, done, done and done. Don't forget that last part; it reminds me of an animated short we saw a few years ago that sort of went like this:
[a boy and girl sit opposite one another at a round table. They each have a cup o' noodles cup in front of them]
BOY: this cup o' noodles isn't so good.
GIRL: are you sure you followed the directions?
BOY: I folded the lid back half way. I filled it with boiling water to the line. I even closed the lid securely and waited 3 minutes. I removed the lid and stirred.
GIRL: see, you didn't follow the directions.
BOY: what do you mean?
GIRL: read it again: "Fold back lid half way... fill to inside line with boiling water... close lid securely and let stand 3 minutes... remove lid, stir... and ENJOY.
BOY: oh. [sips from cup] Ahhhhh.
I surf the web as I eat. The world (even the interweb) is still a swirling haze, but as I make my way through the noodles and savory/spicy broth, things start to come back into focus.


Yep. Spicy ramen. Just what I needed.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Alien versus Predator

Well, ok, not really. I just thought it'd make a funny title given all the X versus Y stories I've been seeing around. (And hearing a reference to it on the Daily Show didn't hurt.) And I'm still slightly amused that it's actually real movie that's coming to theaters August 13th. (Geez, do I sound like a commerial or what?)

  • CostCo versus Walmart:
    An article in the Globe [SmirkingChimp] describes the rivalry between CostCo and Walmart (or, more likely, Sam's Club) in the context of political affiliation, with the Costco peeps backing the Dems and the folks from Walmart backing the GOP camp.
    The differences are based on more than ideology: Each retailer has a stake in the election's outcome in areas from healthcare to the minimum wage to the way unions can organize workforces.

    . . .

    Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco offers comprehensive health insurance to most of its 78,000 US employees, making it eligible for Kerry's plan, said Kerry's top domestic policy adviser, Sarah Bianchi, 31. That may cut 10 percent, or $35 million, off its annual healthcare premiums.

    Wal-Mart's health plan for its 1.3 million US workers is probably not broad enough to qualify for the savings that Kerry's proposal would bring, since it doesn't cover enough workers, said Jason Furman, 33, the Democrat's chief economic policy adviser. Fewer than half of Wal-Mart's employees are enrolled in the company health plan, according to figures supplied by the retailer.

    Costco wouldn't have to raise salaries with Kerry's proposal to increase the minimum wage to $7 an hour, from $5.15 now. It already pays hot-dog vendors as much as $16 an hour, and the lowest wage it pays is $10 an hour. That's higher than the $9.96 average wage paid at discount stores bearing the Wal-Mart name.
    I was a bit disappointed that the article seemed to suggest that their political allegiances were largely based on the benefits they and their companies would receive based on each candidate's respective fiscal policy proposal. In my mind, I saw it as reflections of competing values -- one set putting a premium on profits and the aquisition of personal wealth , the other looking beyond the bottom line and considering what other people (such as employees) need (which in turn does benefit the company). But no matter how you look at it, it at least gives me a reason to feel less guilty about shopping at a big, national warehouse chain like Costco.

  • Koppel versus Stewart:
    From Slate, a description of the showdown between Ted Koppel and Jon Stewart on Nightline.
    But after the commercial break, something unforeseeable happened on Nightline: an anchorman showdown! What began as a casual media-on-the-media puff piece turned into a fascinating five-minute referendum on old and new ways of looking at the meaning and purpose of television news. In a one-on-one chat on the deserted convention floor after the day's festivities had ended, Koppel, in his low-key, dignified, What-Me-Worry way, got medieval on Stewart's ass.
    I wish I could have seen this, but my television viewing is generally limited to DVDs and the TiVo'd Daily Shows and Sox games at a friend's house.

  • Polls versus Terror Alerts:
    Ok, I'm kind of forcing this one into this format, but I wanted an excuse to post this. In the wake of the latest announcements, here's a timeline (and the handy chart) that correlates news unfavorable to the administration and terror alert announcements.

    Note that as of this writing, the latest announcement appears to have been corroborated by blowing the cover of an Al Qaeda informant. Why doesn't that make me feel any better?

    And why isn't this getting reported in the mainstream media?

Friday, August 06, 2004

weekend review; brain riffs on White Castle

It was a pretty good weekend, all told, despite the humidity and threat of thunderstorms. I don't think it got over 90° all weekend, but with the humidity it was certainly hot enough (although certainly not an L.A. fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot) and certainly sticky. But I'll take the sunshine we got all Saturday. And the forecasted rain and thunderstorms that never materialized but nevertheless kept us from going climbing on Sunday didn't have any significant negative affects on the day.

Friday night we chilled at home and watched The Chinese Feast. "Study time" as it were, at least for me. The SOOTTAD is thinking that it'd probably be a good thing to try and pick up some Chinese as well, but she's a long ways off from me, and I couldn't follow 99% of the dialog. And it was probably a little more work than we had hoped for as we often tried in vain to read the small white subtitles (we won't even go into whether on not the translations were any good) as they were carefully placed in front of white tablecloths, white chef's uniforms, white ice scultures or just an overexposed outdoor set. We initially let some of it just wash over us, which made the story somewhat confusing, but we eventually were able to follow along with a few pauses and rewinds. Despite all the trouble, we both thought it was a great flick. Nice story that held together well, interesting characters, sprinkled with your typical Hong Kong comedic passages, plus cool cooking scenes. It also made God of Cookery make more sense. Afterwards, for lack of any special features on the DVD, we ended up rewatching a few scenes afterwards switching between Cantonese and Mandarin tracks. (well, I did while the SOOTTAD dozed) And I feel like I was catching more of the dialog on subsequent viewings.

I also have to say, the dialog and sound dubbing on these films is really odd. I swear it often looks like some of the actors are speaking Mandarin and others are speaking Cantonese, so no matter which voice track you pick, someone's voice is getting dubbed. We first noticed this in Tai Chi Master (Tai Chi San Feng) where it becomes clear that Michelle Yeoh is speaking in Cantonese the entire time while Jet Li is speaking Mandarin the entire time, so no matter which track you picked, someone's voice would be out of sync. (And as yet another side note, I should mention that I've disliked the Mandarin dubbing for Michelle Yeoh in all the movies we've seen so far, but unfortunately it's the one I have to listen to because it's the dialect I'm trying to learn) I suppose this all makes me feel less guilty watching them in Mandarin, but you can tell that the films are originally released in Cantonese because the quality of the soundtrack is so much better and the Mandarin dubbing just isn't as good -- or at least, it seems like there's a lot more Cantonese-to-Mandarin dubbing than the other way around. And really, dubbing just isn't that good in general.

Anyway, sidetracked.

Saturday my frisbee team played in a local mini-tournament with 3 other teams. Well, mostly my team. We've basically turned into that older, more experienced team with an average age over 30 and with the occasional baby on the sideline, which is cool because we're beating some of the younger, faster teams in the same way that we ourselves were being beaten only a few years ago. (They're old and slow, why are we losing?!) But it also means that we're more prone to injury, so right now we have at least 5 players that are, or should be (myself included), on the DL. That's almost a third of our full roster. Meaning that it was mostly my team, but with a few alumni, friends and family padding our numbers a bit. And we were still feeling like we might be a bit low on numbers by the end of the day.

On the whole, I think we were playing well; and I felt pretty good overall. Up until last week, I've really been feeling slow -- not comfortable making the hard cuts and getting open on offense, playing more conservatively and maybe getting a little lazy on defense. But in Thursday's game, I actually felt like I was finally running at full speed again. And on Saturday I felt like I could maintain it. Maybe I've finally turned a corner and I'm back in game shape. And I had my first layouts (both O and D) in a while, too.

But back to that old theme -- really sore (really sore) at the end of the 3rd game. I'm almost glad we lost the last point because my calves and hamstrings had started cramping up and I probably would have pulled something if I had to sprint the length of the field again.

So, sore. But it was good sore. Mostly. Well okay, it was good to be able to play hard enough that I felt sore afterwards, but the actually soreness kind of sucked. But it was a good day. Oh, and sunny with blue skies for most of the day. Windy too, now that I think about it. (Which made the games more challenging, too)

Sunday got to a slow start. It wasn't terribly hot, but it was muggy, and a bit uncomfortable in the house. The SOOTTAD cooked up one of the b'giant zucchinis (I swear, as big as your head) that she brought back from her parents' house (shredded and fried with eggs, onions, breadcrumbs, spices and perhaps some other stuff I didn't catch into a stack of frittery things not unlike potato pancakes. Except with zucchini. And less crispy.), and enjoyed a nice breakfast out on the deck. We otherwise spent the morning attempting to tidy up the house with only minor success.

Avoiding the outdoors because of the weather threats, we eventually decided to retreat to some A/C by catching a flick in town with some friends, ending up with Harold and Kumar go to White Castle at the Fenway. Funny. And yes, stupid. But oddly satisfying. It resonated in ways that I wouldn't expect from a silly "slapstick/gross-out/stoner comedy" (as described by JozJozJoz, where I first heard about it) or "feature-length fast-food commercial" as The Onion puts it. The movie may have been knee-deep in shovelled stereotypes, but the protagonists, at least, seemed genuine, even if their adventure and the characters they came across in their travels are pure Hollywood fairyland. Maybe something about an asian main character who's an American, but who at times can be made to feel acutely aware of the forces (both internal and external) that make him feel like he's on the outside... Uh, and did I mention that it was funny? (Even if it was "hit-or-miss by design." [Onion again])

Interlude. We grab drinks and snacks at Audubon; snacks including a beef quesadilla and "potstickers" which come complete with far too many water chestnuts in a Chinese cardboard takeout container. Afterwards, we retrieve the car with only minor hassle (and an extra eight bucks for overstaying our welcome in the theater parking lot). Say our goodbyes. And...

Hungry now. So our heroes decide, "hey, we're already in the city. Let's go to Chinatown!" And we end up at the Taiwan Cafe and order real potstickers. Which often go by "Peking Ravioli" (Ugh) but which I think of as pan-fried dumplings because I don't know what they're called in Chinese. Note about Taiwan Cafe -- all the good dumplings (the fried dumplings we ordered, the small steamed bun - xiao lung tang bao or just xiao lung bao and the like) take 20 minutes to prepare. (Sez so right on the menu.) Definitely worth the wait. But in the meantime, we decided to order an additional noodle dish so we went with the "Hearty noodle with pork and vegetables."

The item in Chinese is only three characters. The first is da (big) and we've deduced through some basic food vocabulary knowledge and pattern matching that the third is mian (noodle), but I haven't a clue what the second character is. So I take an unprecedented step after ordering and ask the waitress. It takes a moment for her to figure out what I want as I point to the character and ask what it is (it's what you ordered, you idiot. What the #@*%& is your problem?) and she helpfully says, pointing to each character: ta - lu - mi.

Oh right, Talu noodles. I know those. They used to have them at that place we used to go to for lunch (Tai Shiang Garden) near the office up in Chelmsford. Cool. I'm quite pleased with myself. Both for the new information, but also for actually asking for it in the first place. It's about overcoming the fear and embarassment of looking stupid. Point for me.

The da lu mian arrives quickly (we applaud our good planning since it's gonna be a while before the dumplings come) and we're mid-evaluation (hmmm, soupier than I was expecting, but the egg and mushrooms look right and...) when the waitress interrupts with something I don't understand.

"I'm sorry?" (It doesn't even occur to me to try duibuqi)

And she repeats, in english, "do you want small bowls?" (in my mind's eye I see her rolling her eyes as she asks this)

"Um, yeah."

At this point, I'm feeling pretty lame.

Actually, really lame.


Lameness like I have not felt in years.

Well, no. It's just that it had a certain quality of lameness that has a kind of resonance frequency that amplifies it. It resonates, to coin a phrase. There is an experience, that I find quite common, of hearing a sea of voices that I don't quite understand, but feel like I should understand. Walking around Chinatown. Sitting in a restaurant. Attending a big family dinner where the conversation just goes over my head. But that's not quite it.

Almost 20 years ago. Los Angeles. High school. We're Juniors, so we're allowed to leave campus if we don't have class, and every Friday we have two free periods back-to-back that gives us just enough time to drive to Chinatown, get lunch, and drive back to school without being late for AP E&M.

And so we go get beef noodle.

Which was not just a tasty meal but, at four bucks a bowl, was a pretty sweet deal as well. (Cheaper than a lunch at Carney's or Micky D's, even then.) I didn't really speak Chinese, but I had learned how to order, in Mandarin, three beef noodle, one hot, two not hot for me and my two best friends. And so we went. And I ordered. And everything was great until the waitress/server/manager (she was the only one we ever saw in the shop) came over and asked me something. What, I don't really know. Because it was in Chinese. And I think it had something to do with how my parents were, or why they weren't there, or something. There was definitely something in there about my parents. I think. But even if my comprehension was there, there was no way I could reply. And boy, did I feel lame. Kind of like at Taiwan Cafe, except multiplied by teen angst and awkwardness.

It got the ball rolling, and I thought about feeling on the outside, on both sides of the fence. Born and raised in the US, I still notice the occasions when I'm at a bar or restaurant and I'm the only "slanty-eye" in a sea of white. But I'm strangely uncomfortable in ethnic pockets like Chinatown where I might blend a bit better, but I can barely make out a character or two on a storefront sign and certainly don't understand any of the conversations swirling around me. Feeling outside. We are all ultimately alone in our own skin, but it's not always so in your face. It's certainly not always like that -- sometimes there's peace being lost in the ocean. And sometimes it's just there, and that's just where you are, and it's fine. It's part of the character, the backstory.

I guess I was feeling a little bit like Harold. There was that bit in the movie where Harold talks about the threat of being called a "twinkie." And I can still remember being called a "banana" by a great uncle visiting from China. But, y'know? That's just a little bit of the backstory, a few threads of the fabric.

And hey, did I mention that the dumplings were awesome? (As were the noodles.)

Sunday, August 01, 2004

A Former President's Son

...has some things to say about another President's son.

In the latest issue of Esquire, Ron Reagan, Jr. does a pretty good job of covering much of what is wrong with W and his administration:

...and you wonder to what extent Mr. Bush himself lives in a world of his own imagining.

And chances are your America and George W. Bush's America are not the same place. If you are dead center on the earning scale in real-world twenty-first-century America, you make a bit less than $32,000 a year, and $32,000 is not a sum that Mr. Bush has ever associated with getting by in his world. Bush, who has always managed to fail upwards in his various careers, has never had a job the way you have a job—where not showing up one morning gets you fired, costing you your health benefits. He may find it difficult to relate personally to any of the nearly two million citizens who've lost their jobs under his administration, the first administration since Herbert Hoover's to post a net loss of jobs. Mr. Bush has never had to worry that he couldn't afford the best available health care for his children. For him, forty-three million people without health insurance may be no more than a politically inconvenient abstraction. When Mr. Bush talks about the economy, he is not talking about your economy. His economy is filled with pals called Kenny-boy who fly around in their own airplanes. In Bush's economy, his world, friends relocate offshore to avoid paying taxes. Taxes are for chumps like you. You are not a friend. You're the help. When the party Mr. Bush is hosting in his world ends, you'll be left picking shrimp toast out of the carpet.
And that's just a small part of what he has to say. Read the article here. [Smirking Chimp]