Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in haiku

This afternoon, KUOW challenged listeners to summarize their experience of 2009 in haiku form. Here's mine:

A student again;
in life, too, I still require
much education.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cash on coins


One of my favorite Marketplace Money stories of the year aired yesterday. It's a report on the state of coin collecting in an increasingly cash-free society, delivered by a correspondent named... wait for it... Cash Peters. Seriously. I've rarely heard such a fast-paced, witty piece on something so potentially dull.

If you like charticles...


...you'll love what The New York Times has concocted to sum up the '00s. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Say nice things about Detroit


My sister once had a shirt that said: "Detroit: Where the weak are killed and eaten." I've also seen one with a smoking gun on it that declared: "Thanks for visiting Detroit; sorry we missed you." Now, thanks to a Facebook sidebar ad, I've finally found Detroit T-shirts with a positive spin. The Chet Lemon shirt is the best, not only because of its hip, clever pictogram but also because you really do have to be a longtime or lifetime Detroiter to know who Chet Lemon is. (He's a former Tigers outfielder.) I might buy one at some point, if only to mystify Seattle friends and start conversations.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Why?

No, seriously: Why? I consider this coal in my stocking.

"Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!"


May your holiday be peaceful and bright.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

R.I.P., Eileen


Earlier today, I found an obituary from February that listed a friend I'd lost touch with: Eileen Mintz, whose passion for food matched her formidable PR skills. I met her through my work as a food writer for Seattle Weekly, but she was more than just a professional acquaintance. Even though we didn't see each other too often, her kindness to me resembled that of a loving aunt, albeit one with better connections and juicier gossip than any actual relative I've ever had. Eileen was a matchmaker, too, and though she never made any money at it, she probably could have.

I interviewed her about her knack for pairing people up for the Weekly's Valentine's Day issue in 2006, and the resulting piece provides a sample of Eileen's offhand wisdom and joie de vivre. After the interview, she drove me to the house of Emily Cunningham, whom I'd just started dating. That very night, Emily and I began a relationship that would last two and a half years. Coincidence? Doubtful. Befriending a matchmaker gives you an unfair advantage in matters romantic; I highly recommend it.

Wherever you are, Eileen, I hope you're eating well and helping people date better. I'm really sorry I missed your memorial service.

Letting go of Christmas


Even though I'm the child of two Jewish parents, I grew up celebrating Christmas. My father's first wife wasn't Jewish, so they raised their three children with both Jewish and Christian holidays. When my mom and dad met, he wasn't willing to give up Christmas, so I was raised with it, too. I believed in Santa and could hardly get to sleep on Christmas Eve, the night our family traditionally sang carols with two other families -- one Jew-ish, one non-Jewish. Our house was adorned with a fully decorated Christmas tree, stockings by the chimney, and angel chimes, and I left cookies and milk for St. Nick even after I was pretty sure he didn't exist. (They were usually sugar-free cookies, since my father was diabetic.) I didn't know of too many other Jewish families who celebrated Christmas, but our Reconstructionist congregation was offbeat enough that I doubt it caused a scandal when certain members found out that we did. When I was young, Christmas was to me what it is to countless other kids: the most magical day of the year.

I mention all of this because, like Jew-ish.com editor Leyna Krow, I find Jewish anti-Christmas sentiment tiresome at best. Yes, we're a group that's been oppressed for millennia, and yes, Christians have often been our oppressors, but whinging about the ubiquity of Christmas is like traveling to Hawaii and complaining about the heat. We live in a country that's religiously neutral on a political level but extremely Christian on a cultural level, and it's likely always to be that way. Leyna's comment that saying "Actually, I'm Jewish" when someone wishes you a merry Christmas only makes things more awkward is true, and though some Jewish activists may interpret identity politics as a way to make non-Jews feel awkward, I don't find this constructive. Pride in one's own heritage, practices, and beliefs always outshines insecurity, and many Jewish people's reactions to Christmas smack of the latter. Maybe some Jews hate Christmas because they envied their non-Jewish peers when they were little, and what they really hate is having been in such an uncomfortable position all those years. I occasionally try to shock Jews I know by telling them that I go to St. Mark's every Christmas Eve for services, and I guess that's a reactionary response to reactionary anti-Christmas grouchiness.

That said, I find myself drifting away from most of my personal Christmas customs. This is the second year in a row that I haven't bought a tree, nominally because of the cost but actually because I live at the Ravenna Kibbutz, where displaying a Christmas tree in the living room would be too much even for a liberal Jewish community to handle. Having a small tree in my room might have been nice, but I prefer a larger tree in a more public space, so halfway through December I decided to let it go. I've watched It's a Wonderful Life at the Grand Illusion every Christmastime since 2002, but I may not go this year. I know the movie practically by heart, and seeing it for the ninth time doesn't really appeal to me (though I'm still awfully fond of it). I went to a caroling party a week ago, but I barely knew anyone there, and I focused more on the food than the singing. When I observe Christmas in Seattle, even in a limited way, I'm doing so mostly to honor my father's memory. He believed that winter holidays were about warmth, light, and common humanity, and he didn't see why Jews couldn't enjoy two instead of just one. (As an adult, I've added Solstice to the lineup, too.)

My Christmas customs also have a tinge of desperation about them, because I'm still grasping at a golden past -- the near-perfection of childhood Christmas -- that I can't return to. In much the same way that New Year's Eve almost always feels anticlimactic to me, Christmas has become a source of muted sadness. I want to feel connected to my father, and to the magical feeling of Christmases past, yet both of these things remain beyond my reach. Finding a vibrant Jewish community has helped me expect less from Christmas -- any kind of social support makes the winter holidays less melancholy -- but I may never get excited about Latkepalooza and other Jewish Christmas events. To me, they seem transparently like distractions, attempts to stay entertained during a day that has negative, even hurtful connotations for many Jews.

Of course, that's precisely what these events are, and there's nothing wrong with that, even if I sometimes feel that their organizers and participants doth protest too much. I don't get jazzed about The Hebrew Hammer screenings and Chinese food feasts on Christmas because I don't want to be distracted -- I want to carry my father's idiosyncratic love and observance of Christmas into the future. Whether or not to raise my own children with Christmas, especially if I marry Jewish, may prove to be a thorny question, but there's no need to resolve it yet. I was heartened to learn recently that an outspoken Jewish activist I know, someone whose personal philosophy is steeped in identity politics, plans to be at St. Mark's tomorrow night as well. A comment she made implied that she's half-Jewish, and that she goes to church on Christmas Eve to honor the non-Jewish part of her heritage.

Since I'll be writing an article soon for Jew-ish.com on the subject of half-Jewish identity, I was both intrigued and comforted to hear that she, too, would be attending midnight mass. Christmas Eve services may hit more of a nerve than other Jewish cultural and spiritual dabblings -- in Buddhism, say, or Eastern medicine -- but sitting in a pew on Dec. 24 doesn't have to be more sinister than going to meditation class. I visit St. Mark's for what my friend Sarah calls the "smells and bells" -- the beautiful pageantry, the breathtaking music, and the sense of universal goodwill. Though I'm not sure how I'll mark Christmas as the years pass, I agree with my father that any ceremony or gathering that helps dispel the winter blues -- especially in Seattle -- isn't likely to do any harm.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Good news re: health-care bill

Is Obama perfect? No. Have even his fans been disappointed in certain aspects of his presidency? Sure. Is the health-care bill's progress in the Senate exciting? You damn betcha.

Pop culture in the '00s


New York magazine has put together a wonderful four-page summary of our nearly finished decade's most memorable moments in film, TV, music, theater, etc. And check out those awesome Photoshopped collages! We've come a long way from Freaks and Geeks to New Moon, kids. (Hat tip to Steven for the link.)

R.I.P., Brittany


Such strange, sad news. We may have been used to the skinny, glamorous Brittany, but I still fondly remember the lovably normal-shaped Brittany from Clueless. And there's no forgetting her damaged, chicken-hiding character in Girl, Interrupted. May she rest in peace.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Golden Globe predictions (and wishes)


It's that time of year again! In each category, I've bolded the nominee I think will win and italicized the one I think should win. (If I haven't bolded or italicized anything, it means I don't know enough to predict or prefer.)

BEST PICTURE -- DRAMA

Avatar
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
Up In The Air

BEST ACTRESS -- DRAMA

Emily Blunt – The Young Victoria
Sandra Bullock – The Blind Side
Helen Mirren – The Last Station
Carey Mulligan – An Education
Gabourey Sidibe – Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire

BEST ACTOR -- DRAMA

Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart
George Clooney – Up In The Air
Colin Firth – A Single Man
Morgan Freeman – Invictus
Tobey Maguire – Brothers

BEST PICTURE -- MUSICAL OR COMEDY

(500) Days Of Summer
The Hangover
It's Complicated
Julie & Julia
Nine

BEST ACTRESS -- MUSICAL OR COMEDY

Sandra Bullock – The Proposal
Marion Cotillard – Nine
Julia Roberts – Duplicity
Meryl Streep – It's Complicated
Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia


BEST ACTOR -- MUSICAL OR COMEDY

Matt Damon – The Informant!
Daniel Day-Lewis – Nine
Robert Downey Jr. – Sherlock Holmes
Joseph Gordon-Levitt – (500) Days Of Summer
Michael Stuhlbarg – A Serious Man


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Penélope Cruz – Nine
Vera Farmiga – Up In The Air
Anna Kendrick – Up In The Air
Mo'nique – Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
Julianne Moore – A Single Man

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Matt Damon – Invictus
Woody Harrelson – The Messenger
Christopher Plummer – The Last Station
Stanley Tucci – The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds


BEST ANIMATED FILM

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs
Coraline
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess And The Frog
Up

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Baaria (Italy)
Broken Embraces (Spain)
The Maid (La Nana) (Chile)
A Prophet (Un Prophete) (France)
The White Ribbon (Germany)


BEST DIRECTOR

Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
James Cameron – Avatar
Clint Eastwood – Invictus
Jason Reitman – Up In The Air
Quentin Tarantino – Inglourious Basterds

BEST SCREENPLAY

Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell - District 9
Mark Boal - The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds
Nancy Meyers - It's Complicated
Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner - Up In The Air


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Michael Giacchino - Up
Marvin Hamlisch - The Informant!
James Horner - Avatar
Abel Korzeniowski - A Single Man
Karen O and Carter Burwell - Where The Wild Things Are

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

"Cinema Italiano" – Nine
"I See You" – Avatar
"I Want To Come Home" – Everybody's Fine
"The Weary Kind (Theme From Crazy Heart)" – Crazy Heart
"Winter" – Brothers

BEST TV SERIES -- DRAMA

Big Love (HBO)
Dexter (SHOWTIME)
House (FOX)
Mad Men (AMC)
True Blood (HBO)

BEST ACTRESS, TV SERIES -- DRAMA

Glenn Close – Damages (FX NETWORK)
January Jones – Mad Men (AMC)
Julianna Margulies – The Good Wife (CBS)
Anna Paquin – True Blood (HBO)
Kyra Sedgwick – The Closer (TNT)

BEST ACTOR, TV SERIES -- DRAMA

Simon Baker – The Mentalist (CBS)
Michael C. Hall – Dexter (SHOWTIME)
Jon Hamm – Mad Men (AMC)
Hugh Laurie – House (FOX)
Bill Paxton – Big Love (HBO)

BEST TV SERIES -- MUSICAL OR COMEDY

30 Rock (NBC)
Entourage (HBO)
Glee (FOX)
Modern Family (ABC)
The Office (NBC)

BEST ACTRESS, TV SERIES -- MUSICAL OR COMEDY

Toni Collette – United States Of Tara (SHOWTIME)
Courteney Cox – Cougar Town (ABC)
Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie (SHOWTIME)
Tina Fey – 30 Rock (NBC)
Lea Michele – Glee (FOX)

BEST ACTOR, TV SERIES -- MUSICAL OR COMEDY

Alec Baldwin – 30 Rock (NBC)
Steve Carell – The Office (NBC)
David Duchovny – Californication (SHOWTIME)
Thomas Jane – Hung (HBO)
Matthew Morrison – Glee (FOX)

BEST MINISERIES OR TV MOVIE

Georgia O'Keeffe (LIFETIME)
Grey Gardens (HBO)
Into The Storm (HBO)
Little Dorrit (PBS)
Taking Chance (HBO)

BEST ACTRESS, MINISERIES OR TV MOVIE

Joan Allen – Georgia O'Keeffe (LIFETIME)
Drew Barrymore – Grey Gardens (HBO)
Jessica Lange – Grey Gardens (HBO)
Anna Paquin – The Courageous Heart Of Irena (CBS)
Sigourney Weaver – Prayers For Bobby (LIFETIME)

BEST ACTOR, MINISERIES OR TV MOVIE

Kevin Bacon – Taking Chance (HBO)
Kenneth Branagh – Wallander: One Step Behind (PBS)
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Endgame (PBS)
Brendan Gleeson – Into The Storm (HBO)
Jeremy Irons – Georgia O'Keeffe (LIFETIME)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, TV SERIES/MINISERIES/TV MOVIE

Jane Adams – Hung (HBO)
Rose Byrne – Damages (FX NETWORK)
Jane Lynch – Glee (FOX)
Janet McTeer – Into The Storm (HBO)
Chloe Sevigny – Big Love (HBO)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, TV SERIES/MINISERIES/TV MOVIE

Michael Emerson – Lost (ABC)
Neil Patrick Harris – How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
William Hurt – Damages (FX NETWORK)
John Lithgow – Dexter (SHOWTIME)
Jeremy Piven – Entourage (HBO)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oberlin, day by day


The admissions office at Oberlin College, my alma mater, has put together one of its most impressive recruitment tools to date: an online "poster" made of gorgeous photos taken on or around the campus by an OC student. Click around and you get an aptly scattershot sense of what the college is like. Makes me want to hop in my car and road-trip it back. I'll be flying back at the end of May for my second cluster reunion, so probably best to skip the cross-country drive. With enough other Obies in the car, though, I bet it'd be a ton of fun.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Winter blues

I've been feeling blue for at least a couple of weeks now, and though I know progress isn't an upward slant but an upward-slanting sine wave, periods like this can be hard to ride out. I've got my wonderful community, of course, and my involvement with it still brings me joy on a pretty regular basis. But I feel stuck with regard to work -- no NWsource.com projects on the horizon, very few phone screens since I turned down two job offers a couple months ago -- and uncertain about my current academic path, such as it is. When people ask me what I'm studying, I'm more weary of repeating myself than excited to tell them.

I've considered the possibility that the antidepressant I'm on is contributing to my general sense of emotional flatness, but I wonder if I suspect the Lexapro because I've heard other people say that SSRIs can cause emotional flatness. The power of suggestion works both ways; it can make you feel like your meds are helping you, or it can make you wonder whether they're hurting you. I imagine the increasingly gray Seattle skies, my singleness, my overweight, the overeating that's sustaining that overweight, and the lack of exercise in my life are all contributing factors to this year's early-onset S.A.D. Last year at this time, the Kibbutz was still something new in my life, and New Year's Eve brought the beginning of a relationship that lasted longer, and became more emotionally significant, than I expected. This year, the Kibbutz is still meaningful but not nearly as novel, and I don't feel particularly confident about presenting myself to the world, whether in a dating context or just socially.

I think my #1 problem right now is sagging self-esteem due to physical inactivity. When I danced at the Moishe House Chanukah party the other night, it only took about 10 minutes, if that, to utterly exhaust me. I was practically wheezing, and I felt a desperate need to lie down. There have been times in my life -- my bar mitzvah, the year 2004 -- when I was so out of shape that I couldn't dance for very long. Here I am again, in the middle of one, only this time it happens to coincide with a unit on fitness in my nutrition class. Looking at all the toned models in the book's supposedly helpful pictures, I felt that the distance between where I am and where I want to be is vast. Even moderate fitness feels unattainable.

My main goal for 2010 is to make exercise a regular part of my life. I want to do on the fitness front what I did this year, with the help of my wonderful life coach, in the area of money management. Thanks to our work, I make a budget at the beginning of each month and am much more conscious of how and why I spend money the way I do. Prediction: If I can make the sort of progress with exercise in 2010 that I did with money in 2009, I'll be much happier by 2011.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Snapshots from the past


I scanned some more old photos today to make a Facebook album. The older I get, the more gratifying it is to share these images with people I know, and simply to look at them and marvel at how far I've come, and how much has changed. Check out the rest of the pictures here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sen. Orrin Hatch thinks we're the Chosen People

He seems like a sweet man. I hope the Kibbutz gives his new Hanukkah song a whirl this month. So what if his affection for us verges on the apocalyptic-creepy? Said the senator to The New York Times:
“Anything I can do for the Jewish people, I will do,” Mr. Hatch said in an interview before heading to the Senate floor to debate an abortion amendment. “Mormons believe the Jewish people are the chosen people, just like the Old Testament says.”
Also:
At one point, Mr. Hatch unbuttons his white dress shirt to expose the golden mezuzah necklace he wears every day. Mezuzahs also adorn the doorways of his homes in Washington and Utah. Mr. Hatch keeps a Torah in his Senate office.

“Not a real Torah, but sort of a mock Torah,” he said. “I feel sorry I’m not Jewish sometimes.”
We may be Chosen, but who knew we'd get this lucky? We now have Mormons writing us music free of charge. It's a beautiful world we live in, people. Check it out:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"Inglourious Basterds"


When I was 13, my parents took me to see The Power of One, which deals with the injustices of apartheid. I remember that at one point the main character committed some act of righteous violence against the Bad Guys, and I yelped with glee. I may have even stood up, I was so excited. My pacifist parents -- who raised me without war toys, war games, or corporal punishment of any kind -- were taken aback. I felt sheepish afterwards, but in that visceral moment, who wouldn't cheer for the hero as he brought the hammer down on the despicable villains?

I saw Inglourious Basterds tonight, finally, and it brought up similar feelings. If you haven't been living in a hole, you know that Quentin Tarantino's World War II revenge saga-as-Peckinpah Western is about an elite band of Jewish-American soldiers bent on killing (and scalping!) as many Nazis as possible in occupied France. (Be aware: Spoilers follow.) As their fearless leader, Brad Pitt is all kinds of fun; in the role of a strong, Jewish heroine (reminiscent of the Bride character from Kill Bill), Mélanie Laurent gives the film a lot of heart. It isn't, as some critics claim, an empty stylistic exercise. Not by a long shot.

According to my mother, her shul's rabbi encouraged the members to see Basterds because it tackles the subject of Jewish vengeance. While I wouldn't ask everyone I know to stomach Tarantino's graphic violence, I agree that the movie touches on some meaty issues. And where the similarly themed Munich was self-important and casually misogynistic, Basterds offers a good time at the movies and a kick-ass female protagonist. Tarantino even points up the antirealism of old WWII movies, in which everyone magically spoke English, by subtitling more than half the dialogue. (The film is in English, German, and French, with a little Italian tossed in for good measure.)

Spielberg and QT may be equally unsubtle filmmakers, but Tarantino's still got something Spielberg hasn't had since Jaws: the ability to serve up dark, energetic entertainment without worrying all too much about making The Big Point. Keep the slow-mo sex 'n' death mashup near the end of Munich and give me the final swastika-carving scene from Basterds. There's putting too fine a point on your movie, and then there's using the point at the end of your knife. I prefer the latter.

Tarantino builds the story in chapters, and yes, the movie is two and a half hours long, and yes, sections of it are talky, but many scenes crackle with real suspense, the entire film is absolutely gorgeous to look at, and no character is safe from harm. (That's been a Tarantino hallmark since Pulp Fiction, and I've always appreciated it. The fact that anyone could die packs a lot of emotional power.) Laurent's Shosanna Dreyfus communicates a great deal with her eyes, and by film's end I'd grown surprisingly attached to her.

Tarantino is known for outrageous violence and obscure movie references, but he actually uses violence very carefully, and his references don't crowd out the immediate drama of each scene. What happens to Shosanna's family is depicted both brutally and bloodlessly; a lesser director would have chosen one path over the other, but Tarantino has the insight and skill to combine them to devastating effect. (The Coens made similar decisions in No Country for Old Men.) As for QT's love of movies, he expresses it more touchingly than ever. During the stunning sequence in which Shosanna dons makeup and a red dress, the shots he gets are sweet tributes to feminine beauty and power in cinema.

Though Christoph Waltz's portrayal of notorious Nazi officer Hans Landa gets hammy towards the end, it's nothing he hasn't prepared us for. From the haunting first scene until Landa meets his supremely apt fate, Waltz lives up to his surname, dancing us in and out of the villain's evil aura. He comes off as smarter than the Nazi high command, whom Tarantino depicts as feeble-minded, violence-crazed man-children. Yet he isn't smart enough to elude his karma, which strikes him as soundly as it does Hitler, Goebbels, and the rest.

Some critics have suggested that Tarantino trivializes the horrors of the Third Reich by using the era as a backdrop for a bloody revenge tale. Yet there have been plenty of uprising films -- last year's Defiance, for example -- that won plaudits for telling true stories of Jewish resistance. Tarantino frames Basterds as fairy tale, fable, wish-fulfillment fantasy, and alternate history, but its climactic scene in a Paris movie theater works beautifully enough as simple catharsis.

We can't revive the loved ones we lost to the Nazis; we can't undo the infinite damage wreaked by the Holocaust. But we can take a trip into our darker dreams of vengeance and behold the splendid, horrifying sight of a building full of Nazis exploding into the Parisian night. That scene is astonishing cinema, balletic and relentless and in tune with the subconscious desire of countless Jews still furious about what happened to their people -- our people

There's a moment in which Eli Roth's character, nicknamed the Bear Jew, keeps gunning at Hitler even though the Führer is clearly dead. Out of context, it sounds juvenile and obvious, but after nearly 150 minutes of emotional buildup, it feels good -- it's a welcome release. Maybe that's fucked up, maybe not. Either way, it's worth talking and thinking about, and to me, that makes Basterds a strong piece of work.

Comment of the week

This one comes from Diana, a college friend with a lovely blog of her own, in reference to my tell-all post about the nutritional intricacies of my diet:
Any way I can get my hands on that program? I'm one of those people that convinces myself that everything is just fine... until confronted with hard evidence. We eat more than half our meals vegetarian now, but we still need less cheese/pasta and more actual vegetables. Email me if you have a copy or something.

There's nothing like gardening to make you eat more veggies; I say GO for it. There's no WAY you're going to let that home-grown stuff go to waste: it becomes precious. We ate tomato-pepper-basil salads almost 3x per week this last summer, and just knowing how much work went into it made it seem delicious every time. I'm very sad that we won't have a garden next year (because of the shade issue) or perhaps even the next (since we can't afford to get the land cleared and I'm afraid of chainsaws).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

White pages

Sasha redesigned her blog, transforming its aesthetic into something strikingly minimalist. Makes me want to tinker around with mine. We'll see. Maybe something new for 2010.

I'm also still thinking about buying MazelTofu.com, a domain I've wanted for a while now. The concept: a site devoted to Jewish vegetarian cooking, including recipes, test-kitchen adventures, and anecdotes. I'd probably build the page using WordPress; I'm just concerned that it would be frivolous to buy cyber-property during a low-income month. Perhaps posting the idea here will prompt me to finally act, before someone else nabs the URL.

The Onion A.V. Club picks the best films and performances of the '00s

Both lists, of films and performances, are superb. I'm particularly pleased to see underrated gems like The Man Who Wasn't There and 25th Hour. (Thanks to Michael for sending this my way.)

Monday, November 30, 2009

My nutrition paper

It's part three of a class project for which we were asked to 1) keep track of everything we ate, including portion sizes, for 72 hours; 2) plug all the data into a diet analysis program; and 3) write an essay about our diet, including what we're getting too much of and what we're deficient in. I enjoyed the whole experience, and I think doing something like this regularly -- say, three or four times a year -- would be good for me. The Michael Pollan book I refer to in the essay is In Defense of Food, which I highly recommend.
I’m meeting most of my nutritional requirements simply by consuming too many calories each day. That said, I could use more linoleic acid; I’m only getting 78% of my daily requirement (13.28 g). I also need more water than I’m getting; I’m taking in just 68% of my daily requirement. Not surprisingly, considering where we all live, I need more vitamin D, too – I’m consuming only 79% of my requirement. I also need more of vitamins E and K. Among the food groups, I’m coming up short in the milk and fruit areas. I’m vegetarian but do consume dairy products, so I wonder how much more dairy I’d need to take in. Regarding fruits, I’ve been buying oranges and melons and trying to eat more fruit rather than juice.

I’m consuming too many calories compared to how many I’m burning. My average daily caloric intake is 3158, whereas my average expenditure is 2658. It’s no wonder I’m up to around 220 pounds and my BMI is 33. I’m consuming macronutrients in the right percentages, but the amounts are too large. I received recommendations from the diet analysis program based on a desire to lose weight, not just maintain it.

Still, my 447.55 daily grams of carbs far exceeds the 227-327 range the program recommends, and my fat intake (103.38 grams rather than 45 to 78) and protein consumption (122.93 grams instead of 80.56) are similarly high. I’m also consuming too much dietary cholesterol (143% of my daily recommendation), linolenic acid (149%), and fiber (116%). I attribute all of these excesses to a basic excess of calories.

I eat a combination of whole and processed foods, and while I could use more whole foods, I’m off to a pretty good start. Though I ate cold cereal with soy milk at the time of the recall, I now mix oatmeal with cinnamon sugar (and sometimes still soy milk). Pasta is my biggest downfall when it comes to overeating, so I’m trying to cut down.

On the first day of the recall, I shredded cheddar over whole-wheat rotini, which at least isn’t standard white pasta. I made a stir-fry on the first night that included bell peppers, onions, broccoli, mushrooms, tofu, celery, and basil. I don’t make as many stir-fries these days, but I’d like to get back to it, since it’s an easy way to consume a variety of vegetables.

On the second day, I had homemade cholent for lunch, which represents the kind of home-cooked meal I often eat in my community. The stew was packed with legumes (black, kidney, white, and garbanzo beans) and also included wild and brown rice, acorn squash, garlic, and cabbage. Making a lot of stew and eating it over the course of a week might be a good move for me as a vegetarian. I did eat a couple of mini Clif Bars that day, and I still have a weakness for processed, sugary “health bars.”

The third day, I blended bananas, strawberries, and soy milk for breakfast; at lunch, I had baby carrots and hummus. Both are typical of the whole-plus-processed food combos I often choose. I also ate veggie dogs that day – highly processed, lots of sodium – and made egg salad. I had class that night, and when I need a snack and haven’t planned ahead, I’ll often get a juice and a granola bar from the campus café. The amount of time I give myself to prepare my food varies, but I do enjoy taking an hour to cook something from fresh ingredients and enjoy it in a leisurely way.

I need to eat less. Snacking is often the problem. But sometimes I’m at a festive meal – and my community has many – and I simply eat too much. My willpower isn’t the strongest, so I need to work out some kind of structure for myself. It would be good to consume less cholesterol – fewer eggs would do it – and more linoleic acid. Also, drinking more water would be a great idea. It might help my digestion, make me feel fuller, and reduce my fatigue. More vitamin D would be good; I don’t drink milk (it grosses me out), but I do eat cheese and ice cream and sometimes yogurt. I could also eat more almonds for vitamin E and more dark leafy greens for vitamin K. I like kale, but I rarely make it myself. I should start.

I think my great-grandmother would recognize a decent portion of what I eat: the cheese, pasta, fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade stews, egg salad, and so forth. Not so much the Clif Bars. Since I’m a label reader (have been since I became vegetarian at 15), I do try to avoid unpronounceable ingredients and high-fructose corn syrup. I shop at a fruit and vegetable stand near my house and get food from the U District food bank, where things are donated from groceries like Trader Joe’s.
I don’t eat mostly plants, but I’m working on it; the produce stand helps. I eat a decent bit of cheese, yet I don’t often know what the cows were eating. Not grass, I imagine.

The farmers market is something I love but feel unable to afford. I want to become the kind of person who takes supplements, in the sense that I want to get more exercise and to balance my diet more carefully. That’s a major project for 2010. Wine with dinner? I’m not a big drinker, but occasionally I do have wine. “Pay more, eat less” – I practiced this philosophy when I had more money. As Pollan notes, snacking isn’t the best habit, but I do it anyway. I’m trying to keep more fruits and vegetables on hand for when I snack.

I eat too many meals standing up or in a rush, but I do believe that eating at a table is best, so I hope to make it a more consistent habit. Eating alone, as Pollan says, often leads to overeating, but I don’t do it too often; there’s nearly always someone around. That said, I overeat significantly at certain group meals, when no single person seems to notice how much I’m eating. Consulting my gut – that’s the trick, isn’t it? Goes along with eating slowly. I’m a notoriously fast eater, but when I take a more meditative approach – focusing on the taste and texture of each bite – I eat more slowly and have more success checking in with my gut.

I do cook frequently now, and I appreciated Pollan’s words about gardening as exercise with a purpose. Maybe once it gets warmer and stops raining as much, I’ll join in my community’s gardening efforts.

My favorite toothbrush ever


Ultra-soft bristles, a handy travel case, a helpful angular design, and a past life as yogurt cups -- the Preserve toothbrush is wonderful. (My mom introduced me to it this weekend.) I rarely rave about consumer products (other than my beloved North Face jacket), but this one deserves high praise. Check out the specs:
  • Handle 100% recycled #5 plastic; bristles new nylon

  • Easy-to-grip curved handle

  • Tiered bristles for gentle, thorough cleaning

  • Completely recyclable after use

  • Toothbrush replacement subscription service available

  • BPA free

  • Made in the USA
The brush comes in six handle colors, including eggplant and pear green. The market still has a dearth of ultra-soft toothbrushes, and Preserve's recycled-and-recyclable status makes it good for the world as well as your enamel. And the case it comes with! So smart. Now I'll never again have to put my brush in a Ziploc bag when I go on a trip.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

"An Education"


Because it's late, I don't want to say too much about An Education, except that I enjoyed it and particularly admired Nick Hornby's sharp, witty writing and the acting of Alfred Molina, always great, and Carey Mulligan, the ingenue everyone's buzzing about. I'm not sure she'll get an Oscar nomination, but I wouldn't count her out. Her performance is supremely controlled without feeling artificial; as my mother noted, she does a lot of acting with her face, and that's something that's often said of the very best actors. Watching her develop her 16-year-old character, Jenny, was a pleasure from start to finish. (Mulligan, as it happens, is 24, but she certainly looks like a teenager in the movie.)

Peter Sarsgaard's role -- he plays David, Jenny's love interest, who's roughly double her age -- seems a bit slight until you realize the film isn't about him at all. Instead, it's about how Jenny reacts to his advances and deceptions, and to all the people in her life who think they know what's best for her. Several scenes touched me, including one between Mulligan and Emma Thompson (as the headmistress of Jenny's school) in which Mulligan equaled her elder's confidence and screen presence. Olivia Williams, perhaps best known for her work in Rushmore, has a nice small turn as one of Jenny's teachers, and they skillfully share two very different scenes. The film's low-key approach differs greatly from that of Notes on a Scandal (2006), which presented similar subject matter as a juicy melodrama rather than a poignant coming-of-age story.

The portion of Jenny's life that An Education chronicles is at once major and minor, highly influential and forgettable; such paradoxes make more sense, I suspect, as people age and gain perspective. (At one point, when her teacher asks her whether she feels old and wise in the wake of her escapades with David, Jenny replies that she feels old but not wise. A response only a wise person can give, no?) Suffice it to say that Lone Scherfig's film gives Mulligan ample room to shine, and she does, brightly. Her Jenny radiates intelligence, and her well-hidden toughness is thrilling to see when it finally emerges. As Louis Menand once observed, some romances invite you to fall in love with only one member of a couple. In this case, it's Jenny who wins our hearts.

Comment of the week

Regarding my recent blurb about Randomocity, Anna "Flamingo" writes:
I catch your blog while surfing and typically enjoy reading it, however, gotta disagree with you about the title: I LOVE it :)

Randomocity is one of those words that's used occasionally in internet slang, but has never really been given an actual definition. Also, I've never seen it used in any respected media outlets. Really there's nothing unfortunate about it except for some obscurity that a little thought can accommodate for: Random, Anxiety, Velocity, City... any of those words could come into play I'm guessing.

I can say that I am more interested in seeing Randomocity than many of the films I've seen trailers for recently. Soundtrack please :)
And of course she's absolutely right. The word "randomocity" existed, at least on the Web, before the filmmakers came up with the title. We can only hope the movie lives up to Anna's interest (and mine). (About the soundtrack: Many of the film's Internet fans are begging for it, too, but there doesn't seem to be one yet. Maybe with enough online pressure, they'll think about putting one out.)

This movie might as well have been made for me



I love Noah Baumbach's films, I have a serious crush on mumblecore icon Greta Gerwig (Hannah Takes the Stairs), and I've been waiting (patiently) for Ben Stiller to do something watchable. Based on the trailer, his character is ambivalent about finding a career and plugging away at it -- i.e., what's widely considered growing up -- and I can certainly relate. Also, he's Jewish. And there's LCD Soundsystem on the soundtrack. Baumbach, Gerwig, Stiller in non-sellout mode, Jewishness, romantic-comedy elements, and indie rock. Yep, this one's got my name all over it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fangst


Michael brought this tongue-in-cheek buzzword to my attention, and it's pretty apt. New Moon felt like two hours of, yes, mooning (as in teens mooning over each other, not the baring of asses) -- interrupted only once, by a decent two-minute action sequence. For that reason, I'm finding Alan Ball's HBO series True Blood to be a refreshing change of pace. (I'm only just now getting to it; season five of Lost isn't out on DVD yet, so I have some time to kill.)

Ball once quipped in a New Yorker article that Six Feet Under, his previous HBO series, was like "Knots Landing in a funeral home" -- a soap opera at heart. Using the same logic, True Blood might be described as Knots Landing with vampires, though in this case Ball -- presumably more confident in HBO's willingness to take risks, since SFU was itself a risk that paid off handsomely -- seems especially interested in embracing that soapy spirit.

True Blood is set in Bon Temps, Louisiana, a fictitious town unlike any real one you're likely to visit. With little hesitation, Ball and his casting director chose spectacularly beautiful people to populate the show's core cast. Anna Paquin, who plays the main character, Sookie Stackhouse, has always been beautiful in an unconventional, even slightly off-kilter way (think Maggie Gyllenhaal), but her feisty best friend, Tara (played by Rutina Wesley), is outright gorgeous, as is the waitress, Dawn, whom Sookie's rascally brother, Jason (Ryan Kwanten), occasionally beds. Jason is very handsome in a generic way, and Tara's cousin Lafayatte (Nelsan Ellis), a line cook who deals drugs on the side, is a looker, too. It goes without saying, I suppose, that Stephen Moyer, who plays Sookie's bloodsucking love interest, Bill, is ruggedly attractive. Even Sookie's boss, Sam (Sam Trammell), is nothing to sneeze at. I thought the cast of Lost was unrealistically hot, but True Blood is giving the plane-crash epic a run for its money.

Ball's scripts riff on the horror genre in fun ways, but the show's general mood and tone are more ensemble drama than Dracula. Whereas Twilight and the CW's baldly derivative The Vampire Diaries have countless teenage girls in their thrall, True Blood is the best fangst we adults can hope to find these days.

Gratuitous portrait of two dogs related to my mom's dog


Wilbur's on the left, Miranda's to his right. It's rare that they stand still long enough to pose -- especially Wilbur, who's only 18 months old. They've played nicely this weekend with Juliet, Miranda's mother, who lives with my mother. Seems like a joint human and canine family tree is in order these days.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Not your typical romantic comedy

Despite its unfortunate title and low-budget look, the upcoming film Randomocity has a potentially heartbreaking premise: Boy meets girl, boy falls in love, girl and boy start dating -- and girl gets sexually assaulted by a stranger. Subsequently, boy tries to convince girl that their relationship is still worth pursuing.

Rape is a tremendously difficult thing for film to explore. If a filmmaker depicts it graphically, accusations of exploitation are sure to follow, and sometimes they're quite justified. If, on the other hand, a director portrays rape euphemistically, there's a real risk of trivializing it. And treating the subject with the right amount of perspective and sensitivity -- well, I don't envy the directors and screenwriters who try. Randomocity's trailer suggests an ambitious film that may run into some tonal problems:



Clearly, the movie wants to take rape, and its effects on both the survivor and her relationships, seriously. Yet it isn't grim and humorless; its sense of humor, whether or not it's to your taste, is evident. Will first-time writer-director Tyler Lee Allen (who also plays Ashley) make this combination of comic and tragic elements work? I don't have the highest hopes, but I admire his moxie.

Things I'm thankful for

My amazing community, the Ravenna Kibbutz, which continues to evolve and grow in challenging, inspiring ways.

My mother, who is endlessly supportive and always willing to give advice, nearly all of which is excellent. :-)

My siblings, with whom I'm trying/hoping to have a closer relationship as the years go by.

The Seattle Times and my boss there, Jane Watson, who calls me first when she needs an extra hand on deck.

The old NWsource crew -- Geoff Carter, Monica Fischer, Jon Palmer, Greg Dunlap, and Sheri Quirt -- for being awesome and a de facto support group for journalists in a post-journalism world.

School, for still being as great as I remember it.

The hope of making 2010 a year of greater physical fitness. I plan to join a gym on Nov. 30 and start a nine-week run/walk regimen, plus hopefully a little weight training. It's time.

All my wonderful friends, who have supported me through tough times and helped me celebrate the good times, this year and every year.

Quality -- or at least entertaining -- television, which has provided me with quasi-necessary relaxation and escape when I needed it this year.

Movies, which even in a subpar year like this one can deliver surprises and make me glad to be alive.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Compared to the epically overplayed "Chanukah Song," Adam Sandler's "Thanksgiving Song" (originally a duet with Kevin Nealon, as you'll soon see) is pretty damn underrated. Enjoy it as it was surely meant to be enjoyed: preceded by an irritating 30-second ad. And may you all have the merriest Turkey Day imaginable!

James Franco on "General Hospital": not a myth


It's true. The star of Freaks and Geeks, the Spider-Man movies, and Milk will serve two months of active duty on the long-running daytime soap. Call me a softie, but I kind of admire the guy:
"[Franco] told his manager that he'd heard that [performing on a soap] was hard and that he thought it would be fun," Phelps said.
What a mensch! It'll probably do exponential things for the show's ratings. Maybe my mother will even start watching again.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Prove it

I consider myself an agnostic, but if you made me choose -- God or no God -- I'd guess the latter. That said, the Freedom From Religion Foundation's recent bus ads really rub me the wrong way. Not just because they're confrontational -- confrontational can be okay. My real problem is that they're not witty. Check this out:


The ad is a parody of the famous line "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," which a 19th-century newspaper editor wrote to reassure a young girl that St. Nick exists, despite what her more skeptical peers had told her. Though the parallel between God and Santa is an old saw among the anti-religious -- both were dreamed up by humans in their desperate search for meaning, goes the logic -- the FFRF ad strikes me as smug, which is ironic considering organized religion's reputation for smugness.

It's been said before that atheism can and has become a kind of religion in its own right, and the so-called New Atheists (led, arguably, by Richard Dawkins) has brought that notion into clearer focus in the past 10 years or so. I imagine FFRF's ads and the New Atheist movement are backlash phenomena -- reactions to George W. Bush's religiousness, and the ways in which it affected his governing style. But there is such a thing as overcompensation, and I find the bus ads juvenile and irritating. Yes, their bold contrarianism is refreshing, but I wish the execution were better.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Are you a chronic oversleeper?


Do you turn off your alarm in a half-awake state instead of simply hitting snooze?

Clocky just might change your life. (Thanks to Sheri for telling me about this funniest and most awesome of products.)

The song that's currently stuck in my head



Yes, I've finally discovered Jonathan Coulton. Glory be! I had no idea he wrote "Still Alive," possibly the best song ever composed specifically for a video game. I have yet to listen to the rest of his catalogue, so I imagine I'm in for a treat this Thanksgiving weekend.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Anti-Semitism: The Movie"


That's the tongue-in-cheek tagline of Defamation, a new documentary by Israeli director Yoav Shamir that promises to address a very contemporary question: Is anti-Semitism still a significant problem, or are Jews (and others) who think so merely paranoid, insecure, or worse?

As is nearly always the case in such matters, the answer seems to be "both." What excites me about this movie is that it apparently engages with both sides of the debate, unlike Marc Levin's bratty 2005 film Protocols of Zion, in which the director presented a series of hardcore Jew-haters as "proof" that 9/11 unleashed a torrent of anti-Semitic feeling. (Whether the attacks did or didn't galvanize people who loathe us, selective interviewing isn't a persuasive way to show it. I said as much in 2006, when the movie opened here and I reviewed it.) I'm not sure when Defamation will come to Seattle, but you can count on the Kibbutz hosting an excursion to see it and a discussion afterwards, led by yours truly.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

TK title of blog post


Today at work, Sheri pointed out one of the funniest newspaper bloopers I've seen in years. Though it's undeniably "yuppers" that takes it from good to great, I also like that it's easy to misread "jumphed" as a nonsense word (rhymes with "galumphed") rather than what it's intended to be ("jump headline," i.e. the headline following the jump from the previous page). The Union-Tribune may blame its new pagination system, but I prefer to think of it as yet another sign of print media's precipitous decline. If the industry's really collapsing, it might as well make us laugh along the way, right?

Best. Toy. Ever!


It also happens to have one of the best names ever: the Executive Elite Marshmallow Blaster. Check out that bad-ass carrying case! This product was clearly designed for professional marshmallow assassins. It shoots up to 40 feet. Two words: Diabetics, beware!

Comment of the week at Jew-ish.com

In response to Leyna Krow's great post about intermarriage, a reader with the handle "Tamarshmallow" had the following enlightened thing to say:
It’s been a long argument with my mother on marrying Jewish. If the person I love is not Jewish and not willing to whack off part of his weenie, does that mean my kids are destined to be apathetic halfies therefore ‘watering down’ the Jewish gene pool? Not if my partner is respectful and supportive of my values and beliefs. A person doesn’t have to be officially Jewish to help the faith continue to thrive.
I like your style, Tamarshmallow. Nice to see a little sanity on the intermarriage topic for a change.

"I'm very glad this writing exercise is over. I love to write, but not about myself."

La Palin's book is finally here, and the L.A. Times has suitably tart things to say. If you ask me, the Sarah vs. Levi media smackdown makes for much more entertaining reading than the snippets of Going Rogue I've seen so far.

Mnemonics drill

For a recent nutrition test, I had to memorize the eight B vitamins in order. I came up with a helpful mnemonic: To Remember, Not Botch, Peanut Butter For Breakfast. And though I did not, in fact, have peanut butter with my morning meal on the day of the test, I did manage to remember thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, pantothenic acid, B6, folate, and B12. I told my friend and coworker Sheri about TRNBPBFB, and she sent me this:
Whenever I hear "mnemonic devices," I remember Bart Simpson's classic:

"Canada's governors general: Clowns Love Haircuts; So Should Lee Marvin's Valet."
To which I replied, reasonably enough: "What does it stand for?" Here's her response:
Thank you, Wikipedia:

When Bart is listing mnemonics, one he uses is "Quiet nerds burp only near school," to remember the original four Canadian provinces. (Quebec, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.

Another mnemonic Bart uses is for the Canadian Governors General, "Clowns love haircuts, so should Lee Marvin's valet" (Adrienne Clarkson, Roméo LeBlanc, Ray Hnatyshyn, Jeanne Sauvé, Edward Schreyer, Jules Léger, Roland Michener, and Georges Vanier)
Classic.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"It's Not In the P-I"


As community college productions of journalistic plays go, It's Not In the P-I is a major coup. As entertaining nights at the theater go, it's not too bad, either. The show tells the Post-Intelligencer's story in mostly humorous vignettes that span its entire 146-year life. We see reporters being noble, reporters being less than noble, and even one reporter who dances like a stripper during an interview out of boredom and tipsiness. (Admittedly, she's interviewing strippers, but still.)

It's Not In the P-I isn't an objective look at the paper's rise and fall, and it doesn't claim to be. Though some of its narrative threads resonate more effectively than others, it adds up to a relatively smart composite portrayal of newspaper life and culture, swearing and all. (Seriously, I haven't heard the word "fuck" in a play that many times outside of Mamet.)

The talented ensemble cast members (all North Seattle Community College theater students) hop from role to role in ways that mostly make sense, although one actor's switch from a determined veteran reporter to a mild-mannered night desk staffer was a little weird. The script is a collaboration between six local playwrights; though I can't be sure of it, I assume each wrote a separate vignette series, after which they figured out how best to thread all the stories together. The first act ends on a pretentious note, with an impressionistic piece that uses the Green River Killer case as an example of how reporters can give voice to crime victims whose own voices have been silenced.

It's Not In the P-I is much better off when it's going for laughs, and quite a few scenes have satisfying comic payoffs. One of my favorite stories was one of the play's most offbeat: A P-I writer and photographer are sent to Detroit to cover the Super Bowl's human-interest side and end up in a declining strip club. That setting leads to all sorts of risqué humor -- and ultimately prompts the female reporter to take a shot of something strong and gyrate to the beat of the music. (Predictably, she puts the club's actual strippers to shame.)

Tales like the strip-club saga are fun for two reasons. The first is that they're based on interviews with playwrights did with former P-I staffers about their experiences, so even if the show takes a few liberties, the core of each story is real. The second reason these acted-out anecdotes are a pleasure to watch is that they reveal something of journalism's allure, for the journalist as well as for the public, without putting too fine a point on it.

An early scene takes place in the busy P-I newsroom, where reporters field calls from eccentric old ladies and conspiracy theorists and people who use the paper's number like the TV Guide hotline. (One woman just wants to know when M.A.S.H. is on.) As annoying as these calls can be, they connect you with a subsection of humanity that's alternately fascinating, exasperating, and exhilarating. I know, because I used to field calls from eccentrics all the time at the Weekly.

When people called us as though we were the phone book and the public library rolled into one, I was duly amused. When, on the other hand, someone called to tell me about some crisis in his life, I listened for as long as I could. You can let someone know their story isn't right for your paper, but you can't ignore their humanness, their desperate desire for justice to be done, for someone to make other people aware of their plight. With the economic downturn still keeping folks out of work, food, and luck, I bet the phones are ringing off the hook at the Times these days.

Back to the stripper story, though. I enjoyed it because it demonstrated what an adventure journalism can be. You go in pursuit of one story and find another that's twice as interesting, or you stick with the original story and it takes you somewhere you couldn't have predicted. As a mere arts writer, I dined on a cruise ship and at the top of the Space Needle, hung out with loft-dwelling artists and a Russian hot-dog vendor, and even rode on the back of a motorcycle. Journalism at its best turns the journalist's life into a practicum in serendipity, which only makes her stories more engaging for the reader.

I loved how the play depicted the strip-club reporter's transition from nervous interloper to active participant, partly because I've had to make that transition many, many times. When I miss being a full-time journalist, what I miss is a lot of what It's Not In the P-I emphasizes: the inherent unpredictability and wildness of the journalist's life. And though the show addresses the very contemporary problem of print media's slow death at the hands of new media, it's also one of the best eulogies I've seen for classic print journalism: leaning on corrupt public servants until they crack, ending up in the oddest corners of the earth and asking their inhabitants to tell all, and reviewing theater on a full-time basis for decades.

The play also serves as a "living newspaper" that tells stories that haven't been told before. There's a decent bit of inside baseball about the P-I's move from print to online-only, including a sobering account of the process by which sitting staffers were allegedly recruited for the Web version. (If you believe the playwrights' source, someone from Hearst, the P-I's parent company, called editorial employees up to his office one by one and either offered them an ongoing job -- at reduced pay and without benefits -- or didn't. He also allegedly warned them not to tell their coworkers what they'd talked about.)

Another thread depicts a determined reporter who goes after a city councilman with such gusto that she won't leave him alone even after he's left office in a cloud of scandal. He accuses her, justifiably, of trafficking in sensationalism under the pretext that "the public has the right to know." It's a clever way of showing that journalistic doggedness can easily lapse into a power trip if it isn't kept in check.

One particularly effective scene combines interviews with three people who worked in the P-I building: a florist, a janitor, and a barista. The first has a starry-eyed and arguably naïve view of journalists; the second reveals a few messy truths about reporters' bathroom habits; and the third gives us a quick ethnography of the P-I's people based on their coffee-buying tendencies (arts writers vary their orders, newspeople stick to drip, and everybody tips poorly).

Which one is right? All three, of course. According to Paul Mullin, one of the playwrights, both former P-I employees and current Times staffers are upset with aspects of the play. This is one of those cases, I think, in which offending everyone equally is a sign of success.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A case for marrying Jewish that doesn't make me want to throw up


See, countless misguided Jewish organizations? This is how you do it.

"Srugim"


I have a new post about the Israeli TV series at Jew-ish.com.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Intermarriage: not cancer

Jew-ish.com's Leyna Krow has a great post about Birthright and its anti-intermarriage claims. The day that Judaism HQ stops biting its nails about intermarriage is the day we abandon our macro-level insecurity as a people and start being proud without provisos. So say I, anyway.

Wal-Mart is evil


Yes, "Wal-Mart is evil" is a statement of liberal dogma, the kind of received wisdom that leads conservative critics to use the term "lockstep liberalism." However: Wal-Mart actually is evil. Here's the proof. Homophobic insanity is one thing; homophobic insanity directed at a couple with special-needs children? Nice one, Wal-Mart. Classy.

More from the Facebook exercise thread

Neal Schindler
@Rob: What do I wear to swing dance?
Sun at 10:07pm · Delete

Catherine Dean
Neal, if *I* can get over middle school, *you* can get over middle school.

If you're concerned about leading (or having to improvise as a lead, which you will do mostly do as a male swing dancer), try contra:

http://seattledance.org/contra

Everything is choreographed, the energy is high, the music is live, no partner is needed (everyone switches around each dance, generally) and although you dance as leads and follows the lead doesn't really have to "lead" at all. Highly, highly recommended and while I don't know the Seattle group, I know in VA we are very welcoming to beginners. Attire is ultra casual (shorts, t-shirt, comfy shoes or sandals or bare feet). Best of all, your first time coming is often free or half price. Check it out!

Emilie Walker
Hi Neal...you know, jogging is incredible for the blues. I get the blues too, sometimes pretty strong- and that is one of the things that helps the most...that,dancing, breathing and meditation. I don't know how you start...I guess it's good with a friend sometimes... but it helps a lot....
Yesterday at 4:05am · Delete

Jordan Brackett
There's actually evidence that jogging can be good for your knees in the long term. I agree that the best advice is just to start, but start slow. For me, that amounted to going on a treadmill (but this could also be done outside). I figured I should be able to do a 10 minute mile pace, which I did. After a little while, I built up. It will come pretty easy to you after a little while.
Yesterday at 6:54am · Delete

Roslyn Schindler
Yes, I have photos of you in marching band, Neal. I have tried contra dancing and like it. Going again on Dec. 1 with friends. The key to exercise is finding a program that works for YOU--whether it's walking, jogging, dancing, or whatever. Like you, I dislike exercise per se, but I do like walking and dancing.
Yesterday at 7:00am · Delete

Roslyn Schindler
I enjoyed reading all the advice above because I, too, am in need of stepping up (pun intended) my exercise program. The best advice is starting slow and working your way up. It is also true--I know from experience--for both physiological and psychological reasons that exercise helps the blues! Buena suerte!!
Yesterday at 7:11am · Delete

Neal Schindler
Thanks to the second wave of advisers! I did contra in college and there are great groups here, so I should look into that. @Emilie, I have done meditation and found it helpful; as with physical exercise, the trick is to keep at it even though it can feel hard. My main enemy re: jogging right now, besides myself, might be the crappy Seattle weather; those people who jog in the rain in shorts and a T-shirt seem nuts to me.
Yesterday at 10:48am · Delete

Roslyn Schindler
With all due respect, those people ARE nuts! There are indoor tracks, of course, that allow for walking and jogging. I didn't know you'd tried contra dancing! And as the old adage goes: many things that are worthwhile are hard! . . . On another note, I am watching and listening to the celebration in Berlin of the fall of the wall twenty years ago today. Also commemorated is Kristallnacht, 71 years ago. From the darkest to the lightest day in Germany . . . .
Yesterday at 11:08am · Delete

Dafi Ebrahim Al Mannai
3 tips (from a former jogger and current lardball):

1. Get good running shoes, but make sure to walk in them for a few days (jogging in a brand new pair would almost certainly create blisters).

2. Even a 10-minute jog might seem impossible at first. Many experienced runners recommend that newbies alternate between jogging and walking for fixed intervals that allow you to jog to your limit and then walk briskly until you recover (depending on your current fitness level, might be good to have a 1:4 jog-to-walk ratio at first- say 30 secs to 2 mins, later 1 min to 4 min, etc, increasing the ratio over time as your fitness improves).

3. It's good to push yourself, but don't kill yourself. Until your heart and other muscles adapt, you should take it easy and, most importantly, listen to your body. I once went months not being able to run (or even walk properly) because I'd chosen to ignore a slight hint of pain in my knee and carry on. By the end of my run, I was limping.

Finally, it might be important to point out that jogging is not running; this is the subject of debate, but I've found it handy to distinguish the former as moving such that one and only one foot is touching the ground at any time, whereas the latter would contain (brief) instances during which you're airborne (walking, on the otherhand, would see periods where both feet are on the ground).

homework due Wed; quiz on Thurs
6 hours ago · Delete

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Interview with Josh Clark, creator of Couch to 5K

Great idea developed by a guy who seems awfully nice. His 2008 interview with New Jersey's Courier-Post newspaper makes me want to get out there and try his program. Now I just need to find out what it actually consists of. (Thanks to Elias for telling me about C25K.)

Ah. Here we go.

Recent Facebook status thread re: exercise

Neal Schindler has the blues and kind of feels like jogging would be a good habit to cultivate. But how does one start?
7 hours ago · Comment · Like

Shoshana Billik
Just by doing! ;-)
6 hours ago · Delete

Neal Schindler
Spoken like someone who's already done it! :-)
6 hours ago · Delete

Shoshana Billik
Heh! ;-L
6 hours ago · Delete

Kimberly Stedman
here's the trick. Don't try to start a jogging habit AND try to start jogging WELL at the same time. 60% of the effort is building the habit.
Go out every morning or 5 minutes for 2 weeks. On the third week, make it 10 minutes. On the fourth week, make it 20. do it the same time every day even if you only go out for 30 seconds.
In a month, you won't remember what it was like not to jog every morning. In a month and a half, you'll be like: wth, if I'm out here anyway, I might as well get something out of it, and run harder.
6 hours ago · Delete

Kathlyn Albright Lewis
Kimberly's method totally works. I also tell myself "well, I'll just put my shoes on and go outside. If I don't feel like it, I won't do it" and I always end up thinking "well, I'm here anyway, might as well run a little..." For me, it's all about tricking myself into going. And remember, you didn't start walking more than four steps at a time either!
6 hours ago · Delete

Kimberly Stedman
haha-- hooray! Glad other people have also figured this one out.

Made a huge difference for me. No matter how late or cranky I am in the morning, I always have to do at least one push up and one sit up. :)
6 hours ago · Delete

Shaul Goldberg
how about a nice bike ride up to cloud city coffee?
5 hours ago · Delete

Rob Gardiner
I recommend swing dancing. Jogging is good exercise, but exercise by itself can be a chore. It's hard to motivate yourself to do it.

But *dancing* isn't just exercise -- it also provides entertainment, socializing, and a creative outlet. In other words, it would be worth doing even without the exercise.

I got myself into shape through what I call "incidental biohacking" -- exploiting the positive health benefits of activities (Italian cooking, swing dancing) that I undertook for reasons completely unrelated to health.

http://www.centuryballroom.com/ Swing dancing with DJ Freddie, tonite at 9:30, $7. Swing dance lesson at 9, included w/ admission.
5 hours ago · Delete

Catherine Dean
I totally second the recommendation to dance rather than jog. Jogging can be very hard on your knees. And as someone with a good ear for music (and a former marching band member!) you should pick it up great!
4 hours ago · Delete

Shaul Goldberg
when was Neal in a marching band?
4 hours ago · Delete

Catherine Dean
High School. Hope I haven't let a terrible skeleton out of the closet!!!!
3 hours ago · Delete

Shaul Goldberg
I want pictures!
3 hours ago · Delete

Catherine Dean
That I cannot do. :)
3 hours ago · Delete

Daniel Shiffner
a lot of books suggest starting with a combo of running and walking. walk a block, run a block, walk a block, etc. always walk until you're fully recovered before running again. try to keep yourself out for about half an hour at a time, not more than three times a week. i started in september and went from fat/lazy/never run before to almost a 5k in two months. it seemed like every time i went out i was able to go further, especially at the beginning. if you can find someone to run with who is at your level, it definitely helps.
2 hours ago · Delete

Elias Kass
couch to 6k is a good starter program.
2 hours ago · Delete

Meg Deighton
good luck!
about an hour ago · Delete

Neal Schindler
Wow! You guys are fantastic! Thanks so much!

I might try some of the jogging tips, though I agree that it's hard on the knees. Ever since the mostly-repressed horrors of middle school, I've had a tendency to dislike exercise. I fenced in high school, but I remember having to push myself psychologically to go into the gym each time -- I didn't ever reach a threshold after which I didn't need to push myself.

Anyway, I've done waterobics and softball and kickball and biking, but waterobics is very low-impact, softball and kickball don't have enough running to really work me out, and biking in Seattle makes me want to die thanks to the demonic hills. (Biking in the flat Midwest, on the other hand, I liked.)

Dancing sounds good. I've always been massively shy about dancing because the gentleman is supposed to lead, and I'm not fond of playing that role. That, I'm sure, is something I could stand to work on, too. (Symbolically and literally, though, wouldn't it be ideal to know how to both lead and follow? Maybe I just spent too much time at Oberlin.)

I'm quite low on funds right now, Rob, but I'll try to come to a few dances. My mind and body go into holy terror mode whenever I break a sweat (did I mention I associate exercise with all things horrible?), so I'm not sure how it'll go. But there's no harm in trying, right? Thanks again to everyone for being so supportive and helpful. You're the best.
2 seconds ago · Delete

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thank you, Washington!

For not being cowed by stupid scare tactics and deceitful ads. This is a proud day for our state.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The economy claims Bailey/Coy


I'm not terribly surprised, but it's still very sad. Bailey/Coy is one of this town's loveliest bookstores -- I always preferred it to the much larger Elliott Bay -- and it deserved a longer life.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Facebook movie to star Jesse Eisenberg


First Battleship, now this: The story of social-media maven Mark Zuckerberg is getting the cinematic treatment, and I have to admit that the talent behind it looks good. David Fincher may have made a misstep with Benjamin Button, but his previous film, Zodiac, was among the best of its year, and Fight Club and Se7en aren't chopped liver, either. Meanwhile, West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin is writing the script, and Adventureland star Jesse Eisenberg will play Zuckerberg. Could actually turn out well. Prediction: huge marketing campaign on Facebook. (Thanks to Steven for the news.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"Paranormal Activity"


Israeli-born director Oren Peli's ultra-low-budget horror film works like a campfire ghost story. It's simple, it progresses in increasingly agonizing stages, and it ends with a punch that lands like a hammer. We've seen its elements many times before: normal middle-class couple; creepy, unexplainable happenings in their well-furnished home; a ghost whisperer called in to consult; research into spirits and demonology; and elevated desperation as the intruder's doings become scarier and scarier.

Yet Peli gives the entire enterprise a polish by making his main characters realistically irritating (yes, even more so than Blair Witch's campers) and by employing a device I haven't seen before: continuing to film the couple at night, while they sleep. Blair Witch was smart to give horror the home-movie treatment, but Paranormal is smarter still. Its sinister events take place in the one location we retreat to at the end of a long day for rest and shelter: the bedroom.

As in Blair Witch, the stars are unknown actors who use their real names in the film. Katie (Featherston), curvy and pretty but not Hollywood gorgeous, expresses her character's mounting dread with physical and emotional force, while her skeptical boyfriend, Micah (Sloat), mocks her rising panic and proposed solutions. (He's particularly against calling in a demonologist, an approach that the film implies might have worked.) We drop into their story in medias res: They've already noticed strange stuff going on around the house (primarily odd noises), and Micah has bought a fancy video camera to record whatever happens next.

Like the cameraman figures in Blair Witch, Cloverfield, and George Romero's Diary of the Dead, Micah is obsessed with keeping the camera rolling in a way that serves the plot but stretches credibility. To the filmmakers' credit, Katie is always telling him to drop it, an acknowledgment that his videophilia is exaggerated for narrative purposes. Also as in Blair Witch, physical clues begin to appear: an old photograph that shouldn't still exist, a framed picture that's been cracked and clawed (!), a ouija board burnt by inexplicable means.

Katie begins to sleepwalk; in one instance, Micah finds her on the back patio in the middle of the night. Her demeanor during her somnambulant episodes contrasts startlingly with her usual, expressive way of being. As a sleepwalker, she's emotionally blank, sluggish, oblivious. The film shifts between daylight hours, during which relatively few supernatural things occur, and nighttime, which becomes more upsetting for the viewer each time it returns (cleverly mirroring the characters' own experience).

The actions of the demon escalate slowly -- torturously slowly, it sometimes seems -- and while some of what happens is less than novel (doors move on their own, weird noises occur), Peli doesn't use tropes so familiar they'd elicit more giggles than shrieks. (No one levitates several feet above the bed or speaks in tongues; no one vomits. At one point, however, Micah finds Katie clutching a small brown cross, and her hand is bloody. This reference to religion, and stigmata in particular, I could have done without.)

The first 98 minutes of Paranormal are ultimately little more than a buildup to the extremely memorable 99th, which feels branded on my memory (like Blair Witch's similarly disturbing last shot) and may remain so for some time. I saw the film at a midnight show on Halloween, and though the auditorium wasn't packed, there were a decent number of college kids on dates or in groups. After the lights went up, most of the boys made a big show of how not scared they were; the girls, on the other hand, didn't dissemble. They, like me, were petrified, and unable to hide it.