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...'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


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 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 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.)


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


"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


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


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)


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


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


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)


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


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


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)


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)


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


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 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.”
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, 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.)