Thursday, May 31, 2007

So-Called Blue Moon


There was a blue moon out tonight. Here's a photo I took from the window of my apartment:

What's that you say? It doesn't look very blue to you? Well that's because apparently "blue moon" is just a colorful term some people use when there's a second full moon that occurs in one month. Yahoo! news has a pretty good explanation of this whack phenomenon.

As you probably know, the lunar cycle is 28 days, and months usually have 30/31 days, so when the full moon falls at the very beginning of the month there will be another one at month's end. This phenomenon, which really has to do with the way we count time in the Roman Calendar and not with anything unique going on in the sky, is not very exciting and not all that rare either: apparently, it occurs on average every 32 months.

At any rate, I decided to use this astronomical event of dubious interest as an excuse to share with you what I think is the most fun version of the song "Blue Moon," the one sung by the early '60s doo-wop group the Marcels.

Marcels - Blue Moon

Second order of business: I'm sure a lot of you have already heard about the Creation Museum which opened this week in Kentucky. This is a museum created by fundamentalist Christians which gives their take on natural history. Its exhibits show Adam and Eve's rug rats frolicking with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden and suggest that a couple of dinosaurs were even loaded on to Noah's Ark. Fossils are presented as a testament to animals that were killed in the Great Flood, which is also responsible for carving out the Grand Canyon in a matter of days (as opposed to the thousands of years claimed by geologists). Indeed, according to the museum, the world is just around 6,000 years old -- not only does this leave no room for millenia of geological transformation and the evolution of life, but it also places creation week after the earliest neolithic human settlements uncovered by archaeologists.

Now of course this museum is totally bonkers and re re: if you're going to embrace a literalist reading of the Bible as your version of how the world came about that's one thing, but it's a whole 'nother level of bizarre to drop dinosaurs into the mix and come up with pseudo-scientific explanations in an attempt to controvert the best theories of actual scientists. Yet, to me, the museum's concept was only slightly more stupefying that this clinker of a sentence that slipped into the NYTimes article mocking it: [in the museum] "evolution gets its continual comeuppance, while biblical revelations are treated as gospel."

The Bible is treated as gospel?! Really?! That's sort of like saying "the Israelites obeyed the Ten Commandments as if they were written in stone." This is worse than the time I found an article in the travel section on restaurants in Mexico City. If you look at the caption under the photo, you'll see how they tell you that this particular restaurant serves fruit drinks called jugos, suggesting that this is the name of some sort of special, local drink. But, as anyone who stayed awake in their high school Spanish class could probably tell them, "jugo" is merely the Spanish word for juice! [No, that is not the Spanish word of the day.] I always thought the New York Times was supposed to set the standard for educated writing in our country, but I guess not. I mean I would be pretty ashamed of myself if I published a sentence as bad as that.

I do have to say though that I love a good "bon not" like this: a phrase in which a word is used to define itself or in which antonyms or synonyms are arranged in such a way as to create an unintentional tautology or contradiction. The all time worst I ever read was in a paper submitted by another student in college. It was in this seminar I took on Alexander the Great in which each week students had to write a short paper on a topic and then hand them out to the other students before class. (Why did I take classes like this? Masochism, I guess.) Anyway, this one girl wrote a paper on Greece after the Peloponnesian War in which she said "The normal agricultural output of Attica was xxxx. But the normal output was not always the norm." The normal output wasn't always the norm?! That really made me cringe with delight when I read it.

Oh one more thing: I have an IMPORTANT UPDATE for everyone RE my "million dollar idea". Not that I feel like any of my slacker / drunkshow friends were REALLY going to do any work on this; but after reading that post Desiree did some research on the Internet, and it seems like someone already patented shower curtain reinforcements. We still can't find any for sale though which makes you wonder whether maybe the powerful shower curtain industry (or "Big Shower Curtain" as I like to think of it) with it's deep pockets didn't get to the guy who patented the reinforcements and pay him off so that the things would never be marketed.

TV SHOW CURRENTLY ON PAUSE: Shear Genius

SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY: chasquido! (= snap!)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Meeg's Million Dollar Idea

So tonight I got home from my weekly Spanish class at like 9:30. Rather than drop off my things, change into my gym clothes and head straight up to the gym -- as I told myself I was going to, and as I tell myself I'm going to on all nights like this -- I instead dropped off my things, changed into my gym clothes, opened up my laptop, and got sucked into the black hole that devours spare time that is the internet.

Then my friend Nicole called me (I was shocked to hear my cellphone's ringtone because lately nobody EVER calls me) to tell me that she was watching television and that Just My Luck was on "one of the HBOs." This is a cute, bizarre little comedy that nobody's ever seen starring a pre-rock bottom Lindsay Lohan and featuring a scene in which you can see my pudgy face in the extreme background for a full two seconds.

So of course I had to watch that at least long enough to re-live my film debut (that's a story for another blog post). Then I decided to have a bowl or two of this amaranth flakes cereal I bought from Whole Foods over the weekend as part of my alterna-grains kick (cf. the quinoa post). Before I knew it, it was like 10:30 and I figured I had better go to the gym already or forever hold my peace.

When I got back about 45 minutes later, I went to the bathroom to take a shower and there the sight of my shower curtain brought to mind the million dollar idea that came to me about a week and a half ago.


Now I am not one of those people who are always coming up with "million dollar ideas" for products that might be advertised late at night on basic cable channels for $19.99; what happened is that I was at work, and I asked my friends Desiree if they made reinforcements for shower curtains. You know reinforcements: those little white rings that you use to keep sheets of paper in your binder after you've comprimised one or more of the three holes the metal loops go through? (Ha! As if I ever kept my papers in a binder when I was in school! Oh, it is to laugh. )

Anyway... Desiree told me that such a thing did not exist, and she kind of smiled a little bit pondering how naive I am regarding the ways of the world. When I heard the bad news I was like "damn" because two of my shower curtain's little holes were indeed ripped clean through so that the left end my shower curtain falls off the hooks and hangs limp (cf. photo supra).

I seriously thought these things might have existed, and I had even been looking for them on the internet a few days before.


Desiree was like "I have the same problem." and I was like "why don't they make these things? I'd buy 'em!" Des said she'd buy them too.

So that's my idea, someone should invent shower curtain reinforcement: little, water resistant plastic rings that are adhesive on one side for you to use when the integrity of you shower curtain's holes get compromised. And 2 out of 2 people in my informal poll said they would purchase this product. I mean, I guess buying a new shower curtain isn't that expensive, but this would be easier (and more environmentally sound) and plus I really dig my shower curtain and don't want to have to go shopping around for another one.

So, readers, if one of you with the requisite know-how wants to steal this idea and run with it I clearly don't have a patent or anything so feel free. You could even keep all the cheddah, just as long as you send me a complimentary box or two!

SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY: izquierda

TV SHOW I HAVE ON PAUSE: the Family Guy

WHAT I ATE FOR DINNER: sliced turkey and soy faux-chedder on a corn tortilla with a little Israeli salad.

SONG I'M CURRENTLY LISTENING TO: The Modern Lovers - Roller Coaster by the Sea

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

35mm

In a movie,
even if nothing is happening on screen,
even if the camera remains focused for a time on the same stationary object,
the film still races through the projector at 24 frames per second.
Thus, the image before your eyes is continuously being replenished,
replaced by a new if identical image at the same constate rate.
The projectionist does not hold still on one frame.
The rush of the celluloid through the machine does not stop, slow down or speed up.
It is just like the flow of time.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Now you're cooking with quinoa!

Happy Memorial Day, everybody!

So today's blog post is basically dedicated to awesome things which not everyone's been exposed to.

First there's quinoa: quinoa is a plant in the goosefoot family which is cultivated primarily for its edible seeds. It is not technically a grain, because it is not a grass, but it is easily mistaken for a grain because of the striking similarities in texture and taste between quinoa seed and other cereals.

Quinoa is a hearty plant which can survive at high altitudes, and it was first cultivated by the Incas who revered it as the "mother of grains."

Today many new-age nutritionists regard quinoa as a "superfood": it's lower in carbohydrates than other cereals, it's gluten-free and thus easy to digest, and it is high in fiber and protein and contains all 8 essential amino acids. Thus quinoa is healthier than wheat or rice.

I've been cooking with quinoa recently. It often makes a good substitute for rice, couscous or pasta, and it's easy to prepare. Like I said, it's more nutritious and it has a nice flavor. All you need to do is buy quinoa seed and rinse it; then put 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water in a pot, bring it to a boil, then cover the pot and let it simmer on medium-low heat until the quinoa has absorbed all the water (around 15 minutes) stirring occasionally. It's basically the same as cooking couscous.

I've made this dish a couple of times, which was inspired by a recipe I found online, where you sautee a bunch of asparagus with some garlic and onion (in olive oil). Then you add a can of chickpeas (perhaps some shredded carrots) and quinoa. Season it with some salt n pepa and the juice of a lemon. It's really delicious and it combines quinoa with asparagus -- which is also good for you and which I enjoy, much like Doctor Juvenal in Amor en los tiempos de la cólera, because it makes my urine fragrant.

The rest of the things I think you should all get on board with are all TV shows.

First, there's How I Met Your Mother. If you're not already familiar, this is an awesome sitcom featuring Neil Patrick Harris (better known as "Doogie Howser"), Alyson Hannigan (better known as the "band camp girl"), and that tall guy who was in the movie Slackers (aka Jason Segel). The premise (which is all but forgotten by the second season) is that in the future the voice of Bob Saget is telling his kids the story of how he met their mother, and said story revolves around him and his post-college twenty-something friends living in Manhattan. It is hilarious and original (way better than, say, Friends) and the only reason more people don't watch it is because it is on CBS which is known for broadcasting not-so-trashy-fun reality shows (Survivor, Big Brother, the Amazing Race) as well that CSI crap, the Ghost Whisperer featuring the bosomy Jennifer Love Hewitt, and a bunch of other stuff that your grandparents may watch. But, I promise you, How I Met Your Mother is a hip, funny show for young people which just happens to be on this network.

TV show number 2 I saw for the first time today, and it's called the Riches. It's on FX, and it stars Brit sh comedian Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver as the parents of a family of Irish American travellers who adopt the identities of a wealthy couple who died in a car crash. And as if that's not enough, they settle in Baton Rouge, Louisiana! Learning about the culture of the Traveller's, who are basically like gypsies, was interesting, and in the three episodes I've seen thus far the story's really sucked me in.

And speaking of alternative lifestyles... TV show number 3 is Big Love: the HBO drama about a family of polygamists living in Utah which is starting up again this month. Bill Henrikson (Bill Paxton) left the separatist-Mormon community he was raised in to live with his three wives in suburbia where he owns a successful home improvement store. The show really paints a picture of what life must be like in this part of the country, and it portrays the Church of Latter Day Saints -- whose adherents always seem friendly and wholesome regardless of how strange their theology might be and which seems like the height of normality compared with the show's polygamist sect -- in what I think is a very fair light. Chloe Sevigny is wife number two, who is the daughter of the polygamist community's prophet. I had never really been impressed with her acting abilities before I saw this show, but she rocks this part in her pilgrim outfits with her pious, aristocratic comportment and her spoiled, daddy's-little-girl outlook on life. If you have HBO, I say definitely check it out!

SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY: dulce

Quinoa photo is taken from wikipedia and is in the public domain. Photo of Chloe Sevigny as Nicolette Grant is taken from HBO's Big Love website (link above).

Sunday, May 27, 2007

t.A.T.u. comes out to help say "Dosvidanya!" to civil liberties.

More troubling news out of Russia.

First, there was the curious case of Aleksander Litvinenko, the ex-KGB agent who was poisoned with the radioactive isotope Polonium-210. Before that, the Russian State dismantled the Yukos Oil company and jailed its founder, Mikhail Khordorkovsky, in order to consolidate goverment control over the energy sector.

Then the Russian parliament adopted legislation against non-governmental organizations, which they accused of being tools through which foreign powers sought to subvert Russian society.

Also, in their campaign to silence voices of opposition, Putin and his allies have shut down or taken control of all independent national television stations. And assassinations and violent attacks on members of the press who dare criticize the Kremlin (and whose attackers are never brought to justice) make Russia the third most dangerous country for journalists after good ole Iraq and Algeria.

Then, last month, chess legend Garry Kasparov, who is now the leader of the United Civil Front, part of the "Other Russia" anti-Kremlin coalition, was arrested for participating in a banned demonstration in Moscow.

And now the latest: today, around 100 gay rights activists took to the street in Moscow to protest the mayor's refusal to allow a gay pride march to celebrate the 14th-anniversary of Russia's decriminalization of homosexual activity. These protestors, who included several EU lawmakers and human rights activists, as well as Nikolai Alexeyev, the leader of Russia's gay rights movement, were harassed and beaten by a homophobic crowd of Orthodox Russians and right-wing nationalists before many of them were arrested. According to Volker Beck, a German MP participating in the protest, he and other demonstrators were subject to police brutality during their detainment.


The rolling back of democracy in Russia is a very sad and disturbing phenomenon, but I did notice something amusing at the bottom of one article I read about this latest incident.



It seems that Yulia Volkova and Elena Katina, the members of the faux-lesbian pop duo t.A.T.u., were in attendance at the fateful rally before things got out of hand!


You may remember Tatu (I refuse to write out that stupid capitalization and punctuation more than once); their biggest international hit was "All The Things You Said" off of their album 200 km/h in the Wrong Lane [how eurotrash is that name?!]. They were marketed as lesbian schoolgirls, but it was all a publicity stunt. Whenever anyone would ask them a question about their sexuality (such as "Are you two really lesbians?") they would distract everybody by being like "It is ok to be who you are! We love each other. Kiss, kiss. We are from Russia! Look at our boobs!" Then I guess they admitted they were really straight and everyone immediately lost interest. Apparently, their unique brand of high-pitched screeching to techno beats was not strong enough to stand on it own. But, whatever, I'm sure those girls were giggling all the way to the bank.


The author of the article made some reference to how Tatu, while not being actual lesbians, had caused quite the international stir with their erotic girl-on-girl schtick "in recent years." My first reaction was "dude, that was like ten years ago!" but apparently, according to no less a source than Mr. Wikipedia, this all happened in 2002-2003. I guess it got old so fast that it just seems like longer ago. And apparently they are still producing music: good on them!

Anyway -- and I have to give credit where credit is due -- before the storm, my friend Nicole introduced me to the most awesome song by Tatu, which I had never heard before and which is 100x better than "All The Things You Said," called "Malchik Gay." At first I was like "oh no, I hate Tatu"; but it's one of those songs that you think is stupid but at the same time you can't help but sing along. And then before you know it you're hooked. I thought it was only fitting that I should take this opportunity to share this gem with you especially given its name which means "gay boy".

t.A.T.u. - Malchik gay

Photo of St. Basil's Cathedral by Dmitri Azovtsev http://fotki.­azovtsev.com. Photo of Tatu by Konstantin Koutsyllo/Reuters.

Urban Summer - Part 1 (Day)

Memorial day means the beginning of summer (although our calendar may need a little tweaking to bring the holiday of our national cult in line with the actual solstice). In celebration, I've created a mix which you can download and enjoy called "Urban Summer." The first part of the mix, Day, evokes summer days in the city: the mix of lethargy and pent-up sensuality, sweltering heat radiating from asphalt and not a swimming pool in site. Here's the track list:

  1. 883 - La lunga estate caldissima
  2. Jurassic 5 - Concrete Schoolyard
  3. Joe Cuba - I'll Never Go Back to Georgia
  4. Janis Joplin - Summertime
  5. Lauryn Hill - Every Ghetto Every City
  6. Sergio Mendes & the Brasil 66 - Pais Tropical
  7. Belle & Sebastian - Legal Man
  8. Five Stairsteps - Ooh Child
  9. Lily Allen - Everything's Just Wonderful
  10. Fifth Dimension - The Age of Aquarius / Let the Sun Shine In
  11. Manu Chao - Minha Galera
  12. Isley Brother - Summer Breeze
  13. Sundays - Summertime
  14. John Barry - Midnight Cowboy Theme
  15. Joe Cocker - Hot Town Summer in the City

Random link of the day: Algerian sistahs are doin' it for themselves

Stay tuned for Part 2!


Saturday, May 26, 2007

City bus


As the sun streams in through the tinted window,
all the suits,
riding to the office,
their eyes shut,
silently tilt their foreheads towards the light --
like sunflowers --
as if they are hoping
the warm rays
can recharge their third eye,
like a solar cell.


Heliotrope: a plant that turns towards the sun

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Manchurian Visa Candidate



Aah, the welcoming embrace of Communist China!


As you may or may not know, I'm travelling to Thailand at the end of next month to attend the wedding of my best friend from law school, Ada, and her man, Zach. (It probably won't surprise you to hear that I've committed myself to singing at the wedding as well).


Anyhoo, after the wedding some of the other guests and I are going to Beijing to see the forbidden city and the Great Wall (definitely worth taking another week off from work, right?). In order to travel to China for tourism, American citizens need to obtain a visa. You need submit your application in person to the Chinese embassy here in Washington or to one of the handful of Chinese consulates sparingly scattered across the country OR you can utilize one of the services registered to obtain these visas on your behalf. Given that I live in the DC area, the travel agent suggested I might want to go ahead and apply in person thus bypassing the middlemen who make a living out of exploiting this pain-in-the-ass requirement (I guess the US requires people from lots of countries to obtain visas in order to visit here, so we really can't complain too much). This is where today's misadventure begins....


But I am getting ahead of myself... like three months ago, I checked out the Chinese embassy website and printed out a tourist visa application. This application ended up sitting untouched on my desk (drawing the attention of one particularly nosey coworker when I was mercifully out of the office) only to be ruined when something oily spilled on it. So last week, with the trip coming ever closer, I reprinted the application and began filling it out. I had some little unflattering pictures of myself left over from when I got my passport renewed, so that was convenient, but I didn't have my passport handy. Thus I had to wait for another day in order to complete the form. When I printed out the form I scoped out the address of the embassy. I remembered that it was on Wisconsin Avenue, that it was far away, and that I would have to take some bus to get there.

Today, I finally remembered to bring my passport to work and I completed the application. But when I looked up the address of the Chinese Embassy online I saw that I was mistaken: the embassy was actually on Connecticut Avenue between Dupont Circle and Woodley Park -- not that far at all. So at 1 o'clock this afternoon, I set off on my quest for a Chinese visa. It was a beautiful day, and it seemed stupid to take the metro one stop to Dupont Circle, so I walked to the embassy. When I arrived I was greeted by a plaque beside the door bearing the embassy's hours of operation and informing stupid Americans like myself that the embassy's Visa Office was located on Wisconsin Avenue. D'oh!


At this point, gentle reader, I felt I had travelled too far to walk back to the office defeated, my tail between my legs. So I started wandering cluelessly in what I imagined to be the direction of this Wisconsin Avenue Visa Office. I bumbled down some discouragingly quiet streets, through a leafy, affluent neighborhood which seemed to house several ambassadorial residences. When I stumbled upon a couple of Ethiopian limo drivers sitting by their cars I asked them which direction Wisconsin Avenue was in. I gave them the exact address, and -- after a lively back and forth between the two -- they basically told me it was way too far to walk to and that I best take a cab.
I managed to flag down a cab on Mass Ave without too much trouble, and it took me the rest of the way to the visa office. Looking out the window I glimpsed such sights as the National Mosque, and I marvelled at my own foolishness in imagining I could walk all this way.
The visa office is located inside a nondescript office building surrounded by little shops. When I went inside I was shocked to see that the place looked like the DMV: there were several different lines and lots of people sitting in chairs who looked like they had already been waiting for quite a while. And you had to take a number. I ended up waiting for an hour and a half in a chair in the corner watching ugly Americans, people of Chinese extraction, and a few of the couriers employed by those visa services go about their business. When my number was finally called it was a bit like when you have to go into the bank and you wonder why the line is moving so slowly because it took the woman behind the counter all of a minute to look over my application, take my passport and write out the receipt that I would need to collect my visa next week.
During the eternity I spent in the visa office I did learn that xie xie is Chinese for thank you.
And what can you learn from this story? Take advantage of the visa services!

SONG I'M CURRENT LISTENING TO: Katia B - Are you sleeping?
BEVERAGE I'M CURRENTLY DRINKING: mango juice and water
WHAT I HAD FOR DINNER TONIGHT: 2 empanadas (1 chilean and 1 turkey)
COOL LINK OF THE DAY: For the Love of a Good Burger

I like my anime like I like my coffee (sans giant robots)

I saw an ad for this anime movie the other day called Paprika which looks pretty awesome.

The director's name is Satoshi Kon. I really enjoyed what I've seen of his previous work, especially Paranoia Agent, a 13 episode miniseries, which is probably of the most adult and thought- provoking anime I've ever seen.

Paranoia Agent tells the story of a series of attacks which take place around Tokyo, the perpertrator of which appears to be an 11-year-old boy outfitted with a red cap, inline skates and a metal bat. Oddly enough "lil slugger's" victims all seem to be people who feel like they're emotionally trapped, and in some ways their attack brings them relief. The series explores this social phenomenon from different angles and shows how it affects the lives of a crosssection of characters. If you've never seen Paranoia Agent and you like serious cartoons, you should definitely rent it. Like I said, this is very mature anime and there's nary a giant robot in sight.

In the meantime, I'm happy to see Satoshi Kon is still working, and, although it doesn't look like I'll get a chance to see it in the theatre, I will definitely rent Paprika when it comes out on DVD.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Blog Dedication

Hi there!
So I figured it was time that I start making my contribution to that layer of unsubstantiated gossip, incoherent rants, sociopath manifestos, unread cries for attention, and solidified teen angst surrounding our globe known as the "blogosphere".
"What is the purpose of this blog?" you might well ask. I figured I would post some of the pics I might take with my hot new digital camera (like this "impromptu" action shot of me sitting on my couch). I also plan on recounting stories of interesting things that happen to me (if any), sharing my random thoughts and "things I learned today", and posting some of the vignettes and what-i-like-to-think-of-as-clever turns of phrase that I scribble in my composition notebook on rare occasions. But mostly I plan on indulging my own egomaniacal sense of vanity.
So think of this blog as a window into my diseased mind or as an exercise in typographical masturbation.
Ok, now that that procedural business out of the way, lets move on to the substantive portion of this first post. Here's a chain-email style list of whats currently going on in my life:
SONG I'M CURRENTLY LISTENING TO: Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Molly Bawn
MOVIE I'M IN THE MIDDLE OF WATCHING: Don't Look Now (1973) starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie.
BOOK I'M IN THE MIDDLE OF READING: Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union

WHAT I MADE FOR DINNER TONIGHT: two wraps with broiled salmon, avocado and tomato which I ate with ketchup (it was a crazy amount of food)

TV SHOW THAT IS PAUSED ON MY DVR AS I WRITE THIS: Ugly Betty

MY SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY: platillo volador

COOLEST THING I FOUND ON THE INTERNET WHILE GOOFING OFF AT WORK TODAY: Mysteries to Behold in the Dark Down Deep: Seadevils and Species Unknown

Alrighty then, that's just about enough content for my first ever blog post. How about I conclude with a little blurb that I wrote down in my notebook the other day:

I can remember riding uptown on the streetcar on sunny afternoons. This was back when I was unemployed in Nola -- part of the leisured poor. I would have smoked before I left home and now, as I rolled past Saint Charles Avenue's mansions and the oak trees whose canopies shaded half the street and whose roots jacked up the sidewalk, my clouded mind felt a communion with the spirit of the City.

I have since learned that psychoanalysts have dubbed this sensation the "oceanic feeling": the sensation of being dwarfed by an entity whose limits you cannot hold in your mind, of your consciousness being overwhelmed and subsumed by its immensity. This is the feeling which overcame the poet Leopardi on his ermo colle and which one may experience staring out at the ocean or up at the night sky.

Some psychologists, sidestepping the metaphysical implications, suggest that this sensation of oneness with the surrounding infinity is a throwback to the womb.