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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

After a long day at work, there's nothing like watching a three-and-a-half-hour movie about communism.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

"What happened to your hair?" ES asked. "You've got some crazy Elvis thing going on. And why is it so cold in here?"

"Oh," I said, looking in the mirror. "It's because I leaned over to get the DVD out."

"That's why it's so cold in here?"

"Well, you know the old saying: ' 'Tis a wise man who leans over and makes the room cold.' "

"That's not a saying!"

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Lan is now a contributing writer on the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson blog. His first post is an awesome mixtape in celebration of Freedom Month, which many people know as "January." The post is here.

Friday, January 26, 2007

How to Run Out of Gas:

1. Assume your new car has a fuel light
2. Tell yourself you'll refill when the fuel light comes on

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Last night as I was brushing my teeth in ES’s bathroom, I noticed again that the sink wasn’t draining very well. I pulled at the stopper, unscrewed the top, and dug out some hair. It helped a little. I couldn't pull the whole stopper out, so I checked to see how difficult it would be to unclog the drain from the other side. It looked pretty easy.

"Why not go monkeying around with my girlfriend's sink plumbing?" I asked myself. "What could go wrong?" In the literary world, this is known as "foreshadowing."

The pipe connecting the sink to the wall is made of PVC, so I unscrewed it by hand. I cleaned out the pipe and reinstalled it.

When I turned on the water, water poured out at an alarming rate. Then I saw the culprit: there were no threads from the pipe to the sink. It only worked before because the previous plumber had rigged the sink so the pipe and the rubber ring were glued to the drain. The glue wasn’t holding, and water was filling up my drain bucket.

"Do you have a responsive landlord?" I asked ES, who was had been in bed for the last 20 minutes.

"What did you do?"

"I unclogged the drain," I said. "And that sink would’ve broken eventually anyway."

"This is like something from a sitcom," she said.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Joey and I were at Chipotle recently. When it was my turn to order, I ordered a barbacoa burrito.

"You're getting the barbacoa? Seriously?" Joey asked.

"Why?"

"It's the face of the cow."

"What?"

"I'm sure it's fine, but I just think it's kind of weird to eat a cow's face."

"Huh."

When my tortilla was finished heating up, I told the burrito guy that I wanted to change my mind to steak.

"Why?" he asked. "Because he says that it's the face of the cow?"

"Maybe," I said.

"It's not the face of the cow," he said. "It's just shredded beef."

"Just give me the steak anyway."

Joey laughed.

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The new Firefox has a built-in spell check. I suggest downloading it.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Sometimes, the suffering of others is "serious but hilarious."

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A story that is at least partially true:

In 1989 the US invaded Panama in order to capture Manuel Noriega. Noriega took refuge in a Vatican diplomatic mission in Panama City. The mission refused to give him up, but finally crumbled under intense pressure from US troops. Among the methods the US used was to blare loud music at the Vatican night and day. What songs did they play? I haven't been able to find any definite answer on this, but several sources say one song was "Panama" by Van Halen, which, if you think about it, makes sense.

It also clears up a question I've been pondering since 1999. On an episode of the Drew Carey Show, Drew is in a dispute with his company and refuses to leave his house. The company hires Mimi to get Drew out, and she blasts the house with Van Halen's "Panama" day and night until he gives in. Now I get it.

For your pleasure:

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Friday, January 19, 2007

One philosophy on life is:

"The real question is, 'Who cares?'"

The Germans already have a phrase for this:

Es könnte auch anders sein. = "It could just as well be otherwise."

Yet another way of saying this is:

"Whatevs, dawg."

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Sunday, January 14, 2007



The meat cake already exists. With bacon flourettes and mashed-potato icing.

Friday, January 12, 2007

In the break room at work yesterday, I noticed that a coworker of mine, M, had gotten a dramatic haircut. She had previously had shoulder-length hair, and now had something of a boy cut. She had her back to me and was talking on the phone.

"Excuse me, sir," I said, approaching her jokingly. "Are you new here?"

The woman turned around. It was not my coworker, M. It was some woman I'd never seen before, and she thought I had mistaken her for a man.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I thought you were someone else."

"Obviously."

"I mean, some other girl. Sorry."

The woman gave me an annoyed look and returned to her phone call.

Lesson: If you don't want to be mistaken for a different person of your own gender but have the impression that you're being mistaken for a person of a different gender, then you should get a different damn haircut next time.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Prologue: I've been reading a lot about Israel/Palestine over the last couple of days.

"One thing that struck me about all of this," I told EAS, is that despite the fact that Israel is infinitely better equipped, has more money, is more modernized, and is a more cohesive nation, they have never been able to claim a decisive victory, and have in fact lost ground since all this started."

"It's the same basic lesson as in Vietnam," she said. "Even the most capable army can't win against a strong force of loosely-knit guerrilla soldiers."

"It certainly makes me draw parallels to what's going on right now. I started thinking, 'What if Israel-Palestine is the best we can hope for in Iraq?' Ugh, if that's the best we can hope for, then let's get the hell out of there and just let the CIA fight this thing."

"Except that's totally wrong, and the CIA is inept."1

"Hm."

Epilogue: My girlfriend may be a terrorist.

1It's not pretty, but if I were a military strategist, I'd probably want to explore scenarios for this option. Anyone have any ideas on this, and why it wouldn't make more sense than "the surge"? (Aside from a PR/legal standpoint.)2

2Those two things are basically the same anyway.
"I don't know enough to have a truly informed opinion," I told RA, my English friend, but it certainly does seem like although they're both insane, Israel is slightly less wrong than Palestine."

"That's funny," he said. "Because I've always felt that although they're both insane, Palestine is slightly less wrong than Israel."

We looked at each other for a moment.

"Well," I said, "if nothing else, it shows that the media in our respective countries is doing its job."

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

On Service

A few days ago I wondered what the "right" move was when dealing with people who ask for money on the street. The conversation (on this blog and elsewhere) brought out varied responses, and I thought it might be interesting to continue the discussion with some other thoughts.

When I was approached, I refused to even talk to the guy, let alone give him money. This is mostly because I used to be the kind of person who would automatically give, and I finally realized I wasn't doing anyone, especially myself, any good. Part of the reason I was an auto-giver was because I sometimes have a hard time saying no when it comes to people in need; the other part is because I just have a hard time saying no in general. It was rarely, if ever, out of a sense of service, a feeling that I would be actually helping the person, or the warm fuzzy feeling you get from helping out.

The idea of committing an act of service for the last reason--to feel good about yourself--has come up in this same conversation lately, and I think it's a compelling idea to think about. It's certainly the motive behind a lot more service than many of us would be willing to admit. When I was in high school, I had a history teacher who asked the question "Is it truly a good deed if you get something out of it? Even if it's something as small as recognition or the happiness in helping others?" My feeling on the matter then, as it is now, was that I didn't really care if it was considered a good deed or a selfish deed, as long as it was helpful. But motivation is important in service, because it has a direct correlation with how helpful the deed is.

Joey Honey told me a story about service about in which his girlfriend asked him if he was interested in ladling out soup to the homeless one night. He thought about it for a minute, and then said no.

"Why not?" his girlfriend asked him, surprised.

"Because if I were to do that, it would be mainly to tell myself that I'm doing a good deed. The sense of self-satisfaction I would get from doing that would far outweigh how much help I'm actually giving to the people I'd be serving. And now that I think about it, why the hell aren't they ladling soup out to themselves? The greatest service that a charity like that could give the homeless is to have it set up so they feed each other, not so some random suburbanite can come in and serve them and then go tell all their friends what they did."

I answered as JH did when EAS asked me if I was interested in volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, the home-building project that helps disadvantaged families. Her asking was somewhat ironic, because JH and I had brought up Habitat for Humanity specifically as an organization that people use to "do their part," and usually end up doing more harm than good. Specifically, JH mentioned that the one time he did go to a HH site he saw people, in their misguided attempts at being helpful, ruining lumber, wasting materials, and generally just messing up the project. Feeling called to serve those less fortunate does not make me a home builder.

Sometimes nominal gestures hurt more than they help, and here's why: There are situations in almost every segment of life in which help is very much needed. Not just the situations that everyone thinks of like homeless shelters, or charities, but in day-to-day life. If we make some nominal gesture--a few coins to a bum, filling soup bowls--and then dust off our hands and say we've done our part, we've committed an injustice to those who actually do need help and to ourselves.

The obvious question that comes out of this is "How can I be of most help?" If you're Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, I suppose you'd give billions of dollars. If you're a therapist, you can offer pro-bono counseling to a group that needs it. You can volunteer at your church, get a little brother or little sister, spend more time with your family, or look up your local public radio station on the Internet and find a charity that suits your skills. (KUT Austin's volunteer page is here.) Help with your brain, as well as your hands and wallet.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

I wonder if, when Edgar Allan Poe was a child and just beginning to write poetry, his friends sometimes called him "Edgar Allan Poet." It makes sense if you think about it.
A review of Michael Apted's Up Series can be viewed here.

NOTE: Do not read this if you haven't viewed the entire series, or unless you don't care about ruining the greatest movie experience of your life.

NOTE TO SELF: Prepare for this essay to never be read.
I was flipping through the channels the other day when I came across a cooking show, Johnny Carino's Break Me Off a Piece of That, on public television. He was making what looked like some really good potatoes. He had just added kalamata olives to the potatoes that were being sauteed in garlic and butter.

"Now watch what I'm going to do," he said. "Are you watching? This is going to blow your mind. I'm adding some delicious plump raisins to it."

"Woah!" I said to the cat. "He just blew my mind."

Then I got some ingredients together and made them. They were awesome.

Recipe here.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Awesome new list here.

Friday, January 05, 2007

A recent article in the New Yorker discusses Christopher Hitchens, a British political pundit and literary critic once an advocate of the left, who now favors a brand of neoconservatism. The article discusses what caused the change, but doesn't nail down the answer specifically. The fact that he changed sides is interesting, but what is truly remarkable is the ferocity with which he changed. He hasn't moderated himself, or moved center; he is rabidly, viciously conservative. Part of that, to be sure, is his natural temperament. But Benjamin Franklin has a theory that may apply here as well. And not just to Hitchens, but for converts of all kinds.
. . . Franklin had reflected on why converts to a belief tended to be more zealous than those bred up in it. Converts, he noted in 1732, were either sincere or not sincere; that is, they changed positions either because they truly believed or because of interest. If the convert was sincere, he would necessarily consider how much ill will he would engender from those he abandoned and how much suspicion he would incite among those he was to go among. Given these considerations, he would never convert unless he were a true believer. (Gordon Wood, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, 156.)
Seems reasonable. I'm thinking religious (the president), political (Joey Honey), and sexual (the mother of an acquaintance of mine who realized she was a lesbian in middle age, then pursued a string of sexual relationships with gusto). Thoughts?

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Two brilliant food ideas

1. Celeburrito!

Everyone knows that an event isn't a celebration unless there's a delicious centerpiece. Tradition dictates a cake, but why go with tradition? This isn't your old man's celebratory centerpiece! Go for a Celeburrito, the first burrito made just for your special occasion! Cinco de Mayo, Dia de los Muertos--even birthdays, anniversaries, and baby showers! Go for a savory burrito with steak or chicken, or a dessert burrito with tapioca pudding instead of rice! And speaking of steak . . .

2. Steakake

Who says that cakes have to be either chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry? This is a cake for a real carnivore. That's right--it's made with steak! Consider an A1 frosting or English mustard frosting to top it off.

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Joseph Brodsky: "I have a theory about why these things [the horrors of communism] don't seep through, and that is a theory about self-preservation, mental self-preservation. Western man, by and large, is the most natural man, a mental bourgeois, and he cherishes his mental comfort. It is almost impossible for him to admit disturbing evidence. [There is a] considerable barrier, a mental fence that was constructed especially by the Western left. It was mostly among the intellectuals, the educated classes. Sometimes education results only in obfuscation." (David Remnick, Reporting, "The Exile: Solzhenitsyn in Vermont," 171.)

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Sign o' the Devil

This is my 667th post!

I have nothing to say, but I feel like I would be worshipping Satan in some way if I left the blog on 666 posts for more than a couple of hours.

However, a small anecdote is appropriate:

I was shopping at Whole Foods with Lan several months ago for some dinner. At the deli, we picked up some great looking beef tenderloin. When the butcher weighed the meat, it came up to 6.66 pounds. (In retrospect, that's a lot of meat. How many people were we feeding? I can't remember.)

"Oh," the butcher said, "would you like me to take a little off?"

"Why?" I asked.

"The number," she pointed.

"Are you serious?" I asked.

"It's happened before, and some people consider it bad luck."

Weird.

Technophobia

Although I work among some very smart people, I’m often surprised that some of them haven't been weeded out through some sort of natural selection.

Having been on vacation last week, I didn’t have the opportunity to put my hours into the time-keeping system and had to fax them rather than enter them online. A co-worker, SF, had the same problem, but was having difficulty with using the fax machine.

“Does this look right to you, Chris?” She presented her cover sheet. “What do I put here?” She pointed to the blank with the word “Phone” behind it.

“I’d probably go ahead and put your phone number there.”

“Right. What about here? Is this OK?” She pointed to the blank labeled “Fax.”

“That’s for our fax number.”

“OK. And what about this?” Two blanks, one labeled “Number of page(s) – including cover sheet: ___” and “Employee Name(s):.”

“Ah, just the number of pages and your name, I think.”

“Got it. So can you show me how to use this thing? I don't have a very good relationship with fax machines.”

“I can’t imagine.”

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

I was on the phone with my dad earlier this afternoon, having just got back to my apartment from the grocery store. I got out of the car, opened the trunk, and began pulling out my bags for dinner, still on the phone, when a man approached.

He tried to shake my hand and start a conversation, but then he saw that I was on the phone and made a gesture to show that he was sorry to interrupt me. He waited patiently.

The conversation ended, and when I put my phone back in my pocket he tried to shake my hand again, all smiles.

"Hey, how you doin', man? I just want to--"

"I don't know what you want," I said, not taking his hand, "but I can't help you."

He dropped the smile. "Oh you can't, huh?"

"I don't even know if you need help," I continued, "but in my experience anyone who comes up to you that you don't know isn't about to give you a free lunch." I looked down in the trunk and pulled out the rest of my groceries.

"Sometimes people do need a little help," he said, indignant. He began to walk away. "I hope you don't need help someday."

"Me too."

"You'd have that smile wiped off that face of yours real quick," he added over his shoulder.

"Good luck," I said.

I hope to address some ideas connected to this situation soon, but for now here are a few bullet points:

• I've given money to people in very similar situations like this a number of times, and I've always felt stupid afterward. I think my first response to him sums it up. 

• I went out to check on my car every few minutes for about half an hour after the conversation. I was convinced I would catch this guy peeing on it or vandalizing it.

• His obvious resentment toward my not helping him made me feel like I made the right decision in not helping him.

• The idea of service has come up for me a lot lately, and after this was over it came to mind again. How could I possibly help this man? I don't think that giving him money would truly help him. What's the "right" call here?

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From David Remnick's Reporting, a piece on Tony Blair:
I asked Blair about all the mistakes and even disasters that followed the fall of Saddam: the American failure to anticipate mass looting, the insurgency, the unending casualties, the torture at Abu Ghraib prison.

"On that I take a slightly heretical view," he said. "I think that when anything like that happens it's ghastly and terrible and should be condemned immediately and dealt with. But I also think that people are cleverer in the Middle East, in Iraq and places like that, than we often give them credit for. And what they see is something terrible happening and the U.S. acting on it, the U.S. politicians under pressure, the U.S. soldiers responsible being prosecuted. I think people say these things happen, but the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy when something terrible happens someone is held to account and in a dictatorship they're not."
There are a couple of things to say about this, but I'll only comment briefly because I'm about to go to the gym and then hang out with my girlfriend's cat:

First, I like a lot of what Blair is trying to get across here. The attitude about the statement I emphasized is something that a lot of anti-war/anti-Bush/anti-American/whatever people should probably consider. We're so disgusted with Abu Ghraib, and the civilians dying in Iraq, and there are protests and calls for the architects of the war to resign--and rightfully so. But there is very little uproar in the liberal community about the crimes Saddam committed, or the actions of Hamas, or even of the living conditions in North Korea that continue every day. Somehow it's more saintly to highlight our own sins than to decry injustices elsewhere.

But while Blair makes a very poignant sound bite, he shifts the focus away from what people are most upset about in these domestic transgressions. I agree--and who wouldn't--that those responsible for Abu Ghraib should be held to account. After all, that's what we do in a democracy. But have those ultimately responsible been held to account? The public knows about a few of the major infractions that we've committed, and a few select parties have been put to justice; but it's foolish to think for one second that the U.S. system doesn't have major inherent flaws. It truly is a choice between the lesser--but much lesser, in my opinion--of two evils.

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