The Other Side of the Ocean

Sunday, February 29, 2004

A Sunday evening quiz 

Q: What happens when you set your internal alarm to 6pm (central time) thinking that this is when the Awards are aired and find yourself staring at Barbara Walters instead?
A: I turn beet red, turn off the TV and go back to blogging.

Q: What does it say about a 'scholar' who chooses to watch the Awards but neglects the political debate between democratic candidates earlier that day?
A: That she was busy earlier maybe doing her work so that she could take the time to do something frivolous in the evening?

Q: Is plunging live lobsters into a pot of boiling water a humane act ending lobster misery, or an act of sheer barbarian monstrosity?
A: Somewhere in between, but I hate doing it and offer prayers of remorse even though I am not exactly religious.

Q: Is it okay to watch something so inane as Barbara Walters interviewing DK of NY?
A: No, but I’m itching to do it, so the post ends here.
posted by nina, 2/29/2004 06:30:31 PM | link

Is it me or you?  

A wonderfully loyal reader and friend from Poland today admitted that sometimes my text runs completely into terrain that muddles and befuddles her. I just want to publicly reassure her that this isn’t at all due to her (or anyone’s) knowledge of English of Americanisms. It muddles and befuddles most readers I am sure. In fact, I just took an informal poll and the results are clear: I write spontaneously, oddly, inconsistently on topics that range from odd to odder (why DID I blog about my ancient truck, excuse me, van?). In my moment of complete humility and deep appreciation – thank you all for sticking by me in this project.
posted by nina, 2/29/2004 05:59:35 PM | link

Sunday chat 

I am recording the following conversation between a reader (r) and myself (n):

r: I have known you all these years and I never knew you owned a truck [referring to post from February 28]

n: Yes, you do know! Don’t you remember the time you needed a ride to Noah’s Ark where the water animals play?

r: You have never given me a ride in a truck. Well, once, you helped me move in a U-Haul truck, but that is it. And where do you keep the truck? Does it fit in your garage? Is it a pick-up? Like one of those Chevy pick-ups that they write songs about?

n: Of course not, it’s just a gray number, with a cracked headlight from the day you borrowed it and decided that you would fit it into a tight parking place at Border’s but couldn’t.

r: That is not a truck! It is nowhere near a truck! You are misleading your readership.

n: Listen, where I come from, a vehicle that is five times as big as you need or want it to be is a truck. A car is a little number that you zip through narrow passageways. This is a monster vehicle therefore, in my eyes, it is a truck. (sigh) People here can be so literal…
posted by nina, 2/29/2004 04:11:55 PM | link

Taxes and legacy admissions 

The NYT Magazine has an article today that tracks the debate about whether universities should abandon the “legacy advantage” in their admissions policies. The author notes that affirmative action has become the “political punching bag of the right” while legacy admissions – a significantly less important factor in admissions, but a factor nonetheless – has become the “political punching bag of the left.” The article concludes that neither affirmative action nor legacy status are going to go away anytime soon.

Oh, I know the time has come to cast away legacies – a relic of an aristocratic past, I know… For me, however, legacy status has a fundamental similarity to taxes. How so? Well, I am big on taxes. I only don’t like them in practice because they take a chunk out of the paycheck. But I believe in them, I don’t try to avoid paying them, and I think it is right that I should pay more if my income goes up (which it wont – see post on February 27). The devil within, however, gets happy when there is a rebate check in the mail. I do not send it back to the IRS with a note saying – here, the government needs this more than I do. I deposit it in the bank and think happy thoughts about next year’s vacation.

I feel the same way about legacy admissions: I agree that they are inherently unfair. Being in a household full of first generation college (to say nothing of post-college) grads, I certainly can say that I reaped no legacy benefit, and that offspring of this household reaped no benefit either, given their own educational choices. So of course, I am a wee bit wistful: when the first-time reapers, the yet-to-be-born grandchildren can finally lay claim to that privilege –pfffft! away it flies. I know, I know –and so it should. But darn it, can we wait just one more generation before we get rid of it? No no, I didn’t mean it. I like taxes, I don’t like legacies. Final answer.
posted by nina, 2/29/2004 01:10:31 PM | link

Blog posts well taken 

I want to mention two blog posts that were as interesting as anything I might cite to in the press:
The first is Tonya’s (here), where she states her belief that film stars rarely transit successfully into the music world. I balked when I read that. [Though I do think that her other comments about the incongruity of upper-east-side NY women rapping are well-taken; I’m not sure that I agree in principle, but I do see that it is an awkward genre to push yourself into if you haven’t any identification with the life milieu that gave birth to this type of music.] Surely that can’t be right? Oh yes it is: there ARE more singers that move successfully into acting than there are actresses/actors who then pick up a singing career. I can think of a million that have gone the route of singing-to-acting and I cannot think of any moving in the other direction with great success. A friend pointed me to Lena Horn, since she really became initially famous for her movies and only later did her singing career take off. Oh, and I suppose one could mention Jim Nabors – how about that, I now have all of TWO! But why is it almost impossible to go further with this list?

The other post that made me dig into my limited storage chest of counter examples was Ann’s (here) where she reflected that most politicians tout the careers of their fathers and rarely showcase the humble work of their mothers. Of course, there is a small group out there (Clinton comes to mind) without identifiable fathers, and in those cases humble moms make the cut. But the point can be taken out of the political context as well. I have a number of colleagues who paint a picture of their upward mobility by referencing their dad’s work, by-passing their equally blue-collar employed moms. Here, the reasons aren’t so mysterious, but the general phenomenon is fascinating nonetheless, in that, absent some element of fame associated with our mothers, we almost always rush to describe the work of our fathers, and sometimes by-pass entirely the achievements or under-achievements of our mothers. If you don’t buy this, try in your imagination to start the description in the other direction – “my mother was…. “ and then after a pause “… oh, and my father was…” Awkward, and rarely done.
posted by nina, 2/29/2004 09:44:16 AM | link

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Slow food 

Good title because: it has been a slow blogger day, and I haven’t had enough food to keep me happy (an evening event that was never touted as being food-centered turned out to be even less food based than one would have expected, leaving me basically hungry).

Slow Food is, of course, a movement, born in Italy, but spread to many parts of the world (see their web site here). It is an idea that I deeply believe in but can only adhere to in an abstract sort of way, because in reality it appears to run counter to everything else that we do to speed through life. We do not slow down to cook, to eat, to savor (the company or the food), we don’t slow down for much of anything. Though, I have to admit to being a card-carrying member of the snail – the symbol of Slow Food. And I’m proud of it.
posted by nina, 2/28/2004 04:25:20 PM | link

UN on the march 

In her blog (here), Ann linked to a songbook, dated 1944, that is a compilation of lyrics for songs of the Women’s Army Corps. I had seen her copy of this, and the link now gave me a chance to read over some of the songs. I was especially intrigued with the section that has the so-called songs of the United Nations, and disappointed that the idea here was only to give a chance to mispronounce some words from far away places in the spirit of global unity.

In a different forum, one can pick up still other songs that are identified with the UN. At the UN school, even in 2nd grade (which is when I joined the school, in 1960) we would start off each weekly assembly with the following:

The sun and the stars are ringing
With song rising strong from the earth
The hope of humanity singing
A hymn to a new world in birth

Chorus: United Nations on the march
With flags unfurled
Together fight for victory
A free new world

Take heart all new nations swept under
By powers of darkness that rise
The wrath of the people shall thunder
Relentless as time and the tide

As soon as the sun meets the morning
And rivers go down to the sea
A new world for mankind is dawning
Our children shall live proud and free.

It was, in retrospect, rather funny to have the younger and older students sing these lyrics over and over again. For my rather confused, 7-year-old mind, learning English was tough enough. I’m sure I missed the subtleties of “take heart all you nations swept under by powers of darkness that rise.” But oh, how I would love to belt out that part about the marching United Nations, all fighting (fighting whom?) together for a free new world. I was such a fan of this idea. I loved my school (even though the city of New York generously let us use only a “condemned” former public school building; weekly fire drills thus had to be enforced with an iron hand, because the threat was very real), I loved the UN itself – the great meeting halls inside thrilled me to pieces. They still sort of do.

And I wasn’t the only one who felt allegiance to the ideas espoused in the song and the school in general. Of course, you had to be pretty forward thinking to begin with to send your child there, what with all those little communist kiddies running around the already dirty halls. But it is worth noting that from my small class of about 20, my best buddy Radhika Coomaraswamy (for whom I dedicated a song on WABC Radio – “the 19th nervous breakdown” – because I was leaving the States 'for good', and I knew she liked it; sadly, the announcer butchered her name, though she wasn’t listening at the right moment anyway) became the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, sweet little Ashok Alexander is now the Director of the India AIDS Foundation, funky John Zorn with his shirt tails always dangling, turned out to be quite a remarkable musician-saxophonist (it started with the UN song!!), recognized now for championing the music of the obscure, forgotten artists – most others I’ve lost contact with, but I am imagining that they are pushing other important boundaries, commensurate with the spirit of our school. So was it simply a blind repetition of lyrics? Maybe not.
posted by nina, 2/28/2004 11:31:12 AM | link

Retreat into politics 

I’ve noticed in myself a reluctance to blog in a political vein lately. There are many reasons for it (among other things, what I think about politics is oft times predictable and even oftener --not with a great deal of entertainment value; to agree with a position is not, for me, blogworthy unless that agreement comes with a singularly interesting perspective), but I will step away from this pattern for a minute and point to the Washington Post editorial today. It states a very simple truth: GWB is starting with the Republican fear campaign, imbedding in everyone the idea that “a Democrat in the White House will only raise taxes.”

The Post correctly states (isn’t it nice that little me can vouch for the veracity of the leading DC journal) that neither Kerry nor Edwards want to repeal the tax cuts for the vast majority of income earners, keeping in place the child tax credit, marriage penalty relief, the new 10% tax bracket, etc. What they both do want to repeal is the tax break for the 2% of Americans that have an income over $200,000.

Though we are all aware of the fact that the beneficiaries of GWB’s largess were the wealthy, I hadn’t quite studied the numbers and so it did surprise me to read that, in the words of the Post, “this group amounts to the wealthiest 2 percent, but it stands to reap 28 percent of the benefit of the tax cut this year.”
It’s a good editorial to read at a time when the Bush reelection team is starting to sound its principal economic theme. You want to keep everyone focused on keeping the simple math straight. News stories and editorials are crucial to that effort – the clarifications shouldn’t be left to the opposing Democrats, this is a matter of correcting misinformation that is coming from the White House. There are numerous opportunities on the horizon for newspapers that take on the mission of setting records straight.
posted by nina, 2/28/2004 09:59:20 AM | link

Reality check 

Again I am asked if my “readers” are mere figments of an overindulged imagination and again I am going on record as stating that they are not. Once you blog with your real name, the obligation to blog with real events and real people is very real. Comments aren’t a frequent thing, but when they come and they are of general interest I do address them here.

I have given up on addressing them only on a Sunday, however, mostly because I am impatient, forgetful, and slightly worried that if I make a point of doing that, it will be like a bad version of NPR’s Thursday’s emails without the emails.

One more real note on real issues: last Thursday I took my dog Ollie to the vet for his annual check up. Ollie has joined the ranks of Americans struggling for a sane level of body mass. The dog has gained weight and is now about 15% over his optimal poundage (46 instead of the desirable 40 lbs). That is indeed a reality check: I am going on record with a resolution to walk the beast regularly instead of just letting him run around once in a circle in the back yard whereby on my command “hurry up, Ollie” he does his thing. The command was a clever trick, taught with great patience and perseverance on my part, for days when I would want to retire from dog-walking, but the time has come to reassess my values. From today onwards (I pick my starting date with great care, paying careful attention to the weather), we are back on the dog track. Look for us all over town – the chocolate colored American water spaniel and the reluctant owner of mixed origins.
posted by nina, 2/28/2004 07:47:36 AM | link


Teaching at UW may offer compensation far beyond that which appears in your bank account on a monthly basis. It is also true that the dollar compensation that has been trickling in has not been subject to much of an increase in recent years. Market forces aren’t necessarily determinative in setting pay scales in an academic setting. Nonetheless, occasionally, the devil in me wonders if I’d fare well were I to make a case to the administration for an adjustment to the salary I have been receiving, given that I, like everyone else I suppose, would love to believe that it is not commensurate with that which I bring to the university. Today being “pay day” made me all the more happy that there is indeed a tool out there – a “meter” in Fortune Magazine that allows me to predict the probability of success were I to go begging for a raise (look for it here).

A series of basic questions leads to an assessment of how indispensable I really am. The result is not really surprising. The title of the questionnaire says it all—you need only ask yourself “are you indispensable” without even plodding through the questions. This will save you some anxious moments where you check off boxes page after page knowing that each answer is placing you even closer to the category of “you will never get a raise at all because you are just so damn dispensable,” a place where none of us want to reside.

One might well ask how many faculty at the Law School are truly irreplaceable? My “score” indicated that I have an indispensability rating of “Medium to Low.” I could, I suppose, tweak the answers to reflect some more intangible indirect contribution that my enormous talents are supporting (I may be replaceable, but is the replacement going to love her students as much?), but at the most basic level, responding in terms of the unique value of my field of expertise (there is great value, but I have doubts as to the uniqueness of it), the questionnaire couldn’t be more blunt in telling me that I best forgo the plug for more dollars.

I did for a moment consider reading the link at the end entitled “How to Get a Raise When the Well has Run Dry,” but gave up after I fully grasped the meaning of my mediocre indispensability rating.
posted by nina, 2/28/2004 12:56:10 AM | link

Friday, February 27, 2004

The anticipation builds 

A reader wrote that my post on the Oscars inspired her to have an Oscar party this year. One has to let go of one’s individual sensitivities here and not mind that an invitation was not forthcoming. Keeping a blog reader happy is far more important that attending to one’s own social needs. Let me show my generous spirit and pass on a few tips to make her evening a complete success:

1. don’t hand out ballots and ask people to vote. The winner will make a complete idiot of her/himself. They will regret their behavior the next day and you will regret having had them over: a lose-lose situation;
2. don’t serve dinner beforehand. Many people like the preshow more than they like the Awards. You’ll be serving goat cheese soufflé as an appetizer and half your guests will already be glued to the TV;
3. don’t invite people who really are into the ceremonies: they’ll keep telling everyone to be quiet and a quiet party is no one's idea of a success;
4. don’t withdraw into yourself and read legal briefs so that everyone can see how cool and, ergo, bored you are with the ceremonies; that kind of boredom is contagious and you’ll soon have yourself a slumber party.

Oh, I could go on. Fact is, these parties are far less fun than seeing people in a non-TV context. But, if you must spice up your own viewing pleasure, go for it. And don’t invite me. I’m already committed. I’m baking up a soufflé, I have a stack of briefs to read – the whole bit.
posted by nina, 2/27/2004 07:57:01 PM | link

Spring fever 

As my afternoon went to coaching a group of law students in their moot court competition prep, I missed the chance to grab something for lunch. These events lead me to conclude the following:

1. I am really seriously nuts about my students (not all of them). When I listen to them speak, I see a future that is filled with their talent and humanity. I can’t wait ‘til my generation (and those before) steps aside from the legal profession, to be replaced by these guys.

2. I am really seriously nuts, period. Because I was running so late with everything, I decided to treat myself to a cup of coffee at Ancora. This is an indulgence because I cannot otherwise justify spending $3 for a latte that I can easily make in my office (and I have the fridge, the burner, and the stove-top little moka to do it, too). Since it was such a gorgeously spring-smelling day, I was rather upbeat and chipper in my slow meander toward Ancora (via parking lot, grocery store, post office etc.). At the entry to the coffee shop, a guy was sort of loitering, chatting up various customers as they were coming and going, in the most friendly of ways. Eventually he left, and I remarked to the sellers rather slyly “my, he was excessive!” And they smiled and nodded (sales people will agree with anything you tell them) and I left. And of course it struck me that I should not speak of “excessive” since I had just minutes ago spent a great deal of time explaining to a store clerk the virtues of buying fresh basil in February (he seemed genuinely interested), and telling the postal clerk that the stamps in Poland almost always have great artistry to them and this, in turn, opened the door for a number of other reflections on differences between the two cultures (the Hilldale postal clerks are extraordinarily patient with stories of this nature perhaps due to the fact that the average age of their customer tends to be 94 –prime time for story telling). Okay, it had not gotten to the point where I was accosting virtual strangers with conversational anecdotes, but still, I decided I should be more careful or else my mother’s predictions about the decline in the mental health of all our family members (she exempts herself I believe, which is good: we need to have someone keep the records of our demise) will have turned out to be true.
posted by nina, 2/27/2004 05:38:28 PM | link

Movies for the week-end 

If you're one of those who has requested email updates of NYT film reviews, you will have gotten the following capsules of what this week-end offers:

Passion of the Christ: After a horror-movie beginning, complete with demons, menacing music and creepy camera moves, Mr. Gibson settles into a long, relentless contemplation of torture, maiming and execution. His stated goal was realism, but the emphatic musical, visual and aural effects — the first nail is driven into Jesus' palms with a sickening thwack that must have required hours of digital tweaking — make the film a melodramatic exercise in high-minded sadomasochism. In spite of concerns about the anti-Semitism of Mr. Gibson's portrayal of the Pharisees, the movie is more grueling and unnerving than outrageous or offensive. For a movie made out of such evident religious conviction, it seems utterly lacking in grace.

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights: This reimagining of the recklessly melodramatic 1987 original is packed with flashy, taffeta silliness, and a desperation for a sweaty PG-13 sexiness so laughable that the cast members deserve Oscar nominations for getting through the picture without cracking up.

Twisted: The greatest mystery in this laborious, nonsensical thriller is why the director Philip Kaufman bothered to lend his talents to such mediocre studio hackwork.

I suppose it is not inconceivable that the producers will try to salvage some good words from those reviews, if only for the future DVD rental market, which is often driven by reviews on boxes. For example, you could truthfully quote (without even changing the meaning much):
Passion of the Christ: “Mr Gibson settles into a long…contemplation. [E]mphatic musical, visual and aural effects.. a melodramatic exercise.. a movie made out of …evident religious conviction.”

Dirty Dancing: HN: “Packed with flashy…sexiness… The cast members deserve Oscar nominations...”

Twisted: “The greatest mystery…thriller… The director Philip Kaufman lend(s) his talents...”

Not exactly catchy slogans, but if you’re a dazed customer who has just spent 3.5 hours staring at countless DVD boxes trying to decide what to rent, it all kind of blurs together anyway.
posted by nina, 2/27/2004 12:42:42 PM | link

The senior citizen in the parking lot 

How old is my truck?
It is so old that I need a key to open the door (though I never lock it--what for?), but I don’t need a key to start the ignition (I don’t know how this happened but it seems these days I can just turn it on, much like a light switch).
It is so old that I bought one of the first models at the inception of this particular line of trucks, and I am still driving it even though after a long and happy history, the line has been discontinued.
It is so old that no one asks me to pick up prominent visitors at the airport anymore for fear that I will be driving them in THAT TRUCK.
It is so old that I’ve stopped ever going to a drive-through car wash. I’m afraid that the brushes will cause the sides to collapse on me much like a deck of cards and I’ll be devoured by the steely swirling monster bristles.
It is so old that… okay, enough. It is old. But I have no reason to discard it. It starts, it moves, it doesn’t guzzle gas. Can one demand more of a vehicle?

There is the image issue. I remember many years back when I drove some law students to the court house, one said “uh, we always sort of pictured you driving a SAAB.” I felt that to be a complement and it was disturbing to know that I had shattered a classy myth. From there, it is but a small drop to appearing for class in clothes that belong to the last decades, having vinyl furniture in your office, and generally exhibiting a loss of pride in the aesthetic presentation of oneself and one’s surroundings. I’m keeping up with the other stuff so far, but I’m on alert for signs of decline.
posted by nina, 2/27/2004 11:35:30 AM | link

Thursday, February 26, 2004

I never would have guessed... 

The reason we love the Oscars (just bare with me, I realize not everyone loves the Oscars) is that in the end, they are unpredictable. Imagine if they were like political elections: polls indicate that X is the clear frontrunner; exit interviews indicate that Y is leading, the NYT endorses Z. That would be far less interesting.

But the fact is, we really don’t know who the winners will be.

We can weigh the merits of a performance (though even here we typically do not have a consensus), we can factor in such things as “the Academy owes her one” or “he wont get it – he never shows up anyway.” But these factors are rather random. Depending on whom you talk to, you may get bizarrely skewed answers. For example, here’s a little conversation that I bet no one is paying attention to (appearing in some side story in the Times):
"A week ago I would've said it was Sean Penn," said Tony Angellotti, an Oscar campaign expert working for Universal this season. "But at my table at the S.A.G. Awards," he said, referring to the guild ceremony, "we all looked at each other and realized we'd voted for Johnny" for the Oscar. "I'm not sure Johnny Depp is going to win, but he's getting a lot more votes than I suspected," he added.

How seriously are we to consider this? Are there other table-side conversations taking place? Do they offer another intervening force or factor? EVERYONE this year is predicting that Charlize Theron will win ‘Best Actress.’ But is this in itself reason enough to suspect that, therefore, maybe she wont win?

I have not missed an Oscar show since I moved permanently to the States in 1972. Most years I will not have even seen all the movies nominated for best picture. One fancy dress looks the same as the next (though I will try to pick out the DK gloves this year). My memory for names is laughable (and many do seize the opportunity to laugh), and if asked right now, I could not tell you off the top, which film won best picture three years ago. But I am fascinated by this fact of unpredictability. Post-Oscar analyses will offer the missing factors that we all will have neglected to consider. In the mean time, we can but guess and entertain each other with our own foolishness for never being 100% right. Enjoyable? Very much so.
posted by nina, 2/26/2004 09:40:07 PM | link

Marrying Omar Sharif 

The first time I was seriously considered for marriage was when I was 6 years old. My equally young Polish friend Janek announced, after a momentary critical evaluation: “when I grow up, I will marry Nina.”

You might say that this verged on being an arranged marriage, as his parents were cordially friendly with my parents. The only reason my path crossed Janek’s was because my parents made me spend time with him. Eventually I didn’t much mind, which is how arranged marriages have also been described to me – eventually you may even start liking your spouse.

But Janek and I were never meant to be. My travel to the States pretty much cut him out of my life.
Still, Janek kept in touch with my sister (who lives in Warsaw), and the last time I traveled to Poland, she asked me if I would agree to see him again, just to catch up. She would sit in on the meeting, as would Janek’s wife (idle curiosity, I’m sure).

Before agreeing, I asked my sister how I would find Janek. After all, it’s been 44 years since marriage was suggested, and I haven’t seen (nor thought much about) him since. She looked conspiratorially at me and said: “he looks terrific: 100% like Omar Sharif.”

I was reminded of this exchange today as I listened to NPR on the way home: there was a story on the return of Sharif to the movie scene. Of course, the real Omar Sharif is much older (72), while my “Omar” is my age (see earlier post for an analysis of how YOUNG that is).

Janek-Omar and I did meet over coffee. We eyed each other, his wife eyed me, my sister eyed the entire situation. It wasn’t awkward at all. But one has to wonder, what would have happened had I not left for New York? Would I now be helping him launch a mountain bed and breakfast in southern Poland? Would we eventually have even liked each other? Probably not. I can’t help but see Janek not as Omar but as the little boy in a cowboy suit, with a gleam that spelled trouble. But I did take a photo of us, just to show interested parties back home how close I came to marrying someone who looks now exactly like Omar Sharif.
posted by nina, 2/26/2004 05:51:50 PM | link

The politics of age 

If the NYTimes told you (through an editorial endorsement) to vote for Kerry but you had been leaning toward Edwards, would you switch? No, probably not. But if the Times told you to vote for Kerry acknowledging that Edwards is a wonderful candidate – perfect for 4 – 8 years from now, would you then switch? Still maybe not? And if the Times admitted that in the past, presidents have come to the White House with pretty empty political resumes, but that was before September 11, would you perhaps give Kerry another glance? Especially if in the same breath the Times portrayed Kerry as a mature, balanced candidate with experience in foreign affairs, while noting that Edwards lacked decisiveness and great depth?

Newspaper endorsements are an odd thing. Most of us would never admit to following a paper’s pointing finger except in instances where we don’t know a thing about the candidate, as for example, in races for county register of deeds. But an endorsement portends of things to come: in Wisconsin it preceded the rush toward Edwards. Or maybe it legitimized it. And that legitimacy influences one’s thought process, doesn’t it? “Well okay, if EVERYONE is going to be voting for him, I might as well too.”

It seems that the loaded term that emerges from the Times endorsement is “experience,” and that the paper has determined that this lies at the base of “electability.” Edwards is given little credit for positions he takes, except that the paper admits that he has populist appeal. It’s fascinating that in the end, age is seen as such a virtue: either political age (meaning number of years on the political scene) or real age. Come to think of it, I don’t remember when this country last elected a president who had not a whole lot of one or the other (though many have squeaked by with only “real age” in their favor). But hey, Edwards only LOOKS young. He’s MY age after all (less than two months younger). Not good enough?
posted by nina, 2/26/2004 12:31:08 PM | link

In pursuit of trunks and memorable writing, part 3 

For those who read the posts on trunks (yesterday), here is a reprint of the elusive New Yorker article, dated February 13, 1978. I had clipped it and tucked it into the envelope with the note from the author:

(Talk of the Town) Notes and Comment

A letter from a friend home in bed with a cold [nc: authorship stated below]:
This bed is a real mess—mountains of Kleenex, mountains of newspapers. You might say that on an extremely small scale I am fighting for survival, striving to keep from sneezing my precious life away, but between seizures I glance at the papers—especially at stories about Cosmos 954, the Soviet nuclear-reactor satellite that blew a gasket and finally came to rest in the icy reaches of the Canadian north, spreading radioactive contamination over miles and miles—and I wonder if it is worthwhile to shake this cold. I mean, I’ll get over the cold, with aspirins, fluids, bed rest, and the holding of many beautiful thoughts, but I am gripped by the fact that the Soviet Union has at least ten nuclear powered orbs dancing around our skies and that the United States has nine. The newspapers are rather cozy about the matter, some stories saying that it will take six hundred years for one of the orbs to reenter the earth’s atmosphere, and only adding sotto voce that even then the enriched uranium would be extremely radioactive. Another story says that there is nothing to worry about for four hundred years. And another joyously speaks of four thousand years of grace. But aren’t all these figures—six hundred, four hundred, four thousand—mere blinks in the long history of the human race? If so, I’m wondering who gave anybody permission, either orally or in writing, to tamper with the existence of Man, much less set a theoretical cutoff date for worldwide contamination. One of the few things that have sustained me, through happy years and through sad ones, has been the thought that somewhere, sometime, a vigorous, intelligent, progressive, decent, perhaps freckled great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchild would put his or her shoulder to the wheel and roll the heavy stone one inch further up the hill. Have to stop now. Aspirin time.

The writer of this little piece (Philip Hamburger) went on (in the year 2000) to publish a book, about which the following is said:
Philip Hamburger joined the staff of The New Yorker in 1939 and hasn't stopped writing since. He has made something of a specialty of writing about presidential inaugurations, and in his new book, Matters of State: A Political Excursion, he collects ten of those pieces, covering the inaugural celebrations of presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon (both elections), Carter, Reagan (both elections), Bush, and Clinton. Published just as the nation's capital geared up for the first inauguration of the 21st century, Matters of State provided the perfect opportunity to revisit a perceptive observer's half century of quadrennial dispatches from inside the Beltway.
posted by nina, 2/26/2004 01:13:21 AM | link

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

In pursuit of a distant memory (trunks, part 2) 

As a post scriptum to the post on trunks (below) let me say that I did proceed to dump the contents of my steamer on the basement floor. At the very bottom (really) I found this (dated March 30, 1978):
Dear Ms Lewandowske [okay, so he wasn’t the best at spelling Polish names],
Your very thoughtful letter to the New Yorker (with reference to the Notes and Comment on the wayward Soviet satellite) has just reached my desk, as I am the man who wrote the piece. Thank you for your kindness. It means a great deal to a writer to receive a letter such as yours. Sincerely yours, Philip Hamburger

So let me rephrase my concluding remark: do get a trunk, keep the contents organized, don’t confuse nuclear arms with nuclear reactor satellites, and let writers know that their work moved you.

If I have trouble sleeping, I’ll reprint the story later tonight. It’s short and quite touching.
posted by nina, 2/25/2004 11:30:59 PM | link

The unbearable lightness of bears 

A reader chastised me for not linking to the CNN story on green polar bears in the Singapore zoo (sorry – the story ran for 4 hours then was scratched, can’t imagine why…). Her comment is well taken for the following reasons: 1. I have a good friend who lives in Singapore and I NEVER have any occasion to say anything wise or intelligent about that small country, 2. the story is like no other these days: it presents an insignificant problem (green algae growing on the fur of polar bears), it is informative (it explains that polar bears typically have fur without pigment, hence the illusion of whiteness), and it has an easy, happy resolution (the bears are bathed in some Clorox-like liquid which does away with the algae). Oh and 4. it has (had) quite decent photos of a green polar bear.

How often can you read something these days that says so little about so little and still leaves you feeling perfectly content?
posted by nina, 2/25/2004 11:15:38 PM | link

A long post promoting the acquisition of a trunk (part 1) 

I had a few minutes before class today and I used the time to leaf through the New Yorker (see post below) that came in the mail. I remembered how this was the first magazine I ever subscribed to on my own, back when I was just around 20. Gradually I had stopped reading it – no time, no desire really. I kept up with the cartoons for a while and then, when the family expanded, I cancelled (for a good 15 years). The unread stacks were getting to me.

Today, I remembered one particular article that I did read, back in 1978. It was in the Notes & Comments section, and it talked about the sudden acceleration of the nuclear arms race (I can’t remember the triggering event). The writer had said how he had always imagined that some day, when he’d be long dead and gone, his red-haired children would be running around, and his grandchildren, and other children, all taking his place. This was a great comfort to him, though it was then threatened by the political ferocity of the administration’s so called defense measures. The comment affected me so much that I wrote him a letter explaining that I felt the same way.

All these years I remember fondly that he, this (presumably junior) writer from the New Yorker, wrote back. Tonight I went downstairs to the basement to poke around. I have a trunk there and it has in it a number, a great number of letters from both sides of the ocean, all written during the 1970s.

Of course I found the letter from the New Yorker. I knew it would be there. It said:

Dear Ms. Lewandowska: Thank you for letting us know about how much you liked our February 13th Notes and Comments piece. We’ll see that your reaction is passed along to the writer. Very truly yours, Fred Keefe (Editorial Office).

No, that’s not how I remember it! I heard from the author! Didn’t I? He was so wonderful and responsive. Wasn’t he?

In the trunk I also found a letter from my grandmother in Poland – agrammatical (she never finished elementary school), with good wishes for some new undertaking that I was embarking on (can’t imagine what). I know I probably impulsively (see post below) changed my mind and did something entirely different, but her letter was remarkable and uplifting and full of blind devotion and support.

And, buried underneath a stack of other treasures, there was an unmailed letter that I myself had written to the faculty member at Chicago who was to supervise my dissertation. It included the following sentences: “I received your letter today and I have to say that I am extremely angry at you…What you want is a dissertation of the type that’s never been written…People like you cause me to reconsider the veracity of all those intellectual ideals you claim to uphold. I'm convinced that you see only one road to creating sociology – your road… Aren’t you scared that in ten years you’ll be surrounded by clones of yourself? “ and so on. In the end, I never did send this. Good thing, because the prof is still around and in an indirect way I have contact with him.

Letters. No one these days has trunks, they have email folders. Too bad. And there is no such thing as good mail anymore: the box outside is filled daily with bills, ads and catalogues.

I am certain of this advice: print out the good emails (forget about the rest), stick them in envelopes and put them away in a trunk. Everyone needs a trunk to open at some point.
posted by nina, 2/25/2004 10:27:39 PM | link

To choose or not to choose 

A sign of acute face-recognition paralysis (where you look at a face and you fail to recognize the person) is when you read an article about an author, wonder if he is the same man who taught you 30 years ago in graduate school, google him to his current university, stare at the clear and large photo and still cannot tell.
Barry Schwartz, once prof at U of C is, I believe, NOT the Barry Schwartz discussed in today’s New Yorker article on making choices. It doesn’t help that he shares the name, age, and field (social psychology) of my former prof, but I believe I am confident in concluding that this is not the man I vaguely recall from my first year soc class (he left Chicago soon after).

It was a fairly interesting article in any event, as it talked of the phenomenon that Schwartz (not MY Schwartz, but Schwartz nonetheless) describes in his newest text – that of mischoosing. From the perspective of an economist (eg Hirschman, who I think is NOT the same guy who taught me economic sociology back at Chicago – no, that was HIRSCH, that’s right. Or was it Herschfeld? No, that was the Nina guy. Okay, sorry) this may be identified in a theory of disappointment, which is described thus:
The world…is one in which men think they want one thing and then upon getting it, find out to their dismay that they don’t want it nearly as much as they thought or don’t want it at all and that something else, of which they were hardly aware, is what they really want.

Basically, we are horridly indecisive, we waffle, then regret, and rarely are we satisfied with that which we took forever to choose (an example of a car is given). We study intently ads of things we’ve already purchased in the hope of convincing ourselves that we made the right decision and still we are convinced that we failed in our selection.

Yes, that’s right. This just makes people like me – accused of being terribly and regrettably impulsive – look so good! Great article. Yes, definitely, quite accurate. Yep, no doubt, go with that one.
posted by nina, 2/25/2004 02:44:28 PM | link

Blogging on flogging 

In today’s late afternoon seminar, I treat one of my favorite topics in comparative family law: domestic violence (parent to child and spouse to spouse). This kind of a statement must raise eyebrows, all the more so since I have also spent many years working with law students to provide representation to parents (here in Madison) who abuse their children. What kind of a person likes to talk about violence and enjoys working with abusive parents?

“Enjoys” is perhaps not the best term, though if applied to the process of teaching, then yes, I do enjoy it in this particular field. Rarely are you given the opportunity in teaching law to create so easily a comprehensive diagram where international legal instruments, grass roots efforts, legal activism in the courts, political transformations, etc etc all have their cell, exploding, imploding, exerting influence, being shaped in turn, all in fascinating and not always predictable ways by the others. And, it is all the more captivating (for discussion purposes), because whereas most in class will overtly align themselves on the side that condemns domestic abuse of the spouse to spouse kind, there are always hold-outs (sometimes it’ll be the majority of the class) who believe in slapping the kid who misbehaves. Herein lies an opportunity to bring in the role of historical legal developments that can help explain our confused posture on the topic of physical punishment.

The American legal system has such an idiosyncratic approach to violence, far different than that in Great Britain, which in turn is completely at odds with the Swedish approach. A look at the new Russian Family Code, and its comparison to Swedish or American Family Codes or the South African or Namibian Criminal Codes (the latter two prohibit the physical punishment of juveniles, but only in criminal proceedings) brings a relevance to comparative analyses that makes, one hopes, converts of us all.
posted by nina, 2/25/2004 12:49:29 PM | link

For those who are nuts about France and Italy 

A reader and a friend (and an accomplished travel writer) is looking for editorial and writing assistance with an adventure guide on Rome and central Italy. It can be a very short term thing, and the writer would get some good free food and accommodations, in exchange for putting together reviews. Interested? Visit her website here for more info. I’d do it myself if I had the time.

But the ‘travel’ book that really grabbed my attention this morning was the one exposing the Michelin rating system of (primarily French) restaurants. It is a spiteful little gem, written by a former reviewer who had been part of the Michelin network for 16 years. A NYT article provides a good summary of the raging battle between the company and the reviewer-turned-writer (Michelin Guides are put together behind a solid wall of self-imposed secrecy; the company was desperate to put a halt to the book’s publication, but the author prevailed).

A confession is, I think, in order: I had always wanted to be a Michelin restaurant critic. People have responded to this with comments such as “yeah, restaurant critic – wouldn’t you just love being on the payroll for the NYT and eating out in the city daily?” The answer is no, I would not. I would love to be the anonymous reviewer who bikes around rural France (that’s my imagery) and tries out hidden, little known brasseries and restaurants, where locals still hang their own personal napkins on a peg in the hallway. There are several impediments to this career choice, and I am working on improving my resume before I send it in (a recent history of restaurant moonlighting and a stack of unpublished travel articles that are just waiting to be edited and sent off to airline magazines should help), but I am concerned that the expose of Michelin will dampen my enthusiasm for this long-term project.

On the other hand, I do think that it is a little bit disingenuous for the critic to collect good money for more than a dozen years from the Guide, and then mock the process itself for being somewhat corrupt. The French are groaning now that they will become the laughingstock for having created this powerful instrument – the Red Guide – only to let it be destroyed from the inside. It’s sad to think that this could be the case. How we do love to laugh at the French for their profound food obsession (yep, from field to table… this is an inside joke as many know that I have used this label to describe my meager organizational efforts on behalf of sustainable agriculture), never mind that we offer as an alternative a total life-long commitment to sitting in front of the TV and working our way each day through several bags of chips and packs of M&Ms –certainly a good substitute for growing and serving the perfect melon or ripening the perfect cheese. Dilettante and dabbler that I am, I have nothing but awe and respect for those who spend years or even generations perfecting their craft. Would it be that I were one of them!
posted by nina, 2/25/2004 09:56:21 AM | link

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Songs of old 

A couple of weeks ago Carole King was in town campaigning on behalf of Kerry. A friend (well, not a complete friend or she would have told me about this BEFORE rather than after the event) let me know that she had attended, thoroughly enjoying Carole King’s impromptu performance of, you guessed it, “I feel the earth move.” That song is primed for a political campaign.

What a month for old music! Beatles, Rolling Stones, Carole King, Stylistics, Beach Boys – it puts me right back to the years where the record player never rested, working the same groove again and again, and the biggest, the only issue was whether the phone would ring with the voice of THAT person, and, when it became clear that HE (the saintly but somewhat oblivious HE) wasn’t calling that night, then it would be time for another ten repetitions of Don’t Worry Baby or whatever else was there, all ready to tear you apart. Life was so dramatic in its simplicity.

It is touching that so many of these songs did jump the ocean, creating (or maybe just accompanying) havoc in matters of the heart here and there (..and everywhere. Beatles, 1966), stirring up the passions, playing to sweaty palms, facilitating pain and sometimes, in moments of magic, GAIN, as it all then would fall into place, seemingly in an endless moment of pure, uncomplicated, profoundly felt love –before it all crashed and put you right by the record player again to relive your pain for a few more rounds.

Songs of old. Simple words with a strong melodic theme, stuck way in the back of your head until the moment when some odd circumstance prompts you to listen again. And again.
posted by nina, 2/24/2004 11:49:03 PM | link

Correction needed 

Empty house this evening leads me to turn on the evening news. Do I regret it? Indeed I do. The TV announcer talked of the celebratory “doughnut like” pastries sold in Poland at this time of the year. In Milwaukee, they appear to be sold on Mardi Gras, which, of course, always falls on the Tuesday (today) before Ash Wednesday.

Being among the 1% of Poles that are not Catholic, I never quite understood why our own Polish (meaning IN Poland) Mardi Gras wasn’t really on ‘Mardi’ at all, but on ‘Jeudi’, or Thursday and we called it “Fat Thursday” (this year it fell on February 19). Maybe Poles need more than one day in the year to feel fat and happy. I don’t know. But this confusion wasn’t addressed in the news story. All our local broadcast did was show many un-Atkins Polish Americans buying the gloppy pastries today, meaning Tuesday, in celebration of our ‘Polish’ holiday, which, of course, is all wrong in my mind because that fell on last Thursday. But this in itself was not offensive. I am used to religious confusion of this nature.

What bothered me was the anchorman’s enunciation of the word itself. In Poland, we call the pastries “paczki,” pronounced Pawn-chkee. On our local Madison TV station I heard “poon-chkee.” Say it out loud. Laugh-out-loud ridiculous, isn’t it? Correct pronunciation is everything.
posted by nina, 2/24/2004 07:18:58 PM | link

Way to go, Newsweek 

For once a thoughtful article appeared about a candidate’s spouse. Newsweek describes Ms Edwards as a once spunky law student, a knows-her-own-mind lawyer, an energetic mom (she grew grass – the green kind – on her son’s Halloween costume by misting seeds daily until they sprouted and he and his pals could go out dressed as a golf course), an older parent (her last child was born 3 years ago, when she was 50), a moral person (something tells me she would not be in the predicament of our state AG, who today is on the front page of the local paper with a ticket for drunk driving –how stupid was that, Peg?).

One paragraph about past political spouses did cause me to be concerned. Newsweek states:
Often a presidential contender’s spouse is defined by the way she complements the candidate, and is seen as providing some supposedly missing ingredient: Tipper was Al’s heart,…and Laura tells George what’s in the morning papers. (The story then goes on to say that John and Elizabeth Edwards are very much alike.)

That’s worrisome, isn’t it? Did George fall through the cracks in school? Was he pushed forward? Is he one of the growing number of adults who have managed to conceal the sad fact that they cannot read? It would explain a lot.
posted by nina, 2/24/2004 04:30:51 PM | link

How many mistakes can I make in one day? 

Calling my mother in Berkeley from my office was a mistake. The thought was: I’m in between tasks, I can take 10 minutes to catch up and see how she is. The reality was: I was late for all other appointments for the rest of the day because the call did NOT take 10 minutes. As my cell phone minutes ticked away at $.45 each, I was entertained by a run through every unhappy event that could be reasonably woven into the conversation, occasionally interspersed with connecting phrases such as “mind you, I’m not complaining.”

And she really wasn’t entirely complaining. But when you are eighty, the stories get longer and more numerous and repeated for added emphasis. I mean, why tell the one about how mental illness is rampant in this country, in her apartment building, in our family, among friends only once when you can repeat it, with abundant illustrations, at an interval of every 5 minutes? A happy spin: I was glad that she was basically okay, and that there were no more hard feelings about my trip to the desert. Moreover, she guessed that I had voted for Edwards and seemed resigned to possibly doing the same, though she was still toying with the idea of casting her vote for Dean since his name would appear on the ticket. I figure I have seven days to convince her that sending a “sympathy card” might have greater therapeutic value for the guy than handing him a useless, solitary “sympathy vote.” Though I suppose her vote might not stand alone: in Berkeley Dean may still win even though he’s not running.

Leaving my ATM card in the ATM machine was a mistake. The thought was: I am so efficient! Watch me drive up to the machine at Hildale and reenter the traffic pattern at virtually the same place – how cool and speedy is that! The reality was: I was so inefficient that I didn’t even notice that I had left my card behind; in fact, I am not sure that it is in the machine. It could be anywhere. The one place it is not is in my wallet, so that later on at the grocery store, I caused a collective gritting of the teeth as I did the classic dumping of purse contents on the counter while everyone waited not-so-patiently behind me. A happy spin: I will get a new card and a new pin number. My old pin was an assortment of the most irrelevant to my life digits you could imagine. For example, it didn’t have a single 4 in it, but for some reason it included such numbers as 7. Everyone knows I have no good vibes around 7.

Day is still young, so many hours to mess with. Stay tuned.
posted by nina, 2/24/2004 03:39:45 PM | link

Comings and goings 

My office neighbor is packing his files, furniture and toys and leaving (this week) for Seattle to pursue a job opportunity that he felt he couldn’t pass up. A stream of well-wishers has been steadily trickling in, most offering good wishes for a bright (if drizzly) future. One colleague, however, did no such thing. She poked her head in and said to him “don’t worry, you’ll be back.” Being rather nosy and having overheard this, I asked where this prediction was coming from. “No one ever leaves Madison permanently” she stated confidently. She used herself as one example of a person who went elsewhere to teach, but came back with her tail between her legs, taking back the lesser job just to be again in Madison. She listed others who had done the same.

I thought that the premise of this whole discussion was flawed: if you leave and never come back, you will eventually be forgotten and written off. If you do come back, you’re smugly lumped into the returnees camp. Maybe every town has its handful of returnees. Maybe people even go back to Beaver Dam (earlier post: home of the “busy beavers”).

As I was dismantling her assertion in my head, I noticed that my moving office-neighbor had that look that we get when we stare out our windows (our offices look out on Bascom Hill) – a pensive kind of look, taking in the melting snow, the incongruously bright red doors of the Education building – and I have to admit to recognizing in that gaze the seeds of a possible future return.
posted by nina, 2/24/2004 11:43:21 AM | link

Monday, February 23, 2004

Waiting in Russia 

Driving to the airport yesterday I listened to WBBM radio which, at the time, was broadcasting ‘60 minutes.’ I heard the wonderful story of Valery Gergiev, who is possibly the most audience pleasing conductor since Leonard Bernstein.

It’s not his virtues as a conductor that bring him to mind now. Gergiev is a bit off-center. He often neglects to shave, he is a morose guy in a Russian sort of way (“dad died young, so too will he” – is the mindset, one that I completely understand, even though my dad is still kicking… it’s just a Russian/Eastern European way of looking at things), he drinks vodka at inopportune times (before a concert), and he almost always shows up late for rehearsals. Because he is possibly one of the finest conductors alive, he works his orchestra hard and so rehearsals often continue past the hour of the performance itself. The guests wait outside, sometimes as much as an hour, before they are finally allowed to enter the concert hall.

This performance style does not play well in NY. Gergiev is so beloved that he now holds the position of opening night conductor at the Met. But the rules have been clearly stated: you want to do this, you show up on time, sober and clean-shaven. I think he manages all but the clean-shaven.
What really tugs at me in this story is the willingness of the Russian people to wait, knowing that what they will hear is worth waiting for.

I understand that NY is different. People there (here?) live by a clock that is forever setting the mood, the expectations, the permissible transgressions. Gergiev was told that in NY he could not be the person he is in St Petersburg or elsewhere in Russia.

Fine. But I am, on this one, with the people of St Petersburg. One waits for so much of the irrelevant in life – to have one’s teeth cleaned, to pay for the groceries, to pick up a bagel for lunch. Why not wait for something great, thrilling, genius-driven? We, on this side of the ocean, demand adherence to our standards in the concert hall in the same way that we demand conformity to our way of thinking elsewhere. I can’t comment on the larger issues now, but at least in music, wouldn’t it be fantastic just to let our senses rather than our clocks take charge?
posted by nina, 2/23/2004 11:10:55 PM | link

Relax and Rejoice 

If someone said these words to you – “Relax! Rejoice!”—you’d think a religious conversion is about to take place. Maybe Nader sees himself as a prophet, a spiritual healer. Why else address democratic constituents in this way? (These, in fact, were Nader’s words, cited in virtually every news source today.)

Relaxation rarely comes as a result of a command. It takes practice: breathe in, breathe out. Rejoicing is even more tricky. In Nader’s case, is it a resigned command, signaling the futility of life, as in “rejoice, you have no choice.” Or, is “rejoice” meant to guide us to happiness in spite of adversity? Sort of in the spirit of “don’t worry, be happy” as sung by Bobby McFerrin? Do you remember the lyrics? The song is, I believe, out of the 80s, which makes it considerably older than Nader’s nadir, but it is very Nader-esque:
Ain't got no place to lay your head
Somebody came and took your bed
Don't worry, be happy
The landlord say your rent is late
He may have to litigate
Don't worry, be happy
Don't worry, be happy

It’s the kind of song I imagine you’d sing where someone is passing around things you’d sniff or injest in odd and not necessarily legal ways, or in Poland – in the course of passing around bottle number 37 of Wodka Wyborowa.

Well, I suppose that’s right. Four more years of cataclysmic governance…. Don’t worry…(pass the bottle) be happy (one more time)…
posted by nina, 2/23/2004 07:07:41 PM | link

You and your car 

A student came in to chat about her career plans…she made a comment that made me smile. She said of her friends “they’re the kind of people whose cars have the bumper sticker ‘Draft SUV Drivers First’.” There are so many possible meanings to that proposition that it was tempting to mull this over with her, but she was task-oriented and moved on to other topics.
posted by nina, 2/23/2004 12:37:09 PM | link


Last night I was forced to visit the Dane County airport two times, so I got to experience severe depression and anomie twice in one night, even though each time I was greeting arrivals that should have lifted the depressive elements from the experience instantly. I understand that Orville and Frank are working hard to improve the airport building, but sometimes it seems as if it will take the same number of years to finish this as it did to finally get Monona Terrace up and running (was it fifty years?).

True, someone read my post from early January, and the animal-safari-perpetually-50%-off bags got pushed to the back, but replacing them with bright-neon-flowered-bags, also at 50% off is hardly a move in a good direction.

And why is there nowhere to go, to sit, to stand, nowhere at all? It is just too awful to get there and find out that the flight, which just half an hour ago posted “on time” on my computer screen, is now five hours delayed (just a slight exaggeration), even though it only had 85 miles to fly from Milwaukee.

I studied the prize winning art work of 50 children whose drawings were selected for the promotion of US Savings Bonds. Lots of eagles. I opened and closed zippers of the flowered bags (this inspection service which I was so willing to provide seemed popular with no one, least of all the sales ladies who appeared personally offended by it), and I felt the yellow kiddie Wisconsin parkas for their warmth value (forget it – there’s none, but they are only $19.95, so what do you expect), I analyzed minutely the mock boarding pass on display in front of security screening (in case you don’t know what it is that you have to show to the agents waiting to inspect you, your shoes, and your travel documents) and wondered how many Mary Smiths have been offended by the overuse of their name, especially when appended to a photo of a person who looks positively MEAN (see for yourself next time you’re there), and all this took only 15 minutes.

Today I have to drop one of the visitors back at the airport. Tempting as it is just to stay in the car and wave her off, I know I’ll be in there again, this time adding the Croissant Store (closed last night) to my rounds (will there be more blueberry cheese or plain cherry ones on display?).

More than 100 commercial aircraft take off from Truax each day. You’d never guess that, standing there with a small handful of others, waiting, taking in all that gloomy, windowless quiet.
posted by nina, 2/23/2004 12:16:59 PM | link

Monday nostalgia 

To please and pamper an overnight visitor, I set out this morning in search of fresh bakery treats. Ever since Atkins-mania struck again, bakery people are extremely nice to you when you walk in and ask for four pastries. They bring out the whole staff to celebrate your wonderful and unfortunately unusual indulgence.

I reflected about how my favorite little brick strip mall (‘favorite’ by virtue of being the closest and having at least two stores that I periodically set foot in) is forever transforming itself. Where a kids’ book/toy store used to be is now a stitchers’ center (I have no idea what goes on behind those doors – do they sew? Knit? Darn socks?). Where Breadsmith once produced breads, there is a combination of Wild Grains and Victor’s Coffee. Victor’s Coffee once occupied another spot which is now a Taylor shop (yes, really). Only Brugger’s has clung to its corner location, refusing to change anything but the staff (which they seem to do on a weekly basis).

I waved to people driving up for their morning coffee, their low-carb bagels, their half a sweet roll and for a few minutes I felt that this wasn’t suburbia – this was a small village with stores where everyone greets each other each morning and checks up on the health of the missus. Perhaps I shouldn’t get carried away here, but it was such a warm moment – the stores, the bakery treats, the neighbors. So much better than starting the day with an angry anti-ACLU rave (see yesterday) or a bowl of healthy granola (see everyday).
posted by nina, 2/23/2004 08:02:56 AM | link

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Nader or not 

I did listen to Meet the Press in the end: it seemed appropriately suited to the task at hand: tidying up a bathroom or two.

Listening to the pre-show, i.e. Schwarzenegger, was painful enough, especially when he got to his closing comment – about the possibility of a constitutional amendment permitting immigrants who have lived here for at least 20 years to run for the presidency. (Had I the foresight to predict this possibility, I would have lead an untarnished life, just in case duty called…) Does he see himself on this path? Would you believe it, he has yet to do a single remarkable thing for California (though repealing the auto tax hike at a time of such a severe state budget crisis was pretty remarkable), and yet he is unabashedly smackin’ his lips at the possibility of the White House.

Nader, though, was even more painful, in part because he would not acknowledge the likelihood that his candidacy will have a devastating effect on the Democratic run for the White House. He is known for claiming again and again that if Democrats do not win (in 2000 or 2004), they have themselves, and not him to blame.

Okay, Nader makes one good point here: his name on the ballot cannot be viewed as the sole reason for putting GWB where he is today. Nader listed others on the ticket that also drew votes away from Gore back in 2000. So true. Basically we vote without reason or thought. Perhaps we don’t understand arrows either, thinking that they designate the person who should be eliminated from the race. And why do some voters continue to vote for people who are not even running? In the Wisconsin primaries alone, many non-candidates got hundreds of very real votes. What kind of a voting public are we anyway? We’ll vote for Nader whether he proceeds with his candidacy or not. We’ll write in our neighbor’s name, just for the heck of it. Maybe some people draw decorative arrows that lead to nowhere. We are basically voting fools. Nader wont change that. But he could maybe not go out of his way to create another opportunity for us to display our idiocy.
posted by nina, 2/22/2004 05:22:59 PM | link

A book to avoid 

Is it so desirable to have your book reviewed in the NYT that it hardly matters what the reviewer writes? The flip side of this Q is – why review a book in the Times of a fairly unknown author if you can find absolutely no redeeming value in the work?

There are five novels reviewed in the Books in Brief section of the NYTBR. That’s not bad – each novel gets about half a column of text. One of the books is “Something Rising” by Haven Kimmel. I had read, no yawned my way through, her first book, a memoir called “A Girl Named Zippy.” I kind of like memoirs, and I wanted to see if this one, about a very ordinary life of a girl in the Midwest, could provide some nice zip to a lazy afternoon. It could not. It was an excruciatingly boring book. Possibly Kimmel thought that she could pull out an interesting text out of the dullness of her life (“my life is so ordinary! let me tell you all the ways in which nothing significant can happen on a daily basis!”), but really, she failed. I’m sure people bought the book because it had a very sweet picture of a little girl – the type that usually appears on the cover of a book about overcoming tragic circumstances. Perversely, you grow resentful that chapter after chapter nothing bad happens.

This would not be an author primed for a return appearance in the NYTBR. And yet there she is today, with her new book under scrutiny. You would think, then, that she wrote something exceptional, but no! The reviewer writes:
The father-daughter competition is effective and unusual, but is insufficient to redeem this meandering novel. Of no help are occasional clunky sentences, their meanings elusive, their locutions dubious. Fine books have come from close study of pool hall life. ‘Something Rising’ isn’t one of them.

Harsh words! Someone was not happy to be reviewing this book. If Kimmel didn’t have any rough bumps in the road during her childhood, she’s getting them now.
posted by nina, 2/22/2004 04:02:55 PM | link

It’s all about the wife 

Examples of “offbeat” and/or “odd” political spouse behavior (NYT front page article on Teresa Heinz Kerry):
“Ms. Heinz Kerry has a reputation of being offbeat if not a little odd… On the campaign trail, she speaks in jarringly frank terms about dealing with grief and loss” [nc: what could you even say about dealing with grief that would be “jarringly” frank?]

“He [Kerry] routinely stood by watching admiringly as she rambled on… her flowing hair hiding her eyes..’Isn’t she spectacular?’ Mr. Kerry would say. Oddly, Ms. Heinz Kerry seems not to return the favor: when he is speaking, his wife often wears a pained, or even bored [nc: the press loves that all-American grin] expression. She says [emphasis added] it is merely the look she gets when she is thinking deeply.”

“Her ideas about healing, though, range far afield of Western science. She talks to bewildered audiences about tai chi [nc: me, I would love to see her lead a bunch of staffers in a morning round of tai chi on the White House lawn], about “embracing the tiger”—a metaphor for…confronting and accepting (grief).”

Oh, and she likes scarves and shawls.

Move over, Judith, we got another weirdo to talk about.
posted by nina, 2/22/2004 12:09:32 PM | link

Correcting trash 

Except on days where you pick up the wrong newspaper (thinking it to be that day’s edition), mostly what you do with old papers is put them out in a grocery bag for the recycling guys to gather up and convert into something useful, like coffee filters. When I think of people who actually save newspapers, I think of batty hermits who are later found in their shacks in the mountains, with yellowed stacks of newsprint dating back to World War I.

But blogs – as far as I know, they can go on forever. Moreover, the “archives” bar gives the illusion of saved, catalogued, and archived master work, almost as if you were letting it reside in the great library of the British Museum (which purports to have everything ever printed). The storage bar more accurately should be called “trash.”

Because in truth, what current reader ever goes into Archives? Or even to yesterday’s posts? “Oh, let me run through her life just one more time. I may have missed a nuance to the story on the first three readings...”

Well, I did just that this morning – I revisited a couple of older posts on my own blog and on one or two other blogs. Why did I do it? For one, in a moment of great impatience and lacking self-restraint, I had read most of the Times headlines and all online inserts prior to this morning, so that most of the stories were already old news by the time the paper touched the driveway. And, I seemed incapable of figuring out when Meet the Press was on TV, having never watched anything on a Sunday morning in my life. I wanted to catch Nader’s big moment and, instead, I got some odd gent telling me to act now and fill out a ‘survey’ (?) against the ACLU – an organization devoted to teaching school children about gay unions and disarming our leaders of the ability to fight terrorism (almost verbatim from the show). So it was back to the computer for me.

Looking at old posts made me realize two things:
1. I had let some hideous grammatical constructions creep their way into many a post;
2. Occasional, once spotted by me (in an unusual moment of lucidity) grammatical bloopers in others’ posts had been corrected.

Naturally, I did the thing any blogger would do, I “managed” my old posts and cleaned up the two or three that I had read and that now were making me ill (“I used that awkward phrase for WHAT reason?”).

But the question is this: what presumptuous thought was making me correct? Who cares how awful it read – once posted, it’s a done deal. Except for a few stragglers and an occasional new reader, your readership will have moved on. They are now jumping around picking up the latest from blog X Y Z, you are HISTORY until your next post.

Sad but true.

To the loyal readers who continue to log on here even after reading that bit about reclining, both in the chair and in October – you are too kind. To the blogger who went back and clarified a sentence that was cutely suspended without a context – I appreciated your effort even if, most likely, no one else did.

But I do have a new definition of pathetically delusional: “as in: going back to your archives from many months back and correcting the grammar of your old blog posts.”
posted by nina, 2/22/2004 09:43:30 AM | link

Saturday, February 21, 2004

The day starts with Ollie (my dog), ends with Spot (GWB’s dog) 

A touching story on NBC news about the death today of 15 year old Spot, GWB’s spotted canine. It may be the one moment where us dog people genuinely feel for the guy currently occupying the White House. Of course, the pooch had a privileged life, and one could write much about health care and affordability etc, but I’ll let that slide for the moment. The news report on dogs in the White House (and there have always been dogs in the White House) mentioned one tiny but important fact: dogs attach unconditionally, no matter how you perform your job. Must be a comfort to so many who have inhabited the White House.
posted by nina, 2/21/2004 06:10:28 PM | link

Neighborhood update 

Woah, what a beautiful afternoon, with the happy sound of melting snow and a dizzying array of puddles to jump over when walking the hills of this neighborhood. A pair of girls three houses up the block built a snow pig – a remarkable achievement, down to its curly tail. I almost felt the competitive urge to maybe sculpt a goat in our front yard, thinking if this caught on, we would have a block of farm animals and people would drive up just to admire our multivarious (isn’t this a word?) talents. I held back because I worried that neighbors would come out and ask if perhaps I had toppled my feather or otherwise fallen precipitously into some state of mental decline (not in so many words, of course). Besides, it all looks so WET out there in the snow. Still, it was a gorgeous late afternoon.

I am concerned, though, about the family across the street – the one with the flamingos (see post, February 8). Or rather, the now you see them, now you don’t flamingos. Because the birds are all gone. And this is not the type of clan that picks up their decorations when they are done with them – the adorable Christmas trees are still standing, tilted, but standing on the porch, and the lawn chair, last used I believe in October of 2003, sits where it did then, on that warmish fall day. Did we have a flamingo heist in the neighborhood? Bad enough that mailboxes get batted down every now and then, and swatches of toilet paper still cling to tree tops from brazen teen ‘decorating’ efforts of years back (such a quaint American custom, why ever hasn’t it caught on elsewhere?), but stealing plastic birds crosses the line. Next thing you know they’ll be toting away my rusty upside-down wheelbarrow which I forgot to put away in the garage for the winter, and from there it’s only a matter of days before they start digging up the climbing rose bushes. Young people have no manners.
posted by nina, 2/21/2004 04:48:42 PM | link


Fortune magazine claims that there are 10,000 new blogs recorded on the Net each day. Are some of us multiple blogging? Keeping up different personalities maybe? Like, how do you know that the blog on the ‘SmileZone’ isn’t really mine as well? Okay, sure, I don’t have the technological acumen to put together something so visually appealing (one reader wrote just the other day suggesting that I might consider finally eliminating the ads at the top of my blog, though he admitted that commercials for Dean buttons aren’t necessarily a mismatch to the content of my blog, by which I am hoping he did not mean “losers all”). True, once you use your name in the blog, it is incumbent upon you to keep it honest. But if you don’t – oh the lives you could bloglive!

Of course, the statistic is a demographic fallacy for it says nothing about replacement levels. Maybe 20,000 other blogs self-destruct and 40,000 die a slow death, never to be heard from again (all this leading to negative replacement levels).

This point about blog disappearance is worth a worry. It could well be that at some moment you became blogaddicted to someone’s blog, reading it daily, enjoying the progression of events, the births, the marriages (maybe I should flip the order here), the social commentary, the humor. And then the writing stops. Now what? What a cruel hoax! The author manages to tantalize, entertain, amuse, engage, and then, without explanation, the blogging STOPS. What’s left for the reader? Maybe simply the four stages of blog withdrawal: denial (I’ll check again in an hour, maybe she’s just pausing to shower..), panic (how will I live without knowing if her dog learned to read?), anger (what a socially irresponsible act of hedonistic cowardice!), RELIEF (good bye blog, hello Fyodor Dostoevsky).
posted by nina, 2/21/2004 01:28:16 PM | link

A very serious aside on war: skip it if you’re feeling light and airy  

The writing of an important chapter of World War II history has yet to be completed. The NYT notes this in today’s story on how deeply preoccupied we’ve been with analyzing battles between German and the Allied forces on the Western Front, and how little attention has been given to the battles on the Eastern Front, where the Wehrmacht suffered as much as 80% of its total war casualties. It is in the course of battles with the Red Army that the Germans experienced their most stunning defeat.

Apart from the military issues, there are other harrowing aspects of war between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht. Any Pole will tell you that a key preoccupation for Poland has been why Stalin chose to let Warsaw fall to the final destructive onslaught of the Germans during the Warsaw Uprising. Given the inevitable and devastating outcome, many Poles believe that the Uprising wasn’t heroic, it was suicidal – an unnecessary loss of life. Speculation rather than fact fuels the debate as to the reasons behind Stalin’s passive role in the ultimate leveling of the city.

And there are the issues surrounding Red Army tactics: the retaliatory rape of 2 million German women, the pilferage and assault on Polish homes and families that lay in the path of the Russians – all this is shrouded in mystery, noted only in the limited stories told by survivors.

Why this empty slate? Because few historians have had access to Russian military documents from this period. Now, as the doors are opening for academic research, there still aren’t enough scholars, nor is there money to scrutinize the voluminous materials. The writer Eva Hoffman said recently that it is the obligation of the second generation to record and preserve, from its position of both distance and proximity to the events of war, the memory of those events. A burden? Maybe, but a critical one. Starting each day fresh, without the imprint of a history carefully drawn, seems to me at the very least heartless, and at worst, dangerously irresponsible.
posted by nina, 2/21/2004 12:19:17 PM | link

What Diane Keaton meant to me… 

The story in the Times (here) on DK’s idiosyncratic style of dress suggests that all those layers of buttoned blouses, blazers, turtle-necks, the wire-rimmed glasses, and always – the gloves, were emblematic of the confused (is that what “gracefully puzzled” means?), outgoing, emboldened modern woman. The suggestion is that women both imitated and were dazzled by DK’s style:
“Her throwaway verbal style and her thrown-together dress style became symbols of the free, friendly, gracefully puzzled young women who were busy creating identities out of the epic miscellany of materials swirling in the American cultural centrifuge," rhapsodized Jack Kroll, Newsweek's film critic at the time.
Her fashion influence in those days should not be underestimated, Mr. Talley [of Vogue magazine] said last week. "What Sarah Jessica Parker is to young women today, Diane Keaton was in that day," he said.

I wont waste time explaining why I think these statements are ludicrous, but let me just say that I wont ever admit to having had Keaton as a symbol of anything except a mildly crazed, sometimes quirky and amusing, most often not, character in movies that may have caused a ripple of chuckles, but only if you were in a room full of people who were under the influence of controlled substances.

The article does punch her out a bit for the glove thing (note suggestive comparison to creepy Michael Jackson):
Then there are the gloves, sheathing Ms. Keaton's slender hands wherever she goes (reminding fans with a more twisted turn of mind a bit of Michael Jackson). She wore gloves with her Woodyesque sport coat, and once again in Beverly Hills at the Oscar nominees' luncheon on Feb. 9. Leather gloves covered her wrists at the International Film Festival in Berlin a few days before that, a counterpoint to the black-and-white-checkered coat she wore. White leather gloves provided the creamy finish to the ivory-colored suit Ms. Keaton wore two weeks ago on "The Tonight Show." And white satin gloves accented her Richard Tyler coat at the Golden Globes Awards in January.
Her near fetishistic devotion to those gloves has inevitably prompted queries. Is she making a style statement, or is she simply hiding a pair of hands she deems too unsightly for a close-up?
Ms. Keaton, who declined to be interviewed for this article — because she is talked out, a publicist said — did nothing herself to clear up the mystery.

Well now, maybe we should leave her alone with her mittens. Whatever her reasons, they can’t be anything but sad. Warped, gnarled knuckles, scaly spotted skin, or a perennial nail biting problem – let’s not let our curiosity force some prankster to rip off her armor and zero in the camera. As I once wrote, the presence of some mystery is a good thing and, often as not, the fact of mystery is more interesting than the undisclosed reality.
posted by nina, 2/21/2004 10:39:10 AM | link

Not amusing February musing 

This morning my dog and I had a morning cup of coffee together, just him and me, as everyone else in the household is away in distant places, and I thought, how wonderful is the relationship between person and beast! – so perfect, sitting there, reading the paper, clipping Klinke’s coupons together, reading about the success of Olbrich Gardens (Horticulture included them on a list of ten gardens in the country that inspire us), not even noticing that I was actually thumbing through yesterday’s paper (local headlines are much the same from day to day), such a peaceful beginning to a Saturday.

Then I remembered that the exertion and strain of this morning activity for the dog (of sharing a breakfast Kodak moment with me) is going to require that he take the rest of the day to sleep it off: it is not unusual for him to take his morning nap from 8 am ‘til 5 pm. Luckily he has not yet learned to keep up with my blog (water spaniels are reading-challenged: he still can’t tell an A from a B and he’s almost 5), so he wont know how deeply disturbed, perhaps even resentful I am becoming over the inequities in our week-ends. Consider this. Dog’s Saturday: Kodak moments with owner, rest, eat, steal a few pieces of garbage, more rest. Owner’s Saturday: Kodak moment with dog, walk the beast, feed him, do a corrective read of today’s (as opposed to yesterday’s) paper, read 30 Admissions files and reject most of the applicants knowing that my flick of the pen will instill misery and gloom for the recipient of this largess, blog to bolster the spirit, pay bills due January 31st, think about which week to start gathering papers for taxes, think about going to the gym, rearrange contents of briefcase so that “urgent work” papers, crammed in some afternoon in 2002 finally get to see the light of day, feed dog again, yell at him for eating garbage, think about taking him for long walk, blog, by which time it will be evening.

The sad thing is, there is no writer’s hyperbole in that paragraph. It may be that a surprise will pop up – perhaps a call from my mother (much overdue as she is ‘processing’ my last weekend’s absence), or a note/call from a reader who will have read this and decided it’s best to check in, just to make sure we’re not all witnessing the disintegration and last desperate acts of a blogger, but otherwise, the course of this day is set.

The month of February is just too long. The framers of the calendar should have chopped off another 11 days and spread them among the remaining months. That thoughtful gesture would have put us on March 2nd today (leap year).
posted by nina, 2/21/2004 09:35:05 AM | link

For everything else, there’s MasterCard 

Drinking Steve’s wine with the dinner roast: $20+ (per bottle: see post below).
Spending the evening with your once-students-now-friends: priceless.
Shoveling heavy, wet snow from your sidewalk and from that of your neighbor at 1 o’clock at night: ridiculous.

[Tonight I heard that the city of Madison has officially closed its outdoor skating rinks and ski trails for the season. So why am I out there clearing snow and moving a car due to alternate street parking? Though I have to say, the night is so iridescent right now that you could read the newspaper without any trouble, just by the light of the winter sky.]
posted by nina, 2/21/2004 01:04:51 AM | link

Friday, February 20, 2004

You and your blog 

Comment from today: ”you’re funnier in your blog than you are in person.”

Response: “hey, I’m plenty funny in person. You don’t know how funny I can get. I used to make myself laugh out loud. Whereas the blog – sometimes it isn’t even slightly funny. Take the post (below) on book choices: what’s so funny about that?"

“It’s funny in some parts. I’d say in person you’re more contrary than funny”

Response: “Now that’s not funny. I’m not at all contrary. But I am funny. Really. Well, sometimes. Oftentimes. Ask others. No, don’t ask others…”
posted by nina, 2/20/2004 03:10:07 PM | link

Poster update 

Thanks to the reader who pointed me to a possible referent for the “No More Sour Juice” poster over University Avenue (see yesterday's post). I think I best not venture a description lest I should have the language police carry me away for a comfy night in the slammer. (Her email alone got a rating of three red peppers from Eudora’s morality patrol.) But I have to wonder still if the guy with the poster was offended by this musical venue (I’ll let you know that much: we’re dealing with a possible music group) and therefore felt compelled to protest, or whether he was envious of their apparent success.

I am anticipating a bizarre set of blog readers tonight. As always, sorry to disappoint, but you most certainly will not find anything here about…… never mind.
posted by nina, 2/20/2004 02:45:37 PM | link

The art of buying wine 

I was at Steve’s Liquor today, having the following (oft repeated) conversation:

me: “so, I’m serving a roasted tenderloin today, and I want something different, exciting to go with it.. But let’s keep it French and not too pricey; maybe a red Burgundy or a Gigondas?”

Randy: “yeah, sure, whatever you want.. here, let me show you this fantastic Chilean wine I just brought back from my trip there—it’ll knock your socks off!”

me: “I don’t want my socks knocked off…but seeing as I am such a loyal customer, perhaps, knocking off a few dollars off of a Burgundy would be nice?”

Randy, clearly hurt: “didn’t you like the California Vintage Renard Santa Rita I recommended last time? Wasn’t that special?”

me: “so special that I am saving it, along with the Jaffurs Syrah that you rang up for me that was twice as much as I had wanted to spend.”

Randy, feigning indifference: “I had a guy come in and buy a case of that for the week-end.. I mean, you can’t take your wallet with you to your grave, you know.”

me: “no, but I can take it to the grocery store and buy food that’ll last a whole week with left over cash for over-priced lattes. Okay, so what do you suggest? Should we look at a Cotes du Rhone? I can usually find a decent one for around $15 - $20..”

Randy: “I’ve got just the thing: a 1999 Morey St Denis Bourgogne for $29” [before tax, n.b.]

me: “You sold that to me three weeks ago when I was looking for a cheap bottle of French table wine. I’ll take the White Oak Cabernet that I had wanted the time I walked off instead, under your guidance, with the Chateauneuf du Pape from La Nerthe.”

Randy: wounded silence

So it’s not from France, and is the wrong price. At least it’s red. One out of three right.
posted by nina, 2/20/2004 02:40:58 PM | link

Somewhat lengthy and not really funny reflections on book choices 

Last night I had my other book group meeting (the “lawyer-loaded” one). The book, Lahiri’s “Namesake,” is wonderfully readable in a sad sort of way, as it chronicles the life of an Indian immigrant family. I am, of course, mesmerized by accounts of immigrant displacement. Doesn’t matter that I am not Bengali, I have never been to an American-Bengali party in my life, I don’t even seek out Poles living in America -- as has been repeatedly pointed out to me, in the spirit of: “if you’re so homesick for Poles, why don’t you go hang out at the Polish food store in Middleton?”

I am not really “homesick” and certainly not pathetic enough to hang with the kielbasy just so that I can hear my native tongue. It is more accurate to say that I am displaced. Having lived in the States as a girl (ages 7 – 13), I was more like the child of immigrants, having picked up Americanisms early on – only to throw them away again when we returned to Poland. So I can’t even wear the “first generation immigrant” label very well because I was crossing the ocean too many times, a habit that is still with me now. Hence the name of the blog. No one else gets it, but it has great significance to me.

One more note on book choices. In my other, “neighborhood” book group, the leaders were looking for interesting titles for future months, and of course, as usual, I foisted a title about World War II, this one describing a disintegrating social fabric in the city of Berlin. I’m sure there has to be some eye-rolling about my choices. The first time I went to a meeting of this group some four or five years ago, I suggested that we read the “Rape of Europa,” and then, soon after, the “Reader,” and so on. So long as it’s confession time, I should admit that certain persons from this household, when they were younger, commented that they were spoon fed books about Santa Claus and World War II survival in about equal doses. You’d be amazed how many titles I could find on the Holocaust or the Resistance Movement that I believed were appropriate for children.

It’s not that I myself feel compelled to read only from this period of European history. It’s worse than that: I feel compelled to recommend (meaning “force”?) books to others about these topics. “Here, you want to know what I think we all should read? This. And this. And this.”

When I left NY at 13 to make my home again in Poland, I remember vividly the classroom I left behind, with the usual display of maps, photos, student work, posters of famous people, who knows what else. An American classroom has more things posted, suspended, plastered on walls, windows, doors and ceilings than I would think possible for anyone to even look at in the course of the year. The first day back in a Polish classroom I was struck by its complete nakedness. There was one straw mat on the wall. On it, there was a black and white photo of the rubble that was Warsaw after the war. There was a banner across the bottom which read “Never Again.” I saw it every day, for all three years of my high school life there.
posted by nina, 2/20/2004 01:00:23 PM | link

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Help me with this one 

As I was driving home this evening, I glanced up, as always, at the pedestrian bridge over Campus Drive. You don't need to pick up the paper in Madison to figure out what's playing in the theater or concert hall; all you need to do is look up at the bridge and you will see signs announcing anything from jazz artists, to musical hits, or the coming of any number of noteworthy performers.

But what I saw today was a guy holding up a huge sign that read: "NO MORE SOUR JUICE."

What am I missing here? It's one of those things that's lost in translation, right? Probably everyone else is driving home and thinking "yeah, no more of that stuff, right on!" Or, is it that the person with the sign was complaining that there is no more sour juice to be found anywhere, it's all sweet, damn it! Or what -- an irreverent rock band, aka Sour Juice, that should not be permitted entry into our concert halls or nightclubs? Truly, I'm in the dark.

If you know the significance of this, write me. My ignorance is killing me.
posted by nina, 2/19/2004 10:42:15 PM | link

Need a spouse? Try the cemetery 

According to GWB, your mate must be of the opposite sex. But we have an unresolved question here: must s/he be alive?
In France, the answer is no. For example, a certain Ms. Demichel married a dead man just last week (NYT, the paper of record, so reported)– perfectly legitimate according to French law. She carried flowers, there was a wedding cake, they say the only thing missing was the groom.

A honeymoon? Yes, of sorts –she’s going to visit her new mother-in-law. Her new dead husband died in an accident two years back. But she’ll keep his ashes in her bedroom. The mayor, who presided over the ceremony, did ask if she wanted to “exchange” rings in some manner, but the bride politely declined.
posted by nina, 2/19/2004 12:34:34 PM | link

Scheming minds 

CNN is speculating about the possibility of a new alliance between Edwards and Dean (and therefore also Gore). It makes sense. Edwards is short on money, and desperate to win in New York. Could it be that Gore will announce a shift in favor of Edwards this week-end? A CNN public preference poll, conducted before Tuesday, indicates that both Kerry and Edwards are currently favored over Bush.

As if all this wasn’t intriguing enough, I read today (NYT) that according to a survey (okay, I suppose that goes without saying), 9% of the primary vote in Wisconsin was cast by Republicans. One has to wonder – who did they vote for and why?
posted by nina, 2/19/2004 11:51:17 AM | link


At a meeting of the neighborhood book group last night politics crept into the conversation (okay, were forced into the conversation by me). It was shocking, exhilarating, astonishing to hear how many (most?) had voted for Edwards. One had even given Kucinich a plug. You have to understand that many of these women are not on the same end of the political spectrum: Some have crossed over and connected the arrow pointing to a Republican in the past, others have been decidedly moderate Democrats, and still others have been known to waffle about which party to support (okay, ms exception, I know who you are and I know your record is unscathed by any GOP leanings, but admit that I am correct about the others). If a candidate would openly speak in favor of raising taxes, s/he’d lose at least half of them right then and there.

But last night, it became evident that these past voting patterns were nothing but youthful indiscretions, all forgotten, ignored now as visions of a future without GWB tantalizingly danced through their heads. A united front of Democrats? Never thought it could happen, but there it is.
posted by nina, 2/19/2004 07:56:22 AM | link

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Different worlds, different visions  

Every once in a while I have days like this: an early morning seminar to conduct downtown at the Department of Justice and a late seminar to finish the day back at the Law School. Two Madisons, the Government/Courthouse on one side and the University on the other, staring, often glaring at each other, disconnected, both resenting decisions emanating from one sphere and affecting the other.

Which world voted for Kerry? Which for Edwards? I don’t think we have that one figured out yet. In fact, I read in one post-election survey (the Times maybe, but in all honesty I don’t remember) that fewer than a third of Wisconsinites voting for Edwards were “angry” at Bush, whereas fully 50% of those supporting Kerry were. What does that mean for the future months? What does that say about the Democratic constituents? I thought everyone was angry. Up here, in the “towers” of Bascom Hill, it seems that way. But we are so removed, sitting here on the other end of State Street, transfixed, glaring at the government, holding out hopes for change.
posted by nina, 2/18/2004 05:43:04 PM | link

The Octopus: friend or foe? 

A reader wrote to tell me that she is considering never washing her car at Octopus Car Wash again, due to her recent discoveries about the beastly nature of the animal. She was searching the Net for the Car Wash and came across this website, written by a person who once, too, was loyal to our friendly Octopus on old University Avenue. You wont regret reading it. It may save your life. Evil lurks inside that cute rounded head and the helpful arms wiping down your windows.
posted by nina, 2/18/2004 03:08:40 PM | link

More on Bush’s meeting with Zine El Abidine Ben Ali 

In the post below I noted the defining event of GWB’s day – a meeting with Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. I have since read reports of that encounter and I must say I misjudged the situation: apparently there weren’t any weighty issues to discuss, nor did the meeting require much preparation on the part of GWB. The rule is: when in doubt as to what to say to the Tunisian president, talk about gay marriage.

From CNN:

"I strongly believe marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman," Bush said during an Oval Office session with Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. "I am troubled by activist judges who are defining marriage."

Can you just imagine poor President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali during this? What message will he take back to his people in Tunisia? Maybe: “The President of the United States assures us that marriage should be defined as between man and woman. The policy implications for us remain unclear. We will study this message and let you know, once we come to an understanding of what this means for our country.”
posted by nina, 2/18/2004 02:47:47 PM | link

Calendar boys 

No, this isn’t heading where you’re thinking. I was simply curious what the candidates (the democratic pack of 5 + GWB) were up to today. Looking at their calendars is always illuminating, though today seems to be a slow day for most – not surprising, given the zeal of campaigning before yesterday’s important primary. But wait, were all campaigning? Perhaps the one on that list who has already secured a place on the (republican) ticket is especially busy, given that he does hold down what is thought to be a demanding job. Let’s take a look at where they’re at today (from CNN’s “Inside Politics” page):

Howard Dean
In Vermont -- Dean will hold an "event" in Burlington at 1 p.m. where sources say he'll announce he's no longer campaigning actively for president.

John Edwards
In Washington and New York -- Edwards has private events in Washington and New York and has nothing public scheduled.

John Kerry
In Ohio -- Kerry holds a town hall meeting on jobs and the economy in Dayton at 12:15 p.m. and holds a rally with Democrats in Columbus at 5:30 p.m.

Dennis Kucinich
In Ohio -- Kucinich has a discussion with students at the University of Dayton at 12 p.m. before participating in a labor event in Cincinnati at 7 p.m.

Al Sharpton
In Georgia -- Sharpton holds a news conference at 8 a.m. in Atlanta to announce his endorsement by several Georgia elected officials before attending a fund-raiser at 12 p.m. He attends a march with the United Brothers of Carpenters Union at 2:30 p.m. before attending a rally at Clark Atlanta University at 3 p.m. He attends a fund-raiser in Atlanta in the evening.

George W. Bush
In Washington -- President Bush meets with the President of Tunisia at 11:25 a.m. at the White House.

Well, that can be taxing, right? A brief, pre-lunch meeting with the leader of Tunisia? Much is at stake. Preparing for it, de-briefing afterwards, resting for the next day’s events – juggling all that takes time. And don’t forget travel – from one end of the White House to the next – we know how delays and weather conditions can mess with a tight schedule. Is it time for a “working vacation” in Texas yet?
posted by nina, 2/18/2004 12:45:56 PM | link

One Wisconsin fish, dinner for 400 

A reader reminded me that there is pleasure to be found in spending a winter week-end in northern Wisconsin (as opposed to, say, the desert). In the article she forwarded, I got a sense of the excitement that may be generated by a successful day of spear fishing. Really. (Did you know that the season is only two days long? It started on Saturday and finished on Sunday. If you’re enthused after reading the article and want to try your luck – you have to wait some 360 days to set out with your weapon.)

In case you don’t have time to link, let me just tell you that Lake Winnebago had a winning moment this season. A spear fisherman (of Polish background no less!) caught a 188 pound sturgeon. There are fish like that swimming in Wisconsin lakes? And we send innocent children and dogs to mingle in the water with them? The fisherman, an able bodied 47-year old jailer from the Sheriff’s Office, who is probably used to handling some rough types, could hardly control his catch. Tranquil lake waters indeed! Who knows what remains un-speared down there. Maybe an overweight cousin from the same Wisconsin fish family? Frightening.
posted by nina, 2/18/2004 11:30:39 AM | link

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Having lived here for 25years, am I a true Wisconsinite? 

I heard from one of my Polish readers today. He sent me a clipping of a newspaper article depicting a photograph that is identical to one I had purchased from an artist-photographer when I was last in Poland (December). It is actually quite nice in a muted and dreamy style of fuzzy contours and soft and faded blacks. I bought it by happenstance, following the most improbable set of circumstances, on the eve of my departure. And, to make things even more tricky, I could not fit it into my suitcase, so that I was forced to take kitchen sheers to it and chop the matting down to a size that could be accommodated in my bag.

Konrad Pustola, the 27 year old photographer, speaks of a Warsaw that follows him in his dreams (he lives there still). He digs into childhood memories for inspirations, taking photos on days when the pace slows down (Sundays) and the city becomes lazy, immobile, still. I wish I could link to the story, but I appear to be incapable of creating the connection.

After the flurry of political drama here in Wisconsin, this article, the photo, the recollection of scenes immortalized by Konrad – all are a perfect antidote. Sure, it may be important to cross oceans and set up homesteads in unfamiliar places, but it is also helpful in a soothing kind of way to return and take another look at the images (as depicted by a new generation of talented artists) that are left behind.
posted by nina, 2/17/2004 11:52:24 PM | link

Avoiding the phone 

The ringing phone makes my heart sink. Inevitably it is going to be one of the following: a taped message from a democratic candidates, or, worse, a live voice asking if I needed a ride to my polling place (what demographic list are we on anyway?? I am NOT a member of AARP!), or, inevitably, my mother asking if I voted for Dean. Only the first on this list of possibilities is not a strain. I feel terribly guilty when Kerry’s or Dean’s loyal campaign staffer offers me a ride because I have to say that I have already voted and then there is this dead silence as s/he comes to understand that I did not vote for their guy. I wish someone from Edwards’ office would call (they have not today, which is wise on their part – they read my blog yesterday, waited til midnight, and knew that they had my vote), so that I could be jubilant and say YES! I was with you all the way (or at least all the way this week)!

I would let the machine pick up the phone, but that just leads to confusion, because if it is a recorded message, then it is mangled by my prerecorded announcement and it is hard to understand who is calling or what they want. For instance, when I got back from work, I listened to something like this:

“... (beep) Bush. We need your support. Our country needs to move ahead with the economic plan that will give every American a chance at a good education, a decent job, and a safe world to live in.. blah blah.”

I really do not think I got a call from Bush. I am not on any mailing list that could have generated a Republican message, and anyway, to the best of my knowledge, GWB isn’t campaigning through grass roots phone calls at the moment. Too plebeian. But whoever left the recording did not anticipate that the first words would be cut. In denouncing Bush, they became Bush. What a warped twist of fate.
posted by nina, 2/17/2004 07:27:09 PM | link


I met a neighbor at the polling place and naturally asked him how he was voting. People will lie rather than say “none of your business.” But he seemed honest in telling me he was voting for Edwards. He said he really liked Kucinich, but since he saw himself as a strategic voter, he’d go with Edwards. I reminded him that in the last presidential elections he had a Nader lawn sign, which was about as un-strategic as you can get. He explained that actually, in the end, he changed his mind and voted for Gore. He also admitted that while he was supporting Nader, he hadn’t realized how bad GWB would be.

Two interesting points to consider from that:

1. people’s lawn signs aren’t indicative of much. Of course, I’m not sure I understand the purpose behind lawn signs anyway. Yes, I usually stick one in the ground to irritate my Republican neighbors, which I admit isn’t a very neighbor-friendly approach to things. And, too, I know it’s the American way, and immigrants tend to conform to the peculiar habits of their host country. But still, do the signs have persuasive value? Walking to Grainger Hall on campus, I noticed a chalked statement on the sidewalk saying “Vote Dean.” It is really pathetic if you decide to vote for Dean based on a sidewalk chalk scribble.

2. I should not let my hostilities toward Nader-ites fester for so long. My neighbor is right: at the time of the elections, no one suspected how much damage GWB could do. Only in the last three years have we come to understand that long-term strategic voting, of the sort where you cast your vote so that you’ll have influenced the elections four years from now, is foolish, as we may not survive for so long under a particularly trigger-happy administration.
posted by nina, 2/17/2004 03:29:23 PM | link

Youth scramble for Dean 

Driving in to work today, I saw, at the edge of Campus Drive, a lamp post with a stack of Dean lawn signs adorning it all the way to the top. You know Dean has youthful supporters when you see something like that. I would NEVER EVER climb up a lamppost (how do you even do that?) to put up a sign for a political candidate, even if it meant an automatic handful of votes for that person. I know Wisconsin has a lot of tall men with names like Olaf and Lars, but this feat would have required a whole stack of them—one on top of the next. I’m thinking Dean is going to pick up some votes here after all. [Good. I can call my mother in California tonight and continue to placate her by saying agreeable things about her favorite, Dean (see yesterday’s post). Then, when she finally begins to recognize that it is over for Howard, I can capitalize on her vulnerable emotional state and start sending books and bribes so that she’ll switch her allegiance to the trailing John. The art of corrupt politics, duly recorded on a blog.]
posted by nina, 2/17/2004 11:25:18 AM | link

Comments from someone who came to see the carpet (purchased from truck standing on the periphery of the largest-gem-show-in-the-world):  

“It is the most beautiful trapezoid I have ever seen!”

me: “it is not a trapezoid: if you regard any very long rectangle from one end, it will form the illusion of a trapezoid”

“How come it doesn’t have those long threads at both ends like most Persian rugs have?”

me: “I asked that too. It’s because people have complained that the ends get sucked in by the vacuum cleaner.”

“If anything gets sucked in around here, it is perhaps you. You took the entire carpet as a carry-on?? They didn’t make you check it in?

me: “hey, you’re talking about a very special carpet from Afghanistan: I would not hand it over to just anyone.”

“Beautiful trapezoid. Absolutely exquisite.”
posted by nina, 2/17/2004 08:09:43 AM | link

Monday, February 16, 2004

Family update 

My mother called (from Berkeley) while I was away in the desert. She wanted to know 1. where I was and 2. if I had gotten her gift (=bribe) with the note urging that I vote for Dean. I was glad not to field that call because there really wasn’t an adequate answer as to why I was in Arizona and not in Berkeley California (so long as I was taking the time to be away from where I properly should be: at home attending to obligations). And as for Dean – if I wait until after the vote to discuss this with her, I can be evasive and not quite admit that Howard did not in the end get my support . But I first have to see if he gets at least one vote, otherwise she’ll catch me at my own game. I suppose Dean will almost certainly get at least one vote, but what with campaign staffers and chairmen dropping like flies, you just can’t count on it.
posted by nina, 2/16/2004 10:32:33 PM | link


A reader asked if I had encountered any odd looking bugs while in the desert (this past week-end: see posts below). Well of course. Where people go, so go the insects. Or is it: where insects go, so go the people? In any event, one specimen that crossed my path looked especially peculiar: it was almost translucent, with a body composed of many segments. I looked at photos online since my return and I have to conclude that it was not a scorpion. I fully expected to encounter a scorpion, since everyone said that scorpions are part of the landscape of southern Arizona, but In all honesty, I don’t think I saw a single one. As I said earlier: Polish speaking human beings? Yes. Scorpions? No. The desert was full of such odd surprises.
posted by nina, 2/16/2004 10:05:48 PM | link

So it’s John? 

I’ve been back in Wisconsin less than two hours and already I have picked up a handful of calls from John, Howard, John, and Dennis (it seems we are on first name basis: the calls are all very back-slappin’ friendly). I was almost convinced that Howard deserved an “I feel sort of sorry for you” vote, but a friend just talked me out of that line of reasoning, reminding me that “feel sorry for you” voting could have given us some unsavory leaders in the past.

Having eliminated Howard, my attention turns to the Johns. There is no doubt that I know more about the politics of the straggler John rather than the front-runner John – which is in itself interesting. My friend, who luckily was in a giving advice mode (though she offered no bribes, which was discouraging), reminded me that “military record” did not in the past swing voters (recall Clinton’s success), and would probably not be enough to pull Kerry forward. She also painted a very realistic picture of a debate where Kerry’s New England’s stiffness rubs everyone the wrong way. Finally, she made me admit that there were a great many voters who actually believed that GWB was a pleasing and sympathetic speaker (in an “aw, shucks” kind of way), and so it was vitally important to position someone who himself could be charismatic enough to off-set that sheepish little grin that seems to melt the hearts and minds of many.

Let me just say that my lines are open til at least midnight tonight. I could still be persuaded to abandon John the straggler, though less so with each minute.
posted by nina, 2/16/2004 05:10:53 PM | link

Forgetting to obey the law 

I was so impressed with the fact that my flight was taking off on schedule (the one from Chicago to Madison, which has an on-time departure rate of 2%) that I completely forgot to turn off my cell phone while on the plane. I am actually fairly certain that we weren’t reminded to do so, because I usually do half-listen to the front of the cabin instructions, just in case we are being told something important, like to bail out instantly, or that the plane has no functional lavatory. Still, after all that fuss in the Sunday Times about the rudeness of travelers and mutinies in airports and on trains and planes, I was suddenly acutely aware of the fact that if the phone would ring, 30 or 40 passengers could very well pounce on me with anger at my flagrant disrespect for the law.

To shut it down in mid-air would be a dead give away that I had failed to do so earlier, especially since Verizon plays a little jingle as it’s being turned off. There was nothing to do but remain confident that the law of probabilities would come through for me in such rough times. I gambled that since only about three people have my cell number, the chances of any of them calling during the 29 minute flight were slight.

I sweated it out, the phone remained silent, and I did not confuse the navigational system, because we did land in Madison. On time.

P.S. Two years ago I listened to an NPR interview with a guy who was a telecommunications expert. He claimed that there actually is no evidence that the use of cell phones during flights would have any impact on the navigational system or equipment. He speculated that the government had probably struck a deal with the airlines, who wanted to promote the use of their own in-flight phones rather than have customers pull out their cells. I always think of that interview when the flight attendant tells us that we are surely going to do great damage to the sophisticated navigational equipment if we use our electrical or cellular instruments. Of course, today I didn’t think about this at all, having been one of those spaced-out travelers who forgot that she even had a cell phone.
posted by nina, 2/16/2004 04:33:42 PM | link

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Snakeskin jaspers and meteorites 

This is the week-end of the Tucson Gem exposition. There is only one such exposition ever anywhere in the entire world, I am told. That means that I just had to check it out. People travel from Germany and Hong Kong to view minerals and stones, so I can certainly travel the 10 miles or so from the desert to take a look.

What turned out to be, however, even more interesting than the convention center's big show (yes, of VERY expensive stones-- even though there are lots of free ones in the canyon -- see yesterday's post) was the off-off-off Broadway of gem shows -- the one in tents and warehouses at the edge of town. Now that was worth the hike! Australian opal mixed in with Pakistani onyx, Peruvian minerals, meteorites, Snakeskin jasper -- more names than even yesterday's litany of cacti species. And let me not forget the Indian (from India) patchwork quilts and Afghani carpets.

I bought a carpet woven in Afghanistan-- it seemed fitting to do so at Tucson's biggest-in-the-world gem show. The man was selling it from the back of his truck. His pal had some more in a tent not too far away, as you head toward the desert. The land around me and the weather seemed much like I imagine Afghanistan to be (I am quite uninformed and so I could be off by several zones, but I think it's a fair guess). The seller explained to me how the old man who had made the carpet was dead now, but his son had taken over and was making fine carpets -- maybe he'll bring some next year to Tucson. The other seller, the one in the tent, told me that he had a regular customer in Wisconsin: he asked me if I knew where Madison was. The skeptics may scoff at my naivete ('how do you know it's real'?), but I really have no doubt that it is quite authentic. And, even more importantly, it is very beautiful.

Back home tomorrow, carpet under my arm, rocks, cacti and mountain lions on my mind, and some good photos taken of all but the mountain lions -- couldn't get one to stand still long enough (or maybe it was only a pack rat?).

Thanks, Florida and Texas lawyer pals and Arizona desert friends, for taking in a northerner for a while.
posted by nina, 2/15/2004 06:41:17 PM | link


I saw a newspaper lying around -- it was yesterday's paper, tossed to the side, about to be trashed forever. I couldn't help myself - I picked it up. It was innocent on my part: I'd never read a copy of the Arizona Star before. I wanted to see its tone, maybe find some interesting story about desert life (though I felt certain that there would not be desert news per se: the sun goes up, shines brilliantly, goes down. The end of another day).

The news was of the type you'd find anywhere: a Valentine Day's story of some improbable love, a heroic local rescue of someone's pet, an accident here, a robbery there.

I was about to toss the whole thing away when the words "Madison, Wisconsin" caught my attention. I read it, but wish I hadn't.

Is it true, then, that a reporter in Madison asked Kerry if he had had an extramarital affair? Were there rumors circulating to that effect? A day without news should have been a week withouth news if this is what the media is playing with now.

It is not surprising that Kerry would deny this (assuming, for argument's sake that it is a valid rumor). If a scream percipitated Dean's slide, what would an admission of this sort do to Kerry? But what is discouraging is the insatiable desire to pursue these types of questions. After all. do we fully understand at this point all that each candidate can offer? What policies they stand behind? What implementation tools and strategies they propose to use if elected? Have we weighed these against the three and a half grueling years of GWB? No? Well, shouldn't we get on with that project?

I read that subsequently, Kerry was asked: "is there anything that you want to tell us that's going to come up?" Do I understand this question to be asking -- is there anything incriminating that we can't quite lay our finger on now, but you'd like to share anyway, just in case we eventually learn about it? I'll let you imagine Kerry's brilliant reply [hint: it starts with the letter ""n"].
posted by nina, 2/15/2004 08:07:17 AM | link

Saturday, February 14, 2004

mountain lions?? 

What good is a sign that warns you of recent sightings of mountain lions? If you're in a canyon, and a mountain lion runs into you by accident, or you into him, what earthly protection is there for you?

The day proceeds without any reading of political headlines, and without a single lawyer joke. We leave that to the rest of the world. My partners in this desert madness took me instead into a canyon studded with cacti. So many new names to remember -- I wont even begin to demonstrate here how little knowledge of desert plantlife I have retained.

I have only two quick little recollections for now: the first is of the moment after that long hike EVEN DEEPER into the desert (it's not enough that I can be attacked by these plants at night if I am not careful), when finally I could stretch out on a flat rock and look up at a relentlessly blue sky: priceless. Especially the lying down part. Rocks and canyons and steep inclines go together.

My second recollection is of waiting for the little truck thing to come and take us deeper into the canyon. A couple of other folks were heading in the same direction and so we stood there together, strangers, bound by a common desire to see a million more cacti and perhaps an odd bird or two. I kid you not-- these folks were speaking Polish. I promise, I don't seek this out, it follows me all over the world. Even in the desert, I WILL find the one Pole who also decided at this moment to risk testing the will of the stray bobcat or the mountain lion. How odd to never escape your heritage in this way.
posted by nina, 2/14/2004 05:59:35 PM | link

Sun's up in the canyon 

..and the Internet is still working, whaddaya know..

It was to be a week-end with no politics -- what do coyotes know about democratic candidates after all -- but I can't quite leave it behind, even if I am not reading any headlines.

I am here with three lawyer types (and one more who comes in and out), or, more accurately, freinds (sorry, no spell-check to catch mistypes in the canyon) who once studied law with me. One of them actually lives in the desert. This morning, for instance, I woke up to dangerous looking cacti specimens that I could touch if I stretched long enough.

But politics joined the rising sun that came up very very slowly (bored with making an appearance every single day?) over the mountains. Our discussion was about whom we don't like more: candidate X, Y, or Z. Is it always like this? Eliminating the bad rather than pursuing the noble?

I am the only one in this group that still lives up north year round. This is the first time that I got greeted with -- so, what IS Wisconsin thinking these days? We are on the map!
posted by nina, 2/14/2004 10:14:35 AM | link

a late note from a disoriented traveler 

On my flight to the desert (see post below signaling the great journey) I met a prof of physics. He was extraordinarily good about explaining the laws of the universe to me. By 'universe' I mean everything you could imagine (for example he explained why it is bad for chidren to read Harry Potter, and why the kid behind me was crying so hard), rather than a universe of the black infinity that is beyond imagining. Recognizing his gift of explaining, I decided to ask a question which has always bothered me about the sciences: why is physics so difficult to comprehend?

By the time we were almost landing in Denver (a necessary stop on the way to the desert) I understood that the world is really divided into those who think like physicists, and those who do not. My seat mate teaches the 'physics for poets' class at UW and so he tells me that he works with a roomfull of students who cannot cross that great divide. They cannot make themselves think like physicists.

The reason I found this prof's explanation so interesting is that it filled the two hour flight in a congenial way, and, more importantly it sounded so very familiar. We, at the law school, offer the same incantation. The world is divided into two groups: those who think like lawyers, and those who do not. Not having the luxury of teaching "law for poets," and knowing that we have three years before we have to let loose the next batch of so-called lawyers, we take our job of teaching them to think like lawyers quite seriously.

I am not sure I could ever explain what the physics prof told me about a physics mindset. It was supremely complicated. And truthfully, I, like his class, never really managed to cross the great divide: I never fully comprehended the world of physics. But flying in the clear starry night, somewhere over Iowa or Kansas, it was fitting that we should be talking physics, possibly the only time in my entire life, in a knowledgeable sort of way.
posted by nina, 2/14/2004 01:04:24 AM | link

Friday, February 13, 2004

Taking to the desert 

Don't even think of rechecking this blog until very very late on Saturday. The Arizona desert, where I will be spending the next three days is inhospitable to the Internet until the night descends. Thus I am at the mercy of the cacti and the creatures that rule the arid land. Cold at night, warm during the day, confusing to a Wisconsin person who thinks of winter as uniformly, painfully cold. Off I go.
posted by nina, 2/13/2004 03:49:36 PM | link

I’m submitting my photo to the IRS 

I never thought that it was permissible to throw in supporting documents with tax returns, but now I see that I missed countless opportunities to build a strong case for the integrity of my financial records. Since I have never been audited by the IRS, I am guessing that they googled me, found my UW Law School photo, and saw me to be the honest woman that I am. But this year, I want to cut their administrative burden and so I will append the photos myself.

I got the idea from reading about the 2004 Budget as submitted by President Bush. According to Krugman of the NYT, it includes 27 photos of GWB – in various noble poses with citizens like you and me (well, one photo is just alongside a shot of Mt Rushmore—his head next to the carved heads, suggestive, no?).

There is a picture in the budget where GWB is helping a child learn how to read. Now this just knocks me over: was the president taking time from his busy, albeit short work day, to help a child read? And did the terrified child learn anything? Maybe we should test the kid?

Photos in support of the budget. What an original idea! Kind of distracts from the numbers though, doesn’t it?
posted by nina, 2/13/2004 03:45:10 PM | link


What is it about my sense of fair play that makes me live with the institution of the infiltrator-spy, but find repugnant the spy who secretly turns over information about his/her own country?

Yesterday, the Times reported the death of a spy (I can’t link – the story was buried and is now gone), a Polish man who had been central to American intelligence during the latter years of the Cold War. Here, he was a hero. Staying within the military in Poland, he passed on possibly some of the most vital military secrets to the CIA. He was such a staunch anti-Communist – it is said of him that he truly was passionate about his 20 years of espionage. His sole purpose in life was to see that the Soviet control over Poland would weaken, and that the Communist Party would lose it’s grip on political power.

To his surprise, once a democratic government was elected in Poland, no one there wanted to have anything to do with him. Walesa himself refused to pardon the guy. The country considered him a traitor to the nation.

Today’s press is full of news about the American soldier who allegedly passed information on to Al Qaeda. What demonic instincts would lead a person to do that? Even the least patriotic person would regard that as an immoral act.

But spying on the enemy? That appears to be different. Yes, it’s based on deceit, but it hasn’t the elements of betrayal to the country of origin. The infiltrator who obtains secret information is a hero in film and literature. They may be fighting for the same principles, but the traitor seems a tainted person, while the infiltrator is just doing his/her job. Not one that I’d like to be doing, and not always acting on behalf of policies that I would support, but still, just a well-greased peg in the machinery that noses its way into odd places where secrets are kept.
posted by nina, 2/13/2004 09:30:48 AM | link

The world of plastic toys 

To the reader who just volunteered to dig out her pink flamingo and lend it to me in order to appease my nascent desire to upstage the 4 neighborhood kids (whose total age does not even add up to half of mine): I am wondering why your plastic flamingo is in the garage, or basement, or wherever you are hiding it and not out in the snow where it would make the most noticeable impression. I am sure that someone across the street from you would get a real thrill if you went out and slapped some snow into a hill and then danced around with a flamingo in a carefree way. Moreover, you probably would not succumb to the kind of hostilities and rivalry that ultimately lead to the demise of the young pack in Lord of the Flies and are now threatening to chip away at the solidarity of the gang across the street. Or would you?

To the manufacturers of Barbie and Ken: what does it mean that Barbie and Ken are “splitting up” (read story here)? I always assumed that the white wedding dresses, the glitzy costumes, and all that Barbie paraphernalia, belonged to the world of plastic toys and corporate gimmicks. Tell me, which state are you fancying as that which will sanction your “divorce?” Because right now, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I do not think that you are legally married to begin with. Marriage, so far as I know, is, in most jurisdictions, between two humans. We are currently debating how generously that should be interpreted, but I do not think anyone has yet suggested that the legal institution of marriage should embrace Barbie and Ken. I ask myself, wouldn't even the most liberal minds draw the line at plastic?
posted by nina, 2/13/2004 12:27:39 AM | link

Thursday, February 12, 2004

The night they invented champagne 

A tip for those who are staying in town, celebrating Valentine’s Day, and want to appear loving and generous to their partner or friend on that day: do as I did today (my excuse – I wont be here on VDay): go out and buy a bottle of Michel Turgy, Brut – Blanc de Blancs Champagne. It is notable for a number of reasons:

1. It’s a relatively small house, and so you’re not buying the SUV of champagnes;
2. It is a great “sipping” champagne: full and robust, so as to keep you interested til the end of the bottle, dry enough that you never quite believe that you’ve already emptied the whole thing;
3. It is < $30. Now when was the last time that you had a memoralbe champagne (or ANY champagne for that matter) for <$30? Possibly never? I asked the guys (think: woman with short dark hair—she knows TONS!) at Steve’s if they had done a secret blind taste this year – where they taste a bunch prior to VDay and pick their favorites. I was told that indeed this bottle had come out at the top, right up there with Vilmart (those of you, and I know who you are:), who had met Laurent of Vilmart fame back in 2001 and have not yet admitted to being in love with the guy – I forgive you; one has to keep sane about things like that) and the other small family houses.

Write me if you end up buying this small treasure and agree – or if you get engaged or hooked up in an enduring relationship, or a civil union, or whatever as a result. I want credit.
posted by nina, 2/12/2004 09:40:16 PM | link

Lord of the Flies, Redux 

I drove up the street thinking good thoughts: the snow, Owen Woods Nature Conservation Park on the left, a bike path leading into a quiet neighborhood on the right.. winter light.. a peaceful landscape.. (the radio is off because of the pledge drive: I’ve come to my senses; see post below).

I’m home and so I take out my dog for a romp (that’s what I call a quick pace up to the neighbor’s driveway and back.. I mean, how long should it take..), I glance over at the snow hill, you know, the one with the flamingos (see Sunday post below) and I see --- chaos. The littlest boy seems to have his head stuck in the snow (or almost so) very close to that of the upside down flamingo. Big sister is whacking his torso with a broom. Middle brother is taking out the other flamingos one by one and throwing them rather meanly toward the bushes. Middle child (of yet unidentified gender) is staring at the scene, and am I imagining it or is there a hint of malice in his eye?

The building of a snow hill and the placing of pink birds in it was a beautiful image. I should have come home a half hour later. I’d never have noticed the missing bird or two, nor the hole in the hill where the boy’s head had just been.
posted by nina, 2/12/2004 05:51:55 PM | link

On Wisconsin! 

Today the Cap Times mentioned (here) that the NYT hinted at the possibility of having Doyle added to the democratic ticket. Governor Doyle has met with (courted?) all the contenders and so it is not impossible to imagine that if the one supported by Wisconsinites does get the nomination, there’ll be some gratitude floating around.

Doyle on the campaign trail? Well, he’s got the height thing going for him…(see post here)
posted by nina, 2/12/2004 04:31:59 PM | link

Listening to the voice 

The drive from my home to my office takes about 15 minutes. 90% of the time I have NPR going: it’s soothing in the morning (no one should start the day with rapid-fire speech of WBBM “all news all the time,” nor the thump thump thump of other invigorating musical venues; in the one yoga class that I ever took in my entire life the instructor told us we should start the day slowly, softly, contemplatively; I quit the class, but retained the idea), and it is fascinating during All Things C’d in the evening.

But I ask myself, what demonic force within me keeps the public radio station turned on during the pledge drive? “Why, thank you caller from Neenah, a very generous gift… we count on listeners like you to meet our financial goals… we need you to support the music and the news programming that you come to depend on.. we work for you… thank you for that call from Oshkosh, yes, Jane from Oshkosh called in, and so can you. The number to call is 1 800 000 0000, or locally, if you live in Madison, and we’d love to hear from you too, the number to call is 263, 7903..We have with us the chancellor of UW Extension, here to tell us what to him is so special about Wisconsin Public Radio.. Hello chancellor.. Remember, the number you should be calling, and our operators are standing by for your call… I see two lines open right now, so please, pick up the phone and dial..” and so on.

I have lived through pledge drives, and mini pledge drives, and during each one, for the 15 minute drive, the voice continues to make its case, in its atrociously monotonous drawl, on and on and on, and I am too lethargic, or inert, or unbalanced, or reasonless, or something (what?) to reach over and shut it off.

'Public radio. Funded through generous gifts of listeners like you.' Like me? Heaven forbid.
posted by nina, 2/12/2004 02:07:09 PM | link

Really Lost in Translation 

I have to say this, because I am hearing from some readers who do not know this about my writing: English is not my first language, Polish is. I learned (learnt? which one?) English during a six year stint in an elementary school in NY, but I spent my formative years (high school and most of college) in Warsaw. While everyone here was reading Hemingway and learning about “dropping the 'e' when you add ing”, I was in Warsaw reading Mickiewicz and learning about “kto uje kreskuje ten dostaje dwoje.”

NY elementary school English is not the language you can build a career on and I am happy that I have moved beyond phrases picked up on the streets (off the streets?), and in copies of the Bobbsey Twins. I mean Freddy and Flossie just didn’t have the vocabulary, nor the wit to say anything useful or intelligent.

But every once in a while, you can catch me. Although I think I am a careful writer and, in fact, I am not very tolerant of sloppy writing in general (hey, I had to learn the stuff the hard way, what’s your excuse?), I can easily be obtusely unaware of rule infractions. So, if someday I write something absurd (for ten years I thought the saying was “sufficient to say,” just because that’s what it sounded like to me), just say to yourself – oh, there’s one she doesn’t know. Chances are you’re right, I don’t.
posted by nina, 2/12/2004 12:00:58 PM | link

Walk feminine, talk feminine 

Tonya writes in her blog that by withholding “favorite movie rental” information (post, February 10), I am perhaps engaged in the flirtatious behavior of a bygone era: retaining elements of mystery in order to tantalize.

Could it be that she is right?

It all began in 1963 when my family took a road trip, and what was to be a pass-through in Las Vegas, turned out to be a five day layover, because my father had a bit of a car accident right there in the middle of the main intersection of Vegas.

Many jokes could be made at his expense now – all about wondering eyes and mind being elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the police faulted the other guy, though let me now, 40 years later, come clean and admit it: I was there, I saw it, it was my dad’s fault.

And so there we were, 10 year old me, 11 year old sister, frugal mom and stingy dad. We stayed at a seedy motel (that was the pattern of the trip) and waited for the sun to move from one end of the desert to the other while the car was being repaired. For a kick, my sister and I would go to the grocery store and work our way through pocket change at the slot machines. After two days of this my parents woke up and said enough: let’s do something that’s family-appropriate.

In those days, “family appropriate” in Las Vegas was hard to come by. Basically, it had to be a movie or back to the slot machines.

Not surprisingly, the theater was showing only one General Audience movie. These were the days that you normally didn’t let your kids watch “Lolita part 3” or “Sensuous Sandy” at the age of 10. So our movie was to be “Summer Magic” with Haley Mills over and over again.

The movie is a study in contrasts: Haley’s character (a teen age girl whose father just died, leaving the proper Bostonian family destitute) was one of resilience and strength. She single-handedly found an old house in Maine where they then moved, living off the land I guess (that part isn’t really explained, and the mother continued to wear fancy hats and dresses, even in Beulah, Maine). But the girl was also intent on being more feminine and a successful flirt.

The reason this story is at all relevant here is two-fold:

1. I have now demonstrated to Tonya my willingness to share favorite movies (Summer Magic) and real life dramas (car accident).
2. The movie taught me the lyrics of an influential song – one that I repeated to myself again and again as I failed to attract the boy of my dreams in my Polish high school (initially; he later succumbed to my wily ways; but then he turned his attentions elsewhere, proving that flirtatiousness will only get you so far). The song goes something like this:

You must walk feminine, talk feminine, act shy and smile feminine, complement his masculinity,
That’s what every girl should know
If she wants to catch a beau.
Let him do the talking, men adore good listeners,
Laugh, but not loudly, if he should choose to tell a joke.
Be demure, sweet and pure, HIDE THE REAL YOU!

So Tonya, perhaps you are right. I am but a product of my times, taught to be mysterious, secretive. True characteristics of a fanatically dedicated blogger.
posted by nina, 2/12/2004 07:09:15 AM | link

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Proud to be a badger 

My seminar ended late (we actually finished early, but it felt late – one has to be precise in one’s words), everything about this day ended late, but I did manage to stop at Border’s on the way home to pick up a book for the week-end trip that I have ahead of me (more on that later). In the end I got two books, and it is the second, the unintended purchase that I am now remembering. Why? Because amongst all those front page reviews (that I read with great diligence and that I always way over-analyze) I found, snuggled between the NYT and the Library Journal, a review from the Madison Capital Times! It says:
His taut narrative language is direct, strong and original with a restraint lyricism full of trenchant observations. Particularly outstanding are the descriptions of Berlin crumbling from war and the oppressive ordinariness that accompanies apocalypse.

Aren’t you proud of our little Madison paper? That’s pretty heady language! [though in reality, I bought the book because of its really terrific smell. If you don’t believe me, go to Border’s and pick up a copy of “The Pieces of Berlin” by Michael Pye. You’ll see.]
posted by nina, 2/11/2004 11:27:08 PM | link

A post scriptum to the entire “Fed Ex was late” saga 

On January 29, I posted a blog about not trusting Fed Ex to pick up my grant application in a timely way (is anyone except me sick of this story yet?). A few weeks later I posted a related (according to me) story about Fed Ex not picking up 30 UC Berkeley applications for Fulbrights on time, thereby causing the Department of Education to summarily reject all 30 applicants because their applications came in a day late. Okay. That’s just a quick summary.

Today I read that Berkeley has been negotiating with the Department of Education so that they would reconsider their position in rejecting the late applicants. After all, Fed Ex has claimed responsibility for the pick-up and delivery error.

The resolution: the 30 applicants will get their grant proposals reviewed. Successful applicants (predicted at around 50%) will be able to call themselves “Fulbright Scholars.” But they will not be under the Fulbright program administered by the Dept of Ed. – they will be under a separate special program for them administered by the Dept of State. And the government will not pay for their scholarships. Berkeley (which will obviously milk Fed Ex for this) will have to come up with the funds. Truly the work of legal minds. This isn’t about adhering to principles of fairness, it is entirely about living within the “letter of the law.”

BTW (a term I seem to have used three times in my posts and 5 times in emails just today… the mind is getting tired), I remember that when university applicants are attempting to meet deadlines, they are given language that specifically states that the apps have to be in by January 1, and nothing, not an act of God (or Goddess, or secular entity), or war, or a late Fed Ex delivery will excuse tardiness. Maybe the Dept of Ed should look to academia for guidance in setting its application guidelines to avoid ambiguity. Dept. of Education -- academia, you’d think the two would keep in touch.
posted by nina, 2/11/2004 10:58:56 PM | link


Okay. The time is now. I have been asked in class, I have been asked in the hallways (of life), I have been asked repeatedly: do I think the constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman will pass? I have avoided giving my opinion – possibly to make it seem like I have an inside track, or at the very least infinite wisdom on the matter. I have neither, but I will give my answer nonetheless (prompted in part by Ann’s blog, which gives the completely opposite answer): yes, if the amendment were to require a vote today, I think it would pass.
I don’t want to get into a detailed and terribly serious analysis as to why. Let me just keep it short and simple:

1. Ann (who speaks with a great deal of credibility here because she is, after all, a Constitutional scholar, and so I realize I am tip-toeing over terrain that is near and dear to her heart, whereas the Constitution is virtually silent on family matters, and the number of important Supreme Court cases addressing the family can easily be counted on the fingers of both hands, and that is only a slight, journalistic exaggeration) concludes that Americans treat the Constitution as an instrument that confers, and rarely (if ever) removes rights.

Answer: Maybe. But there are no words in the Constitution articulating a right to marriage (let alone gay marriage) and so we can’t really say that the amendment is “removing” a right. Only in 1967 did the Supreme Court even attempt to link marriage to a fundamental rights discourse. And, in subsequent decisions, it became clear that even though marriage is considered a fundamental right, the state may regulate it if it can demonstrate a compelling state interest. No one wanted to permit under-age kids, or fathers and daughters to marry with the state’s blessing. So, from day one, limits on who can marry have been acceptable. This train of thought is obviously not what the MA court chose to develop (in a split decision), but we are talking about the national read on the Constitution.

2. Many (including Ann) say that Americans are not that mean-spirited and they will not indulge this type of bigotry.

Answer: Americans are not inherently any more mean-spirited than anyone on the planet (except for a small contingency from some political... okay—off topic). But the reality is, I think, that Americans are made to feel that they are already giving in to things that run against their belief systems: they will feel themselves to be generous in granting same-sex couples access to some benefits. There are, after all, some 70 million Evangelical Christians in this country. Not to say that they ALL have uniformly strong feelings about gay marriage, but they certainly are under the influence of religious leaders who will not say kind things about this type of union. (n.b., did anyone read the story today about the woman in Texas who was arrested for having sex-toy Tupperware parties? The so-called "Christian" groups are a powerful force.) Can those that align themselves with the groups that repeatedly condemn same-sex marriage withstand the (almost certain to escalate) pressure to support the amendment?

3. One last point for now: there is the ever burning fear of the slippery slope. The perception is that the amendment is necessary so that other forms of marriage that are repugnant to our values wont also be pushed down our throats. Today = same-sex, tomorrow = bigamy. And why not (the argument goes)? The law is suddenly unstable here. Bigamous marriages based on religious beliefs have been rejected by the Court because of our adherence to a traditional belief system that favors monogamy. Oh-oh. That’s it? Gulp.

So, as of today, February 11, 2004, I am predicting that an amendment will pass. And, having said that, let me also say that many things can happen to change the mood of the country or to change my mind. Astrology is a tricky thing.
posted by nina, 2/11/2004 09:25:10 PM | link

Now wait a minute... 

Yesterday we got a really friendly call from a Clark supporter asking for our vote this coming Tuesday. Now what if that one call (and the fellow emphasized that he was NOT a recording, though our phone recorder recorded his call and so this then became an untruth, because he turned out to BE a recording – but I don’t think the misstatement is what caused Clark to withdraw), okay, sorry for the digression, what if that call had directed me to make up my mind once and for all, so that I was ready to throw away all literature on anyone else and plunge ahead in support of Clark? Where would I be now? It reminded me of the campaign requests you get from candidates AFTER the race, so they can better address their accumulated debt (and who is going to address MY accumulated debt?), though it is even more eerie to ask for my vote where there is no longer a "candidate" behind the name on the ballot.

Right on the heels of this I get in the mail a nice flashy card from Dean, all about how he and no one else is willing to stand up to George Bush. I liked the quality of the card, and indeed, in the photo, Dean appears to be standing, but I am thinking that my presidential choice wont have to stand up to Bush after next November because there will no longer be a Bush in DC. Instead he’ll need to be president. So I take the card to be a statement about what Dean can do in the next few months, that’s all. Interesting, but not persuasive as to ultimate leadership capability. But I will keep it in mind. I did like the fact that Wisconsin was the direct target for the card – the name of the state appears right there on the glossy front. State pride and all that. Also not dispositive, but very attractive.
posted by nina, 2/11/2004 01:12:10 PM | link

Speed your way to bankruptcy  

This, very buried in the paper today (buried, I suppose, because if you have stocks or caches of gold, you don’t want to give anyone on this side of the ocean legislative ideas):
Jussi Salonoja, the 27-year-old heir to a large sausage business, has been fined $216,000 for driving 50 miles an hour in a 25-mile-an-hour zone in Helsinki, the police said. The fine is believed to be the largest ever given for speeding in Finland, where traffic offenders are penalized according to their ability to pay. Mr. Salonoja's 2002 income was $8.9 million, Reuters said. The Finnish Internet millionaire Jaako Rytsola held the previous record for a speeding fine: $101,700. Walter Gibbs (NYT)

I’m really all for this: I mean, imagine the wealth we could tap into. And the headlines this would generate. And the smug satisfaction all of us would get from seeing rich people zapped by radar guns and being made to pay, pay, pay. [BTW, how does a traffic cop know if s/he’s cornered a wealthy person?]
posted by nina, 2/11/2004 09:39:42 AM | link

I can’t keep to my own schedule 

Though in a previous blog I suggested (to myself) that I review readers’ comments on Sunday (that was because it was a particularly slow moving Sunday and I predicted many more such Sundays this winter given my work load this semester), I am now departing from my rule. Actually it never became a rule, because there hasn’t been a Sunday since I wrote that. Anyway, ANY day is reader-comment day.

To the reader who asked if I knew about the drug trade that went on at night on the hill where she found out I went sledding – the answer is yes, I remembered and left shortly thereafter. However, sledding at the local hill near the high-school is/was perfectly safe and so I took a handful of runs there. You see a lot of sky – it’s open and quite beautiful at night.

To the reader who had gone back to a blog from the early days of January and read about my warped floors, let me give you an update: the floor boards now are so separated that I could store enough winter provisions in the cracks and keep us going for a whole month. I will call my floor person for another conversation on this come Spring. Update will follow.

To the super nice reader (I’m not suggesting that other readers aren’t super nice, it’s just that this one lives far away and doesn’t know me and still took a moment to be super nice) with the preference for rats over mice, just a note of reassurance: though you may feel bad about neglecting and not challenging your favorite rat in the past and worry that this made her (him?) unhappy – actually you don’t KNOW that the rat was less happy being left alone. Maybe s/he liked retiring from cerebral maze games: maybe s/he had burnt out and wanted a hiatus from all that intellectual stardom. Maybe s/he had been faking enthusiasm all along. What do we know about rat feelings anyway. I mean, it’s not the same level of guilt as, say, I would have over not filling the bird feeder (update: it is now filled and I have attracted wood-peckers to it and so now we are in the next stage of the vicious orbit of neglect-entice-expunge-entice etc..)
posted by nina, 2/11/2004 09:17:03 AM | link

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Winter dreams, part 2 

Later...(see post below)

If I wrote about sledding now, it would be as if I sledded just to write. It was, though, a perfect night to work the plastic on the snow. Not pink bird plastic, but a sleek blue strip, with the terrifying speed of someone who doesn’t really know what she’s doing and can hardly see where she’s going. Sublime.
posted by nina, 2/10/2004 11:52:41 PM | link

Winter dreams 

A colleague in Madison once told me not to make any important decisions in February. It’s like your car, which, at this time of the year, makes all sorts of odd noises that have little to do with real maintenance issues and more to do with the abysmal state of the weather. Don’t take your car to the repair shop in February. It may not need a fix. It may just need a new month. Winter at this point is never ending, the short day never appears longer, the groundhog deserves to be impeached for his inaccurate prognosis, etc.

At the same time, February takes up 28 – 29 days out of each year. That’s a lot of days to avoid making decisions just because they may be tainted by the cold.

So, Mr. colleague, I’m about to respectfully decline your suggestion and go forth with my decision, inspired by a reader who found my rhapsodizing about flamingos on a snow hill sweet but misguided: I’m taking a piece of plastic (they call this thing a sled?? What kind of cheap garbage do we give our kids anyway? When I was young…) and going out to look for a hill. Sledding in the moonlight sounds, at this moment, sublime.
posted by nina, 2/10/2004 10:02:39 PM | link

How much power in cheese? 

A lot. Jonathan Alter writes in this week’s Newsweek:
Kerry is Brie and crackers on a rugged picnic. Edwards is a slice of American on a hamburger at Wendy’s [no! take that back!]. Even beyond Wisconsin, politics is still about how you say “Cheese!”
posted by nina, 2/10/2004 09:42:16 PM | link

Battles brewing on the home front 

Does Wisconsin need this much attention? As of today, we have a proposed constitutional amendment in Wisconsin proclaiming marriage to be a union between a man and woman only (thanks, Rep. Gundrum, we really needed that), at the same time that we will have this week same-sex couples applying for marital licenses to underscore the state’s current discriminatory practices that preclude this form of marriage. On Thursday (February 11, just 5 days before the Sheboygan showdown – see earlier post today) there will be rallies and town hall meetings scheduled, just to add support for same-sex unions, and (simultaneously) a hearing will be taking place before the Assembly Judiciary Committee on the resolution to support the constitutional amendment.

It is, I think, rather sad but predictable that this has become a partisan issue. In Wisconsin, the constitutional amendment has 46 sponsors: 45 of them Republicans. A family law question hasn’t been in the media to this extent since the story of Elian Gonzalez from Cuba hit the press. One hopes that the public is looking carefully at the likely consequences of each legal step taken. A few words on paper can have far-reaching implications for the many different families affected by them.
posted by nina, 2/10/2004 08:59:56 PM | link

So this is Henry… 

A reader directed me to a review of Barfly, the 1987 movie referred to by Roger Ebert as “one of the year’s best films.” Thank you. I did not know about the screenplay. For those too young or too out of it (like me) to remember, Barfly was about a guy named Henry, described by Ebert in this way: “a drunk who is sometimes also a poet. The day bartender hates him, probably for the same reason all bartenders in gutter saloons hate their customers: It's bad enough that they have to serve these losers, without taking a lot of lip from them, too.” One day Henry hooks up with Wanda (Faye Dunaway), another time he hangs (well, rests in a reclining position) with a publisher. The two women meet each other in the bar. They don’t like each other. That’s basically it. The movie is not heavy on plot. But Ebert writes:
“The result is a truly original American movie, a film like no other, a period of time spent in the company of the kinds of characters Saroyan and O'Neill would have understood, the kinds of people we try not to see, and yet might enjoy more than some of our more visible friends.”

Yes well, in case I haven’t been all too obvious about it, Henry is really “Hank,” and “Hank” wrote the screenplay. About this, Ebert says:
“Louis Armstrong was trying to explain jazz one day, and he finally gave up and said, "There are some folks that, if they don't know, you can't tell 'em." The world of Charles Bukowski could be addressed in the same way. Bukowski is the poet of Skid Row, the Los Angeles drifter who spent his life until age 50 in an endless round of saloons and women, all of them cheap, expensive, bad or good in various degrees. "Barfly," based on his original screenplay, is a grimy comedy about what it might be like to spend a couple of days in his skin - a couple of the better and funnier days, although they aren't exactly a lark.”

BTW, Barfly did NOT come up on the list of movies I would most like to see (earlier blog today). You’d think the survey would have asked “is there any person you’ve come across recently whose work you find intriguing?” Instead, it asked about sleep. That’s too subtle. No point in beating around the bush. Might as well ask outright – what kind of movie do you have in mind for tonight? A brooding flick about a poet on skid row, or something set in Salzburg with a lot of music, tons of longueurs and costumes made of drape fabric?
posted by nina, 2/10/2004 03:42:11 PM | link

Showdown in Sheboygan 

Story titles ought not have unifying letter themes, but this indeed is what we are hearing about the forthcoming Wisconsin primary (contrasted with Dean’s Downfall in Des Moines, from same news source). CNN writes:
Much like you, we're nostalgic for the heady days of January, when this race was still a race, before the Kerry Comeback became the Kerry Coronation. So, like you, we look forward to the Showdown in Sheboygan, what Howard Dean vows will be the mother of all comebacks in Wisconsin.

I did think that we were no longer important, but CNN reassures Wisconsinites:
If Kerry does clobber Dean next week and the '04 Dem race unofficially ends (Dean says he'll keep running, but then so do Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton).

Letting the story fly a little into the terrain of lofty hopes and dramatic suspense, CNN continues thus:
Undaunted, we cast our gaze today upon Wisconsin, whose presidential primaries have served up high drama and sparked comeback dreams.

This is the challenge part. Again, from CNN:
Dean's Wisconsin press secretary, Mike Spahn, said their uphill campaign boiled down to a dare, issued to Wisconsin's traditionally independent voters: You're not going to let the rest of the country tell you what to do, are you? Are you .... ?

Hmmmmm. Sometimes, I would very much like to be told what to do. Not to trivialize this (oh no, I wouldn’t do that), but isn’t it sort of like playing Spider Solitaire? You know, where you have the feature that allows you to bring up the menu and undo your last move? So that when you are indeed stuck, with no possible move leading to a win, you can undo yourself to the point where your choice lead to this dim-witted impasse. And then you can actually pick another card, and eventually win. So if someone could please scroll forward and tell me what would happen were I to pick candidate number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 (are there still 6?), I would be a better voter come Tuesday. [For some of my options, this is just a rhetorical question; I know what will happen if I vote for Kucinich; nothing will happen. People will reflect how Wisconsin had this weird Kucinich contingency.]
posted by nina, 2/10/2004 01:56:07 PM | link

Winners all 

My colleagues,Tonya and Ann,have posted results of their own DVD rental survey (see post, February 9). Tonya states that the following picks were selected as matching her personality, taste, disposition, imagination, etc:

1.All About My Mother
2.One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
3.Y Tu Mama Tambien
5.Igby Goes Down
6.The Man Who Wasn't There

For Ann, the survey came up with these selections:

1.Being John Malkovich
2.Punch Drunk Love
3.Raging Bull
5.The Man Who Wasn't There
6.What's Eating Gilbert Grape
7.Cradle Will Rock

The pressure is on for me to state my own results. After all, I did admit to taking the survey… Okay, here’s the list:

1. Titanic
2. Artificial Intelligence
3. Pearl Harbor
4. Vanilla Sky
5. The Blair Witch Project
6. Batman & Robin
7. The Avengers
8. Battlefield Earth
9. Eyes Wide Shut
10. Highlander II—The Quickening.

And the sad thing is that, as you were reading it, so many of you actually believed this, indeed, to be the list that best matched my personality, tastes, disposition, etc. Even those who didn’t know me, just based on these blogs, I'm sure you thought – well that’s fitting.

Let me just say that any survey that seeks to determine my viewing preferences based on an answer (among others) to the question “how long does it take you to fall asleep?” is suspect. If I say 5 hours (and this has been known to happen, though not too often), does that make me sensitive, anxious, brooding, neurotic, prone to picking films from the “film noir” genre? If I say 0 minutes does it mean I need action, thrill, violence, because otherwise I’m likely to zonk out?

As I said, I did find the questionnaire to be a fun assessment of movie tastes and preferences. But as for “outing” my list here.. Naaahhh.. Or at least not this time around. I blog a lot, but there has to be some mystery left in life, some curiosity.

So where did the above list of ten come from? It’s the BBC’s top ten worst films ever. The comments are ones I have no problem agreeing with:

1.Titanic: It sank. There. I've saved you three hours of your life.
2. A.I.: Completely artificial but devoid of intelligence.
3. Pearl Harbor: It battered my intelligence with such ferocity I could barely find my way out of the cinema.
4. Vanilla Sky: The lowest point of my life so far.
5. Blair Witch Project: Two hours that would have been more profitably spent trying to staple my tongue to my forehead.
6. Batman & Robin: [my favorite comment] I wanted to sandpaper my retinas.
7. Avengers: As the film went silent before the closing credits I said aloud: 'That was ****!' and got a round of applause.
8. Battlefield Earth: A totally miserable experience shared with six other sad and bemused people and 120 empty seats.
9. Eyes Wide Shut: What the hell was that all about?
10. Highlander II: Breathtakingly stupid.
posted by nina, 2/10/2004 01:09:45 PM | link

Ivan the Terrible (husband) 

This week-end’s international headlines offered intriguing and – come on, let’s admit it –tantalizing material about the imminent (March 14) Russian elections. Putin is a front-runner, but there is a list of five challengers, and one person on the list, Ivan Rybkin (a vocal critic of Putin), disappeared last Thursday. Just like that. Gone. Albina, his wife, filed a missing persons report, convinced that her husband was at the very least kidnapped, or even worse, brutally murdered.

I want to know how many of us were thinking “boy, once a KGB-kind of nation, always a KGB-kind of nation” or “now, there’s a country with really vicious pre-election politicking!”

Albina now must feel quite mortified. Her “missing” husband had simply gone to Kiev (note story in the Times) for a “break” to visit “friends.” Didn’t want to be bothered, didn’t look at the press (he was having a “busy” week-end) until today, when he learned that there was a huge man-hunt going on (apparently their intelligence isn’t any better than that in “other” countries, though I dare say that one Russian man is even harder to find than WMD).

Or, maybe Albina is one smart woman: she probably knew all along and wanted to make a media show of her husband’s “disappearance.” And to think that our press made a big deal of Judith Dean being “unsupportive.”
posted by nina, 2/10/2004 11:50:14 AM | link

Monday, February 09, 2004

Update on the pink birds: 

Thirty hours later, and that errant flamingo is still resting upside down in the snow hill across the street (see first post today). There are 4 kids living in the house, along with two parents. They’re newcomers: they bought the house just this year. The moldy shingled roof didn’t make them back off and look elsewhere. He’s always around --they say he does film (?); the mother is an inside sort of person and so I don’t see her much.

Interestingly, neither adult has felt compelled to right the pink bird. It’s as if it offers a different perspective on things. An upside-down perspective. [We haven’t gone through an election season with them yet and so I can’t comment on their past or current leanings. I don’t know if a dozen flamingos in the front yard tells you much of anything about party affiliation. Now, if there had been green flamingos, that might be a hint.]

Today, while walking the dog, I almost said “say, that’s a cool upside-down bird..” A veiled question, if I ever saw one; comparable to “is anyone worried about the bird’s ability to breathe?” or “those pink toes look like they’re in for frost-bite, don’t they?” Just what they need – a neighbor on the prowl, posing nonsensical questions about plastic birds.

Working at home is not always such a great idea.
posted by nina, 2/09/2004 10:54:53 PM | link

If you spend hours picking DVDs that then turn out to be duds.. 

My colleague Ann has posted a questionnaire, designed to help you select a movie to rent. This is great news if you’re like me and will actually ask the random Blockbuster clerk what’s good these days. As if they can figure this out for you. However incompetent the questionnaire is – it’s better than asking the clerk.

I, of course, filled out all the info on the site just to see if it was at all credible. The conclusion: Ann and I should avoid renting videos together. It’s not finessed to such an extent that it can really zero in on your taste, but it gives you a good stack to at least consider before you toss them all aside and pick out the usual dud.
posted by nina, 2/09/2004 07:58:59 PM | link

Still on the Beatles.. 

It was on this day, then, that we listened, cried, screamed and went nuts. But I have to admit now, in retrospect, that I really didn’t get it. All the while that I worshiped the Beatles, I was a good 10 years behind them in age, and so their meaning was probably not my meaning. And I’m not even talking about the regular transcription mistakes. How long til I realized that they were NOT singing: “Trying to rule the days that are ohhhhhhh” (Across the Universe) or “Darling he sobs in the night when there’s nobody there” (Eleanor Rigby)?

“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was probably obvious to anyone hearing it on the side of the ocean, but in Poland (I was back in Poland from ’66 onwards), it was just pretty and somewhat sexy. Good to dance to. With Bulgarian wine on the side rather than LSD. Or “Strawberry Fields” – tell us the words, tell us the words! --my Polish girlfriends would ask. And so I’d talk about how dreamy it was, you know, all that “living is easy with eyes closed …” And my absolute favorite “Fool on the Hill” (round and round and round and round and rooooound….) – I knew the words perfectly, but I had only a hazy understanding of what they meant.

I grew up with the Beatles. There is no question that they were the single most important, sustained musical force in my life. In my own quirky adolescent way, I imagined I was deeply immersed in their message. “I read the news today, oh boy…..” That is the power of song.
posted by nina, 2/09/2004 07:58:03 PM | link

My vote seems to have been cast without my knowing it 

Moments ago I got a call from a serious sounding John Kerry. He asked for my support in the primaries. Then he asked to please press “1” if I would vote for him. Multi-tasking is useful when you’re listening to calls from parents and politicians and so I leaned on the receiver and picked up my laptop. I heard a “beep,” and then an exalted Kerry telling me “great! I am so glad we can count on your support….. bla.. bla..” Oh no! That was a mistake! Please don’t count that in your score logs – I didn’t mean it! I mean, I’m not saying I’m NOT going to lend my support – anything can happen, we’re still a week away, bribes could start pouring in (see earlier post).

There’s no going back. I’m sure I’ll get all the letters, the calls, the solicitations; tomorrow I expect a Kerry sign in the front yard, and my name will probably appear on some massive ad taken out in the NYT. A technological snafu with a dose of human error has taken away my right to cast an educated vote.
posted by nina, 2/09/2004 07:36:41 PM | link

Let them eat contracts.. 

GWBush has taken an idle comment heard on a plane ride and turned it into a political tool. Apparently he still wants the moderate vote badly enough to offer an alternative for gay couples: make a contract and then you can have all those nifty little rights like hospital visits, insurance, inheritance --that come with marriage.

But it's not that simple, even forgetting the intended slap in the face for the couples occupying this lesser status of "cohabitants." For one, those nifty little rights like social security or federal benefits cannot be passed on to even those occupying the Vermont category of ‘civil unions,’ thanks to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which, as we know now, is routinely being passed also by state legislatures (not Wisconsin: one vote short of a veto override).

And perhaps GWB should read a case or two coming from Illinois, or from a number of other states where courts have been extremely unhappy about enforcing cohabitation agreements (CAs), even between heteroseual partners, let alone between same-sex partners. Why? What else: for policy reasons. Because enforcing CAs is like giving a nod of approval to the unions. And because there are problems with CAs in general: when do they click into being? Commitment ceremonies. Okay. But when do they terminate? If there is no “divorce” does that mean that they are in place until the sexual relationship ends? And so are they really sort of like in exchange for sex? Meaning – when the sexual relations end, so do a partner's rights to shared property? Tricky tricky. You can write one, and many do. Then hope you’ll find a sympathetic court if there is a challenge. Not a family court – family courts have no jurisdiction over these private contracts. A regular court. Good luck!

Do your homework, GWB. Or at least call a family law prof. Wait til you get the bill!
posted by nina, 2/09/2004 05:32:50 PM | link

Who IS the fat lady and why must we wait til she sings? 

With respect to this question, posed in my Sunday blog on letting Wisconsin seal the fate of Dean, I can now some clarifications:

Thanks to the reader who, in answer to who she is, pointed me to viable contenders. In the first, I see the clear indication that girth may add oomph to a crescendo in a Wagnerian opera. In the second, I see that Brunhilde's girth may actually overwhelm anything and anyone who threatens to come close. I understand that both would indeed give finality to a crucial moment – be it in opera or politics.

Thanks also to the reader who suggested that I look to baseball for answers. Apparently the phrase itself is attributed to the great Yankee baseball catcher Yogi Berra, who likened a baseball game to an opera, noting, "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings..."

All very helpful. I did vaguely recall that the phrase got to be associated somehow with baseball, but I couldn't imagine why the game would be over at the end of the singing of the National Anthem, nor why the person singing it had to be of a large frame.
posted by nina, 2/09/2004 03:13:25 PM | link

Oh ho the Wells Fargo Wagon.. 

A package from California came in the mail today. It was a book, along with the following note (literal transcription):
Hi. I hope you take the trouble to vote in the primaries – for DEAN. Very important. He deserves every bit of support. He was first to oppose the war and was rewarded with a kick in the pants [I know her, she’s referring to the primaries]. That’s politics for you. Kerry has now shifted gears and blasts Bush but he’s been in Washington 19 years and has accomplished nothing [she’s listening well to the Dean ads]. I’m not enamored with him but, of course, I’ll vote for anyone against that maniac from Texas [for Berkeley, this is not strong language]. Love, H. P.S. Enclosed is a delightful book as a bribe for your vote.”

Well now, is this the same California that said “it ain’t over until?!” There are quite a number of voting members in this household. Any other bribes from readers in the Pacific time zone?
posted by nina, 2/09/2004 12:31:29 PM | link

Herd animals 

I know that some people go to see movies purely based on their assessment of the films’ worth. I know that. But the rest of us, the huge majority, maybe 99% of the viewing public doesn’t even consider a movie until it has something on its resume: like a credible review, or a recommendation from a friend, or an Oscar nomination. The NYT writes about this today in the context of nominations in the “foreign film” category. The nomination isn’t a guarantee of success, but it sure makes people wake up and take note.

People like success and they sniff it out and herd out to the movie showing the colors of victory. We move in packs, from one crowded movie house to another [and we’re disappointed when we go to see a movie and the cinema is empty, as in “hey, this is weird. Why isn’t anyone else seeing this? They’re all so stupid and unsophisticated! Or, maybe I’m stupid? WHERE IS EVERYONE??].

Of course, like others, I instantly became interested in all the films listed in the foreign film category when the nominations were posted. I mean, suddenly even the “Twilight Samurai” sounded just excellent, even though anyone who knows me would immediately say that this is the last film in the world that I would ever choose to see. And “Twin Sisters”? Sounds so great that I’m thinking, maybe we’re overdue for a week-end in NY – you know, fly out, visit the daughters, go see a movie – THAT movie, fly home… I mean, it’s not going to happen, but you can see my escalating desires: pick out the winners, get the tickets early online, because it’s SURE TO BE CROWDED when it opens, Yeah!, pack animals, following the herd to the next success, having our own opinion of it, but following the herd nonetheless..
posted by nina, 2/09/2004 10:06:05 AM | link

Pink birds in the snow 

The children from our block built a snow mountain in the front yard across the street. What’s a snow mountain? Just that: a hill-like structure made of snow. Perhaps it wouldn’t get top billing in a snow sculpture competition, but it is a remarkable piece of work, if only for its simplicity. I can see it at this second: it’s a bit lumpy, and some of the younger guys have placed destructive foot prints up one side. It also has a dozen of those plastic flamingos mounted in all manner of repose, one with a head and neck buried in the snow and the legs jutting in the air.

I watched them yesterday (from the warmth of our LR): they were having such fun with the project, much more fun than I was having with my stack of 60 Law School applications to read, a trip to the incredibly boring gym to look forward to, and some form of week-end house tidying to attend to. What the heck is the matter with us? What would it take to get a group of multi-age (discreetly stated, don’t you think..) people out there to build a snow mountain (lacking imagination, we might as well copy the kids)? Just to slap together some snow to resemble one of those burial mounds, and then stick in some flamingos, without order or purpose?

The kid mountain is unfinished: it’s a work in progress. It’s so brilliant in its imperfection, what with that upside-down pink bird, truly making me smile every time I see it. So who had the richer Sunday, me or them?
posted by nina, 2/09/2004 09:15:10 AM | link

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Sunday is….blog feedback day 

A reader who had not been reading the blog got back to me tonight after spending a while looking over the posts. Me: “so, were you amused or entertained by any of them?” Reader: “Uh, yeah, I liked the one about California.” “What about California?” “It was cute.” “Cute?!!” “Yeah. I got kind of tired reading about that Bukowski person in the other posts.” “That was just a subplot; see it wasn’t really about Bukowski, it got more complicated..” “Yeah, but it was kind of like ‘enough already.’” “Like, I crossed the line?” “Hey, I didn’t say that!”

This was, n.b., not my mother. Had she read the blog, our conversation would have proceeded thus: Me: “so, where you amused or entertained by any of the posts?” Mom: ”Yes, well, I was wondering, are you sure you have the time for this?” Me “You know I tend to find time for things..” Mom: “Well, if you’re sure. I’d hate to think you’re not getting your work done. You know it would be terrible if something happened to your job right now.” Me “I’m still employed. So, which post did you find most amusing?” Mom: “ I found it interesting what you wrote about California.” [my mom lives in Berkeley] “Okay, California. Anything else?” Mom: “Well, I’m surprised that you assume Kerry will get the nomination. I just don’t like the looks of him. He’s not someone I would enjoy having dinner with.. And I’m worried that you’re neglecting things. Are you sure your family’s okay?” Maybe that’s just a touch too predictable.

A colleague reported that one of his students was writing a comment to the prof’s blog at the very moment that the prof was lecturing. This was, according to the colleague, a sign of the times: a GOOD sing of the times. Perhaps, my colleague speculated, blogging posts and responses will replace the need for some of the lectures. A win-win situation.

Sunday is a good day to mull over reader’s notes and comments. Please do send them along. It’ll be “cute” to address them here (without names, of course) or via email.

On to the next week.
posted by nina, 2/08/2004 11:49:43 PM | link

Yet another Sunday of disenfranchisement 

It’s bad enough to have just had a Sunday of Super Bowl [so what's an offensive pass interference?]. Now tonight I have to confront the Grammy Awards.

There was a time when music was more important to me than anything I’d see in the movies. I was the quintessential Beatle nut: I could sing all their songs backwards, I could make my voice SOUND like a Beatle – just ask me to do “Fool on a Hill.” And I was one of the 72 million that tuned in to the Ed Sullivan show 40 years ago. I was just 10, but I cried through it, I was that worked up.

I tried to keep current in music. Even when I returned to Poland in the late 60s, I found ways to tune in. And I was one of the lucky few to get tickets to the Rolling Stones when they “broke through” the “Iron Curtain” and traveled to Warsaw in March of 1967. I threw a bunch of flowers on the stage with a note for Mick: “call me: I speak English.” I was 13 and very naïve.

Then I lost it. I started experimenting with classical stuff, with women vocalists, with jazz, but any fool on the hill could tell that I was in the hinterlands and would never catch up. And now? Anyone who gets happy that Clinton won a Grammy because she wants to hear a familiar name does not deserve to watch the Awards.

Still, one Sunday on the margins is enough. I bought the Norah Jones CD, I know who the Sting is, and U2, and the sensual Celine, and my colleague keeps blogging about the Dave Matthews Band.. Sooo, I’m with the NYT reader from today (see post below) –it ain’t over til the fat lady sings (who is the fat lady, BTW?)!

P.S. Does Justin Timberlake always wear a suit and tie?
posted by nina, 2/08/2004 07:39:25 PM | link

Give Wisconsin a day in the bleak winter sun 

First they take the cheese, now they’re scoffing at Wisconsin’s role as the “sealer” state in the primaries (we seal the deal: Kerry in, Dean out). California wants it all. This from a reader of the Times:
“Re ‘Dean Says He’ll Quit if He Doesn’t Win Wisconsin’: For those of us on the Left Coast intent on keeping this democratic process alive, I’d just like to say it ain’t over until the fat lady sings – and that fat lady is California.”

You know, that just shows how it’s never enough. California: the state with the largest number of electoral votes BY FAR (55, compared to next largest Texas with 34, and Wisconsin at 10, and going down…), the state that is determined to snatch the cheese title from Wisconsin [the California Milk Advisory Board claims that California will surpass Wisconsin as the top cheese maker by 2005; California already is the No. 1 milk-producing state and California also has the most cows of any state in the nation], the state that has the wine, the avocados, the old trees, the ocean, the filmmakers, the Richard Nixon Library [hey, I’m looking at a list of 50 important assets—not my choice of “important”]. In other words, the state that has it all. Still not enough? A momentary spotlight for Wisconsin, a flicker, really. Dean sees it as defining the race. Let it go, California. One man, one race. You don’t need to have the last voice in everything.
posted by nina, 2/08/2004 01:29:22 PM | link

Can’t shake this Rumsfeld thing 

As Colin Powell met with the French foreign minister in NY yesterday over lunch, newspapers immediately picked up on the cordial nature of the encounter. Indeed, Powell and de Villepin appeared to go out of their way to emphasize their long-standing friendship and their desire to bring the two countries in closer political alignment.

Flip the channel, and we are in Munich, where Rumsfeld is at this very moment, facing the French and German delegations. The NYTimes reports: “Mr. Rumsfeld (answers)..a question, his voice rising, his hands chopping the air for emphasis… ‘There were prominent people from representative countries in this room that opined that they really didn’t think it made a hell of a lot of difference who won..[this is where he is ‘almost shouting’].. Shocking. Absolutely shocking.’”

Back at the Waldorf Towers, Powell and de Villepin beam at each other. In this story, buried more deeply in the paper, the Times reports: “(Powell) noted that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld was in Munich talking to European leaders at the same time that Mr. Powell was meeting with Mr. de Villepin in New York. "So," Mr. Powell said, "we're reaching out."”

A hand shake here, a punch there, a reach is a reach.
posted by nina, 2/08/2004 09:57:31 AM | link

Where Howard went, Nina soon followed 

Well who would think that both Dean and I would lose it over Iowa? I want to appear on Diane Sawyer too, though like for Dean, I think it’s too late. Dean yowled, I commented on (okay, questioned, though inadvertantly) the pairing of a state license plate with the poet-writer Bukowski (see post, February 5, and many thereafter). I have a feeling if Bukowski wasn’t already dead, he’d die laughing at me. He’s the type who’d probably find humor in life’s bleak realities.

No apology on my part will suffice, I do understand that, even as a fellow blogger from across Bascom Mall writes stoically that Iowans are a resilient bunch and have learnt to adapt to the hostile words of their neighbors and countrymen and women.

But wait a minute – who is coming at this from a position of power? Suffering and down-trodden? Hardly. Iowa has single-handedly picked the democratic candidate for the presidential race this year. The Iowa Office of Tourism reports that 17 million people visit Iowa each year. In the first two months alone, I’m sure double that amount (candidates and press entourage) crossed the border into the hawkeye state.

Now Poland, there’s a country raised on suffering. Maybe I should save that one for another time though. One fall per week is enough.
posted by nina, 2/08/2004 09:57:26 AM | link

Does anybody really like Rumsfeld? 

It’s hard to believe that Dean the candidate got knocked down for his howl of enthusiasm, while Rumsfeld can get away with displays of anger on a fairly regular basis. The NYT describes Rumsfeld’s speech at the Security Meetings in Munich yesterday as “an impassioned defense of the American-led war against Iraq.” Impassioned? The man is terrifying when he loses his cool. Would you leave your children (let alone the national interest) in his care for even a minute? He sounds like he’d tear their hair out for not finishing their toast.

Only at the bottom of p.10 of this front-page article does the Times acknowledge that in his accusatory rant against those who continue to oppose the war in Iraq, Rumsfeld was “nearly shouting.” Oh, he was shouting alright, ending his comments with a lovely display of national pride: “I know in my heart and my brain that America ain’t what’s wrong in the world.” It’s people like Rumsfeld that make many countries think otherwise.
posted by nina, 2/08/2004 09:19:46 AM | link

Late viewing of “Japan through the eyes of Sofia Coppola” 

If Bill Murray gets an Oscar for Lost in Translation, it will be because the Academy likes him personally, or likes watching an actor having a good time keeping a lid on emotion, or because it dislikes the fact that Sean Penn (Mystic R) never shows up to claim awards. All good reasons.

But how would you explain a win for Ms. Coppola? I’m not saying it’s going to happen. But what if? Would it be to finally recognize that there are credible women directors out there? Or to offer a personal word of encouragement to SCoppola and reassure her that this has nothing to do with her father? Or to try and convince people about the pleasures of staying home and not crossing any borders except those between states? A hint that we all should forget about flying an endless amount of hours to odd places where we’ll be so freaked and jet-lagged that we’ll hardly ever be able to leave our American hotel or the American bar within?

I’ve become an almost annual traveler to Japan for work reasons, and each time it confounds me, more so than any other country. Pico Iyer (see post below) lived for a year in Kyoto and managed to actually say profound things about people he met there. And me? By the end of each trip I’m not saying anything profound about anyone, but I am talking to myself rather loudly on the streets and getting really anxious over the absence of raw fish on Starbucks coffee lists (figure that one out). I listen to professors of law sing Elvis songs in Karaoke bars while women in kimonos refill plates of nuts and sea weed chips (it isn’t really a sing-along, it’s a listen-along). I never meet their wives. Even when I whisper and use a lot of question marks, I know I am speaking too forcefully and that the questions are too intrusive. I carry a towel with me, as does everyone else, and I wash my face all the time along with everyone else, and I drink the tea, and I interview countless judges and I don’t really understand a word they’re saying, even though I always have at least two translators. Only later, when I am back home can I begin to pull out something useful. In Japan, everyone around me – all millions and millions of everyone -- fades into one ocean of well-intentioned faces, smiling, encouraging, always polite, always sympathetic, always incomprehensible.

It’s interesting that the Japanese took this movie in stride. Last I heard you could book a “Lost in T” stay at the Tokyo Park Hyatt, where you would be taken on a tour of places where Bill hung out, shown the room where much of the “action” took place, and charged a whopping small fortune for it.

But why was this movie rated R?
posted by nina, 2/08/2004 12:34:38 AM | link

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Following the fish 

I’ve been a fan of Pico Iyer’s essays for a while now, in part because he is one of the most talented travel writers around (I think one of my first blogs was about him). He has a meandering, thoughtful style with words, and a history of travel of the sort where he becomes a resident, not just a visitor to a new place.
Reading his piece in the Magazine this Sunday (Net time is oddly out of sync with real time), I’m drawn into the speculative proposition that American movies have completely abandoned the happy ending in their portrayal of daily life, at the same time that politicians, in their speechmaking, campaigning, prognosticating, have embraced it.

He has, this year, lots of support for this, Mystic River being just one of a multitude of movies where bestiality gets compounded, never resolved, and no one is spared in the end. Contrast this, Iyer says, with the campaigning in Democratic primaries, or even speechmaking coming from the White House.

Okay, but has Hollywood gotten an accurate read on the American pulse? Or has it just been a momentary letting go of the cliché, almost as a eulogy to the tragedy that was September 11th, because at the time, who could even think of a favorable outcome?

The feel-good movie is, these days, not a very good movie (though the Academy is pretending that DKeaton really was superb in her role as the aging lover). And it remains cool to speak well of movies that offer a spiraling disintegration rather than a good resolution. Personally, I thought Mystic River was outstanding, but I also thoroughly enjoyed “Runaway Jury,” even though I admit, it was a bit of a packaged deal. I was pleased when a law prof, soon to be Dean at a top law school in the country showed it to his Civil Procedure class and said enthusiastically “wasn’t that great? I just loved that movie!” or words to that effect.

While we’re all trying to stay so cool and display our astute levels of awareness, Hollywood is watching. The good dramas that offer no hope have always been there, and they’ll continue. What’s missing now is the proliferation of antidote movies – ones that hold out the possibility of resolution, at least for that moment, while they have our attention. The politicians have long figured out that deep down, in the larger scheme of things, we are believers in justice, equality, love, fairness even if we’ve managed to encounter just the opposite in our lives.

It’s interesting that the one movie not dismissed by critics this year that offered hope, was one that took 90 minutes of anxiety and worry before it got there. Of course, the movie was “Finding Nemo,” brilliantly executed, down to the last flip of the fin. But only in animation is the best of the best backing exuberance over defeat, happiness over depression. I’m hoping Nemo will not be an anomaly. Great movies should span the range of emotions we’re capable of living with.
posted by nina, 2/07/2004 08:13:45 PM | link

Nicknames for cities 

Doug Moe (Cap Times today) has had it with the “Mad Town” nickname for Madison. He likens it to the days of calling San Francisco “Frisco,” or “Berserkley” for.. okay, how obvious can you get. He writes: “-- Can we knock it off? Madison doesn't need a nickname. Slogans and nicknames are for the Beaver Dams of the world. ‘Beaver Dam: Home of 15,000 Busy Beavers.’ No doubt.”

Moe says that only outsiders give cities bizarre labels and nicknames (he claims no one here would say “I live in Mad City”). But I think it’s the imagery that disturbs him most. He recalls the following exchange he had: "Where you from?" "Madison, Wisconsin." "Mad Town, huh? Man, I got knee-walking drunk there one time."

He’s wrong in thinking, though, that locals don't use city nicknames. I lived in the “windy city” for 6 years and heard those words over and over again. I had moved there from the “big apple.” Another city with pride. Perhaps a touch too much pride. Now I’m in the “cheese state,” logging in years in “Mad City…” The nicknames are not cool sounding. But face it, they’re kind of fitting.
posted by nina, 2/07/2004 05:03:05 PM | link

What is a hamburger? 

Any child can tell you a hamburger has nothing to do with ham. Most think it originated in Hamburg. It stands to reason. But at least two places in the States claim that they invented the classic hamburger: Louis' joint in New Haven, CT (it's still there), and the County Fair at Seymour, WI. The latter even has a “Hamburger Hall of Fame”.

We understand the hamburger to be ground beef, typically chuck, rarely sirloin or top round or top anything. Cheap, predictable, ubiquitous, served with a dollop of slow moving ketchup and snuggled into a white bread bun (let’s be purists here).

None of these descriptors can be applied to chef Michel Trama’s specialty: a foie gras hamburger with a cèpe mushroom-based catsup called "Ketcèpes" (c’est original!). Trama is chef at Les Loges in France. Today, the Red Michelin Guide released its ratings for 2004, and Les Loges (along with two other restaurants in France) joined the elite 24 eateries that are members of the three-star club. How significant is that? Last year, when it was rumored that the 3-star La Cote d’Or may have a star taken away, the chef committed suicide.

But what exactly is the definition of a foie gras hamburger? Is there a white bread bun? Does the Ketcepes pour slowly, just like the Heinz counterpart? Is it cheap? Served with fries that are “liberte”? Was McDonald’s even consulted?
posted by nina, 2/07/2004 02:46:18 PM | link

Crossing the line 

A day in the life of a wired person: a handful of quick email messages, a quick post, and another – the opportunities to say something stupid and potentially offensive are endless.

A London-based office of an American law firm is taking the rap for an email sent by one of its partners, where, in response to a request to adopt a puppy, the lawyer wrote “don’t let that dog go to a Chinese restaurant.” The firm and the partner are still apologizing. The Asian Pacific American Law Student Association and a large, wired legal community (the incident was posted on a blog) responded quickly, with anger and a determination not to let the matter go unnoticed.

I have heard many in other countries mock the American “obsession with political correctness.” It seems, however, that PC is only an unleashing of a freedom to finally underscore grievances that had been festering for years. There is the hope that truly offensive speech is going to be put to rest, and that by reacting to the “somewhat” offensive speech (representing perhaps buried feelings of racism or sexism or any other –isms), we will instill greater vigilance over what we say and do to others.

In my first blog post, I worried that what would seem an okay post at the time of publishing would not appear okay to the reader, and that I’d regret publishing it. Yesterday, I posted two things that I later decided were potentially offensive. Toward the end of the day, I pulled one off, just in case (and thanked the stars that only one reader had had the opportunity to read it), and left the other because the damage was done, and I already apologized to the slightly offended person.

Just in the last week, I have taken pot shots at Iowa, Fed Ex, Wisconsin, my mother, and countless people in government. I’m still not sure which of those, if any, might have touched a raw nerve. Clearly Laura Bush would have been offended (see post, February 6). Leno can test his jokes, a blogger cannot. That’s the down-side of self-publishing. And the fact is, sometimes you’re so focused on a theme [Bukowski was one weird dude], or on spelling [why doesn’t literati have two t’s?], and always, always on the clock [like right now: this is taking too long, I need to get back to work] that you completely don’t notice potentially offensive peripherals. After more than a month of blogging, I am still worried. But I remain cautiously optimistic that I can be sensitive to the known and unknown reader. And if I fail, I’m sure you’ll let me know.
posted by nina, 2/07/2004 10:03:39 AM | link

For the “Pole” in you.. 

What historical circumstances account for the stereotypical caricature of the “dumb Pole?” I imagine much of it can be attributed to the large wave of immigrants that came to the States in the first half of the twentieth century. They were disproportionately from the south (every mountain family in Poland has a cousin in Chicago), disproportionately uneducated, deeply religious, and of course, poor.
If you ever pick up a thread with Polish jokes, they will always be of this type:
In America, they say it's 10:00 do you know where your children are?
In England, they say it's 10:00 do you know where your husband is?
In Paris, they say it's 10:00 do you know where your wife is?
And in Poland, they say it's 10:00 do you know what time it is?

The format almost never varies. There is a Pole, and there are others. The others act with logic and common sense, the Pole isn’t quite wired right.
Three guys are crossing the desert (or, “dessert,” as the “smart” English writer recorded). The Englishman brings a fan, the Italian brings a squirt bottle, the Pole brings a car door. When asked why, the Englishman says “when it gets hot, I can fan myself.” The Italian answers “when it gets hot, I can squirt water on myself.” The Pole smiles and says “when it gets hot, I can roll down the window!”

Three construction workers are eating lunch. The first takes out his ham sandwich and says “if my wife packs me a ham sandwich again, I’ll go out on a ledge and jump off!” The second one takes out his ham sandwich, groans in disgust and says “me too: if she packs me ham again, I’ll do the same.” The Pole takes out his ham sandwich and says “yeah, I’m with you guys.” Next day they’re out eating lunch on the site again. The first one takes out his sandwich, opens it up and finds chicken. He smiles and eats with relish. The second unwraps his sandwich, finds roast beef, grins and eats it up. The Pole opens up his, finds ham, gets up, walks to the ledge and jumps. “I feel sorry for him” says his buddy. “Why?” asks the other. “Because he packs his own lunch.”

And so on.

Even though the immigrant pool from Poland changed completely after the Second World War, the impact of this second wave on American humor was marginal. In Poland, on the other hand, humor absolutely burgeoned in this post-war period. But only for a while. Recently, Urban, a respected Polish journalist, observed that “free speech marks the death of humor.” He goes on to say that 30 years ago, all you had to do was stand up in a cabaret, do some imitations of a Russian, and you’d have the whole room rolling on the floor. These days, laughter doesn’t come easy. I’d have to agree with that. Jay Leno has a staff pulling out several hundred jokes each day for the Tonight Show. Leno picks out those he thinks have potential to amuse. Many are then coaxed to the max, yet they hardly produce even a ripple. I gave Leno a chance the other day. Here’s one from this past week:
Did you hear that Wisconsin has just passed a law giving a tax break to those who donate an organ [this is true, btw]? An organ? From Wisconsin? The cheese state? We want to use hearts with all those clogged arteries? That’s just what I would want if I needed a transplant!”

Like I said, humor meted out on a daily basis is a challenge.
posted by nina, 2/07/2004 09:03:04 AM | link

Friday, February 06, 2004

Hello, Poland? Are you there? 

One of the odd pieces of information available to the blogger is the language used by visitors. In other words, I can tell if a person using a Chinese program (for example) logs on. (That is, I can sort of tell: the stats have an error rate of I'd say 50%). It used to be that the Polish contingency was right up there, keepin’ up with the English and the Italian (the Berlusconi factor – see January blogs), with an occasional nod toward Hungarian (I have no idea where the Hungarian comes in). But lately – it’s as if all that bla bla bla about Kerry this and Dean that really was over the top. Either the Poles all went on a vacation last week, or they switched their computers to English (Hungarian?) programming.

It’s been a rough week here in Wisconsin, but tomorrow – I promise a snippet of something for the Pole in each and every one of you.
posted by nina, 2/06/2004 11:48:38 PM | link

Such stuff as dreams are made on 

A former student and a current good friend wrote today asking if I was okay. Apparently she dreamt that I was down in the dumps. She was also concerned that no man in my family should go near any church because she dreamt that a church had crumbled, taking my man (husband? father? brother? no, there’s no brother) down with the rubble.

I assured her that the men I knew were not likely to step into holy territory in the next 24 hours (so far as I know), though I admitted to staying up until 3:30 last night staring at a computer screen and reading movie reviews of films I’d never in my life want to see. I think she must have read that blog yesterday about the squeaky shoes and saw great meaning in it (I’m not denying that there was such meaning).

I’m one of those persons that is only very marginally interested in dreams. I have yawned my way through many a dream story told by pointlessly excited dreamers on the next day. I just can’t take the stuff seriously. But my friend reminded me of a dream in the past that had elements of reality and so brushing it off made no sense.

I’d be remiss not to suggest that if you’re a guy who is even half-way a good acquaintance of mine with some organized religion in your life, and you’re reading this blog, skip church this week-end. I mean, why mess with the heavens?
posted by nina, 2/06/2004 07:55:31 PM | link

How low can you go? 

Well now, this is exactly why I cancelled my subscription to the Wisconsin State Journal – for printing headlines such as today’s: “Two sides to minimum wage hike” No, Ms. Beth Williams of the State Journal, there are not two sides, no matter what you’re being told by the business community. The minimum wage in Wisconsin is insanely low.

I can understand, BTW, Ms. Jennifer Alexander from the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce attempting to articulate the “other side” at the public forum held here yesterday. She knows who butters her bread. Besides, no slander intended, but that is NOT a name I’d generally associate with one who gets her elbows dirty.

But Sandi Torkildson ( owner of “A Room of One’s Own”), how could you? Don’t you ever let us hear you say again that you need to keep wages low (and take away benefits) to keep that extra part-time employee. The problem of mega-bookstores swallowing the little guys is not going to be solved by your paying less than a living wage to your staff. Or, maybe you want to display the tip jar more prominently so that you could argue that they are only entitled to the tipped employees’ $2.33 (to be increased to $3.88) an hour? You do that, and A Room of One’s Own is going to become a Room of Your Very Own. To think I once liked hanging out there (before I switched to Border’s).
posted by nina, 2/06/2004 04:33:41 PM | link

Literati schmati 

Once again a reader wrote to let me know that she felt my blogging about European poets was pretentious and that it made her feel that there was something wrong with preferring to watch a DVD over reading poems about dead men (see blog, February 5). Some explanations are in order:

1. Bukowski, though born in Germany, moved to the States when he was a toddler, and so he doesn’t qualify as a European. Mary Oliver is, of course, beyond a shadow of a doubt American. Born in Ohio – how American can you get!
2. I didn’t put a Bukowski bumper sticker on my truck (for one thing the truck’s too dented and rusted, insofar as plastic can get rusted), I was just reporting on what I saw.
3. Anyone can find any info on Bukowski on the Net, which is the source of much blog wisdom after all. A reader would have no reason to suspect that I’d heard of "Hank" Bukowski [um, those in the know call him Hank] before yesterday, and few people know that I occasionally glance at small press literary journals – usually at the table of contents and at their submission policies should it ever strike me to write something good enough for their worth.
4. In order to pander to the odd person with a 4th grade reading level that would find my blog (I’m thinking of the one who found my blog yesterday by googling ha+ha+ha+ha), I make a point of avoiding words with more than three-syllables in all posts that have the possibility of appearing high-brow.
posted by nina, 2/06/2004 03:20:52 PM | link

If you’ve nowhere else to go, look outside and watch the snow 

Once you get your mind wrapped around this poetry thing (see yesterday’s morning and post-midnight blog), it’s hard to move away from the topic. Today, looking outside, I thought about the different ways to blog about what we in Madison are seeing. I went so far as to write a header for this post, just to show how bad a blog entry could be.

But if you want cadenzas that are more palatable, there are options. For instance, you can usually find something in the (Pulitzer Prize winning) poems of Mary Oliver that’ll give you an appreciation for natural beauty. Sure enough, the following lines are worth printing out. I think knowing that she was about 65 when she wrote it makes this even more "joyously unrestrained":
Now through the white orchard my little dog
romps, breaking the new snow
with wild feet.
Running here running there, excited,
hardly able to stop, he leaps, he spins
until the white snow is written upon
in large, exuberant letters,
a long sentence, expressing
the pleasures of the body in this world.
Oh, I could not have said it better

(permission from author to cite this was not available at the moment since she is preoccupied with feeding the homeless in Bethesda, but to avoid infringement on copyright, I want to link to a site available to the public which will bring up the same poem)
posted by nina, 2/06/2004 10:34:45 AM | link

Ouch, that hurt! 

According to, Laura Bush says she takes political attacks on her husband personally. Note that we're talking about political attacks. Isn't it true that a person holding the office of president will always have dissenters who express opposition to administration policies? If the presidential spouse is personally offended by this, does that mean that political confrontation must cease? Or does Ms. Bush regard her husband as having a hegemony on political ideas? There's a frightening thought.

For Laura Bush, going through the political process leading to elections must be akin to rubbing coarse salt on bleeding, exposed sores. One has to feel sorry for her. Perhaps she should seek counsel from Judith Dean on how to get a medical degree and turn off the TV.
posted by nina, 2/06/2004 09:29:49 AM | link

Ending the day with author-worship 

A reader (I assume from Iowa) was surprised that I was surprised that Iowans are literate (see post on Charles Bukowski, February 5). Actually, I want to correct that: I did not intend to favor Iowans in this regard. Credit for lack of interest in esoteric indie-market poetry (I think they call it small-journal poetry but I’m not sure) should be extended way beyond Iowa’s rural borders. Most anybody would rather flip on a CD/DVD/TV than read about withered leaves, revenge-driven cats, and dying men. Except for the woman in the white car cruisin’ along University Ave this morning with that bumper sticker. Her man is the 73 year-old writer who drank away the first half of his life, and wrote, they say, some 60 books in the second. Amazing, on all counts.
posted by nina, 2/06/2004 01:19:28 AM | link

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Voting with reservations 

Go ahead, ask someone if they vote strategically, or if they cast the ballot for their preferred candidate. It’s a question that guarantees fireworks.

I remember in the year 2000, sitting around with some of the pony-tailed waiters at l’Etoile, after the last dish had been plated and served (when they’d—ok, we’d—polish off uncorked bottles that hadn’t quite been drained by the night’s guests), explaining that to me, it was irrelevant that “Nader isn’t the sell-out to capitalist institutions that Gore is”. As to Nader’s Green policies (if he had policies, but that’s a separate issue)? Forget it, I didn’t care. I used the crude and simple slogan “a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.” Not to gloat, but I was soooo right.

I think these last three years have erased the phrase “they’re all the same” right out of our political discourse and this is a good thing.

Still, there remain the true believers who will only vote with their heart. You cannot sway them. They’re the types who have definitive answers to such questions as “do ends justify means?” or “is truth relative?” You can't reason with ideologues. Just remember, a vote isn’t a marriage proposal. It’s a political choice, rendered with an awareness of the consequences of making that choice. Frank at L’Etoile may hate me for saying this, but I'm convinced, now more than ever: you campaign and root for your hero, but vote for the one who may actually win.
posted by nina, 2/05/2004 09:08:47 PM | link

Out to get you, for sure… 

In an earlier blog (January 29) I wrote about the trials of mailing a grant proposal to a government agency in D.C. and about my fear of transmittal failure (given a suspected premature, off-schedule pick-up time by Fed Ex). My inbred distrust then of both FedEx and the governmental agency made me, on my own, chase down the last plane for DC at the airport (virtually), just to make sure that the grant proposal reached D.C. in time.

Well well well well, my skepticism about fair treatment by such stalwart institutions as Fed Ex and the US government (a skepticism that produced much laughter and ridicule from well-meaning but misguided people) has been completely vindicated today as CNN reports on the plight of the Fulbright applicants from Berkeley – all 30 of them. These guys failed to get their applications in on time because Fed Ex messed up the pick up and therefore the delivery schedule, getting the apps in a day late as a result. Even though Fed Ex took full responsibility for the mistake, the US governmental agency (the Department of Education in that case) said no, too bad: Berkeley should not have waited til the last minute: the applications were late and so their final destination will be the trash can.

Would the outcome have been different if the sending institution had been West Point? Or Bob Jones U? What makes me think that the top brass in DC probably felt just a touch smug as they were shredding 30 files originating from Berkeley?

Apparently, last year Berkeley managed to have a success rate of 50% in the application process. A student, interviewed on NPR, was asked if he would be happy with the Fed Ex proposal to pick up the costs. “No,” he said. “It’s just not the same. The prestige of a “Fed Ex scholarship” just would not measure up to the stature of the Fulbright grant.”
posted by nina, 2/05/2004 08:19:14 PM | link

Poland water in trouble 

Arguments over whether Poland spring water is true spring water always makes me think that the debate is misguided. The story in Fortune raises the following question: is Poland spring water from a spring? Call me Poland-obsessed, but whenever I see the bottle with the Poland sticker I think of THAT COUNTRY, not the technical merits of the “spring” issue.

Please, don’t bother reminding me that they mean Poland, Maine. That's deliberately misleading. How many people, when confronted with the words “water from Poland” conjure up an obscure town in New England?

Alright, deep down I understand it really is not water from the Polish Tatra mountains, not even close. Nevertheless, I feel a sense of loyalty to the product, just because of the name. I have been told by close friends (who should know better) that the taste is rather inferior – something about the water is a bit sweet, not appropriate to pure spring water. I grow defensive. I insist on a blind tasting test. I buy ten bottles just to show my allegiance. It’s Poland water, P-O-L-A-N-D, and if you use the name without mention of the country, be prepared for another class-action down the road.
posted by nina, 2/05/2004 05:01:57 PM | link

If the shoe squeaks, wear it. 

Having a shoe that squeaks gives you a new perspective on things. For example, if you leave a meeting while others remain, the others will watch and listen as you exit. If you pace during teaching, students will stare at your shoe rather than at something undefined, like the law. Squeaking makes you feel old-fashioned (do modern shoes squeak?), oblivious to life's details (can’t you get that thing oiled?), slow (so as to cut down on the noise).

Over all it is a good distraction from the obvious: the meeting was not to your satisfaction, you’re an impatient pacer, with an alarming tendency toward the old-fashioned, the distracted, the slow. Only the last is a point in your favor. The rest: best forgotten, blissfully out of mind because of the squeaky shoe.
posted by nina, 2/05/2004 04:28:59 PM | link

Genius is the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way 

I was driving in this morning behind a car with a license plate from Iowa (why do I find this relevant?) that had the bumper sticker: “I’d rather be reading Bukowski.” That’s pretty impressive. I’ve seen “I’d rather be dancing” “I’d rather be bird-watching” “I’d rather be surfing” – in fact, it seems people would rather do anything but drive. But reading Bukowski?

I have to think that the person picked up a tome of Bukowski at the writing program at U of Iowa. How else do you get from Des Moines to Bukowski? This is a guy whose books of poetry do not collect dust on your average shelf (including mine), even one with great literary aspirations (not mine). They’re not “pretty” poems, and his life was tough tough tough (apart from being beaten routinely by his dad, he had absolutely the worst case of acne ever seen by the medical profession), nor had he any connection that I know of to academia—that place where self-selected great thinkers determine what is literature and what is not.

But there he is, on a bumper sticker. Bukowski is credited with the statement that “genius is the ability to say profound things in a simple way.” It gives you hope, doesn’t it, that someone out there, every time she is driving her car, would rather be reading Bukowski.
posted by nina, 2/05/2004 11:32:30 AM | link

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

A liberal dose of laughs 

Michael Moore (winning the 03 Oscar for best documentary) says he almost did not deliver his anti-GWB political message during last year's ceremonies: too nervous, too much wanting to, as he puts it "just thank them, blow them a kiss and walk off the stage." (quote from today's Cap Times) Instead, as I recall, he got booed off the stage and everyone talked of how inappropriate he had been.

Is it wrong to use the Oscar stage for plugging away at a "Message"? Well now, I almost said 'no' and then I thought of the pleasure of watching Charlton Heston speak his bit. I take it back. All (especially the Charlton Heston part) = highly inappropriate.

Moore says that even if you don't agree with him, at least he tries to be funny in his messages. In truth, he claims, there are many more funny liberals than funny conservatives. This is a good point. Has anyone ever successfully made you keel over with laughter with their bashing of a social welfare program? "I know an old lady, she lived in HUD housing, she had so many children she didn't know what to do, so she had some more children and stayed out of work, and sent them to watch the big-screen TV and charged it to YOU!" Not funny. Not even remotely. In fact, anger-inducing, mud-slinging, cowardly and mean-spirited, but not funny.

On the other hand, try this:

Cheney gets a call from his "boss", W.
"I've got a problem," says W.
"What's the matter?" asks Cheney.
"Well, you told me to keep busy in the Oval Office, so, I got a jigsaw puzzle, but it's too hard. None of the pieces fit together and I can't find any edges."
"What's it a picture of?" asks Cheney.
"A big rooster," replies W.
"All right," sighs Cheney, "I'll come over and have a look."
So he leaves his office and heads over to the Oval Office. W points at the jigsaw on his desk.
Cheney looks at the desk and then turns to W and says, "For crying out loud, Georgie - put the corn flakes back in the box.

Or this:
One night, George W. Bush is awakened by George Washington's ghost in the White House. Bush asks: "George, what is the best thing I could do to help the country?"
"Set an honest and honorable example, just as I did," Washington advises.

The next night, the ghost of Thomas Jefferson moves through the dark bedroom. "Tom," W asks, "what is the best thing I could do to help the country?"
"Cut taxes and reduce the size of government," Jefferson advises.

Bush isn't sleeping well the next night, and sees another figure moving in the shadows. It's Abraham Lincoln's ghost. "Abe, what is the best thing I could do to help the country?" Bush asks. Abe answers: "Go see a play."

Ha ha ha ha ha ha, ohhhh, I can't stop myself, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha (the two real jokes are courtesy of
posted by nina, 2/04/2004 08:16:50 PM | link

Dean’s at the Majestic, I’m at home 

I went to hear Nader, I listend to Gore, I got an eyeful of Clinton as he stood in front of the Capitol, right there where they sell cheese curds during the summer Farmer’s Market, Clinton the candidate, me listening (or, as I recall, waiting for hours so that I could sort of hear what I could otherwise read lucidly in the paper), taking it all in, watching history being made.

But Dean at the Majestic, tonight at 7? I’ll pass. I was in the Majestic a number of years ago when one still made the effort to search for parking downtown just to catch a run of an indie or a foreign film. I saw it close down as a theater, watched it wither into a ghost of a movie house, once so popular and funky and avant garde, now just an ikon from the past, struggling to reinvent itself (I hear it will open as a dance club later this month?).

Kind of makes you wonder—why DID they pick the Majestic to spotlight Dean? It can’t be a good omen.
posted by nina, 2/04/2004 08:06:10 PM | link

Apocalypse charm  

Newsweek (to Sofia Coppola): You’ve said that some of your happiest memories are of being a kid on the set of “Apocalypse Now.” That sounds a little weird.

Coppola: I had a great time. I had no idea there were problems. I was riding in the helicopters, and I had the costume department making stuff for my dolls.

[nc: maybe we should reevaluate the efficacy of “bring your daughters to work” day]
posted by nina, 2/04/2004 12:26:42 PM | link

Potato, potahhhto, spaghetti, spaghettini.. 

Potato and orange growers, bread-makers, pasta producers, rice growers -- all are worried about the shifting tide of consumer preferences away from carbs (see NYT today). One frustrated spokesperson for the orange juice industry stated: “no one has EVER gotten fat from drinking too much orange juice.” He could be right, though the issue now is no longer what caused obesity, but how we should go about getting rid of all that accumulated blubber.

It’s interesting to go back to the land of dumplings and gnocchi and spaghettini and see what they’re saying about obesity and carbs. There appears to be an organization in Italy called the “Italian Society of Obesity.” I’m not sure if their goal is to eradicate it or support it, but it is presided over by Professor O.Bosello, a name that just looks fat.

In their newsletter, they talk about how Italy has one of the lowest rates of obesity in Europe (so maybe this group was formed to combat thinness…this sounds incomprehensible to us, I know, what with dried pork rind being an acceptable snack to buy at a gas station, but we have to have enough imagination to contemplate the possibility of an industrialized nation worrying about people not being plump enough). Moreover, though they acknowledge that some studies go so far as to claim that 14% of Italians are overweight, others claim that the figure is closer to 6 – 7% and FALLING.

Are we bored enough yet with the carb thing to switch our attention back to the “Mediterranean Diet?”
posted by nina, 2/04/2004 11:03:13 AM | link

Betcha By Golly Wow 

While listening to the debate on Public TV following the announcement of the primary results, I remembered a favorite song by the Stylistics. Sometimes a phrase out of a song from 30 years back will click with what is happening and you find yourself humming the accompanying tune until someone tells you to cut it out because it’s annoying.

The discussion was getting quite good – Congressman Clyburn was spectacular on the Edwards phenomenon [why isn’t Clyburn a contender?], and Senator Biden was positively beaming, because Kerry-Edwards were flickering a light at the end of this tunnel (this is what prompted the song lyrics). You could hear him thinking “don’t lose it, whatever you do, don’t lose it, we’ll all unite behind you, you’ve never seen the Democrats so willing to unite [this is true].” Biden worried only that Kerry would snap up the nomination too soon, leaving the Republicans with plenty of time to turn their multi-million dollar fireworks against him. Somebody remarked how interesting it was that Dean paved the way and legitimized a front-line GWB attack, without which this race would not have picked up its brilliant momentum, and having served that role, Dean is now expendable.

Throughout, I was (unbeknownst to me) humming what turned out to be “Betcha By Golly Wow, you’re the one that I’ve been waiting for forever..” (it had different associations back in the 70s) and so eventually I looked up the Stylistics to see what they’re up to. Did you know that you could actually hire the Stylistics these days for your own personal event? I don’t know if people now would appreciate the subtlety of song lyrics like “Betcha By Golly Wow,” but, oh could these guys sing!
posted by nina, 2/04/2004 08:43:46 AM | link

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

With ZERO percent reporting, CNN is projecting Kerry the winner in Arizona 

This reminds me of the election day party we had in 1980. It was to be dinner followed by a night of TV and rowdy comments of the football game type: “how about that Carter!” Dinner was over at 8, so were the elections.

The idea of an election day party ceased to be appealing after that: you never knew how long (or how short) they were going to be. Take the year 2000 – it would have been like the caricature of the never-ending Polish wedding. Would we have had to feed the crowd until the middle of December?
posted by nina, 2/03/2004 08:32:13 PM | link

Tall and cuddly = a mismatch? 

How can you explain the slanderous reporting that blasts away at the warm and fuzzy traits of tall people?? The NYT today says this about Kerry: “He will still never be cuddly. He is too tall, too gaunt, too lantern-jawed, too serious for that. His Iowa caucuses victory speech was solemn and windy, and he sat watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night with a band of firefighters from Fargo, N.D., whose union has endorsed him, tapping his right thumb and forefinger nervously against his teeth without making much effort to converse or connect.”

Is there an expectation that he should have been warm and cuddly with the firefighters?
posted by nina, 2/03/2004 02:52:36 PM | link

Growing the pool of money 

Krugman’s Op-Ed comment today is based on that tired but neglected truth: if you want something you can’t afford you can only hope for a sale or wait for an inheritance. Meaning: either the price has to come down, or the pool of money has to grow. The administration’s proposed budget relies, as we know, on cuts in discretionary spending. But think of it, what is the source of the deficit to begin with? Krugman writes:
The prime cause of giant budget deficits is a plunge in the federal government's tax take, which fell from 20.9 percent of G.D.P. in fiscal 2000 to a projected 15.7 percent this year, the lowest share since 1950. About 45 percent of this plunge can be attributed to the Bush tax cuts. The rest reflects the end of the stock market bubble, the still-depressed economy and — probably — growing tax sheltering and evasion...

So what will it take to get the budget deficit under control? Unless Social Security and Medicare are drastically cut — which is, of course, what the right wants — any solution has to include a major increase in revenue.
Many Democrats have called for a partial rollback of the Bush tax cuts, preserving the "middle class" cuts… that would help, but one hopes politicians realize that it's not enough.

Another major source of revenue could be a crackdown on tax loopholes and tax evasion, which has reached epidemic proportions. In particular, what's going on with the tax on corporate profits? That source of revenue is down, as a percent of G.D.P., to 1930's levels. No, that's not a misprint. And receipts are not growing nearly as fast as one would expect, given an economic recovery that has bypassed workers but given big gains to their employers. An administration that actually tried to make corporations pay their taxes might be able to find $100 billion or more each year.

I don’t even mind that I can never ever find any tax loopholes at all ever when I fill out the IRS forms on April 14th. This is always a source of amusement for others: ha, ha, ha, she’s a lawyer and she can’t find the loopholes, ha ha ha. However, I do mind terribly that last little comment “an administration that actually tried to make corporations pay their taxes.” You mean it doesn’t? And they don’t? I mind.
posted by nina, 2/03/2004 01:43:40 PM | link

Middle-of-the-night questions 

The phone rings at 1 a.m. and the voice of a person whom I like very much says “there are two huge mice chasing each other around my apartment!”
“I’m so sorry” I tell her, meaning every word.
“What do I do?” she asks, genuinely wanting to know.

But the fact is, I don’t know. I could say “call pest control in the morning and hide all your food in the refrigerator” but that doesn’t address the issue of the mice having a rock’n roll good time right in the middle of her bedroom floor right now.
What to do…“Make sure they’re not rats” I want to say, but this seems mean and unhelpful.

Make a cheese trail to the door? Meow quietly and hope they’re mice of the low IQ type? Use a fly swatter? What? Really, nothing comes to mind.
posted by nina, 2/03/2004 01:10:28 PM | link

Never assume anything 

Today was “common law marriage” day in class. Typically this is a real breather lecture – the doctrinal law is vague and undefined, the cases are "sexy" and involve such notables as William Hurt, David Winfield (it took me years to learn that he was famous), Mick Jagger and Lee Marvin. What do they all have in common? Yes, okay, they’re all “has-beens.” But they also were in relationships where one person (always the woman) claimed a valid union (of sorts) and the other said no. All but Lee Marvin (do you remember “Cat Ballou” with Jane Fonda and Lee?? Crazy..) allegedly had components of a common law marriage.

So the class moved along in a fast and lively way (law students love digressions where you do Mick Jagger and Lee Marvin imitations—try it!), and we got through the boring and mundane as well (“what’s habit and repute and where did it come from?”), and I’m summing up with such terrific doctrines as the “putative spouse doctrine” and the “presumption of the validity of the later marriage” (can you believe how far courts will go to validate an absurdly defective if not outright bigamous marital relationship!), and it’s all cool, and I take my last sip of tea for the day (a must when lecturing first thing in the morning on a winter day), start gathering my papers and texts, and a hand goes up.
“Yes?” I ask with satisfied and confident smile of encouragement.
“What is common law marriage anyway?” she asks.

Stopped me dead in my tracks. I assumed we were all on the same page on that one. Doesn’t everyone know what a common law marriage is? Where was she in the 60s anyway? Oh, not born yet. That’s right.

Yes, well, I did then oblige with a definition, but after the Lee Marvin & Mick Jagger stunts, it seemed anticlimactic.
posted by nina, 2/03/2004 12:09:55 PM | link

Monday, February 02, 2004

Assurances and Updates 

1. No, I am not Kerry's speech writer, and the fact that the first words uttered by him today on the campaign trail were "how about those Patriots!" does not mean that he and I communicated in any way last night. Whether he blogged here -- that I cannot say.

2. From NBCNews I learn that one reason the FCC is responding to the halftime horror is that it comes at the tail end of a season of (NBC words) "potty mouth" television. Specifically, viewers had been horrified to hear Diane Keaton at the Golden Globes use the "s" word. Did I really miss this? I don't like to think that I tune her out every time she makes an acceptance speech.
posted by nina, 2/02/2004 05:59:54 PM | link

The half-crazed halftime of the Super Bowl 

A reader wrote: “don’t you wish you had tuned in to see the scandal?” Well now, I actually saw the moment now so richly discussed and savored, on this morning’s Today Show. I was flicking around looking for a weather statement (so how MANY inches of snow are we getting in the end?), and there was Ms. Jackson, only this morning it was with a digitally altered upper-body. Not that my wee non-Super Bowl voice matters in the least, but the pyrotechnics following the “moment” were equally, if not more disturbing.

But the reason I mention all this now is because I just read on CNN that the FCC is launching a “thorough, swift, and immediate” investigation of the incident. Will they hold hearings? Will we see somber politicians examining the garment in question to consider the credibility of the “we did not know” defense? Keep us posted, FCC, we want to read every word. Visuals, re-enactments, etc. would also be welcome.

Some musicians sure do know how to capture the spotlight. Must be in the genes.
posted by nina, 2/02/2004 02:50:34 PM | link

The physical but not moral superiority of humans over birds. 

In 1979 I bought a bird feeder.
In 1981 I learned that hanging a birdfeeder may 1. domesticate the birds and therefore render them incapable of surviving in the wild 2. spread bird viruses since the feeders are left in an unsanitary state by well-meaning individuals who nonetheless don’t relish the idea of scrubbing a birdfeeder with bleach at least once a month.
In 1982, therefore, I removed the feeder.
In 1999 I noticed that the Audubon Society was promoting bird feeders and I reasoned that they wouldn’t do so if the enterprise was more hazardous than beneficial to the bird population (unless the goal was to reduce the population of sparrows and humming birds, which I doubted).
Welcoming the new millennium with a warm human heart, in 2000 I contemplated buying another feeder (the human heart translates its impulse to the brain, leading to action, at very reduced frequencies come wintertime).
In 2001 I tabled the feeder idea since we were experiencing a severe woodpecker problem, with many holes in our wooden exterior to prove it and the last thing I wanted was to encourage any flying thing anywhere near the house, unless it would be a predator that would once and for all eradicate the woodpecker in a Darwinian, and therefore acceptable in Madison, manner.
In 2003 I was in the pet store buying dog things and once again I was drawn to the feeders: so many, so enticing, so noble. I bought a simple model that seemed never to require cleaning, having no perch, no plastic, nothing where excrement could accumulate. Up it went.
In 2004 I read about the bird flu in Asia; this made me wonder if perhaps birds should be further from, rather than closer to the houses of human beings. But the feeder remains suspended, and it will probably remain thus, until spring comes and I step outside again. It also has long lost its feed, and so the once hope-filled birds are now left to their disappointment as they read the writing on the wall: this house comes equipped with a cold human heart and a strong hand that wields favors in an arbitrary and capricious manner. One of the saddest of human traits is that guilt rarely spurs action.
posted by nina, 2/02/2004 01:33:06 PM | link

Moving on, but not on your screen 

On January 12 I posted a link to MoveOn’s contest for the best commercial, depicting failed policies of the current administration. It appears that the organization raised enough money to air it during the Super Bowl, but CBS said “no.” Read about it on MoveOn’s web site. Our resident legal expert on media law tells us that CBS was perfectly within its rights to do this. The fact is that CBS had already faced this issue in a law suit in the 70s when a group called Business Executives' Move for Vietnam Peace sought to force CBS to air one of their issue ads on the radio. The court ruled that nothing in the law compelled the station to run the ad.
posted by nina, 2/02/2004 11:14:24 AM | link

Should charities feed the poor? 

Ann’s blog , referencing my Sunday post on the Salvation Army (below) suggests that the answer is “not necessarily.” She writes:
Consider too that it is more centrally the role of government to provide the basic economic safety net. Government should not feel free to shift that responsibility onto private charities. And private charities are especially important doing what government shouldn't be doing, especially with respect to providing religion and similar spiritual support for people. Is it wrong to choose spiritual care over food?

This, of course, is true. The economics of life are not the sole determinants of peace and well-being. And if we hold the Salvation Army accountable for spending money on their support of “Christian virtue” (see post, February 1) then why would we not argue that donations to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra should be channeled for the care of the homeless that routinely gather outside the concert hall doors? The moral dimension may be suggested by rephrasing it into the following question: should every gift help feed the poor? I’ll accept a “no” to that.

But I don’t think this is the question that the SA article (spelling out plans for community centers that will refrain from giving out social services and concentrate on teaching the poor how to live moral, good lives) prompted. In my opinion, the difference in the SA case is that the organization holds itself out to also put food on the table and to shelter the homeless. Like it or not, many rely on those services. And, when most people slip that buck into the bucket around the holidays, they do so with the idea that someone will eat and sleep better as a result of their donation.

Though we are left with little concrete knowledge of the donor’s reason for picking the SA for her enormous charitable gift, we can’t help but think that the money MAY have been better spent on bread of the real kind, rather than on preaching about virtue and bread of the abstract sort. Not to suggest that the SA can be anything but a band-aid to a bleeding wound. On the other hand, band-aids can be a very useful thing: they can even stop what is turning out to be a hemorrhage. But that, of course, is just my take on it.
posted by nina, 2/02/2004 10:38:28 AM | link

�Lord of the Right Wing� 

A reader sent this link to give me a bit of cheer on a Monday morning. The worst thing you can do to yourself is minimize the link after the cartoon is done. The irritating voice wont go away. Ever. Like the real one.

I understand that LOTR fans will particularly appreciate the clip. Update: no, it's hopeless, couldn't get myself to see it, so it's a done deal: I will not have seen LOTR before Feb 29 and I will, therefore, not enjoy the Oscars.
posted by nina, 2/02/2004 09:30:41 AM | link

The votes that could make a difference 

If every registered Democrat was asked to bring one person who had never voted before to the polls, would that change the number of red v. blue states come November?

Bob Herbert, in his op-ed piece this morning, writes a heartbreakingly vivid picture of elections in a place like South Carolina. He comments:
South Carolina is a state with plenty of poor people. The Bush recovery went right by the Palmetto State without even stopping to wave. "It's like a depression down here," said Wilbur Collins, an unemployed factory worker. "The plants are closing so fast, the workers don't have no place to go."
Parts of South Carolina are economic wastelands. The jobless rate in some counties is approaching 20 percent. The median income for blacks, statewide, is less than $15,000, and for whites, less than $30,000.
The anxiety over the absence of work is pervasive, and in some cases heartbreaking. At a forum attended by all of the Democratic presidential candidates except Joseph Lieberman, a woman named Elaine Johnson told Senator John Edwards about her son, Darius. She said she gave Darius three choices: go to college, get a job or join the military. He tried college, but that didn't work out. "He wasn't ready for college," his mother said. He couldn't find a job. So he joined the Army and was killed in Iraq.

I was listening to the community forum attended by the candidates. Afterwards, off camera, some were asked what they thought of the contenders. There seemed to be the feeling that nothing would change much for the poor of S.Carolina no matter who was on the Democratic ticket. One woman said: “now Bill Clinton, there’s our man – he really understood poor people.”

Though it’s hard to forgive Clinton for the great welfare sell-out, I can see their point. All the candidates made a lot of physical contact with the audience – there were hands empathetically touching arms, hugs, that kind of thing. But you had to wonder how many will remember the forum once next November comes and goes. That, of course, is the cynical voice that keeps voters at home on election day.

The silent voice of poverty is, I think, the one troubling aspect of a political democracy. Still, Herbert remains guardedly optimistic:
The idea is to make low-income voters a force too strong to be ignored. A recent study commissioned by the center showed that small increases in voting by low-income people could be decisive in several strategically important states.
Most Americans are unaware of the extent of the suffering that has fallen on the bottom 20 percent or so of the population. Many low-income Americans are leading lives of grim and sometimes painful determination, struggling to survive from one day to the next. The contrast between the real lives of families sinking beneath the weight of economic distress and the headlines that continue to insist that the economy is doing famously is extraordinary.

To bring out the vote.. there is no reason why in November, S.Carolina should appear blue on the political map. If it does, we wont need to wait for post-election analyses; we’ll know that once again we’ve failed to convince enough people that there is purchasing power in a vote, with a higher probability of cash value than a lottery ticket. The affluent, disproportionately showing up at the polls, have known this for years.
posted by nina, 2/02/2004 08:55:44 AM | link

Sunday, February 01, 2004

An alternative evening with a groundhog 

While 1 billion (world-wide, though I assure you, NOT in Poland) watch the Super Bowl, I'm here picking up tidbits about Groundhog Day folklore. By the time everyone is ready to turn off the set and give a sigh of satisfaction ("how about those Patriots!...") I will have compiled the following data:
- In the past 117 winters, Phil of Punxsutawney PA has seen his shadow 93 times. So Spring has been late more often than not. Charming.
- People come from as far away as England to watch the Phil phenomenon. This makes no sense, since weather is a very local thing.
- The official Groundhog Day website is frightening: the crowds sound like they're ready to lynch the poor animal.
- Jimmy, the Wisconsin groundhog from Sun Prairie, has moved to a new farm. This has caused him much consternation and anguish. Still, you can go to the community senior center for a 6:15 a.m. breakfast tomorrow and be there at sunrise an hour later to check things out for yourself. If you want more info, check this Jimmy site. I was the 2,129th person to visit it this year (the other 2,128 must have done so before the Super Bowl). We should elevate those numbers a bit or we'll lose our status as the 6th most important groundhog watching place in the nation.
posted by nina, 2/01/2004 04:55:38 PM | link

Does the Ethicist blog? 

I had a question for him, and though it’s too late to hope for a paper reply, maybe I could post it and eventually somehow, through the world of blog-degrees-of-separation, I could get my answer.

Here’s what happened: I googled the Super Bowl, because, in spite of the tone of a January 30th post (below), I do not want to go out today and align myslef with the odd assortment of anti-competitive-sport, or anti-technology-or-TV people who take the principled position of refusing to ever participate in watching something as "mindless" as the Super Bowl. Therefore I wanted to figure out who is playing tonight so I could throw around such comments at the grocery check-out as “Yeah, how do you like those Patriots…” You never really have to have any substantial knowledge of the game to talk sports in our society.

I came across the site where you can vote for favorite Super Bowl ads. That sounded exciting and fun and so I was wondering, is it unethical to by-pass the game and tune in only to the commercial messages? And can I vote, even though I am not really in the spirit of the game and my mindset may be somewhat warped and out of the norm? (I also will not have had 2 sick-packs under my belt and so my idea of what’s funny may be out of kilter). It seems wrong to just look forward to this year’s Bud or FedEx ad, but I’m thinking that if a company spends 2.25 million on a 30 second spot, the content must be worth un-muting your TV for.
posted by nina, 2/01/2004 03:00:33 PM | link

Pointing with a nose 

Recently, a pop-up appeared telling me that the message pointer that I am using is really boring. It proposed that I consider a FREE pointer, and it displays several intriguing alternatives: a face with a very long nose, a doggie, a candy cane, that kind of thing. I feel properly humiliated with my boring arrow, but I just want to respectfully suggest that if you want to appeal to my inner exciting person, you'll do better than propose that I track the Net with a hot dog, or a caricature of a guy with a deformed nose.
posted by nina, 2/01/2004 12:30:53 PM | link

A week in (serious) review  

This week, in my Comparative Family Law seminar, we discussed legislative change in the context of increasing cultural pluralism. I brought in the example of Australia, where both indigenous populations (a “hefty” 1% of the total pop these days) and new immigrant groups (almost entirely from South East Asia) adhere to traditions that Western law considers “repugnant” to modern society. Of course, we can also look to Utah, where last week the courts considered a challenge (based on the Lawrence decision) to the long-standing ban on polygamy. Predictably, the couple +one, sought to argue issues of privacy and religious freedom.

Today, the NYT writes about a doctor in Italy who wants to introduce a medically-safe, somewhat benign procedure for women who come from countries such as Somalia and wish to continue their observance of the traditional genital cutting. This has raised angry protest, on both sides of the issue: on the one hand, the modern thought is that no recognition should be given to a tradition that is, after all “repugnant” to our belief in equality and human dignity, on the other hand, it has been said that a tamer procedure would help a great number of girls that are otherwise going to be exposed to the unsafe, horrendously barbaric ritual.

If you scribble down a list of common familial practices and rituals that we would deem illegal in the States, you can make, at the very least, the following observation:
- some are mildly repugnant
- some are moderately repugnant
- some are totally repugnant

This classification is super sophisticated and completely exhaustive and promises to revolutionize the way we think about the world.

It seems to me that arguing in favor of respect for the totally repugnant is a wasted effort. Multiculturalism ought not embrace respect for practices and rituals that run counter to our understanding of what it means to be a social human being. Banning is an option, finding acceptable substitutions is another.

Of course, one person’s repugnant (note the Salvation Army on smoking below) is another’s pleasure. But we needn’t ask ourselves what the hot picks are for total repugnancy. We have, thank heavens, a viable, if severely undermined at the moment, international forum where this discussion can be conducted. Indeed we have such instruments as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that actually address these issues. You can’t escape it. Indiana billboards notwithstanding (“Get us out of the U.N. now!”), we need international organizations to help us toddle along in a civilized manner.
posted by nina, 2/01/2004 11:37:24 AM | link

Sunday family topics AGAIN. 

So that tidy little sum of $1.5 billion that Kroc left to the Salvation Army (the single largest philanthropic donation to an organization ever)? It's going to the building of new community centers that'll dispense not so much the food and shelter thing (how déclassé!), but advice on how to sustain a marriage (GW, your message is on a roll!), how to enjoy family life, and how to build character and cultivate spirit. When the Commissioner of the Salvation Army was asked how poor people would be able to attend to their souls and their families without food or shelter, he answered that in addition to programs on nutrition (there's a bit of an irony in using of McDonald's fortunes for this), they'll teach poor people how to sit down as a family and enjoy "the fellowship of just being able to sit together." Though without sinning or anything. The Commissioner himself admitted that he had sinned when he was a teen: he was drawn to experimentation and actually had a couple of cigarettes. But that was then.
posted by nina, 2/01/2004 09:00:58 AM | link

I'm Nina Camic. I teach law, but also write (here and elsewhere) on a number of non-legal topics. I often cross the ocean, in the stories I tell and the photos I take. My native Poland is a frequent destination.

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