Posted by: Amelia | September 11, 2007

Citizen Fred: The Über-Everyman

Is “über-everyman” a contradiction in terms?  I don’t know, but it certainly seems to be what Fred Thompson is going for.  Michael Scherer has a piece in yesterday’s Salon dissecting Fred Thompson’s campaign rhetoric, which included this illustrative quote:

“Let’s get right to the chase,” [Thompson] told a crowd in Sioux City on Friday. “The main question that you have a right to know from me is why I’m running for president. And the answer is pretty simple. I’m just like you are.”

The Scherer piece mostly focuses on Thompson’s professed lack of any previous presidential ambition, but that quote in particular tripped a wire in my brain.  Back in 1996, a pre-Daily Show Jon Stewart had an HBO special in which he talked about Bob Dole, then the Republican candidate for President:

STEWART: Why is it that whenever somebody wants to be elected, suddenly they become us?  Suddenly they want to be played as the common man.  Bob Dole’s been in the Senate for 35 years – he wants to be president, and now he’s…

STEWART (AS BOB DOLE): Citizen Bob!  I’m the common man, I’m just like you.

STEWART:  You go to Hooters?  Wow!  Don’t be the common man, be better than us!  You want to be President?  Be better than us.  Lead us!  We don’t know shit, we’ve been swept away by the Macarena, what the fuck do we know?  Be better than us!

Our candidates do need to be accessible, and they do need to understand the problems of everyday Americans.  But Bush has shown that choosing a President based on who you would want to have a beer with is a pretty bad idea.  Of course, it’s Reagan’s mantle that Thompson is most trying to inherit, but even there he falls short.  I hate to compliment Reagan, but the man had more charisma, name recognition, and political experience than Fred Thompson will ever possess.  The un-emperor has no clothes, people.

Posted by: Amelia | September 10, 2007

Hey Beautiful

It’s a hot Saturday night in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I’m walking home to my new apartment after leaving a classmate’s birthday party in Central Square. From about 20 feet behind me, I hear a voice.

“Hey beautiful! Come talk to me!”

I roll my eyes. Silly me, I think to myself sarcastically. I’ve forgotten that walking while female gives men the right to holler at me.

“I like your panties!”

Aha, I think. This harasser is using much more refined logic: the night breezes and my favorite silk skirt have conspired to give me a mild case of VPL, and THAT is why he has the right to harass me. I ignore him and keep walking. I’m about to cross the street anyway.

“Hey beautiful, come talk to me. What, do you hate men or something?”

I cross the street and continue to ignore his shouts. As I reach the other side, I run into a male colleague that I haven’t seen since spring semester. He greets me with a hug and a European-style cheek kiss, and we start chatting about our summers.

“Is that your boyfriend?”

My harasser has followed me across the street. I turn to look at him. He’s short, slight, and leather-skinned. His haphazard clothing and knapsacks indicate that he is, to use the old phrase, a bum. I guess his age at 50 or 55, but he could easily be younger and simply world-worn. He’s probably led a hard life, but that doesn’t mean he gets a pass for his behavior.

“Was that you shouting at me?” I ask him.

“Yeah I just want to introduce myself, my name is– ”

“Yeah I want to talk to you,” I interrupt. My tone is calm, but forceful. “What makes you think you can talk to women like that?”

“Oh you’re gonna give me your opinion?” he asks.

“It’s people like you that make women afraid to walk alone at night,” I say. “It is not okay to shout like that, and you need to stop.”

“This is your opinion?” he repeats angrily. I don’t diminish my argument by agreeing.

“What you’re doing is wrong,” I say. “You’re the problem.”

“When I want your opinion I’ll give it to you. Go fuck yourself!” he shouts as he turns away and heads back down the street.

“Stop harassing women!” I shout after him. My friend and I start walking the other way, but my harasser needs to get the last word.

“Go fuck yourself. Or get your faggot friend to fuck you, you fucking bitch.”

This sad little man’s deep hatred and resentment of women will not be cured. I hope, perhaps vainly, that he will at least refrain from harassing other women for the rest of the night. It is the first time I’ve ever confronted a harasser. I feel a strange mix of empowerment and anger afterwards, glad that I spoke up but knowing it probably didn’t do any good.

Street harassment links: HollaBackBoston, HollaBackNYC, Don’t Be Silent (DC), HollaBackPacificNorthwest.

Posted by: Amelia | September 5, 2007

The Distance From Plant to Plate

While relaxing up in British Columbia this past week, I read Barbara Kingsolver’s new nonfiction book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. The book, whose too-precious title is one of few faults, recounts a twelve-month span in which Kingsolver and her family endeavored to eat only self-grown and locally-grown food from her rural Virginia county.

In some ways, Kingsolver’s book echoes Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which I started this summer but never finished. Both books address, to varying extents, the problems associated with industrial farming. The stomach-turning conditions of industrial feedlots, the soil-depleting practices of agribusiness, and the pollution created in long-distance food transportation all make appearances in both books. Pollan’s book, however, was too painstaking in detail to hold this summer reader’s interest. Kingsolver artfully weaves the environmental and economic arguments for reducing one’s carbon footprint into the fabric of her down-home tale of a year of seasonal food and farming.

A lot of attention has been paid to ‘food miles,’ since the transportation of oranges from Israel or blueberries from Chile invariably puts carbon gases into the atmosphere. Our demand for out-of-season foods and the subsidization of long-distance food transportation leads to mountains of cheap, non-local produce that has been bred for longevity and not for taste. Food miles aren’t the whole story, though; a recent New York Times article pointed out that petrochemical fertilizers also create a lot of carbon output. The article argued that a Londoner would create less of a carbon footprint buying grass-fed New Zealand lamb than if he bought British lamb, whose pastures require fertilizers.

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Posted by: Amelia | August 30, 2007

Electronic Deprivation

For the next six days, I will be in a remote location in Canada that has no internet and no telephone or cell phone service. That means no email, no text messages, no googlechat. No LOLcats!


I’ve gone a few days here and there without internet, and I’ve done some traveling in foreign countries where I’ve had no cell phone (but phone cards were always plentiful). I think six days may be the longest I’ve been cut off from civilization.

In reality, of course, this will be a fantastic break. The last two weeks of loafing have been great, but I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of mental energy on planning my upcoming move back to Boston in minute detail. The internet and cheap long distance make it easy to obsess and overplan. I think my new landlords have already grown tired of me. They should be grateful I don’t have a Blackberry!

So now it’s cold turkey time; now I can just relax. Dear readers, how would you react to a complete communications cutoff?

Posted by: Amelia | August 28, 2007

Sex Scandals ‘R’ Us

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. What is up with Republican sex scandals? Larry Craig, a Republican U.S. Senator from Idaho, was arrested in June for lewd conduct in an airport men’s room and pleaded guilty earlier this month to disorderly conduct. Craig maintains the incident was a misunderstanding, and I have to admit that the facts sound a little fishy. Craig’s alleged overtures to a plainclothes officer in the next stall over included waving his hand under the divider and playing a strange game of footsie:

According to the arrest report cited by Roll Call, Craig tapped his right foot, which the officer said he recognized “as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct.”

I don’t know if that is conclusive evidence of a proposition, but I’m not an expert in the field of men’s room hookups. Maybe with some justification, Craig is now publicly regretting his guilty plea and denying any inappropriate conduct.

Yet, even if we dismiss his case for the moment, the number of Republican sex scandals in recent years is shocking. The party that loves to grandstand on sexual morality is also home to David Vitter, Mark Foley, Bob Allen, Jack Ryan, Bob Livingston, and the list goes on. Young Republican Michael Flory deserves his own heinous category:

The former head of the Michigan Federation of Young Republicans admitted today that he sexually abused a colleague during a national convention here last summer.

Michael Flory, a 32-year-old attorney from Jackson, Mich., pleaded guilty to sexual battery on the day he was to stand trial for rape.

The teary-eyed college student he overpowered in a downtown hotel room gasped and dabbed her eyes as Flory replied to Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Peter Corrigan’s question, “Are you indeed guilty?”

“Sure – yeah,” Flory said.

Klassy. Now, it’s not that Democrats don’t have sex scandals. Clinton/Lewinsky will forever haunt us, and phrases like “Chappaquiddick incident” and “Gary Condit” don’t exactly help public perception of Democrats. The most recent Democratic sex scandal I can recall was Jim McGreevey’s 2004 self-outing amidst a harassment suit brought by his former employee/clandestine lover.

So yes, Democrats aren’t scandal-free. But it’s a little shocking how lopsided the distribution of sex scandals between the parties has been as of late. Of course, the distribution of corruption scandals is just as lopsided. Democrats may have Bill Jefferson and Alan Mollohan, but Republicans have the whole Abramoff crew (Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, Tom Feeney, Steven Griles, etc) plus do-it-yourselfers like Duke Cunningham and Jim Gibbons. Two out of three members of the all-Republican Alaskan Congressional delegation are under investigation for corruption (Ted Stevens and Don Young).

Still, the sex stuff grates in a special way. Jim McGreevey’s decent record on gay rights didn’t leave him open to charges of hypocrisy in the way that Larry “0% Rating From Human Rights Campaign” Craig has. Indeed, I may have been too quick to dismiss Craig from the scandal roster. Craig, it seems, has long been known to troll Union Station bathrooms – perhaps in between votes to ban same-sex marriage and block the addition of sexual orientation to hate crime and job discrimination laws. And Senator Vitter, did you realize that those prostitutes you cheated on your wife with were having sex before marriage?

How, exactly, are Republicans going to promote their rhetoric when so many of their leaders violate it?

Posted by: Amelia | August 26, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday: Surrogate Tomatoes Edition

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, gardening is a year-to-year learning process. This season I sometimes learned lessons too late to make corrections for the current crop, but I can apply those lessons whenever I start another garden. Being home in Washington State, however, has given me a chance to apply some of my knowledge now, since the cooler climate means a later growing season. When I arrived, none of my family’s tomato plants had developed ripe tomatoes yet. They were an unruly mess of unpruned branches and energy-draining suckers. A couple of the green tomatoes were also showing signs of Blossom End Rot.I set to work pruning the suckers and liming the soil. Less than two weeks later, some fruit is ripening:


New Girl tomato plant

golden tomatoes

Sun Gold tomato plant – these orange tomatoes are actually ripe!

Now, I can’t take full credit – they would have ripened without my intervention. But pruning is meant to direct the plant’s energy and sugars toward fruit production, rather than new leaf and stem production. So I think these tomatoes came on a little earlier than they might have – which is good news for me, since I’m only here for another few days!

Posted by: Amelia | August 23, 2007

Miss Trial

In Washington State, the compensation for jurors is $10 per day. That was the rate set in 1959, and it hasn’t changed since. The Daily Olympian had an editorial recently declaring the pay inadequate and commending a pilot program in certain counties (not mine) that would raise the rate. I don’t know what other states pay, but $10 is a laughably small number. It might as well be nothing.Except if you’re me, and you were just going to be loafing around home this week anyway. I got called for jury duty yesterday, and I was actually pretty excited about it – and not just for the unexpected $10. Most people dread jury duty, but I thought it would be an interesting look at the judicial process.

So I put on a neutral-looking outfit and headed to the courthouse, hoping to come off as unobjectionable as possible so that I might actually get picked to serve. When the jury pool questionnaire made it obvious that the trial would be a sexual assault case, I was even more eager to get on. Perhaps that should have disqualified me, but I do think I could have been fair and unprejudiced. Having a political interest in issues of sexual violence is not incompatible with believing in the principles of due process and presumed innocence.

It didn’t matter, though; after three hours of waiting, the jury pool was abruptly dismissed. Apparently a witness for the defense had been hanging around in the hallways near our jury pool room and was talking about the case and the prosecutor to potential jurors as they passed on their way to the bathroom or to cigarette breaks. Being a decently continent non-smoker, I hadn’t budged from my chair the whole time. Nonetheless, the judge decided that the whole jury pool would have to be considered tainted, so she declared a mistrial. Thus, disappointingly, ended my service.

Do I still get $10?

Posted by: Amelia | August 20, 2007

15 Minutes

I finally got around to scanning this Washington Express blog log from a few weeks ago. It featured a snippet from a post by yours truly!

blog log mention

A little closer up:

blog log closeup

For those of you outside of DC, the Express is the free newspaper given out in the DC metro for the morning commute. So, conceivably, thousands of metro passengers might have read this little quote. Though, to be honest, it’s pretty hard to read the Express through bleary, half-awake eyes while somebody else’s briefcase is mauling your ribcage. But hey, publicity is always nice.  And once again, yay Danica McKellar.

Posted by: Amelia | August 19, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday: Infused Vodka Edition

A few weeks ago I started a little experiment infusing vodka with various things I had grown in my DC garden. The results, I must report, were mixed. The bulk of the vodka was used for two infusions: peppermint and lemon balm. I started by steeping large volumes of peppermint and lemon balm leaves in two bowls. The bowls were covered, but not airtight. This was a mistake. Though the leaves in each bowl started imparting a lovely green color on the first day, the leaves (and then the vodka) turned brown soon after. I really should have invested in some jars with an airtight seal and filled them up to the top with vodka so that no oxidation could occur.Nonetheless, I forged ahead with my discolored vodkas. After nearly two weeks, I strained them with cheesecloth and sweetened them with a little simple syrup. I decided to add a drop of green food coloring to the peppermint vodka (partly to differentiate the two and partly because dark amber is an awfully weird color for peppermint). I decanted the flavored and sweetened vodkas into two glass bottles I bought at the Container Store:

lemon balm vodkapeppermint vodka

In retrospect, the slightly old-fashioned bottles with the mini-Mason Jar lids were actually pretty appropriate choices for the hooch I had created. But what, you might ask, of the taste? Well, the lemon balm vodka was pretty weird. The taste of wilted and oxidized leaves interfered with the lemony, herby flavor (which might have been a good pairing with vodka had I infused it correctly).

shotsThe peppermint vodka had a bit of that unpleasant leafy flavor as well, although the menthol went a long way in covering it up. Overall, we declared the peppermint vodka a success. In fact, we found some old DeKuyper Peppermint Schnapps in the liquor cabinet and had a little taste test. My peppermint vodka won hands down. The DeKuyper’s was insipid, artificial, and overly sweet by comparison, and despite being only 60 proof, had a stronger alcoholic taste. My vodka, coming in at around 80 proof, was smoother and far more complex in flavor. Chilled, it makes a nice digestif or pick-me-up shot. The DeKuyper’s is really only good for adding to cocktails or cocoa.

red cayenne in vodkaAs you recall, I had feared that my cayenne pepper vodka would be lethal, given that I was planning to leave the pepper in the tiny bottle permanently (my recipe was based on one that infused a whole bottle of vodka with three cayennes for only three days). Pleasantly, the vodka has actually been quite drinkable, so I made a second bottle. The key, I think, was that I did not slice open the cayenne. Thus, I think a lot of the capsaicin is still safely locked within the pepper. The vodka has an ideal amount of heat, and has even taken on a smoky sweetness reminiscent of roasted red bell peppers.

rosemary vodkaI had a little less than a cup of vodka left over, so I decided to make rosemary vodka just for the hell of it. It’s… strange. It has a straightforward rosemary taste that is not unpleasant, but not exactly quaffable. I think it would be good in a cocktail with pear brandy or something.

So the vodka experiment was a mixed bag, but overall a success and a lot of fun. And along the way, I discovered an entertaining blog devoted entirely to vodka infusion experiments called Infusions of Grandeur. The “Mad Scienticians” there will serve as my mentors should I attempt to infuse again.

Posted by: Amelia | August 17, 2007

Casual Friday: Sad-Funny Quotes Edition

Evolution sez: Poof! You’re a human! A Middle Tennessee State University professor of Sociology attempted to disprove evolution by saying: “You guys ever see the drawings anthropologists use to try to prove that humans evolved from monkeys? My question is: If we came from monkeys, then how come we aren’t seeing monkeys turning into humans every day?” This kind of quote doesn’t even need commentary. Wait, how did that photo of Bush get over there?

Does that mean The Sims was a gateway drug? The Wall Street Journal has a very interesting article about addiction to the networked computer game Second Life, which quotes one addict’s wife as saying: “It’s sad; it’s a waste of human life. … Everybody has their hobbies, but when it’s from six in the morning until two in the morning, that’s not a hobby, that’s your life.” The husband is basically too busy playing Second Life to respond. Actually, this isn’t sad-funny, it’s just sad. I’m weeping for human- and monkey-kind.

Divorce styles of the rich and well-housed. After last week’s piece on the wealthy and whiny, the New York Times this week has a piece on wealthy couples who divorce when the real estate market peaks. Said one commentator: “When people get a lot of wealth in a hurry, it’s more easy to act upon their impulses. … You get used to sending back a steak because you don’t like it. You send back a wife.”

Probably a better fundraising strategy for McCain anyway. John McCain made his 10th appearance on The Daily Show this week. The interview started by McCain and Jon Stewart switching seats:

McCain: Did you hear him say that I was taking over the show and he was going to the Senate? Did you hear it? Look at that.

Stewart: I don’t have that much time to waste.

McCain: But you know what that means if he’s going to the Senate?

Stewart: Cloture?

No lolcat today, just some Friday catblogging below the jump.

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