Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Food Democracy Now

Not everybody takes the time to read something like The Omnivore's Dilemma, but if you know anything about the sad state of agriculture in this country and want to see it change, you might be interested in this: http://www.fooddemocracynow.org

This petition aims to get influential reformers positions as Under Secretaries in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The site explains it better than I can.

All I know is that the Obama administration has a unique opportunity here, and we should do what we can to encourage them to make some needed changes.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Albums I Liked in 2008

I wasn't as diligent this year in searching for new music. But this was a good year for folkies, so I had to do something. Here are some albums I liked this year:

The Overhyped, But Still Good
She & Him, Volume One - Zooey Deschanel, the cute hipster actress who is now pretty mainstream (Jim Carey's Yes Man, need I say more?) has a good voice. No really, she can sing (as we all witnessed in Elf). She didn't go the sad route of actress-turned-wannabe-pop star, and teamed up with M. Ward. They came up with retro-country inspired pop ditties that will not leave your head for months.

Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend - They owe quite a bit to Paul Simon, but these kids wrote some good songs and executed an excellent album. West African traditions and classical music blended into catchy summer pop music makes me suspect that they will be around for more than 15 minutes.

Delightful New Artists
Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, We Brave Bee Stings and All - Thao might also fall into the overhyped category, but she is the deserved heir to Jenny Lewis. Her unique voice and provoking songs got under my skin, and I have not stopped listening to her album. On top of that, she has an engaging stage presence and along with her back-up band, the Get Down Stay Down, put on one of the best shows I saw this year.

Laura Marling, Alas, I Cannot Swim - Okay, enough already, we know: It's amazing that she's only 18 (or maybe 19 now). British singer/songwriter Marling put together a stunning debut with the best title of the year. I don't care if it's technically not "indie" because she's on a major label. She's so good, it doesn't matter.

Just Plain Solid
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, Conor Oberst - Conor has left emo behind to embraced roots music and rock 'n roll. This has lead to a sound that, yes, we've heard before but is perhaps appropriate for our generation as never before. His maturity leads me to believe that he is the closest anyone will come to our generation's Dylan.

Mates of State, The Re-Arranger - The husband and wife duo left the San Francisco scene to "settle" in Connecticut, but then they've churned out two stellar albums in two years and still managed to go on tour with little kids in tow. Their latest captures the mood of a couple in their 30s and continues the unique sounds that made them so interesting in the first place. Settled? Not in the least.

Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes - This is probably my favorite album of the year. The layering of a 70s folk sound over a choir of voices and instruments has a beautiful, melancholy tinge. It's almost like an Appalachian fairy. (I'm not kidding, this band seems right out of a mythical American wood, with long beards and bell-bottoms.) It's amazing.

Local Fun
Balmorhea, Rivers Arms - If there is any one Austin band you should check out, it's Balmorhea. Subtle, soothing, all rapturously beautiful. Okay, that may be inflated praise. But they are currently my favorite local band for a reason: This is the best experimental classical music created by contemporary musicians I've heard in a long time. Possibly ever.


Honorable Mentions
Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue
Little Joy - Little Joy
The Decemberists - Always a Bridesmaid EP
Leatherbag - Love & Harm (Another local Austin band, although this one's more likely to get national attention.)
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (This is a really good album. It should probably be on my list.)
MIA's song Paper Planes (For the record, it was released last year but had an omnipresence in movies, commercials and even mainstream radio.)


[Note: I wrote this a few days ago and meant to post it while it was still 2008. Also, most quality music sources (the ones I pay attention to, anyway) have bestowed the honor of best album of the year to either Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver. Except for Paste. They gave the title to She & Him.]

The Extremist Comes Home

I don't usually delve into my inner world on this blog. Sure, I offer my opinions freely, but I don't get ... emotional. I try to avoid anything too personal, anything likely to end up in my journal.

That said, I'm at home in Georgia. I find myself holding back from calling Austin "home" when talking to my parents, primarily because we all hold to a sentimental idea that this house will always be my home. I'm not ready to let it go, although I'm getting there.

When I come back here, I have culture shock. So many things seem strange - the limited recycling, the constant presence of ESPN, the lack of vegetables, driving at least 15 minutes to get anywhere. I realize how much I have changed my lifestyle and how different it is from my parents' and my brothers'.

My mom, bless her, tries. She has a little compost pile and saved colorful plastic bags for me so I could use them in my crochet projects. One brother asked me to make him a set of coasters out of plastic bags, and the other brother gave me an Obama notecard for Christmas. I've had some calm, intelligent arguments with my dad about politics and other issues (instead of emotional blow-outs that used to happen).

I should be okay with their efforts. I guess I'm grateful that they are trying to make little amends for me, but I know this - living comfortably and conveniently in the suburbs - is not the life I want. I wish it didn't bother me that these people I love have chosen lives I can't justify anymore.

Now if I can only ignore my dad watching Fox News.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hey! It's Not That Easy Being Green.




Christian Lander strikes again.

On another note, Slumdog Millionaire is an excellent movie. It's a little stuck between cinematic traditions, and it might be a little too westernized. But it's a great movie all the same. Worth your $9.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

GRE Christmas Story

My roommate Dave is an odd fellow (see this blog for proof). He's also a very good, supportive roommate and friend. The night before I took the GRE, he wrote me this story using GRE vocabulary words:

In primaeval times, a paladin was born in a manger. Yes, a pallid, insipid manger rather than a resplendent palace. Ironically, his name would soon become ubiquitous around the world. He will win the approbation of many but his life would remain equivocal as well. Pharisees would leave a piquant taste in his mouth, or would they? The louche bastards were full of obloquy. They would be captious of Jesus' choices, but his love remained impervious. He didn't care if you had no pulchritude or if you let out faint mewls in the night or of your noise protruded like a poor Jew. That's how capacious his love was for humanity. He'd gather and gleam his stupid disciples and ask them to be a bit aberrant for once. Be a burbler if you will. This no time to be lugubrious or doleful. There are vitrolic forces at work and our community must be propulsive in our untenable resolve for justice! May we be fervid enigmas for the world to see.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Evolution

First we thought the PC was a calculator. Then we found out how to turn numbers into letters with ASCII — and we thought it was a typewriter. Then we discovered graphics,and we thought it was a television. With the World Wide Web, we've realized it's a brochure.
— Douglas Adams

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Good Jew Candidate?

Anslee made the following list about me and put it on my Facebook wall. While most of my readers are "friends" with Anslee and me and probably got this on their mini-feeds, a few aren't. And it just made me laugh, so I thought I'd post it here so I'd have (because blogs live long enough for posterity...)

  • a writer/editor.
  • a fine supporter of obama.
  • an educator of recycling/composting/doing good environmental stuff.
  • a friend.
  • a daughter/sister/granddaughter/etc.
  • not a mom.
  • a good jew candidate.
  • not a dinosaur.
  • a hanger of art.
  • a driver of a toyota (i think?).
  • a knowledgeable person of free food.
  • my facebook wifey (hehe).
  • a ball of rage, sometimes, but within reason.
  • worthy of good things.
  • a great drunk dialer.
  • a hard worker, but sometimes lazy (and i love you for it).
  • tons more things than this list can provide, but definitely someone i cannot live without, even if most of these things were not true.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rethinking the Holidays

My church and my friends have been engaging in conversations about our consumer culture and the empire it has created. Challenging our consumer culture is something I'm always thinking about (see old posts on corporations, fair trade, and the local economy).

But we're about to come upon our culture's greatest celebrations of gluttony: Thanksgiving and Christmas. So I thought I'd do some nerdy linguaphile investigating, and I looked up the definition of the verb "to consume".

con⋅sume /kənˈsum/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [kuhn-soom] verb, -sumed, -sum⋅ing.
–verb (used with object)
1. to destroy or expend by use; use up.
2. to eat or drink up; devour.
3. to destroy, as by decomposition or burning: Fire consumed the forest.
4. to spend (money, time, etc.) wastefully.
5. to absorb; engross: consumed with curiosity.
–verb (used without object)
6. to undergo destruction; waste away.
7. to use or use up consumer goods.

Notice that only the final definition, number 7, takes on our current-day economic meaning. It's also the only definition that is not negative (although I would argue that it very much is a negative definition).

And this is what most economists, companies, and corporations think of us - a market of consumers. A group of destroyers. In terms of the holidays, it makes me wonder: What are we really celebrating?

People always say the holidays are about family and the people you love. But isn't it more about eating too much, spending too much, and getting too much?

As I've wondered how the answer to that question translates practically, I've found a lot of people are trying to figure it out, too:
  • Buy Nothing Day. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, the crazy folks at Abusters are asking consumers to stop being consumers for a day and simply buy nothing. So instead of rushing to the mall to get those sparkling day-after-Thanksgiving sales, why not enjoy your day off, enjoy some leftovers, and actually spend time with your family (not shopping). Or you can protest in a Santa suit outside the mall.

  • The Advent Conspiracy. This brilliant idea came from the minds of a several churches who were tired of Christmas. Seriously. They were tired of it, tired from it. Then they started asking why it wasn't about Jesus anymore. So they came up with the Advent Conspiracy to get the church back to the meaning of Christmas and celebrate in more holistic ways.

So what does all this come down to? It's actually pretty easy. Consider a buy nothing Christmas and make gifts instead. If you find it hard to make gifts for family members (like younger brothers who don't want something "crafty") consider giving time and offering to do something for them instead. My dad always asks for socks for Christmas, so I'll probably still buy him socks but also offer to take him out to dinner for once (instead of the other way around).

There's a lot of alternatives. You just have to be creative and think of ideas tailored to each person. You know, put in some thought and effort. It's a bit tougher than buying a gift card, but I think it's more rewarding in the end. And you might just have your most memorable Christmas yet.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why Does all the Good Television come from Britain?

So I was going to embed some YouTube videos of the delightful canceled-too-soon British sitcom Spaced. But the embedding has been "disabled by request."

But if you follow this link, you can see my one of my favorite scenes.

The show's premise: Friends Daisy and Tim need to find new places to live, and they decide to pretend to be a couple to get a flat advertised for "professional couple only." They befriend the other tenants and bring their weird friends into the mix, and for the most part, they do what normal 20-somethings do. They're all geeks and reference pop-culture and science fiction regularly throughout the show (note the great Star Wars reference in the link above). It features Simon Pegg before he was famous, and really captures the feel of the late 90s/early 00s.

It may just be one of the best shows of the last 10 years. Seriously. Pegg and company put together this great little show while Friends was at its peaked, and the two sitcoms could not be more different. While Friends featured yuppies with posh jobs and rather superficial dilemmas, Spaced captured the reality of living in crappy apartments and working shit jobs, all the while featuring a group of odd-balls who could live in the apartment next to you -- with some exaggerations. It' very much a product of 10 years ago, yet I still relate to it (not in the least because Daisy is a freelance journalist who makes no money...)

So go out and rent it!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Note on "I'm Proud of Us Slackers"

I removed the link to the Christian School Journal blog with my comment because the CSJ links back to posts that mention it. So any concerned Christian educator can follow a link to my post "I'm Proud of Us Slackers". So much for my anonymity.

I wanted to be anonymous primarily because I don't want to get into any ideology wars with older evangelicals. It's enough to deal with my parents, and they're going to love me no matter what. Plus, my mom has mellowed out a lot when it comes to politics (gone are her days running the Muscogee County Republican headquarters). Both my parents take the time to listen to my arguments and give me credit for thinking through the issues. They understand that I voted for things I care about (the war, the environment, health care, education).

I have a relationship with them, one that transcends political opinion. I don't with the readers of the Christian School Journal blog -- we are only represented by words on a screen. It's hard to overcome "worldview differences" with internet comments. I think finding common ground must be done relationally. That is what I'm realizing about so many of the tough issues that divide us -- we can find where we agree, but we need relationships first. We need to love first. It's easy with my parents -- we love each other by default. It's a lot harder with older evangelicals I only know through a blog.

And honestly, as much as I enjoyed being that postmodern heathen from the Satan's playground (a.k.a. Austin) the novelty wore off, and I just don't want to argue anymore.

[I'd also like to link to a post I wrote a few months ago about postmodernism, worldview, and faith. It pretty much explains where I am with my faith, and may shed light on why I see no point in arguing with evangelicals. Also, today some of my fellow "wayward" postmodern church friends sent me a link to the Emergent Village feed site, and that has made me feel better.]

O Valerie Plame

Friday, November 7, 2008

I'm Proud of Us Slackers

The slackers did rise, and Obama won. Hey, young people, I'm proud of us.

A black man was elected president. Even a few days later, I'm still a little in shock.

I cried along with so many others during his speech, and I believe this is a new era.

Enough of the feel-good comments: Let the Christian backlash begin. Check out the Christian School Journal (I can send you the link) for a good snapshot of evangelical reactions across the board. I left an anonymous comment, although it hasn't been approved yet. Once it's up, I'm sure you'll have no trouble figuring out which one it is.

Really, I'm proud of us. I've wasted a lot of time on the NY Times interactive electoral map, and I was fascinated by the county numbers. Every major city in Texas went to Obama, and almost every border county went to Obama. Georgia was even more interesting, as several Atlanta-area counties went Obama and my home county did, too.

So yes, it's a new era. I hope we can be unified, even those who believe that Obama is a baby-killer...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Slacker rising?

Who are these young people who don't vote?

Are they perennial slackers living in their mothers' basements?

Are they college students away from home who forget to fill out their absentee ballots?

Are they yuppies who just don't find time to get the polls?

It's not the hipsters. As much as I bash them (yet identify with them), I will give them due credit - they've been active this election season. Apathy still reigns in most respects, but somewhere between the emails claiming Obama's a Muslim and "Drill, Baby, Drill" they've started caring.

That said, I have a lot of friends back in Georgia who are in their 20s and love McCain. Probably because they're pro-life and think it's God's will that we're in Iraq. But at least they vote. At least they care. At least they go to the polls.

So yeah, who are these young people who don't vote?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Congratulations Philadelphia!

The Phillies won the World Series, and seeing as I used to live in the Philadelphia area, I have a great affection for this perpetual underdog team. A small part of me wishes I was still there. Fall in Pennsylvania is lovely, plus if I was registered there, my vote would make more of a difference than it does here in McCain-dominated Texas.

No worries, though. I believe the Phillies winning is an omen of better things to come: Obamanos!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Living and Voting in Austin? Watch This!



Vote for Proposition 2 to ban subsidies for the Domain.

You can find more information at the following links:
http://www.stopdomainsubsidies.com/
http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/column?oid=oid:663320
http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/Story?oid=oid:671862

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Post Offices and Poverty?

Today is Blog Action Day 08.

I'm supposed to write about poverty. I only found out about Blog Action Day yesterday, and I haven't been inspired to write anything. Just write about poverty. Why not try writing about peace or consumerism or greed or love or anything other category so entirely vague that it leaves the door wide open for all kinds of interesting discourse.

But it unfortunately leaves my mind blank.

Instead, I'll write about post offices in Austin. I just went to the post office on East Sixth Street. It's one of maybe two post offices on the East Side (this town is lacking in post offices and there are almost always lines). The one on East Sixth looks like it was built in the 60s and hasn't been renovated since. The floors are dingy, the flourescent lights are oppessively bright (although some bulbs are out). There's a poor selection of mailing supplies on sale, and the stamps in the display case are still priced at 39 cents.

Compared to the very new post office on trendy South Congress, the East Sixth branch is quite sad. I won't go as far as to accuse the postal service of neglecting the East Side, and the staff at the East Sixth branch are quite helpful and seem to take their jobs seriously (no pity parties there).

But I still wonder - is it any coincidence that the post offices are nicer in the parts of town where the new condos are being built and houses are selling at $400,000 upwards?

That said, I've been to some beautiful new libraries on the East Side. The Terrazas branch and the Ruiz branch, both east of I-35 and both beautiful facilities, are much better than the sad Twin Oaks branch just off the same trendy South Congress. So I can't say that the city is entirely neglecting East Austin. But the disparities are noticeable, and I wonder in what ways we can make up for them.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Here's to Austin's Idiots

Here's an interesting NPR story answering listeners' questions about voting rules. The final question comes from a beer-loving Austinite. You should listen to the story (because it's quite informative).

But if you can't or won't, I'll give you a synopsis of his question. He asked if could take his local brew Independence Pale Ale to the polls while he votes, especially since it's named Independence Pale Ale. Makes the hometown proud, I guess...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sometimes Christians Scare Me

I nearly collapsed this morning when I read this NPR story about Falwell, Jr. canceling classes at Liberty on election day to encourage his 80% Republican student body to vote.

Then I read a terrible review of the "Christian" movie Fireproof in The Onion, and I was near to renouncing my faith.

But thankfully, I read Heather's latest blog post: When Heather P Sparks...: Hokey Christian Emails...Evangelicals are Strange

And then I found this bumper sticker mentioned in one of the user-comments on the NPR story:

Friday, October 3, 2008

Visit Nana

Heather posted this on her blog, and it was so funny, I had to do the same:



The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Decency?

I would like to take a poll. Answer yes or no to the following two questions:

1) If you were staying at a stranger's house (friend of a friend or couch surfer) and were relegated to the living room couch, would you have sex on it while your hosts were not at home?

2) If you opened up your home to someone you didn't know but still trusted, would you be disturbed by your guest using your common living area for sexual activity?


We hosted two couch surfers for ACL. I thought they would be avid music fans, seeing as they traveled from California and New York for the festival. Not so much. We hardly saw them because we'd go to the festival early (when I say early, I mean like 1 p.m.) and they were usually still asleep. But whatever.

Then, poor Dave. He was not thrilled about the couch surfers in the first place. On Friday afternoon, while Hannah and I were at the festival, he came home around 4:30 and walked in on them in little to no clothing. He went straight into the kitchen, regained his composure, and went back to the living room. They were semi-clothed by this point and he said, "Welcome to our home."

I honestly didn't care if they have sex while they were here. I just didn't want them doing it on my couch. Is this a normal reaction? Or am I being too prudish? I think it's simply a matter of decency to expect a guest not to have sex on the host's living room couch. Right?

-----

Otherwise, ACL was incredible. I saw almost everyone I wanted to see. The best performances were Vampire Weekend, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Jenny Lewis, Mates of State, Connor Oberst, Gnarls Barkley, Stars, Patty Griffin, Neko Case, and Band of Horses. Okay, that's almost everyone I saw. If you want details, just ask me.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Austin City Limits 2008

I received a free 3-day pass to the Austin City Limits Festival. Actually, Anslee gave it to me because she'll be in Europe this weekend. So I'm much less jealous of her trip now that I'm going to ACL in her stead.

Here is the line-up of artists I'm planning on seeing:
Friday
  • Vampire Weekend
  • Patty Griffin (in honor of Anslee)
  • Mates of State
  • Jenny Lewis
  • The Swell Season
  • The Mars Volta
Saturday
  • Fleet Foxes
  • Jose Gonzalez
  • Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
  • Man Man
  • Connor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band
  • Iron & Wine
  • Beck
Sunday
  • Octopus Project
  • Gillian Welch
  • Stars
  • Neko Case
  • Okkervil River
  • Gnarls Barkley
  • Tegan and Sarah
  • Band of Horses
  • Foo Fighters
Also of interest, we will have three people from out-of-town staying at our house for ACL. One of roommate's best college friends is coming from LA, but we also have couch surfers - complete strangers who my roommate found through the website couchsurfing.com. They sound like decent people...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Good-bye, Good Flow

I dream of a thriving local economy, one where people produced goods and services in their community and large corporations are at bay. Austin is by no means at this utopian state and probably never will be, but there are quite a few small local companies that are serving this area with quality goods and services. I try my hardest to support them as I can.

One of my favorites is Good Flow Juice and Honey, a small operation on East Austin that sells fresh fruit juice and honey wholesale to local retailers. They've been in business since the late 70s and they've never pasturized their juice.

They had no problems, and most of Austin just loved them. They had warning labels on all the juice bottles, and consumers were left to make the choice to risk illness in favor of fresher juice. I tried Good Flow pretty soon after arriving in Austin, and loved it for it's fresh-squeezed taste.

This was all good and well until the FDA got involved, and Good Flow has since been shut down (temporarily, we hope). The Austin Chronicle has a full explanation in this article. FDA regulations for pasturization are necessary for food that travels significant distances, and carting some orange juice around central Texas is not the same as sending something down the interstate towards Oklahoma or New Mexico (or further, like say, Odwalla).

It's just a shame. Good Flow is the type of company that keeps Austin true to itself, and I'll be looking to sign the petition mentioned in the Chronicle article to keep it around.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The City by Foot

Yesterday, I finally realized that I live in a city.

I mean, I know Austin is a city, and a pretty big one. It has a population larger than Boston, Atlanta, and the entire state of Alaska. But sometimes, it doesn’t feel like a big city, and I think that’s because I drive almost everywhere.

Anslee asked me to walk with her from her house on East 4th Street to Leaf, a salad restaurant on West 2nd Street. Both locations are technically “downtown,” and I’ve often told Anslee that I love her location because it’s so central and within walking distance of so much.

She has made the decision to walk more, and decided that walking to Leaf would be her first experiment. It’s a 2.3 mile walk. Sometimes, I had to stop myself from thinking “I’m walking over two miles for salad.”

But it honestly wasn’t that bad. It took us about an hour. Luckily, we’ve had nice weather this past week (when I say nice, I mean it’s about 85 degrees instead of the upper 90s). So we didn’t end up at the restaurant soaking in sweat.

As we walked along the sidewalks of our city, we noticed buildings and houses and objects we’d never see from our cars. East Sixth Street is particularly interesting from the vantage point of being of foot. It’s colorful and covered in litter, it’s gritty and, honestly, feels like a urban neighborhood. I’ve noticed the old buildings before, but I’ve never seen some of them up close. I found a new appreciation for Austin, and now, I’d like to spend more time not in my car.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Community Organizer vs. Small-town Mayor

Of all the things Sarah Palin said in her RNC speech, her quip insulting community organizers bothered me the most.

[If you didn't watch her speech, she said, "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities."]

It's one thing to point out your opponent's faults - it's something else entirely to attack a profession that exists to improve communities. I mean, come on, who hates on social workers? Low blow, Sarah. I guess you wanna play nasty. That's not very Christian and motherly, is it?

I felt a little vindicated when I found this NPR story. I sent it to my very Republican mom.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Woes of the Uninsured

I have not had health insurance for almost a year, and this week, I had my first doctor's visit without insurance. I have a spider bite on my ankle, and it has swelled and itched and turned a slight purple color. It's not a life-threatening bite, but it's still worrisome.

One of my roommates is an occupational therapist and took some pre-nursing classes in college. She knows a good deal more than I do about these medical-related things, and she was concerned after it had been red and puss-filled for a few days.

One of her co-workers is a physical therapist/wound-care specialist, and she graciously looked at the bite on her lunch break. She told me there wasn't much she could do and recommended going to an urgent care facility or community clinic.

Then another one of her co-workers helped me look up free clinics and recommended one she used when she was sans-insurance. So I went there after visiting the hospital, and they told me they weren't accepting any new patients. Instead, they gave me a list of medical facilities around the city where I could find "affordable" car.

I called several places, only to find that most of the clinics for the uninsured are all booked, not accepting new patients. So I settled for an urgent care clinic near my neighborhood, which is decidedly low-income and more likely to be home to the uninsured.

So after the ordeal of searching for a place that would not break my bank account or overload my credit card, I was able to see a doctor. He told me he's pretty sure it's only a spider bite and it's not infected. He said some doctors prescribe steroids for spider bites to reduce swelling and itching, but he doesn't like to do that because of potentially harmful side affects. It ended up costing me $65.

I'm partially relieved it's not more serious and that it didn't cost me too much. At the same time, I'm still frustrated because the system is clearly not working. I spent $65 at a cheaper clinic for a 10 minute consultation. Had he given me a prescription, I'm sure it would have cost me at least another $30. While a spider bite is troubling, something so minor should not cost so much.

No one should be searching for the "best deal" on health care, and cost should never take precedence over quality. But that's the way it is right now, and the non-profit community clinics are strained and overbooked.

I know I'm gambling, but I'm also the victim of a fucked-up system. I'm not sure what the solution is, but the more I deal with this system, the better Canada's looks.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Pitbull in Lipstick...

I'm honestly conflicted about Sarah Palin.

She's the picture of Republican feminism - a pretty soccer mom who won't compromise her stance. She says she can keep up with men, taking down the media and community organizers on her way.

I won't dare call her a bitch. She has to be a bitch (a pitbull, perhaps?) and I applaud her for that. But I couldn't sit through all the biting partisan rhetoric in her speech two nights ago. Is it worse because it's coming from a woman?

Maybe what's the worst is the way she uses her family. They're all-American and patriotic and just like you and me. She says the media should leave her family alone, but only because her 17 year old daughter is pregnant. But when her family is the sparkling picture of Americana - the baby she kept because his life was precious, her oldest son's military service - then they're worth bragging on.

You know what? It's all political. She's a woman in politics, and she's using everything she can to make people think they should vote GOP in November. And let's face it, the McCain campaign needed a woman who wasn't a Barbie.

Now, I just hope they'll go easier on Michelle Obama.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Tutorial on How NOT to Write a Book Review

I know the internet is the great equalizer of our time. There are no gatekeepers. Anyone can write anything, no matter how dull, pointless, or just plain dumb. Within the world of social networking sites, idiots are likely to pop up, but you can always turn the down as friends.

However, I have a higher standard for Goodreads, the social networking site for people who actually read books. I expect people who spend enough time reading to warrant creating a Goodreads profile to at least comment on their reading selections with some intelligence.

But this is the internet, and I should never have expected so much. Here are my favorite stupid comments on some of my latest book choices:

On Naomi Klein's No Logo
"Ok ok ok, I know the hype surrounding this book. Your dreddy activist friend keeps recommending this to you. That dirty hippy that is a total vagabond is doing the same.

Well, what sold me on this book was an image taken from a busy street with all of the logo's removed using Photoshop. Striking.

And the book is long, interesting and at times redundant. Naomi Klein is hot, first of all, but mainly she's right. Advertising ruined the planet. Basically."


On David Kuo's Tempting Faith
"Zzzzzz...*snort*...*cough* *cough*...zzzzz..."


On David Sedaris's When You Are Engulfed in Flames
"1. I HATE men who don't do the dishes, I hate it when they sit around and let women do the dishes. David Sedaris doesn't do the dishes and I am glad, because it shows I can hatefully resent slash stereotype gay and straight men equally, and therefore I'm probably not homophobic, although I probably am slightly androgynist, oopsies! But not being homophobic cancels that out, right?

I also HATE IT when a man, like say someone I know, does the dishes as a little something extra to show his wife how much he loves her. ARE YOU SERIOUS? You love her enough to ::GASP:: do the dishes???? OH MY GOD! What a man!

2. I always wonder if David Sedaris would be a fun person to hang out with. I mean, would he just be lame and totally obsessed with creating more stories about his lameness so he could mine his life for better (a k a more pathetic) material? It used to bother me that there might be people in the world who were cooler and better and awesomer on paper than they would be in real life."


More to come.

Monday, August 25, 2008

More Anti-Corporate Ranting (and Book Recommendation if You Agree)

I was hesitant to write yet another post on my growing anti-corporate sentiments. However, Naomi Klein's No Logo has become the manifesto of the anti-corporate movement, and it was a worth-while read.

Much of the content is quite dated. Klein did most of her research in the late 90s and the book was published in 2000. The version I read had an afterward written in 2002, which covered some post-9/11 complexities. That said, I often found asked myself what were today's equivalents of her examples of branding overload and corporate meddling.

However, I find her diagnosis on No Space, No Choice, and No Jobs still very relevant in our over-branded society and big-box dominated landscape. I'm grateful to live in Austin, where local businesses thrive, and for the most part, I've been able to cut myself off from such pervasive corporate encroachment.

I still hold the resentment Klein describes in the latter half of the book, and I still cringe every time I look at the labels on my clothes. Klein gives a detailed account of her visit to factories in the Philippines, and much of the evidence she presents is thorough and well-researched.

That said, I'm sure economists (especially those proponents of the free trade) have criticized this book to no end. As far as the sweatshop debate goes, I'm sticking to my commitment to only buy second-hand clothes and search for fair trade options. I have no doubt that Klein's descriptions were accurate and represent factory conditions across the developing world. Economists have to live with their consciences at the end of the day.

I found her exploration of advertising's growing role in our lives to be the most interesting (and disturbing). Klein describes the corporate pursuit of teenagers, and during the late 90s, I was a part of the crucial demographic and bought many of their promises. Gap jeans did not make my life better, but I was told they would. As a young adult 10 years later, I think my resentment has grown from that influence on my life as vulnerable teenager.

I have to wonder how many of my peers bother to question these things and explore any of their resentments. I think many of them are happy to go along with what their fed, as long as they can still get cheap clothes at Old Navy and lattes at Starbucks.

Overall, No Logo is incredibly thought-provoking, and I'm glad I read it. The book is slow towards the end, somewhat repetitive and tiresome (especially Klein's criticism of Nike). Nonetheless, it's an important read for anyone who is involved in media and interested in media criticism. I wish I had read it in college.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Little Green Things

For a while, I've been compiling a list of easy habits that can decrease one's environmental impact, and here's the list I have so far:
  1. Change your lightbulbs. It costs more initially, but you'll save loads on you power bill.
  2. Eliminate plastic bags by using resusable ones at the grocery store.
  3. Reuse plastic bags creatively. I've starting crocheting with them, so you can always give your old ones to me.
  4. Use your dryer sparingly and air dry your clothes. Use drying racks and laundry lines outside.
  5. If you have a backyard, start a compost pile and vegetable garden. You'd be surprised how fun it is.
  6. Rinse and reuse plastic baggies and plastic food containers. It's a little more work than just throwing them away, but it saves you money, too!
  7. Conserve water by taking shorter showers and turning off the water when you shampoo your hair and shave your legs.
  8. Unplug all appliances when you're not using them or plug them into a power strip you can switch on and off.
  9. Carpool.
  10. Bike (I'm not at this point yet myself, but I hope to soon.)
  11. Use pubic transit.
  12. Educate yourself on your municipality's recycling program and find other recycling centers that take items your municipality doesn't pick up.
  13. Eating less meat, especially red meat.
  14. Start using a resuable water bottle rather than drinking bottled water.
  15. Stop buying new clothes. Buy second-hand and hold clothing swaps.
  16. Stop buying new books. Use the library more often and borrow and loan from personal libraries.
  17. Don't buy any new furniture. Buy second-hand locally.
  18. Make your own natural cleaning products.
  19. Shopping more locally in general.
A related topic, I have not eaten meat in 12 days. Even though I've thought of myself as a flexatarian for about three years and have expanded my vegetarian pallet since moving to Austin, this is my first intentional full vegetarian stint. Dave, my vegetarian roommate, told me if I made it a month, he'd buy me dinner at Mother's, a pricey vegetarian place that has renowned spinach lasagna. So far, so good. Now I have just have to decide what to eat for lunch...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Faith-Based... Politics?

Barack Obama and his campaign know he needs some percentage of the evangelical vote to win the general election. They also know that young people make up a huge portion of his constituency.

So it's no surprise that he was happy to have a conversation with Cameron Strang, founder of Relevant magazine, a hip, progressive media group aimed at hip, progressive, young Christians. He managed to land this interview weeks before John McCain, and I'd actually be surprised if McCain did talk to those kids. He's more after their parents, seeing as Relevant readers are only a small percentage of those oh-so-crucial evangelical voters.

Here's the link to the interview.

What was most interesting was Obama's ideas for Bush's Faith-based Initiatives Office. He's planning on renaming it the President's Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

I'm guessing Obama, or at least someone on his campaign, read David Kuo's book about being an insider in Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives Office. After reading it myself, I think his ideas sound like good improvements, but we'll see what happens if he's elected and how things look four years from now.

I don't doubt Obama's commitment to faith-based service, but politics are politics. I believed the lie of compassionate conservatism. Granted I was 17 and gullible and going along with my parents' views for the most part. Now, I've gotten pretty jaded about politics, but I'm not so cynical that I won't vote. I just hope money gets to the organizations and services that need it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

19 Moves in 7 years...

I've considered a few potential subjects for posts. I just finished the book Tempting Faith by David Kuo. I would recommend that any politically minded Christian read this book. I also considered writing about all the movies I've seen recently, and may still write up some reviews, mostly because I enjoy writing reviews.

But, no, I felt the need to share this realization. I was talking to a friend the other night and we counted how many times we've moved since we first left our parents' houses for college. Since 2001, I have moved about 19 times, lived in 14 different houses/apartments, and haven't stayed in one place for more than 10 months. This isn't in reference to geographic regions (I spent about 4 years in Rome, Georgia, though with breaks back in Columbus and my time abroad in Italy, so there were several moves in one geographic location). These numbers relate to my physical dwelling places and all the times I had to put all my crap into boxes and shove them in my car and drive to some new place.

I'm tired of moving. I think I'll stay at my latest house for a while.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Spice Girls Revisited

As an ardent fan of only "good music" and a true progressive feminist, I have to openly admit: I still love the Spice Girls.

It has been 10 years since Geri left the band. I remember watching 9 and 10 year old British girls crying on TV. I was 15 and I remember thinking how pathetic it was that 9 year old girls thought their lives were over because Ginger left the group. I was just leaving my pop music stage, opting for artists like Beck and Fiona Apple.

But I loved the Spice Girls. They were so crazy and their music was fun. And they had this mantra of Girl Power that I liked. They even had the 10 Golden Rules of Girl Power:
1. Be positive
2. Be strong
3. Don't let anyone put you down.
4. Be in control of your own life and your destiny.
5. Support your girl friends,
6. and let them support you, too.
7. Say what's on your mind.
8. Approach life with attitude.
9. Don't let anyone tell you that you can never do something because you're a girl.
10. Have fun!

But with 10 years of perspective and maturity, I realize that Spice Girls were a source of conflict instead of empowerment.

They were a fabrication, entirely fake, including their nicknames. All of it was to make money, and I knew it. As much as I consumed their happy music, I knew I was being fooled.

More conflicting, though, was their sexuality. They oozed it, flaunted it, waved it in front of all our faces. Unlike teenage Britney, they knew exactly what they were doing. They were all in their 20s, young and beautiful with no reason to keep covered up. The feminist in me understands but can't quite applaud.

They had legions of young fans. Very young fans. Pre-pubescent fans who didn't understand that blatant sexuality. As a teenager, I was uncomfortable to see the little kids I babysat emulate the Spice Girls. I didn't know how to process the Spice Girls' message - how could they?

I still love Wannabe. I still know most of the words of Say You'll Be There. I admit this 10 years later, still wondering what's appropriate and how feminism can practically adapt to our media-saturated society.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Wal-Mart Effect

I just finished Charles Fishman's book The Wal-Mart Effect. It is a fascinating and potentially ground-breaking look at the retail giant (of giants). Fishman is a seasoned business journalist who, along with his wife, started asking questions about Wal-Mart, which lead him to several different parts of the world in search of answers.

  • How much do we actually know about the ways the company works?
  • What are Wal-Mart's relationships with suppliers like? How do those relationships affect the market and our economy?
  • How much influence and control does Wal-Mart have over our national economy and the global economy?
  • What does the opening of a Wal-Mart actually do to a community, particularly low-income small towns?
  • Just how does it get those "always low prices"? Are those prices worth the consequences?

This book is not simply a rant against Wal-Mart. It is not some left-wing diatribe against consumerism (although ample criticism is there). It is, instead, a thorough investigation of the world's largest company, its practices, and most importantly, its effects on our economy and our lives.

Fishman makes it clear throughout the book that Wal-Mart's values are those of classic Americana - a diligent work ethic, frugality, modesty, unpretentiousness. It's is not a company so cut-throat as to be only about the bottom line (i.e., profit). No, Wal-Mart's bottom line is provide its customers with the lowest prices possible. Wal-Mart is there for the little guy, there to save him money.

But it comes with some interesting consequences. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is conflicted about Wal-Mart and about the corporate high-jacking of our culture. Whether you like Wal-Mart or hate it, this book will give you plenty to think about. The final conclusion isn't "Don't shop at Wal-Mart." Fishman leaves it up to his audience to decide what to do next. He does tell us to ask questions.

After finishing the book, I know now more than ever that I do not want to shop at Wal-Mart. Maybe as other people read this book, we will start a dialogue and find a renewed sense of creativity that will allow us to change our culture and to loosen the corporate grip of control on our lives.

For now, I will leave you with Fishman's closing statement at the end of the book and encourage you all to read it and think about it.

"Wal-Mart is not just a store, or a company, or a powerful institution. It is also a mirror. Wal-Mart is quintessentially American. It mirrors our own energy, our sense of destiny, our appetite for bigness and variety and innovation. And Wal-Mart is not just a reflection of American society. It is a mirror of us as individuals. In a democracy, our individual ambivalence about such a concentrattion of economic power, even when that power is ostensibly on our side, is a signal. Both as individuals and as a society we have an obligation to answer the unanswered questions about Wal-Mart. Otherwise we have surrendered control -- of our communities, of our economy, of some measure of our destiny -- to decisions made in Betonville [Arkansas, the Wal-Mart headquarters]." Charles Fishman, The Wal-Mart Effect, page 247.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

New Venture

I now have an Etsy site for my plastic bag-crochet venture. I will post links and more details once things are fully underway.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Stuff that White People Like Me Like

I am a fan of most things satirical, and my most recent favorite bit of web satire is the blog Stuff White People Like.

Whenever I introduce a friend to this blog, I always mention, "Well, this is only a certain kind of white person. You know, the type of white person that's typical of Austin, but not, say, Lubbock."

Or if you're from Georgia instead of Texas, you could substitute Decatur for Austin and Douglasville (or Rome or Statesboro or just about anywhere else in Georgia) for Lubbock. The point being, this blog is not representative of most white people. Only progressive yuppies and hipsters who are quite common in urban areas outside of the Deep South.

I will openly and honestly admit that I am a stereotypical "white person" as defined by this blog. My new Indian roommate likes to make fun of me for this. So he counted the list and had about 30 characteristics. I counted and had 45. I guess he's whiter than he thought...

Here's my list (and feel free to compare it to my list of blog post labels for further proof of whiteness):
coffee
film festivals
farmer's markets
organic food
diversity
Barack Obama
making you feel bad about not going outside
Wes Anderson movies
non-profit organizations
tea
yoga
gifted children
awareness
traveling
writers workshops
having two last names
microbreweries
wine
David Sedaris
Manhattan (now Brooklyn too!)
not having a TV
80s night
vegan/vegtarianism
architecture
The Daily Show/Colbert Report
Arrested Development
Netflix
Apple products
indie music
sushi
plays
public radio
arts degrees
Whole Foods and grocery co-ops
vintage
irony
Sarah Silverman
dogs
kitchen gadgets
apologies
Juno
Japan
natural medicine
Toyota Prius
bicycles
knowing what's best for poor people
expensive sandwiches
recycling
standing still at concerts
Michel Gondry
study abroad
gentrification
threatening to move to Canada
musical comedy
multilingual children
the idea of soccer
graduate school
hating corporations
bad memories of high school
t-shirts
outdoor performance clothes
having gay friends
St. Patrick's Day
San Francisco
free healthcare
rugby
scarves
grammar
children's games as adults
sweaters

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Does Democracy Really Exist Now?

On the surface, it still does. It appears to. We vote every couple of years for our lawmakers, and we talk a lot about the American ideals of democracy - equality, the people having a voice, blah blah, so on and so on.

Yet in the last week, I've had some conversations about the reality of things, about how we the people don't really have a say anymore. Anslee and I were talking about the war and how powerless we seem to be. Sure, we can vote for Obama or McCain and that will help determine the direction of the war. But when did the people loose so much power when it came to these big decisions? Why are we so cynical?

Then I saw the documentary The Corporation, which came about four years ago and seems even more relevant now as gas prices increase and recession seems inevitable. The end of the documentary focuses on how localized, grassroots democracy is successfully fighting big corporations in small communities.

Yet even when I think about Austin, I don't see the hippies and the weirdos making enough effort to fight off the big corporate powers. People just don't care enough. There were a few petitions to keep out the Domain, and they didn't stop anything. I wonder how long it will take for Austin to no longer be so weird.

I was talking to Heather last night before the Rilo Kiley show (which was incredible, really beyond words). The show was at Stubb's, one of Austin's most famous downtown venues on Red River. Red River has some of the best music venues in the city. Sure, it's run-down, but it's pure Austin and vital to local music scene. It has everything from country to metal to indie to punk. Plus, it's one of the main South by Southwest hotspots. The Red River scene makes Austin the Live Music Capital of the World. It's integral to the city's biggest tourist draw.

But the city has plans to tear down many of the venues on Red River between 6th and 12th in order to build a park. This park will pretty much cater to the wealthy who can afford to live in downtown lofts. The vibrant local music scene on Red River will have to relocate somewhere else. I don't doubt that Austin will loose the variety of music venues, but they probably won't relocate to one central location like Red River. I can't imagine downtown without the Mohawk, Red Eyed Fly and especially Stubb's.

Heather was saying that one of her friends is a local business owner, and he said that despite the surveys and public meetings, the city will do whatever it wants. And it wants a park there. It doesn't want run-down clubs and bars.

What happened to democracy and local action? What happened to the government being representative of the people? What happened to having a voice and making things change?

In some ways, this isn't a big deal. People aren't losing their homes. No one is being unjustly persecuted. Yet, the character of this city is in jeopardy, and I would think the hipsters and scenesters would care enough to do something. But they're probably pretty politically apathetic and didn't know of the city's plans. Even if they had known and somehow were motivated to take some action, I doubt it would have changed anything. The city is going to do what it wants.

My cynicism has taken over - I seriously doubt democracy really exists in this country. People don't care enough to take action, and the larger institutions - the government, the corporations - have gotten to much power as we've sunk into apathy.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Wrong Number, Buddy

Every few weeks, I get a call on my cell phone from someone in Philadelphia asking for a man named Bill. This man happens to be my ex-uncle.

I'm on a family plan with my aunt in Pennsylvania, and it was more cost effective for me to continue paying her $15 a month rather than get my own plan. The stipulation is that I keep a Philadelphia number. This isn't a problem because many of my friends in Austin have numbers from elsewhere.

However, it just so happens that the number I currently have was my uncle's before the divorce. My aunt was still paying for the extra line about a year after the split. When I moved in with her, she let me take the number, seeing as it was no extra expense to her.

But Ex-uncle Bill never updated several contacts with his new cell phone number. I get calls from his clients, old friends, doctors. I always politely say, "I'm sorry, he no longer has this number."

I've been tempted to find his new number and tell him I'm tired of getting his phone calls. But then considering the family dynamics that have developed since the divorce, I've decided against it. Somehow, it's sweet revenge knowing these people can't get a hold of him and it's what he deserves for not sharing his new number.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Car Damage

My car survived 16 months of Pennsylvania roads and Philly drivers without so much as a scratch. That includes surviving my first commutes in snow.

Then I moved to little Austin, Texas. Sure, the highways and feeder roads are (very) poorly planned, unable to support the city's rapid growth. Central Austin has an increasing population density, and there's just not enough space for all those cars.

But in comparison with urban areas in the Northeast, driving here is a total breeze. I can get anywhere in less than 20 minutes, and I spend the majority of my time in a 7 mile radius. It's not that hard to get around this city.

But in the last six months, my car has suffered:
  • A stolen stereo, which I have yet to replace. So there's a gaping hole in my dashboard. The stereo wasn't in great condition and I never got good radio reception, so in some ways, I think the joke is on them. However, I'm still not quite used to driving in silence.
  • A dent on the back passenger's side door, thanks to a dent-and-run by a tipsy asshole at Polvo's. (A very nice woman watched him do it and tried to get his license number, but he drove off too soon. Apparently, he got out of the car, surveyed the damage had a moment of moral crisis, and then drove off. Jerk.)
  • Most recently, a broken driver's side door handle. However, I blame this on years of use, rather than the city of Austin. My car just gets more and more pathetic. I'm now exiting on the passenger side. At least I can still open it on the outside...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Postmodern Christian: Not an oposition of terms

I don't usually blog about faith. It's sticky, especially at this time in my life when I've been questioning pretty much everything I believe and rejecting a lot of trappings of the evangelical subculture I was raised in.

I'm finally reading Brian McLaren's book A New Kind of Christian. It was published about eight years ago, and since 2001, it seems the emerging church has become fuller, more vibrant. Or maybe it's just come to my attention.

But I'm not going to get into the emerging church. Not today. This book is more about the paradigm shift from modernism to postmodernism. I spent half of my education (pre-college) in Christian schools and heard a lot about the importance of "a Christian worldview." I was warned of the dangerous relativism that was seeping into our society. I was told to be careful in college, that I might be tempted intellectually to leave my faith. I was told greater culture was dangerous and our sequestered Christian subculture was safer and better.

Then I went to Berry, where the secular and evangelical worlds collide in odd ways. I wasn't tempted intellectually, but I came to realize after four years of a solid yet secular education that I am postmodern. I can't help it. Despite my upbringing, I am ingrained in my culture and have a postmodern point-of-view. Or worldview. Take your pick of vocabulary.

So the past three years have been a battle over the question, "How do I reconcile my postmodern worldview to my faith?" This has led to a lot of doubt, frustration, anger, and resentment. I'm not out of this yet. There's a lot I'm still figuring out, but I know now that I'm not going to pretend I have a nice, neat list of answers. I'm struggling, wrestling, and finally, I'm trying earnestly to seek the truth.

Interestingly, the name of my church is Vox Veniae, which means Voice of Truth in Latin. The truth may not come in a systematic theology. That worked for the modernist church, but I'm beyond that. I don't want a system. We're deconstructing right now, but still trying to maintain something holistic, spiritual, and beautiful. And there's truth in it. I have a sense deep inside of me that despite my rejection of what I considered to be Christian and therefore true, I'm finding the real truth. It hasn't come through Bible study. It hasn't come through mission work. It hasn't come through traditional worship. Yet, it is more true and natural and right than anything I had been told in my Christian schools or Bible camps.

McLaren's book tells the story of a burnt-out pastor's search for the truth and his reconciliation with his faith - all within the context or a paradigm shift to postmodernism This is not something to fear. Evangelicals are afraid of the emerging church and postmodernism because of the deconstruction of everything they know and believe. But God is bigger, so much bigger. And he/she is moving in the midst of this transition and I want to be a part of that movement.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Stateside Vindication

I just found an article from Variety magazine about how the American version of The Office is winning over British fans. I feel this is a small victory because I've argued with a few people about the show. These people say the British version is much funnier - the American version just doesn't compare. I disagree.

First of all, these people seem to be obnoxious Anglophiles who use British words around to show how "cultured" they are. Or they're pretentious psuedo-intellectuals who pride themselves on their appreciation of the fringes of pop culture. How could someone like something as mainstream as an NBC show?

I will admit, Season 1's mere six episodes do mirror the British series, but the writers are smart and created scenarios that only enhanced the excellent ensemble cast. The British series never revealed the comic mishaps of more minor characters, instead focusing mostly on the boss and the Dawn/Tim relationship. It was short-lived, so who knows what would have happened had the show lasted another season or two.

Even though the American show has plateaued in Seasons 3 and 4, I can see why British audiences would find it funny - it is funny. Plus, I've come to really care about the characters. The writers are very clever, and Steve Carrell is good in just about every episode without overpowering the ensemble. I would venture to say it's an even better ensemble than (gasp!) America's beloved Friends.

I think NBC's other Thursday night gem, 30 Rock, is turning out to be the better comedy, with all the farce and parody, and Flight of the Concords may just beat both as the best comedy on television. But The Office is still may favorite, maybe out sentimentality. The season finale was great. It met the gold standard set by Emmy-winning Season 2.

The American show has incorporated the British show's awkward comedic genius while becoming distinctively American. So don't tell me the British version is better. Two different shows, two different countries. I'm fan either way, and I'm glad to see British people are, too.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

One Sticker I Wouldn't Put on My Car

When I started my series on interesting Austin bumper stickers, I figured, sooner or later, I'd notice one that I would not put on my car. I've been in and out of Austin for most of May, spending some time in San Francisco (a liberal's paradise). But I just got back from a family vacation on Florida's Gulf Coast, which is red country, through and through.

I take certain things for granted living here, and once I'm thrown back into the Deep South or just the rest of Texas (I spent a few days in Houston this month, too), I'm almost shocked by general opinion. Fox News is a legitimate news source? Wait, people still think Bush is a good president?

Honestly, I'm not very political. I'm not as opinionated as my mostly Republican family, and at times, I find the extreme left just as ridiculous as the right. As is the case with this bumper sticker:At the suggestion that we kill off people with differing political opinions, I only become more apathetic.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Peacemongering in Traffic

While stuck in traffic on Riverside (why construction on a Friday afternoon? Really, TXDOT, really. Can't you come up with a better time?) I was behind an SUV with both of these bumper stickers:

Interestingly, this gas-guzzler also had stickers for the Longhorns and Dallas Cowboys. Who says football fans can't also be proponents of peace? Suck that, Fox News.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Very Austin Bumper Stickers

Just about every day, I see an amusing bumper sticker. Most are political or typical of progressive Austinites (who are well represented by this blog). So I thought when I found a bumper sticker that particularly sums up Austin, I'd share it here.

Today's entry:

Friday, April 18, 2008

New Food Blogs

I've added a new blog: The Culinary Purveyors of Austin, sharing the good news of good food to the city of Austin. I've wanted to try my hand at writing as a food critic, and I'd like to write for local publication. I figured a blog was a good way to get some initial experience, though without the sexy intrigue of printed clips.

It is primarily focused on Austin-area restaurants and eateries - no chains or franchises outside the city. I'm keepin it weird and local. I also want contributors, so if you're an Austinite with good taste, let me know and I'll consider adding you. Non-Austinite friends, if you ever decide to visit me, feel free to use this as resource.

Let the eating begin!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Realizations of Significance

I have made some significant realizations in the last week that are the results of sub-concious shifts in thinking, new paradigms if you will. They may seem trivial and superficial, but I assure you, dear readers, they point to larger issues in my life.

  1. Houston is not a bad city, and it is much easier to drive there than I thought.
  2. Berry's Alumni magazine is clearly focused on a demographic of conservative, conventional Atlanta yuppies.
  3. I do not like American Apparel's clothes.

Now to explain the significance of these realizations:
  1. While I have no desire to live in Houston and feel much more at home in Austin, driving there is surprisingly easy. Perhaps this is because I'm more comfortable as an urban driver. After successfully tackling two drives through Houston, I now have a change in my mental outlook on driving in general, bringing a better sense of well-being to my life. I.e, very significant.

  2. My alma mater wants money, and as much as I love Berry College, I don't give a shit about the Cage Center. I didn't when I went there, and I certainly don't now. That magazine is not meant to tell us alumni about what our fellow alumni are up to. No, no. It has that appearance, but it is all attempt to get us to give money. And who's the most likely of Berry graduates to give money? Conventional, conservative Atlanta yuppies. Significant? You bet. My school only sees me as a dollar sign. I will say, however, the cover story about the doctor in New Orleans was interesting.

  3. I'm sick of hipsters and their clothes. American Apparel clothing is boring, overpriced, and overrated, and I don't understand why hipsters who work in coffee shops would spend what little money they have on those clothes. Granted I can applaud the use of fair labor. That's great. Wonderful. But what about the moral inconsistencies regarding the CEO? Sexual harassment, anyone? I don't think I can justify $25 on a t-shirt, especially when the head of the company is asshole. If only there were more fair trade clothing options that were stylish...
For more on the American Apparel controversy and lawsuits, check out knowmore.org for a full report.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

SXSW Film recap

Here's another attempt at being a film critic. All these films are typical of the festival's indie selections, although these have the distinction of being my favorites. I saw a few others, but they're not worth mentioning.

Otis - A campy horror movie that’s really a political statement, Otis tells the story of a lovable loser who tries to relive the past by abducting teenage girls and torturing them. That is, until one family decides to avenge their daughter and bypass the justice system. Sound funny? It’s hilarious.

Run, Fatboy, Run - This delightful, if predictable, British romantic comedy is already in theaters. It may not be worth full admission price, but if you can’t find a better Saturday night date movie, I’d recommend it. It’s cute in an understated British way and noteworthy as David Schwimmer’s directorial debut.

Medicine for Melancholy - A one-night stand becomes something a little more when two indie kids spend the day together exploring San Francisco. The catch is that they’re black and dealing with the complicated issues of urban life, with the issue of gentrification acting as a backdrop. This is a very pretty film, and San Francisco acts as more than a setting and becomes a third character.

In a Dream - Isaiah Zagar is a mosaic artist in Philadelphia, and his work is featured on buildings throughout the city, particularly on the famous South Street. A documentary directed by Zagar’s son, In a Dream creates an intimate portrait of the artist and his complicated family relationships with. His colorful work helps to make the film beautiful and ethereal. This was the winner of the SXSW Audience Award.

Dear Zachary - This film started as a personal project for filmmaker Kurt Kuenne after his best friend, Andrew Bagby, was murdered. He went around the country interviewing Andrew’s grieving friends and family. Until events took a shocking twist - Andrew’s murderer and ex-girlfriend was pregnant. Kurt then decided to make the film for Zachary, the baby, as a way for him to know his father. But more twists, including a custody battle between Zachary’s mother and grandparents, send the film into new directions. This film is incredibly moving - most people in the theater were weeping by the end, myself included.

Some Assembly Required - Yet another documentary, this one has a lighter subject. It follows teams of middle schoolers as they compete in the National Toy Competition. What’s most fascinating about this film is how the kids grow and become more self-confident throughout their journey to the national competition. Early adolescence is of course awkward, but it’s great to see a film that encourages their strengths - creativity, ingenuity, and belief in the impossible.

I also saw Jesus Camp last week, and hopefully I will have some reactions and comments on that film ready to post within the week. All I will say for now is that it was quite thought-provoking, although not as as "shocking" as the liberal made it out to be.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Small Victory for Art

Sadly, this clip of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova accepting their Oscar was taken down from YouTube. It was a beautiful moment.

I cried when I saw this:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cute, Nice Girls

I'm fed up with being cute: I want to be taken seriously.

I was telling Kevin (my boy of significance, though not quite my boyfriend yet) that it seems that young women, especially attractive, polite ones, are viewed as "nice, cute girls" and therefore not taken seriously. It's as if we (yes, "we" because I very much fit into the category of females mentioned above) waiver between status as a passive doormat or an overly aggressive bitch.

I want to be somewhere in between. i want to be seen as a human being and sometimes, I want to be legitimately angry and assertive in order to fix a wrong. I will not apologize if that makes me a bitch.

It can be more subtle, though. In my professional experience, I saw the spectrum. Some people in my office would take me very seriously, even with my embroidered owl skirts and large, ethnic-looking earrings. It would be too simplistic to say it was only men who viewed me as "some nice, cute girl" and therefore didn't treat me as a professional equal. Sometimes, older women were the worst at patronizing younger women in a professional setting.

Honestly, though, I felt I was treated well by co-workers. My work was valued, I was respected. I have good references now to prove it.

It's unfortunate that wardrobe and appearance can dictate the way people treat you, especially if you're a "nice, cute girl." I tried to dress modestly in the office and wore a lot of Ann Taylor clothes. This helped, I think. But I've mentioned the large earrings and the owl skirt. I wonder if clothing will always have such an impact on the way women are respected and treated.

I have nothing against being a polite, genuinely kind person. Emphasis on the word "person." Not "girl." I try to treat people with dignity, respect, and kindness. That's all I want in return. So often young women don't receive all three and settle for latter: kindness, or it's shallow sister, niceness.

But I'm done with it: I'm done being "cute" and "nice." If it makes me a bitch, fine. I'd rather have more genuine relationships built on honesty and respect.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Morally ambiguous coffee

Most days, I'm happy to be a 21st century American woman, thanks to my relative freedom and equal status. Then I come across shit like this, and I wonder if feminism has accomplished anything. Maybe we should burn our bras again. At least we'll get some attention.

What further disgusts me about Latte Dolls is that it advertises as having certified fair trade coffee. I guess any business around here can be legitimized by appealing to progressive yuppy politics. I hate to see fair trade used merely as a pawn to get people who don't regard themselves as consumers to become just that - consumers (of both coffee and degrading raunch).

Just because the farmers are paid fairly (and I suppose the 'dolls' who work there are compensated well, too) doesn't mean this is okay. But there are plenty of coffee alternative about town, and I won't waste my time staging a boycott. I just wish women would say no to such jobs and people would take their business to places that are truly progressive - places that treat women as people rather than sex objects.

In the mean time, I'll continue to get my fair trade coffee where the barristas are fully clothed.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Music Year-in-Review, continued

After getting several responses to my Top 10 Indie Albums list, I've listened to a few good albums from 2007. I'll have to listen to them more thoroughly and write up some reviews, but all of these are worthy of my list:

Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
The National - Boxer
The Once Soundtrack
Radiohead - In Rainbows
Sigur Ros - Hvarf/Heim

I still haven't heard the latest efforts from the New Pornographers, Beirut, or Josh Ritter. Consider this an on-going conversation, until 2008 brings in more new releases...

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Deconstructing the Hillary Hate

Yesterday afternoon, I heard this story about the New Hampshire primary on NPR's All Things Considered.

What struck me was not Obama's humor but Clinton's personal response. The amazing thing about radio is that people are left only to their audible voices - there isn't as much to distract the listener. I find I actually think about the news when I listen to NPR, I soak it in rather than just consuming it. And when I heard Hillary respond in such a seeming genuine way, I thought, "She really believes in this. She really believes in what she's doing."

Either she is genuine and truly believes what she expressed, or she's a damn good actor. I know a lot of people who would believe the latter, and no matter how she comes across, they cannot believe her to be genuine in anything she says.

But why am I so surprised and, strangely, touched by her genuine, human response? Did I need her to become human?

Why is it that she, as a woman, needs a more feminine touch? And is that related to why so many people, especially ardent conservatives who hold strong gender biases, hate her so much?

Is America ready for a woman as president?

First, the easy part. Yes, I think conservatives hate her because she's a woman. She's playing a man's game, and she's playing it very well. She's threatening, she could win. They claim they don't hate her just because she's a woman, but because she's a conniving politician who's only interested in power.

If that's the case, why does she elicit so much hate when male politicians have been doing the same thing for the entirity of this country's history? Because good politicians have to embody stereotypical male dominance, and a lot of people, especially in conservative circles, don't want a bitch (read - a woman with dominance) running their country. We have not come nearly as far as I thought.

However, I believe what she is doing is incredibly significant. As a girl, I always wanted to see a woman as president, but by the time I was in high school, I had nearly given up on the notion. Once in college, I though it would never happen in my lifetime.

But here she is, with the good and the bad, doing well despite the Iowa set back. She has a chance, a strong one, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that excited me. I can't hate her, even if I disagree with her (and to an extent, I'm not sure how much I disagree with her).

But being back in Georgia made me realize that there are a lot of minds that won't change, and a lot of people who don't believe her when she's being human. That's why the sound byte is significant: She convinced me for the first time because she was displaying feminine characteristics of vulnerability and sensitivity. I want a leader who admits his or her feelings from time-to-time. Politics needs to embrace the feminine, and maybe this country could actually get better if it were less about dominance and more about the greater good.

Still, I have to wonder why am I so relieved that Hillary finally became feminine. Why is it that I need her to be more "like a woman"? This is the not-so-easy part. It somehow legitimizes her candidacy, and I realize I have been swayed by the Stop Her Now rhetoric. I have been supporting Obama because I thought he'd be less hated and more likely to win. I knew the Hillary haters would never be won over, and now more than ever, I believe that's because she's the type of woman that she is. It has nothing to do with her politics.

Her expression of emotion, concern, and vulnerability have re-painted her as a candidate for me. I'm sorry to admit that's what it took, but at the same time, I believe her. I believe that she wants to make this country a better place and ensure the opportunities America promises are available to as many people as possible - male or female. She embodies that possibility, even if she isn't as soft around the edges as people would like.

I don't think she'd do a bad job, either. She can't do any worse than our current president, right?