31 August 2008

Palin, children, and the man upstairs

I was chatting about the recent political events with a lovely member of my family yesterday who largely sits on the other side of the ideological fence and, like me, has lived and worked with Catholics for many many years, so, like me, has a realistic, respectful, and sometimes (politely) sardonic view of various religious backgrounds. We wondered aloud to each other what religion Palin is--which variety of Christian?

We pondered (without doing research), based largely on the children factor. Basically the number of children she has spread out over the number of years, plus her stand on abortion, means Catholicism is in the picture. Except that Catholics tend not to proselytize in this way--they know they are right, so why bother trying to convince others? There's a respect for other beliefs with most Catholics, and the aborted babies are innocents, so they get to heaven (I think limbo has been eliminated recently? different dinner conversation from the other night...) and while they see abortion as wrong/murder, the Catholics tend to take the long-term view that includes the afterlife that, well, they also believe in.

upon reading the post about Down Syndrome over at FFB this morning, I did a quick search on Palin's religion to find that others had also been musing on this. Seems she was baptized Catholic (ding!) and now attends a 'non-denominational Bible church'. Link

All of this is intriguing. But perhaps the most intriguing part of this is the level of religion discourse in both campaigns. Some places claim it's been high, but I didn't sense much at the Dem's convention, and since the blow-ups about the ministers/spiritual advisers to each of the candidates earlier in the campaign, there hasn't been much with the God going on. Or I should say, the candidates seem not to be talking about their faith as they did (were forced to) in earlier campaigns. My British colleague, who was watching the Obama speech live (at 3 am) with me over video iChat (I heart Apple), asked mid-way through: where's the God? Has America changed? Or is it just a moment where that's not what we talk about--politics is okay, religion and money still taboo...thoughts?

30 August 2008

The Reality Show

Is this not completely cool? First we have 10 days of Olympics, covered quite well I thought by NBC. I found their coverage interesting, not too cloying, only very slightly off-topic some of the time, and in general quite good. The diving commentator Cynthia Potter was great--as a teacher, she just nailed it. We learned a lot about diving, a good dive, and how the judges were scoring such that we could spot things we'd never noticed before by the end of the competition. Tim Daggett for gymnastics was not quite as good on the teaching bit as Cynthia--I really wanted him to narrate a bit in the floor, like they do for the ice skating--in this next pass she'll try the triple, but she fell in practice--that sort of thing. He was strident in his assertion about the bias of the judges, which got him some bad bloggy press, but I found his commentary helpful, insightful, and in the end if you're watching US coverage of the olympics, you've signed on for a bit of jingoism my friends. And the beach volleyball was fabulous to watch, particularly the after-match interviews with the Americans May and Walsh--Kerri Walsh is about as type-A as you can get and she just makes you want to get out there and do something great! Great! GREAT!

I also thought the China culture segments were interesting (if at times a wee bit stereotypical--calligraphy, kites, kung fu, and fried scorpion??) but I was happily surprised by the rhetoric of 'we heart China' coming out of the NBC studios and various athletes paying tribute to China's hospitality.

Bottom line: Well done. Fun, watchable reality TV.

Followed by fun watchable reality TV II: the Democrats in Denver!

A caveat here--we are still reentering the US and so the cable news channels are the danger zone. Indeed, news of any kind here, aside from that gleaned from international sources, is a recipe for hyperventilation and hiding under the bed. So the first night we watched CNN's coverage which was farcical to the point of trying to beat the Daily Show at its own game. I suppose that's why the Daily Show is so good. I just don't want to know how close it is to those stations that claim to be delivering 'real' news.

Day two we discovered MSNBC. I heart Rachel Maddow. This was the first time I'd seen her at all--I had to look up her name on-line (they assume we already know everyone? where did the space for labeling the talking heads go?) but I just thought she was on the button in every one of her responses, rarely providing canned soundbite analysis and always showing us a different way to look at what had just happened. We'll see if she can carry her own show, but so far count me impressed. And let me add here: thank your chosen goddess that she doesn't look like the typical newswoman. I know that looks don't tell us what's inside the ol' brain, sure. But coming back to the US it's completely bizarre how many barbie dolls there are delivering 'serious news' with $400/tube lipstick next to aging 'distinguished' men (who, like their cohosts have also had botox, but that's another issue).

Either sex up the men or get some more intelligent women. Go Maddox go!

Up next: fun watchable reality TV III! GOP in MSP--our Return of the Jedi. Hm. who are the ewoks in this scenario?

21 August 2008

a little moment of hedge-filled zen

Not much time to post this last week. we are 'borrowing' wireless from a lovely unknown neighbor who has their network open. bless you bless you dlink person! So a quick post from me, with a picture from the garden at the Olympics in Beijing. Tea + Shrubbery + Fabulous =

How do they get it to steam??

15 August 2008

In-transit: Books Read in Limbo

I'm still working through Moby Dick, about which I can currently say the following:
  • It turns out that this Melville guy writes extremely well. Fascinating.
  • Moby Dick is a laugh riot. Seriously. LOL.
More on Ishmael later.

But as I work through the dense and rewarding Moby Dick (I must be weird because I really like the chapters where he narrates encyclopedia entries--oo! Cuvier! Love it!) I am reading other things along the way. Plane flights and the seven-hour-long wait for the movers (no joke) helped in this. (I would be blogging about that but I'm not yet in a place to do so. Grr.)

Submarine by Joe Dunthorne
I would not have found this book were it not for my friendship in Swansea with the author's parents, and I'm glad that they told me about it because it's a wonderful read, tightly written, and perfectly captures what living in Swansea near the Gower feels like. The protagonist is a mid-teen boy who psychoanalyses his parents and is worried they are headed for divorce (he attempts to take action to avert this in his own hilarious and awkward way). Meanwhile his own life is taking new directions, as it does in the mid-teen years. To call it a coming of age novel would be to over-genrefy it (not a word) and therefore to miss the subtlety, cynicism, and wit that Dunthorne puts into the character and his parents. Featuring Rhossili and Llangennith, as well as Walter Road and other locales, so for Swanseaites, or those who for some reason (!) visited Swansea and also read this blog (why would that be?) a good read. [side note: Joe's mother was careful to point out that the novel is not (NOT!) autobiographical.]

A Dog Year by Jon Katz
Our old friends from F'burg, now living in DC (well, MD, but close enough), with whom we would trade dog-sitting duties and walks to the dog park, recommended this one, not because it is high literature but because it fundamentally gets the relationship we have with our dog and they had with theirs (Molly, sadly, passed on to glory two years ago). They also gave it to their vet when she failed in every way to get that relationship as they were making the difficult decision to put Molly down. A great plane read. Takes about an hour, and if you love dogs, this is it. Bonus: may explain a lot about the authors of this blog to those who do not get dog people.

Zodiac by Neal Stephenson
We picked this up on our recent trip to bookstoreville (aka PDX), where the used selection and the manageable store size at the Hawthorne Powells can't really be beat. Stephenson writes well--his Snow Crash rocked. This one is less good, but is interesting on a number of levels. Writing is still tight. The main character is a bit of an ass, but not so much that you hate him, so that works. And it's written in a particular moment in the history of the US environmental movement (mid/late 80s) when ecowarrior didn't mean an SUV-driving mountain-climbing organic-food-buying consumer but meant, well, a warrior who fought for enviro causes (I'm not angry, I'm just sayin'). Post-hippie, but still enough of that to give the book flavor. Set in Boston and featuring evil corporations, debates over whether simply exposing them does any good at all, and a thriller-type storyline that's pretty fun to follow. Bonus: protagonist is a chemist! cool! After you've read it we can discuss the rest of my review--no spoilers...

There may be more but I can't remember them at this stage (not a good sign). Three for now is enough. Back to the high seas and the search for the great white one...

12 August 2008


Culture shock comes in various forms and often in successive waves--you think you're good and then you go somewhere and chat with people and you realise: actually, no. this is in fact a completely alien place to me.

We have returned from a week-ish trip to Portland and I can report that Portland is full of Portland people, which makes it a bit odd. What I mean by this is that Portland is one of the strongholds of lefter-than-thou left-leaning lefty folks, which makes me love visiting there on the one hand. Everyone is granola. Everyone rides their bikes everywhere. Of course you compost. Of course you use the fabulous lightrail and transport infrastructure the city has developed. Wrth gwrs. Natürlich. And, of course you support Obama.

We saw NO McCain signs anywhere in Portland or Vancouver WA during our trip. Perhaps it's because this isn't the route his campaign is going, but it was striking. More striking was the canvassing for money we ran into on the street. And this worries me a bit because news outlets are talking about Obama fatigue, which I didn't quite get having spent the primary season in the UK and now being in DC where while Obama is big, there are many Republicans here (weird, no?). It's a bit more balanced inside the beltway (although still out-of-whack in its own way) than the PDX crowd. Having visiting Portland I totally 'get' Obama fatigue.

The DNC folks on the streets of Portland assumed that *of course* you are an Obama supporter, and what's more, of course you've already given to his campaign. I worry that in talking to themselves so much and patting themselves on the back so much the Democrats in coastal cities like Portland will lay back and think they have it won at worst and at best repeat the cultural and political mistake of dismissing everyone in the 'fly-over' 'red' states in the middle, which are neither fly-over (direct coastal flights are expensive and rare these days) nor truly and fully red. Ignoring or dismissing the middle of the country glibly will not win you any friends and will alienate many many people. Like all those folks in the middle.

I find this insulting and arrogant and elitist, exactly the things that lose Dems the elections. I found myself--someone that finds little space for my semi-socialist leanings in the US political spectrum--I found myself sympathising with the Republicans and wishing I could enter into a debate with these folks in which *I took the conservative side*. Because they were so smug and settled.

Final and important note: another disturbing trend among these canvassers is the DNC-v-Obama rhetoric they are employing. The two fund raising entities are separate. Fine. But the DNC is doing itself no favours by whining that Obama's excellent fundraising machine is leaving them in the cold. Especially since the impression at the upper levels is that Obama is working well with the DNC (e.g. he didn't reconstitute the party leadership when he certainly could have). So I found it very problematic that one of the lines of argument the DNC fundraisers were giving us is a clear distanciation between DNC and Obama, something that I don't think serves either very well.

As a worrier, I worry. And visiting Dem-happy PDX only deepened that worry. Reassurances? Anyone?

03 August 2008

Anyone Remember the Cardassian Legal System?

It looks to me like Cardassia was the model here. Thus, to make this work, all that is required is for the Sisko to show up to defend anybody who is innocent. 

01 August 2008

Urban Not-so-Hipster on cities...

No. 3 over at FFB points us today to a fascinating article about demographic inversion in US (and to a certain extent global) cities. As a student of the urban in part of my academic life, and a lover of analyses of urban space I recommend reading it--it's very interesting. Some comments to add to those already noted by rhif tri:

Always slightly missing from the discussion about downtown-versus-suburb/exurb/whateverurb is that, er, lots of people live in very small cities, largeish towns, and straight up rural areas. There's a myopia involved in the discussion of where you might want to live in a city, or where people choose to live that assumes to a large extent that we're all talking about the same major cities in the same major Euro-American countries. The article includes Charlotte NC, which is great, but mostly it's about the larger places.

One of the biggest changes for us moving from a series of these smaller towns (Fredericksburg VA, Redlands CA, State College PA, Swansea UK) to the city for the first time since graduate school is transportation. Not the car, mind--you're dependent on that in most cities in the US and our interlude in Swansea was lovely for lack of dependence on a vehicle despite it being a smaller city/bigger town. I'm talking of airports. For all the carbon neutral, rising costs, security line nightmares of today's airline travel, sometimes you still have to do it. And this is the first time since MSP that we've lived within 25 minutes' drive of a major airport.

Fredericksburg: hellish hour and a half drive to DCA on I-95 (about the same by train/metro but then you add in the lead times for getting there based on the infrequent transit schedule), 2-3 hours hard driving to IAD, hour and a half easyish drive to RIC.

Redlands: 45 minutes to ONT, if you timed it right. 2ish hours to LAX.

State College: 15 minutes to SCE! Where you then have the privilege (for crazy amounts of money) of flying a bus-sized propeller plane to IAD's Terminal G (if you've been there you know what I'm talking about) or Cincinnati. Enjoy. 3 hours to BWI, PIT, or PHL.

Swansea: 1+ hours' drive to CWL, near impossible to reach by public transport. 2ish hours to BRS (2.5 by public transport, which involved 2 trains and a bus). 3.5 hours to LHR, 4ish hours by train, or 5 hours by bus. Don't even talk about LGW.

So the quick drive or relatively easy public transport trek to BWI is looking great to us. And when I booked a ticket this week to visit PDX from DCA at the last minute, I was astonished at how little work I had to do. I found the ticket, booked it, then found a place to board Luke, booked that, and looked around. There must be something else I have to do, right? What am I forgetting? Oh yeah--I don't have to research train times to the airport or book tickets to get there or worry about my flight being 2 hours late and nullifying my train tickets--I just get on the metro and head to DCA. Should take about 25 minutes from my front door. Cool. And then on the other end, the family that's meeting us has about a 15-20 minute drive to PDX. And if they had the money to participate in the inversion and live in Portland, we could take public transport to get to them. The livin' really is easy.