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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Late-season garden

I pulled these stumpy carrots out of the garden yesterday. They're a bit ugly, but they taste pretty good in the vegetable soup I made last night. (Chopping them up was so much more satisfying with the snazzy new knife I got from Hill's Kitchen. What had previously felt like a confrontation with recalcitrant vegetables now seems more like a mutual agreement that they'd be much tastier chopped up in the soup.)

Something else I pulled from the garden yesterday: this huge squash that was plotting world domination while hidden under the leaves.

There are a good number of green tomatoes lingering on the plants, but there's only been one ripe one in the last few weeks. With any luck, we'll get a spurt of warm weather to persuade them.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Singled out

There's this lady I see every week or two on my ride home from work, always somewhere within about 4 or 5 blocks of the Giant store in Shaw. I suspect she's schizophrenic, or otherwise mentally ill in some way, because she is always delivering a monologue to no one in particular, speaking loudly (but not yelling) as she walks. I can only hear a few phrases as I ride past, but her monologues seem to focus on power relationships -- she is always telling unseen conversation partners how a boss, a political entity or an institution is screwing them over without their knowledge.

Today as I rolled up to a red light, I recognized her voice and cadence, and looked at her walking down the sidewalk.  She looked at me as she continued, "...who was fired for testifying to Congress against THIS MAN'S [stabbing hand in my direction] boss."  She kept walking past me, and the light changed, so I didn't really catch much more. There wasn't anyone else there to hear the accusation, but I felt weird for a moment anyway.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Reporting the Crisis

In the last few weeks, as the financial crisis has unfolded, the narratives in New York and DC have been fast-moving and often opaque to outsiders. My main sources of news are the websites of the New York Times and the Washington Post, and flipping back and forth between them over this period, there has frequently been a startling difference in how events are being portrayed as one's reportage follows the story just a bit closer than the other.

It's my observation that the Times has generally been the one out front. For instance, two Sundays ago when Lehman Brothers was swirling down the toilet and Merrill Lynch being swallowed by BofA, the Times carried an article about tense negotiations and looming danger under a banner headline. The Post, I recall, had an article somewhere down the front page that was much more vague and did not convey the same sense of urgency. It's not that the Post was really that far behind, but things have been moving so fast that any lag means you can be telling a very different story. This dynamic seemed to continue even as the story moved onto their home turf in Washington, with the Times breaking the news of the collapse of the deal on Thursday well before the Post.

However, the Post has shown they have great sources in DC with a fascinating article today on how the negotiations played out when the presidential candidates were in town. The last page has some amazing details...

Dear Science,

The new TV on the Radio album, Dear Science, is spectacular. I'm totally hooked.

Here's a video for Dancing Choose:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

The National - Mistaken For Strangers
RJD2 - Since '76
The Thermals - Returning to the Fold
My Morning Jacket - Strangulation
Panda Bear - Take Pills
Neutral Milk Hotel - Communist Daughter
Peter Bjorn and John - Objects of My Affection

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


we're special
in other ways
ways our
mothers appreciate

I saw Built to Spill last night, on their tour performing Perfect From Now On. It was great to hear them play that album, which has always been way up on my list. I thought that "I Would Hurt a Fly" gained the most from a live performance. Upon finishing the album, they also launched directly into a stellar version of "Goin' Against Your Mind," spiked with a couple explicitly political tweaks to the lyrics. (Also explicitly political: the Aussie first opening band ripping apart a cardboard cutout of George Bush onstage during the Meat Puppets' set.)

I rode my bike down there to meet Stephen and Laura, and the ride back reminded me that a bicycle is most definitely the ideal way to return home from a concert...limber up standing-stiffened legs, feel the brisk night air, and enjoy the quiet, which is slightly enhanced by muffled hearing...

Saturday, September 20, 2008


As seen from my desk on Friday -- he rappelled down, suction-cupped on with a thunk.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


A few mostly unrelated points:
  • The weather is suddenly fall-like in DC.  Biking to work at 58 degrees is an amazing thing.

  • I was riding behind a slow-moving car today when a squirrel ran in front of it.  The driver stopped, lightly beeped his horn twice, and proceeded when the had squirrel moved.  This struck me as a particularly urban response to the situation.

  • All these news stories about financial turmoil have to settle for such poor visual approximations, since what's actually going on is invisible, just numbers in ledgers.  You can roll footage of bedraggled people carrying their stuff out of the Lehman Brothers offices, but it's not the same as boats washed up on the freeway by Ike.  The intangible and incomprehensible nature of it only makes it more frustrating for us, of course.

  • Slogan of the American International Group (AIG): "The Strength to Be There."  Seriously.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bike credit

I went to Bethlehem, PA this weekend for Lauren and Adam's wedding. The wedding was fun, and Bethlehem was unexpectedly interesting.

Among the mail I sorted through upon returning today was this intriguing item:

It's from a local credit union. Bank loans for bicycles is a new one on me. A quick Google did turn up at least one other credit union offering bike financing in the mold of car loans (in Portland, naturally).

I have mixed feelings about this, for fairly obvious reasons. On the plus side, it's indicative of bicycles being taken more seriously as a means of transportation and a reasonable thing to spend your money on. It might help a few people get a good bike, or avoid carrying it at a higher interest rate on their credit card. (This particular offer is for up to $2,500.) But on the other hand, isn't the beauty of a bicycle that you don't have to take out a loan to get one? I spent a fair bit on mine, but you can get a perfectly functional bike for not very much money at all, then maybe trade up once you can afford something better. And goodness knows we don't need any more ways to create consumer debt...

(Also, does anyone else have a visceral ick reaction to ads with photos of smiling people fanning out cash?)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pete's New Haven Style Apizza

A while back I noticed that a new pizza place had opened by the Columbia Heights Metro stop -- Pete's New Haven Style Apizza. This caught my eye, since I'm from the, um, Greater New Haven area. And it's true that the region has good pizza. (I only realized this after leaving for Minnesota and discovering that much of the pizza there, while perhaps meeting the strict legal definition pizza, generally bares little resemblance to a proper pie.)

I finally went over to try it out last night. I somewhat smarmily told the cashier that I was from the New Haven area and was interested to see if it could live up to my memories...she turned out to be one of the co-owners, and came over to talk to me after I got my slices. We chatted briefly about the poor quality of native DC "Jumbo Slice" pizza (but better than MN, I must say). She and her husband lived in New Haven for a number of years, so they have some claim to the title.

As for the pizza: It's pretty good, though calling it "New Haven Style" is always going to lead to arguments about what that actually means. Personally, I was picturing Pepe's and Sally's, the two iconic New Haven places. The co-owner said that they weren't going for that at all, and their favorite place is in East Haven. In any case, the sauce was the aspect that was most on the mark as far as what I know from CT -- not very much of it, but flavorful because it's less processed than what you usually get. The cheese and toppings (sausage, pepper, onions, some other stuff I can't remember) were good, though I think the cheese is usually browned a bit more in CT. The crust tasted good, especially compared to the many pizza crusts that are merely cheese platforms with no identity of their own, but Pete's was chewier than I like it.

So, good overall, I think I'll stop in for a slice from time to time. And they get major props for being one of the few counter service places to ever give me a glass (as opposed to a disposable cup) for tap water...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Little houses hit the big time

A while back, I wrote about how infatuated I was with the idea of the tiny houses made by the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. I had heard about them in a New York Times article a couple years back, but they've gone and written another one, this time assessing if the cultural moment of the tiny house has arrived. People are certainly interested in one way or another, as it's on the most-emailed list.

(Weird side-note: The article references the book “Little House on a Small Planet (Lyons Press, 2006)." Lyons, of course, is my last name. Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press, is based in Guilford, CT...which is my hometown. Sadly, I have nothing to do with the Press, and am not heir to a publishing fortune. But it seems like they should have some sort of obligation to publish my Great American Novel.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Like or As

I've often grumbled to myself that talking about metaphors vs. similes is not a distinction worth making -- a simile is just a metaphor where the comparison is made slightly more explicit by the presence of "like" or "as." But this sentence in a New York Times article about Maurice Sendak drives home the difference in how they can hit you:
Mr. Sendak, a square-shaped gnome, was sitting in the dining room of his Connecticut retreat.

The normal, newspaperly way to deliver that bit of color would be to say, "Mr. Sendak, looking like a square-shaped gnome, was sitting..." Okay, it's sort of an unusual line anyway, but it's a lot more striking without the "like."

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Marketing versus happiness

A good post from No Impact Man:

"Most people," [Seth Godin] wrote, "have a better standard of living today than Louis XIV did in his day. So why are so many people unhappy?"

He said that what makes people unhappy is not what they have but what they want. And that the job of companies is to create want for their products.

Therefore, Seth wrote, "Marketers trying to grow market share will always work to make their non-customers unhappy."
What makes people happy, Arthur Brooks, author of Gross National Happiness, reminded me the other day, is a sense of transcendent meaning, success in living our lives in accord with our values, and a sense of control of our destinies. Marketing often depends on convincing people they don't have these things and then tricking them into thinking that the product on offer will somehow provide them.

I would add that this becomes especially insidious in an age when marketing is less and less about convincing you of the objective advantages of one product over another (Axe Body Spray reduces odor by 71%!) and more about connecting the product to your self-image or identity (Axe Body Spray makes you irresistible to women!). With so many companies trying to get us to buy stuff, it adds up to a constant barrage of messages that we are not as happy/successful/respected as we could or should be. And those efforts get more sophisticated all the time, with marketing going way beyond 30-second ads and billboards into all sorts of electronic and social media. Once marketers figure out the intricacies of how to use the way our brains work to very efficiently influence our opinions and decisions, the effect of marketing in framing our perceptions will be even stronger.

I'm not sure what it would take for us to break out of this. No Impact Man envisions commerce remade around providing "the meaning, success and control to people instead of selling them material proxies. What if business actually tried improve life on this planet and make a profit doing it?" This may be feasible to some extent, but it would require huge changes in what consumers demand from companies. Some consumers, mostly upscale ones, do seem to be getting more sophisticated about their relationships with companies...ironically, this usually takes the form of them wanting the company's identity to comport with or reinforce their own identity (e.g. seeking out companies that have a "green" philosophy, or local businesses where they can know the owner personnally). I'm not sure if this can lead to what No Impact Man wishes for, but maybe...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Elvis Costello - Beyond Belief
> Death Cab for Cutie - Song for Kelly Huckaby [mp3]
> Gillian Welch - Revelator [mp3]
> Love-Cars - Lovesick Sigh
> Super Furry Animals - If You Don't Want Me to Destroy You [YouTube]
> Supersystem - Miracle

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Happy birthday to the both of us

It was my birthday last week, and I celebrated in NYC with Nina and Shane -- Nina is one day younger than me, so we covered both of our birthdays in the course of the night. Here's the Triborough Bridge, as grainily seen by my phone from the rooftop in Queens where we went to a BBQ with Alex:

I visited my parents in CT for a couple days, which was very nice. (Upon my arrival, my mother said "Tomorrow, if you're around for lunch, we can make sandwiches. (See earlier post.) She made carrot cake, which I will take over a sandwich any day.

I also remembered that I forgot my blog's birthday. Since August 11, 2005, I have posted 450 times (including this one), which comes out to about one post every two and a half days. Doesn't seem like I've posted that much, but that's what it averages out to...