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Saturday, January 31, 2009

When Right Is Wrong And Simple Gets Complicated

(This was mentioned in an email by my buddy Shirley as a possible topic to explore here at the Dept., and when it came up in the comments section on my other blog, I thought it deserved discussion.)

Have you ever noticed how damned hard it is to do the right thing anymore? We were told to start drinking more water, so we all ditched soda and began buying bottled water. Now we're being carped at about how gullible we are for spending money on water, of all things, and worse, for overloading the landfills with more needless plastic containers. Then, we find out that--horrors to end all horrors--the reusable bottles we opted for to save the environment are made out of Bisphenol A and phthalates, which are detrimental to our health and may linger in our bodies far longer than first thought. Holy crap. What the hell are we supposed to do? I guess just dehydrate or get hammered on wine, which, depending upon the studies, may or may not be good for us.

We're all trying so hard not to add to the general clutter of our planet and our lives. The mantra for the last ten years seems to be Simplify, Simplify. I like the concept. I really do. I used to get two newspapers a day. I subscribed to four magazines: Vanity Fair, Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, Bon Appetit. Then I realized something: when each one came, I sat down immediately and read it, cover to cover. Then it sat on the coffee table where it used to get knocked off by someone (Jared or Sam) propping his feet up or a rambunctious cat event, or used as a coaster. I had to keep moving it to dust or look for something. Eventually, I'd recycle it, then wait for the new one. And I hated Magazine Gleaning--you know, the time you take to first rip out all the stupid subscription cards, overpowering perfume samples, and freefalling ad cards that inhibit your reading enjoyment. Finally, I stopped renewing, and I don't miss any of them. I read lots of interesting stuff online. Where there are no annoying cards, no smelly perfumes, and I feel like I'm being environmentally-conscious as well.

But...yikes. Have you seen this? I feel really guilty! So many magazines are folding. So many people out of work! Crap.

Now, the newspaper thing is a little different. I am down to one newspaper a day for an entirely different reason. I stopped our local paper because I just could not tolerate A) the poor level of writing; B) the obvious bias against our high school; C) the delivery person's stubborn refusal to stop tracking through our landscaping. Okay. But my wonderful remaining newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer is having its problems as well. Layoffs! Job cuts! The publisher that owns it and other newspapers sees a grim future. People are getting their news online, no doubt about it. And...that is keeping lots of paper out of the waste stream. And the demand for recyclable material in this economy is down anyway. See what I mean? I'm being green and environmentally responsible! Yet I might be hurting the U.S. economy as well!

I think this is, perhaps, an example of a Catch-22.

So, my question is: Am I part of the solution or part of the problem?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Am I The Only One Keeping Up Appearances? (If So, Then The Martinis Will Have To Be Stronger)

On Friday Rick and I ate dinner out, and I indulged in two of my guilty pleasures, martinis and People Snarking. It's a terrible thing, I know, but I just cannot help but be continually aware of how some individuals simply do not care how they present themselves in public venues. True, we were only eating at a franchised restaurant, but it was still a nice one, and I have long maintained that if one is going out in public, one should bother to put on something more decent than what one finds on the Five-Cent Table at a garage sale and consult the services of, oh, perhaps a mirror before one goes out.

Anyway.

As Rick and I were having our drinks, I noticed a large table directly in front of my field of vision, inhabited only by a middle-aged couple, but set for a party of considerably more. The woman was wearing (horrors!) a baggy could-be-grey, could-be-light blue, who-the-hell-could tell sweatshirt, and her hair was a ratty, 80s modified page boy with feathered bangs and that terrible dry, home-highlighted-with-the-roots-showing look. The husband looked much more decently attired, which surprised me: sweater, Dockers, hair neatly combed. It did not surprise me one bit when their drink order arrived: two beers, a Budweiser and a Miller Lite. What did not arrive, however, sparked the following conversation:

Me: Do you see that? You have got to be kidding me.
Rick: What?
Me: Why on earth would you order a beer in a restaurant and not at least get a glass?
Rick: I don't know.
Me: That's just awful. It just looks terrible. If you have to order a beer, at least drink it out of a glass. Good heavens.
Rick: Well, I like beer, but for you tonight, I've stepped it up and ordered a Captain and Coke. Aren't you proud of me?
Me: Whatever. People could look over here and think you're just drinking a Coke. How would they know it's a rum and coke? They wouldn't. They could think you're a recovering alcoholic.
Rick: Well, if they knew what I lived with...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Welcome To My America, At Long Last

(image from cleveland.com/darcy/)

"I leave you now and you will write it. You will interpret it. That's your right. But as I leave you I want you to know — just think how much you're going to be missing. You won't have George W. Bush to kick around any more."

Okay. So I took a bit of a liberty with that quote. The Angel of Death didn't actually say it, Nixon did. But it's timely and it's fitting. Despite W's overall demeanor during his Farewell Tour, he's been more than a bit edgy from time to time, and he's never been shy about maintaining that he'll be more than happy to have History be his Judge. He should--and probably does--know better. After a momentary fugue by the legitimate press, he has been judged all along. And it hasn't been favorable, Fox/Faux News notwithstanding.

I've said plenty all along, with lots of other Democratic bloggers, and I'm probably not done, but that's not what this entry is about. This post is about my elation, my glee, at what is to come.

For too long, we've celebrated mediocrity in this country, led by a buffoon who crowed about his C average to the graduating class at Yale. The electorate punched their ballots for a "guy who they'd like to have a beer with," and they glorified an anthem with the lyric line of "we'll put a boot in your ass/ It's the American way." This administration was a big, dumb, self-righteous bully who thought it could wreak havoc during the week and by going to Sunday service, ameliorate all its sins and start over again on Monday. We all got bossed around by a bigassed Hemi-driving, hobnail boot-wearing, gun-toting, Bible-thumping, loudmouthed, blinder-wearing heehaw who was born on third base and grew up thinking he hit a triple.

But it's over.

I'm ready to celebrate the Return Of Intellectualism. Ladies and Gentlemen, a person who knows how to speak correctly is taking The Big Chair. This is a man who has corrected his subject-verb agreement on the fly. With a collective pronoun subject. I. Know. This is a man who is proud of his education. He speaks in measured tones and uses the spoken word as a tool to motivate, not instigate and provoke hostility. Civility will be making a comeback. The press didn't call him No Drama Obama for nothing. So far, even Maureen Dowd's worst barb has been to say that perhaps Obama is "neurotically reluctant to make enemies" and "prefers seducing...antagonists." Oooooh. (And W. called her "Cobra?")

Whatever. I'm all excited. It's cool to be smart; I've always felt it to be so. I'm just glad that now the rest of my country will come out of hiding with their fancy schmancy books and newspapers and >gasp< poetry and wine and stuff! Are we Elitist? Maybe not anymore.

Come out, come out, wherever you are. It's lovely--reading, sipping a glass of nice vintage, discussing books or politics, being pleasant and polite. Starting tomorrow, it's The American Way.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Wild Kingdom (And No, This Isn't About School)

Time once again for Dept. of Nance to alert you to News In The Animal Kingdom. Lest you should worry that I am becoming something of a One-Note on the subject of pandas, I have this time a virtual menagerie of creatures to discuss (although there is, in fact, a panda among them). So grab a handful of kibble or a nice fish or something, and let's dive in!

Many Dept. readers will recall this post I did earlier about the pelican who slammed into a swimmer's face off the coast of Florida. Well, perhaps it was not just a rogue bird after all! According to Jay Holcomb, executive director of the International Bird Resue Research Center in San Pedro, California, hundreds of pelicans have turned up wandering along roadways, crashing into boats and cars. "These birds are on the freeway getting run over," he said. Holy crap! This is happening in Oregon and California! Imagine the trail of death and destruction, I said to myself, that these birds left in their wake from Florida on their way West. But no: some experts think a marine neurotoxin in algae may be the cause; others, that the birds ingested some chemicals, used to fight Southern California's wildfires, now flushed into the ocean. Personally, I liked the image of Badass Pelicans On The Move from Florida to California, slamming into stuff as they move West.

Next, we have the admonition of biophysics researcher Gabor Horvath, who would like us to please, dim our lights before we totally screw everything up for everybody--and by "everybody," he means "animals in general." Artificial light from the world's cities is leading wildlife in wrong directions, and often straight to their deaths. Insects that lay eggs in ponds and lakes are confused by the tall glass-surfaced modern buildings and mistake these structures for bodies of water. Cute little baby sea turtles use the direction of moon and star light reflections off water to navigate to the ocean when they leave their nests on the beach. These babies make wrong turns and migrate toward the big city's downtown lights. So many metaphors spring to mind here, not to mention classic song lyrics: "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm/After they've seen Paree?", for example. Imagine the poor sea turtle, trying to make it on his own in Vegas or New York City, when we all know how tough it is. Everyone there is a waiter/actor or a maid/singer. Come on! Traffic and rent alone are ball-busters.

Did someone ask for a Panda Story? But, of course! This time, it's Gu Gu, a panda at the Beijing Zoo who has tasted human flesh not once, not twice, but now for the third time! Apparently, a man and his son were playing catch with a stuffed panda near Gu Gu's enclosure, and the toy went over the five-foot fence. (Note to Zoo: five feet isn't much for a panda enclosure.) The good dad went into the pen when he thought the coast was clear, but Gu Gu went on the attack. The victim, Zhang Jiao, did not fight back because as he said, "The panda is a national treasure, and I love and respect [him], so I didn't fight back. The panda didn't let go until it chewed up my leg and its mouth was dripping with my blood." Wow. I hope all that was worth it for a stuffed panda toy, which is pretty much what old Zhang Jiao became at that point. What is it with these Chinese and these pandas? Don't they read CNN.com? Because this is the eleventeenth Panda Mauling Story I've read, and they've all been in China. OKAY.

Thank goodness the Animals are taking matters into Their Own Hands and are helping each other out. In Australia, sheepdogs are being used as protectors for a colony of endangered fairy penguins. These Maremma dogs were enlisted two years ago after the number of penguins in Warrnambool dwindled from 1000 down to 10 due to attacks by non-native predators. These dogs bonded with the flock of penguins, going so far as to lay down their lives to protect them. Does anyone else sense a Disney Movie Opportunity? Happy Feet meets Lady and the Tramp? I'm also wondering how a dog bonds with a penguin. Does it start walking funny? Does the dog slide around on its tummy or wear a tuxedo? And what's in it for the dog?

It's a jungle out there, Dept. readers. And remember, there are more of them than there are of us.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Pieces Of Eight For '09


Wow. Talk about "being off the grid." Hope you all had a great holiday and are looking at 2009 with at least some Cautious Optimism. I have the oddest feeling that The New Year hasn't even started yet--and won't--until we have Our New President. Like 2009 is being delayed until the Inauguration. Poor Barack Obama: the entire nation is holding its breath, and the collective sigh on January 20th will probably blow him off the podium.

It's hard in such Times As These to think altogether positively. We're being bombarded by Bad News, and frankly, I'm damn sick of it. Taking my cue from this article, I'm going to come up with eight good reasons to be cheerful, even just for a little while. See if you can do the same.
Oh, come now--do try!

1. Netflix--So forgiving and so convenient. Non-judgmental and not pushy. So, I ordered Traffic and let it sit for two weeks and realized, "Hey, I really don't feel like watching this. Doubtful that I ever will anytime soon. See ya, Traffic." Back in the mail it went, and two days later, here came In America. Did Netflix get all bossy and snarky about it? No. For the record, it did not.

2. Coffee--The unsung hero of my very existence. All it takes is one sip and I am reanimate and alert. I am like Dr. Frankenstein's monster getting a voltage jolt in his neck bolts. Am I addicted and a caffeine junky? Definitely. If you feel like preaching to me about it, I suggest you cop a more Netflix-type attitude. Thanks.

3. Aveda Brilliant Hair Gel--And, by association, Rick, who does not hammer at me mercilessly about how much it costs. This is the only hair product that performs consistently on my idiotically temperamental hair. I love it and it smells really good. All of these things are major benefits, as you all know, and are worth the cost. Almost. Sigh.

4. No More Math--As a grownup of 49+, I am now old enough to refuse to do all math. I detest math; I never succeeded in math; I find math to be annoying, frustrating, and pointless. Certainly, I can do basic arithmetic (i.e., adding, subtracting, multiplying, and division that is not "long"), but as soon as you stick in letters, we must part company. If letters were meant to be part of math, then the alphabet would read as follows: A1B2C3, etc. It is not; therefore, Algebra is bullshit. So, if math is involved in anything, I simply stop whatever it is and defer to someone who is more mathy. Period.

5. Medium Coming Back--This television show is a good one, and it's due to return to NBC on February 2nd. I'm not even sure if it's the premise of the show anymore (housewife with the ability to communicate with the dead) that I am intrigued with as much as it is Jake Weber, who plays the husband. His character is endearing, and he's just interesting looking. I've written about him before. Who cares? It's destination television for the Dept.

6. Camisoles with Shelf Bras--I love these things and wear them constantly. I detest bras in general. I have no idea what size I wear. I only have one that is decent and I tore the tag out years ago. Instead, I wear these little spandex camis under everything, so I have them in about eleventy hundred colors. They keep me warm, and since I am...er...not very amply endowed, they contain me just fine. I know that someday I will have to be (heaven help us) professionally fitted for a real brassiere, but I keep putting that off and hoping The Bra Fairy will just leave a nice assortment under my pillow or in my lingerie drawer. What?

7. Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss--I love these two historians because they are so incredibly smart, articulate, and interesting. I read Goodwin's book Team of Rivals about Lincoln's cabinet when it first came out, and I could not stop reading it. Her writing is compelling and just the right mix of conversation and scholarliness. Michael Beschloss is an expert on the US Presidency, and it doesn't hurt that he is very tall and handsome. He is quick to point out leadership styles and pitfalls in governance. I practically drool when these individuals are on Meet the Press. It is also thrilling that Our New President Obama is a student of history. To me, this is Absolutely Critical.

8. Knowing How to Cook--I am so very glad that I know how to cook. I can stand in front of my pantry, fridge, freezer, and cupboard and pretty much scare up a meal any day of the week when I have to. Yes, I bitch and moan about having to much of the time because I do get sick of being The Creative Force Behind It All, especially when I don't feel like eating, but still, I can do it. And I'm not afraid to toss stuff together and try something new. This is especially fun during the summer months when I have more time. (Although, I made a lovely ham and bean soup this week that was, I must say, poem-worthy.)

And now it is your turn. You don't even have to think of eight. Brainstorm one or two small things of comfort that are cheery and pleasant and good. Let's get some good karma flowing for '09 here at the Dept.
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