Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Review - "A Moveable Feast"

When I put down, "The Sun Also Rises," I felt unfulfilled. Not unfulfilled like after a half scoop of ice cream, more like the sheer emptiness of the lives of the characters led me to despise the book itself. As the characters transitioned from one bar to the next drinking more aperitifs than food, I fidgeted while reading, yearning for something more substantial that never materialized. But perhaps, that was the point of the book. It is heralded as an accurate juxtaposition of life during those times.

Life was trivial for those characters.

Reticent to read another of Hemingway's books, I felt like I was on the outside of a joke that everyone else understood. But I decided to withhold judgment until I had a greater collection of his works under my belt. After all, to be unquestionably the preeminent writer of his time, he must write quite well.

"A Moveable Feast" chronicles the lives of many great American expatriate writers in the early to mid 1900's. In a sense, this book resembles a modern day, People Magazine in how we learn the intimate details of these celebrated authors. From Gertrude Stein to F. Scott Fitzgerald the inner lives of these creative and talented minds are scarred with prejudice, alcohol and sabotage. That is not to say the quality or descriptive events rival the irreverent People Magazine to be clear. Hemingway discloses these intricacies without much judgement or laud.

Reading Hemingway runs smooth like a milkshake as he details dialogue between folks. As you read, it's as if you're personally affected by the rambunctious environment and vitriolic insults. His writing enables the reader to live vicariously in the scene as a fly on the wall. Although there may be little to no existential depth, the reader still retains a vested interest.

Hemingway can also read dully for a few pages and then grab you like a bouncer interrupting a fight at a nightclub with a paragraph. For example at the end of the book he writes, "Then you have the rich and nothing is ever as it was again. The pilot fish leaves of course. He is always going somewhere, or coming from somewhere, and he is never around for very long. He enters and leaves politics or the theater in the same way he enters and leaves countries and people's lives in his early days. He is never caught and he is not caught by the rich. Nothing ever catches him and it is only those who trust him who are caught and killed. He has the irreplaceable early training of the bastard and a latent and long denied love of money. He ends up rich himself, moving one dollar's width to the right with every dollar that he made."

What an exceptional paragraph. Bam. It's like watching a point guard slow his dribble only to zoom by when you least expect it. Unlike most other authors, Hemingway is concerned with honest portrayal, not puffery. Anything less than what's essential and accurate remains omitted.

"A Moveable Feast" frankly shows the agonization writers face with their work. Like other artists, poets, and musicians, the creative brain needs to be harnessed to produce and often bounds writers to broken marriages with spouses and fruitful marriages with alcohol. Accentuate the latter during periods without inspiration or begrudging acquiescence to publishers and editors and the result is perpetual aggravation for these writers. Not mundane nor stable.

I recommend this book and will continue to read more by Hem.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dumb Things I Say

I've been rightly accused of inadvertently turning people off because I don't always think before I speak. My latest unsencored glib came early this morning as I was ushered to a classroom at Washington State University and the gabby professor engaged in small talk:

Her: So, how do you like Pullman? Come here often?

Me: Oh, it's terrible. I can't imagine what students do here. There's nothing in this city for them.

I could've kept it kosher and went with the standard, "Oh ya, love it" - seeing how this woman went out of her way to escort me to speak to her students and probably spent her entire life promoting tourism in the region. But the damage was done and I did my best to purposefully detour to other gripping topics, like credit allocation and dry erase markers.

My neck and throat muscles clenched uncomfortably like Bart's incessant squabbles with Homer and as soon as I finished my speech I burst outta the classroom laughing. It was technically the 4th time this has happened to me lately and I started to wonder if I'm losing it. (Walking outside of the classroom laughing to myself probably didn't defend my case that strongly).

The day before on an airbus, I sat next to a couple returning from a volunteer venture in India and once again small talk gobbled me up.

Nice, Wonderful People: Oh, ya, we just got back to the US from helping to build a school in India. Spokane home for you too?

Me: (As if the doctor banged my knee I jerked back) God no. Oh no. No. No. No. No. No.

The wife put her hand on her chest defensively as if I just insouciantly mentioned that on my last flight I molested the co-pilot. Again, almost immediately afterward I wanted to offer some sort of retraction. I started to feel like Jim Carrey in, well, all of his films.

Aggregating these scenes later over a side of vegetables and cheese pizza at lunch I recollected other blunders; like my monologue railing against the Georgetown football team for continuing to plateau and remain not good as two football players stood menacingly behind me, or like the time when I was speaking to a class full of students and the professor mentioned where he did his undergraduate work and my visceral reaction was so apparent the class gasped (as did the professor).

So here is my admission: The first step is admitting you have a problem, right? Now someone please teach me to shut the h@#$ up once in awhile...

Monday, February 22, 2010

International Vegan Cuisine

Mimi Clark is a bundle of energy as she whirls around the kitchen spicing and dicing ingredients to form sapid vegan cuisine. A pause to field questions (and breathe) or enlighten the audience on digestibility or technique and it's back to work, bringing delectable tastes to our palates while sweet aromas fill the air tantalizing taste buds.

Yesterday I had the pleasure to watch her in person at a class titled, "International Vegan Cuisine" in Virginia. Although I was skeptical of the notion that anything tasty is possible without loads of butter, mayonnaise, or eggs, I underestimated the collective power of natural foods and a great chef (and hallucinogenics from the exotic mushrooms we sampled early on....kidding). I indulged on perhaps the most eclectic lunch of my life with bites of Chana Masala, spinach and mushroom lasagna, vegan orange beef and seitan, spring rolls, 7-layer bean dip, guacamole bereft of avocados, and scrumptious desserts including brownies, ice cream and s'mores.

All made from organic ingredients devoid of all animal products. Not too shabby.

After class, people lingered and mingled as Mimi familiarized with newcomers like myself. I told her I like to cook (mostly just the results) and she quickly asked what my favorite dish to make was.

Scrambled eggs with cream cheese I replied proudly, before realizing what a dufus I was. There was some awkward laughter and I did one of those, "Oh, you know, not really, I mean, lots of really good non-meat stuff too, um, tofu, pistachios..." Mimi saved the day by offering to instruct me on new breakfast creations like eggs-less Benedict. It's a good thing too because I turned stop-sign red by that point and needed a distraction before I reenacted Brick in Anchorman.

You'd think after 3 hours of dairy and meat-free dishes I'd get the gist, but I suppose it's why I prefer the written word over the spoken. Never a filter when I speak.

Nevertheless, no harm was done (besides my embarrassment) and I thanked her and promised to return to learn more. I was surprised to know that vegans consume most all the typical foods carnivores do (jaws dropping). A common misconception is they live in trees and don't wear shoes or underwear and eat only berries and figs. Actually, the only difference is they procure crafty, alternatives that mock the 'real thing'. Like vegan sour cream and sheese. As a vegetarian and not a current vegan I looooove my sour cream and cheeses. Mac and cheese is one of my favorite dishes (I'm so sophisticated) and I put sour cream on just about everything, kind of like tobasco or catsup for other people.

And I was stunned. This stuff is good. Real good.

So don't knock it before you try it. Vegan cooking is not only ethical it's a yummy way to eat healthily and fully. Pass me some vegannaise.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Half Marathon Part 2

Barring injury, death or an early morning showing of "Jersey Shore" I will run in the National Half Marathon in Washington D.C. on March 20th. I'm 2 months into my training with one month remaining. Today's run was an arduous 10 mile adventure with my favorite treadmill in Georgetown. I'd prefer to be outdoors, but the slush and snowcopalypse deters the haughty (like me and the sorority girls). The die-hards were out there - much to my chagrin - as I acknowledged dismissively on my walk home.

I've also been training without an iPod which seems quite retro. Kind of like talking on a land line or logging onto MySpace.

I'm not entirely sure why I decided to run another half-marathon except to know that there's now conclusive evidence for psychological damage. My buddy in Miami asked me the other day, 'Yeah, but why?" The best I could muster was... "Cuz P Diddy did it."

If P Diddy can do it, I can do it.

Creeping near 200 pounds (I'm 195) I'm literally classified as a "Clydesdale" by the hilarious organizers of the race. I'm not sure if this categorization is for their amusement or if this is an inside joke to see if anyone would actually click the "Over 200 pounds" box. I actually demurred and intentionally left the weight class blank.

It's not always simple to be consistent with all the traveling I've been doing - Florida, Connecticut, and upcoming Arizona and Washington. Running on cheap hotel treadmills loses its novelty as soon as proverbial sparks fly becomes holy s@#$ this machine is burning.

That's how fast I am...treadmills can't keep up.

After racing in the half followed by the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler the following weekend, it's time to pick up something new. Looking into rock climbing if I can find a gym. Or I may pay for group swimming lessons starting in April. Any other recommendations? That ice curling looks pretty cool (actually it really doesn't).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

For Long Time Readers...

A year ago today I wrote a post criticizing the UAE for prohibiting Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer from competing in a tournament in Dubai. Flimsy justification was offered per the denial and the tournament went ahead as planned. Her absence from the tournament prompted the CEO of the WTA to criticize the event, admonishing organizers and promising to cancel the event completely if the situation replicated this year. Serena Williams and others offered condolences and support.

Earlier today, Peer won her third round match in Dubai breezing past#1 seed Caroline Wozniacki. Hell hath no fury like a Jewish woman scorned.

Peer is rising to the occasion in an event where security is magnified for the looming threat of violence. Although competing against the top seed, both players were denied the right to perform on Center Court today because other venues were deemed safer. Main venue or not, Peer would not be denied.

Although it's a travesty the mere presence of Jews can elicit a riot or violence, this is a feel-good story. Approbations galore to the WTA for fining the organizers last year and their inexorable support of Peer.

Here's hoping she really clams up the organizers with an appearance in the finals.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bathroom Stalls

When I was a freshman in high school paranoia was fairly rampant. Only a few months earlier, the massacre in Columbine rocked the U.S. and school boards were sending letters home to Mom's and Pops' notifying they were taking every cautionary measure to keep their children safe. Teachers and Principals made profuse efforts to warn students against bringing weapons onto campus going as far as employing police officers and installing metal detectors.

Any threat would be taken seriously and result in immediate expulsion.

A chubby, jovial Hispanic kid named Larry scribbled a threat onto one of the bathroom stalls at my alma mater. Shortly thereafter, it was reported to the faculty and they morphed into Hooverites interrogating students and demanding acknowledgement.

The campus remained silent for a week.

Finally, Larry confided to a Geometry teacher claiming he meant no harm and that he sincerely regretting writing the threat. However, with the acerbic taste from Colorado still saturating minds, the teacher relayed the information to the Principal.

Larry was expelled the next day. I wasn't overly traumatized by this event. Classes continued and fear was shortly replaced by Go-Gurt attack food fights and Sadie Hawkins dances. Life went on.

Since those days, I've keenly observed the angry, racist, homophobic, profane and sometimes humorous messages ingrained on bathroom stalls. I always thought if women were permitted access into men's bathrooms (not exactly a coveted prize I suppose), they would chastise us and we'd be relegated to celibacy forever. The disgusting portrayals of girls and chauvinism is so rampant it's sickening. Not to mention cowardly and pathetic.

Today, visiting the University of Connecticut, I perused a stall which was littered with graffiti and profanity. And let's just be grateful the saying 'if these walls could talk' is purely hyperbolic. I'll spare you the despicable details, but suffice to say the toilets were cleaner. Immature men had disparaged gays, women, and minorities anonymously claiming dominion over all.

I guess I falsely presumed college students were more sophisticated than the typical booboisee. Certainly, many are, but I imagined a young boy about 9 years old taking a trip with his Dad to see what college is like and stopping to use the restroom. And I imagined that little fella could read and wondered how he'd internalize the hate he read. Would he understand it? Would he confront his Dad about it? Would he shake his head in disgust? Would he pick up a pen and participate (kidding...I hope)? What would I do if I was his father?

I quiver to think so many folks still espouse such nefarious ideas. As I washed my hands and exited the bathroom I sat down to my lunch and glanced at the front page expose from The New York Times on the Tea Party. And I remembered why we elected President Obama.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Magnetic Reaction

She bellows and yells at her dysfunctional maids,
Too slow, not thorough, her hair needing braids,
Opening her closet results in mass confusion,
Abundance rivaling the vagrant's delusions,

A vagabond rummages through the trash,
Discarding the empty, consuming the scraps,
Soliciting passerby's for a nickel or dime,
Most rarely acknowledge all deficiently kind,

Ignoring the mechanic who fixed up her car,
She slams on the gas and zooms to a bar,
But before she arrives she has an appointment,
Manicure and a tan - shouldn't be disappointed,

As the sun grows tired and retires to bed,
The cold moon ripens and climbs up ahead,
A shiver shakes the old, fragile man,
'We're in for a cold one' he thinks as he scans,

Artificially enhanced and dressed to the nines,
She shouts on her cell how disgusting she finds,
The weather, the pub, the guys pursuing,
'Another shot bartender' will alter her mood,

Shelter Is Full, he reads at the doorway,
These broken down legs constantly betray,
Prevent him from warmth and a sturdy bed,
An all night shuffle looms or else he'll be dead,

Pretentious men posture to close out her tab,
Sloppily drunk - she should hail a cab,
Instead she gets behind the wheel,
Drifting and negligent devoid of the ordeal,

The old man rubs his hands together,
Pauses for the crosswalk, frigid from the weather,
Two headlights frame him right in the middle,
His last blink over, his lenghty life shriveled,

Not star-crossed lovers nor destined to meet,
An unfortunate incident forged in a single beat,
Her attorneys will get her off without a scratch,
She ended his life, but gets hers back on track,

Parity is absent in this grave action,
But reminds us to be grateful and reduce dissatisfaction,
We're all so lucky to be given the chance,
To live, to experience, to appreciate and give back.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Global Warming Shifts to Climate Change

Remember a few years ago when global warming was heralded as the pressing issue of our time? Former Vice President Al Gore eloquently conveyed the severity of the problem and exposed the link between human emitted greenhouse gases to increased temperatures worldwide. Thousands of scientists did collaborative and independent research to solidify the evidence and warned of catastrophic results if action wasn't taken.

We were heating up and fast.

Now, the amount of skeptics has ballooned due to disinformation and potent cold weather fronts. Blizzards in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic enticed commentators to mock the debate as global warming meetings were cancelled due to snowstorms. Fine, I guess it is a tad ironic.

More significantly, the term global warming has been all but supplanted by climate change. Climate change is less definitive than warming and relinquishes the blatant emphasis on warming. Now, inclement weather including hurricanes, draughts, blizzards and melting ice caps, etc. are conflated under one term which provides cynics with less room to criticize. Climate change is vague enough to allow warming proponents to advocate their cause with less fear of being trivialized or mockery.

It's also a bit more accurate.

The previous decade was the hottest on record using mean temperatures around the globe. Carbon emissions and pollution from factory farms, transportation and increased energy consumption exacerbate Earth's temperatures, inching them warmer and warmer each year. So why are we witnessing snowfall records and freezes while concomitantly listening to scientists proclaim heating?

Because it isn't so simple.

Tumultuous weather patterns are a direct result of warming. The melting of the ice caps produces more moisture into the atmosphere, thereby producing cold fronts and storms. More importantly, global warming or climate change is measured through cumulative and widespread approaches. Focusing on the anomalies opposed to the norms is buffoonery. It's like throwing away an entire pie because a fly landed on one piece.

So when your wingnut friends attack your laudable efforts to recycle, conserve and ration, remember their science comes from Sarah Palin, oil companies and other bloviators. Research the research yourself, you'll see the doubters are funded by interest groups. And overwhelmingly, (yes even when we're covered in snow) climate change and global warming is real and can be mitigated. It's easy to scoff and easy to criticize, and that's only because it's easier to take the lazy way.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Blizzard It Up

How I miss those nice balmy days in Florida right now. Ahhh, the refulgent rays beaming down on the bronze bodies absorbing their Vitamin D naturally for the day. Students lounging outside lecture halls in skirts or shorts, enjoying the warm breeze humming through the campuses.

Well, at least I'm getting work off.

For those who haven't been refreshing obsessively the past couple of days, residents in the mid-Atlantic states are enduring a Canada-esque tempest of mass destruction.
Last weekend D.C. and the surrounding areas were pummeled with over 2 feet of snowfall. And comically, commuters weren't deterred as they stalled, hydroplaned and finally parked in the middle of the street. I saw cars blockading throughway's with a note on the windshield stating dryly: "Sorry."

The federal government has been closed since noon on Friday and will likely continue through Wednesday and Thursday as well. And since my work mirrors the feds, I've been free to build snowmen and make snow-angels. See pics above.

Fortunately for me, this was an off-week of traveling, therefore I've been an astute observer of the damages as I slosh around the city in my shoes from Sea World. Those puppies are durable. I used to carve turkey sandwiches with them and dodge waves from Shamu during breaks. They scoff at a little sleet (okay, a lot) from the Northeast.

So for those of you concerned; don't be. I'm nice and cozy and enjoying the finale of this winter wonderland...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Happy Anniversary #2

Today marks the commencement of year number three for this blog. About 6,800 hits and approximately 380 posts and counting! Today is also the Super Bowl, which means I will be gorging on veggie pizza and rooting for the Saints.

Many thanks to all my readers for their support, comments (compliments and feedback) and consistency. You guys keep me pursuing my passion, I appreciate it.

To year #3!!!

Saturday, February 6, 2010


We laugh and listen like never before,
99% of the time I'm practically ignored,
But today is different as you will see,
Like bypassing the entree and sticking with drinks,

My value is insanely high,
Turn up louder I'm worth the while....

What am I???

Friday, February 5, 2010

Tea Bag Convention

Sorry, couldn't resist.

After squirming in my chair uncomfortably yesterday at Jacksonville International Airport glancing at CNN's coverage of the swearing-in of freshman Senator Scott Brown, I wanted to puke. He vowed to become the 41st vote against cloture, hence we can thank the commonwealth of Massachusetts, the other 'tea-baggers' for inflaming stalemate in Congress by electing a nincompoop like Brown.
Though, to steal Jon Stewart's great line from The O'Reilly Factor this week, Brown is like the thin kid at fat camp compared to the real idiots in Nashville attending the Tea Party Convention. Former Governor Sarah Palin is headlining the event and it kicked off with a bang from lunatic Tom Tancredo denouncing President Obama as, oooooooo a socialist.

Ho. Hum.

After the gratuitous coverage of Mr. Brown, CNN "the most trusted name in news" transferred to shots from Tennessee. A field reporter asked innocuous questions to patrons of the event regarding their political persuasions and input. You would've heard more intelligible answers from the cast of "Jersey Shore" or Carrie Prejean (wonder if she's a member???). Each person interviewed was white. Almost each one was obese or slim-challenged to be kosher. And you can guarantee without reservation that each one's knowledge of politics is cursory and laughable. These are the people that don't watch Super Size Me.

They are Super Size Me.

In my quest to find the endearing qualities lurking somewhere (there must be something, right???) beneath their Neanderthal appearance, I've failed. Not only are these people angry, stupid and unhealthy, they're dangerous. They cherish the 2nd amendment with alacrity rivaling Rush Limbaugh's affinity for prescription meds. They bemoan taxes, while collecting welfare, social security, medicare and working government jobs. Calling them hypocrites is not poignant enough to describe these people. It's not insulting to call them dumb, it's accurate.

I want to support people canvassing. As a political scientist I want to see more involvement in politics. I want to see revolutionary thought and mass protests. But when it's as misguided and vitriolic as what we're seeing, it's nothing short of disgusting.

Although I'm as dumbfounded as the next person by the allure of this movement, I am hoping their presense serves as a wedge to divide the GOP. By attracting conservative Republicans, moderates and independents should gravitate toward the Democrats. As Sarah Palin sabotaged her party's nomination, the damage she caused could just be the tip of the iceberg to what's coming...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Are You Feeling Anything???

Driving from city to city in balmy Florida, I have the luxury of enjoying satellite radio (ironically - you'll realize later). Whenever I reach the desk at Enterprise, the first thing I ask without hesitancy is not which car is cheapest, safest or contains the best gas mileage, it's which one carries Howard Stern?

And hence, there I was somewhere in the everglade swamp land channeling between 90's on 9, modern hits, the Playboy Channel and Mr. Stern when I paused it on Robin and the gang.

Stern too frequently reverts back to sex and anything risque, albeit when he doesn't, he can be worthwhile to listen to. He was analyzing the new iPad from Apple and discussing its merits when it spurred his memory of an exposition he read recently in GQ. For anyone who isn't familiar please click the link above.

GQ published an elucidating story on the detrimental effects from technology via radiation and high frequency electromagnetic waves disturbing our brains and in some cases, resulting in tumors. With few avenues to avoid high speed internet, cell phone signals, satellite television, etc. it's no wonder many of my close friends and relatives are victims of chronic migraines.

So I wondered where the abundance of research is on this topic? If it's as dangerous as the author (and Stern) claims, why isn't Congress acting? Moreover, why don't we reduce our usage or cease altogether?

After reading the story for myself, it's clear, like every other arena, businesses influence the research and ultimately sabotage their own experiments to refute any negative probing from smaller, independent research facilities. Much like big tobacco denied the link between cancer and smoking, telecommunication companies fund their own studies in an effort to provide evidence of the innocuousness of cell phone towers, wi-fi, and the phones themselves or counter more objective research implicating widespread damage.

When I studied vegetarianism and learned about animal testing I encountered similar patterns of manipulation from big industry. When the studies we hear from mainstream media stem from the companies themselves, we can't expect an honest assessment (think Phillip Morris' anti-tobacco ads). Therefore we have a responsibility as gullible consumers to expand our perfunctory modes of information. For if not, we fall prey to the propaganda and forget that 'experts' are generally rarely more than wolves in sheep's clothing.

Think about how often we're enduring signals from satellites or using convenient products to mitigate cooking time. We experience a barrage of technology each moment and our lifestyles are not devoid of its consequence. Those who know me know I refuse to use the microwave under almost any circumstance. But am I being hypocritical by demanding online Internet access 24 hours a day and using my cell phone more often than I drink water? Or by craving satellite radio in my rental cars?

Unfortunately, my bachelor degree comes from the arts side, not the sciences, and therefore my nominal understanding of science and technology commensurately suffers. But I'm encouraged through this article and through some pure common sense, that I need to learn more before procuring the new iPad.

I didn't start flossing until my dentist proclaimed, "Conor, if you don't begin to floss, next time you're in here I'm going to have to cut open your gums." I started flossing immediately. In an increasingly techno-savvy nation, beware the hidden dangers. And think twice before spending hours on mobile phones and wi-fi coffee shops.

It's only going to get worse from here...