Archive for April, 2010

Now fortified with nature and children!

Kat and Kitana

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What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book is a collection of stories by Malcolm Gladwell published in the New Yorker in the 90s. It caught my eye because I enjoyed Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” and have been wanting to read “The Outliers”. The person who lent it to me wasn’t terribly thrilled with it, but past experiences have shown that’s no reason not to give it a chance.

Like his books, this collection contained some big hits and major misses. I’m one of those freaks who reads everything cover-to-cover, so I’m going to play expert and break down these stories into three categories. If you find yourself with both this book and a finite amount of spare time on your hands, you may find this helpful.

The Pitchman – If you have a Ronco Showtime Rotisserie & BBQ or even a George Foreman Grill, you’ll probably enjoy this story of Ron Popeil’s life of innovation and salesmanship. It starts off with the history of the TV sales pitch and includes some family drama I don’t really care about, but I’m intrigued by people gifted in the art of selling. The story discusses why his inventions and demos were so successful, cutely suggesting if he had invented the VCR, it would be called the Ronco Tape-O-Matic and it would be clear so you could see how everything worked.

The Ketchup Conundrum – What’s the problem, you ask? Ketchup is way too awesome for its own good. That’s the problem.

What the Dog Saw – Most people are familiar with Cesar Millan on “The Dog Whisperer,” or at least the concept of the show. This story describes a few clients of Caesar’s and deconstructs the techniques he uses on them.

Million-Dollar Murray – This is a good discussion of homelessness and why we’re going about solving it the wrong way. However, his interview subjects think the best way to solve it is to give the most costly ones (mostly measured by hospital bills) their own apartments and dedicated social workers to make sure they’re flying right. This is really unfair to people who are just poor and have always been flying right. An interesting read nonetheless.

Something Borrowed – I am all ears (or eyes) when it comes to plagiarism because I’m a writer. Other people might not be, but I think the author’s own involvement in the story gives it more weight. As a former magazine editor, I had to deal with a writer who plagiarized, and it sucked. Since it’s such a multifaceted misdeed and every case is different, it’s hard to know what to feel or how to deal with it, and Gladwell emotes that very well.

Most Likely to Succeed – It looks like there are similarities between hiring the best football players and hiring the best secondary school teachers. Education is another of my big topics, but even if it’s not one of yours, this article is sports-heavy too, so knock yourself out.

The New-Boy Network – We can tell almost nothing about how a person is going to behave in a given context based on an hour-long interview. No matter what questions we ask, it usually ends up being a gut decision. And to paraphrase, structured interviewing is like a desexualized first date. Amen.

Troublemakers – Pitbulls are considered a “bad breed” but they actually comprise a number of related breeds with similar traits. Some laws against them are so vaguely written that an interview subject admits “pit bulls are whatever they say they are.” My lab-lookin’ dog is part pit bull, and I now feel silly for saying that because it doesn’t really mean anything. Yeah, she’s temperamental, but I blame the assholes who had her the first four years of her life then threw her out to be claimed by an animal shelter. Who wouldn’t be a little difficult after that?

True Colors – I was mildly interested in this because I dye my hair. And I’m intrigued by how easily manipulated people are.

The Picture Problem – The idea that touching may be a better indicator than looking in some instances, particularly mammograms. Leave it to this guy to make a story about touching boobs forgettable.

Connecting the Dots – This one almost ended up in the Worst category, but I may be a little biased because I’m decidedly not interested in government intelligence. In fact, like most people who still remember 9/11, I consider it an oxymoron. The story read better than I thought it would upon first glance.

The Art of Failure – Some people choke because they think too much. Some people panic because they think too little. It’s emotional, but pretty cut-and-dried.

Late Bloomers – I appreciate this effort to disconnect the idea that you either “have it” or you don’t. Some people take decades to perfect their talent, while others appear as naturals early in their lives. I think our ever-hastening need for instant gratification makes it tough for the late bloomers to be appreciated for who they are before they hit their stride, which is sad. This story sort of hit home for me in a bittersweet way. The idea that I may not be great until I’m 50 is almost equivalent to the idea that I may never be great at all. I thank my “patrons” for being patient while I try anyway.

Blowing Up – It’s about investing and it’s boring as fuck.

Open Secrets – He uses Enron’s shady practices to introduce the topic of how much information is enough. At one point he compared Enron to Watergate, and I wanted to fly back to NYC and pinch his ear really hard.

Blowup – The Challenger Explosion shows us how we can’t always learn from past mistakes. Lots of fields exercise levels of acceptable risk, so problems aren’t always caught. The explanation of all this was boring.

Dangerous Minds – I like stories about catching killers, but this basically confirms what most people believe about how far police investigators have their heads stuck up their asses. The obvious stabs in the dark are so rube, I’d like to go out and commit murder, just for grins. (Okay, not really.)

The Talent Myth – More Enron. This time it’s about their hiring practices. It’s not so much a bad story as it is irrelevant.

John Rock’s Error – I think most women will find this interesting because it contains some valuable information about the development of the birth control pill and women’s health in general. There’s a fairly descriptive part pertaining to menstruation that might make some of you big ol’ tough guys squeamish. Pardon me while I ponder the thought of MY vagina being equipped to let an ENTIRE PERSON pass through. Poor baby, indeed.

Okay, that was four categories. And now you have a lot of information about information.

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There is but one commandment in the New World, and she wears aviators and a mom sweater.


Friday I'm in Love

Why do WordPress and Google Buzz hate books, photographs, hearses, good times, and fun? I’ve installed plugins, edited them, edited my google profile, and recrawled till my knees were bloody. Who do you work for, Google Buzz??

Skinny Bitch: A No-Nonsense, Tough-Love Guide for Savvy Girls Who Want to Stop Eating Crap and Start Looking Fabulous! Skinny Bitch: A No-Nonsense, Tough-Love Guide for Savvy Girls Who Want to Stop Eating Crap and Start Looking Fabulous! by Rory Freedman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Written in a brazenly aggressive tone, this book reads like a mouthy older sister who knows what’s good for you and won’t shut up until you admit it. The word “bitch” is in the title, so I wasn’t surprised to see phrases like “a list that’ll make your nipples hard” and “so good your pubes will fall out”. In fact, the conversational style made it an exceptionally easy and enjoyable read one Sunday afternoon.

However, writing this way comes with a certain set of risks. In order to be taken seriously, the two former modeling industry veterans who authored this book were careful to cite their sources frequently; the bibliography goes on for miles and there are more than 200 footnotes. Was this tedious documentation done in vain? Perhaps. Everyone knows you can’t be smart AND pretty. (Ladies and gentlemen… sarcasm!)

The overall message of this book is great: Be in control of your body, make conscious decisions about what you put in it, don’t eat whatever is around “just because”, etc. However, they devote a large chunk of real estate to denouncing the USDA and the farming industry. In fact, if you subtract the pages of helpful ingredient definitions, daily menus, and added resources, more than half of the actual reading material consists of disgusting anecdotes about slaughterhouses and shady government practices. It’s important that the public knows this stuff, but Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation does it better.

I was expecting a little more science peppered with inspirational guidance. We get some of that through explanations of how your body metabolizes certain foods, why you need different vitamins, and the physical danger of consuming things you can’t pronounce. And I appreciate their direct, proactive approach to delivering common sense (e.g., read the ingredients before you buy something, if you don’t understand one of them, call the company and ask, etc).

I don’t read most diet books and magazines because they tend to coddle their pudgy readers, telling them exactly what to eat and what stupid little exercises they can do to “get tighter abs in 8 minutes a day!” As someone who recently toed the line of being overweight, I can attest to the formula for weight loss being as simple as “eat less, move around more”. Seriously, we’re not building rockets here, and this little book makes no such claims. Use your damn head.

These ladies push a vegan diet, and depending on how sensitive you are, their descriptions of the meat industry might gross you out enough to try it. I’ve found that making a point to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day is a simple way to guard against filling up on junk food. You have to do what works for you, and they recognize this. But be ready to cut out coffee, alcohol, sugar, and pretty much anything that brings a tinge of joy as you cram it down aching gullet.

Toward the end, the authors nicely include a note warning against going overboard, which I don’t doubt some people need. Even if you don’t go full anorexic, how much fun is it talking to someone obsessed with losing that last 5 pounds? Don’t be that bitch.

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I changed this page’s theme (slightly) because I didn’t like how the center column cut out after a page-length. A redesign/restructure/reeverything is in my future, but now let’s focus on the past. Here’s a short photo review of my mad March.

Swimming upstream at Rob Roy:

To whomever responds, urine trouble:

Polar Bar celebrates the return of absinthe:

Needle3PO and R2Barf2:

Susan’s special bitches brew:

Need to take a rectal temperature? No plobrem:

Sockin’ it to St. Patrick’s Day:

Sandals in March… Suck it, never-ending Seattle winter!

Oh the iron-need: I’m using a high-tech gadget to explain why I’m stuck in the 80s:

Selena sleeps soundly in Shoreline:

I like when flower shops take it to the streets:

Plus one frowny bonus pic. Good fortune may often smile upon me, but I cannot always smile back.

Barrel Fever: Stories and Essays Barrel Fever: Stories and Essays by David Sedaris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The books begins with a tempestuous tabloid recount of the author’s numerous affairs with famous figureheads, including boxer Mike Tyson who apparently has a softer, gayer side that none of us knew about. Throughout the first chapter, the most prevalent thought in my mind was “What the fuck am I reading?” But of course, this is David Sedaris we’re talking about here, and perhaps the barrage of non-fiction literature I’ve been reading up to this point hadn’t prepared me for the silliness.

Although the book was clever and funny and everything you’d expect from Sedaris, I didn’t enjoy it as much as Naked, Holidays on Ice, or my absolute favorite, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.

After the WTF wave passes, there are a few gems toward the end of the book. He bemoans the use of repetition to make a point, saying people must have learned to do this from watching bad TV. Instead of saying a cliche a second time to emphasize it, people should just say something original once if they really want to grab their listener’s attention.

He also calls out my favorite pet peeve, people who refer to themselves as crazy. I feel like I’ve run into these types all too often. “I am wearing two different socks, I’m so crazy!” “I’ve got a pet iguana, look at me! I’m nuts!” “I got drunk at a bar with my friends and we made a scene because we’re so crazy!”

If you have to tell me you’re crazy, you aren’t crazy enough.

And on the topic of smoking, a touchy subject whether you do it or not, he slashes a non-smoker who asks the narrating character, “Could ‘we’ make this a non-smoking park bench?” As Sedaris indicates, you’re not doing a smoker any favors by asking him to put out his cigarette. He won’t be profusely thanking the kind stranger who added 15 seconds to his life further down the road. You’re merely giving him an extra 15 seconds to hate your guts and think up ways to subtract at least as many seconds from yours.

His final essay recounting his days spent as an elf in a department store Santa wonderland provided a few good laughs. My favorite line was, “I couldn’t tell where the retards stopped and the regular New Yorkers began.” Although it’s an overstatement, it goes to show just how much fodder that city provides for an aspiring writer working at minimum wage.

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This morning, just a couple of blocks down 5th Avenue, the marquee above the Icon Grill fell to the ground, injuring three people and narrowly missing my roommate on his way to work. For non-Seattlites, the marquee usually has a semi-relevant, cutesy message on display, kind of like the El Arroyo sign in Austin.  (El Arroyo is also on 5th.  Hmmmm.)

By the time I went outside to rubberneck, most of the debris had been cleared away, but a firetruck and a couple of police cars remained.  Fifth Avenue was blocked between Lenora and Virginia Streets, but for some reason, a cop car had blocked off half of 5th Ave between Blanchard and Lenora as well.  This stretch of 5th is four lanes going one-way toward downtown, separated in the middle by pillars that support a monorail track.  Anyone driving down 5th could just cut over to the right, only to find the street fully blockaded a block later.  Well, whatever.

I ventured out to run some totally impractical errands, mostly along ghetto-fabulous 3rd Avenue.  I often express disdain for 3rd Avenue for its many bus stops and squalid crowds, but it is a cornerstone of the Seattle zeitgeist and deserving of a special place in my heart.  If you see something fucked up in this neck of the woods, you’re probably walking down 3rd Avenue.

Oh wait, just kidding.  As I walked up Blanchard toward my building, I found the lone police car replaced by a firetruck, an EMS van, a large oddly turned US Postal Service truck, and a guy in a hazmat suit taking a picture of the USPS truck.  What the fuck?