Thursday, May 01, 2003

happy may

There were times last winter when I thought May would never get here. The dogwoods are starting to bloom, the wisteria is leafing out (and maybe it will even bloom this year since it's been five years since it was hacked back to paint the house). The wildflower seeds are growing like crazy, most of the astilbe is back and the lilies and coral bells. The lavender doesn't look like it survived the winter, but that doesn't surprise me since it was such a horrible winter.

I decided to spend the next three months getting my life under control. Work, house, health, personal. I've been frustrated and depressed because there are a lot of things I want to achieve but have not been able to accomplish anything other than work stuff -- and I realized that I let work take over my entire life. Time for some balance. Time to stop rationalizing not getting my other goals accomplished because I'm too busy with work. So each day, one day at a time, I'm going to try to give balanced attention to each of the four areas.

For health, I joined Curves and had my first workout and decided to get strict about Atkins again. For work, I organized what I need to do over the next few days and, when that's caught up, I will focus again on the stuff I'm trying to write and will tackle some training. I also dug out my desk. For house, I worked on my plants a little and dusted and cleaned the office (well, all except Stanley's desktop), did a bit of decorating. For personal, we went to the library, I played with Ginger for a while, read some and will read some more later, and am writing this.

The Curves workout was hard, but only lasts 30 minutes and you don't do one thing long enough to get bored. I felt pretty good afterwords and I'm actually anxious to get back there (only three workouts per week on this program). It's hard to explain, but I'm sensing this faint itch I get when I'm about to become obsessed with something -- god I hope so; I hope it doesn't go away. I like Curves because the women there are just women like me, many who were like me but aren't any more thanks to Curves, and NO BARBIES! And no men.

Tomorrow I have a workout, we're going to play hooky and see X2 in the afternoon, and I know exactly what I need to get done, workwise, and how long it will take me, plus I plan to spend an hour or so on spring cleaning. And we might have thunderstorms tomorrow, which I love though not as much as I used to since Ginger is so frightened of them and I feel sorry for her.

Plus I also have to deal with our health insurance renewal stuff -- it's been less of a nightmare this year than last but still not easy, especially since our carrier, MedSpan, was acquired by Oxford. It's pretty obscene that we have to pay $7,000 per year for minimal health coverage for just two people. But I won't go off on a rant about this -- not tonight.
posted by lee on 05/01/03 at 11:52 PM
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Friday, May 02, 2003

X2 - yeah, we saw it, it’s good

Well, we did it, we actually played hooky and went to the 12:30 showing of X2. It was fun. It was interesting seeing what it looked like in the bowels of a dam. The scenery is gorgeous. I liked Nightcrawler, though he was much too religious for my taste -- I guess I mean I like his superpower, which is teleportation. Yep, I think I'd like that one even more than I would like having Storm's power.

Boy is this movie preachy.

I had a good time watching this movie, even though I am a comic book moron. Comics never floated my boat, the same way cartoons and videogames never interested me, I guess because I can't make the leap from seeing a cartoon rendering to imagining it as a living, breathing whatever. I think at least a decent dose of naturally occurring testosterone is required for that, or maybe a special gene sequence that is usually found only in the XY combo. But I digress.

Stanley enjoyed it a lot. He kept poking me and saying things like "that's the Beast" and other stuff that was totally meaningless to me. He explained it all later (my eyes are still a little sore from the spinning), so I'll know next time.

You won't get this movie if you haven't seen X-Men. No way. There was a lot in this movie that parted my hair because I never read the comic books, but it was okay since the plot was pretty straightforward. Left enough unanswered questions so you KNOW there's gonna be another one.

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I liked the special effects. But what I liked most (besides Wolverine, of course) was the car. I think it would look much hotter if it were red -- I went to the Mazda RX-8 website to see what it looks like in red -- VERY nice. I want one! I don't know why they used the blue -- it's such an M&M shade of blue, yuck. And it was nice to see a movie that DID NOT feature a BMW (which are among the most boring-looking cars out there, EuroFords if you will).

I also really like the kitchen at the school -- loved the cobalt tile! Though I couldn't figure out why they 1) stocked Dr. Pepper -- it's not exactly what people north of the Mason-Dixon Line drink -- and 2) didn't keep it in the fridge. See, it's the stupid stuff like this that bugs me about movies like this, not stuff like being able to walk through walls or create impenetrable ice walls with a touch.

Well, I'm looking forward to the next installment. Just because I want to know what Wolverine's past really was (but no, not enough to wade through the comics, uh uh, no way ... )

There were seven previews before this movie started. All but one related to comic book stuff or boy hero fantasy stuff. So I guess I know what I'm going to be doing on at least six days over the next three months! What I'm really looking forward to is Matrix 2 -- I hope like hell they didn't screw it up.
posted by lee on 05/02/03 at 06:37 PM
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Saturday, May 03, 2003

book burning Republican style

seasonsoflifebookcover.jpgThis book: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land, is threatening to Republicans. So much so that Republicans have the allegedly apolitical Smithsonian running scared -- very disheartening since I always thought of the Smithsonian as a bastion of integrity in Washington DC.

It seems that a scientist and photographer, Subhankar Banerjee, spent a year in the Arctic refuge taking photos of what Republicans characterize as a "barren wasteland" and clearly demonstrating that it is neither barren nor a wasteland. Which threatens the Republicans' plan for drilling for oil in the Arctic refuge. The Smithsonian was planning to mount a major exhibition of Banerjee's Arctic photos, but instead shoved the exhibition into a basement gallery and truncated the photographer's captions, providing lame excuses for doing this and demonstrating that they, too, are running scared of current government. Two articles explain what's going on better than I can:

Book on Arctic refuge gets a chilly reaction, by Eric Sorensen, Seattle Times.

Last month, Subhankar Banerjee's book on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge got the kind of publicity money can't buy: an endorsement on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

But after U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., used the book to argue against oil and gas leasing in the refuge, the Bellevue photographer saw the Smithsonian Institution relocate an exhibit of his photographs and drastically trim the pictures' captions.

Meanwhile, the Office of the General Counsel has written The Mountaineers Books, Seattle-based publisher of "Seasons of Life and Land," asking it to remove from all future editions any references to the Smithsonian or a Smithsonian-sponsored traveling exhibit.

"It is perceived the book has been politicized," a disappointed Banerjee said yesterday.


From the New York Times, May 2, 2003, by Timothy Egan:
Smithsonian Is No Safe Haven for Exhibit on Arctic Wildlife Refuge

"I want the world to see the caption of the little bird that the Smithsonian says is too controversial for the public," Mr. Durbin said. "There was political pressure brought on this exhibition. And it's a sad day when the Smithsonian, the keeper of our national treasures, is so fearful."

Smithsonian officials are angered and embarrassed at being in the middle of a Congressional fight over whether to open the refuge to oil and gas drilling. "We do not engage in advocacy," said Randall Kremer, a museum spokesman. "And some of the captions bordered on advocacy."

Documents from the Smithsonian give an idea of the changes. For a picture of the Romanzof Mountains, the original caption quoted Mr. Banerjee as saying, "The refuge has the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen and is so remote and untamed that many peaks, valleys and lakes are still without names."

The new version says, "Unnamed Peak, Romanzof Mountains."

This year the Smithsonian is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the national wildlife system; the first refuge was created by President Theodore Roosevelt, on Pelican Island in Florida.

But perhaps no other refuge has received as much attention as the Arctic domain, which was first protected by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and enlarged by President Jimmy Carter.

As the centerpiece of his national energy policy, President Bush wants to open about 1.5 million acres of the refuge's coastal plain to drilling. It is, supporters of the move say, a potential motherlode of oil.

Led by Senator Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who heads the Appropriations Committee, drilling supporters have derided the refuge as largely barren, frozen and lifeless for nearly 10 months a year. Most pictures of the refuge show the vast caribou herd that migrates to the coastal plain, or the birds that fly in to feast on the fecund grounds in the refuge's brief but intense summer.

Mr. Banerjee's breakthrough was to record four seasons of life on the refuge, particularly around the area where drilling would take place. Mr. Banerjee used his life savings and cashed out his retirement account to pay for the 14 months he spent in the refuge with a digital camera.


Banerjee's website, World without Borders, contains a gallery of his work. Here are just two of the amazing photos of the "barren wasteland" that is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:

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PORCUPINE CARIBOU AND CALVES ON THE COASTAL PLAIN


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AUTUMN ON THE SOUTHERN TAIGA AFTER A RAINSTORM


You can find links to other articles about his work, and links to conservation organizations, on Banerjee's site. Buy the book, write to your congresspeople (House of Representatives, Senate), support conservation efforts, write to the Smithonian (it's OUR museum).
posted by lee on 05/03/03 at 02:51 PM
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Sunday, May 04, 2003

our national disease?

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the difference between self-reflection and self-absorption; about when self-absorption becomes pathological, both for individuals and for nations. I'm still a long way from any conclusions, but the overwhelming evidence is, I think, that in America self-absorption has become pathological for the nation as a whole as well as for many, many individuals. A disease of the well-fed person, the healthy body, the free citizen, the rich nation.

By pathological I mean that self-reflection has reached the point of self-absorption and created sort of a "black hole," if you will, where no outside stimuli gets in to alter behavior or thought patterns or extend knowledge. Self-absorption is pathological when it paralyzes a person, or a country, locking in self-defeating behaviors. It's also pathological when self-absorption damages others, whether it's others within one's local community or others globally.

We watched Beyond Rangoon last night, which is a movie about the political upheaval in Burma, about the massacres that took place there, about Aung San Suu Kyi and her bravery and how her bravery affected the American doctor in this movie. About how the doctor was on a vacation in Burma to try to find relief from her suffering brought about by the murders of her husband and son, and how she found release--not by dwelling on herself, looking only inward and "reflecting" on her pain, but by noticing and trying to help heal the pain and suffering of the people around her.

One of the points it brings out is how little Americans know about what's going on in the rest of the world unless it's featured in living color on TV.

Which reminded me how shocked I was when I learned that the war in the Congo has killed more than three MILLION people in the past five years. I try to be aware of what's going on in the rest of the world, but I missed how horrific this war is until I read about it a couple of months ago in, I think, the New York Times and in an article about conflict diamonds. Three MILLION. No TV coverage of it--but there is no oil in the Congo and these are not "people like us."

On an individual level, I've watched an acquaintance spend the equivalent of half a work week--each and every week--attending various self-help groups and therapy. For years. And become more and more paralyzed, looping constant "what ifs" and afraid to take a chance that might be the wrong decision for her. Not living. She finally, after nearly seven years, made a decision (hedging even this one), but has lost so much in the process that she is worse off now than she would have been had she not stop drinking and binging. I suppose self-absorption can lead to self-addiction--lord knows I've seen enough of it. There's a thin line between recovery and pathology, I think. Recovery from anything is paying as much attention as you have to in order not to relapse or become ill again, but not more attention than you have to. Part of recovery should be moving on. I've seen too many people make recovery a hobby, an excuse for not fully participating in life. It's nice to have support, but birds never learn to fly until they leave the nest. The over-examined life is not being lived.

And then there's the self-absorption engendered by our white, American culture. Where children have it drilled into their heads that they have rights, but where there is no corresponding emphasis on the responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with these rights. The dissonance between the notion that we're a nation of individualists and the relentless drive to have the same possessions and look the same and blend in with everyone else yet be unique. Where parents are too self-absorbed to rear their children and instead pay lip service to some perverted notion of self esteem, throw as many baubles as they can afford at their offspring, and call it "good parenting."

In "It's Emerson's Anniversary and He's Nailed 21st-Century America," (New York Times, May 4, 2003), Adam Cohen concluded with:

Individualism run amok, transformed into a cruel self-absorption, is a good description of much of American life right now. Republicans, using the rallying cry "It's your money," are promoting a $550 billion tax cut that would take health care from sick children--a modern echo of Emerson's "wicked dollars." In foreign policy, the rhetoric is equally self-regarding: "You're with us," we tell the world, "or against us."

In the private sector, the self-absorption is every bit as naked. Enron and Tyco executives seem almost unable to see their shareholders--or to conceive that assets that belonged to them cannot be shunted into private partnerships. Wall Street analysts gloat in e-mail about sending out bad stock recommendations that mislead the public --people who, they might say, "do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong."

Emerson liked to call his essays "lay sermons" and, defrocked or not, he was a minister to the end. But his writings on individualism speak not only to our highest natures, but to our lowest. Two hundred years after his birth, Emerson the secular preacher still matters not because he has all the answers for how we should live, but because he so intriguingly reflects who we actually are.


So what is the prognosis? I don't know. I don't even know if pathological self-absorption is truly a widespread problem, or if it just appears to be. I do know that part of the answer doesn't lie in becoming a monk or retreating from the world, but in becoming more aware of the world and the part we play in it. At least giving equal time to the "what can I contribute?" aspect of living our daily lives as to the "what's in it for me?" aspect. Balance.
posted by lee on 05/04/03 at 01:17 PM
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Wednesday, May 07, 2003

a different take on design

Doors of Perception is "a conference and website at the forefront of new thinking on design and innovation."

It's definitely a different take on design issues -- fascinating and there's a ton of stuff here to get through.
posted by lee on 05/07/03 at 12:49 PM
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Thursday, May 08, 2003

visual design odds & ends

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about presenting information visually (vs. text, as in "a good chart is worth a thousand words). Part of it has to do with a PowerPoint done recently (how to describe, visually, what a particular software program does without having the presentation look like zillions of other "value proposition" PowerPoints), and part of it has to do with the InfoPulse website redesign (how do I adequately describe a kiosk and what it can be used for?)

So, of course, I headed for the Ask E.T. "forum." Which is great if you want to browse through it and stumble upon gems now and then--but HORRIBLE if you're looking for something specific. I wish Edward Tufte and Dariane Hunt would figure out how to ORGANIZE the site so locating the abundant and wonderful information contained therein would be easy. I guess it's a case of "Do as I say ... " I'm looking forward to receiving his new essay, "The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint." Due off the press on May 12th, I think.

Next, via XPlane (still one of my favorite blogs, both the design blog and the business blog), I headed to visualjournalism.com, which has a graphics gallery. It's very new, so not too much is there yet though I anticipate it could turn into a rich resource for learning about graphic design for presenting information. Viewers can rate and comment on the graphics that have been uploaded by designers and others.

Then, on the Design/Graphics section of Poynter Online (the Poynter Institute is a journalism school). This is where I got lost: there are SO MANY interesting links in just this section alone!

I'm not too much closer to solving the two problems mentioned above. But that's because I wandered instead of looking for stuff relevant to why I started poking around in the first place.

Another reason I keep thinking about visual displays is because of the Shrub's May Day speech. (Stanley wrote about it today.) About camera angles and how they can alter perceptions (such as making the ship look like it was in the middle of the Pacific instead of offshore from San Diego). About the power of a uniform (the flight suit Shrub wore) and the symbolism behind the choice to wear it. Say what you will about the slimy regime in Washington, they sure know how to manipulate the media. (Of course, the media allows it.)
posted by lee on 05/08/03 at 06:42 PM
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Friday, May 09, 2003

of scams and suckers—lots of suckers

Quatloos! Cyber-Museum of Scams and Frauds is a great place to check out if you encounter a financial or tax plan that seems like a really good deal. Or if you just want to spend some time looking at all the ways crooks come up with to scam the greedy and the dumb.
posted by lee on 05/09/03 at 06:01 PM
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Saturday, May 10, 2003

Tony is headed to Baghdad

Tony of Beneath Buddha's Eyes wrote this morning from an airport in The Netherlands--he's on his way to Baghdad on a humanitarian mission for AmeriCares. He told us he would try to post when he could while on his journey, but that he isn't certain about being able to get an internet connection while there. We hope he can--it will be interesting to hear about what going on there from someone we know and trust rather than having to see everything filtered through they eyes of the media or the military. At least we will be able to ask Tony questions!
posted by lee on 05/10/03 at 12:29 PM
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that good kind of tired

Finally, we had a real chance to work in the yard today. It was lovely out, and perfect to get a good start on the yard cleanup and gardening. We're both exhausted and filthy right now--but it's that good exhaustion that comes after working hard and getting a lot done.

threateninglook.jpgStanley shredded a lot of the branches and leaves that we should've shredded last fall, but never got around to. I worked on getting the bedding plants into the gardens and pots. This evening, when we sat down in the office to check messages and take a break before cleaning up, Stanley looked like such an exhausted wild man I had to take a picture--in this shot, he is threatening me with no more planting if I post his picture.

We put in nine shrubs along our property line: three arborvitae, four dwarf alberta spruces, and two Japanese pieris. We hope they grow fast and help block out the ugly house next door since the weasel that owns it does not believe in things such as foundation plants: we have a view of his basement wall, atop of which sits his ugly house. I hope they grow well; some time we head back to Home Depot and get some more (they were cheap enough: $3.33 each!) We still have to get the junipers in, though.

We also put in a rose bush, something called Towne & Country Manhattan (whatever that is) that's a pretty color called China Red. The roses are small, and the whole bush isn't supposed to get much bigger than three feet tall.

There is an old, old white rose bush in the mint garden that doesn't seem to have made it--maybe it just got too old. There is one strong branch left; tomorrow or Monday I'll go take a cutting to see if I can get it to root so we can start a new one.

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The dogwoods bloomed; the Japanese dogwood wasn't very inspired this year. The leaves started coming out before it actually bloomed. But it's still very pretty. I hope it lasts a long time before it succumbs to whatever blight is supposed to have hit the Japanese dogwood in this part of Connecticut.

 



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The American dogwood is very pretty this year--it's hard to see in these shots, but tomorrow, if I can, I'll take one from the upstairs balcony.

 

 

 



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appletree.jpg The old apple tree is pretty spectacular this spring! It still gets loads of apples, though they're wormy. There is something we're supposed to do in the spring to avoid the worms, but we won't because we don't really harvest the apples--the birds like them.

 

 



timetoplay_st.jpgDIGRESSION

 

Stanley took some pictures of the beasties that rule our lives. I've been meaning to post these pictures. This one shows Ginger playing her favorite game: tug & growl with the ring.

 

 

 



But this is what she does most while we're working:

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This is one of Twitch's 47 favorite places: Stanley's office chair. Twitch gets annoyed when Stanley tries to actually USE the chair, so Stanley usually sits on the edge of the chair until Twitch decides to move. It always amazes me how much control a cat has over one's life.

twitchonchair_st.jpg
posted by lee on 05/10/03 at 10:08 PM
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Sunday, May 11, 2003

an explanation of what’s happening
to the economy that makes sense

Contrary to popular belief, what's happening to the economy isn't entirely the fault of anything Shrub has done (or not done). What WILL happen to the economy will be affected by his policies, but not the current downturn, at least not completely.

I've only partially understood what's been happening, economy-wise, and have been looking for an explanation that fills in the gaps for me. When I saw an article about it in In These Times, I almost didn't bother reading it because I didn't want to wade through a far-left polemic that offered a lot of sound and fury, but no real answers. But gave it a shot, anyway. Boy was I pleasantly surprised. (Well, as pleasantly surprised as one can be reading what is, essentially, a bad prognosis.)

Below is a clip. The entire article is definitely worth reading, if only to understand what's going on and to maybe to get a handle on figuring out what to do about things, at least on a personal level.

Bursting Bubbles: Why the economy will go from bad to worse, by Dean Baker (In These Times, 5.9.03)

In 2000, President Clinton could legitimately boast of the "best economy in 30 years." Unemployment was low, wages were rising at all income levels, and the poverty rate was headed downward at a rapid pace. But after President Bush took office in 2001, the economy fell into recession, shedding jobs and causing real wage growth to slow and eventually stop altogether.

A convenient story explains this sharp economic reversal. According to the script, Clinton eliminated the deficit through progressive tax increases and spending restraint. This deficit reduction lowered interest rates and spurred an investment boom, which was the basis for the extraordinary growth of the late '90s. Then Bush came into office and quickly squandered the surplus with his tax cuts to the rich and military build-up. As a result, the deficit skyrocketed and the economy tanked.

It's a good story, but the reality is quite different. The Clinton boom was built on three unsustainable bubbles. One of them, the stock bubble, has already burst. The other two bubbles--the dollar bubble and the housing bubble--are still with us. The dollar bubble is starting to deflate, and the housing bubble is perhaps just now reaching its peak. These bubbles created the basis for the 2001 recession and the economy's continuing period of stagnation.


I just wish Dan Baker offered some opinions or suggestions on solutions, or what do do to ameliorate what he thinks is coming. But the article makes a lot of sense to me, and I never even thought about that third bubble.
posted by lee on 05/11/03 at 04:04 PM
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