Monday, October 25, 2010

Generational Snarkfare

I usually try not to engage in agism. Sometimes, though, I am the victim and I feel I need to defend myself.

Earlier today at work, I came across a piece on how to engage "millennials" (people around their 20's right now, which for the next few months includes me) in the job market. It was an interesting piece, but the suggestions seemed to apply to people of all ages. I won't link to it here because I like to maintain some separation of this blog from work.

A few commenters posted thoughts along the lines of "why don't we stop coddling these spoiled brats" and "I'm a baby boomer and life is hard, grow up kids."

I normally leave these alone, but the workday was almost over and I was feeling passionate.

I won't post here what I posted on the article, but suffice it to say that I defended myself.

However, I will post what I emailed to my sister, a more legit millennial, age-wise, after I read the article and all the get off my lawn comments.

Here is an excerpt:

"On second thought, maybe they're right. Look at what they had to live through: unprecedented economic growth in the 50's, enduring the pain of watching on TV as their parents and liberal peers fought for civil rights in the 60's and 70's, undergoing the incredibly hard work of ruining the economy in the 80's and then raising children, only to have them turn out to be lazy, entitled little assholes, in the 90's and 00's. [B]oomers never got a chance to rest, not ever! Well, actually I guess many of them are retired now, pre-2008, thanks to pensions and 401(k)s. But they'll always remember how hard things were, with unhampered career trajectories, salary increases, health insurance and fully-funded retirement plans. And bonus: years from now, as their cold corpses decompose on piles of accrued savings, we, the coddled millennials, will probably get to work in China as coal miners to pay off all those U.S. Treasury notes after other countries call in Boomer-accrued war debt! FREE international travel, and all we'll probably do is bitch about it and cough a lot. What a bunch of spoiled kids we are, right? I feel guilty even existing."

I guess I'm tired of Baby Boomers, who are largely responsible for the shape our economy is in, blaming my generation for everything. Look, a) we're the ones who are going to have to live in this mess and b) y'all raised us.

We have many more years to live, and we need to press on. Ease up, olds.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I Am Approaching Competence, Domestically Speaking

Mama E. helped me make these valances. I picked out the material from a local fabric store. I thought it served two purposes: looking baby-like and being tongue-in-cheek amusing in an Alice-in-Wonderland kind of way. Production basically consisted of sewing a loop in the top of the fabric for a curtain rod to go through, and sewing a fold into the bottom and sides. Simple to describe. The key, apparently, is very, very meticulous ironing and folding. Feast your eyes. I am getting there, y'all.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Barney Frank Busts A Move

This makes me want to move to MA-4 just so I can vote for Barney Frank for the next 20 years. Do you know how many men in Washington, D.C. desperately wish they could dance like this? Then the whole thing is ruined by this square at the end showing up and mumbling something about running for Congress in a supreme gesture of futility. Step aside, nerd. I'm watchin' Barney dance.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Social Network - What Generational Divide?

I had been looking forward to The Social Network for some time, so was excited to see it this past weekend and thought I'd share a few uncollected thoughts.

One aspect of the movie that I found challenging was dealing with the veracity, or lack thereof, of the plot. This aspect was both awesome and difficult. It's not a criticism of the movie, more a statement of how difficult it is to deal in half-truth, half-fiction. I should be clear that the movie is a pastiche, piecing together some real events and sprinkling them liberally with invention, and the movie's creators have been very open about that. Of course, people will inevitably watch it and see it as the story of Facebook. The last movie I had this kind of trouble with was The Blair Witch Project- you're supposed to believe, yet not believe. I had trouble dealing with it - real names and places are in the movie, yet we are not supposed to treat it like non-fiction. I came away with a strong judgment of many of the subjects of the movie, but had to remind myself, "Okay, but a lot of this is fiction. It's not journalism. It's too early for you to pass judgment."

The subject that most inflamed me was not even the movie itself, but some of the stuff that's been written about it. Specifically, I find really annoying and disingenuous the discussion in the media of how reactions to this movie are emblematic of a generational divide. Basically, the olds will be repulsed by anti-hero Zuckerberg, and the youngs will cheer him. I don't know, I don't really see it. Maybe I am between generations? The movie portrays Facebook's wunderkind founder as a mean-spirited, socially awkward, arrogant genius who looks out for number one. (Per my paragraph above, this is the movie's portrayal, not necessarily real life.) I think it's kind of insulting to say an entire generation considers this behavior to be heroic. In fact, I believe that you'd find an equal proportion of people of all ages who think he's a hero/anti-hero. Look at some of the vicious men who were heros to some men and women of generations past - Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Gould, Astor - successful men who engaged in philanthropy, but cutthroat, arrogant robber barons. I would say that probably some people admired them, and some didn't.

The last thing that bothered me were that *spoiler, maybe* women seemed to be used as a sort of Achilles heel to challenge the protagonists. It seems from the light research I've done that women were not a big part of the founding of Facebook - in fact, even the smart, sensible, sensitive ex-girlfriend, who was a great character and well-acted, seems to have been an invention - so I really don't mind the scarcity of women. Still, there are a few scenes that are a bit over the top for me in their stooping to portray women as a) valuable for little more than sex and/or b) nutty.

All that said, I did really enjoy the movie, and it met my expectations. It was no Citizen Kane or anything but it was unique, thought provoking and well-done. The cinematography, writing, acting and direction were phenomenal.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Peach Canning - One Out of Four Ain't Bad

Last summer I canned about eight Freestone peaches from our local farmers market to have a little taste of summer through the winter. It went pretty well so I decided to try it again in the name of trying to make my own stuff. Everything went fine up until the very end of the process, at which point three of the four lids popped which means they were not properly set, AND I burned myself. Yes, I splashed boiling water onto my stomach, and it seeped through my shirt and looks like stretch marks. Now my dog associates the kitchen as a place where bad things happen, like burning and pain and smoke detector noises.

Don't do what I do. Good rule for life.

Let's review, shall we?

Step 1: Wash yer peaches. Boil yer jars (10 mn), boil yer lids (5 mn).

Step 2: Boil peaches for 45 seconds, then plunge into ice water. This makes them easier to peel

Step 3: Peel and section. Boil in a syrup of 6 c water and 2 c sugar for 5 minutes.

Step 4: Pour into jars. Leave 1/2 inch at the top and fill that 1/2 inch with syrup. Run spatula between fruit and jars to minimize air bubbles. I squirted some lemon juice on top to preserve color. Screw the lids on.

Step 5: NB: This is where I screwed the frick up and ruined everything, somehow! Put the tightened jars in boiling water for 20-30 minutes.

Now I have four beautiful jars of peaches, only one of which is probably safe to store for the next six months or so. The remainder I should probably refrigerate and eat within--I don't know, a month? Anyway, I'm not sure where I went wrong. The peaches will certainly last longer than they would have if I had just left them in my fridge, but I wonder, is it worth the gallons of water and all the gas and electricity I used? We'll see, I guess.

*Update: Mike3550 insists that only one lid is popped, so maybe I'm overreacting, but still!
**Update 2: Mike3550 was right. All the peaches are fine. Still, I stand by my advice - don't do what I do.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Things to Say to a Lady In The Family Way

When my boss was expecting her first child a couple of years ago, I really had no idea how to act around her. I had zero friends with kids, I had just gotten married, didn't even know if I wanted kids, and the whole thing was like an alien ritual. I would let her bring the subject up, and try to ask very boring questions. When are you due? Can you still have coffee? And then I would drop the subject like it was hot. I didn't want to ask invasive, annoying questions and display my vast ignorance. At the same time, I wish I had had a stockpile of polite things to ask or say to her just so I wouldn't look like a childhater.

Now that I too am in that delicate condition, and remember how very, very intimidated I was (and still am a lot of the time) by pregnancy conversation, I am very attuned to how people react to my ever-expanding body. There is a funny axis I measure this on:

Blissfully ignorant
Uninterested------------+------------Very very interested

Needless to say - but I'll say it anyway - the vast majority of people fall into the middle or left of this axis. They'll ask about the sex, say something about how fun babies are, and let it go. They'll hold the door, but won't give up a seat on the train. They'll have something charming to say about the experience (e.g. "I was three weeks early, but I think I knew she was coming because I was nesting like crazy"), but don't proselytize.

And, needless to say - but again, I'll say it anyway - there are a few, a very very few, people who do not fall into the middle. There are a few people who fall towards the right of this axis - they are either blissfully ignorant or know-it-all, but one way or the other, they are extremely interested in talking about your pregnancy. The know-it-alls usually have a bunch of kids, or have just had their first and just want to pass along their suddenly infinite wisdom. The blissfully ignorant are usually childfree, but unlike bewildered two-years-ago me, they are chockful of questions or remarks, many of which are wildly inappropriate.

And before anyone reading is like, "OMG IS SHE TALKING ABOUT ME?" - the answer is probably not, because usually you get these remarks from strangers or super-casual acquaintances, like someone on the bus or in your yoga class.

Some examples (and my real or imagined responses):

Know-it-alls: "You're not giving birth in a hospital, are you?" [Unless the baby comes out on the way over there, yes, yes I am.]
Blissfully Ignorant: "So was this pregnancy planned?"
[::Sob:: no and I regret it every day. Will you please take my baby?]
Know-it-alls: "You shouldn't be lifting weights this late in pregnancy." [Whoa, did my doctor get plastic surgery? Because my doctor is cool with my workout regime and you do not look like one bit like my doctor.]
Blissfully Ignorant: "Wow, you're getting huge, you must be due soon. Any minute now, huh? Har har." [I am four months pregnant, actually, but thanks.]
Know-it-alls: "Trust me, you do not want one of these, they are a pain in the ass. Do you want mine? Ha ha ha." [Wait, what? You mean something that my husband and I have worked through two miscarriages, four rounds of Clomid and untold doctor's visits to get to is a pain in the ass? Thank you, good Samaritan! I have reconsidered.]
Blissfully Ignorant: "So are you worried about losing the baby weight?" [I am more worried about keeping a small human alive, not only through the bone-crushing, flesh-tearing adventure that is childbirth, but also for the rest of that human's life. Ask me why I haven't lost the pre-baby weight.]

To be fair, I truly think that most of these comments come from a place of caring and interest. And I am really open to talking about any aspect of my pregnancy with anyone who asks - I will gladly discuss breastfeeding, miscarriage, fertility, weight gain, circumcision - I'm an open, if mostly ignorant, book. But there are some things you should just not say to a pregnant lady, and I think the six remarks/questions above are good examples of the "just-nos" or "find another way to say/ask thises."

On the other hand, I've heard some lovely comments and questions from various people, parents and childfree alike. I'm sure some would disagree with my assessment of all of the below as appropriate, but I say, you can always say "I can't," or "we're not really ready to talk about that," or whatever. For example:


  • "Wow, that's so exciting. Congratulations."

  • "You look great." [Never fails.]

  • "I would try to take a long leave if you can. I took 10 weeks and it goes by so fast."

  • "I know a great maternity store/book/pre-natal masseuse you should check out."

  • "My sister was also born in August and my mother really found swimming relaxing."

  • "Oh, my brother's wife is due in February, she just passed through her morning sickness phase." [or some kind of story about someone you know - no birth horror stories plz]


  • "Are you excited?"

  • "How are you feeling?" [So simple!]

  • "What's your plan for the birth?" [Please don't be judgmental if you don't like the answer.]

  • "Do you know the sex? Will you find out?"

  • "Are you picking out a name ahead of time? Are you keeping it a secret?"

  • "So what doctor are you seeing? Do you like him/her?" [If a local]

My perspective is slightly compounded by the fact that I try not to speak about my pregnancy unless spoken to or asked about it* - I would hate to end up on stfuparents. Doing a facebook pregnancy announcement was scary for me because I was sure I would jinx something and it felt so indulgent, I almost decided I didn't want to do it at all. Other than that, I'm trying to stay as classy as a 40lb-heavier+ragingly-hormonal+overheated person can possibly stay for the next few months.

And then, hoping all goes well, I'll get to listen to strangers talk to me about parenting instead of pregnancy. Except instead of nine months of unsolicited advice and judgment, I'll get a lifetime of it.

Can't wait!

*I know, no one solicited this damn post. But I consider it to be a PSA on behalf of expecting mothers everywhere. Hope it helps!

I Hate Myself so You Will Love Me

I am going through the academic hazing ritualright-of-passage writing my materials for the academic job market. For those who have never seen this process, it consists of boiling down all of your research into as few paragraphs as possible in such a way as to seem interesting to someone who might have no knowledge of what you study. In other words, describing an article in no more than two sentences, a book in a few paragraphs, and your future research in something akin to a tweet. Needless to say, it's not fun boiling down my life in the past six years to, ideally, nothing more than a paragraph each (though, I am unlikely to succeed at this goal).

All this is to say that I am really sick of thinking about myself. I don't know what it is like to be on the Bachelorette, but I imagine it to be akin to this experience. I spend days agonizing over and polishing my image so that some member of a hiring committee will like me and, if she doesn't, I'm tossed to the side.

At the same time, I am very fortunate to have a job and to have prospects for one in the future. I cannot imagine what it is like to be one of the thousands of people in the United States who have been writing similar letters for over two years with no employment prospects in sight. I guess, in that perspective, there's not much I should be complaining about

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bureaucracy and Cupcakes

I love food trucks. So I started following my faves on twitter. The day I started following Buttercream, a popular and delicious cupcake truck, owner Kate Carrara's followers were alerted to a trying situation for the dessert-peddler: the cops and the City's Department of Licensing and Inspection, who had given Carrara a warning about not being able to vend in a particular spot a few weeks prior, drove her truck away from said spot in her presence. She paid $200 to retrieve the truck.


It's the kind of thing that, if anyone besides cops had done it, would basically be robbery and grand theft auto.

Granted, Carrara should have made sure she was in the right place. But the bigger issue, she says, is knowing where she is allowed to vend. The city's labyrinthine maps and codes do not make this at all clear to a lay person/small business owner/anyone. In a functioning city, a permitted vendor should be able to call up the proper department, name a spot, and be told definitively whether one can vend there or not.

Unfortunately, Philadelphia has not historically been the best example of transparent city government in our great nation. Among the comments in the Inquirer story linked above: "She should have just paid off the L&I everyone else does" - ouch. But this city, including L&I, seems to suffer continuously from stories of corruption and incompetence.

We could say that Carrara is planting this story as a stunt, a campaign to raise her business' profile and drum up sympathy, and, therefore, publicity. But even if she is, it's working for me. This is a woman, a small business owner, who already has a cadre of followers in a city that is notorious for bad government. Even if she's overselling the story, the mere facts are enough to make me feel that the city is more concerned about padding its coffers than helping citizens sustain their livelihoods and making Philadelphia a nice place to live.

Team Buttercream.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dog Day Disappointments: A Listicle-Link Dump Combo

With limited commentary, please allow me to present a top-ten list of petty/petit bourgeois annoyances* that always seem to rear their ugly heads and stick their tongues out at me - and maybe also at you, yes, you! - in August, the year's crappiest and most inappropriately named month.

10. Paying your third electric bill of the summer, oh hello air-conditioning overuse
9. Humidity-induced makeup-smeared faces resembling infected characters in Outbreak
8. Realizing that Outbreak came out 15 years ago and you are therefore old for thinking about it
7. Lazy kneejerk political ads, especially ads produced by people with whom you usually agree
6. Doing everyone else's work while they are on sweet vacations (#7 might be related)
5. Sweating without provocation - like, when you are sitting down doing absolutely nothing
4. No built-in three-day weekends like "4th of July weekend" or "Labor Day weekend"
3. The thundering sound of 1,000 18 year olds setting foot onto campus for the first time
2. Reading the sucky news: I mean, you've got your slow news days, and slow news weeks, but August may be the only slow news month**
1. Biting into a bad peach

* They really are petty. The pettiest things you can imagine. I was grumpy this morning and thought it would be funny and possibly therapeutic to draw them out.
** And by slow I don't just mean fluffy stories, I mean stretching stories out until they are unrecognizable. I mean how long have we been talking about this "ground zero mosque that is neither at ground zero nor a mosque" (h/t Mike3550 and maybe Keith Olbermann, too, I think, probably others, for the Coffee Talk joke).

Monday, August 2, 2010

Thoughts on Settling: A Union Armistice

I find it difficult to explain my job to people. There are two levels of confusion. The higher level of confusion is that of people who don't really know what North American unions do, either because they didn't grow up around them or they are from another country. The lower level of confusion is that of people who understand unions but don't understand my job, either from an union-hating perspective or an ally perspective. I admit it is not a job that a lot of people, even union staff, have. I'd say 500 people in the entire country, tops, have this kind of job.

I would describe myself as a strategic campaigner. I design and implement campaigns, develop strategy, do research, build industrial and political relationships, and even (most exciting of all) put data into spreadsheets. I don't negotiate contracts, or process dues, or organize workers myself. ("Huh?" Never mind, I'm a computer programmer. How about this weather we're having?)

But more confusing than my job has been the context in which I have been doing it for the past few years. Before 2008, I had never been part of a merger/acquistion, or a hostile takeover, or an open internecine battle of any kind. But one opened up right before my eyes, a harsh and emotional and difficult struggle. And, after much consideration, I took a side, risking personal and professional relationships that meant a lot to me. I took a side because I believed it was the right thing to do. I would do it again.

Still, it's hard to explain to people what actually happened. The short story is, the elected leader of our organization wanted to continue to run it, but he didn't have the votes to do it, so he took his staff and merged with another, bigger organization, asserting jurisdiction over the same industries that we had organized for years (as well as moving funds and other assets).

If we were talking about a company, these actions might have been seen as a betrayal, but entirely legitimate. It's sort of like (spoiler alert, slowpokes) the last season of Mad Men - people who consider themselves visionaries feel like they are losing control of their world, and they are losing it to people they do not like very much. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce split off to compete for clients and market share. It felt exciting, adventurous, pioneering.

I think that is what some people who decided to leave might have felt. That this was a new energy, a manifest destiny of some sort.

The problems with this line of thinking are (perhaps among others):

1) We're talking about an organization that is accountable to people who serve food and clean toilets for a living, people who would rather see their dues money go towards servicing and organizing, not towards fighting over the right to represent them. These are people whose livelihoods - health insurance, wages, pensions - are directly affected by union decisions. They are not wealthy Lucky Strikes shareholders who have an extensive portfolio that can easily weather an advertising flub.

2) The sense of "competition" in trade unionism is not what it is in business. The movement is stronger when there is real organizing by jurisdiction - an "economy" of scale, an expertise in the industries, strength in numbers. Unlike in business, competition in the union world actually creates stagnation.

3) It was not really a pioneering move. An analogy would read as follows: the American colonies mustered an army to fight for independence from England, only to be colonized by Spain three days later and try to take over the colonies under the Spanish flag. There is no independence, just an opportunity to get away from and even do battle with England, and affiliate with a larger organization that has a history of brutally swallowing up its affiliates.

So I am mostly glad that there is now a settlement that, by and large, restores what's right. But I hope some lessons were learned all around. I know what I've learned.

1) Nothing beats fantastic organizing.
2) Some compromise is almost always inevitable, even when you know you are in the right.
3) Even after an armistice, there are things to be worked out. No settlement settles everything.
4) Take pride in your beliefs. You don't have to be an evangelist, but defend your convictions when called upon to do so.
5) It's worth saying again - nothing beats fantastic organizing. Ever. For anything.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Mike3550 posted this hilarious and sad political ad a few weeks ago. Well, I think it may have a competitor: Basil Marceaux, your next Republican governor of Tennessee.

The barely intelligible website I just linked to is mostly Marceaux' (Marceaux's?) platform. Here is the Tennessee titan in a video outlining his proposed policies.

He is into gun control, education, and flying the flag right. (I'm looking at you, Arah-Say Alin-Pay; it's actually illegal to drape a flag like that.)

Some highlights from Marceaux' campaign platform:

--"Make sure that if national insurance is put in place, I will make sure the roots of such bill with not inclued any type measuring of the waist like other counties."

--"VOTE FOR ME AND IF I WIN I WILL IMMUNE YOU FROM ALL STATE CRIMES FOR THE REST OF YOU LIFE! (Except violating a citizen rights this would be a special punishment )"

Hell YES. Keep your grubby hands off our waists, government. I don't want my doctor knowing anything about my body. Just give me the pills! Also, immunity from crimes? How does that work? If he's sworn in and I get arrested, could my defense just plead "Marceaux voter?"

But let's cut to the chase. What does Marceaux really stand for? What will he be fighting for in government? What important? Well:

"a. School violents
"b. Add reading of the minutes to the U.S.Congress mandatory
"c. Get more of the lottery money to 1-12

"2.Equal Health care
"a. a free gift program
"b. take a look at and redo all mandtory insurance programs
"c. See why dental is not in most plans a tooth aches hurt more than a back aches and no teeths depresses people

"3.Citzens Safety+Citizens Constitution Rights

"4.Improving Our Environment


"6.Open doors more for manufactures

"7.My plan will give the state free gas for all governmental cars and trucks

"8.Make the U.S. Flag in all state buildings and court fly right. if you fly a U.S.Flag you will fly it right"

Honestly, this platform could use a copy editor or six, but I think I get it. Hey, at least he wants Tennesseans to have clean, lovely, pain-free teeth. I could even get behind at least 1, 2c, 3, 4, and 8. Maybe 5, if all he's saying is that the word "budget" is really important to think about - I mean, it's not hard to say, but did you know that it derives from Latin, via French? And what have the French ever done for us besides threaten to measure our waists?

See you at the polls!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A New(ish) Angle on Pragmatic Idealism

We have posted about various things on Pragmatic Idealists, including academia, health care, politics, sports, and life in general. One thing is almost constant, though: we often try to tie things back to the challenge of living your ideals to the best of your ability in a complicated, difficult, weird world. This is so hard, right?

In that vein, I'm re-introducing a bit of domesticity to our blog, to pick up on Mike3550's fabulous fall recipe. The point of this is to reflect further on two emerging goals in the PragId world: 1) sourcing great things locally, and sharing them with others, and 2) making do, or doing without. This means more Baltimore Avenue shopping and less CVS. More cooking stuff that is already in our house and less buying lots of crazy ingredients that will go bad because we will only use some of them, once (this happens all the time with cilantro). More baking goodies with our own flour and sugar instead of running to the gas station to grab oreos (and let's save the why-are-you-eating-any-of-this-crap-anyway-piglet discussion for another day, shall we?).

And so...

Drum roll please...

I am learning how to sew.

"Um, what, you have never sewn anything in your life," my entire family probably thinks if they even read this which I don't think they do. "When you were little, fooling around on the sewing machine, you maybe stitched one row with intense supervision, probably cried and gave up and definitely got yelled at for leaving the sewing machine light on."

Well, yes, that may be true. But, I can't join any sports teams right now, and sports are what I love, and in fact I can't really make regular commitments at all for both travel and medical reasons. So, possibly in conjunction with some tutoring or a sewing class, I am determined to pick up a hobby that, while possibly frustrating, will be great. First, I will be in complete control of my progress. Even if I am traveling for five days in a row, I can come home and sew all I want. Also, and more importantly, if I get really great at this, I will be able to do all kinds of useful things. Oh, your skirt needs a hem? Done and done. Someone needs a last-minute birthday present? I got your sachet right here. Curtains? Bring me the fabric, knave.

I feel that this project is worth discussing on this blog because it reflects the effort to live the ideals, the emerging goals, that I stated above. Still, it is important to realize that this will take time, and I will not be immediately starting to sew my entire family's clothes and hemming my neighbors' pants. In fact, I may never get there - maybe some curtains, some hems, some gifts, some Halloween costumes may be the extent of my abilities. That is where the pragmatic - in the sense of "realistic" - comes in. No, we will not be able to source produce only from the farmer's market; sometimes the dairy farmer is out of skim and sometimes I need a damn potato in April, okay? No, we will not always be able to eat delicious homemade meals, sometimes we get home late and are starving and failed to plan and need to have take-out, so sue us. And, of course, learning to sew adequately takes time, planning and discipline, which sometimes I do not have in abundance. I just have to try.

So I am going to be realistic. I will still use a tailor. I will try not to subject my husband to shirts that belong on Regretsy.

But I will do my best to live my ideals, in part by trying to learn to sew things on my own, and thus hopefully help my family make do, and share the fruits of my labor with others.

Here is a pictorial of my first practice effort:

This is the fabric we bought from Maxie's Daughter, a very homey, locally-owned fabric store in South Philly. Close up it looks like a shower curtain you might have bought for your college dorm in the 2000's. But the fabric seemed easy to work with and a good weight, and the colors are vibrant.

I decided I would make a little stuffed bear. I folded some of the fabric and drew a bear (freehand, obvi) on the "back" of the fabric, and cut it out. I sewed a drawn, freehand letter "W" on it. (Maybe my next few bears will spell out "I-N-N-E-R." Or "T-F.") I started stitching the two bears together, stitching the very curvy parts together by hand.

Photography fail, but this is when I had almost finished stitching the outline, partially by hand, and partially with my new sewing machine. I left a hole for the stuffing.

Then I stuffed that sucker to within an inch of his/her life, with shredded paper, class all the way here at the PragId household.

This would definitely be a Regretsy bear if I were actually selling it, but I plan to give it away to someone who should feel free to rip it to shreds, chew on it, etc. Still, I refuse to be super hard on myself as this was the maiden voyage of the S.S. PragId Sewing Shop.

So, this was fun! Frustrating at times, but rewarding to see my little bear complete. More to come, hopefully, ideally.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Feeling the Independence!

Cherries, iced coffees, sunshine, a little soccer, a little tennis, quality time with the family, and very, very minimal work. Those are my plans for the weekend. Please enjoy some 4th of July-related laffs, and have a great weekend!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Nomination for Most Bizarre Political Ad of the Year

Posted without comment:

Friday, June 18, 2010

U-Scan: Scourge of My Retail World

Our local CVS has had "U-Scans," aka "Self-Checkout" stations, for the 10 months we've lived here. I consciously refuse to use them: I always smugly head to the actual cashier's stand with my intended purchases so I can buy stuff from an actual person.

Recently, much to my dismay, this store instituted what is basically an all-U-scan system. Now, there is NO ONE ever at the cashier's stand. There are, I think, four U-Scans and that is all you can do unless you demand to see a cashier. I am pretty angry about this.

First, I think it is an over-mechanization of life, and contributes to unemployment, which sucks. There is a moral, job-creation element to this - whenever I am in a store with self-checkout and someone asks me if I would like to use self-checkout, I respond, rather loudly, "no, I like for people to have jobs." Same goes for movie theater tickets and subway tokens. I like to interact with the person working there as much as possible. At the same time, to be honest, for all my smugness, I am not 100% consistent on this issue. I order stuff online sometimes, even though I could probably find 75% of what I need in a store. I treasure my EZ Pass because it speeds up my trip, even though it contributes to depriving often unionized workers of having the hours they deserve. But U-Scan gets my goat, every time, because unlike the other things that I guiltily do, those U-Scan machines do not reduce hassle, cannot do what cashiers can do, and only serve to cut the company's overhead, not serve the customer.

Second, as part of the SERVICE industry, CVS, in my opinion, is making a huge mistake here by not providing SERVICE. Two annoying things happen with U-scan: 1) it assumes you steal stuff. Since I've been forced to use these horrible things, I've encountered some obnoxious scanner behavior. Paraphrasing the automatic scanner voice: "Put the item back on the scanner and scan the item." "Scan it again." "You are a thief." "Turn yourself into the police, scofflaw." "You are an unfit human being. Your assets now belong to CVS." Aaaagggghhh am I in the sequel to Idiocracy? I am a law-abiding citizen, why are you torturing me, U-scan? 2) It can't do stuff that cashiers can do, and therefore the customer is kind of doing the cashier's work for the now non-existent cashiers. I like walking up to the checkout counter and having the cashier take care of me - for example, take the anti-theft device off of my razor blades (for shaving, gentle readers) without me having to remember that I need to do that. My husband did the wonderful husbandly chore of picking razors up for me the other day, and forgot about the anti-theft device, so he had to go all the way back. Annoying! Would not have happened with a cashier! And there's just the personal touch of a real cashier - a greeting, a recommendation, recognition, rapport.

So I'm considering finding another drugstore within walking distance to patronize. There are a few near our place, and I plan to check them out for selection, customer service, price, etc. In the meantime, I'm curious how others view this issue, and I wrote an email to CVS that makes me sound like the 80-year-old curmudgeon that lives inside me:

"I have been shopping at this store for almost a year and have always appreciated the product selection and the wonderful service that the employees provide. However, I am disappointed with the recent installation of self-checkout-only at this store. There are almost never cashiers available to take care of customers, so we are forced to use the U-Scan or ask for someone to be available. I have had frustrating experiences with the U-scan, such as scanners not properly registering the weight of what I had already scanned. I believe that personal interaction is very important in the service industry. I am not sure whether the all-U-Scan transition is a local or corporate transition, but I am very frustrated with it and wanted to voice my disappointment with this decision. Meanwhile, I am looking at other drugstores in my neighborhood to take my business. Thank you."

Today, self checkout. Tomorrow, self-load-inventory-off-the-truck, self-stock-products-on-the-shelves-and-get-a-discount? Who wants to organize a self-checkout walkout with me?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Los Pragmatic Idealists

In protest of the Arizona immigration law, the Phoenix Suns will wear uniforms with the name "Los Suns" in lieu of their regular uniforms (a decision that came from the owner of the team! (h/t)

It is so refreshing to see this type of political statement coming not only from athletes, but from all the way up the corporate ladder of an NBA team (the Spurs are also reported to be trying to also have "Los Spurs" uniforms made as well). I wonder if this will become a "thing" to oppose the racist legislation in Arizona.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Girl and Her Racist Dog (Part 2)

I have posted before about our dog, who has a proclivity for lashing out at non-Caucasian males. And, as when I posted about this earlier, Mike3550 is out of town doing some professional thing, so I feel a need to submit my typical low-brow contribution to this blog with an update on this burning issue.

Well, we moved about six months ago, and our new neighborhood is diverse like our previous neighborhood, but in different ways. It is mostly white/black. As I posted before, our dog was really displaying aggression towards Latinos (really men mostly). We did not encounter too many black folks in our previous neighborhood while walking the dog.

In our new neighborhood, she has displayed a fear of and aggression towards blacks. In fact, one day after a blizzard, we were walking down a very familiar sidewalk and an African-American man was walking towards us. Just as we got close, the dog executed a terrifying and sudden lunge bark. There is nothing like simultaneous fear, embarrassment, and oh-please-don't-let-us-slip-on-the-ice-and-crush-our-bones. I am sure that the man and I were both feeling all of these emotions, although his fear-to-other-emotions ratio was probably elevated, where my embarrassment-to-other-emotions ratio was. As usual, I yanked the pooch away and offered gratuitous apologies.

Well, I've had enough of it. It's humiliating, not to mention dangerous to let this go on. Yesterday, on a beautiful, sunny April afternoon, I decided to try something.

We live near a park where the neighborhood comes to play. It's really quite a utopian scene - children, adults, dogs of all races and backgrounds joining together to frolic in harmony. Playground, soccer, dog run. I walk my dog around this park nearly every day (the only day when she was really aggressive towards someone just walking on the sidewalk was that blizzardy day).

As we were walking, we approached an African-American man, woman and maybe eight- or nine-year-old child standing on the sidewalk. I wasn't sure what their relationships to one another were, but the way the man was acting with the child, I assumed they were father and son. The boy was smiling at the dog and said, "Look Daddy, a dog!"

My dog loves children. She will let them bang on her head and pull her skin and she will just take it. And she is equal-opportunity - no racism with children. But here was a situation I was not sure about. Historically: a black boy = good history with dog; a black man = bad history with dog.

I told them that she loves to be petted, that she loves kids but is a little afraid of adults. The dad, as I'll call him, encouraged his son to pet the dog. I made the dog sit. The dad started to pet her - not the way you're supposed to pet strange dogs, which I think is with a steady, gentle approach, and under the chin rather than over the head - but a little awkwardly over her head. I think my dog understood that I was endorsing this, so she didn't do anything weird except jump back. I explained, again, that she's weird with adults.

The son, as I'll call him, kept declining to pet her, and we started to walk away. When we were about 10 yards from them, the son said, "No, actually I want to try." I overheard and turned around. Yes. This was going to work.

I made her sit again and stroked her neck while the son patted her head and touched her neck. She was very calm. I said, "see, she likes you." He appeared to be very proud of himself. She also became more comfortable with the dad petting her, and even got distracted by some birds and looked around, relaxing.

I don't think we have solved her problem. But, just like with humans, I think what will help her overcome her fears of people who don't look like her "family" is repeated exposure to different people in a safe, friendly setting encouraged by her beloved masters. So, we need to be friendlier and more outgoing. This is hard for me, as I'm shy, but I am pleased with the tiny bit of progress we made.

Hopefully when Mike3550 comes back he will post about something smart/important.

Friday, April 9, 2010

You Can Pry The Free Beer That I Drink At Work From My Cold, Dead Hands

Danish beer producer Carlsberg faced a strike walkout combo this week. Were workers trying to protect their health insurance and retirement benefits? No. Were they protesting the death of their coworkers as a result of inadequate safety precautions? Um, not that either.

No, what happened was this: the company changed its beer policy so that instead of being able to drink throughout the day, workers could only drink at lunch.

My folks frequently regale me with tales of the days when three martini lunches really, literally happened, and workers took naps at their desks without shame. What happened, America? Why do we no longer love freedom?

Apparently Carlsberg had been planning to change the rule for a while, and smartly decided to get around to it right when the weather was nice enough for 800 workers to go on strike.

My favorite aspect of this news is that the truck drivers are exempt from the rule. You know, the people who drive enormous multi-ton time bombs across highways (although the company has installed some kind of don't-drive-drunk lock on its trucks)?

Europe is awesome in so many ways. Can you see a major corporation in the U.S. begging workers to come back to work because, hey, they installed taps near the employee cafeteria so you can have plenty of free beer at lunch!

I would love to go party across Northern Europe. I'll start by pre-gaming in Denmark.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Olympics, We Hardly Knew Thee: A Listicle Hybrid

Another Winter Olympics has come and gone. It felt pretty eventful, eh? We rejoiced. We grieved. We marveled. We even managed some time to exercise a little pointless faux outrage.

I haven't paid attention to the Winter Olympics since KerriganHardinggate in Lillehammer. I remember middle-school-me completely buying into the tabloid coverage and salacious details of the violence. I couldn't get enough. What a perv.

I'm not sure why I decided to watch 16 years later. Maybe it's because the internet has made it so much easier to catch up. Maybe because this is the first Winter Olympics I haven't been in some sort of "school," and so my evenings are more my own than they ever were before (read: I have no life).

Reasons be damned; I spent a lot of time watching, I enjoyed, and I came away with some deep observations and thoughts:

  1. ) Chris Collingsworth looks like he could be Will Arnett's rich, beturtlenecked uncle.

  2. ) I am not even sad that the U.S. Women's Figure Skating team did not bring home a medal for the first time, what, ever? But I do think Rachel Flatt was a little screwed.

  3. ) Speaking of figure skating, I think everyone is missing golden opportunities to get funky. Four words: "Jaws" Theme, Shark Costume.

  4. ) Like caucasian white-collar feminists everywhere, I have fallen a little be in love Johnny Weir.

  5. ) I was super angry about Julia Mancuso's aborted run. Get it together, coordinators.

  6. ) Curling: still boring.

  7. ) Mary Carillo is adorable and I love her. The human interest piece with her throwing down pints with Canadian loggers won me over. She and Weir can fight for my affection.

  8. ) Gross generalization alert: Canadians are a classy bunch. When their men's hockey team beat the U.S. for the gold, they cheered stellar goalie Ryan Miller (USA!) and the American team.

What, if anything, did you take home - or, away from your couch and into the rest of your house/life from the Olympics?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Horrible Case in Tenure Denial

I just saw this story about a shooting at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Apparently, a junior faculty member who found out that she was denied tenure during a faculty meeting and shot six people in the room; three are dead. I cannot believe how sad this story is and how senseless this seems. Nothing, not even tenure, is worth this tragedy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Let's Move - Away from Fat-Shaming

As she rolls out the pretty awesome Let's Move campaign against childhood obesity, Michelle Obama is taking guff about using her daughters as an example of learning to exit the highway to obesity.

It's unfortunate that that was the first thing I heard about Let's Move. The First Lady has made what I believe are some excellent points about obstacles to nutrition in our country. To wit:

"Urban sprawl and fears about safety often mean the only walking they do is out their front door to a bus or a car."
"It's about small changes that add up - like walking to school, replacing soda with water or skim milk, trimming those portion sizes a little - things like this can mean the difference between being healthy and fit or not."

I love that Michelle Obama is working on this. I love most of what she's saying about it.

However, I'm torn about whether it was a good idea to use the First Daughters as an example here. True, perhaps the family had this conversation, and the daughters were okay with it. Nevertheless, the act of using your own daughters' bodies to make a point seems excessive. On the one hand, this is very similar to what politicians do all the time in campaigns, apparently with the subject's consent - "Jack here is unemployed and his children are sick" - but on the other hand, you are telling the public about your daughters' medical issues, issues that are ridden with social stigma. Furthermore, it seems so unnecessary. Mrs. Obama's speech is so right-on about so many issues that the personal tie gilds the lily for me. As a tax-and-spend liberal, I'm probably not the audience, but I find it hard to believe that the personal anecdote would have changed anyone's mind. So why not leave it out?

I am not sure how much this bothers me. Perhaps not much. But I do know that the following bothers me: using body-shaming language about your pre-adolescent/adolescent daughters. For millions to read about. ABC reported that President Obama said the following:

"A couple of years ago – you’d never know it by looking at her now – Malia was getting a little chubby."

Again, perhaps this conversation with Malia happened and she was cool with it. But there is really, really no need for this and it detracts from what Let's Move is about - it's not supposed to be about making women feel like shit for being "a little chubby." It's about making healthy choices. As Psychology Today points out, "[w]ords like “chubby” don’t cause eating disorders but they are often a trigger to disordered eating behavior. As an eating disorder professional, we would strongly caution parents from using labels or prerogative words to describe their child’s weight as this has lasting impacts on a child’s self esteem."

I would ask anyone who has a young person in their lives they care about to encourage healthy choices by emphasizing benefits like growing up big and strong, having a well-functioning body (heart, tummy, etc), and maybe being able to perform better in school/sports/arts, rather than focusing on being not chubby. The more we teach children that healthy choices are about being well and not about deprivation to achieve a certain type of body, the better service we do for the young men and young women in our lives, and the healthier they will be.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

In Defense of Obama

This week, President Obama announced that he was ending NASA's Constellation program to return a man to the moon in the current budget and turning manned space flight over to commercial companies. The project was chronically underfunded by the Bush Administration (who was the administration who developed the plan). Although it is not something that I know a whole lot about, having gone to school in Houston with a lot of friends whose parents worked at Johnson Space Center (as in, "Houston, we have a problem"), the Facebooks were atwitter today...or something like that.

On one good friend's wall, I wrote the following. Although this happens to be about manned space flight, it could just as easily describe the situation that Obama finds himself in when trying to decide how to spend government money these days:

I don't know how I feel about Obama's decision about manned space flight. To be honest, I only think about space flight when something goes horribly wrong -- a situation in which I am probably like most Americans. But, what I do know is that space flight, like all government programs (if we want them to continue to be run by the government), requires money. And, since Obama was put in the position of cleaning up the messes of the previous two administrations, we don't have a lot of that right now.

When money is tight, we need to figure out where we are going to spend it and, unfortunately, where it is not going to be spent. Maybe it's because NASA hasn't sold itself well enough or maybe it's because I didn't grow up in the Houston area and didn't know many people involved in the space program until I got to college. But the fact is, compared to other things that I care about in this country -- health care, education, national defense, transportation -- it is difficult to see what value comes from space flight other than a sense of national pride that we beat the Russians to the moon forty years ago.

But, what is more important is to figure out why we don't have any money to be able to spend. The obvious place to start is the bailouts of the banks -- caused by the Bush and Clinton administrations' penchant for eliminating nearly all regulations in the financial market and the ongoing trend since Reagan to starve the few regulators left of any money to do their job ($700 billion). Next, let's look at the war in Iraq which has cost us $700 billion to date and, as the Shoe and Christmas Day Bombers have shown, have failed to substantially increase our safety. The repeal of the inheritance tax -- the tax on money that you literally get for being born to the right family -- has cost us $1.7 trillion[1] from 2001-2008 (including interest on deferred debt obligations) and will cost us another $1.277 trillion (again, including deferred interest payments) over the next ten years.

The whimsies of the past eight to sixteen years were financed by the future and that future is now. I totally agree that taking away space flight might destroy "kids' interest in math and science," but they won't have the resources to be interested if their school buildings -- mostly built in the 1950s and 1960s in this country -- are falling down around them. Without changes in energy technology, fuel will become so expensive that it will be impossible to launch a rocket, commercial or otherwise.

I am not sure that Obama's policies are the best policies for moving things forward (particularly the 3% reduction in government spending for everything except programs for defense and the elderly). But, I certainly do know that he is being forced to make the difficult decisions that every administration before him (except for possibly George H.W.) abdicated. They threw a party, over-ran the budget by $3.1 trillion dollars, have another $1.277 trillion in clean-up costs to come (if the inheritance tax is not repealed), and he's being blamed for not cleaning it up quickly enough.

I sure as hell know that I could figure out a way to save manned flight, get students excited about math and science, and build them new schools if I had and extra $3.1 trillion dollars to work with.

[1] I realized that the $1.7 trillion figure is actually the cost for the entire Bush 2001/2003 tax cut, not only the inheritance tax. Although there were some provisions of that tax cut that helped the non-wealthy class, it disproportionately helped those with the highest salaries.