Thursday, March 30, 2006

Together We Can Make a Difference

"Be Part of the Radio Ratings!

Whether you listen a little, a lot, or not at all, you're important. Yours is one of the few households in your area chosen to tell radio stations what you listen to."

-- Letter to me dated March 9, 2006

Yes, right after a post where I stated that "I don't like the narrowly formatted music that plays on DC radio," we've been selected for the Arbitron radio survey. Call me skeptical, but I'll be more than a bit surprised if any local stations "respond to your input by improving their programming," as Arbitron's website states. Still, it's no big deal for me to do it even if I don't think it'll matter, so we signed up. Our participation runs for one week, beginning today.

Kathy's selection is going to be pretty boring -- WAMU, WAMU, WAMU, and maybe, just maybe, WAMU (one of our local NPR stations, which carries this scintillating, mostly news/talk programming). As for me, I'm going to make use of the Internet -- the FAQs state that radio that I listen to over the Internet should be recorded the same as over-the-air stations. Today at work, I listened to KCRW (Santa Monica) and WFUV (NYC), both of which are NPR stations, just ones with music I actually like.

If anyone has recommendations, lemme know -- maybe I'll check them out and get them included in my survey response.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

More About Supermarkets

This past Fall I wrote a snarky piece About Supermarkets, expressing my dismay at the inadequacy of our neighborhood Safeway. The renovations are almost complete, so that everything looks newer, the Starbucks has opened, and a number of things aren't where we remember them. But one goes to the grocery store to buy groceries, and while there has been a little improvement, Safeway is still falling down on the job on this, its most basic function. Partly due to this, and partly due to a desire to eat more healthfully, we've been shopping more at Whole Foods, even though it's quite a bit further away (~7 miles vs. ~0.3 mile).

Today, after visiting a brewpub in the suburbs, we decided to do our grocery shopping at a Safeway located in the same shopping area as the brewpub, and were astounded at both the selection and the quantity of the items we regularly (try to) purchase. There also were a number of products wholly absent from our local store. I had several choices for the type of milk I want (acknowledgement about the earlier post -- the local Safeway has only been out of milk a couple of times -- the rest of the time, they've been out of Lowfat (and I can't stand Skim or Whole)). And given that they had the variety of orange juice I like in stock, I bought four cartons, not knowing how long it would be before it would be in our local Safeway at a time I choose to shop. Ultimately, we ended up spending twice as much on groceries as we have in months, delighted as we were to find goods we wanted, and not knowing when next we might find them.

I presume the biggest reasons for the discrepancy between the city Safeway and the one in the 'burbs is space. The Safeway around the corner has no room to expand, and the one we went to today is significantly larger. I do wonder, however, whether part of the difference lies in staff who are lackadaisical about restocking the shelves, or perhaps due to understaffing. I'll be curious to see when that Harris Teeter opens up in about a year, whether Safeway will get its shit together, or whether its business will decline substantially, even to the point where it goes under. It'll probably maintain a price advantage, but that's of minimal benefit if they don't have the products one wants -- few people will have interest in shopping at both places to acquire their grocery lists.
As an aside, when I pulled the old post back up, I noticed there were no comments listed, even though I remember a couple. Then I noticed that none of my posts in October had any comments listed. So I went to Haloscan, and was able to see the comments fine. The test post I made shows up via Haloscan, but still doesn't surface attached to the original post. Does anyone know what's going on?

[Update (10pm): Question answered -- apparently, for freeloaders like me who don't pay for premium service, Haloscan archives comments over 4 months old. Reminder to self -- always read the FAQs before asking a question.]

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Roller Coaster

Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.
Gil: Oh?
Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!
Gil: What a great story.
Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.
-- Parenthood

Prague, 1996. As I ascend the hill back to the hostel around midnight, at the end of another wonderful day, I look back on this picture postcard of a city, a city that has captured my heart. Tomorrow I must leave, because if I don't I never will. Reluctantly I turn back and continue my hike, until I reach the large garden at the edge of the hostel. The lights are out, with only the moon providing any light at all -- no one else is around. I get a little bit lost, the circular layout confusing me ever so slightly. My heart is pounding and the adrenaline surges as I sense my way through this strange garden in this foreign country.

Today we went in for the next sonogram, and everything looked great, so we're officially past the point where we got to last time. Two weeks is nothing in the adult world, but the fetus looked huge compared with how it did just 14 days earlier. There are no certainties by any stretch, but to get the desired result we needed to get through today. Ballpark due date is Halloween, so we still have a very long way to go.

Grandma had it wrong -- the roller coaster appeals to so many people because while it might be scary, they know that they'll be safe at the end of the ride. Life has no such safety net, and I think that's why I don't get the thrill out of roller coasters that I used to.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Perfectly Willing to Embarrass Myself

Don't squint -- to read it, click on it. My picks are embarrassingly conservative this year, but I just don't see as many upsets as there have been in past years.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The March

Stumbling across the announcement that E.L. Doctorow's fictional depiction of General William Sherman's March had won this year's PEN/Faulkner Award (in addition to being a finalist for the National Book Award), I realized that I hadn't read much other than fluff lately, and so I decided to read this award-winning novel.

The story begins just after Sherman's Army has defeated Confederate troops in Atlanta, and continues through the end of the Civil War. Rather than focus on a single narrator, Doctorow provides a host of narrators that cover most of the types of people affected by the war. Among the most persistent characters are Pearl, Sherman himself, Emily Thompson, Arly and Will. Pearl is a slave freed at the beginning of the book, biological daughter of the plantation owner and so white that those who don't know her don't realize she's a Negro. Sherman is portrayed as a man determined to win the war, and while he has sympathy for the freed slaves, wants them to quit following his troops, as he has no desire to feed additional mouths that can only slow down his Army. Emily Thompson is a displaced Southern woman who decides to serve as a nurse to a talented Union surgeon. Perhaps the most unusual characters are Arly and Will, two Rebel soldiers who keep switching sides as convenient to save their skins. They provide some sense of comic relief for most of the book, though that changes around the time the Army reaches North Carolina.

Doctorow does an impressive job of telling so many stories, all the while the progress of the March serves almost as another character. We see how the Union Army lived off the land, essentially taking whatever it wanted and laying waste to most everything else. Doctorow also provides one possible interpretation of the burning of Columbia, South Carolina, after the city had surrendered. Throughout the book, death, brought about by both the direct and indirect effects of the war, visits the characters, as would be expected.

For me, the story took a while to get going, likely because the scope of the cast required laying sufficient foundation. Once it got going, however, it zipped along. Given the number of individuals the book keeps track of, it came as a pleasant surprise how easily Doctorow developed the characters, particularly that of Pearl.

I've not read any of Doctorow's earlier works (e.g., Ragtime, City of God and Billy Bathgate), despite their also having received acclaim. I guess I can add them to the neverending to-read list.

Rating: 8/10.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

And so it begins...

Over my dead body
Over me
Over you
Over everybody

Too much information running through my brain
Too much information driving me insane

-- The Police, "Too Much information"

Apparently, the first phase in a pregnancy is the "I'm not allowed to eat or anything" phase. Don't eat most types of fish, and even then, not much of it. Don't eat soft cheeses. Avoid caffeine. Of course no alcohol. Limit junk food. Somehow gradually increase caloric intake, particularly protein, despite these limitations.

The thing is, I know it can be done, and without too much difficulty (easy for me to say, when I don't need to do this). The problem is that there are 63 gazillion sources for what not to eat, and it seems like Kathy may end up looking at all of them. It seems as though when something ends up on any one of the lists, it's out the door. I guess it could be worse -- no nausea so far (and with luck she won't have any at all), which would preclude many more options.

And the 63 gazillion resources all mean well (particularly the friends and family), but all provide slightly different info, which creates more anxiety for Kathy, which creates more stress for me (of course you knew this was all about me). Truly, I just want to help make things as easy as possible for Kathy -- funny that the stress all these resources create in Kathy is bad for the baby that these resources are trying to assist.

Closely related to the "don't eat anything" phase is the "don't do anything" phase. With all the difficulty we've had getting pregnant, Kathy is determined not to do anything that might jeopardize the health of the fetus. Exactly what's on that list is something that she's keeping close to the vest, but woe unto me when I don't pick up on the fact that her resistance to doing something is over concern for the unborn child. And I know that I need to be more cognizant of such matters, but I much prefer it when she can put them into words.

The fact of the matter is that I haven't been the best spouse this weekend, so I probably shouldn't be complaining. Despite the fact that I drink lots of beers, usually I'm very good about not overdoing it. I drink for taste, and there comes a time when one's senses can no longer discern the details that make beers enjoyable. It is then that I stop drinking, if I haven't already, and this results in buzzes but rarely full-on drunkenness. So amid all the stress of the new pregnancy, yesterday was not a good day for me to get drunk.

We went up to Baltimore with friends of ours. While Kathy, Marie Esther and her 5-year-old daughter hit the Baltimore Aquarium, Peter and I went to a great beer bar in town, one I've gone to several times as it's possibly the best in the area (and it's only ~45 minutes away). With Kathy not drinking, it would be nice to have someone to drink with (and to share beers with), plus there were college basketball conference tournament games on TV. Knowing that time at the aquarium would probably exceed the amount of time we'd want to drink, Peter and I killed a bit of time by stopping at a beer store on the way up -- it had a new beer from Colorado that's receiving all sorts of raves over at RateBeer.

But we did get to the bar (it was a beautiful day, just the sort to spend outdoors rather than in a dark bar, but hey -- plans are plans). We each started off with a mild pint, followed by sharing four fairly strong pints. And that would be the normal stopping point. But the women were still at the Aquarium, and there I was, a kid in a candy store, so I decided to get a 750ml bottle of a Belgian beer for us to share, one that I discovered was 9.5% ABV. And after that was consumed, they still weren't ready, and there was another Belgian 750ml bottle (8%) calling my name and which we consumed. So by my rough calculations, Peter and I each drank the equivalent of a 12-pack of standard (4.5% ABV) beer. Thus, by the end of those roughly four hours of drinking, I was drunk. In the afternoon.

Kathy wasn't happy. And she was even less happy when I went to sleep right after dinner, at 7:30. She was pretty beat herself from walking around the Aquarium all day despite feeling worn down by the demands the fetus is placing on her body. Fortunately, she loves me and after a mild chewing out this morning, has forgiven me, probably remembering that she on occasion has had too much to drink herself. Nevertheless, I know she's under a lot of stress, and by my actions I put her under more. Mea culpa.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Pissing in the Wind

I usually resist the urge to respond when I come across a sportswriter's column that gets me riled up, lest I end up writing several letters a day. However, every once in a great while the urge to respond gets the better of me. This article was written in the context of a forthcoming book chronicling a mountain of evidence that's supposed to be sufficient to convince any neutral observer that Barry Bonds took steroids deliberately and in massive quantities, thereby tainting his achievements, including his home run total and his record 73-homer season. The author suggests that records achieved using steroids are no less worthy of distinction than are records achieved by Babe Ruth during the era that blacks were excluded from Major League Baseball (during which time Josh Gibson was the best Negro League slugger).
Mr. Jones,
In your recent article you stated, "When Bonds hits 715, it shouldn't be received as making a mockery of a virtuous past. Unless you -- yes, you -- find steroids more intolerable than segregation, that is."

Most people would find it absurd to even suggest that segregation is more acceptable than steroids, but it seems equally absurd to suggest that Bonds and Ruth consequently should be placed on equal footing. Ruth played within the rules of the game as it was played at that time. One can argue that Josh Gibson should be mentioned in the same breath as Ruth, or even ahead of him if you'd rather (as you note, Negro League statistics aren't as verifiable as Ruth's), but it makes no more sense to hold Ruth accountable for the fact that they weren't allowed to compete head-to-head a la McGwire and Sosa as it would be to hold Gibson accountable. Each did the best they could given the competition they faced.

If you're going to denigrate Ruth's accomplishments as you do here, are you ready to do the same for Jesse Owens' accomplishments in the Olympics because professional athletes weren't allowed to compete, or because most of Africa (except for Apartheid-era South Africa) didn't send athletes to the Olympics?

Ruth played within the parameters of the game, and Bonds cheated -- there is no comparison.


I'll let you know if I get a response (though I'm not really expecting one).

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Second Verse, Unlike the First

February 22. The flowers I sent had a short note -- "Whatever will be, will be good." She gave me the news a couple of hours after she received the flowers, and indeed it was good. But my reaction was less than positive. I'm both happy and terrified, the recent past a reminder not to get too comfortable with such news. She on the other hand is totally in sync with my note's message, happy as can be and figuring that if the news turns sour later, she can deal with it then. All I want to do is try to take it one day at a time, even as my mind races ahead several months. I will try to be happy with Kathy even in the presence of my fears, and I can accept well wishes to some extent. But I don't want to hear "congratulations," because there's nothing to be congratulated on, yet.

Now. A little while ago I said we should know by the end of February whether our attempt at using frozen embryos would be successful, and here we are, into March, and I've been keeping you in suspense. Of course if it hadn't worked I would've said so pretty quickly, so from that I suppose you could have inferred (though I'm telling you now) that so far so good. Yesterday we went in for an ultrasound, and unlike last time, we got to see a heartbeat (a single embryo) -- it's about as early as it's possible to see one (new device in the doctor's office -- even the nurses were impressed with what we could see). While at one level that's exciting, at another I'm still scared. Last time, when we went in for an ultrasound and there was no heartbeat, the doctor indicated that it must have happened only a couple of days earlier. And that time, we went in for the ultrasound nearly two weeks later in the pregnancy than we did this time. So even though we got to see the heartbeat this time, we're not even as far along as we got last time (which is why we're going in for another ultrasound in a couple of weeks). Of course, I recognize that assuming all goes well over the next month, we still might not have a successful pregnancy, so I don't know when I'm going to start relaxing and believing that it'll really happen this time. Given that we're still only about midway through the first trimester, it'll probably be a while still. Yesterday, the doctor put the odds of miscarriage at this point at under 10 percent, and if all is well at the next examination, those odds will decrease to roughly 3 percent.

As for how Kathy's doing, she's experiencing various symptoms of pregnancy, most notably forgetfulness. Many have said that all the blood rushes away from the head down to the womb, and that seems consistent with our observations. She's also tired a lot, and lately has been extremely clumsy. Plus, either her allergies are acting up or she has a cold, but either way, she misses being able to take something. Underneath all those symptoms, however, is a happy woman, taking it one day at a time.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Somali, East Africa

Fall 1987. I return to campus at the start of my junior year, to share a lovely on-campus apartment with three friends of mine. By junior year, most people have moved into off-campus apartments, but I figure this place not only has good location, it's a great place. It's a penthouse, on what's essentially the 9th floor, with two bedrooms, one large and one small -- veritable luxury compared to other dorms, and as the only holdover from the previous year, I'm able to select my roommates. Given the layout of the apartment, and that I'm the only holdover, I decide to make the small room a single, and leave the large room a triple for the others.

When Ken arrives, he lets me know that one of our roommates has decided to take a leave of absence for the year. Cornell assigns the replacement a few days later, a Somalian named Abdi. I can't be sure that either Ken or I had ever heard of this country, east of and adjacent to Ethiopia, but that changes in a hurry. Abdi isn't awful, but he's no one we would have chosen as a roommate, and we have very little in common. Worse (and there's no way to say this politely), he stinks -- his body odor is simply unpleasant. Ken bears the greater brunt of Abdi's presence, as he's actually sharing a room with him. At some point, someone must have mentioned Abdi's odor to him. One day we come home and are talking in the living room while Abdi is in the bedroom. An aerosal can starts up and keeps going for well over a minute. When Abdi emerges to go out, Ken, my friend Heather and I all have our heads out the window.

As Abdi is situating himself, we learn that our fourth roommate also would not be joining us. When I come home from class one day a couple of weeks later, I discover who our new roommate is. I know Ken will be miserable, and when he comes in with groceries, I shoo him outside so I can tell him the news without it staring him in the face. After I get outside to explain to him the news that the new roommate is Abdi's brother Sa'id, Ken walks away to contemplate suicide.

Perhaps we're xenophobic (even though one of the roommates who bailed is Pakistani), but we're miserable with our Somalian roommates. Abdi was tolerable, but Sa'id is downright obnoxious. The phone bill is in my name, and because they're calling Somalia every day, we switch it so that the phone bill is in Abdi's name. Ken and I would come home and invariably find one of them on the phone with the operator (even now I can hear Abdi saying these words verbatim) --
Somali East Africa.


No I don't know that.

No I don't know that e-der.

No I don't know that.

Sometimes this strange exchange would result in a connection, oftentimes it would not. One day I come home to find a message that "Moji" called, and so a nickname is created.

In mid-October, Moj, who is not in school that semester, is up visiting. When the place she was going to crash at falls through, I offer up my place. We move the sofa into my little bedroom, never sure what Abdi and Sa'id might do. When I get up the next morning, I hear Sa'id telling Ken a fabricated account of what he witnessed with Moj last night. Ultimately Sa'id tells me that next time Moj visits she can stay in his bed. Thinking he was merely being chivalrous, I say thanks, but the arrangement would be just as it was last night. "No," Sa'id explains, "Girls like black penis better." Oh my.

Somehow we make it through most of the semester, and then in mid-November, I get the phone bill. Or rather, three months of phone bills. September bill is $1000, October bill is $1500, and after I cut off the long distance that day, November bill is "only" $500. When I go to Cornell phone services to tell them that we had switched the phone bill to Abdi's name, they now say that they couldn't do that, that Cornell doesn't have enough safeguards over an international student. As if I did -- Cornell was who had put them in there with me! Never mind the fact that they hadn't told me that these bills were being racked up in my name for nearly three months. Just the sort of additional anxiety I need as final exams approach.

Ultimately much of the phone bill is dropped -- the bulk of the charges stemmed from calls that were not completed. The Somalians pay a large chunk. That leaves me out ~$100, which I need to pay before I can register for the next semester. It's a bundle for me back in those days, but I pay it -- the university is implacable.

Abdi and Sa'id move out over the winter, and Ken and I get a couple more roommates, Jeremy and another Ken. Later, the other Ken moves out and Antonio moves in. All of them have their quirks, especially the other Ken, but mercifully none of them come close to the Somalians.