Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Albums of the Decade

Compiling "Best of" lists is a fool's endeavor, yet I persist. Today I offer my favorite 40 albums of the Aughts (in alphabetical order). I bolded my favorite 10 of the bunch, but otherwise I don't see much point in trying to rank them -- suffice it to say that I hold these albums in very high regard. The rules I applied in making my selections -- no jazz, no live albums, no compilations, and no more than one album per artist.

Arctic Monkeys -- Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (2006)
The Avett Brothers -- Emotionalism (2007)
Belle & Sebastian -- The Life Pursuit (2006)
Blind Pilot -- 3 Rounds and a Sound (2008)
Bright Eyes -- Cassadaga (2007)
Calexico -- Carried To Dust (2008)
Neko Case -- Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (2006)
Clem Snide -- End of Love (2005)
Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers -- Songs In The Night (2009)
Death Cab for Cutie --Plans (2005)
The Decemberists -- Picaresque (2005)
Steve Earle -- Jerusalem (2002)
Kathleen Edwards -- Failer (2003)
Alejandro Escovedo -- A Man Under The Influence (2001)
Jay Farrar & Ben Gibbard -- One Fast Move or I'm Gone (2009)
The Flaming Lips -- Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (2002)
Fountains of Wayne -- Welcome Interstate Managers (2003)
Sarah Harmer -- You Were Here (2000)
John Hiatt -- Crossing Muddy Waters (2000)
The Hold Steady -- Boys and Girls In America (2006)
Interpol -- Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
The Jayhawks -- Rainy Day Music (2003)
Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings -- 100 Days, 100 Nights (2007)
Aimee Mann -- Bachelor No. 2 (2000)
Anaïs Mitchell -- Hymns for the Exiled (2004)
My Morning Jacket -- It Still Moves (2003)
The National -- Boxer (2007)
The New Pornographers -- Twin Cinema (2005)
Radiohead -- Hail To The Thief (2003)
The Sadies -- Favorite Colors (2004)
Richard Shindell -- Somewhere Near Patterson (2000)
The Shins --Chutes Too Narrow (2003)
Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros -- Streetcore (2003)
Sufjan Stevens -- Illinoise (2005)
Vampire Weekend -- Vampire Weekend (2008)
Varnaline -- Songs in a Northern Key (2001)
M. Ward -- Transfiguration of Vincent (2003)
The Weakerthans -- Reconstruction Site (2003)
Wilco -- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
Yo La Tengo -- Summer Sun (2003)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Agonizer

I did it with a camera purchase, and now I'm making that seem like impulse by comparison. I'm talking about my thinking about whether to buy a new car given that our family is expanding.

We have a 2002 Honda Civic, and that purchase was the fallout of Kathy's post-9/11 freakout. She wanted to have a way out of the city if there was another attack, and I went along with it, even though I wasn't comforted by the possibility of being stuck in traffic with the rest of the city's residents that were trying to flee. Having no car at that time meant that it would have been a royal pain for us to do a lot of comparison shopping, so in November 2001 we went to the Honda dealer, liked the Civic, and bought it then and there.

And for 90% of the time, the Civic is all we need. It's got us covered for any around-town travel. For leaving town, however, it's rough, though with the loss of Junebug, it's at least feasible. Once #2 arrives, however, anything more than a weekend requires a bigger car.* As would camping, as we were packed to the gills with just the three of us. And the Civic isn't as comfortable as we'd like, though I think that has more to do with our aging than the car's aging. Kathy was on board with getting a new car, but the truth is, I'm the one behind this push, and she'd be ok with whatever I decide.

So I started looking in August -- I didn't see many station wagons, which would have been my first choice, and minivans get such lousy gas mileage that we didn't want one, which left us looking for the most part of SUVs. Not that SUVs get great mileage, but at least some of them are in the 20s, which is way more than what the minivans get. We started with the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, but didn't jump at them because the price wasn't good enough to justify stopping our search. I started considering the Ford Escape, even though its storage was a bit less than the Honda or Toyota, and it's a noisier car, because it's cheaper and I liked the idea of buying a vehicle that's union made in the U.S.A. The Subarus, Outback and Forrester, were interesting, but we don't need 4-Wheel Drive and didn't like the cost it added or the mileage it subtracted. Then we read about the upgrade to this year's Chevy Equinox, and would consider paying more up front to get the best mileage in the class, but it's a larger car in exterior size, even though its interior is comparable to the Escape rather than the Honda or Toyota.

Finally, a couple of weekends ago, someone mentioned the Volkswagen Sportwagen TDI, and I was back to looking at a stationwagon. It's a fair amount more expensive than the others we were looking at, but its mileage is so much better, as in ~34 MPG. I test drove one a couple of weekends ago, and enjoyed it. Kathy liked the idea of being in a car rather than an SUV. And if the dealership had had one that had the features we wanted, it's likely we would have bought one right then.

But they didn't. And it's not an easy car to find -- they come off the lot about as quickly as they arrive, and most dealerships have back orders. No price negotiation, and the ones showing up are generally fully decked out with features I don't need and certainly don't want to pay for. So the price differential is even more than I'd originally thought.

And so here I am, back to wondering if we can live with the Civic for a little while longer, all the while considering the possibilities. One possibility is that we could get a roof carrier, even if we're not sure we could lift it onto the top of our car. All I know is that I need to agonize about this decision for a while longer, because that's what I do.
* -- I recognize that "require" is a relative term, but you try telling Kathy that she doesn't need to pack so much stuff, or that Nora doesn't require her own seat if she comes.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Two Videos of Emelia on Halloween

Saturday morning, full of energy, and can't wait for her friends to arrive and go Trick-or-Treating.

And finally, it was time to get into costume. How exciting!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Song du Jour -- Diamonds and Rust

For the past couple of months, I've been trying to post a "song du jour" on Facebook, and while I've tried to mix it up somewhat, looking at the totality of my selections makes it pretty obvious that my tastes have mellowed over the years. Once upon a time, I was into hard rock, and even metal. These days, I like a broad swath of music, but its center is in the alt-country/Americana range.

Back in my youth, one of my favorite bands was Judas Priest, and perhaps my favorite song of theirs was "Diamonds and Rust," a song that seemed to be just a bit deeper than the average metal tune:

It wasn't until years later that I learned that Priest wasn't the original performer of that tune -- they had merely cut out a verse or two and cranked up a folk tune by Joan Baez, about Bob Dylan:

And now, I love both versions, and I can't hear one without thinking about the other.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Damn -- has it already been a month?!

Guess I need to post something, so here's a video of Emelia at her cousin Karolina's birthday celebration while we were up in Stowe.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Man Walks Into A Brewpub

So yesterday, Kathy, Emelia and I stopped in at a brewpub in upstate New York for lunch on our way back to DC from Vermont. We get there at noon, right as the place opens. The greeter is in fact the co-owner, and after he assures us that we haven't arrived too early to be seated, he asks if we know what was special about the day.

I immediately answer, "It's Talk Like a Pirate Day!"
"Uh, it is? Well, that's not what I was thinking."
"Oh right -- it's Rosh Hashanah."
"Is that so? Well, it's also the start of Oktoberfest in Munich!"
"It is?"
"It sure is, and we're about to tap our Alt in honor of Oktoberfest."

Even though we weren't on the same page as far what made Saturday special, I did try the beer they had made in honor of Oktoberfest, and thought it was pretty decent.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

RIP Junebug

Yesterday we had to put Junebug to sleep. It was something that we knew we would probably have to do before too long. She was 12 1/2, and in addition to being deaf, she had very arthritic back legs, to the point that she was having trouble standing, and climbing stairs. She had also started losing her house training. Still, the end was unexpected when it happened.*

I'm not going to remember Junebug as my favorite dog. She was a pain in the ass, plain and simple. We got her from the pound, where she had been staying with a foster parent, her second one. We were told she was house trained, and while that might have been true, the separation anxiety she felt when the foster parent left overwhelmed everything else. In addition to going to the bathroom, she destroyed carpet and anything else in her path. We tried keeping her in a crate during the day, but she was so freaked out that she broke out by overcoming the soldering, earning the nickname Houndini. And so the destruction continued. Kathy and I alternated as far as wanting to get rid of her, never both agreeing to it at the same time. Despite the burden she placed on us, we didn't feel comfortable with what it would mean to Junebug to leave her abandoned one more time.

We hired Bryce as our dog walker to help reduce the time Junebug was left humanless. And over time Junebug grew more comfortable with us. The messes happened less frequently, though we were reminded not to leave food or hardback books within her reach. And her reach was legendary -- anything on a kitchen counter was fair game, and she learned to open cupboards and drawers. Bryce wanted to install a camera just to see how she got to some of the things she did -- once at Bryce's, she got into bread that was two shelves above counter height. Houndini indeed.

One of the reasons we kept Junebug in those early days was because she had such a sweet disposition. Truly. And when she was young and mobile, it was a joy to see her when she was running, be it on the beach, in the snow, or in a field. It was there that one really saw her at her happiest. And we grew to love her in spite of the difficulties she presented, because after all, all she really wanted was a little bit of loving. And when you get down to it, that's not so unreasonable.

* - I don't want to dwell on the end, but for anyone who wants such details, here you go.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Junebug's End

Kathy woke up Sunday morning to the sound of Junebug throwing up, something that's unpleasant but not uncommon. With Kathy's pregnancy gag reflex in full force at the moment, I had the displeasure of cleaning up the mess. Junebug threw up a couple more times, and when I walked the dogs, she ate grass to throw up some more. The first sign that things were worse than usual was when she didn't eat her breakfast. She also threw up some water a little later. Finally at about 11:30, she threw up something that appeared fairly solid. It was disgusting, so I didn't examine it too closely, but I was hopeful that things would be ok from there. They weren't -- she still wouldn't eat and when she drank a little bit of water, she threw that up too.

So I took her to the emergency vet clinic, where they admitted her for the night, ran some blood work, and gave her some anti-nausea medication. At around 2:30am, she apparently threw up what the clinic described as a "baby bonnet" -- I have no idea whether it was one of Emelia's hats or some of her doll clothes. No matter, even with that additional blockage removed, Junebug still threw up some water at around 11am. When the vet called a little after noon with that news, I figured things were looking bad. I had the clinic do x-rays, and the report was that there appeared to be a bell in her stomach, and while it didn't show up on the x-ray, the accumulation of gas suggested there was an additional (cloth?) blockage in her intestine. The options were to perform surgery or to put her to sleep.

I went to tell Kathy, and we both knew the correct alternative was to put her to sleep. We both were crying over making the decision. Emelia was sleeping, and we asked our friend Bryce to stay at the house while we went to the clinic. We were given time alone with Junebug, but in some ways we were already too late. She briefly acknowledged our presence, but then lay down and didn't respond to us. When the vet came in, we asked if she had been sedated, and she said no, and that she had been doing ok until the x-ray, which seemed to take a lot out of her. We were crying, but hearing that made us feel better about our decision -- if she could hardly handle an x-ray, then surgery would almost certainly have been too much. Kathy waited outside when the doctor administered the injections that put Junebug to sleep. Even though Junebug didn't seem to know I was there, I stayed there to the end with my hand on her side, figuring that it was the least I could do for her.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Aaron's Diet, Part 1*

I hit the scale a little over a week before I went to Cooperstown and showed up 1.5 pounds above the weight I have long said I never wanted to exceed. I have several reasons for why I set that weight limit, but the basic reasons are tied to my health, most significantly that my bad back doesn't need to have additional strains placed on it by having to support a large gut on the opposite side.

Given that a beerfest weekend is completely antithethical to a diet, and to give me a target start date, I didn't start dieting until I got back from there. So essentially, my diet began on Monday August 3.

Goal: Lose 20 pounds from that peak, pre-Cooperstown weight, by the end of October. In truth I'm ok with being a couple of pounds more than that, but because I expect to put a couple of pounds on once I stop dieting, I've set my target accordingly.

My diet rules:
  1. Severe curtailing of alcohol consumption. In the time I've been dieting, I've had one evening when I went drinking (4 beers), and a total of 1.5 beers otherwise. I've had no other alcohol.
  2. Don't impose my diet on the people around me. Kathy wasn't happy about her weight at the start of her pregnancy, but that doesn't mean she should be losing any weight now. It's not up to Kathy to change the foods that she and Emelia want to eat, it's up to me. As such, I'm the one who needs to have willpower. Essentially then, on the food side of things, I'm eating what Kathy is eating, but I'm taking significantly smaller portions than I was previously, and I'm doing my best to limit snacks. What that means, for example, is that we've still ordered pizza, and all that's different is that I try to have fewer slices than I ordinarily would. Also, we went out for Mexican and although I had a full entree of fajitas, I successfully resisted eating any chips and salsa.
  3. Accept that I'm going to be hungry. I've read about dozens of diets (without even looking for them) and in selling themselves, each tries to say it's easy. I don't know if they're correct, but my "eating less" diet isn't easy for me -- I'm hungry most of the time. To prevent eating every time I feel hungry, I remind myself of what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. Most of the time, that does the trick.
  4. It's not cheating to have limited indulgences. This is a key to me. I don't think it's constructive for me to feel like I'm failing when I give in to the hunger, indulge a sweet tooth or actually consume a beer. The bottom line is that I'm taking in far fewer calories even if I have those "lapses," so I treat the occasional treat as part of the diet, not a break from it.
  5. Exercise. I don't burn many calories going on the walk-jogs I've been doing roughly every other morning since the first Wednesday of the diet (currently about 1 3/4 miles jogging, and 1 mile total of warm-up/cool-down walking), but I am improving my conditioning, and of course that's something that's important for my general health. The key question is whether my back and other aches will interfere -- currently I feel much more sore on my jogs than I did at the start of my regimen. Jogging is hard on the joints and frame, but I don't need any special equipment or to go somewhere to jog -- I can just roll out of bed and go. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep it up.
Status: As of August 27, I've lost seven pounds, so I'm roughly one-third of the way to my goal. I have travel and other events that may make it difficult to keep going as well as I have so far, but I accept that I may have a rough week or two (see Rule #4).

* - Disclaimer: I'm blogging about this primarily because it's a big thing in my life at present, but also to put pressure on myself to reach my goal by making it public. It is not to brag about my limited success, to suggest to others that they need to diet, or how anyone else should diet. Ok, maybe I'm bragging a little too, though I have no idea why I should be over seven frickin' pounds.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

My Little Girl is Growing Up So Fast!

We're down to the last four days of having a nanny for Emelia. She's shared Avery (Nana) with Jonah for over two years, but this spring we decided that Emelia was ready for something different. On Tuesday September 1, she starts in a Montessori program on the Hill.

Emelia has been excited about going to school for a few months already. In May she went to the school for a little while so the school could see how she responded, and she LOVED it. When it was time for her to leave she started crying because she was having such a good time. Ever since, she's been asking when she was going to go to school again.

For me, the hardest part of the change isn't that she's growing up. It's that we're saying goodbye to Jonah and Avery. Jonah's still around the corner from us, and we'll have many chances to get together. But Jonah has been a pseudo-sibling for Emelia (ironically, Avery says they're sometimes mistaken for twins when she takes them to the park), they get along so well, and it's clear that they're a positive influence on each other. They'll go from seeing each other three times a week for 9 hours at a stretch to a couple of hours every week or so. We told Elisabeth of our plans to switch to the Montessori program and thought she might want to do the same with Jonah, but she wanted to stay with Avery. And so the two kids will take different paths, and it's left me feeling wistful. I don't think Emelia realizes that starting school means no more Nana and Jonah.

As for Avery, we've been happy with her, and know that she's been a major part of Emelia's growth and development. When we told Avery of our decision, she agreed with our assessment that Emelia's ready for something new, and that the Montessori program will work well for her. Avery had thought that we didn't need her next Monday and had made plans to watch Emelia's "replacement" Jack (Jonah is switching to a Tuesday-Thursday schedule starting this week), but as soon as I said we still needed her for that day, and asked if she could watch Emelia and Jack together, she immediately said she'd tell Jack's parents that she'd start the next day, and beamed over the thought of having one last day alone with Emelia. Avery has offered her services if we need some assistance due to Kathy's pregnancy or because of the birth.

To accommodate the school's five-days-a-week schedule (8:30-3), Kathy is returning to work five days a week, five hours each day (she'll pick up and drop off Emelia), compared with her current schedule of working a full work day on Monday through Wednesday and being with Emelia on Thursday and Friday. We're not quite sure how it'll work -- Kathy's taken advantage of those days off to run errands or have repair people over. We'll also avail ourselves of the school's after care some days, given that Kathy's work will occasionally require her past 3pm.

Regardless how it goes, it's another chapter in the adventure known as parenthood.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


From the side of Kathy's pre-natal vitamins:
CONTRAINDICATIONS: This product is contraindicated in patients with a known hypersensitivity to any of the ingredients.
On the one hand, it states something so obvious that no thinking person needs to read it. On the other, some people who believe that the Democrats are proposing to implement death panels are or are going to be pregnant.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

We're Putting the Band Back Together

So stop me if you've heard this one before --

This extended family does volunteer work in a foreign country for a week, and spends a second week traveling around with the help of a local kid serving as translator. Nearly five years later, the local kid comes to America, and he's going to hang out with the family for a couple of weeks.

I'm not sure it'll become the latest reality show this Fall, but that's what's going on with us. Christmas time 2004, Kathy and I went with her parents, her sister and sister's then boyfriend, her sister's three kids, and her aunt to Costa Rica, where we volunteered on a coffee farm near Monte Verde for a week before traveling around the country. We met Wilfreddy during our stay at the coffee farm, where he and his family live. He then accompanied us for the second week, serving as translator and taking in some of his country with us.

Currently, Wilfreddy is taking an ESL program in Pennsylvania, and when that finishes up at the end of next week, he'll be heading to DC to stay with us. Also coming down will be everyone who took the trip with us except Kathy's sister and her sister's now-ex-boyfriend. The plan is for everyone to stay with us, something that should be both fun and challenging. The plan right now is to put Wilfreddy and Kathy's sister's kids upstairs in our loft, put the folks in our guest room, put the aunt in Emelia's room, and put Emelia on a blow-up mattress on the floor in our room (hopefully, Nora and Junebug don't become too territorial of our floor).

I'm not sure what the itinerary is -- there was talk earlier of a couple of overnight trips to nearby regions, but if those plans have evolved, I know nothing about them. I figure I'll see people when they're here and when I'm not working. My boss will be out of the country then, so I need to mind the shop -- it'll be difficult for me to take off during the visit. Regardless, I'm expecting that I'll get to do things with them, and that things will be a little crazy for duration. Fun too.

Photo of Wilfreddy and me right before we went ziplining, January 2005.

Monday, August 03, 2009

My Life With Beer Update

I've slowed down. I'm only rating at a pace of about 500-600 beers each year, rather than the 1000 or so I used to rate (ok, so it's a relative thing). I'm drinking more for pleasure rather than rating, but I'm also drinking less overall. As I'm getting older I seem to have less endurance, not that I was a real heavyweight in the first place. Also, the acidity of the beers seems to hit me a fair amount, whereas until about a year ago, I never had heartburn from beer.

Circumstances are helping with my cutting back. The DC RateBeer crew is a little less organized than it was about a year ago, as a couple of key members have moved -- thus, there are fewer local tastings to attend. It probably also helps that Tom has moved a few blocks away, so we're not drinking together as much. Also, I missed my second RateBeer Summer Gathering in a row (this year was San Francisco), after attending the first six.

Still, it's hard to limit myself as much as perhaps I should, given my continuing love for beer. Indeed, this weekend Tom and I made our way up to Cooperstown, New York to indulge in Belgium Comes to Cooperstown, an annual beer festival organized by Ommegang Brewery and held on their premises (I also made it up there last year). We got there on Friday afternoon and camped there with many other beer devotees, including a large number of RateBeer members, several of whom I've known for years. The festival is Saturday afternoon, but really the best part of the weekend is the beer that other attendees bring to share when the festival isn't taking place -- people bring bottles, growlers, and kegs to share with their fellow beer lovers.

And despite the incredible amount of great beer flowing, I actually did a fairly good job of limiting the amount of beer I consumed. I got there tired due to too little sleep on Wednesday night, and rather than force myself to stay up late that first night, I went to bed after the shmancy beer dinner (that included plenty of beer). Saturday I held off drinking until about 10am, mostly stopped by about 8pm (which was when the real beer sharing got going), and turned in early again. Upon my return I joked with Kathy that I got more sleep camping at a loud beer festival than I would have in my own bed.

For the next month or so I'm going to try to cut back dramatically, and see if I can shed a couple of the pounds that have accumulated around my waist. I'm not about to stop altogether, and indeed am looking forward to the new brewpubs to hit when we go up to Vermont next month. All the same, a little moderation for a little while could make a little difference.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Month of Reflection and Looking Ahead

Earlier this month I celebrated my birthday, and it was wonderful. Emelia was wholly engaged in the celebration -- wanting to open the cards with me, singing me Happy Birthday, and looking forward to/enjoying the cake. Kathy made my favorite breakfast, huevos motuleños (fried eggs over tortilla, black beans and peas, covered with green salsa and goat cheese (Kathy uses feta)), and for dinner took me to one of my favorite restaurants (Nam Viet in Arlington). And my gift from Kathy and Emelia was a year's worth of massages, an extravagance that will probably do me a world of good but which I would never bestow upon myself. The day was completely low-key, and it was all I needed -- Kathy had trouble believing me when I said how much I enjoyed myself. The fact that several dozen people wished me happy birthday on facebook was surprisingly satisfying as well -- I like to think that it gave me a taste of what it might have been like to have had a birthday during the school year instead of the summer.

As the day of my birthday approached, I reflected on the fact that it had been a year since my mugging. Hard to believe that it's only been a year, as it seems much longer ago. It doesn't seem to affect me on a day-to-day basis (heck, days go by when I don't even think about it), though it's possible my troubles sleeping are influenced by that event. It's slipped in among my life events to become one of the multitude of things that have gone into defining who I am, never becoming a singular something that defines me.

Also this month I hit the halfway point for eligibility for full federal retirement. Amazingly enough, I can get full retirement in less than another 16 years. I'm not really one of those people who obsesses over my retirement eligibility, but I get a reminder of it every year in my statement of benefits, and as a numbers geek I'm more than capable of dividing by two. Before we had Emelia, I used to daydream about early retirement, and fully contemplated retiring no later than my first opportunity for that full pension, a worst-case scenario. Full retirement at the first opportunity, however, is less than one-third of my salary, and like everyone else's, my 401(k) took a big hit with the market crash. And now we have Emelia, and my eligibility for full retirement coincides with the time that Emelia would be about to start college -- I don't know that we'd be able to get Emelia all the way through college on a pensioners' income, though it'd be plenty easy to take that income and find a job I might like more. However I do it, I expect to work longer than I once contemplated, but I no longer mind it as much -- with the arrival of Emelia, my mindset has shifted from having to work to set me up for life, to having to work to provide for my family. I'd be lying if I said there isn't a bit of wistfulness, but it's a trade-off that I've made and would gladly make again.

And that statement provides the segue to something that's been on my mind every day of the month, and then some. Earlier this week we reached a big milestone, the end of the first trimester of Kathy's pregnancy. Yes, that's right -- something that took so much effort the first time happened without so much as a visit to the fertility clinic this time. Child #2, a.k.a., the Groundhog,* is due at the start of February. Kathy's been having a harder time this go around -- last time she was stressed by the absence of symptoms, worrying that was a bad thing; and this time she's complaining about those very symptoms. I guess there's no pleasing some people. We had wanted to keep the news completely quiet during the first trimester, but figured we had to tell my family during the week at the beach given Kathy's symptoms (and the inability to provide any other reason why she would reject all of Josh's delectable alcoholic offerings). So then in the name of equality, we had to tell Kathy's family. And although the story's been slowly leaking out, we've kept things mostly quiet, and I suspect that many of you are hearing about it for the first time. Now that we're making that news public, I can talk about it on the blog -- it's been tough to offer posts on the blog given that I couldn't discuss that particular elephant in the room of my mind (said elephant currently weighs less than an ounce), but I'm hoping to write more frequently again.

* - Note that the use of the nickname The Groundhog is not meant to suggest that we would name a boy child Phil.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Washington Post

Once upon a time, the Washington Post was considered both liberal and one of the best newspapers in the business, particularly with respect to national politics. Back in the '80s and early '90s, before I even lived here, I subscribed to the Washington Post National Weekly Edition. At the time, I felt I learned a lot about what was going on in the world by reading such great columnists as the late Molly Ivins. When I moved here, I subscribed to the Post for a number of years, until I ultimately decided that I didn't read it enough to justify all the paper being produced. I continued to read sections of it online, particularly the soccer columns.

As many of you know, newspaper subscribership has plummeted, driving many newspapers out of business as they are unable to generate a profit. I can't say that I like the direction journalism has taken in the past decade or so, where stenography seems to be the focus rather than reporting. All the same, I don't think the demise of newspapers is a good thing, and have on occasion considered restarting my Post subscription in order to support the institution. Unless things change dramatically, however, I don't see ever going ahead with doing so. The reason is simple -- the Post is no longer a newspaper for which I have any respect.

For starters, the Post has decided that it wants to be nutty conservative (I guess so it can compete with the Washington Times), and has grabbed neocons aplenty to go with a stable of run-of-the-mill conservatives. Just to be clear, I was fine with George Will. And I could tolerate the off-the-wall ruminations of Charles Krauthammer, as one neoconservative at least allows you to keep tabs on their thinking. But to those the Post has added Bill Kristol and Michael Gerson, and Fred Hiatt has revealed himself as a full-fledged neoCon as well. There are others as well (here's a mostly complete rundown), and apparently that's insufficient, as they are complemented by frequent guest columns from additional "luminaries" of the conservative world (Sarah Palin of all people had a nonsensical appearance just this week).

The Post's recent decision to fire Dan Froomkin was also rather troubling, as he actually is a reporter in the traditional sense of the word. He was willing to challenge both the Bush and Obama administrations when their actions deviated from their words. Just as importantly, he challenged others in the media when they failed to do their jobs. I guess that made him unpopular with the Post's management, but he was very popular with its readers, for good reason.

The most recent brouhaha concerned the Post's pay-for-play scandal, whereby the Post's CEO and publisher, Katharine Weymouth sought to sell access to Obama administration officials and to her own reporters and editors. I think this one speaks for itself.

And in yesterday's paper, Gerson wrote a scathing article condemning Justice Ruth Ginsburg for favoring eugenics through abortion. The problem with his writing of such vitriol is that Justice Ginsburg said nothing of the sort. The man said in his column that the Ginsburg quote should not be taken out of context, all the while omitting the last three sentences from the quote, i.e., the ones that provided context. Here was the question Ginsburg was asked:
Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid abortions for poor women?
Here's what Gerson says her response was:
Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae -- in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion.
Here's the actual response Justice Ginsburg gave in her answer:
Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae — in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong. (empahasis added)
That alone would be an enormous problem, compounded by the fact that he basically stole the misrepresentation from other conservative hacks (one, Jonah Goldberg, got his misrepresentations printed with the L.A. Times, while the other, Ben Domenech, is a well-known conservative blogger).

I actually wrote the ombudsman for the Post about the Gerson article, asking at what point the Post feels an obligation to, you know, fact check the material that appears on its editorial pages. The ombudsman politely and promptly responded, informed me that he handles the news pages, and indicated that my complaints are best delivered to Mr. Gerson (e-mail address provided). I suppose the response I got shouldn't surprise me, but it still disturbed me -- the Post allows columnists to publish their opinions without regard to the truth. I understand the opinion page should be held to a different standard than the news sections, but what the ombudsman's response tells me is that the only standard is what the author says it is. Perhaps that's the norm for the opinion pages these days, and the Post is just following along, but that doesn't make it right.

In sum, between the right-wing slant and the questionable practices, the Post has left me with no desire to offer it my financial support ever again.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Obama So Far

I said a year ago that my support for Obama was tepid, and six months into his presidency, sadly I cannot say that I think better of the president than I did the candidate. In fact, I think far worse.

On the plus side, he's not Bush. He has stated that torture is not to be permitted going forward. His judicial nominees are presumably adequate -- Sotomayor for example seems like a competent judge who shouldn't tilt the court any further to the radicalism of Roberts/Scalia and the Federalists. In terms of Middle East policy, actually stating that Israelis should keep to their word and cease settlements is also a positive step, no matter how obvious or incremental it actually is. He promoted and signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, undoing a mischievous ruling by the Supreme Court that interpreted the Equal Pay Act in a way that essentially rendered it useless.

On the minus side, despite his campaign rhetoric to the contrary, he's actually working to expand executive authority -- his administration's pleadings in prisoner abuse cases and warrantless wiretap cases endorse Bush administration arguments and even somewhat expand upon them. I'm still having trouble grasping how anyone could support him on these matters after he argues that not only should his administration be able to hold suspected terrorists indefinitely, but that the government should be allowed to keep individuals it deems dangerous even if they have been acquitted. Further, his statement that he plans to close Guantanamo is being shown to be wholly symbolic given his interest in maintaining the ability to create a similar prison in Bagram and who knows where else. I'm almost as disturbed by the relative silence of Democrats in criticizing these positions as I am by the positions themselves.

He's also continued the Bush administration's policies for Wall Street, and doing nothing to make Wall Street accountable for the economic implosion and almost nothing to move forward reforms that might prevent similar implosions in the future.

Meanwhile, Obama's insistence on bipartisanship resulted in a mediocre and inadequate stimulus package, and still yielded only a handful of Republican votes. This mentality is also hurting the likelihood of meaningful health care reform, and jeopardizes efforts at significant climate change legislation. For better or worse, the Republicans have decided to act as the party of No, and unless they want to come to the table with a position that allows for bipartisanship (e.g., both sides possess a common goal but disagree on the means to an end), Obama and the Democrats are much better off doing the right thing. Doing less than that results in bad or failed policy for which Republicans can gleefully point to their votes against.

Obama may yet redeem himself and his presidency, but if the presidential vote were tomorrow, I would unquestionably vote for a third-party candidate.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Did I Mention It's Been Crazy?

My first two posts after my hiatus were about travel. This isn't surprising, because there's been a lot going on with us. In fact, we're nearing the end of a crazy couple of months. But it's been good (mostly). Here's what I'm talking about:

April 8: Host a Seder for 9
April 8-10: Host my Aunt Faith and cousin Jeff for Passover
April 18-25: Trip to Hawaii with our friends Sharon and Gary
Weekend of May 2: Nothing scheduled, which was a good thing because all three of us were sick for 2-4 days.
May 5: Kathy's Birthday
May 7-9: Surprised Kathy by having her friend Jen down for her birthday, and they met up with two other friends who now live in the DC area.
May 10: Mother's Day
May 13-18: My folks visited
May 14-17: 10th Anniversary getaway to Rehoboth Beach
May 22-25: Camping with Tom and Anna
May 27-29: Hosted my college roommate Pete and his girlfriend Evette for a visit
May 29-31: By myself, went to NYC to visit Jeff and attend a RateBeer gathering.
June 5-14: Family vacation in Hilton Head with overnight stops in Raleigh with Chris and Margie.
Weekend of June 21: Mercifully, nothing. Well, except Chris and Margie staying with us while they were in town for a wedding.
June 26-28: Camping with local beer geeks. Same event as this, except it's smaller this year.
June 29-July 2: Hosting Kathy's friend Jen and her two kids, while they visit DC.
July 3: All day beer gathering of locals.
July 4 weekend: No plans yet, but just wait.
July 7: Somebody's birthday.

Maybe it'll settle down after that, but I'm not counting on it. We still have to decide whether to go camping at a festival outside of Richmond the weekend of July 11 -- we're leaning against it, but Tom and Anna are pushy. And there are always more activities that pop up on our calendar. At least, there always seem to be. I figure that's usually a good thing. Usually.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

10 Years and Counting

On May 16th, Kathy and I celebrated our 10th anniversary. My folks came up to take care of Emelia, so Kathy and I could take our first vacation sans child in the 2.5 years since she was born. In fact, it was Kathy's first night away from Emelia since she was born. Kathy was anxious enough about leaving Emelia that she insisted on going somewhere nearby, so we went to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, less than three hours from here. We had both been there briefly -- Kathy's uncle and aunt have a home there, and in December 1998 they hosted a small family engagement party for us. But I think we only stayed one evening, and I don't even remember seeing the ocean on that trip.

This time we stayed at a hotel one block from the ocean, and constantly walked down to the beach. It was too cold to swim (or even to stand in the surf for very long), but it was great to walk on the beach, especially Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, before the weekend visitors filled the place up. Among other activities, we saw our first movie together since Emelia was born, watching the new Star Trek, which we both enjoyed quite a bit. And three nights in a row of eating out alone at nice restaurants was a treasured experience. But whether it was these activities or others, the main thing we did was spend unhurried time in each other's company, something that doesn't happen much around a toddler, no matter how much we enjoy being with her (and believe me, we do).

While we were in Delaware, Emelia had a wonderful time back home. The folks kept us informed on how things were going, which helped keep Kathy relaxed and enjoying herself. We very much appreciated their coming up to take care of Emelia -- it was the best anniversary present we could ask for. That they enjoyed having that much time with Emelia (and vice-versa) makes it that much better.

In terms of what being married for ten years means to me, I think it's incredible that I could find someone who is so right for me. Incredible to think that 12 years ago I didn't even know this person whom I would marry, and grow to love more as each year passes. Incredible to think that if our love keeps growing as it has been, my love for Kathy will be so much greater in a decade than it is now. Simply put, my marriage to Kathy has been and continues to be incredible.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Hello Blogger My Old Friend...

...I've come to write on you again.

So I'm back. I thought I had nothing left to say that couldn't be covered in the twitter-like status updates on facebook. And maybe that was the case. But I decided that I still need to say it here, where I can store my footprints rather than have them wash away with the ebb and flow of all the other things that facebook compiles. The reason is simple -- I'm 40, and my daughter is 2. By the time she's 22, and maybe starting to learn about who her father is, I'll be a different person, and she'll never have known the person I am now. And I want her to have various anecdotes of who she was as a little girl, given that we'll undoubtedly have forgotten most of them unless they're recorded somewhere.

Of course, who I am as a blogger is not an accurate portrait of who I am -- it's what I choose/bother to share, and who I hold myself out to be in the public environment of this blog. Still, that'll have to do -- I have no desire to share everything.

And you the reader in the present are welcome to come along for the ride. It's a given that I'm writing for you too, not just future Emelia. Otherwise I could just keep a journal.
Now that that's out of the way, let's cover Hilton Head, where we spent the second week in June with my family for our annual vacation. Unlike last year, we drove down -- our direct flights being canceled last year, thereby requiring a connection, probably had something to do with it. Both coming and going, we stayed in Raleigh with our friends Margie and Chris, hitting a bit of the beer scene down there and seeing their new house (they closed on it the Friday we were in Hilton Head, meaning that we stayed in different places coming and going). They'll be up here this weekend for a wedding, and we're camping with them next weekend, meaning we'll be seeing them all four weekends in June. Seeing Margie, a college friend, was as close as I came to attending my 20th college reunion, as Hilton Head started the same weekend that was held.

Down in Hilton Head, the house we stayed at was amazing, as the family selection seems to be each year. We let others fight over the bedrooms with the ocean view, and grabbed the darkest room we could find in hope of sleeping in. It didn't work, as I think I was out of bed by 6:30 every morning except one.

The beach was lovely and the weather was pretty cooperative (mostly sunny, and only over 90 a couple of days). We had a good time for the first part of the week, and the absence of "Explosion Wednesday" that has been present in past years was a definite improvement. Still, by the end there was some strain, which probably started in earnest on Thursday with Dad's fixation on consuming the leftovers. If we had thought to turn his mention of them into a drinking game, maybe things would have stayed a little mellower, but I only just thought of it while typing this out. And besides, being plastered by 10am is not conducive to keeping up with children, of which six were present.

The newest child to enter the family's fold is three-month old Emily, daughter to my sister Shari. We met Emily on this trip, and she's a real cutie (and sweetie). Emelia loves babies, and she had been looking forward to meeting "Baby Emily" for months. The reality mostly seemed to meet her expectations. Throughout the week, Dad regularly interchanged the names of Emelia and Emily. I can't really blame him -- when we picked Emelia's name, we were concerned with picking a name that wasn't too close to others in the family, but Shari had her heart set on the name Emily for a long time, and stuck with it when the time came. As long as she keeps Emily west of the Rockies for the most part, I figure the country's big enough for both Emelia and Emily.

Emelia had a great time with her cousins -- she gets along with all of them (they all get along with each other), and at the end of the week, she was so sad that she had to say goodbye to everyone. Probably Emelia's favorite activity for the week was going in the pool, especially jumping in from the side and having one of us catch her. Her excitement at doing that resulted in her jumping a few times before the adult was ready for her, eventually resulting in stern lectures and time out of the pool because she forgot to ask if the adult was ready. Her next favorite activity was putting on various articles of her cousins' clothing -- she already has a shoe fetish that exceeds her mother's.*

Foodwise, easily the highlight of the week was the Dallas contingent's night in the kitchen. Kim started us off with afternoon queso that was delicious. For the actual meal, Josh led off with crabcakes that were fantastic. Next up was a tasty salad course that Josh and Hunter prepared that included a goat cheese medallion covered in crushed pecans. As for the main course, most people were served 3-inch thick steaks that received universal acclaim, while Hunter, Kathy and I went with 10-ounce tuna steaks that were some of the best I've ever had. After taking a bit of time to digest, Kim brought out poundcake topped with creamcheese frosting and fresh fruit -- fairly simple but so good. In case you're wondering what we did for our night of cooking, we volunteered to make dinner the night we arrived (4pm check-in), so we kept it simple with ground turkey tacos. Our meal was well received (as were all the other meals the various family members prepared, lasagna by Dad/Mom/Shari and BBQ chicken by Rebecca & John), but it certainly belonged in AA compared to Josh, Hunter, and Kim's major league offering.

So we survived another year, even thrived at times, and Josh and Kim get to pick next year's place. That they haven't already is something of a miracle considering how much Mom was looking at places for them to select. Collectively, our family is crazy enough to think that the destination should be all set up a full year in advance. Last night, Josh and Kim threw up their hands by sending around a list of six possible houses in four different locations, and seeking feedback. Our response is simple -- all the houses look lovely, and we'll be happy with whatever you choose. They're not getting out of their responsibility that easily!
* - At least it exceeds it now that Kathy's somewhat reformed.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Parenting 101

No, I'm not teaching it, I'm taking it. I have the prerequisite of a kid, and the course is taught daily.

In last night's class, we had an overtired two-year old being silly and manic while we were trying to have her eat at the table with us. At one point Emelia put her feet up against the table and pulled the tablecloth over her legs. It wasn't that big of a deal, but Kathy asked her to put her feet and the tablecloth down. She refused, and I told her that if she didn't do what her mother had asked her to do, she would be removed from the table and put in the chair in the corner. Emelia then put her feet and the tablecloth down, and for the rest of dinner pretty much left both alone.

A few minutes later, while Kathy and I were talking, Emelia took her cup and poured the contents (water, fortunately) onto the table. Kathy was very angry and said so, and told Emelia to go into the other room while Kathy and I finished dinner. Emelia burst out crying, and Kathy literally walked her into the other room because Emelia wouldn't go there on her own. After a minute or so in the living room by herself, she stopped crying, and a minute after that, we had finished eating, and Kathy told her she could come back to the dining room.

Kathy picked her up, and I asked her if she understood why she had been sent into the other room. She responded, "Because I was crying." I told her that wasn't why, and explained why we were unhappy with what she had done. Apparently, it still didn't stick, because as Kathy was putting her to bed, Emelia restated her misconception that she was punished for crying.

When Kathy came back downstairs, she asked me if we were being too demanding. I thought about it for a minute, and answered that Emelia knew that what she was did was not ok, so from that perspective there was no problem. Where I thought we might be being too demanding was in that we are asking her discern the degree of unacceptable behavior. In other words, she knows that some behavior isn't ok, but it's minor enough that we don't necessarily enforce it. Then there's other behavior that she's told is unacceptable, for which she's been asked to stop doing, and she's told that there will be consequences if she does not (e.g., the feet and the tablecloth). But there aren't many actions that generate an immediate response with no warning, such as when she poured the water.

So at the end of all that, I said, "No, we're not being too demanding, and yes, we're being too demanding."

Seems like "kids try to push their boundaries" is applicable here (covered in the third chapter of the course book). Kathy's response was so traumatic to Emelia that apparently Emelia forgot exactly what triggered it (nice that such a small punishment can be so effective -- I'm enjoying that while it lasts). Hopefully though, enough stuck either from the incident or our later explanations that she won't pour water on the table again. And so she'll begin to learn that doing things she knows she shouldn't can have consequences she doesn't like, so that maybe she won't do them. I figure that the key words from in this paragraph are "hopefully" and "begin."

I wonder what sort of grade I'm going to get in this class (even though the final is a LONG way off).