Reconstruction is expensive.

The American Red Cross needs your help. They have had to take out $340 million dollars in loans, the first time the charity has ever gone into debt for disaster relief. [New York Times story here.]



From NPR, Senator Patrick Leahy on completion of the Miers' confirmation hearings:
We do not have an end time and whether we get out at Thanksgiving or not is not my concern; my concern is that it is done right. And if the questions are…answered as incompletely as they have been, then it’s going to be a long hearing indeed.
One might say an analogous statement could be made of Iraq.


Assorted miscellany

Definition of a bad party: black suits dancing to YMCA.* I passed by a classic case in the form of a charity gala a block down on my street last night. Today on 15th street: an apartment's windows open to the fair weather, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! blaring over the fan. Definition of a great Sunday.

American diplomats still can't speak Arabic. It occurs to me that part of the problem is excellent Arabic speakers are alienated by our administration's aggressive regional policy [I certainly am, not that I'm any great shakes at the language]. It also occurs to me that the Foreign Service Institute, competent as it is, overlooks the power of immersion. They get you to an intermediate level of speaking ability and then send you to post to work it out on your own. Continued training in the destination country: cheap, easy, effective.

Outlets for your underused creativity: New Yorker Cartoon Contest and WaPo's Style Invitational, where I regularly fulfill my need for bad puns.**

*Funny, Connor Deasy just sang, "Guess everyone else went to a better party," into my ear.
**Incidentally, if anyone knows the permalink generator for Post content, I'd be ever so grateful.

Sing all hail, what'll be revealed today...

Caught the New Pornographers* tonight at the 9:30 club. Fun show. Full disclosure: when I first heard the New Pornographers, I didn't get it. It was wall of sound done the indie rock way, but to me it just sounded like music that turned on and off like a light switch. One dynamic level, a climax lasting for an entire song, it asked too much of me. However, I really like the new album Twin Cinema. I think they're pushing their sugary kitschy pop into more complexity without losing any of the fun. So when my friend Elise said she luuuu-uvs them and wanted to see the show, sounded like a good idea. Especially because Destroyer was opening and also because I have always wanted to know what it feels like to be in a room with Neko Case.

Destroyer was good. Unfortunate that a lot of people had never heard of him, and literate lyrics don't necessarily register when you hear them for the first time out of large speakers in a club. Especially if these people were here for the poppiest of the pop, they weren't expecting to have to think for their enjoyment.

The New P's were pretty awesome. They're exactly the kind of band you should see on a Saturday night when you want to cut loose, toss your hair, and shake your hips. I refuse to understand people who go to jam sessions where they close their eyes and sway. Or stand stock still. This was not that kind of concert. Roommate Ellen and her younger sister were also in attendance. Ellen was disappointed they did not sound different than the record. But...I dunno. I guess I think that the record has enough happy accidents on it that just being able to replicate it is kind of impressive. And if they added a whole bunch of guitar solos or complicated drum beats, would it be as much fun to dance to?

*Dude, what's up with that name? Your mama don't approve of racy nonsense. Funny, it's actually because some televangelist, Jimmy Stewart, doesn't approve of any music whatsoever (not even Christian music). Newman claims "it was just two words I liked the sound of together," and then when he discovered Swaggart had written a book called Music: The New Pornography, thought it was too perfect to pass up.


"We are tired."

The Spanish coastline is visible on a clear day in northern Morocco; that's how close it is. Even closer are the two enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, surrounded on three sides by Morocco. Many poor African migrants attempt to reach Europe through these enclaves.

The past two weeks have shown how disastrous consequences for these migrants can be. Fourteen died in a storming of the razor-covered wire fences around Ceuta and Melilla, prompting Spain to try to send them back. However, Spain does not have repatriation agreements with any of the likely countries of origin: Mali, Nigeria, Senegal. They have recently revived a 1992 agreement with Morocco stating migrants can be sent back there even if not originally from there. Perfect example of how absurd the postcolonial context can be: stubborn holdouts on tiny pieces of land become just too tempting for those from very poor countries. Very poor countries, of course, do not have the resources to enforce migration policies or any incentive to stem population flow. Medium-poor country in between the two gets stuck dealing with the problem in an attempt to curry favor with rich bloc.

As it turns out, the medium-poor country does not actually have the resources to deal with the problem, either. Hundreds volunteered to be flown back to Mali and Senegal. Other hundreds were taken via bus convoy in inhumane conditions and then just abandoned in the desert on the Algerian border. After an international outcry, these were added to the repatriation via airplane. One was quoted by the BBC as saying, "We are glad to be going back because we are tired," but went on to say he would try to get to Europe again, compelled to roll his Promethean stone.

Imagine -- you won't be able to, but try -- if you were a farmer in an African village barely able to subsist, whose best choice in life was to "make it to Europe or die trying." And having failed, to be shuffled around, unwanted by any country, not given adequate food, water, medical care. Breaks my heart.


I might lose my feminist cred with this one.

What's in a (sur)name? To first wavers, there is the burden of millenia of patriarchy. Their symbolic gesture of response was keeping their own. Translation: I am my own woman, marriage is not a transfer of me as a piece of property from my father to you. Later on, feminists took the whole "joined by the bonds of matrimony" literally and hyphenated, thereby afflicting legions of spawn with their unwieldy double names.

Well, Germany is fighting back. That's right, in the name of efficiency and compassion for poor unsuspecting offspring, Germany has made the use of hyphenated names illegal. From the Wall Street Journal,
why no hyphens? Dr. Eichhoff-Cyrus, who hyphenated her own surname after marriage but is not allowed to pass it on to her children, explains that the concern is hyphenation multiplication. If a double-named boy grew up to marry and have children with a double-named woman, those children could have four names, and their children could have eight, and their children could have 16. The bureaucracy shudders.

Wish you could read the whole thing, as it's purty funny. They actually have local registries (Standesamt) that have to approve your child's name. Mostly they check for gender indication. L & B, you'd be ok because you have a gender-specific first name.

I don't know about that part, but I support the antihyphenation clause. The kid used as an example in the article would have been Leonard Matthias Grunkin-Paul. Now that's just cruel. Certainly I am in favor of equality; moreover, naming is a personal matter in which the government really should not have much say. But single-word surnames seem a kind of public good.

So I guess I'm still on the fence as far as feminism's reconciliation with society is concerned. But what about me? What would I do for myself? Funny, the (two, count them, two) women economists in my section were discussing this with me a while back. First one's advice was to take his name if I married before I had published (professionally, in an academic journal), keep my own if I marry after. Simple enough, and I suppose professional recognition is its own kind of self-affirmation. Second's advice is slightly more complex. Those of you who know me know that I go by a dimunitive of my middle name. She said I should take the unabbreviated middle name as my first, maiden name as middle, and husband's name as last, a la HRC, except she's always been called Hillary. Any EconLit search for either maiden or new last name would produce all articles. But hey wait a second, I'm still essentially bowing to patriarchal tradition, and I kinda like the name I go by. I've never known any other, and my identity has been constructed on this name, complicated as it is. Her argument was that the nickname was juvenile, the middle name more professional. I still like it. Hmph. Got out of the conversation by telling her I wasn't even dating anyone. Decision delayed.

Convenience store downstairs now selling candy corn packages

And you know what that means...it's time to leave costume ideas in the comment section. Points awarded based on creativity, ease of construction, cost consciousness, and mojo factor. Winner receives her choice of a bag of her favorite treat or a mix CD designed by me. I will set up a flickr account and put up a photo of the finished product just for the occasion.

Should I feel ashamed that my anticipation and celebration of holidays is guided by consumer outlets? Now, I will get upset when red and green decorations replace orange and black candy, but Christmas is about family and community and selflessness and all kinds of warm fuzzy feelings, not to mention they totally skip over Thanksgiving, which is my favorite. But Halloween is a day of complete paganism, gimme-gimme-gimme treats or fiction, take your pick.

Actually, let's be honest, the end of October gives us faux grownups an excuse to slip into the ridiculousness of the themed party where we drink far too much in order to make the most of our sexy ensemble (see fourth criterion above), letting some wicked vampire sink his fangs into our powdered angelic neck. But a party's a party, and I'm never a spoilsport, so I just have to be as clever as possible in compliance. Ok?

Cleverness does not include costumes for iPods. Whaaaa??? Even if I were not already distanced by the shattered state of my own sleek white rectangle, I would find this absurd. I have winced once or twice already for the growing iAccessory niche. But market sins were forgiven by my own acknoweldgement that the iPod phenomenon is mostly about style, and accoutrements along the lines of the iSkin are also just fashion. A costume, however, goes beyond fashion and into pet territory. And my mom is, of course, crazy for buying rhinestone-trimmed, Tiffany-blue collars with a leash to match for her Yorkie. Dig?

[Feeling better, btw. Respite from the rain gave me a chance to run and shake it all off.]


Rain, rain, go away

I feel as though it's been raining for years, although surely if that were true we would have adapted better by now. When I left DC Saturday morning, the rain came down in thick, unslanting, sheets, requiring me to set my wipers on the fastest speed. As I headed west the drops shrank and then stopped, and the fabric of sky cover thinned, turning from opaque grey wool to cotton batting then into gauze so filmy eventually it tore, revealing bright blue above. Grey settled back in Sunday morning, however, and now that I'm back in my away-from-parents home, the wet seems to have returned, too. Or perhaps it never left.
Mostly it's putting me in a foul mood. None of the wispy warm summer droplets now. It's rain so cold and heavy it pushes you out of the way. Made running last night after I got back undesirable, biking in to work impractical. When I am inactive I get grumpy; if inactivity is not by my choice then I turn into a completely hateful bitch. Outta my way. But no, our servers are down at work so everyone thinks it's social hour and my office is the parlor. Bah.
I turn to a poet beloved in childhood for a funnier take on the crazy-making weather:


I opened my eyes
And looked up at the rain,
And it dripped in my head
And flowed into my brain,
And all that I hear as I lie in my bed
Is the slishity-slosh of the rain in my head.

I step very softly,
I walk very slow,
I can't do a handstand--
I might overflow,
So pardon the wild crazy thing I just said--
I'm just not the same since there's rain in my head.

Shel Silverstein


A gateway between worlds

I'm grateful to my roommate Ellen for allowing me to browse through her New Yorker magazines once she has finished with them. This piece in Talk of the Town, Doctor Doorman, actually made me want to read the book, something reviews don't always do. It called into question the doorman's purpose in the grand scheme of things but also identified him as an observer with unparalleled access and a social agent in a unique position.
Why, precisely, do we have doormen anymore? The article offers this observation, "ninety per cent of doormen say that their main job is security, though just about the same percentage say that they have never had any kind of security-threatening incident." The presence of a doorman might deter the crimes which otherwise would have occurred. His existence obviating his necessity, a chicken-and-egg problem I can never quite wrap my head around. Then there is the observable fact that in areas where doormen are most needed (my neighborhood, say), they are used the least. Doormen are attached to swanky apartment buildings in posh neighborhoods whose circumstances simultaneously decrease the possibility of crime and increase the number of people equipped to deal with it. Which suggests that doormen serve some other social purpose, perhaps to enhance the aforementioned reputation of swank.
Doorman are paid an income clearly not equal to that of the building's residents, a socicoeconomic gap which must be smoothed over with civility. The book's author puts it this way, "Doormen and tenant interactions in the lobby, and the distinct ecology of the residential building, are shaped within the narrow shoals of too much closeness in a context of too much distance."
Indeed, aren't doormen intimately familiar with the lives of their charges? I live in a townhouse, but the security officers at the government agency where I work are something akin to doormen, at least sociologically. [Aside: if that's true, are we creating a hierarchy of agencies, parallel to the apartment building pyramid, based on the level of security they require?] My security officers know me. They see me arrive, unkempt or fresh-faced and smiling; leave, all dolled up for a hot date (ha!) or in frisbee rags; go on a run, and know how long I'm gone and whether I come back red-faced. Their cameras show when I eat, the days when I need the afternoon coffee break, and when I am still toiling away. If it's past 10, it draws out the patrolling officer, who grunts into the walkie-talkie, "[MK] in 1254, [MK] in 1254." Is it condescending to engage them in banter? Worse not to?
We have a case of the upstairs/downstairs problem exacerbated because doormen are the people resposible for mediating the problems of the street, to paraphrase our author. Do they ever feel traitors to themselves? On my bike ride last week, I passed by a scene outside of a nice hotel on New Hampshire Avenue. An Ethiopian cabbie was pulling a U-wie while yelling something out of his window to the tuxedoed doorman of the same nationality across the street. The doorman steped in front of the nicely dressed, somewhat harried-looking group of guests and cried, "I love America! I love America! I'm an American, man!" The cabbie threw up his left hand and drove off in disgust.

(You thought I was going to write about Narnia, didn't you).