December 27, 2006

Twins' First Christmas

I went to my mother's house in College Station for Christmas. She has a new kitten, Eliot (after T.S. Eliot), who is very feisty and playful and loves to climb things--and people! When my brother and I were little, we used to have two Christmas trees--one with unbreakable ornaments, many of which had been made by us or our friends, or teachers at school--and one with glass ornaments, some of which had belonged to my father's family when he was little. It was a "breakable" tree all around, since the garlands on the tree were glass beads, and even the tree skirt was decorated with glass-bodied animals. One year, our cat, Macheath, climbed the breakable tree while we were at the Christmas eve service, knocking it over and breaking a lot of the ornaments on one side. After that, it was "We Two Kings of Orient Are," among other losses. In order to avoid a similar tragedy this year, my mom decorated the tree solely with french-wire bows. Here's Eliot, that bad boy, perched in the Christmas tree:

Eliot in the Xmas Tree
This was the twins' first Christmas. When my brother and his wife came over, my mother and I were in the kitchen working on dinner, and we put a blanket on the floor so that the twins could play safely while we watched. There are pictures and home movies of my brother and me playing on a blanket in that same corner of the kitchen from thirty-hmm years ago! Then we all moved into the living room to open presents. The twins, being too young to rip open wrapping paper, had to watch while their parents opened their gifts for them. Then we propped the gifts on their tummies, so they could better appreciate them. Here's Jack with a soft "book" behind him and another toy.

Sam was pretty tired, and slept through most of the proceedings. From when he was first born, I thought that he reminded me of a character in a children's book, but couldn't put my finger on what it was. I found the book while doing my Christmas shopping this year, and it's "Harold and the Purple Crayon." I propped it up next to sleeping Sam. How cute that Sam's wearing a blue onesie just like Harold!

Sam and Harold

December 4, 2006

Long Time No Post

When you put something off, even something fun, it can acquire the weight of a prison sentence, which in turn encourages further putting off. The whole process can be very off putting. But after repeated comments from a friend, who today claimed that anyone who might at one time have been interested in what I write here had long ago lost interest due to my not posting for three months, I thought I had better post something, anything just to break my non-posting habit. So here it is, a post about not posting. And an outline of my future posts, in which I would like to go back and fill in the last few months and write about what I have been doing.

The initial procastination began because I felt I should be preparing for ACL Fest by listening to the bands that would be playing so that I would appreciate their sets more. Then the fest itself was time-consuming and exhausting, and shortly after that I took a week-long trip to Florida, which trip did not start out nor unfold as planned, and which was accompanied by quite a bit of unnecessary drama and sturm und drang, although it was worthwhile overall.

I promptly came down with a bad cold upon my return, and spent the whole weekend in bed, emerging only to attend the Rolling Stones concert here, which was lots of fun, and at which I took lots of photos and a few mini-movies. I know I can post the photos on Blogger, but I'm not sure about the movies. I'll probably have to use YouTube, which has been swallowed up by Google since I last posted.

Work was very busy after that, and then, even though I got a flu shot, I came down with a really bad cold yet again, and this one kept me in bed and coughing for a whole work week and over a weekend. It's really rare for me to be sick enough to miss work for four days in a row--in fact, I don't think I've ever missed that much due to a cold. I seem to have shaken the cold now, but a neck/back/shoulder problem that was bothersome but not terribly painful except when I coughed or sneezed suddenly came to the forefront, and I finally admitted the severity of the problem and went to see a physical therapist last Friday. I did the exercises he gave me, and it did improve the problem; the trick now is to keep doing them and prevent a relapse. Simple activities such as sleeping, driving a car, and sitting at my desk at work all seem to exacerbate this feeling that my left arm is out of joint and needs to be popped out or back into place. It's that feeling that it's almost right but not quite that's really frustrating and excruciating.

I have a North University Neighborhood Association (NUNA) meeting tonight, and I've had to miss the last several meetings due to work conflicts, so I had better go to this one. À demain, tout le monde.

November 12, 2006

More Twinsy Photos

Here is one of my favorite photos of the twins. I had this one hanging up at work for several months. Jack is on the left, and Sam is on the right. They're really getting a lot easier to tell apart now. So cute, though, I'm forgetting myself and uttering phrases such as "Don't you just want to eat 'em up with a spoon?" I have no idea why we as a culture have the impulse to say such cannibalistic things, but maybe it has something with our American obsession with food, or our inability to admire something without bringing our appetite into it. Food for thought.

September 18, 2006

ACL Fest Wrap-Up

Well, the big difference in ACL Fest from 2005 to 2006 was that the parks people made a huge effort to water the grass all summer so that the festival wouldn't be a dust bowl again. Last year was like being in a western, what with all the folks wearing bandanas to keep the dust out of their lungs. Without Hurricane Rita to spoil things, the overall weather was a lot better in 06. Hot, yes, but bearable.

I remember so distinctly last year's Arcade Fire show on Sunday afternoon. It was 108 degrees out, and I had to sit on the ground and let the surrounding people shade me, since standing up made me nauseated and woozy. This year, I had a thermometer I bought for my Costa Rica trip, which displayed the much more tolerable temperature of 93 degrees at the same time Sunday afternoon. Not exactly cool, but still, a whole 15 degrees cooler!

In addition to my thermometer/LED light/compass/mirror gadget, I also carried an umbrella with me all day Sunday. Watching the beginning of Tom Petty, I remarked to my friend Shannon, who also had an umbrella, "Good thing we carried these umbrellas around with us all day. That must be why it didn't rain." Famous last words! At that moment, the skies grew dark and ominous, clouds moved in rapidly, and in 10 minutes, it was pouring with rain. The band left the stage, and people made shift to pack up their stuff, including their handy placemarker totems, put up their umbrellas and stay dry. Friends Sally and Karen had left in search of the bathroom, and had a hell of a time finding us again in the rain and the dark without any of the reference points that are so crucial. It rained so hard that even the holdouts with ponchos decided to get under the umbrellas. The big question, though, was, "Will the Heartbreakers come back and play, or are we gonna stand here like jerks and wait for nothing?" There was an agonizing 45 minute wait, but once the rain had died down, and the electrical problems solved, TP and the band came back out, uncovered their Hammond organ, and played another nearly hour-long set, including "It's Good to be King," "Free Falling," "Learning to Fly," "American Girl," and "You Wreck Me." I reeeeeeaaaallly wanted them to play "The Waiting," and I don't know what was the hardest part, the waiting, or the realizing that I wasn't going to hear that familiar "Ter-chung...dow nee nee now nee nee dow, now" intro, or Mike Campbell's transcendent guitar solo. Oh, well.

The band I was really looking forward to seeing was "The New Pornographers," who together with singer Neko Case have almost singlehandedly restored my faith in American popular music. I crossed my fingers that Neko would grace the festival with her presence, and she did, making jokes about how it was too cold for her, and what did we mean by making her perform in these freezing conditions. I wanted to yell, "Shoulda been here last year when it was 10 below, babe." Ha! Anyway, her voice sounded clear as a bell, and just as beautiful as it does coming out of my headphones. I was grinning and jumping up and down the whole time, singing along. I think I almost cried when they played "Blown Speakers." I'm including the whole setlist below, for archival purposes.

So here are the rest of the bands I caught over the weekend, in chronological order.

Part of Los Lonely Boys
Thievery Corporation
Part of Ray Lamontagne
Van Morrison

The Shins
Kings of Leon
Aimee Mann
The Raconteurs (rocked out)
Willie Nelson (still great at 73--loved his song, "You Don't Think I'm Funny Any More.")
Massive Attack (ehhhh)

KT Tunstall
The New Pornographers (my new favorite band, so here's their set list)
  1. Twin Cinema
  2. Use It
  3. The Laws Have Changed
  4. Jackie Dressed in Cobras
  5. The Bleeding Heart Show
  6. Mass Romantic
  7. Testament to Youth in Verse
  8. Miss Teen Wordpower
  9. These Are The Fables
  10. It's Only Divine Right
  11. The Fake Headlines
  12. Star Bodies
  13. From Blown Speakers
  14. Letter From an Occupant
  15. Sing Me Spanish Techno
The BoDeans--and they played the song "Fadeaway"!
Part of MUSE
Part of G. Love & Special Sauce
Part of Damien Marley
Most of Ween
Patrice Pike
Part of Matisyahu (the Hasidic dub/dancehall/rapper dude)
Ben Harper
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

September 14, 2006

Blown Speakers

I'm doing my ACL Fest "homework" and listening to The New Pornographers' album "Electric Version" today. They are a really tight band, and rock out on every track. Pretty much every song on it is good, and there are a lot that are great. "Blown Speakers" is my favorite, although "All for Swinging Around You" is insanely catchy, too. I suppose I should find out if they're playing an after-show somewhere around here, although that is probably also sold out. It's nice to feel like there are some new bands that are carrying the quality torch forward.

August 21, 2006

The Twins Have Visitors

The twins and my brother spent Saturday and Sunday at Aunt Julia's house, with their grandmother also in attendance. Our friend Danny and his fiancee, Sally, visited on Sunday afternoon. Sally held Sam, and Danny held Jack:
Then Danny had the singular pleasure and responsibility of holding them both at once. Jack is on the left, and Sam is on the right:

August 11, 2006

Friday Twinblogging

While blogger Kevin Drum is known for Friday catblogging, posting photos and text about his two cats, I realized that I have been posting photos of my twin nephews on Fridays. I figured that Jack and Sam are every bit as cute as Inkblot and Jasmine, so I figured I'd continue the tradition and share some more pics of the boys. Twinblogging!

Finally, a picture of proud mom Alice with Sam:
Sam with his mom, Alice
Here's Jack sleeping all snug in his baby burrito:
Jack sleeping in his baby burrito

August 10, 2006

Jesus Was the Original Liberal

I came across this site while surfing, and today's post had a quote from a contributor named The Reckoning, as follows:
If we do have to surrender to the Muslims, it will be the hippie liberals who get slaughtered first. All the rest of us hate-mongering, gun totin' conservatives will be too busy defending our families while the hippies are being picked off one by one while they're riding their bikes and picking daisies in the pasture.
I felt compelled to respond, especially to another comment from this Reckoning person, which claimed that:
When you get right down to it, the liberal mindset isn't one that is based on reality. The liberal mindset is based on hopes and dreams. Some liberals become so immersed in their own dreams that they loose sight of reality and the world around them. Those types of liberals are often referred to as being "Progessive."
I tried to submit part of my response as a comment, but it didn't take, so I'm posting my entire response here.

I find it astonishing that Rec said, “the liberal mindset isn’t one that is based on reality,” when President Bush has made a point of calling news orgs like New York Times “the reality-based media,” meaning that he and his administration have admitted following the oh-so-sensible path of eschewing reality completely. Like thinking they could successfully overthrow Saddam Hussein and establish a new government without an adequate battle plan, and without taking the advice of seasoned military experts who said that sectarian violence would fill the power vacuum. Like Michael Chertoff insisting that there were no thirsty, starving refugees in the NOLA Superdome.

I don’t think that Ogre’s paragraph on the “liberal mindset” was remotely accurate, much less profound. Have any of you ever had a serious, in-depth conversation with someone whose views differ, or are you just going by what Bill O’Reilly says? I’m a liberal, and I don’t take a simplistic view of world politics. I certainly don’t believe that terrorists are basically “nice people” at all, and I don’t think that all people are good, and that all they need is an ice-cream cone and a hand out, and then everything will be hunky-dory. It’s a lot more complicated than that. Unfortunately, there are a lot of Islamists who are so full of hate that they’re beyond rehabilitation, and all we can do is be vigilant, and lock them up if they conspire against us. I think some of the religious hatred on their part is taught as a way to give purpose to empty, hopeless lives, but hatred and intolerance are not condoned in the Koran, and true Muslims aren’t hateful any more than true Christians. But if you were a Muslim who grew up desperately poor, but seeing American affluence on TV, or seeing the lush gardens of the Israeli settlers across the valley while you’re having to beg for water, you’d hate everyone who had what you didn’t--and their culture, too. They can’t have bikini-clad girlfriends or an iPod, so they take it out on those who do.

I do take personal responsibility for conserving, reusing, and recyling as much as possible. I live in a central neighborhood where I can walk instead of drive, but I’m aware that much of my disposable-drink-cup American lifestyle is inherently wasteful. Americans use an enormously disproportionate percentage of energy and resources, and even though our gas prices seem high, they are nothing compared to what people in most other countries pay. I was just in Costa Rica, a developing country where most people are poor, and gas there is over $4 a gallon.

Notwithstanding the fact that the environmental and health costs of fossil fuels aren’t factored into the price, we’re paying for cheap gas with blood of our fellow Americans—2,913 dead, and 20,000+ wounded so far in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein are evil, but is it all worth it just so we can drive our SUVs to Starbucks? And all the bloodshed in Iraq and now Lebanon is just serving to create another generation of Muslims who have a good reason to hate Americans and Israelis. If a bunch of Arabs stormed into your house, raped your sister, and killed her and your family, wouldn’t you tend to be mad as hell, and vow revenge, Christian or not? And now the Pakistanis, who are supposed to be our allies, are trying to kill us. Judging by the current state of affairs, I would say that the current “blast-‘em-all-to-hell” method isn’t working very well. Do you really think Jesus would suggest killing all Muslims as a way of ridding the world of terrorists? You posted a cartoon of an Arab boot crushing a church steeple, so I assume you remember His words in Matthew 5:43-45? Or in Luke 6:27-36: “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Now I don’t advocate basing American foreign policy on any one religion, and I’m not saying we should give up our country to the terrorists, but it’s incredible that you are really mocking people who follow Jesus’ teachings as a bunch of daisy-picking hippies. Tell me, who would Jesus bomb?

August 3, 2006

Personal Style

An essay for a male friend on that elusive goal, achieving a personal style:

You must look deep within yourself to find your style. Who am I as a person? Am I formal or casual? Am I serious or whimsical? Am I outgoing or mysterious? Stray dog or sophisticate? Mod or Rocker? If that doesn’t yield results, try picking up a copy of Esquire or Men’s Vogue, or borrow my copy of the Queer Eye book and read Carson’s section on style dos and don’ts. He also has his own book called “Off the Cuff.”

Actually, having a kind of style “role model” is a useful way to identify your personal style. Like, “I really dig those white hemp suits that Woody Harrelson wears.” Or, when I saw Tom Cruise jump on Oprah’s couch last summer, strangely enough, all I could think about was “who makes his pants?” Or not. Anyhow, if you find someone whose style you’d like to emulate (or avoid), the next time you’re clothes shopping, you can ask yourself, “Would George Clooney (or Ted Koppel) wear that?” If the answer is “no,” or in Ted's case, “yes,” then you move on to the next item.

I think the movies of the forties and fifties, my mother’s clothes from when she was first married, and my chic childhood French teacher have most influenced my personal style. I love clothes that are well made, have classic shapes and clean lines, and aren’t merely the trend du jour. If I could hire any of the current Project Runway designers to make clothes for me, I'd hire Laura to make my suits, and Michael to make my evening gowns.

August 2, 2006

Truth is Waaay Funnier than Fiction

I was perusing the top 100 blogs on Technorati, and although I had heard of the “Overheard in New York” site, I hadn't checked it out yet. The “Overheard at the Beach” page has some priceless exchanges, but I don't like their titles, so I made my own.

And you thought your mom was bad!

Mother, loudly: Oh my God, get over here! Turn around!
Teen daughter: What! What's on me?!
Mother: A stretch mark! That's what! Right there on your hip! You have got to lay off the chips! We are on vacation here. You shouldn't be stress eating!
Teen daughter: Mom! Shut up! People can hear you.
Mother: No, no one is listening, and besides, they can all see it, too.
Kayaking instructor: Does everyone have their life vests on? Good! Now I'd like you all to pair up, and for this first run we are going to pair up with someone you don't know.
Daughter: Thank God!
Mother: What?

--Bayville, New Jersey, Jul 29, 2006

Family Values

Mom: Stop staring at that woman's chest.
Tween boy: Dad said it's okay to look as long as I don't touch.
Mom: That's why we aren't married anymore.

--Jax Beach, Florida, Jul 25, 2006

via Overheard at the Beach

August 1, 2006

Hey Nineteen! What's Your 20?

1970s pop-rock band Steely Dan recently sent a letter to actor Luke Wilson, in which they accuse Luke's brother Owen of plagiarizing their song “Cousin Dupree” for the plot of new movie “You, Me, and Dupree.” They actually want Owen to come onstage at their show in Irvine to apologize for stealing their idea. This, even though the song is more about a guy who's trying to hit on one of his relatives.

I love Owen’s riposte:

“I have never heard the song ‘Cousin Dupree’ and I don't even know who this gentleman, Mr. Steely Dan, is. I hope this helps to clear things up and I can get back to work on my new movie, Hey 19.”

Good one, Owen.

Funny you should mention it, because Steely Dan's song "Hey Nineteen" is about an older man who can't talk to a woman because she's so young that she's clueless about all the pop culture things that matter to him. Sounds like she's not the only one.

July 24, 2006

Together Again

My nephew Sam (at right) was in the “maximum security” isolette for several days after Jack, but finally got out of lockdown to join his brother. According to their mother, there was a “little scuffle” at first, but the twins quickly worked things out and fell asleep.

“’Zat you, Sam?” “Yep, ‘zat you, Jack?”

July 21, 2006

The Angel Wears Corduroy

“She very soon discovered that there is a charm about fine clothes which attracts a certain class of people and secures their respect.”

Among the many lessons taught in Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women,” there’s one in which eldest sister Meg, the pretty one, is dolled up for a fancy ball by some richer, more sophisticated acquaintances. She gets a complete makeover—powder, lipstick, jewelry, a new low-cut silk gown with a tight bodice—and is pronounced by her new friends to be a “total hottie.” OK, so Louisa didn’t use exactly those words, but you get the idea. At the big party, she is surrounded by admirers and gets tipsy on champagne, but a couple of family friends who see her declare that all the primping has spoiled her natural beauty. She wakes up the next morning with a wicked headache, feeling ashamed, and she and her sisters learn the lesson that it’s best to be yourself, even if you’re stuck with last year’s frock.

The movie “The Devil Wears Prada” is supposed to be a sort of update of this story—girl is temporarily seduced by the glamour of her fashion magazine surroundings, but learns that it’s better to to wear corduroy and work for a tabloid than to wear Chanel and work for the most powerful woman in the fashion industry. Except that it’s nowhere near as convincing as Miss Alcott’s version, and at the end of the movie, we really wish our heroine would put that fabulous bustier dress back on and comb her hair, for heaven’s sake.

Anne Hathaway plays Andrea “Andy” Sachs, the girl in question, and compared to her Runway magazine coworkers, the stiletto-wearing “clackers,” one of whom is played by supermodel Gisele Bündchen, she’s supposed to look hopelessly frumpy at the beginning, before the obligatory makeover montage. True, her clothes are blah. The problem is that Hathaway has the enormous eyes, pouty berry-stained mouth, and luminous porcelain skin Elite would kill to discover, the kind of beauty that fashion editors love to pose in moss-draped Edwardian tableaux. Next to Anne’s lustrous chocolate mane, Gisele’s stringy dark-blond hair looks positively like day-old oatmeal. (Sidebar: I never thought GB was all that. She is not particularly graceful, and with her sizeable schnozz, I think she’s only an eyleash curler away from plain Jane. You may say, “Quit drinkin’ that haterade,” but it’s my blog, and I’ll dis who I want to.)

Annnnyway, Meryl Streep plays Miranda Priestly, the titular devil boss, as a soignée perfectionist with an endless wardrobe of furs and four-figure handbags to fling contemptuously at her two assistants. She’s a woman who won’t suffer fools gladly, and usually doesn’t have to. She can be mean and unreasonable, but her most outrageous demands, such as, “Find a plane that will take off in a hurricane,” or, “Get my kids the unpublished Harry Potter manuscript” are just plain absurd. When Andy is chided for falling short on the first of these tasks, she is despondent and claims to feel like a failure, but it just doesn’t ring true. I’m really conscientious, but I personally wouldn’t feel bad for not being able to do the impossible. Like, if my boss asked me to get Angelina Jolie to promote our Tomb Raider game at the next trade show, I wouldn’t boo-hoo if she said “Can’t, sorry, I’m off to Antarctica to adopt a penguin.”

Before Andy gets a clue and realizes that even she is not immune to its influence, she acts as if the entire fashion industry is irrelevant and that it’s unreasonable for her to be expected to know who Patrick is, or how to spell “Gabbana.” When she finally realizes that she needs to take her job more seriously and dress for success, she is (improbably) allowed to raid the magazine’s closet, and from then on, looks impossibly polished and elegant, as if she had style all along, but just couldn’t be bothered. Uh-huh.

The makeover section complete, the film moves on to the cautionary tale part of the story. To illustrate Andy’s Manoloed march over to the dark side, she is shown engaging in such morally questionable behaviors as: taking pride in looking nice (that tart!); answering after-hours phone calls from her boss (gasp!); handing out designer swag to her friends (bitch!); working late and missing her boyfriend’s birthday dinner (oh, no she di’n’t!); and worst of all, on instructions from her boss, telling her injured co-assistant that she’ll be taking her place at Fashion Week in Paris (snap!). This is the dark side? Then why are we still wearing sunglasses, people? We want real back-stabbing, hair-pulling, bitch-slapping girlfights! We want brazen scheming and naked (that kind, too) ambition. But no. All we have is a sweet girl just trying to do her job, who apologizes whenever her career inconveniences anyone. Her aspiring-chef boyfriend claims that she’s not herself anymore, but really all that’s changed is her wardrobe and hours of availability. Maybe he’s the one who’s unable to look past the surface. And I’m really suspicious of any line cook that’s home by 10 p.m. Did he run out of amuse bouches to plate at Chèz Barfood?

The most thrilling part of the film is the scene where Andy, now upgraded to “Andrea,” finally makes it to Paris, and sitting in the back of a limousine with Miranda, cruises down the Champs Elysées, twinkly lights reflected in the car windows, and U2’s “City of Blinding Lights” on the soundtrack. Rewind, please! In another back-of-the-limo scene, one that’s unlikely to knock Steiger & Brando off the AFI 100, Miranda praises Andrea for her loyalty and how well she is doing, and then delivers the ultimate (to her) compliment, “You remind me of myself at your age.” This remark is supposed to be proof positive that Andy has sold her soul, and she chucks the electronic leash in a fountain and goes back to New York and her ugly plaid skirt.

You really want to like a movie like this, because it’s bright and shiny, has a couple of standout comic performances, and has some yummy nuggets of entertainment. Ultimately, though, we side with the devil, and that’s no good for a morality tale. As Miranda herself would say, “That’s all.”

July 17, 2006

Give me Disneyland or give me death!

What a world to bring children into. I got copies of the July 13 New York Times and the Austin American-Statesman for the twins to have, and the front page is all about fighting breaking out in the Middle East and Americans' civil rights being taken away. The transpo guy at the Statesman was joking that twenty years from now, maybe they'll look at the paper and say, "Wow, back then, gas was only $2.89 a gallon!" has solicited emails from people affected by the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. Most of these are from people wondering how they're going to survive, and regardless of whether they're Israeli or Lebanese, expressing their empathy with the suffering of the people in the other country.
I am 16 years old, and live in Beirut, Lebanon, with my mother and three siblings. My father left last Tuesday, back to Bahrain, where he works. After two days, the war began. What I had hoped to be an exciting and fun-filled summer turned out to be a nightmare. Not only are we separated from our father, we live every day in dread that the situation will worsen and turn into a regional war including Iran and Syria. We are Lebanese Canadians, and are hoping to be evacuated, but every time we try and call the embassy, the line is busy. My dad worries more each day, longing to be close to his family, calling us constantly every day. A few days ago I was worrying about how I was going to be able to stay at home everyday. Now I worry about how I'm going to stay alive.
Lynn El Bizri, Beirut, Lebanon

I'm 33 years old, living in a town 50 km south of Haifa... My wife's sister and her family have fled the north and came to live with us. We too are in the range of Hezbollah missiles, and we have nowhere to run. I wish the world would stop choosing sides by religion. I don't care if he is a Muslim and I am a Jew, I care about my year-old son, and I'm sure a Lebanese man is worried about his. I wish I could just stand in front of a TV camera and yell "STOP."
Nimrod Ganzarski, Pardes Hana, Israel
But then comes this letter:
I wanted to share my thoughts about the price that our children are paying. Here in Israel it is now a period of two months of holiday. Kids have all kind of options how to spend their vacation time: summer camps, day camps, water parks, trips around the country, etc. Everything was canceled!!! The kids are so disappointed, they have been waiting the whole year for this long vacation, and instead of that, a third of our country spends it's [sic] time under shelters! I hope this war will make possible for our kids to have many more quiet summers to come after!
Taly, Modeen, Israel
People--including children--are dying in Lebanon and in Israel, and their homes and livelihoods are being destroyed, and all this woman can do is grouse about how her kids' vacation is spoiled because they have to spend their time in shelters. How insensitive! At least they have shelters! I think that if someone started lobbing bombs at Central Texas, I'd be worrying about more than Schlitterbahn being closed. Oh, but then she looks on the bright side--one summer of inconvenience is a small price to pay for having Lebanon blown to smithereens, after which the Lebanese will be too busy trying to locate food, clean water, and a place to sleep to ever interrupt her kids' precious vacation plans again.

July 16, 2006

Baby Love

More photos of the twins. Here's Jack with his daddy:

Sam's space pod is equipped with a "tanning bed" Actually, it's a fluorescent light used in phototherapy--it helps to break down bilirubin and cure jaundice, a common issue for newborns and preemies.

Jack the math genius already knows how many days old he is:

Sam's such a cutie that he's already having to hide from the papparazzi.

Jack, my brother, and me:

July 14, 2006

I'm an Auntie!

My brother and his wife had twin boys yesterday, so now I'm an aunt! Jack was born at 2:31 p.m. CDT, weighed 5 lbs., 3 oz., and was 17 1/4 inches long. Sam was born at 2:32 p.m., weighed 3 lbs., 7 oz., and was 16 1/2 inches long. Their Apgar scores were 9.9, and 8.9, respectively; 8.9 is average for full-term babies, so their scores are "off the charts" for premature infants. For now, they're both in the NICU, but yesterday afternoon, they were both breathing without assistance, and had good color.

The first picture is of me and leetle Sam, the second is of my brother with Sam, and the second is of him with Jack. To see more photos, use this link to connect to the "Spencer Twins" set on my Flickr site, or click the box in the blue-shaded column at right.

June 28, 2006

Vacation Time

I'm off to Costa Rica for a week, and will be driving a rented 4x4 around the country. I'm hoping to see frogs, monkeys, and the famous quetzal. Wish me luck!

June 23, 2006

Intolerance Across the Ages

I watched the new HBO movie Queen Elizabeth I this weekend, and like Elizabeth, the 1998 theatrical film, it didn't shrink from showing people being tortured, or executed in ways that definitely qualify as cruel and unusual punishment. Once again, I was struck by the brutality and the religious intolerance prevalent in 16th century England. In the movie, Elizabeth herself is portrayed as open-minded, tolerant and compassionate, and extremely reluctant to resort to torture or killing, but willing to do so when necessary to quell rebellion. I thought about how 500 years later, this kind of religious bigotry and horrifying tribal violence is still going on in Africa and the Middle East, where people really believe they have a right to kill each other for their religion or ethnicity, and where women are mere possessions, not human beings. I wonder to what degree the filmmakers made a conscious choice to emphasize the parallels with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the violence in Darfur. Perhaps this is their subtle hint to Tony Blair and George Bush–those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

The whole media circus surrounding Angelina Jolie is insane, but for once, I think celebrity obsession may actually do something more than enrich an already obscenely wealthy person. Jolie is intelligent and well spoken, and her genuine knowledge of and interest in the plight of those less fortunate not only serves to draw attention to refugees, but also perhaps to shame us into action. If a movie star can empathize with the poor and miserable, then why can’t we, too? I believe that the key to stopping this continuing horror is in giving Africans the knowledge and resources to create their own jobs, grow their own food, and run their own governments, and in persuading educated Africans to stay and work in their home countries. Free or cheap grain from the U.S. only means that African farmers cannot make a living by selling their own grain, so it discourages independence and further destabilizes poor countries. All of the money and Peace Corps volunteers in the world will not be enough if we do not show Africans the methods and rewards of becoming self sufficient.

June 13, 2006

Airport Insomnia

I’ve been waking up a lot in the middle of night lately. I’m not sure why, because I have been going to bed at a reasonable time. But I have still been waking up at 4:00 AM with that strange bleary-eyed but hyper feeling you get when you’re traveling and you have to wake up at some ungodly hour to get to the airport on time. You have your luggage and you are nervous and excited but also tired and you really want to go on vacation but you also kinda wish that you were back in your cozy bed instead of in this unnaturally frigid airport with all the other people who woke up early this morning. Those archetypes of American society—the regional businessmen wearing golf shirts and light jackets, even in February; the men from new York or Chicago with topcoats, expensive suits and unfamiliar shoes. The loud, waddling folk with center-part feathered haircuts that haven’t been stylish for 20-odd years, and hair color that’s much too garish to be real. Sometimes there is an improbable couple: The good ol’ boy with too much gel in his hair, accompanied by a younger Asian woman with four-inch olive green stilettos, a dragon-appliquéd green and gold leather jacket, and a Louis Vuitton hobo bag. It's tempting to ask, "How are those shoes workin' out for you?" I mean, I also like to look presentable when I fly, but comfort is important, and any heel higher than two inches is out of the question.

The flight attendants stroll by, always neat, tidy and organized, their compact roll-aboards probably filled by airline-issued operations research formulas that have revealed the optimum packing arrangement. It always seems too early for anyone to have made that much effort in doing their hair and makeup, but here they are, a whole terminal full of women with gravity-defying bangs, blue eyeliner, and enough blush to give Pat Benatar circa 1981 a run for her money. Miss Manners would never approve, but sometimes I feel like accosting women who are wearing too much blusher and saying, “Excuse me, you really should rub that in a bit more—you look like you’ve just been slapped. Hard. Add a black eye, and you could win Miss Battered America—is that the look you’re going for?” And they’re probably looking at me, with my hair still damp underneath, no time for mascara or blush, looking pale under the fluorescent lights, and thinking, “That girl looks positively peaked. Too bad her mama never showed her how to use makeup.”

And then I drift back to sleep and dream about a party where there’s a vast array of brightly-colored, sparkling cosmetics on a rock island in the middle of a pool, and I’m trying to grab as many as I can before they sink out of sight, releasing their glittery beauty into the water.

June 9, 2006

Why I hated "Mona Lisa Smile"

Here's a movie review I did for Netflix; it has been at the top of their list for a while, because a whopping 509 people found it helpful. Yay! Perhaps my write-up will help people realize just how inaccurate the film really is.
"Mona Lisa Smile” is a Hollywood fantasy: a free-spirited Californian (with only a master’s degree) teaches uptight Easterners about life and art. Problem is, everything in this movie, from the premise down to the details is completely false, and I should know, because my mother and I are Wellesley College alumnae (’54 and ’89). It makes no sense that the same place that produced Madeleine Albright ’59, Diane Sawyer ’67, and Hillary Clinton ’69 is a mere finishing school, one that supposedly discouraged its students from attending graduate school, and would prefer they stayed home and vacuumed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Society did pressure women to marry, but Wellesley was an oasis of support for smart, ambitious women who wanted to combine marriage and a career. You were required to take 20 hours a semester, which tended to discourage women who weren’t serious about academics. The idea that a prestigious college would teach a moronic course in “Speech, Elocution and Poise” or setting a table is ridiculous! Well-bred young ladies already knew these things. Other errors and anachronisms: professors addressed students as “Miss Jones,” not by their first names; students would never have been disrespectful to professors, and they mostly dressed down in jeans and plaid shirts. It’s also preposterous to imagine that any student would bother memorizing the entire textbook before the first day of class. What bothers me the most, though, is the idea that Wellesley would object to teaching modern art in 1953, when in fact, they began back in 1926, the first college in the nation to do so! The professor was none other than Alfred H. Barr, Jr., founder of NYC’s Museum of Modern Art. The film’s writers had access to the school’s archives, but apparently didn’t learn anything from them, instead using their preconceived notions about “cool Californians” and “rigid Bostonians” to make a predictable movie full of stock characters and clichéd situations.

May 20, 2006

Spotty-Cat-Inspired Design

My cat Diana is what they call a "calico-point Siamese." That is, she has the blue eyes and classic brown and mocha coloration of a Siamese, but the points are in patches alternating with white. The alternating spots on her back make a pattern I find really interesting from a design standpoint.

Here she is sitting on the piano bench:

Her coloring inspired me to create a design, possibly a web page header, that uses similar blocks of chocolate brown punctuated by white space and accented with blue.

April 18, 2006

Weeding out the Slackers

I escaped from work before six yesterday, and my mom and I got a big load of mulch and compost plus two plants at Breed hardware, and spent the evening weeding, planting, and spreading mulch. So my front garden looks better, and I hope the mulch will keep the weeds from sprouting up again so quickly.

Even after spending all day Sunday on tax-related stuff, I’m still not sure if I can claim my previous credit or not, so I ended up filing an extension. I thought I’d be able to use my AMT and investment credits, but I couldn’t get it to work out that way, so I guess I need to leave it to the experts.

I got lots of good exercise yesterday from pulling weeds, and hauling sacks of mulch, but I’m planning to ride on my exercise bike for a while this evening. I think that getting more exercise on a consistent basis, and not feeling as if I’m sliding into sloth could make me feel more optimistic about life in general. Now that I have proclaimed my intention to exercise tonight, it will be more difficult to wriggle out of my obligation to myself.

March 27, 2006

The NY Times Published My Letter!

The Sunday New York Times printed my letter to the editor yesterday, so I’m pretty psyched! Here’s the link to the letters page. (The missing spaces in the online version did not originate with me, by the way--maybe they should hire me as a copyeditor.)

Here’s the original article. And here's my letter:

Weil quotes the bioethicist David Wasserman, who, citing research, claims, “Families with severely impaired children do not differ significantly in stresses and burdens from families with normal children.” Try telling that to the mother of a blind child with congenital heart failure whose mental age will forever be 6 months. Parents of children with severe disabilities must provide round-the-clock supervision and care. Then there's the enormous cost of specialized medical equipment and supplies, and the heartache of constant medical crises and setbacks. Parents of severely impaired children also worry about who will care for their children after they're gone, and few have malpractice-settlement trust funds to rely on.

Julia E.S. Spencer
Austin, Tex.

February 28, 2006

Oscar Party 2006

Here's my invite from 2006. Yee haw!

Yes, I’m having my annual party this coming Sunday, March 5th. The basics are as follows: Come over @6:30 p.m. before the show starts for drinks and munchies and to get a seat. There will be a prize for the person who correctly guesses the most Oscar winners. As always, I encourage wearing costumes and/or dressing up – why should celebrities have all the fun?

Some relevant articles:
Willie Nelson's cowboy song
Box office achievements of 2005
Gay penguins

February 10, 2006

Comments on the Cartoon Violence

When I was a child, I learned the hard way that being hypersensitive to teasing and ridicule would only encourage my tormentors. This is a lesson that fundamentalist Muslims rioting over the publication of political cartoons seemingly have yet to learn. There are no guarantees in life that your religious or political beliefs will never be challenged or criticized, no matter how hard you may try to insulate yourself from the outside world. I dare say that if a faith or its practice is so fragile that it cannot withstand even the slightest criticism or exposure to other beliefs, perhaps it could use some revision. I also wonder why the rioting Muslims think that Allah is so weak or defenseless that he requires human apologists. Furthermore, the Muslim religion not only prohibits depicting the Prophet Mohammed, but also any other person, animal, or plant, a restriction that gives rise to intricate abstractions in its peoples’ art. But non-Muslims are not bound by the strictures of Islam; if they were, there would be no cartoons at all, not to mention lingerie advertisements. The mere existence of figurative art is not an affront to Islam, and neither is the existence of artwork that is not obscene or patently offensive, but that merely draws a link between followers of Mohammed and terrorism. It is a fact that all of the 9/11 bombers were Muslim, so if devout adherents wish to address an outrage against Islam and Allah, perhaps they should begin with that one.

January 15, 2006