Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Upgrade to the Upgrade

I went to J&R on Friday evening and bought Tiger, again proving my status as either a grown-up or a chump by actually buying software.

I installed it on Saturday evening, and immediately got a prompt that there was an upgrade available to the upgrade, one of those itty bitty point-point-point upgrades. So we downloaded that and installed it.

Then the Mac spent three hours indexing for that new "Spotlight" feature, and we went to bed.

Sunday was a non-software-installing day. Then last night, once again I went to install the DVD software, and this time I got a message saying there were errors and the installer was unable to complete the installation.

I sent a service request to LaCie through their site and we're now waiting for a reply. I'm willing to bet that this has something to do with the itty bitty upgrade, and the software manufacturers are trying to keep ahead of the curve too. Fortunately, I don't have to do this particular thing for a job or anything urgent, so I can afford to get frustrated.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Burn This

We've been meaning to digitize some of our old video for months, and I figured Memorial Day Weekend was as good a time as any to finally get started.

I shopped around for a DVD burner that would work with our G4 (non-superdrive) iMac and a device that would transfer VHS to 01010101. J&R Computer World had the burner but had to order the device, and shipped both to us within two days.

So last night after dinner, I read the directions for connecting the burner and slipped the software installer CD-Rom into the computer. And a message came up on the screen saying no-no-no, can't do that until you upgrade your system from 10.2, which has been running happily without a glitch for the past two years.

So now it's back to J&R after work this afternoon to purchase Tiger, which has been out for, what, a month? Which means there will still be bugs in it. Excuse me...they're not bugs, they're features. And I'll probably have to upgrade some of my graphics and other programs as well.

Chico immediately purloined the empty shipping carton in the name of cats everywhere. Pictures to follow when I get them developed, which means that I really should get a digital camera in addition to everything else. Hopefully, my company won't start downsizing until I catch up to the curve for five minutes.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Okay, Now Draw "Good Schools" Nearby

This item in Apartment Therapy is from a real ad for an alcove studio (renting for $2,600 a month).

The advertiser drew in furniture and made it look as if the apartment got direct sunlight.

BTW, I thought the outrageous housing price bubble was just here in the New York City area, where a one-room apartment similar to ours recently sold for over $300,000 (the ad said "Live Your Bohemian Fantasies.") But apparently, this sort of thing has been going on all over the country, so we might as well hang tight and take another trip to The Container Store.

Saturday, May 21, 2005


I quit smoking a year ago today. I never thought I'd live to say that.

I quit cold turkey the day that my husband was diagnosed with lung cancer. Two surgeries and a lot of chemo and radiation later, he's doing well...and we take nothing for granted.

I'll have to get screened myself every year. As a former smoker, I'll be at an increased risk for lung cancer for the rest of my life. But I've already greatly reduced my chances of a lot of other unpleasant things, such as sudden death or having to talk through a metal box like that guy on South Park.

I started smoking when I was a teenager because of Reefer Madness. Not pot, tobacco. We kids saw that movie, which had become a cult classic by the early '70s, and we knew that pot didn't make you go instantly loco. And in Woody Allen's Sleeper, he's a health nut who's cryogenically frozen and awakens 200 years in the future, where red meat and cigarettes are actually good for you. And God knows there were enough granola heads around already to wag a finger and tell you that you should put nothing in your body but a high colonic enema.

So we figured, someday they'll find out they were wrong about cigarettes. But as the years went by, I could see that "someday" wasn't coming soon enough for some people I knew, and as I got older, these people were getting closer and closer to my own age. One was a couple of years younger, but I figured, "She lives on Long Island...they've got power lines or some crap there."

I wanted to quit by the time I was in my late '20s, and I did. About five times over the next twenty years. I would gradually taper off, and then I would restart a few weeks later, thinking I could be one of those people who has one or two every once in a while. Those people are very rare, and none of them are former habitual smokers.

Another thing that would get me started again was the certainty every time I quit that I would end up in a loony bin. This misconception is a natural consequence of having spent too much time around people who equate any strong emotion as a sign of mental disorder. Ironically enough, the people who are most likely to equate your addiction morally with child molestation or being a derelict in the street are the same people who are frightened of the strong emotions that are likely to come up when you quit smoking. So when I quit last year, I made sure that I spent as much time around those people as possible.

Having quit before gives you some experience to draw from the next time. But last year was the first time I had ever done it cold turkey. It was actually more merciful than tapering off; you don't have that jolt to your system when you light up again, and then have to go through withdrawal all over again afterward. But I did notice a new sensation after 72 hours. I had this clawing feeling in the pit of my stomach and cramps from my stomach to my throat. What's this, I asked myself, unresolved feelings from childhood? No, Schmuck, you're hungry! When that happens, what normal people do is they say, "I'm going to sit down and have a meal" like a selfish, greedy, out-of-control pig...I mean, like a human being.

I was always afraid I'd put on weight when I quit, but I actually lost weight. This could have been from worry over my husband, but it had more to do with not substituting a snack for the cigarette. You would think, if I put a lollipop in my mouth like Kojak, it'll substitute for the cigarette. You would be wrong. You're continuing to use something as a psychological crutch, and you'll be disappointed that it's not a cigarette. Better to break the reflex and set your energies off into new directions, as long as the direction isn't shooting somebody.

I have dreams every few weeks where I'm smoking, and in the dreams I feel disappointed. I wake up and realize it was a dream and I'm relieved. My husband has those dreams, too. Somebody will give him a cigarette and say, "You can do this now, you're okay now." But as any cancer survivor will tell you, no matter how good your last scan was, you never think you're "okay" again.

"So brunobaby," you may ask, "when you pass people smoking outside a bar or an office building, considering what you and your husband have been through and knowing what smoking can do, don't you feel like yanking the cigarettes out of their hands and lecturing them?" Yes, sometimes I do feel like doing that, but I know it wouldn't do any good. It never made any impression on me, and hopefully, they'll quit before they do themselves or their loved ones serious damage.

I don't allow smoking in my house, where it can linger invisibly in the air for days. But at the same time, I don't mind a momentary, passing whiff on the street. It's like a joke my friend Mary Catalano used to tell: "I feel about cigarettes the way I feel about an old boyfriend. I still love him, I just don't want him in me."

I'm not the Carrie Nation of nicotine, just somebody who broke a bad habit. I'll share my experience with anyone who's interested, because I'm fortunate enough to have a better way of communicating than did this girl who came up to me a few years ago:

I was on East 64th Street, on my way to a job, smoking "the one before work." It was very early in the morning on a beautiful Spring day, and I was the only one around for several blocks. Suddenly, I noticed a short, intense young woman across the street and down the block. She was walking in my direction, swinging clenched fists, when she caught sight of me. She crossed the street and headed right for me, her head leading the way by a foot. I was thanking God that I was wearing a backpack and had both hands free to protect my face when she stopped inches in front of me...and gave me a very loud, theatrical cough.

I blew smoke in her face.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Is It Friday Already?

Originally uploaded by brunobaby.
Ashley waits until my alarm rings in the morning before she starts asking for food. Then she jumps on the bed.

"Ow-wooo! Ow-wooo! Ow-wooo! Map, map, map!"

She will be assuaged with petting for a couple of minutes, then asks again. "Map?"

Sometimes, if I'm really tired, I do the "fake." That's where I sit up and swing one leg over the side of the bed. Then, as the cats run into the kitchen--Ashley like a deer with her tail flashing in the morning light, Chico like a Japanese bullet train--I get back into bed. They mill anxiously about the kitchen for a few moments, then they look at me as if to say, "Heyyyy....!" Then they jump on the bed and start again.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Pew, Part Two

I had a lot of family stuff to take care of this weekend. Meanwhile, I had time to articulate in my brain the reason why the Pew survey--at least the "home game" version that you can take on their site--seemed wrong to me.

The way it's set up is, on the left-hand side of the screen, there's a statement, and then to the right, you select "Strongly agree" or "Agree." Then on the opposite side of the screen, there's an "opposing" statement, and to the right, the same two choices: "Agree" and "Strongly agree."

The problem with this is that often, I agreed with neither of these statements and just chose the one that was the less obnoxious or that would seem to me to result in less harm. This cumulatively had the effect of pushing me further to the left than I actually am. Sort of a microcosm of the past two and a half years.

For example:

One statement is "Poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without having to do anything in return" and the opposite statement is "Poor people have hard lives because government benefits don't go far enough to help them live decently." I would imagine that it can never be "easy" being poor, even with government safety nets that didn't exist years ago. And having the government throw money at the poor is only a band-aid. The deeper wounds are not healable by any one thing, and the causes can be as many as there are poor people.

And "The Poor" is such a loaded phrase anyway, bringing to mind hollow-eyed children for some people and bling-toting welfare queens for others. The phrase has long seemed to me to be a smokescreen used by politicians: "Looky over there...The Poor!" rather than their dealing with the reality in this country today, which is that most Americans are busting their butts and barely getting by and are often a paycheck or two from disaster. People are more inclined to help The Poor when they're not in immediate danger of joining their ranks.

Obviously, no survey or poll I can think of would be comprised solely of essay questions, or they would be tabulating the results until the Bush Twins are running for president against Chelsea Clinton. But most surveys and polls I've taken give you a choice between "Agree" and "Disagree," or "Agree strongly, Agree, Agree somewhat, Disagree somewhat," etc.

I don't know if the actual surveys given by Pew were set up the same way. I can't imagine why they would be different in form from the online one, although I could see the online one being composed of fewer questions. The structure of this survey reminds me of the "false choices" of the liberals and conservatives in E.J. Dionne's Why Americans Hate Politics. The only people who would fit one set of statements or another would be Archie Bunker and Ronald Kuby, and at least one of these is a fictitious character.

So what I want to know is, was someone at Pew lazy, or was there some sort of agenda behind structuring the survey in this way? And is it only the online one that's structured this way?

Until I find out some answers, I'm busy reading Barry Sussman's What Americans Really Think, a book which we've happened to have around the house for the past 15 years because the author is my husband's cousin. We saw him on Sunday and I mentioned the Pew survey to him and he didn't think it seemed right, either.

The commenter named Kevin on Reason's "Hit and Run" noticed this, as well:

My personal opinion, backed up by one undergraduate course on public opinion and polling, is that the typology survey's design is awful. Making a participant choose between two sometimes equally rotten alternatives isn't the way I was taught to do it.

Likewise, on RNC Webmaster Patrick Ruffini's blog, the commenter named Sean P. said:

All told, I skipped five answers (3, 4, 9, 17, 25) because I disagreed with both statements. Plus, one at least one of the questions dealing with immigration, I found I partially agreed with both choices, and had to pick the choice I though to be "more" true. I think Pew needs to go back to the drawing board on this one.

You mean you were allowed to skip answers? It never would have entered my mind. That must mean I'm Catholic.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Pew View of You

The Pew Research Center has just published a study called "Beyond Red vs. Blue." The study was based on two recent public opinion polls where respondents were asked about issues having to do with "values, political beliefs, and party affiliation."

They have a "Take This Quiz" thing like in Cosmopolitan, with some of the questions that were put forward in the survey, so that you can see where you fit in with your fellow Americans. I'm a Liberal. Or an Aquarius. Or a Woman Who Loves Too Much.

I'll have more thoughts on this over the weekend. Right now, I have a bunch of stuff to finish before I can leave the office.

Meanwhile, over on Matthew Yglesias, they're having a discussion--Discussion? They're having a canary--about how the Democrats can interpret and use this data to gain votes. Mostly, they're talking about yielding on having the Ten Commandments displayed in courthouses and Nativity scenes in the town square. What they're not talking about is the issue the survey cited as the main one that separates Democrats and Republicans: Foreign affairs assertiveness.

As my hubby has said, "If Dean got elected president, the Democrats would conclude that Americans want doctors."


Originally uploaded by brunobaby.
We adopted Chico and Ashley through City Critters, a rescue here in NY that we volunteered for a few years ago.

They began their lives probably sometime during the Winter of 2000 in the home of a little old lady who collected stray cats and didn't have them neutered or spayed. When she died, her son found no-kill shelters for over 50 cats who were all related to each other in some way.

Chico and Ashley, along with Jake, are probably littermates. One of the other volunteers adopted the older female that we're pretty sure is the mother cat, and the three siblings all have her unique face.

We think this guy (Zachary) may be the father, or they may have a common father.

Ashley adores Chico and follows him around the house, and he loves it. To us, he's this little orange furry thing we have to yell "Noooo!" at a lot. To her, he's Elvis.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Crumblin' Down

A retaining wall on Riverside Drive over the Henry Hudson Parkway collapsed during rush hour this evening. It happened up in Washington Heights, this slowly-gentrifying neighborhood in the northern part of Manhattan.

Fortunately, there were no cars or pedestrians passing under that part of the wall at the time. There's an apartment complex that abuts the wall, and the cops ran all over it telling people to get out in two languages.

Update: The northbound lane is supposed to be closed all weekend. We would have been taking it on Sunday, so now we'll find an alternate route.

Oh well. Could be worse. Could be raining. Oh wait. It's gonna.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Post-Post Modern

So, if you write something that's dripping with irony, you're post-modern, or PoMo.

But what if you write ironically about irony? Are you PoPoMo?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Hitch and Spirit

Christopher Hitchens wrote an Op-Ed piece that appeared in last Thursday's Wall Street Journal. (Thanks to Ann Althouse for the link.) In it, he bashes the Religious Right and asks the rhetorical question:

At the last election, the GOP succeeded in increasing its vote among American Jews by an estimated five percentage points. Does it propose to welcome these new adherents or sympathizers by yelling in the tones of that great Democrat bigmouth William Jennings Bryan? By insisting that evolution is "only a theory"? By demanding biblical literalism and by proclaiming that the Messiah has already shown himself?

I hit "Respond To This Article" and replied that if the GOP continues to do this, those Jews will turn around and flee their newfound party so fast it'll make Tom DeLay's head spin around like the little girl's in The Exorcist.

I checked the responses from time to time over the weekend and there were several of which that claimed that Hitchens had misinterpreted the New Testament and a few that blamed the liberals. My response wasn't there, and I said to myself, "Mumble mumble right-wing echo chamber." But then I realized that:

At any rate, Hitch was probably not around to read it, having taken off to some dangerous corner of the world to interview freedom fighters, or around the corner to the bar to get loaded.

Michael Totten would like to follow in the Hitch's footsteps, at least as far as the "Going to strange places to interview freedom fighters" part. He's recently returned from Lebanon, where he traveled with and interviewed Christian and Muslim youth who are working together to create a progressive civil society in their country.

Totten was blogging in Lebanon for a non-profit organization called "Spirit of America." It's a privately-funded organization that "helps American military and civilian personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as people who call to Americans for help in their struggle for freedom and democracy".

In other words, they're dedicated to having the US intervene in ways other than blowing stuff up. For some of us, the picture of the Iraqi woman holding up a purple index finger may bring to mind a Senate Republican holding up a middle finger. But this organization isn't about partisan politics in the US over a war of questionable necessity. It's about helping the people in the Middle East to help themselves.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Melinda Hates the Shoes

In my never-ending quest to "be" and "become," I realized yesterday that if I'm in a shoe store and tell the clerk, "I don't know. I'll think about it," what I really mean is "No, I do not want any of your shoes, but I feel like a jerk just walking out after making you go upstairs to the stock room six times."

Also, "No, those shoes do not run two sizes too small. You're just out of my size."

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Better Safe

This morning when I turned on NY1 news, I saw Third Avenue and 51st Street cordoned off and surrounded by cops. Two homemade grenades had blown up a planter and shattered a facade in front of the building that houses, among other things, the British Embassy. Britain is having their national elections today.

"So," I asked the TV as I poured my coffee, "any injuries?" No, I answered myself, there was nobody around, it was four in the morning, and if there had been deaths/injuries the story would have led with that.

"Al Qaeda?" No, they blow up themselves, not shrubbery.

"Is this gonna make me late for work?" Probably not, it's one stop past where I have to go.

An hour later, while I was doing my Dynabands, the mayor made an appearance on the scene. He said that the security in New York was tighter than ever.

"The person standing next to you may be a police officer and you wouldn't even know it." (Hey, occifer, I'm an upstanding citizen; I don't smoke that stuff no more.)

It always helps in this city to have something of a "Spidey Sense": If it feels weird, trust your instincts, even if it makes you look like a paranoid. This was true even before 9/11. There are these six-foot tanks of oxygen and nitrogen that are sometimes left on street corners by, I don't know, construction crews or Con Ed or somebody. They're probably perfectly safe, but every time I walk past one I'm always afraid it will blow up and kill me or leave me permanently deaf or looking like Two-Face.

In September/October of 2001, during the time of the anthrax scares, we got a lumpy #10 envelope in the mail. There was no return address, and it was addressed to my husband's mother, who had died in 1999 and who had never lived at our address.

We took it immediately around the corner to the Sixth Precinct, where an Officer Rodriguez obligingly put on rubber gloves and gave it a perfunctory examination.

"You got the Band Aid," he said.

"The what?" Maybe it's a code name...Carlos the Jackal...Albert the Band Aid.

"Hey, they got the Band Aid," Officer Rodriguez called to his compatriots. "Oh yeah, they're all over the neighborhood," came an answer.

He opened the envelope and out fell a Band Aid. It was part of a mass mailing from a dentist who was looking for new patients.

My husband and I felt like a couple of Birchers who'd thought they'd trapped the Red Menace under the bed. "Oh...sorry to take up your time."

"No problem! It's the guy's fault who sent this. He should have put a return address."

There were no further unidentified lumpy envelopes, and shortly after that, you didn't hear about any more anthrax scares.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Apartment 300 G

Hey, this guy never approached me:

They hire Mike Grabow. It's his job to talk rent-regulated tenants out the door, a feat he accomplishes with a variety of tools -- chiefly, disarming candor and great gobs of cash. Many of the buyouts he's negotiated ended with the tenant $300,000 richer.

On the other hand, $300,000 won't get you very far in New York City these days. Maybe I could take it and start a new life as a beach bum in the Fiji Islands.

In other news, the Rent Guidelines Board is looking for hikes of up to 10.5%. I've done a quick calculation, and it means that our building manager still won't change the burned out light in the hallway.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Washington Monthly is Kewl

May's Washington Monthly has a great feature by seven columnists who've spent a lot of time dealing with foreign policy: "Middle East Democracy: Who gets the credit? What are the lessons?"

Here's a sample, by Joe Biden:

The president's very strength—the absolutism of his rhetoric—creates a very mixed message when it runs into the reality of our short-term security interests. It would help if the president acknowledged and explained that tension to the American people and others around the world. Promoting democracy is tough sledding. We must go beyond rhetorical support and the passion of a single speech. It's one thing to topple a tyrant; it's another to put something better in his place.

Great idea, but I don't know how this president would accomplish this, speech-wise. He's not exactly the great communicator. For him to bring the kind of nuance that's necessary without sounding wishy-washy would be like an elephant walking on a tightrope. But I hope the ideas expressed in these articles would be good talking points for a stronger foreign policy by the Democrats, because:

when I say “liberalism” in that context, I mean, really, the Democratic Party, because liberal intellectuals can yap about democracy until doomsday, but it won't matter until elected Democrats take up the topic with conviction.

"Yap." I love it.

The Washington Monthly is getting to be, like, totally my favorite political magazine, because they have noooo-ance. If you asked the Weekly Standard "who gets the credit," they'd say, "Bush! All Bush, all the time! It's Bush, you Commie!" And if you asked the Nation, they'd suck on a lemon and say, "America doesn't deserve any of the credit because we're a big fat imperialist hegemony." But when you break stuff down, find out facts and think about what's true, you can get to what works.

Soundtrack of the Century

Our PBS station's been presenting this great BBC documentary on the history of 20th century pop music. It's called "Soundtrack of the Century" and actually features interviews and footage we haven't seen on a dozen other "History of Rock/Pop" documentaries.

Last week's episode had archival footage of country star Jimmie Rodgers and blues legend Leadbelly to show how country and the blues evolved into rock and roll.

Last night, record producer Mitch Miller of "Sing Along With Mitch" fame demonstrated how he got reverb into the vocals by having the singers sing in a bathroom. Also, interviews with Don Kirshner and Brill Building songwriters Neil Sedaka, Carole King and Cynthia Weil, and a profile of genius/lunatic Phil Spector.

What can I say, we're suckers for the History of Pop Music, so we'd probably watch this even if it was stuff we'd seen before.

Next week: The British Invasion!

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