Thursday, April 30, 2009

As You Hunker in with Your Hand Sanitizer

Here's some good news about the swine flu:

As the World Health Organization raised its infectious disease alert level Wednesday and health officials confirmed the first death linked to swine flu inside U.S. borders, scientists studying the virus are coming to the consensus that this hybrid strain of influenza -- at least in its current form -- isn't shaping up to be as fatal as the strains that caused some previous pandemics.

In fact, the current outbreak of the H1N1 virus, which emerged in San Diego and southern Mexico late last month, may not even do as much damage as the run-of-the-mill flu outbreaks that occur each winter without much fanfare.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wow, That Time Flew

After tonight, only two more classes to go. And the last one is basically us reading our final pieces to each other and patting ourselves on the backs for our inspired prose.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sixty Democrats in the Senate!

Contingent on Al Franken getting through the morass of legal challenges on his race, of course. Go, Arlen Specter!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Something That Would Be Weird and Amusing

I've been researching all the aspects of this MFA program in anticipation of a meeting I've requested with the head of the department. Just for kicks and an arbitrary measure of comparison, I looked up the program I used to work for as an undergrad work-study kid back in the day. (Which offers full tuition and living stipends and is a 2-year program. By comparison, I would have to pay half of a 6-credit load per semester, a schedule that would take me 5 years to complete.)

Then I had a fun picture in my head of how entertaining it would be to go to the program director there and say, Yo, man! Remember me? I used to fetch your snack foods and tea? You had a punny cat's pajamas mug? Who's the poor sod washing that these days?

"Our Beale Street Is Somewhere Under I-75"

This was an interesting story on NPR this morning, about Detroit not being able to develop a tourist industry around its rich music history.

Apart from the economic implications of all this on the city, it's a real loss of recognition of an important aspect of American music.

I Blame It on the Culture, and Old Dudes

Have you been following this Supreme Court case on strip searches in schools?

Adam Wolf, the ACLU lawyer who represents Redding, explains that "the Fourth Amendment does not countenance the rummaging on or around a 13-year-old girl's naked body." Wolf explains that he is arguing for a "two-step framework," wherein schools can use a lower standard to search "backpacks, pencil cases, bookbags" but a higher standard when you "require a 13-year-old girl to take off her pants, her shirt, move around her bra so she reveals her breasts, and the same thing with her underpants to reveal her pelvic area." This leads Justice Stephen Breyer to query whether this is all that different from asking Redding to "change into a swimming suit or your gym clothes," because, "why is this a major thing to say strip down to your underclothes, which children do when they change for gym?"

This leads Ginsburg to sputter—in what I have come to think of as her Lilly Ledbetter voice—"what was done in the case … it wasn't just that they were stripped to their underwear! They were asked to shake their bra out, to stretch the top of their pants and shake that out!" Nobody but Ginsburg seems to comprehend that the only locker rooms in which teenage girls strut around, bored but fabulous in their underwear, are to be found in porno movies. For the rest of us, the middle-school locker room was a place for hastily removing our bras without taking off our T-shirts.

Ah, yes. That was my experience at 13 in the gym locker room. We lounged on benches, we giggled and tickled each other. We posed for the peep hole from the boys locker room.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Know What's More Fun Than Work?

Thinking about vintage-style swimwear for summer vacation.

This just calls for gigantic screen-siren sunglasses and red lipstick.

Happy Earth Day!

Here, at least, the weather is warming up enough that (1) I'm contemplating that I need to mow, (2) the weeds are starting to flourish, as they are wont, and (3) the bunnies are at the back door. On that last, seriously. They were there when I came home, just casually watching me walk in the back door. I told them, "have I got a fence for you!" (And I do--just got it the other weekend. Those buggers are not getting my spinach this year.)

And there's a new political culture in Washington. First, Michelle Obama created a vegetable garden on the White House lawn. And now, the Department of Agriculture is creating the People's Garden. Power to the people! I mean, Jesus, that's like socialism, like Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land." I see now why sinister rumors of Obama's extremist tendencies held such sway.

Somewhat relatedly and more locally, I'm just finding out that this exists: a vegetable garden in Grant Park.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Wow, This Reminds Me That I Have Music I Haven't Even Put on the iPod Yet

A random sampling of the shuffle mix of a Friday.

1. deceptacon [bbc evening session], le tigre
2. sister midnight, iggy pop
3. more adventurous, rilo kiley
4. both have to pay, the mystery meat
5. falling through your clothes, new pornographers
6. woman's world, squeeze
7. dimmest star, pernice brothers
8. it wasn't me, jenny lewis with the watson twins
9. top of the pops, the rezillos
10. dub latina, calexico

Hope everybody has a good weekend in the mix. Mine will be about revising my monstrous final essay for class (which is coming along very well, I think), some yard work, and some house cleaning/fridge clearing. The scary leftovers and takeout containers are starting to take on a life of their own. And it occurs to me that I haven't been in my basement in a while to survey the bird situation, so I have that to look forward to as well. Yay.

This is why I live near a big city, you know. For the excitement.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Damn You, Seductive Dungarees

I believe that this constitutes codgery-ness:

Akst's summa contra denim is grand as far as it goes, but it only scratches the surface of this blight on Americans' surfaces. Denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults ("Seinfeld," "Two and a Half Men") and cartoons for adults ("King of the Hill"). Seventy-five percent of American "gamers" -- people who play video games -- are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote. In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies (the six -- so far -- "Batman" adventures and "Indiana Jones and the Credit-Default Swaps," coming soon to a cineplex near you). Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy's catechism of leveling -- thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly.

And I think this says it all:

This is not complicated. For men, sartorial good taste can be reduced to one rule: If Fred Astaire would not have worn it, don't wear it. For women, substitute Grace Kelly.

Yes, it's a great tragedy that it's no longer 1955. Every day, I wake up lamenting that gloves, heels, and girdles are no longer the thing. But I do love fashion musings from a man who wears a bow tie without irony.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Friends with Quirks That Irritate You? Or Things That You Fear in Yourself?

I have this friend who I adore but who sometimes exasperates me. For the years that I've known her, she has been a planner of things, a meaning-to-do kind of person. She's got various creative projects she can't manage to muster up steam to finish--or in some cases, even start. She has trips she's been just about to plan, she's got vague plans of getting married someday and definitely having kids. Usually, though, she's caught up in the details of day-to-day life, there's always a crisis to endure, a problem to be sorted out, better weather in the future.

As someone who has been yammering about writing for over ten years, I really empathize. I've lingered in miserable jobs longer than I should, and, as most of you know, I've always been that person to duck the whole concept of dating in favor of tucking in at home with a good book. I'm not one to cast stones.

And this is perhaps why lately I want to weep with frustration at her vague plans. Does she know how sad it is to live your life waiting for a better time to do something, at some unspecified time in the future? Does she know that if her past is the pattern, she will never do any of these things? In yet another decade, she'll be in the exact same place, only now options will be closed off to her. We none of us are getting younger, and age 38 is not exactly a point where you can wave off the whole kid concept to some theoretical future.

I believe that things happen in your life when they're supposed to and that maturity and wisdom make you a different person. Could I have written what I'm writing now ten years ago? Maybe not, but maybe. Perhaps if I'd actually started the hard work of writing instead of talking about it, I'd be closer to where my friend, the published novelist, is. She, with whom I used to talk, over lunchtime taco salads, about shared dreams of writing. But, of course, she actually did it, and as a result, she's spent years I haven't spent doing what she loves.

Maybe this inaction just all feels contagious to me. I spend so much of my day-too-day life surrounded by people who mean to do all sorts of lovely things--who talk about it and pursue earnest research--but who never do.

Personally, I don't feel like I've got the time to waste anymore.

It's So Precious You Could Die, Isn't It?

Imagine this, blue, with a bear in a sailor suit instead of little miss up there with ribbons. And you have my solution to hauling home fifty environmentally unfriendly and undrunk water bottles from my various classes, lunches, and road trips.

Yes, it's for kids. But I'm a petite person.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ah, I Love the Hideout. And Neko Case. Plus More Fridge Drama to Make a Person Weep Gently in Despair

Chicago's music scene: impacting national policy.

Spotted: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan introducing flame-haired indie goddess Neko Case at the 9:30 Club last night. But ... why? Is the Cabinet member a devoted Neko fan, or is she a big supporter of education reform? (A friend who was at the concert said she put in a good word for Obama's education plans.)

As it turns out, the backstory proves, yet again, just how tied the administration is to the Chicago scene. Last week, the Department of Education hired Tim Tuten, co-owner of The Hideout, a hip Chicago club, as assistant secretary for communications and outreach. (He's also been a schoolteacher in the Windy City.) Tuten is friends with Neko, a fixture in recent years at The Hideout, and he set up Duncan's introduction. "That's all Tim making something like that happen, connecting those two things [education and music]," Duncan told The Chicago Tribune through a spokesman on April 1. "No one thinks like him. We need more of that here." And Tuten's not the only music promoter on board at the DOE: He was brought on by Peter Cunningham, "a Chicago musician and media specialist," according to the Tribune.

Completely unrelatedly, I watch with amusement the never-ending drama of the Office Fridge Police. Does every office have their own? I don't doubt it. Ours are people compelled, driven to ensure that the fridge capacity, content freshness, and temperature are monitored at all times. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that if these people performed mail merges with the same amount of diligence, we could quadruple the amount of mail processed onsite.

Anyway, periodically, one of these vigilant souls wanders around, interrogating people, trying to figure out whose spoiled Chinese that is or whose carrots are sprouting. For some reason, it's important to know the identity of the culprit and to burn a lot of time figuring this out before tossing the offending item. Or possibly the goal is to summon the owner of said spoiled food to personally pitch it into the trash--a sort of disciplinary gesture. Or, more likely, it's fear of germ-i-ness. Which, frankly, really makes me conjure up the various ripple effects of OCD on a system.

Long have I argued in favor of the more efficient "Fridge is cleaned on X day. Take or mark what you want to keep, the rest goes into the trash" approach. But, alas, I just went into the kitchen to see someone had posted our new policy, in which, due to lots of food in the fridge, we are all requested to each please go in and toss our stuff every Friday.

Yeah, that'll work.

Ever on the Look Out for Happy Chickens and Cows

You realize that all of those marketing claims--"free range," "no growth hormones," etc. etc.--are pretty meaningless, right? And factory farms are trying to muddy the waters even further by coopting and inventing friendly sounding phrases that make you think you're buying cruelty free products.

Check out this website on a nonprofit program certifying humane animal treatment.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


PMS plus oversized bags of processed salty snacks plus Easter candy equals . . . nothing pretty. This is why they invented islands and isolation tanks and furniture to crawl under.

I would wail against a woman's fate, but I saw this just yesterday:
Lay this latest I.Q. news atop the pile, and you find yourself reaching the same conclusion as Dr. Dolores Malaspina, a professor of psychiatry at New York University Medical Center, who has done some of the schizophrenia research: “It turns out the optimal age for being a mother is the same as the optimal age for being a father.”

Women aren't the only ones with biological clocks!

In a just society, of course, this would mean that we'd all get pelted with lectures ("What do you mean, 'maybe'? Don't you know you're not getting any younger?") and warnings against impending doom: spongy eggs, geriatric sperm, and the like.

Monday, April 6, 2009


I just had my mid-semester meeting with my writing teacher. She told me that my stuff was "kicking serious ass." She also asked if I had thought about an MFA program or had talked to the department head about a course of study.

I'm way way excited.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Laura's Basement Aviary Continues to Be the Hot Spot for Starlings in the Know

I believe that I once promised to faithfully update on any bird-related drama chez Laura. New to the ongoing tale of Laura and the birds? Merely gone numbly blank after my latest retelling? Let me start at the beginning.

One morning about a year ago, I was going about my business, puttering, tidying up, making coffee, when I heard a skritching and scratching coming from my bathroom plumbing access panel. Naturally, I thought: cat! Until I discovered that the cat was likewise trying to find the source of the noise. So I decided to go Nancy Drew and suss out the source, in the floor/basement ceiling. Tromping down into the basement, flashlight in hand, I looked at the appropriate spot in the ceiling. I could still hear the skritching and while I craned around to get a better look, a beak, then a head popped out of a small hole in the ceiling plaster near some pipes. I screamed, ran, dug out my phone, and proceeded to call every. single. person. programmed in it. What do you do??! Call animal control? Get a sledge hammer and start cracking through plaster? Finally, my local friends K and M both agreed to come over and help me figure it out.

K arrived first, power tools in hand. She drilled a hole to make a bird-sized exit space near the pipe. Then, we took brooms, swatted the ceiling, flushed the bird out of the ceiling, then out of the basement and through the back door. M arrived in time to do a judicious search into the source of bird entry. He proclaimed himself mystified.

A dead bird or two in my basement later, and my father did some expert sealing up of my soffits. Nests? From which a bird might find himself dropping, Alice-in-Wonderland-like, into some strange realm? Seemed logical, and we figured problem solved.

However, after we did all of this, I scampered to do laundry and found yet another dead bird on the floor. Then, yesterday, I woke up to some wall noises. Again. Figuring sooner or later said bird would drop into the basement, I was unsurprised to find one flying around as I went down to find a piece of furniture. Calmly fetching a broom, I shooed it outside. Problem solved!

Except I went down later and was completely unnerved to find another goddamned bird in there. Same one back for another joyride? A different one who heard the vacation rumors? Shuddering and cursing (it's the element of surprise I can't stand), I set after him with my broom.

It's starting to feel like a Hitchcock movie in here, so if you have any theories, I'm all ears. On the other hand, if I fail to answer phones or show up for work, look for my pecked body in the basement.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Wow, This Makes Me Feel So Old. But It Explains So Much

Did you know that some people hate voicemail and subsequently never even check messages? Huh. Not that I adore wading into the phone tree myself, but I come from the old "hey, how rude not to respond to someone who's tried to contact you" school. I can't imagine just blithely ignoring people.

I am so old. And I don't even have caller ID at home. I have an answering machine.

You Wanted to Know about My Diabetes Risks, Right?

If you're curious (and why wouldn't you be!), I got to the bottom of my mysteriously high diabetes risk assessments: It originated from my employer's workplace screening company, which is, I'm told, not allowed to share this information with my health-insurance company. So they're just "trying to be helpful."

I'm thinking through all the implications of this health screening as a business model. Do they get paid for enrollment in preventative programs? If my blood pressure is consistently higher as monitored by them as opposed to my doctor, does that mean anything apart from normal variations? Is it all just what happens when you measure people by numbers on a page, without a doctor assessing individual circumstances?

Is all this benign and helpful or sinister?