Monday, January 31, 2005


Heard an excellent interview with novelist Mary Gordon on Fresh Air today. I particularly liked what Gordon had to say about women and self-image:
One of the things that the women's movement hasn't touched because the culture has been too strong is this notion of the hatefulness of the female body. Women are more obsessed with weight than ever. There are more products on the market that tell us that there's something wrong with us. The boom in plastic surgery, which seems to me just bizarre, has come in the wake of the women's movement. So obviously we have done nothing to say that the female body is not in itself inherently hateful. ... I don't exactly know what it is. All I know is that every women I know spends too much time thinking about the way that she looks. And if she doesn't spend time thinking about the way she looks, then that can be a kind of self-hatred.

Listen to the whole interview here.

What she said particularly struck me because I know exactly what she's talking about. Almost every single one of my female friends has some anxiety about some part of her body: her thighs, her breasts, her height, etc. It doesn't help that so often clothes seem to be cut more for models than for average women, who tend to be shorter and curvier. My male friends rarely discuss any disgust they might have with their bodies. It might be that they don't want to share their anxieties with me, but I also think their physical appearance is just not as important to them.

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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Iraqis Voting Today

Read about it on the New York Times or BBC Web sites.

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Saturday, January 29, 2005

Taxes and Food

I dared to start my tax forms, and I quickly got lost. Not only was I missing a W-2, but I was trying to read the instructions for the 1040 on my computer, after having downloaded a pdf file. That's difficult when there are 80 or so pages of instructions and numerous schedules and calculations to worry about. Add this, subtract this, multiply, divide, the IRS has really got us working on our arithmetic. I wonder what sadist came up with these ridiculous formulas.

I finally got around to the New York Times Week in Review section from last weekend and read an excellent, funny article on the new dietary guidelines by William Grimes. I'd considered doing exactly what he did (actually trying to meet the dietary guidelines), so it was interesting to read about how frustrated he got. Grimes is a former food critic for the Times and also the author of My Fine Feathered Friend, one of my favorite short books.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005


One's got to wonder if 1) he's the second coming of Christ or 2) publishers really don't have that much of an imagination. By that, I mean I don't understand why seemingly every general interest publication has had to feature something about Bright Eyes these past two weeks, either on their cover or with a prominently placed article on their Web site. More on this later ...

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Oh, and by the Way, I Got $21,500

The Washington Post published a story about another writer (syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher) who was paid to promote a Bush plan and oops, forgot to mention it to her readers. Read about it here (or use BugMeNot to get on). Somewhere out there, Adam Penenberg is weeping. At least all the students from his Press Ethics class know by now not to do what Gallagher did.

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Those Five Months Will Last Forever

There's a full-page ad for a certain online matchmaking service in the Jan. 31, 2005, issue of Newsweek. The words "...everlasting love" appear on the left side of the page. A photo of a laughing couple in wedding gown and tux appear on the right. A caption, near the center of the page, notes the couple's names as well as "married: September 19, 2004." A paragraph of information about the service is at the bottom of the page.

I understand what the ad's message is supposed to be, but maybe I'm cynical in noticing that the couple has only been married since the middle of September -- for four months -- that is, if they're still married. Getting married these days just doesn't seem that big of a deal anymore (to other people, I'm sure it's still momentous for the people getting married).

This particular service was started in 1998. Couldn't they have found a couple that met through the service and got married before the current century at the very least? Celebrating an anniversary, especially one over five years, would have convinced me more that the service leads to "everlasting" love.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Slate came out with an article on Bhutan -- that quirky country -- banning smoking, making it the first nation in the world to do so. Meanwhile, Leonard Lopate of WNYC interviewed Tek Nath Rizal on his show about the political climate in Bhutan. Rizal was a former political prisoner in Bhutan. Listen to the interview here.

Rizal mentioned that most people have a false notion of Bhutan, that the king, whom the Slate writer calls a "benevolent king," is actually a tyrant. Since I knew absolutely nothing about Bhutan prior to this week, I'd suggest other people check out the article and interview for more information.

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Monday, January 24, 2005

A Short Rant Against Greeting Cards

I was browsing for two greeting cards and as usual there was -- in my mind -- the usual selection of crap: flowers on cards for women, golf courses on cards for men.

I decided on an anniversary card for my parents that addressed them as "Mother and Dad" instead of "Mom and Dad" or "Mom and Father." A few other cards used the same address, like "mother" is supposed to be so much more elegant and dad's not going to read the card anyway so let's just call him dad. And why do cards have so much printed text? Does anyone who receives such a card actually read the poem, stopping after every line to hear the rhyme? My eyes always glaze over whenever I see a cardful of text, though I guess someone out there must like such cards since there are so many of them for sale.

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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Alternative Feminine Products

To go from cars to a bit on sustainable living ...

I recently went to the Whole Foods in Manhattan (the only one in the city as far as I know), and I noticed that it carried some natural sanitary pads called Natracare. I've never been one to try the Keeper or DivaCup or whatever you call it or Lunapads, two alternatives to regular sanitary pads that I had researched.

I like that Natracare pads are disposable (I have to admit that I can't get over the ick factor of either the Keeper or Lunapads) but more environmentally friendly than your corporate sanitary pads. Natracare pads are free of chemicals (not chlorine bleached) and biodegradable (no rayon, plastic, or other synthetics). The company also offers natural tampons and panty liners.

I'd suggest anyone wanting to go more "natural" to check out Natracare's site, (in Canada), or Feminine Options (in Ohio) for more information on alternative feminine hygiene products.

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Ethics in Journalism

The Associated Press has these guidelines for its reporters:
"AP has longstanding rules against News employees participating in political activities or taking sides on matters of public debate. These rules apply to electronic communication as well. Do not express opinions about products, companies or individuals. Non-news employees, who may be unaccustomed to these rules, should remember that Internet readers won't know whether a user from is a newsperson. Even what a non-News employee does can reflect on AP's newsgathering." (This rule as well as other Guidelines for Responsible Use of Electronic Services may be viewed here.)

This is an issue that we discussed in my Press Ethics class last semester. Working journalists are supposed to approach topics without bias and hence many companies do not allow their reporters to do any advocating or participate in demonstrations, even if they're reporters in an unrelated field. I understand why companies would have that concern; at the same time, I know that's not the type of journalism I want to be involved in.

One could argue that the very act of choosing which stories are important enough to appear in the paper is a demonstration of bias. I know there's a gray area there: a human-interest story about a family that suffered losses in the tsunami will be less controversial than a story about teenagers who have sought help at Planned Parenthood. Few general-interest publications would think the tsunami story irrelevant, but I can't imagine a publication with a pro-life "bias" would run a story on anything good that Planned Parenthood might have done.

I see journalism as a tool for advocacy, and there's definitely a niche for it. I guess it comes down to what each publication's management thinks is acceptable and what ethical rules they play by.

I was impressed to see the New York Times feature some articles by Nicholas D. Kristof about two prostitutes he freed from the sex trade in Cambodia. Though importantly, I just noticed that the newspaper grouped the articles in the Op-Ed section instead of say, the International section. The articles are interesting in that Kristof decided to get involved with his subjects. A year after he freed the two prostitutes, he follows up with the two prostitutes to find out where they are now. (Those not registered with the New York Times should use BugMeNot for a free login.)

On a lighter note, here are some pictures that I took today in the aftermath of yesterday's blizzard in New York City:
Cross-Country skiers in Prospect Park, 1/23/05

Sledders in Prospect Park, 1/23/05

It's nice to know that I'm not the only one around here who actually likes the snow. There were plenty of adults and children having fun in the park, not only skiing and sledding but building snowmen, building snowforts, walking dogs or playing ultimate frisbee. Sometimes I think I'm built for snowier winters because I don't think one foot of snow on the ground is that big of a deal. Then again, since I don't have a car, the only thing I have to worry about is delays on the train lines.

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Thursday, January 20, 2005

Bush Inaugurated to Second Term

Read the New York Times' coverage of the inauguration here.

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Tiny Cars for Tiny People

I was a little caught off guard when I saw my first Scion xA:

Scion xA (photo from Consumer Guide)

For the briefest moment, I thought I was looking at a Geo Metro, which my friend Jojo drove before she traded up to a Honda Civic. That is, I thought it was a Geo Metro before I saw the sleek Scion logo on the back of the car.

The humble Geo/Chrevolet Metro, also Ned Flanders's car on The Simpsons (photo from Consumer Guide)

It's nice to know that consumers now have more options should they choose to size down from their SUVs. A report I read or heard recently indicated that the popularity of cars like the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Mini Cooper and declining sales of SUVs along with increasing gas prices are spurring automakers to focus more upon developing small cars.

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Writing Tips

A writer once observed that some people just like to attend writing classes; they don't necessarily want to write. I feel that way sometimes, like after I come out of a great writing class, have read something really inspirational, or read a published work that makes me jealously think I could have done better. Finding the motivation to write is a difficult proposition. Established writers almost always suggest that a better strategy is to set a writing schedule and apply oneself to writing as if it were a regular job.

Tonight I had my first class of second semester. The class is Long-Form Nonfiction, taught by Ron Rosenbaum, who writes a column titled "The Edgy Enthusiast" for the New York Observer among other credentials. He had a lot to share with the class, suggestions for how to be a good writer. Here are some:

  • Keep a journal and always carry it around with you.
  • The key to writing is getting out that bad first draft.
  • Writing in longhand (as opposed to starting on a computer) can help you get out that bad first draft.
  • Read everything. Watch (some) TV so you can stay on top of the cultural conversation.

    During class I felt really fired up to write. I see long-form nonfiction as my style, more so than the pyramid. It's why I got into journalism in the first place, and I'm hoping this class will give me a chance to put out something noteworthy.

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  • Wednesday, January 19, 2005

    Hollywood Adaptation

    If I still read Slate regularly, I might not have missed Ursula K. LeGuin's article, "A Whitewashed Earthsea", when it was first published on that site.

    I'd considered watching the Sci Fi Channel miniseries based on LeGuin's Earthsea books (the first of which was actually assigned reading in 7th grade). After reading this article I'm glad I get to keep my version of the books uncorrupted in my imagination. Not only does LeGuin mention what it's like as an author to have no input into an adaptation of your work, she goes on to discuss how the adaptation utterly ignores the races of her characters, instead opting for a nearly all-white cast.

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    Things You Didn't Know You Needed

    I never used to pick up SkyMall, but then I realized I like looking through catalogs (more so than shopping in person). On my latest airplane trip, I was flipping through SkyMall when I noticed this item:


    According to the catalog, WonderVase is made of a "stury, thermal-plastic material" that can be molded into a vase shape when exposed to warm water. Once molded, it can be filled with cold water and flowers. I'm not sure I'd go so far as the catalog to claim that the product looks like glass. But I like the fact that WonderVase can be stored flat. The catalog suggests that it can be used while traveling to brighten one's hotel room, but for someone like me who gets flowers fairly infrequently, a vase like this would definitely cut down on the clutter factor.

    On the other hand, this item might look nice, but I wonder whether or not it merely makes people more fearful:

    EVAC-U8 Smoke Hood

    Though the hood is recommended for when one is traveling, I wonder whether or not something like this might make more sense for one to keep at home or at work, given the fire that occurred in a Chicago high-rise in 2003.

    On an unrelated note, after my airplane ride I had a hell of a time navigating the MTA (New York City) with my suitcase. Even though I was using one of those suitcases with wheels (for the very first time!), getting to and from the airport was still a hassle. For one, I was stymied every time I got to a turnstile. At least the CTA (Chicago) turnstiles at O'Hare Airport are wide enough to accommodate a grown person with a suitcase. But I had to lift my suitcase over the MTA turnstile every time I went through. Then there are the numbers of stairs that I encountered. I actually don't know how someone in a wheelchair could have navigated the route I did because I don't recall seeing any escalators and very few elevators. I'll probably go back to traveling with a duffle bag. It's slightly lighter than the suitcase, and I can carry it on my shoulders instead of having to watch out for this thing behind me.

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    Tuesday, January 18, 2005

    Time Zone Confusion

    Funny how one can get tripped up by something like time zones. I'd been in the Central Time Zone the past two weeks and now I can't get straight where I am. When calling family and friends and trying to figure out what time it is there, when tuning into a show on TV, I still think I'm in Chicago. It's too bad that I'll have to wait until 12:30 now to catch Conan O'Brien.

    Not to mention the different numbers for all the major networks. Is it channel 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13 or 22?

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    Sunday, January 16, 2005

    Politically Correct Disaster Support

    Does anyone else feel that maybe there's a little too much tsunami awareness these days? Maybe I'm speaking out of cynicism, but I don't appreciate it when companies make it easier for me to support the tsunami relief efforts. If a local, independent business went out of its way to donate a percentage of its profits to the relief efforts, I wouldn't necessarily question its motives. But when a big corporation includes a link on its website to the Red Cross or some other charity, I get the sense that the corporation knows it's doing the politically correct thing. Let's pretend to be concerned when tragedy occurs but otherwise let's do whatever we can to turn a profit.

    On a similar note, here's a New York Times article about Wal-Mart's response to criticism that it's received. (Go to BugMeNot for a free login to the New York Times Web site.)

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