Thursday, January 31, 2008

Today's ADD thoughts

Interesting article on the real effects of businesses' environmental initiatives. For anyone who's ever had the audacity to ask, "If Wal-Mart builds a store that's 33% more energy efficient, doesn't it still use more energy than if the store had never been built at all?"


Earthquakes make me vomit, so I'm glad we don't have many of them in Wisconsin. We do, however, have the occasional icequake, including one this afternoon off of Madison's Lake Mendota. Alas, I was not close enough to feel it. Or was I? I did feel a little queasy after lunch ...


After Rodham Clinton and Obama started acting like toddlers in last week's debates, I decided that there was no way I was going to vote for either of them in the primary. Then the rest of the Democrats dropped out. So it looks like my only choices by late February will be McCain, Romney and Huckabee. Oh, joy. Now, if Romney would change his mind again about marriage and reproductive rights ...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Meat guzzlers

I used to be a vegetarian, but quit for health and ethical reasons. Over the course of a year, I consume what I thought was about the same amount of meat a non-starving person in a developing country would eat. Then I read in this article in The New York Times that the worldwide average per capita meat consumption is four ounces a day.

I know it is gauche to use exclamation marks when writing, but really -- four ounces a day!

I already knew I ate less meat than the average American (eight ounces a day), but less than the average world citizen? I find this hard to believe.

Of course, the article is talking about averages, not medians, so it could be that the Western nations and natives of the sparsely vegetated Arctic are skewing the statistic.

Anyway, read the article. If you think the oil problem is bad -- well, now you have something else to worry about.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Snot-freezing cold

There was some doubt as to whether Madison would have a real winter this year. Yes, almost three feet of snow fell in December, but by early January the weather was all rain, lightning and tornadoes.

But winter has proven itself true. This weekend, the daytime temps dropped as low as -10 degrees Fahrenheit without windchill; with windchill, it was more like -20 or so.

Although I love winter, I am not an idiot, so I stayed indoors most of Saturday and had my friends come to me. (They aren't idiots for having left their abodes, because the anticipation of seeing me warms the heart so much that outdoor temperatures feel 50% less cold to the anticipator.) I did, however, step outside for a minute or so to bring some trash to the dumpster. I was not more than three steps from my front door when the skin on the inside of my nostrils started to freeze. It was quite stunning. Usually, there is an intermediary step in which one's nose hairs freeze, but the air was so dry and cold that, I suppose, there wasn't enough condensation on my nose hairs to allow them to freeze.

One can only hide from the cold for so long. And in my case, it's usually no longer than a day before I must go outdoors and run about. On Sunday morning I donned a wool undershirt, wool long-sleeve shirt, wool sweater, wool longjohns, wool socks, ski pants, a fleece vest, a wool balaclava, a fur-lined fleece bomber hat, silk liner gloves, waterproof fleece-lined gloves, and winter boots that are supposed to keep one's feet warm to -25 degrees Fahrenheit. Then I walked a short mile to a friend's house for brunch, and afterward I went skating on Tenney pond.

The number of layers was perfect for walking (except the fingers -- they got a little cold) but, for skating, the vest was unnecessary, and a knit cap would have been a better stand-in for the evil rabbit-killing hat I was wearing. Part of the reason for fewer layers was, of course, the greater exertion of skating, but the other reason was that, by the time I reached the pond, the temperature had risen to nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit. If I'd been playing hockey, I might have even regretted the longjohns and undershirt, but as it is, I only learned to skate the winter before I left Madison, and getting back out on the ice again yesterday re-instilled my fear of Newton's First Law. So I stuck with some rather pathetic shuffling around the pond while my pacifist Mennonite friends clobbered each other with their sticks and pucks.

It is supposed to stay cold all week, but that depends how you define cold. Today, it's supposed to warm up all the way to the low teens. The high so far is 12 degrees Fahrenheit, which I don't think counts. (If a 12-year-old isn't a teenager, than 12 isn't the low teens, either.) Nonetheless, the warmth was a shock to the weather system and so it's been snowing all day. When I left for work this morning, it was around 6 degrees F. When I arrived at my office building, I saw my reflection in the glass doors and momentarily mistook myself for Luke Skywalker on the planet Hoth.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Express yourself empathically

Today at work I was reading Training magazine, when I came across this gem from Stephen Covey, co-author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
My experience is that many people go for lose-win rather than win-lose. ... Sometimes you go for win-win or no deal, which means you agree to disagree agreeably, particularly when there are opposing values. Sometimes you transcend opposing values by finding a higher, unifying value. Sometimes it's OK to go for win-lose or lose-win if the most important consideration is not the subjects you're discussing but rather the quality of the relationships. This may contribute to a win-win relationship, even though there are some decisions that are win-lose or lose-win. ... when it comes to your turn to express, you should say, "I sense you really don't want a win-win deal or that you don't really believe in the ideal of mutual benefit and mutual respect." Then listen to them empathically.

Read it for yourself
, in context, and see if you can make any sense of it. Congratulations if you can. And extra big prize to anyone who can justify Covey's use of "express" and "empathically."

Grim and soulless

I found this little nugget in a CBS News online obituary of chess champion Bobby Fischer:

The event had tremendous symbolic importance, pitting the intensely individualistic young American against a product of the grim and soulless Soviet Union.

Note, this article was not an opinion piece. Interesting that, the Cold War now being over, journalists are nonetheless permitted by their editors to refer to the Soviet Union as "grim and soulless" as if it were substantiated fact.

(Oh, no, I feel an uncontrollable urge to pontificate on the meaning of the word "soul"; whether nations, or any other inanimate objects, can have soul in the first place; the Jehovah's Witness belief that the soul and the body are inseparable; the ongoing dispute among theologians and philosophers as to whether humans have souls; and differences among Christians, Buddhists and Hindus as to which non-human entities may have souls.)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Those evil, all-powerful common folk

I love it. In Australia, it's apparently an insult when someone says you're a populist.

When Environment Minister Peter Garrett (yes, the former lead singer of Midnight Oil) proposed a nationwide ban on disposable plastic shopping bags, the response of Richard Evans, chief executive of the Australian Retailers Association, was, "This is populist politics at its worst."

In America, the retailers squawk about heavy-handed government trying to squash the common folk by not allowing them to stuff their trash cans and catch-all drawers with once-used plastic bags. In Australia, it's "heavy-handed populist politics." Apparently retailers there feel no need to disguise their disdain for the common folk.

Bursting the optimist's bubble

The presidential election hasn't even happened, but Bush is already a lame duck. So he's putting himself into the role of elder statesman by negotiating a new peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Administration. This one, he says, will be lasting, and -- best of all -- it'll be wrapped up by the end of his presidency!

On the BBC the other day, an Israeli commentator made a comment to this effect: "This guy wouldn't be able to win an election in his own country at this point, and yet he expects to command the respect and compliance of parties in a conflict that he doesn't even understand."

Perhaps he's starting to worry that the sum of his presidential legacy will be heightened instability and cultural animosities in the Middle East and south-central Asia. But even if he manages to convert the heart and mind of each and every Israeli and Palestinian to pacifism and sacrificial love, I imagine that the families of slain and tortured Iraqis and Afghans will remain pissed for a long while.

Some analysis and commentary from Haaretz to burst the optimist's bubble:
"What a Glorious Decline" by Aluf Benn
"Palestinians Believe Bush Won't Pressure Israel" by Yoav Stern
"On a Divine Mission" by Ari Shavit (read response #1 from MB to round out the perspective)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Project Runway, Madison, Wisconsin

It's amazing how much my fashion sense has devolved since I've moved back to Wisconsin. There is something in the water on the East Coast that makes you want to dress nice even if you're just going to the grocery store. At my workplace, some of the younger staffers would lobby for the occasional "jeans day" but, on the few occasions they were granted, I'd still come to work in slacks and lipstick.

In the nine years of living in Wisconsin prior to the move to PA, I bought a total of one tube of lipstick, and that was because I was in a bike crash two weeks before my sister's wedding. Half of my front tooth had broken off and gone through my upper lip and, though the swelling had gone down by the wedding date, there was still a white line on my lip from where the stitches had been removed. This was not the time to attract attention to myself, so I dabbed the spot with concealer and went around wearing lipstick (a barely perceptible neutral color, of course) all weekend.

In the year and a half I lived in PA, I bought seven tubes of lipstick, one lipliner, one eyeliner, and two compacts of face powder. I'd wear lipstick to work, of course, because it was a huge company that seemed to offer some possibility of promotions if it didn't end up imploding on itself (which it has), and I am an incredibly pale person who, sans make-up, gets remarks like, "You sure look tired," throughout the winter months -- especially on days when I'm feeling fabulous -- and nobody wants to promote a dreary broad. So I'd put concealer under my eyes and eyeliner around them and lipstick to make it appear that there was some color in my face.

But it wasn't only work. I'd wear make-up to church, to Whole Foods, to 12-step meetings -- even to Kmart. Throughout winter, I wore a tailored, boiled wool longcoat (heaven forbid I wear a parka and look like someone who lives too close to the Columbia outlet in Portland). For the first time in years, I started wearing gloves instead of mittens. I purchased shoes with heels, and wore them. I wore jewelry every day of the week -- half of the time, pearls.

But now I live in Madison. Occasionally I look at my jewelry box and think, "Huh, that's a little disused." My outfit to work today? Winter boots, jeans, a brown leather belt with two rifles on the brass buckle, a black wool zip-up turtle neck and an orange wool cardigan that became boiled wool when someone stuck it in the drier. It used to have a zipper, but the zipper puckered after the accidental boiling, so I ripped it out and sewed a clasp in at the neckline. I never wore this sweater in public when I lived in Pennsylvania; it was my "house sweater," the upper-body equivalent to a pair of cloth-bottomed slippers.

Oh, yeah. The coat? It was a parka.

I did put something on my lips today, but I don't think it counts as a fashion-forward effort. It was weatherproof lipbalm "with titanium dioxide!" -- which means it makes my lips even paler than they appear naturally. Who knew such things were possible?