Molt Be Blog

Friday, December 29, 2006

I don't believe in the death penalty

Killing people is stupid. Saddam is dead. Whoop-tee-doooooo. It doesn't change a god damn thing. story

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been executed by hanging at an unspecified location in Baghdad, for crimes against humanity.
Iraqi TV said the execution took place just before 0600 local time (0300GMT).
The news was confirmed to the BBC by the Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister, Labeed Abawi.

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Gerald Ford, RIP

Dana Carvey called this back in 1997: SNL Gerald Ford sketch

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

My Netflix Review for Lady in the Water

Roger Ebert's review of Lady in the Water reminded me how much I hated the movie, so I thought I'd review it on Netflix. Here:
I was subjected to this piece of horrible film on a transatlantic flight. The plot meanders from worthless point to worthless point as characters we couldn't care less about repeat the obvious until you wish there was something blunt around to use to hit yourself in the face. I found myself repeatedly removing my headphones to ask those around me if this film was some kind of stupid joke meant to teach film students what not to make or to amuse malnourished chimpanzees who had just finished huffing an entire can of paint thinner. Don't see this. It is a waste of precious time that would be better spent slamming your head in a car door.

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Favorite Photo from Xmas 2006

L1030068.JPG
Here's my favorite picture that I took while up in NY over the weekend: some random cabin in the woods where we took the dogs for a walk. I only had to tweak the contrast and exposure a tiny bit to bring out the bark and the red in the berries.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Recognizing the Truth

Looks like Bush and Co. might actually be acknowledging the fact that things are getting quite warm here on earth at a not-so-common rate. From this article in the Washington Post (which, disappointingly, came through as part of the "politics" RSS feed I have set up).

The Bush administration has decided to propose listing the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, putting the U.S. government on record as saying that global warming could drive one of the world's most recognizable animals out of existence.
Identifying polar bears as threatened with extinction could have an enormous political and practical impact... Because scientists have concluded that carbon dioxide from power-plant and vehicle emissions is helping drive climate change worldwide, putting polar bears on the endangered species list raises the legal question of whether the government would be required to compel U.S. industries to curb their carbon dioxide output.
"We've reviewed all the available data that leads us to believe the sea ice the polar bear depends on has been receding," said the Interior official, who added that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials have concluded that polar bears could be endangered within 45 years. "Obviously, the sea ice is melting because the temperatures are warmer."


My prediction? This interior official will be fired by the Bush administration within two months.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Xmas summary

What started as a rant about Amtrak and the NJ turnpike ended up as an Xmas summary. Here 'tis:

I went home for the holidays to visit Mom, Sis, Dad, Step-Mom and Sis-BF. I took the train up on Saturday morning really really early as we did Xmas gift unwrapping at R's parents for me on Friday night. I scored a 2GB jump drive and a really awesome map of Spain that will go nicely with a map of Sweden from the early 1900s/late 1800s that I gave to R for a 6 month anniversary after we'd just started dating.

I had worked until 8pm, went up to R's parents' house for dinner and unwrapping and got back down to DC around 11pm. I packed my bags and all the presents I had to bring up and then we sat on the couch to spend some time together before I had to leave. I eventually passed out on the couch at about 2am only to wake up around 2:30am to get my stuff together and go find a taxi to Union Station.

The 3:15am train to NYC from DC on Saturday morning isn't as weird as I assumed it would be. I'd originally planned on going up at a normal time, like 8 am, but when I finally got around to getting tickets, all of the trains after 5:15am were either sold out or on the hyper-expensive Accela (I refuse to pay double the price to get there half an hour earlier.)

The ticket machine at Union Station didn't print out my ticket and instructed me to go see an Amtrak agent. Of course, there are no Amtrak agents at Union Station at 3:15am. I only had about 10 minutes until the train left, so I did a lap around looking for anyone official and, upon finding no one, just went to the train.

I talked to the conductor before getting on and he explained, "this always happens on the Saturday morning train. You'll need to buy a ticket on the train. You need to call Amtrak at 1-800-USA-RAIL. You have ID, right?"

Once on board, I put in a call to 1-800-USA-RAIL, which is a huge pain in the ass on a blackberry because it doesn't have the letters printed on the keys. Luckily, I was able to find the original email from a week ago and just click the number to call it. After waiting on the phone for 20 minutes, here's the conversation (as much as I can remember):

Lady: Hello, this is Rhonda from Amtrak how may I help you.
Me: Hi, I need to cancel my reservation.
Rhonda: OK. Can you give me your reservation #.
Me: It's blahblahblah.
Rhonda: OK.
Me: Yeah, I got to the station and the machine wouldn't print the ticket, so they said I need to buy one on the train.
Rhonda: Wait. You're still going to take the train?
Me: Yes.
Rhonda: Well, then. You don't need to cancel the reservation. You need me to reverse that charges, right?
Me: Umm... Whatever you call it where I don't have to pay the ticket online and can just buy a ticket on the train, I need to do that.
Rhonda: Well, you'll still need a reservation. So you'll need me to reverse the charges, right?
Me: I guess.
Rhonda: It's a good thing I didn't cancel it, because you need a reservation to ride the train. Why didn't you just tell me to reverse the charges to your card?
Me: Umm.... Sorry?
Rhonda: I'm going to reverse them and then give you a new reservation number, so make sure you have a pen.
Me: OK.

This was obviously my fault for not knowing the term "reverse the charges" needed to be used. Magic words are very important in these scenarios. After I'd hung up and was giving my credit card to the conductor, I heard the guy behind me complaining that he couldn't get the number to work because he had a blackberry and it didn't have letters for the numbers. I gave him the number and he started to call. After he'd been on hold 20 minutes and was just giving them his reservation number, we went into the tunnel outside Baltimore and he lost the signal.

As we were rolling in the Baltimore station, the conductor suggested that he could try to run up and use the ticket machine to see if it would print the ticket here, but the man declined, saying that he didn't want the train to leave without him.

Once we were rolling again, he called back. I didn't listen in on the conversation, but it sounded like he was able to reverse the charges. Later, the conductor came around to ask him to pay for a new ticket. The man refused, saying that he had already paid for a ticket and didn't feel right paying for another one. The conductor explained that he either needed to pay for a ticket, try to get off and get the ticket from a machine at the next station, or just get off the train altogether because he wasn't allowed to ride for free. The man continued to insist that he didn't want to get off because the train might leave and he'd already paid anyway.

Fifteen minutes went by and this time two conductors came. They explained that he would need to either pay or get off at Wilmington. The man refused. Once we reached Wilmington, an Amtrak police officer came on to try to explain again to the man that he would need to pay or get off the train. The man again insisted that he had already paid and that he wasn't getting off the train. A second officer showed up and the whole "If you don't leave on your own we'll remove you" vs. "I'm not leaving the train" conversation ensued. No one ever really explained to the man that all of us had had to do the same thing and that it wasn't some sort of scam, but he was being stubborn enough that I'm not so sure it would have done any good. Once they started pulling him out by his feet, he grabbed the back of my seat and tried to hold on and the conductor suggested that I move next to someone else for a while. I did and watched as they dragged the man off the train. He promptly stood up once on the platform and they walked him away. The conductor came back on, grabbed the man's bags, put them on the platform and then train rolled out of the station.

No one tried to help this guy. Not even me. I had enough cash to pay for his ticket... but then, I was sure that he should have had the money as well. In fact, he could easily have gotten off the train, caught the next one and done the same trick straight to New York. To let myself sleep with the guilt of not having helped him, I convinced myself that he was irresponsible for having planned a 300 mile trip without having $63 in his pocket... or a credit card. He had also been talking to someone on his blackberry the entire ride up while everyone else was trying to sleep, so we were all better off and it's not like he didn't have a way to contact people.... unless they took the phone away from him after they put him in Amtrak jail. (I'm still very curious about Amtrak jail).

I arrived at Penn Station around 6:50am and hoofed it over to Grand Central where I caught the 7:20 local train home. At first I regretted having taken the local and not just walked around Manhattan for 30 minutes until the 7:50 express, but the 7:50 gets in later anyway and I had a suitcase that would have made walking around a pain. The local train also turned out to be a good experience. I must have taken the local fifty times during high school for various reasons, but I've found that as I get older I experience things that I've seen before differently. Everything I learn every day changes the lenses through which I see the world, so it's no surprise when I suddenly notice the old crumbling mill with a dock on the Hudson that I'd been past before and never bothered to see; it's roof caving in and windows broken; a lamp from the early 1900s on a post out at the dock that's being swallowed by rot and the river. Thinking of all the amazing pictures that I could take, I vowed to come back and take the local to all it's stops some day to wander around. I'll never do it, but it's nice to think of doing it... especially if there's good lighting like there was this morning: really overcast at 7:30am on the third shortest day of the year.

Once I arrived in town, Mom picked me up at the station and we went home for breakfast. J (sister) and her boyfriend S were still upstairs, but came down pretty soon after I'd arrived so that we could all eat together. Then we were off to our Dad's house further North in a town outside of Poughkeepsie.

We had Christmas dinner with Dad on Saturday and the conversation was mainly dominated by step mom E asking me all about R and I getting married and reception plans, etc. I was so tired at this point from having been up since 2:30am and only having slept for 20 minutes on Friday night that I couldn't put up much of a fight in answering questions about the wedding. Most of my answers were "I don't know" or "yeah" and I escaped relatively unscathed.

After dinner and dessert, we put on March of the Penguins and I passed out in a comfy chair.
The next day we had breakfast at a little diner outside of town. The town itself is quite close to the Culinary Institute of America and known for some great chefs and great restaurants. This little place was no exception. They had eggs from never-caged hens, home made sausage and excellent pancakes (I ate all of these things).

We headed back down to my Mom's after breakfast, stopping along the way to get some air in the tires as my sister's car was pulling to the right and the back wheels were making a hell of a lot of noise. The air solved the former and not the latter.
Once at mom's we had hung around a bit until Sis-BF had to go the Stamford train station to catch his train back to RI for Xmas with his family.

Later, we sat around the kitchen and talked while Mom was getting some of the different dishes for dinner started. At around 4pm she went to church to do some caroling and J and I went to try to find a CAT5 cable so that all of the computers in the house could be on the network... we got some beer and Tostitos, too. (very important errands)

We had a roast for dinner and hung around at the table talking until 10pm or so. For some reason Mom had purchased Barbarella on DVD and decided that it would be fun to watch it, so we threw it on. I'd never seen it before, but was lucky that I'm now old enough that it wasn't too uncomfortable when Jane Fonda stripped completely nude during the opening credits. I'm not sure J was as OK with it as I was since she immediately began questioning the reason for the movie being on at all. The movie turned out to be dated, but good. I fell asleep on the couch by 1am and had to make my way up to bed soon thereafter.

We woke up Christmas morning, unwrapped gifts and then had breakfast. After breakfast we took the dogs for a long walk up in the woods outside of town. I managed to get some pretty good pictures of trees and dogs and such, which I'll post once I've had a chance to get them up on flickr. After getting back from the walk, we hung around the kitchen while mom worked on dinner again, ate and then played hearts over dessert until 11pm or so.

I had to be back at work on Tuesday morning. I was originally going to take the train back down early on Tuesday morning and just get in late around 10, but Mom offered to drive me down as she wanted to see R, R's parents and was considering visiting her friend W outside Philadelphia on the way back. We considered leaving Christmas night, but decided to just wake up at 3:30 and leave by 4am to have me at work by 9.

For some reason, we both woke up with no problems and had an uneventful drive back down to DC. I'd burned a mix of all my favorite Wilco songs and we ended up listening to that for pretty much the entire drive. We switched drivers right after the Maryland border and I took over. When we got to my place, Mom took a nap on the couch and I went to work. Luckily, the office was so dead that the boss made us all go home at 1pm and I got to meet Mom down at the Natural History Museum. Once there I forced her to come with to go see two different photography exhibitions, Robert Creamer's Transitions and another exhibition called "Visual Griots of Mali", which features 40 black and white photographs taken by Malian children.
At 3:30pm, Mom and I met up with R's parents and we all went to see a new exhibit at the Ripley
on the British, French and Indian War called Clash of Empires. After I fell asleep on my feet looking at one of the displays, I realized how tired I was from traveling and not sleeping and decided to sit down until we left for home.

We all met up with R back at our place, sat around and shot the shit a bit and then all went out to a delicious dinner at a Latin-Asian fusion restaurant a block from our house.

Mom left this morning after she dropped me off at work and here I am blogging about it all.

Time for lunch!

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Astrid Tuschen

My Friend Astrid's website. Check it.

whatever-will-be.com

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Finito

What a great weekend! I wish I wasn't back at work. R and I finished all of our Xmas shopping on Sunday and also managed to watch a couple of good movies (Thank You For Smoking was OK, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was fantastic and Broken Flowers was slow, but interesting.... I wouldn't venture to call it "good") and get our Holiday Photo done. If you didn't get a copy of the photo in an email, drop me a line at elgreg@gmail.com and let me know that I should send you one.

Today, a friend also pointed out the Selk Bag to me, which I agree should be everyone's purchase for everyone else next year for xmas.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Thanks, Metro Canopy!


Thanks, Metro Canopy!
Originally uploaded by El Greg.
Took this shot on Sunday when we went up to Bethesda to visit R's parents. I like it. It's shiny in parts and dark in others...

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If Tom DeLay never stepped down, the GOP would have won...

Or at least that's what Tom Delay thinks. He's quoted by RWN on his own blog here: Tom DeLay.com

I think it's (because of) a variety of reasons. On the House side, taking me out so disrupted the leadership during the time that they should have been planning for a campaign and working towards campaigns (that) they were in chaos. If you remember, I stepped down temporarily because of a Republican rule, not a Democrat rule. They didn't know how to deal with that because no one has ever had to do that before.
Then, we had a full leadership race in January and February and it took John Boehner, I don't know how many weeks to get up and get going. By the time that they were ready to go, it was May and that was too late.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Dick Cheney: "That's Funny!"

hahahahahaha

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Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers

I just finished watching this movie. While there's a little bit of melodrama and a few unexplained graphics, it does a great job of explaining the issue of war-contracting, war-profiteering and why it's bad for tax payers, bad for renlistement rates and bad for America in general (let alone the poor men & women getting killed as contractors and the poor men & women getting tortured by them).

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Why we should be buying diamonds from Canada

With the film Blood Diamond coming out soon (or is it out already?), the news media is getting on an anti-diamond cartel, anti-child labor kick. Good for them, but too bad that it takes a Leonardo DeCaprio movie for them to raise a stink. I read about the cartel a long time ago and chose to buy R's rock from a Canadian mine. This MSNBC multimedia article gives a lot of information complete with black and white pictures of repressed people and bleeding heart commentary by a Nordic-looking photojournalist. Sweet!

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Rumsfeld Busted

Watch as Rumsfeld says "I never used the phrase 'immediate threat'" in reference to Iraq and is then busted immediately by Friedman (NYT Op-Ed columnist and author of the not-so-well-written the world is flat) Go-go gadget Friedman with your citations.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

US UN envoy quits post

Washington's UN envoy quits post
The article makes sense and isn't too surprising, I just love the picture of Bush with that goddamn smirk on his face.

The US ambassador to the United Nations is to leave his post when his temporary appointment runs out, officials say.

John Bolton was unable to win the necessary Senate support for him to continue in the job.

He took up the UN posting last year during a Congressional holiday after his nomination stalled in the Senate.

He is the second high-profile member of President George W Bush's team to leave after the Republicans fared badly in last month's mid-term polls.

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Reminder

This is me reminding me to download Cold War Kids, Robbers & Cowards

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Rumsfeld Memo Proposed ‘Major Adjustment’ in Iraq

Rumsfeld Memo Proposed ‘Major Adjustment’ in Iraq

To limit the political fallout from shifting course he suggested the administration consider a campaign to lower public expectations.
“Announce that whatever new approach the U.S. decides on, the U.S. is doing so on a trial basis,” he wrote. “This will give us the ability to readjust and move to another course, if necessary, and therefore not ‘lose.’ ”
“Recast the U.S. military mission and the U.S. goals (how we talk about them) — go minimalist,” he added.

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Lazy. Lazy. Lazy.


A lot to catch up on and not a lot of time to do it in. Today I'm in San Francisco for a work conference. I'm reminding myself of college in that I'm procrastinating by writing when I have a presentation that I'm supposed to give at 11am for which I haven't completed the handout. It's OK. It's only 6:38 here.
A lot's happened since I last posted something on here that wasn't just a link to a news article.
(1) R and I got engaged. We had been planning on doing something special for our five year anniversary of our first... umm... make-out session, I guess, which is on Nov. 10th. I put myself in charge of picking a place to go and refused to tell R where it was until we were in the car on the way to the airport. All she knew was that she would need a passport and that the climate was about the same as that of DC.
I had chosen our oldhomBarcelona after I'd made the decision to propose, but used the surprise location to mask the larger ring-shaped surprise. The short version: After arrival, we had to wait two hours before check-in wherein I bought a cheap suit for an upcoming wedding and R got an equally cheap dress. Thanks, Zara! After check-in, we showered up and I convinced R that we should walk to Park Guell at the top of the hill. Once there, I steered us to an archway of branches behind the house that architect Gaudi used while he was designing the park. I rooted around in my camera bag for an extra batter because "mine had died" and instead produced a ring. End of story.
That night we met up with an old friend/roommate right in front of our old building on Rambla De Prat. Once we had established, to our relief, that we all basically looked the same after 4 years, we started walking to find a place to eat and ended up at our favorite old Middle Eastern place, Habibi.
The next day we went out to the suburbs of Barcelona to visit the same friend and her husband and to meet her daughter of one and a half, Maya.
And the day after that we left again.
(2) A Week in the Dominican (see picture, right) - Two weeks later, on Nov. 21, we left again for the Dominican Republic for a friend's wedding. The wedding took place on a Resort about 30 minutes Southeast of La Romana, the Wyndham Dominicus Beach. The week was spent almost entirely going between the beach, the dining hall and various bars all in the company of at five other couples that we usually spend New Year's with. Thanksgiving dinner at the dining hall wasn't the same as the US, but they still provided a Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, so I wasn't complaining.
I only managed to escape the contrived atmosphere of the resort twice. Our second day there, we took a cab to the capital, Santo Domingo, to have lunch with the former host-family of one of our friends at the wedding. It was great to get out and have an authentic Dominican meal with shredded cabbage and carrot salad, two different varieties of rice and beans and some excellent fried yucca cakes that I really need to get the recipe for (something involving anise).
The second escape was made on my last full day at the resort (the 27th) when I accompanied the groom and another groomsman to La Romana to return the suit jackets that had been rented for the wedding. We got a little lost and my Blackberry saved the day by letting us call the rental place. I got some great shots of the street and various signage.
We all agreed that it seemed like everyone in the Dominican was always extremely happy. We also agreed that the resorts make the rest of the country seem a lot worse than it is to try to scare their patrons from leaving and spending their money elsewhere. Having been to India was excellent preparation for the Dominican. The country is dirty, but not that dirty. Poor, but not that poor. The people were also a lot more tolerant of three white guys in a car than I know they would have been in New Delhi. There was no following, staring or requests for money.
We landed on Tuesday this week, I went to work on Wednesday and I left again on Thursday morning for this group meeting in San Francisco. I'm a little jet-tarded, but not too worse for wear. Maybe it's the tan.
OK. Done procrastinating.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

CSS - Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above

Heck yes. I first found this off of a free mp3 at ampcamp's free mp3 site

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I'm SO HAPPY!!!

Look at those headlines!!!!!!!

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Projections, projections C'mon Webb! C'mon Cardin!

It's 11:39pm, November 7th, 2006, let's see what the news says:
CNN

Projections: Dems win House


CNN projects that when all votes are in, Democrats will take control of the House of Representatives. The Senate remains in the balance, with projections so far having Democrats winning three of the six seats they need.
FoxNews

Dems Win House


4 GOP seats still up for grabs in Senate; Allen, Webb locked in Virginia Senate battle
Democrats complete swing of power in House; Pelosi poised to be new majority leader; control of Senate in the balance
ABC News

The Revolution of 2006


ABC News projects that the Democrats will reach the magic number of 218, gaining more than 15 seats in the House and giving them majority control of the lower chamber.
MSNBC

Democrats regain House, promise changes


Clinton says message to Bush is ‘not so fast,’ and McCain essentially agrees
The Onion

Politicians Sweep Midterm Elections


Politicians WASHINGTON, DC—After months of aggressive campaigning and with nearly 99 percent of ballots counted, politicians were the big winners in Tuesday's midterm election, taking all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, retaining a majority with 100 out of 100 seats in the Senate, and...
CBS News

Democrats Take The House


CBS Estimate: Dems Win 15 Seats Needed For House Control, Also Add 3 Senate Seats

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Reminder to self to check this out

Environmental News and Humor | Grist Magazine | 07 Nov 2006

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Reminder - Check out Kiva.org

Check out Kiva.org - Loans that change lives. This micro-financing has you loaning small amounts to entrepreneurs and generally getting at least 95% of your money back. Thereby enabling all the emotional benefits of altruism with only minor financial loss (basically just the interest that you would have earned if you held on to the money that you loan).

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Bible Study

Religion and the bible seem to be popping up a lot lately; there's this whole Pastor Ted thing going on and I also just finished reading a great article on Atheism in the latest issue of Wired.
My wanderings led me to a few different places that are definitely worth a look:
Slate Blogs the Bible has Slate's David Plotz reading through the "good book" and logging
A video on YouTube of Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins arguing with Pastor Ted himself about evolution popped up as particularly popular on technorati.com and is actually a segment of the larger documentary "The Root of All Evil", which can be found on Google Video here.
Another interesting spot is the Skeptics Annotated Bible, which reads through the bible and makes whiny gripes every five verses or so.
There's also Capella's guide to Atheism.
In other news, R and I saw Borat! last night and it was fan-freaking-tastic. I'd recommend it to anyone. In fact, I recommend it to you, right now.
We've also been hitting the gym pretty hard in preparation for being seen on the beach in the Dominican when we're there for a wedding over Thanksgiving. I'm up to four miles in 35 minutes, which is crap compared to what I used to run in high school... but since it's been almost 10 years since then, I guess I can't be too disappointed.
Tonight we're off to the engagement party of some friends of ours in Adams Morgan, but for the moment, I have a load of laundry to fold.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Friedman on the Kerry "gaff"

Here's a link to Friedman's Op-Ed in the Times today on how stupid Bush, Cheney, et al. must think we all are link [link is from myspace through technorati, because Times Select is dumb].

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Oooh, that's not going to help come Tuesday.

Man, the republicans just can't catch a break. The BBC and NYTimes report that the US had to close down the "Iraqi Freedom Document Portal" because documents on the site may have contained detailed materials on how to build nuclear weapons. From the BBC:

The website, Iraqi Freedom Document Portal, was set up in March after pressure from Republican legislators that intelligence experts were taking too long to comb through thousands of documents from Saddam Hussein's Iraq...
The documents reportedly contained detailed information on the radioactive cores of atom bombs and how to build nuclear firing circuits and trigger explosives.
One diplomat told the New York Times that the documents were "a cookbook".

From the NYT:
The documents, roughly a dozen in number, contain charts, diagrams, equations and lengthy narratives about bomb building that nuclear experts who have viewed them say go beyond what is available elsewhere on the Internet and in other public forums. For instance, the papers give detailed information on how to build nuclear firing circuits and triggering explosives, as well as the radioactive cores of atom bombs.
And in other not-so-good-for-republicans news, the top evangelist who resigned over gay sex claims is now admitting to having bought drugs and received a massage
The head of a US evangelical body who quit after being accused of paying for sex with a gay prostitute has admitted he bought drugs.
The Reverend Ted Haggard, ex-leader of the 30m-strong National Association of Evangelicals, said he bought methamphetamine but "never used it".
He denies having sex with the man but said he did receive a massage.
Who wants to bet that, if this story goes any further, it will turn out that Pastor Ted is a big time speed freak who hangs out with tina every morning and that his definition of the word "massage" is loose enough to allow for plenty of santorum? In a very Clintonesque statement, he even said in an interview with KUSA-TV, "I never had a gay relationship with anybody." Could this be the same sly that's-what-sex-means-to-me maneuver? A massage definitely doesn't dictate a relationship and they weren't buying each other flowers (just drugs) or going out to dinner... and even then, the word "relationship" is deniable.
Hopefully this hypocrisy and irony on Friday will be followed by some irony and hypocrisy on Monday to create an Election weekend sandwich.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Reminder - Give some money to save Sudanese folks

Charity Navigator - Crisis in Sudan: Update

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Note to Self: Avoid Conventional Peaches

My Whole-Foods-Organic-Food-Loving self saw this story on nbc4 the other day while I was at the gym regarding which foods are found to absorb the largest and smallest amount of pesticides.

WASHINGTON -- Organic fruits and vegetables often cost twice as much as other produce, but now shoppers concerned about both pesticides and their budget have a new tool to help them pick and choose what's best.
Scientists for the Environmental Working Group poured over government tests on 43 popular fruits and vegetables, focusing on the pesticide loads.
They compiled two lists: one containing foods with the most pesticides and a second list of the cleanest produce.
Dirty Dozen (Foods With Most Pesticides):
  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet bell peppers
more...

R and I are on a health kick in preparation for spending the week surrounding Thanksgiving at a wedding in the Dominican republic. I've been running four miles four days a week and watching the blisters on my feet grow. I think I need running shoes with a bigger toe-box... or just new socks... or new feet.

Also in health news, the articlue "Can a pill let you pig out with impunity?" by William Saletan in Slate Magazine, explains that a new study is showing that wine is going to make me live to be 150. Sweet!
A substance in wine, grape skins, and peanuts might protect you from the harmful effects of a fatty diet. Mice that were fed the substance, resveratrol, with a fatty diet got just as fat as mice that ate the same diet without resveratrol. But they didn't get the same heart damage, liver damage, or pre-diabetic blood changes. They also lived 15 percent longer, just like mice that ate healthier food.
more in the NYT...

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Monday, October 23, 2006

NYC and Back

R and I went up to NYC for the bachelor and bachelorette parties of a couple whose wedding we're attending in the Dominican Republic over Thanksgiving. We borrowed R's parent's car and zipped up Saturday afternoon. Immediately upon arriving at another friend's place in Brooklyn (and shortly after I accidentally blew through the Goethals bridge toll without paying) we went out, bought a handle of rum and four of us set about playing poker and waiting for the groom to show up and be surprised. After his arrival, some more poker, tequila shots and a stripper coming by to give a show, we headed out to SoHo. Plans originally were to go to some Bulgarian bar that has a very circus-like atmosphere, but the place was closed. We ended up at Motor City where I ran into Anton Newcombe, lead singer of Brian Jonestown Massacre. He asked if you could borrow the chair I had my hand on. Not recognizing him, I said yes and he sat down next to where I was standing as an Amazonian blonde woman started to massage his neck. I turned to talk to the groom, heard a loud popping sound and turned back as Anton started yelling at me for not having seen what she just did.
"Brian Jonestown Massacre, right?," I asked.
"Yeah, yeah, but did you just see that?!?"
"No. I heard it, though."
"Awesome! This girl is a chiropractor or something."
And that was my celebrity sighting of the weekend.
After Motor City, we ended up a Pianos and then some Hookah bar near First and First. After that, things are pretty much a blur. A good time was had by all. I got back to the apartment we were crashing at around 5am and found R had gotten home from the bachelorette party about two hours earlier. We were out the door in the morning by 11am and back down to DC to return the car by 4. Not too shabby!

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Reminder

I need to get this new LCD Soundsystem track off of iTunes. From the pitchforkReview:

Put simply, "45:33" (would that John Cage needed to shed those unsightly post-Columbus Day lbs.) is an original workout mix by LCDS. Commissioned by Nike and available at iTunes, the piece is purportedly based on "an arc designed for running," featuring new music by the band, pieced together like a DJ mix in a fashion that's apparently supposed to help me forget I'm hating life on the jogging trail. And somehow, it almost manages to do that. After taking it on a test run, I can attest that the music really does move forward similarly to my own metabolism, gradually building, holding a modest climax in the middle, and ending on a long, fluffy comedown...
Things really take off at about the 28:30 mark with a horn break, and fast, glittery disco-rock that **PAGING DFA PRODUCTIONS** really should be expanded into a single. The cutting bassline and relentless, stone-faced pulse are almost perfectly tailored for the most active part of a workout-- although, even if you wouldn't come within a mile of a jogging trail on a bet, the hi-NRG is tough to deny. In fact, just when you might be ready for extra oxygen and an IV, the bottom falls into the first of two (!) cool-down sections, beginning with the "shimmering, harmonious tinkerbell cooing" section, followed by the merely "harmonious cooing" part.

-LCD Soundsystem: 45:33: Pitchfork Record Review

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Wilco

Just got back from an excellent sold-out performance by Wilco at the 9:30 club. NPR broadcast the show live and will have it available on their site at All Songs Considered for the foreseeable future, if you'd like to take a listen.
Now I'm looking at these Reuters slideshows a bit before heading off to bed.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Yeah, yeah. I know.

OK. I'll admit it: I've been ignoring the blog. Work is busy and I've had a cold for two weeks. I've learned a few things:
(1) The NyQuil-all-night/DayQuil-all-day combination pays off in physical wellness, but melts your brain.
(2) ZiCam doesn't work if you don't take it on a strict every-three-hour basis.
(3) This cold is one of the few that has ever made me really, really hungry all the time.

I will, someday, finish the 3rd part of the India story that I started when we got back in July. Unfortnately, I've probably forgotten a bunch of the little things that happened and make trips interesting. I did carry a little notebook while we were there, so hopefully I can flip through that and remember some things.

More fun: A coworker happened sent me this link
The Ashcroft Group, LLC - Our Team, which points to the bios of those working for former Attorney General John Ashcroft's consulting firm. On nice gem is featured in the bio of David T. Ayres, Ashcroft's former chief of staff and now CEO of Ashcroft, LLC, where he touts being the "he Department of Justice's first annual 'Award for Strategic Leadership,' which was named for him. In 2004". If John Ashcroft creates an award and give it to you, it't not something you should go bragging about. Of course, neither is "Vice Admiral Allen with directing and managing the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, the most devastating natural disaster in American history" like Susan Richmond does in her bio.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Nerd It Up

Just a little reminder to myself to check out this programming language called Processing.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Broken Social Scene: 7/4 Shoreline

Nice!

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Greg, Nature Photographer

Took some shots this past weekend while fly-fishing near Great Falls west of DC.



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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Facebook

Facebook.com opened to the public today... after committing myspace-icide, I guess it would hypocritical to sign up (and they're registration page wouldn't open, anyway.)

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

CNN Roundup

CNN.com - Chavez: Bush 'devil;' U.S. 'on the way down' - Sep 20, 2006
Read as CNN vilifies Hugo Chaves with the headline above and the line below. Ridiculous:

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tore into his U.S. counterpart and his U.N. hosts Wednesday, likening President Bush to the devil and telling the General Assembly that its system is "worthless."

"The devil came here yesterday," Chavez said, referring to Bush, who addressed the world body during its annual meeting Tuesday. "And it smells of sulfur still today."

Chavez accused Bush of having spoken "as if he owned the world" and said a psychiatrist could be called to analyze the statement. (Watch Hugo Chavez cross himself as he tells world leaders he can smell the devil -- 1:06)

I <3 Noam Chomsky

And check out this missing link that was put there to confuse us by God, you silly creationist/intelligent design biotches!

NEW YORK (AP) -- Scientists have discovered a remarkably complete skeleton of a 3-year-old female from the ape-man species represented by "Lucy."

The discovery should fuel a contentious debate about whether this species, which walked upright, also climbed and moved through trees easily like an ape.

The remains are 3.3 million years old, making them the oldest known skeleton of such a youthful human ancestor.


And Lou Dobbs comes out against voting machines (below). Thank God! BlackBoxVoting.org has only been ranting about this for five or six years...

But there is additional uncertainty about the outcome of our elections that is intolerable and inexcusable, and which could make the contested 2000 presidential election look orderly by comparison. As of right now, there is little assurance your vote will count. As we've been reporting almost nightly on my broadcast for more than a year, electronic voting machines are placing our democracy at risk.

Across the nation, eight out of every 10 voters will be casting their ballots this November on electronic voting machines. And these machines time and again have been demonstrated to be extremely vulnerable to tampering and error, and many of them have no voter-verified paper trail.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Whoa, New iTunes stuff


iTunes has finally incorporated some better Album Artwork technology. I'm still digging Clutter for displaying artwork on the desktop, finding artwork for me and allowing me to update, but the new cover browser in iTunes is much appreciated. Also, iTunes now allows you to right click and select "Get album Artwork". Sweet!

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bush Babbling Like an Idiot

Watch and learn as Lauer gives Bush the whatfor on torture... I still wish he'd pressed him a little harder, as Bush just kept reframing the question to babble on about protecting the American people from those who want to "kill your families".

Lauer: If waterboarding... if that was legal and within the law, why couldn't you do it at Guantanamo? Why'd you have to go to a secret location around the world?
Bush: Matt, I'm not going to talk about techniques. And I'm not going to explain to the enemy what we're doing. All I'm telling you is that you asked if we're doing things to protect the American people and I want the American people to know we are doing so.
...
Lauer: Are you concerned that in using these techniques you're blurring the lines between us and the people we're fighting against?
Bush: The best information we can get is from people we take off the battlefield so we can act on it. So we can stop plots before they happen.
Whatever we have done is legal. That's what I'm saying. It's within. the law. We had lawyers look at it. They said, "Mr. President, this is lawful." That's all I'm going to tell you. I'm not going to tell you specifically what's done because I don't want the enemy to adjust. This... We're at war! These are people who want to come and kill your families. And I'm confident that the American people understand that.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bush invokes 9/11 to argue for Iraq war - Yahoo! News

From his speech last night that was "non-political in nature":

If we yield Iraq to men like bin Laden, our enemies will be emboldened, they will gain a new safe haven, and they will use Iraq's resources to fuel their extremist movement. We will not allow this to happen.

Bush invokes 9/11 to argue for Iraq war:

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Monday, September 11, 2006

This can't be good...

Situation Called Dire in West Iraq
Don't forget the moment of silence at 8:46am.
This morning Bush called Ground Zero a "fantastic place... of healing". What an idiot.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Apologies

I haven't been able to keep up with the blog in the last few weeks... 140+ hrs in 10 days at work have me reeling... Here's some news: Iraq takes military reins from coalition - Yahoo! News
Anyone who doesn't recognize this as a farce and a political stunt isn't paying attention.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Arianna Huffington: It's News, Right? - Yahoo! News

I was going to write something about how this JonBenet story wasn't really news and was just a distraction from the real things that are going on in the world, but Arianna Huffington beat me to the punch: Arianna Huffington: It's News, Right?
Then again, I have a job and writing stuff like this is her job.
I'll add this massive conspiracy theory, though: I think that they've known where this guy's been hiding for quite some time and that they just grabbed him and threw him into the spotlight as soon as the news in the Middle East started getting so horrible. The JonBenet murder story is the best media weapon ever devised, why not bring it back into use? I'm honestly a little surprised that so many people still remember the story.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Photo Fraud in Lebanon

Photo Fraud in Lebanon

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Found

Questionable Content: shirts

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Friday, August 11, 2006

...

I'm no fanatical patriot or ethnocentrist, but a question crossed my mind this morning that, in light of the current situation, I thought was interesting: why aren't there more American terrorists? I mean genuine WASP terrorists?
There was that one guy a year or so after Sept. 11 who was found to have trained with Al Qaeda for a bit, but other than that you never hear about an American terrorist. I'm not talking about American terrorists going out and attacking other countries. The answer to that one is that we have a hugely powerful military that pretty much already beats the hell out of anyone that an American might disagree with. I'm talking about American terrorists that terrorize Americans. Like McVeigh or Kaczynski. Where are all the McVeighs?
What's baffling is that this lack of American self-hatred doesn't seem to teach any kind of lesson to the terrorists in the rest of the world. They probably just think that we're extremely conceited and blinded with power; whereas we just see them as extremely religious and blinded by fanaticism.
I think to myself, "don't they see that we don't hate ourselves for a reason? That we aren't strapping bombs to ourselves and blowing each other up all the time?"
Bush would say that we don't hate ourselves because we're free and that the "evildoers" hate us for exactly the same reason.
In fact, the evildoers probably hate us because they see us as restricting their freedoms (Palestine, anyone?).

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Monday, August 07, 2006

India (expanded) Part Deux

I went out with some friends of friends and found out that I actually have a reader or two in the blogosphere. This is for the people out there whose names start with C.
...Continuing:
(I just finished reading "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation" by Lynne Truss. It's an entire book on punctuation, how to use it and how it's not being used. In light of this recent reading, you'll probably be seeing a few more apostrophes, semicolons, colons, commas, dashes, hyphens, parentheses and even periods than you're usually used to. Trust me, though: you'll feel a lot better when it's all over. Additionally, I do not promise to use this punctuation correctly as it was a long book and I can't go remembering the whole thing off the top of my head. I also can't figure out how to do a dash on the Windows laptop that I'm using (I do know that it's an Apple Symbol and the hyphen on my Mac).)


Now then, where was I? Ah yes; we had just finished day two, which was our first real sight-seeing day in Delhi. Our third day in the Western hemisphere, R and I went to see the Taj Mahal in Agra. I was up at the crack of 6 to get ready for the 2½ hour train ride from Delhi to Agra. Our train was at 9:10 and the ride to the station was about half an hour by cab. Our hotel was right near the New Delhi train station, but this train left from the Hazrat Nizamuddin station, which was much further downtown.
Before we went downstairs to get a cab, I snapped some photos out of the hotel window and managed to catch the pictures to the right. I've posted a few of them before, but I like them enough to post them again. Upon arriving at the station, we asked at the counter where our train would be and were told the track number. Being overzealous, we were at the station by 7:30 and had to wait an hour and a half before boarding. First we stood around on the shady side of the platform, which was wall-to-wall people. After getting a little tired of being stared at, we moved to the sunny and empty side of the platform to wait some more. It was at least 100 degrees out by this point, so we moved back into the shade pretty quickly. Watching some of the trains pull in with people hanging off the side had us a little worried, but our ticket was for an A/C car and those with standing room only were definitely not air conditioned or reserved. Waiting around, we almost missed the train because it had been sitting in the station for so long that we assumed ours would be the next one coming in after this one cleared the track. My plan was that if it got to be 9am, I would start asking around if this was in fact our train, but R took the intiative and asked a guard who was standing around. R got up to show him our ticket and he promptly snatched the ticket out of her hand, sat down in her seat, crossed his legs and gave it a puzzled look as he stroked his chin. After fifteen seconds, he nodded, pointed over his shoulder with his thumb towards the train and said it was ours. R was pissed that the guard remained seated on her bench, but was very proud of the fact that she had figured out that it was our train that was sitting in front of us the whole time. [clap clap clap]
We found our car about 50 yards down and climbed aboard. We were seated across from an Indian family: mom, dad and son. After a half hour of awkward silence, mom broke out some food and gave us a plate. Thereupon we found some pickled whatnot; some stuff that resembled those Chinese potato chips that you put in Won Ton soup, but thinner; some Almond cake; Naan; rice; and something else that I can't recall. All of these things were absolutely delicious and were described to us by the family as being "very typical Indian food." I like to think that they were impressed with my enjoyment of the spicy-pickled-whatnot. All of this eating sparked conversation. Earlier in the ride I'd noticed that both dad and son were reading an English newspaper and it turned out they both spoke excellent English. During the train ride we learned that the son was in IT, like me, but worked more with networks; we got the chance to compare some acronyms: him with his TCP/IP and me with my SQL. They were on their way to a wedding in the town after Agra, which made us feel more comfortable since it meant they could tell us when to get off the train.

That building... you know
the Taj Mahal

Per the Lonely Planet guidebook, Agra is a disgusting hell-hole (I'm using a tad of poetic license in my paraphrasing there). I'll say this: the town didn't fail to live up to its description. Being a stupid tourist, I had assumed that the Taj Mahal was an idyllic place sitting out in a field somewhere right outside the train station two hours south of Delhi. This isn't an entirely ridiculous thought, given that a lot of the castles I've been to in France are surrounded only by forests rather than honking taxis, rickshaws, peddlers, panhandlers, swindlers and cows. But then, the Taj Mahal isn't a castle. The Taj is a mausoleum built for the 3rd wife of Shah Jahan (8th of the Mughal emperors, if I count correctly). The Shah's wife died giving birth to their 14th child and he built the Taj to house her body. Agra was once the capital of the Mughal empire, but has since become more of the hell-hole described by guidebooks. I suppose it's not really fair to judge a city this way having only seen its train station, main tourist attraction and the roads in between, but I feel that, in this case, I have literary sources to back up my criticisms.
The train station in Agra is about 20 minutes away from the Taj Mahal itself and a cab ride to get there seemed like the best way to go. No sooner had our shining white selves stepped off the train than we were surrounded by offers for such. Guidebooks had warned us about accepting rides from just anybody - a common practice being to take tourists to predetermined sites other than their actual destination to try to get them to buy nick-nacks, trinkets, tchotchkes, bobbles, etc. While the book did explain that these detours weren't all bad, we only had one day to see the city and weren't interested in being swindled. To help reduce the possibility of detours, when we got to an actual taxi stand R spun a yarn about us being with a group that we were supposed to meet at the Taj Mahal in 10 minutes. They threw a curveball about there being three gates at the Taj: East, West and South and asked at which one we were meeting them. I pulled out my secret weapon (the Blackberry) and made a fake phone call to confirm that, yes. It was, in fact, the West gate.

The road to the Western
entrance of the Taj Mahal

This may not have been the best choice. Our cab driver dropped us off on a circle and pointed across to an arch with a road behind it leading up to the Western gate. Crossing the circle itself took some courage, but once you get over the fact that there are cars, trucks, cows, buses, cabs and bicycles sharing the road with you, you realize that there are plenty of other people walking around in the street as well.
The road leading up to the Western gate was closed to street traffic after the arch, but allowed for plenty of hocking of wares and offers of rickshaw rides up to the gate. There was a long line of bicycle rickshaws just after the archway with most of their drivers sleeping in the sun while laying on the back seats of their rides. As we came through, a kid who couldn't have been more than 10 rode up along-side us and started trying to get us to take a ride. We knew it was only half a kilometer to the gate, so didn't plan on taking him up the offer, but he followed us almost all the way to the end (just before a big hill that he would have had to go back up) and went from offers of Rs. 20/- ($0.50) to Rs. 5/- ($0.10) by the time he gave up.
The fee for entering the grounds of the Taj Mahal is Rs. 750/- for foreigners and something like Rs. 50/- for Indians. Rs. 750/- is about $17 - which isn't too shabby considering that you're seeing one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and the entrance fee included a bottle of water, free shoe covers and a locker rental. The entrance fee for residents didn't include any of this great stuff. As we were buying our tickets we were surrounded on all sides by potential "guides" vying for our attention. One particularly young skinny kid stood out and shoved a badge in our faces proving his status as a "real guide". The picture was such a cheezy glamor-shot that we had to let him show us around. We talked him down from Rs. 150/- to Rs. 100/- ($2.50) for the tour and he immediately had us follow him to the security line where he started pushing everyone in front of us out of the way.
R and I both failed the screening on our first go around. Actually, R failed first, due to having some chocolate and an ipod in her purse, and I gave up after seeing her fail. There are separate security lines for men and women at most places in India and the ladies always goes more quickly because most women don't leave the house.

visitors walking into the main
chamber of the Taj Mahal

Our child-guide was very helpful in telling us what stuff in our bags wouldn't be allowed in. Apparently Cliff bars are a no-no, cell phones are a no-no, and iPods are a no-no. Video cameras are OK until you're within about 200 metres of the Taj and regular cameras are OK as long as you're outside the actual burial chamber (which is, in fact, a replica of the real burial chamber because too many people where slipping and falling downa flight of white marble stairs.

The North side of the Taj Mahal

The kid who convinced us to let him guide us around had obviously been doing this for quite some time. His whole tour was very routine, but still perfectly informative. He showed us the inlaying of black marble on white on the outside of the structure, explained that the buidlings on either side of the Taj itself were Mosques and showed us the writing of the Quran all over the building. He explained that the four towers or the Taj leaned outwards so that if they ever fell, they would hurt the main building. He also pointed across the river to the site where legend says the emporer planned to build a black marble duplicate of the Taj for his own body.
Like many of the sites in India, there's a strict no shoe policy once you're up on the main level of the Taj. Thanks to the handout of free shoe booties, most foreigners up on top are wearing silly shoe covers and most of the local visitors are standing about in socks. What a great way to single ourselves out. By the end of our trip, I was down with just wearing socks and shoving whatever shoes we had on into my bag.
It's impossible (not just difficult) to talk about the Taj Mahal in words. It really is the most beautiful structure I've ever seen. If I could recommend seeing something in another country, this would be it. Fly into Agra, stay at the Sheraton, see the Taj, go home.
After having the innards of the Taj explained to us by our guide, we took off our booties and sat on a bench while we waited for him to get his shoes back from a locker. When he returned we sent him packing with his Rs. 100/- and sat around in the different gardens that surround the building taking pictures and trying to pick other Western tourists out of the lines of people walking up to the Taj (I counted eight)
Given that it was 114 degrees, we got a little warm and decided that it would be best to leave. Our train back to Delhi wasn't until 6:10pm, so we had about four hours to kill. On the walk back along the road to the circle where we'd been dropped off, we encountered the same rickshaw driving kid who'd followed us on the way in. This time he knew he wasn't going to get anything out of us, so he only tried for a few minutes before giving up and deciding to insult me instead by calling me a lady ("Sir, are you a 'Sir' or a 'Miss'"). I called the kid a Miss back and R scolded me for sinking to his level. It was fantastic.

After seeing the state of affairs between the train station and the gate of the Taj, we weren't about to try to look at some more tourist attractions within the city. Instead, I suggested that we take a vacation from our vacation and go to eat lunch at the Sheraton. At this point, we were both a bit frazzled from culture shock, hot from the sun and ready to experience a touch Westerness. We hopped in a tuk-tuk and had them take us down the road to the hotel. We were dropped off on the street outside of the compound and walked the 1/4km to the front. No one even looked twice as we walked past the five-or-so guards to enter the main lobby. Walking through the doors was just like walking back into the US. Everything was completely westernized; they'd even managed to make the place smell like home. R and I set upon the lobby restrooms immediately. I felt bad washing my face and looking bedraggled in front of the bathroom attendant, but then I feel bad in front of bathroom attendants in the states, too.
The bar area had been set up for the world cup, which was in the Semi-Final rounds. After using the restrooms, we plopped ourselves down in the lounge/bar area and each drew in a deep relaxing breath. It was still pretty early in the day, so we had to satisfy our eyes with news about upcoming matches and senior tour golf (Yes. They show Senior PGA in India. Terrible, I know.).
I was a little surprised to find a complety Western bar menu featuring hamburgers of all things. We decided not to go overboard and stuck to veggie burgers and Indian beer. After lunch, we still had some time to kill and took walk around the grounds of the hotel. Later, we got the doorman (who was in full Maharaja garb) to hail us a Tuk-Tuk and got a ride back to the Agra train station.
Arriving around 5:30pm and our train being at 8:10pm, we waited around a bit in the main terminal where the unreserved ticket counters and the big board showing the track nubmers were located. Once the clock hit 5:45pm and our train number still hadn't come up with track listing, we decided to ask an authority figure about its status. FYI - Authority figures in India wear glasses. Period.
R and I went up to a man sitting at the entrance to the first platform to show him our tickets - which had been purchased through the travel agency that we used.

Being stared at in the Agra train station

Per usual, he grabbed the ticket out of R's hand and held it close to his nose. After looking at it for a few seconds (during which time a crowd had gathered to watch the plight of the white), he handed it to a man with glasses. This man looked at it for a few moments and then made a "shooing" motion with his hand.
I inquired as to what this meant by immitating him and shrugging my shoulders.
"Your train has already left," he explained.
"Oh," I said.
We asked him about the options that we had, given that our ticket was for a train that had already departed. I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but India has a repuation for beauracracy and the filling out of forms; after listing to him explain our options, I started to understand the reasoning behind this reputation. Much like my experiences with the DMV, I was informed that we would need to go to a separate booking office around the corner, fill out a cancellation form, take the form to a refund line, get a refund, go to a reserved ticket line and then buy a new ticket for the Delhi<->Agra Express departing at 7:30.
After waiting in the refund line for 10 minutes and starting to get worried about time, I decided to just give up on getting a refund and spring for the two $7.50 tickets back to Delhi instead. We gave our old ticket and the refund form to a girl who was hanging around and told her that she could exchange it for us.
After we got back on the platform, we met an English kid who was backpacking around the country before attending his hippie-sister's wedding in Goa. Somewhere in our conversation we mentioned having seen a monkey on the roof of the building across from our hotel. He proceeded to tell us about his friend's mother who was mauled and killed by a monkey while on holiday. This is when we decided to definitely avoid the roof in the future.
Just as our train pulled, the girl who we'd given the old ticket and refund form to showed up and had a man with her explain that she needed to get our first names on the form to get the money. We quickly wrote our names and then managed to guess the right direction that our train car would be in. (There is an extremely limited number of staff when the train pulls in and no one available to direct you where to go, so finding your car is a matter of picking a direction and then walking the length of the train to look at the car numbers on the side. There are also passenger lists for reserved seats that are printed out on that old school dot-matrix printing paper with the perforated paper things that you can peel off and bending into an useless paper string. I wish now that I'd gotten a picture of our names on the side of the train to Delhi from Agra and I really hope that that girl got the money for our cancelled ticket.
The train from Agra to Delhi was disgusting. The journey gave me my first experience with insects on public transportation. I'm used to the occasional rat or mouse in the metros; DC even has its share of cockroaches on the streets; but nothing could have prepared me for watching cockroaches crawling in and out of the seat cushions and curtains the entire three hour ride from Agra to Delhi. This wasn't something normal. All of the locals sitting around us were just as disturbed by our six-legged friends running around. Several of them even pointed out the ironic sign at the front of the car listing "To Maintain an Excellent Level of Cleanliness and Comfort." among the train company's objectives. The bugs started getting braver and braver as the trip went on. They would dissappear at station stops and reappear in higher numbers with newfound bravado when the train started moving again. Everyone was very neighborly and we all took turns watching eachother and brushing the bugs off. I brushed one off my neighbor and he brushed one off me. He also brushed one off of himself which landed on my shoe and I then kicked a row up and into the door. Altogether it was a bonding experience that I would easily rather not have had.
Back at Hazrat Nizamuddin, we refused cabs from anyone else and gave our man Durga a call on the BlackBerry. He had a guy there in 20 minutes and we were on our way back to the hotel room to get there around 11pm and be back up at 6:30am to get our train north to Shimla.
I promise Part Trois will be done this week.

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Monday, July 31, 2006

Still working on it...

I'm still hard at work on Part II of the Indian trip summary, but in the meantime you can amuse yourself with these links:
Spirit-of-Truth on Wikipedia
and some even more immature humor here.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Something you won't see in the West

Israel is overreacting. This is what they're doing to "get rid of Hezbollah" which is, in and of itself a ridiculous idea, given that Hezbollah is more of an idea than a group. And ideas are not easily wiped from the face of the earth. The link is extremely graphic, but something you probably won't see on CNN: The Angry Arab News Service/وكالة أنباء العربي الغاضب
I found this link through Ken Silverstein's blog at Harpers.org

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If you were looking for a reason not to go running tomorrow...

Zeno’s Arrow Paradox might be something worth looking into.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Huge time waster

attractors.swf

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Finally! Mass Transit on Maps on the Web

There were hacks before for getting to see subway stations on Google maps, but the new Yahoo! Maps Beta goes the distance and gets mass transit for DC up on there too. This is pretty huge, given that the wmata.com site still has no maps showing the street location of stations. As though 23rd and Connecticut has any meaning for tourists or people from Virginia.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

An aside on dryer dials


Stupid Dryer.

I just don't get it. More and Less are relative terms. Are they talking about the state that I want my clothes to be in or the current state of my clothes? Are my clothes more or less dry already or do I want to make them more or less dry? Why would I want to make them less dry? What question is this machine posing? Do I want them to be more dry than they are now or less dry than they are now? That doesn't seem to make sense.  Of course I want them to be drier than they are right now.

If the dial said "More dryer action" and "Less dryer action", then I might get it, but at this point I'm confused and bewildered. If I didn't know that the dial goes clockwise as the cycle runs, I'd be completely lost.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

India (expanded) - Part I

Note: I've been working on this post since we got back... that doesn't mean it's going to be perfect!
I thought I might as well take the next few days to try to blog our entire trip to India. As I'm paranoid about the internet and the terrible people that use it, I won't be including any pictures that have me in them... so pardon the fact that some of the pictures on the right will just look like postcards.

After leaving H and R Block with the knowledge of what our tax return would be, Rose and I went to an Indian restaurant on 17th and L in Washington, DC to have lunch. The place used to be called the Ascot Lounge, but recently changed their name to the Indian Experience. We'd gotten pretty good news at the tax place: This being our first year owning a home in DC, we were eligible for a first-time home-buyer's tax credit.


Halfway through dinner, one of us (R insists it was her) mentioned that India would be an interesting place to go, especially given that we both loved the food so much. Lo and behold, we were on our way to STA travel in Georgetown a few weekends later to make the arrangements. We'd looked around online, but had used STA when we went to our friends' wedding in Poland two years earlier and found it was just as cheap and avoided the hassles that come along with Travelocity, Orbitz and the rest.

The flight we purchased on Alitalia would take us out on July 1st at 4:30pm and fly us into Milan where we would wait for three hours before continuing onto Delhi, arriving there at 10:20pm on July 2nd. Delhi is nine and a half hours ahead of DC, so the trip would really be only about twenty-one hours door-to-door. Given that neither of us is too rich in vacation time, we decided to limit our trip to only ten days total, and would return on July 9th with a day off once we were back to rest up for work.

R is a planning and packing fanatic and had everything prepared far in advance. This included ponchos, 99.8% Deet bug spray, a mixed ziploc of Immodium and Advil, Neosporin, Band-aids, and everything else we could possibly need. Additionally, R used some of our condo contacts to get in touch with a travel agency in Delhi to get us train tickets to Agra and Shimla as well as a hotel reservation for a night in Shimla all to be waiting for us at our hotel in Delhi when we arrived.

I, on the other hand, focused my efforts on packing various gadgets and the wires associated with them (ipod, camera, chargers, blackberries, blackberry-charger, various adaptors, etc.) While I had alerted management that I would be going on vacation more than four months in advance, my boss decided to take it as a total surprise when I reminded him of the trip the Monday before I was suppose to leave. Never mind that I'd been talking about it steadily for months or that it had been blocked out in the team calendar since the day we bought the tickets. He immediately began trying to make sure that everything I was working on would be finished by the time I left. This meant putting in about 65 hours over the next five days. Thank goodness that R had so much of our stuff packed. By the time I got home late on the last day of June, I was in no mood to search for my poncho.

Before catching our plane on Saturday evening, we had to take the cat up to Bethesda to stay with R's parents for the week that we'd be gone. R's dad was nice enough to pick us up and we took the cat and our suitcases Northward.

Humayun's Tomb

While we eating lunch and starting to think about leaving for the airport, we got a call from STA regarding our flights. Apparently, Alitalia had canceled the second leg of the trip from Milan to Delhi. STA explained that they had tried to arrange something else over the phone, but that the airline had kept insisting that we'd have to solve the problem after we go to Milan. They did suggest, however, that we get to the airport a little earlier and see if we could arrange something there.

Once at the airport, R and I did a good job of playing good cop/bad cop (wherein R shows a lot of emotion and frustration with the people at the Alitalia desk and I come off as being understanding of their position but unwilling to accept what they're telling me). This behaior of ours seems to happen naturally almost every time we get into a situation like this. In the end, we were moved to a flight on KLM that would take us through Amsterdam and then to Delhi and get us in only 20 minutes later than our original itinerary. Even better, the second leg of the flight was full and we would have to be bumped up to business class. The Horror!
I had never ridden in anything but coach until this trip and have decided that I will not enjoy flying very much ever again if I'm stuck back there with the proles. Here are just some of the reasons I discovered for business class to cost more money:
(1) The food is far better
(2) There is much more leg room
(3) There are no screaming babies (I can only assume this is because families have better things to spend their money on than renting a big lounge chair 33,000 feet in the air for 6 hours)
(4) Better service
(5) Only three seats across at its maximum
(6) Better smelling passengers (partly due to the babies, but definitely apparent amongst other flyers as well)

Enough about getting there. We did actually get there and weren't pestered for more than two seconds at customs. Upon exiting the gate we were met by a sea of taxi drivers holding different signs. After running the gauntlet once and not seeing the sign for our hotel, I went back and found one with R's name on it, spelled incorrectly.

Walking out of the airport with the driver was the first moment that either of us really experienced Delhi and lends truth to the idea that you can't count a place on your list of visited places if you've only been to its airports. Trying to recall if it was the heat or the smell that hit me first, I can only assume it was the smell. Heat takes a little while to hit as it has to push all the cool air out of my clothes before enveloping me, but the smell was right there from the moment the doors opened until the moment I was asked to stow my tray table on the flight back home. We would later learn that a lot of the poorer residents of Delhi still use cow dung to heat their stoves and that this is what was giving their city that distinctly sour, musty smell stinging the back of my throat and thick enough that you thought you could wave it away (alas).

New Delhi rom a rooftop


Stupid me had forgotten that Indians drive on the left side of the road. This was another first for me, as I've never been to Japan, Australia or England (except its airports), but I thought I got used to it pretty quickly. While they may drive on the same side of the road as Britons, I can only assume that the driving style of Indians is vastly different. There is very little stopping at any time during a drive. If the brake is depressed, the horn is usually depressed as well. This also holds true for the gas. In fact, from my experience, there are few times when the horn isn't being honked or about to be honked in an Indian vehicle (particularly a Tata).

Per the suggestion of my Grandpa, I took along a little notebook for the trip. Here are the notes I made on our first drive in India while we were going from the airport to the hotel (mind you, midway through this drive R reached out and grabbed me hand, in that "what have we done?" sort of way... the feeling was mutual):

Any street downtown

(1) Ladies ride sidesaddle on the backs of mopeds.
(2) Air quality: questionable.
(3) Our driver has no mirrors on his car.
(4) We're on the wrong side of the road over here.
(5) There is a water buffalo in the highway.

As the driver took us deeper and deeper into Delhi, we started to wonder where exactly our hotel was located. We were staying at the hotel Ajanta near the center of Delhi and it had only cost us $178 for the week that we would be there. The hotel was located between old and new Delhi, North of Connaught Place and the New Delhi train station (not to be confused with the Nizammudin train station, much further to the South).

While the streets around and in front of the hotel were filled with not-so-welcoming faces, the lobby and its employees seemed great. After arriving in the lobby, we were taken into a small office off to the side to show our passports and reservation receipt. The first room they took us to was a complete wreck and we were about to unload our things when the phone rang and the bellman was instructed to take us to a different room - one that more closely matched what we'd seen in pictures online. We didn't even have to complain! Later we would notice loads of other people also carrying "STA" hotel reservation receipts.

While the bellman was doing the whole "show-you-obvious-things-in-the-room-while-you-rustle-for-my-tip" thing, he showed R the bathroom. Upon noticing a large bucket and smaller pouring vessel in the tub, R asked, "What's that?"
To which the bellman replied, "bucket."

The lobby of the hotel Ajanta

I chose to use the shower head rather than the bucket for the duration of the trip and now feel that I may have cheated myself slightly.

At this point R and I were pretty beat and called it a night - finally turning in around 12pm Delhi time. Before we went to bed, however, we both took a melatonin pill. Having heard of this drug's great ability to help one get back on their circadian rhythms when traveling, I thought it was worth a shot. I'll tell you this: it works. Maybe it's just a placebo, but if that's the case it's my new favorite placebo. Bless that stuff. I woke up the next day at 8am feeling refreshed and ready to do some touristing.

The morning of July 3rd, R and I went downstairs to change some money at the front desk. We inquired there about the best way to get around the city and were informed that the hotel had a taxi stand that would give us a driver for the day for 800 Rupees. At 44 Rupees to the dollar, that's under 20 bucks. While we were at the front desk, we also picked up our various train tickets and hotel vouchers for the rest of our trip that had been mailed there by Parul Tours & Travels a great travel agency recommended by our neighbor who was based in New Delhi for the US State Dept.

After paying for a cab for the day, R and I set foot out of our hotel and witnessed India from the ground during daylight hours for the first time.

The view across from our hotel in New Delhi (the hotel Ajanta)
"Culture Shock" doesn't really describe the feeling we both had on seeing the area surrounding our hotel. All of India was in the street walking by: cows, stray dogs, three-wheeled tuk-tuks, cars, rickshaws, bicycles, smog, dirt, dust, heat, humidity, men, women (not many) and children. That unforgettable smell was still in the air, but now the heat had been turned up to about 110(F).

Our cab driver was a Nepalese man named Durga, and would end up taking us around each day that we did sight-seeing in New Delhi. A few blocks after we'd left the hotel, Durga stopped and picked up his (much) younger brother. Durga explained that his brother was learning to drive by touring around with him during the day. While listening to him speak over the next week, I realized that Durga had two types of English that he employed, the kind he used when he was driving and the kind that he used when he wasn't. Durga's driving English was entirely made up of short statements like, "Ok, my big boss", "You like India, fifty-fifty?", "Hello police officer", and "where we're going next?" Once the car was stopped, Durga's English improved dramatically and he would talk to us about some of the sites we were seeing and answer all of our dumb cultural questions. I'm dead sure that the only reason he spoke differently when driving is that driving in India is so brain intensive that if he tried to speak in fuller sentences, his truck would be wrapped around a tree. Further proof of how difficult it is to drive there can be found in Durga's brother having to do so many ride-alongs before attempting it himself.

Our first stop on our first day of touring about was Raj Ghat, which marks the spot of Mahatma Gandhi's cremation on 31 January 1948.

Raj Ghat
This was this first place where we were required to remove our shoes. We left them with a guy at the same type of counter they have at the bowling alley while we were inside looking at the eternal flame that burns in Gandhi's memory. At first I didn't mind taking my shoes off to see a monument. Later in the trip, however, I would step in a puddle with a socked foot and realize that walking around outside with no shoes on is not the way to take in national monuments. Stepping in water with a sock on is up there on my list of pet peeves right next to poorly stacked cooking pans.

It was incredibly hot by the time we left Raj Ghat and were taken by Durga to see Humayun's Tomb. In the same gardens that house Humayun's tomb, is another tomb for nobleman Ali Isa Khan Niazi. We toured the tomb of Ali Isa Khan Niazi first and were immediately approached by a man who offered to show us around, saying, "I'm not a guide. I work here." This seemed like a fair enough explanation, so we let him walk around with us and point things out a bit.
A view from out of the Mosque next to Ali Isa Khan Niazi's tomb
Ali Isa Khan Niazi
After tipping our "non-guide" at the nobleman's tomb, we headed towards the larger Taj-Mahal-style tomb of Humayun who was the second Mughal Emperor of India. By this point, we were so thirsty and hot from being out in the sun that seeing the massive distance between a shaded archway and the actual edifice we decided that seeing was believing and it would be best to take a picture, find some shade and find some water.

Finding water is relatively easy in Delhi. Most everyone in the city appears to drink bottled water, so it's avaiable just about everywhere. R and I had heard enough stories about the water before leaving that we were strict to the point of brushing our teeth with bottled water during our stay. I even avoided coffee to a large extent, as one never knew how well the water had been heated. After informing Durga of our dehydrated state, his brother jumped out and came back with two bottles of water. I was surprised to find the bottles were Aquafina, a brand bottled by Pepsi. This would be one of many times that I would notice the complete and total infiltration of Frito-Lay on India. Half of the shops and houses on the side of the road that we would take a few days later from Kalka to Shimla were painted with "Lay's" or "Pepsi" logos. Aquafina was everywhere. I can only wonder what kind of financial interest Frito-Lay has in the water quality in Delhi staying horrible.

I digress. R and I were completely revitalized after each draining a liter of water. Our next stop was the tomb of Safdajung which looked enough like Humayun's tomb that we weren't even slightly dissappointed at having withered in the heat earlier in the day. Up in the tomb area we were once again approached by a man with the same "I'm not a guide, I work here." line. Given the familiarity of this statment and the man's lack of shoes or socks, we both realized that we'd been taken for a ride earlier. The man then asked us if we could exchange one American dollar for Rupees. Now even more assured as to his not being an employee, R and I immediately adopted British accents and left down a staircase.

Safdarjun's Tomb


We had had plans to have suits made while we where there given that it costs so much less to do so in India. With this in mind, we had Durga take us to Khan Market, which had been recommended to us by our neighbor who used to live in Delhi. Billed in Wikipedia as "one of the more upscale and expensive places to shop in New Delhi" we were a little surprised at what we found. We weren't looking for upscale, anyway, so we weren't dissappointed.

Behind Khan Market
Alas, we were unable to find the tailor or clothing stores that had been recommended for us. We did, however, manage to buy a bunch more water and some shoes for R.

Plenty tired and hungry, Durga suggested a spot for lunch where we had our first authentic Indian meal. The restaurant was a bit touristy, but there were locals present as well. The food was delicious and suprisingly similar to the Indian food that one would find in the states. Throughout the trip, I found that most of the food that we ate on the trip, whether served in hotels or on the train, was very similar to what can be found here in the states. Of course, there's a little less meat in the food in India, but otherwise it's pretty close.

After lunch, Durga took us back to the hotel where we both passed out from 3pm to 6pm. After waking up from this "nap", we went up on the roof and sat around watching the hundreds of kites being flown from rooftops and being watched ourselves by various people on their rooftops. We also noticed a large monkey across the street on some water tanks, which enouraged us to abandon the roof and see about having a walk around.

Monkey on a Roof
We ended up in the hotel restaurant where I was dissappointed to find out that there was no beer on the menu. After a very cheap not-so-delicious bite to eat we both got sleepy again and decided to turn in, especially given that we would have to wake up early the next day to catch a train to Agra.

Whew! That's the end of Part 1. I'll start typing part II later today and will upload eventually. There's a lot more to go!

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You Tube Surfing

Terry Tate, Office Linebacker
I had not seen these Terry Tate adertisments [You Tube] before. They are amusing. Enjoy.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

What Should I Read Next?

This is a good idea: What Should I Read Next?

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