Sunday, October 24, 2010

Existential Lyrics

A friend recently posted a lyric to the recent Shakira song, Gitana, on facebook:

"Yo soy quien elige como equivocarme."

I am the one who decides how to make (my) mistakes.

I actually read it wrong the first time, however. A simple dyslexic error. I read it as:

"Yo so quien elige como evocarme."

I am the one who decides how to evoke myself.

I mentioned this to the friend who posted it, and she responded, "how existential of you!"

Actually, I think both the original lyric and my (mis)read of it are existentially interesting and empowering. I choose my mistakes. I choose how I evoke myself. I choose how I project myself. I choose who I am.

(Aside: This lyric by the way, while it is part of chorus of the Spanish song, is not included in the English version, Gypsy. The songs are not exact translations. And, as with many of Shakira's songs that have been made in two languages, I find the Spanish version much more interesting and poetic.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

MA Voting Update

Dear state/local election authorities,

I apologize for doubting you. I did in fact end up getting a postcard from my local (city) election commission telling me the election date and where my polling place is located. This is wonderful news.

However, now I ask of you (state/local election authorities), why do you not do this for primary and special elections? Can this please change? Now. It's important. Find a way to fund it. Seriously.



Sunkist Miss

Monday, October 4, 2010

More on Voting in MA

Well, it turns out the situation isn't quite as dire as I thought. It seems that while there is no voter information sent out by the state before either special elections or primary elections (my two local voting experiences so far), they do sent out information before the general election. Of course I still find it highly problematic that voters are given no information in the former two cases.

This voter guide is much less comprehensive than the one in CA -- it focuses exclusively on ballot measures (it does not list candidates who will be on the ballot, even for state-wide offices) -- but it does at least inform voters of the date of the upcoming election, how to get an absentee ballot, and where to get information on where to vote. Neither the voter guide nor any other publication sent to voters (there isn't any that I've seen so far), actually tells voters directly where their polling station is located rather than requiring them to ask. But this is a start.

So, overall I am less appalled than previously, but not satisfied. I want to see MA address its citizens before all elections. Not to do so is unconscionable -- low voter turnout is a major problem with our democracy, particularly in primary and special elections. The state government should at a minimum take responsibility for making sure citizens are informed that an election is upcoming (on such-and-so date) and how to get further information. And I really also want to see direct mail to voters telling them where their polling place is located. Is that so much to ask?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Voting in a strange land

Tuesday was the MA primary election. This feels remarkably late for me since the CA primary was in June. With a primary in September the general election campaign season is necessarily short.

Anyhow, I had an observation about voting in MA: I don’t like it. No really, this is not just the whiny Californian feeling like MA still isn’t home, it’s more than that. Prior to the election we got mail from one candidate in one primary race. No info from other candidates. And more importantly, no info from the state. I find the later high problematic and disturbing. The state should be doing more to ensure people know that there’s an election approaching, when it is, where your polling place is, how to get an absentee ballot, and what’s on the ballot.

In California of course, this is done in extreme form: Significantly before the election you receive a sample ballot that also tells you the location of your polling place and has a form for applying for an absentee ballot. Closer to the election you receive a complete Voter’s Guide. In the Guide there are official statements from each candidate. For ballot propositions there is a summary of the proposition, analysis of its legal and fiscal effects by the state legislative analyst, and statements from both sides of the issue (the Yes and No campaigns).

I’m not suggesting MA needs to go to the same level, but it is currently at the opposite extreme. Yes, much of the voter guide type info could be on a website. But there should still be at a very minimum direct mail to the voters saying the date of the election, and giving the URL of the website to go to for more information (this could be a post card). In my opinion, it should also be personalized enough to also tell you on the mailing where your polling location is (which is fairly easy to do). Sure, as a native Californian I’d prefer to see an actual sample ballot even if a more extensive voter guide (which as far as I can tell doesn’t exist in MA) were available only online, but even if you don’t receive a sample ballot, you should be told when and where to vote and where to find out what’s on the ballot. How can we expect hope for an even minimally informed electorate when they don’t even know there’s an election happening?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Secrecy in the News

The Washington Post this week has been doing a series called "Top Secret America". You should read it, if you haven't already. The online format for the articles is sort of annoying but if you go into the article you want and click the print button on the screen it will bring it up in a more read-able format (which you can then print or not).

Also, on a related note, I'm sort of surprised they didn't interview (or quote, anyhow) Steven Aftergood at FAS for this study. If you're interested in the topic you should definitely be reading his blog, Secrecy News.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Adventures in the Kitchen

Trying to eat more vegetables has been an on-going adventure for us. Toyb grew up eating very few vegetables and has not really made them for himself in the intervening years. Luckily, he’s a good sport and he’ll always at least try them if they’re presented to him. However, its still hard to keep buying and cooking vegetables when you’re not sure if the second person is going to really eat them. Besides, I also want to expand my repertoire since I grew up with sort of mainstream vegetables and they are thus my comfort zone.

This summer we have a CSA farm share. It's yummy food, it's good for you, it's good for the environment, and it's good policy – what a win! Anyhow, it has not only been getting us to eat more vegetables (both quantity and variety), but has also prompted us to experiment with cooking more. Last night Toyb suggested that maybe we (which means I) should be blogging some of our more successful experiments.

Last night’s dinner, a fast and delicious couscous:
  • Cut large summer squash from CSA into bite size pieces. Roast with a bit of olive oil, garlic salt, and lemon pepper.
  • While that’s roasting prepare other ingredients:
    • Slice green onion (also from CSA).
    • Crumble some feta.
    • Cook plain couscous on stove top.
  • Place couscous in mixing bowl. Drizzle in extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and basil (fresh would have been better but this was improvised base on what we had). Toss in the roasted squash. Add a splash or two of lemon juice. Mix in green onions and feta.

The ingredients last night were not actually new-to-us vegetables (unlike some of adventures earlier this summer), but it was still fun experimental cooking. And yummy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Traveling while Jewish: Shabbat

One of the biggest challenges posed by traveling over Shabbat turned out to be finding a place to stay that has old-fashioned mechanical locks rather than electronic key-cards. In some cities with major Jewish populations, a few major hotels do offer the option of mechanical keys, but elsewhere this is simply not an option. Our solution: try bed-and-breakfasts. This might be a counter-intuitive option for the shomer shabbat traveler. After all, (1) you might have kashrut issues with eating at a B&B, and (2) you might have shabbat issues with eating at a B&B. However, they tend to be small and homey which means no elevators and no electronic keys. This makes it worth-while even if you don’t eat the food. (And often there will be fresh fruit and cereal available, so even the food may be workable).

Another issue, of course, is lights. If you’re in a hotel room, you need to have lights on in order to do anything, yet it can make it difficult to sleep at night (and you likely don’t have a second room to solve the problem). Plus if you leave lights on they are likely to be turned off the next day by the cleaning crew, leaving you in the dark in the hours prior to havdalah. The solution: bring a wall timer with you. Hotel rooms almost always have lamps plugged into the wall, so you can have a timer and avoid both sleeping in the light and reading in the dark.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Traveling While Jewish: Kashrut

These musings come out of a long cross-country road trip. While this posting is probably particularly relevant to those who do not “eat out” (i.e. don’t eat at establishments that are not kosher-certified), it may also be relevant to other kosher-keeping travelers as well.

A few pieces of advice: (1) many places have at least a limited amount of kosher food available, so you should definitely look into options ahead of time rather than assuming the worst; (2) that said, the options are often very limited, and in some places it is almost impossible to find certain items (like kosher cheese and bread).

If you need to take your food with you, travel with a cooler, take at least one knife, and try to stay in places with mini-fridges. This will greatly increase the range of foods available. In addition to eating tuna, crackers and bread, we had fresh fruit, salad, cheese, and milk (for cereal) making for much more pleasant and balanced meals.

Also, look into what might be available even if there is not a kosher grocery store. For example, although the availability of hechshered bread will still vary regionally, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods both carry a number of hechshered foods, including cheeses, nation-wide, so if they are nearby you will find many more products available than you might otherwise expect in areas without large Jewish populations. That said, Trader Joes itself is not available in large swaths of the country.

Favorite home-made meal of the trip: Avocado-Tomato-and-Goat-Cheese sandwich with salad.

Favorite “restaurant” meal of the trip: Kosher taco cart in LA (Pico-Robertson area) motzei shabbat. The real deal. Tacos that happen to be kosher rather than the other way around. Yum. Of course, I’m not sure this really counts a restaurant.

Other restaurant highlights included: Indian (dairy) in Austin/Houston, Moroccan (meat) in New Orleans, Coffee and Beignets also in NOLA, delicious dairy pastas and salads in Atlanta, and BBQ in Teaneck. Of course we had some krispy kremes along the way as well.

Most unexpected meal out: in Charleston, SC there is a yoga studio that has hechshered vegan foods at lunchtime (salads and wraps and such – menu based on ingredients of the day).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Keep Austin Weird

So, as you may know, Austin, TX is proud of being weird. There are T-shirts and hats all over the place that say "Keep Austin Weird". However, I think they probably define weird differently than I do.

What I think is weird: (a) We visited the state capitol, and the tour guide was a retired New Yorker (he moved to TX because that's where his oldest kid is in college!). Seriously, we can't have an actual Texan tour guide for the Texan capitol? (b) One of things that I learned from the tour guide is that the Texas state legislature meets for one 140 day session every two years. (The governor can call special sessions in which he defines the agenda in case emergency appropriations / legislation are needed, but basically the legislature is in session 5 out of 24 months). Say what?! Texas is weird.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Vivir para contarla -- Living to Tell the Tale

When Vivir para contarla, the autobiography of Gabriel García Márquez, was published in late 2002, it made a big splash internationally, despite the fact that it had not yet been published in English. In fact the English translation would not be available for a year, yet the Spanish version was selling well even in the US. A few months later, the LA Times published a book review of it … also in Spanish.

Editor's note: Recently, Alfred A. Knopf, in a move unprecedented in the U.S. book world, published the Spanish edition of Gabriel García Márquez's long-awaited memoir in the United States, a year prior to its appearance this fall in English. Without benefit of reviews or publicity, "Vivir para contarla" found its way onto The Times' bestseller list. Book Review has decided that a review, in Spanish with accompanying English translation, is in order.
- “Gabo Habla”, by Gioconda Belli, Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2003.
The full review is no longer available on the LA Times website, but can be found online here.

I was a college student in Los Angeles at the time the book review was published. In fact, I was majoring in Spanish-language Literature (part of a double major with international relations). And I was impressed. But I did not have time to read the book at that point. I was after all working on two theses – one for each major. But I promised myself that I would one day do so. This year I finally fulfilled that promise by reading the book. It was a challenge (probably more than it would have been 7 years ago), but ultimately an interesting read for anyone interested in Latin American literature and familiar with Gabo’s novels.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

End of an Era

A few weeks ago I found myself registering to vote in MA.

I have come to realize that I will never know as much about MA politics as I know about CA. That may not be true for most people, but I am not most people. I have lived and breathed state and local politics for my entire life. It was spoon-fed to me as a child along with my baby food. I knew aspiring city council and state assembly members before I could walk. Maybe that’s why I started talking so early. In any case, California politics is in my blood.

And yet, here I am. Living in MA. No longer in a position to argue that my permanent residence is in CA. I still hope to return there someday. Until then, I am obligated to learn more about the politics of the place I live. Which at the moment, is MA.

And so, today, for the first time I voted on a non-CA ballot, in a special election for the MA US Senate seat, and the whole country is watching. I don’t know what’s going to happen…we’ll find out soon enough. But for the moment, it’s nice to know that my vote matters.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sunkist Miss by any other name

“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose would be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.” – Anne Shirley in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.

So, then, what did Sunkist Miss decide to do about her hyphenated name when she got married, and why?

Short answer: I kept my name. My husband kept his name. We will give our kids hyphenated names. Don’t worry, they will only have one hyphen. It will be my_mom’s_name-his_dad’s_name.

Longer answer: I couldn’t see myself getting changing my name. My name is very tied into my identity. This is perhaps true for different people to different degrees. For me it is certainly the case.

That said, I really want to feel like the (hypothetical) kids have a family name, not just one of their parent’s names. Because of this desire to have an identifiable family-name it was also important to me to decide ahead of time what we would plan on naming our hypothetical children; after all, depending on the answer it might affect what I wanted to do with my name. This is because the answer that would be most unacceptable to me would be to keep my name but give my kids only my husband’s name.

I felt that the kids’ names should be identifiable (which is not to say identical) with the names of both parents. After all, that’s what my parents did and it worked well for us. We clearly had a family name, people could easily identify us with our parents by name, and yet they each kept their own name. As an added benefit, my cousins also had hyphenated names, so our names were also identifiable with theirs. I liked this idea in theory, although I would also have been fine with an option where we all chose to have the same hyphenated name as each other (but that didn’t make sense for us for a variety of reasons). Both of these answers (in contrast with the more traditional everyone, or everyone except mom, takes dad’s name) recognize that both parents are independent individuals with their own histories and identities coming together to make a new family identity. Neither of them is wholly subsumed by the other, nor do they remain completely independent.

Longer Still: Ask me in person. :)

PS. I was talking about this with a friend recently, who is also thinking about what to do with her name when she gets married. But there’s an added twist. She’s German, and apparently in Germany if you are not taking your husband's name you have to declare what your children’s last-name will be when you get your marriage-license. Now there’s some added pressure! I actually wanted to think about this up-front myself, because I felt that what I named my kids and what I did with my own name were not independent of each other, but it certainly wasn’t required by law!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Responding to hyphen-aversion

The most frequent reasoning I hear as to why hyphenated names are not viable, goes something like this:

Hyphenated names are impractical. Sure, it works for one generation; but what will your kids do? It doesn’t work after one generation! And, by the way, you think you’re being all cool and feminist, but really it’s still patriarchal cause the names obviously came from mom’s dad and dad’s dad. *Snicker*.

Ack. How aggravatingly naïve, condescending, and anti-feminist (anti-progress, really) to boot. Also, if I’m okay with the name I was given, why do you need to try to tear it down? It’s not your problem.

Anyways, with regard to point 1 (hyphenated names only work for 1 generation): Dude, trust your kids more than that! People are creative. A hyphenated name gives you more options to play with not less. I know people who grew up with the whole family having the father's name, people who grew up with only their mother having her name, people who grew up with hyphenated names, and some even more creative solutions. Now those same people are grown up and getting married. Some of them have kept their name, some have taken their husband's name, some have hyphenated, and some have created new / hybrid names. All of these are equally possibilities for people who start out with hyphenated names and those who do not. The difference is simply that those who grew up with hyphenated names generally thought more carefully about their choices, because they grew up knowing there was more than one possibility. Seriously, no matter what you name your kids, they'll figure out what to do with it when they grow up – whether or not you want them to.

Point 2 (mom’s name is really patriarchal too) really makes me want to yell. Set aside names for a moment -- is that really how you view the world? Is no progress possible on anything? So, what, because things were screwed up in the past I’m supposed to passively sit by and let that past dictate my future? I don’t think so! Yes, most last names are patriarchal. And yes, I can’t change the past. But I can change the future. And if my mother gave me her name, and if I pass it along, etc, that’s history in the making right there. The name doesn’t lose its past, but it does gain new layers of meaning and significance.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What's in a name?

What do you do with your name when you get married? It’s a very personal question, and yet it’s bigger than that. Do you hyphenate? If so, in what order, and do all of you hyphenate, or just your offspring? Do you keep your name, but give your kids another (an answer I’ve seen a lot among professional women)? Do you create a new name? Or go with the traditional patriarchal answer? If you pick any answer but the last, you can expect questions and judgments, and they don’t end.

Now, add a new layer to the question. Your parents were liberal feminists ready to change the world. They gave you a hyphenated name. Now you’re going-on-30 and getting married. What do you do? The world wants to know. Welcome to my life. For as long as I can remember people have been asking me what I’ll do with my name when I get married (and before that they asked my parents!!). Seriously, this has been going on since before I was born! It has always annoyed me that people think this is appropriate behavior when they wouldn’t ask that of an acquaintance of similar closeness who did not happen to have a hyphenated name.* So I coyly answered, “you’ll find out when I get married.” When I got engaged, I stuck to the same response I’d used since childhood.

As it turns out, one of the nice things about having a hyphenated name to start with is that fewer people simply assume that you changed your name when you get married -- they actually ask! After all, you were clearly raised in a weird multi-named feminist environment, and people have been asking for your whole life, so you've probably put some thought into it.

*(Yes, sometimes there was genuine curiosity, but frequently it was tinged with a “Ha! See you and your silly feminist parents – you’re stuck now!” sentiment.)