Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Has anyone noticed that the New York Times website layout has changed?

This has only happened to me a few times, but the article becomes centered, written in blue Arial, instead of the black Georgia that it's used for forever.

What's up with that?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Come On

Again with the candidates and their eating habits, this time courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:

Political commentators are busy analyzing and psychoanalyzing the presidential candidates' words for hints about the real Barack Obama and John McCain. We gastronomers have a better way of penetrating the campaign spin. We take the time-honored approach of that proto-food-blogger Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826), who said: "Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are."

At the very least, we believe that a candidate's taste in food is a more reliable indicator of character than the carefully strained statements issued in the current atmosphere of gotcha and gotcha back. So we have worked our sources and come up with the names of the candidates' favorite restaurants in their home states. We have tried them out and assessed what an appetite for their particular offerings might mean about two men with a 50-50 chance at spending the next four years ordering meals from the White House chef.

Can we move off this subject now? Why on earth would I pick a candidate based on--or even be interested in--their taste in restaurants?

I already know that John McCain likes to grill and that his campaign lifted a cookie recipe from the Food Network's website, and that Barack Obama is a fussy eater. Now both of them are pizza fans. Wow! That's so unusual. The only good thing about this article is that I now know some good restaurants in Chicago and Arizona.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Embarrassing Obama?

Why is Barack Obama constantly being embarrassed by his wife?

Maria Menounos (who is moving up in the world, doing segments for Today and the Nightly News) recently did a four-part segment featuring the entire Obama family on Access Hollywood, and Barack rarely spoke, letting his daughter Malia and wife Michelle spill all his dirty secrets, like how he doesn’t like most sweets (except pie).

Most of this stuff is benign, but it was delivered with a hint of hostility, a tone I’ve detected in Michelle’s previous comments about her husband’s personal habits. Her daughter has picked up on this, too.

I don’t understand this impulse at all. I don’t find it endearing or cute. I know people razz on their friends and family members all the time, but usually there’s an undercurrent of affection in the teasing. But with Michelle Obama, I just don’t see it, even though I’m sure she means well. It’s supposed to open up the candidate, showing us who he really is, foibles and all. That’s why candidates and their families do silly puff interviews like the Access Hollywood one in the first place, although Barack has been regretting it of late. I usually don’t mind personal habits—to a degree. Nothing embarrassing, nothing I’m cringing at. It also has to be delivered in a way that makes all parties ok with it, and my problem seems to be that because Barack himself doesn’t seem to be ok with this teasing, I’m not either. He doesn’t look mildly embarrassed, a little sheepish, just coldly nodding his head, letting the facts stand there.

It’s also what Michelle Obama says that irks me. Her comment that he is “snore-y and stink-ey” struck me as low, even if she’s talking about him first thing in the morning. There’s a difference in saying that a spouse is clumsy or forgetful at times; attacking him for personal hygiene habits is too TMI for my taste.

I understand that Michelle Obama is just trying to flesh out her husband and not deify him, to offset this kind of cult rock star figure image that has glommed on to him. As she stated in the Glamour article, as an explanation to her earlier comments:

I think [most] people saw the humor of that. People understood that this is how we all live in our marriages. And Barack is very much human. So let’s not deify him, because what we do is we deify, and then we’re ready to chop it down. People have notions of what a wife’s role should be in this process, and it’s been a traditional one of blind adoration. My model is a little different—I think most real marriages are.

But in the Access Hollywood interviews, his family spends a good portion of time ragging on him; he barely gets a word in. He only eats mint gum. He doesn’t like sweets. He hates to shop. He wears old clothes. Wowee. He might be a little staid, but so are a lot of guys, so are a lot of political guys. Maybe it’s their way of just saying that he fits right in, despite all the ugly rumors proving he’s too much of an outsider. But it doesn’t come off that way; from Michelle it sounds like a litany of complaints. I’m not interested.

I’m not saying first ladies or potential first ladies and campaign spouses have to hold their tongues. Especially nowadays with their own high-powered careers, there is no need for them to be completely demurring and just fawn and smile sweetly when discussing their husbands, but there’s something to be said for discretion. Cindy McCain has acknowledged that her husband was away for her three miscarriages and her addiction to painkillers—something that would kill many other marriages. Like the Obamas, they decided to spend a good portion of their time living in separate places, each working where their career took them and the women largely raising the children. But while Cindy McCain has mentioned these hard times in both her marriage and in her life, she has not denigrated her husband.

Now, because I’m not voting for either Michelle Obama or Cindy McCain, this shouldn’t matter. It should have no bearing on my feelings for either candidate.

But stuff like this seeps through. Cindy McCain says she always knew that John would put the country ahead of her—so should that make us feel confident that he would make a good president because he cares about the country’s needs more than his wife’s? Should I wonder why Obama married a woman who would insult him in public? Is this a good thing, because he knows criticism and can handle it, shrugging it off like he does now? Or is this harmful, because he is immune to criticism? How does this affect—or not—his running of the country?

Recently, Slate’s XX blog has been discussing Ellen Tien’s apparently scathing account of her husband, how she thinks about divorce every day. I didn’t even read the article (written by the woman who does the Sunday Style’s Pulse), but I was appalled. What is the point of trashing your spouse (or significant other), who you are still currently with, in a public forum (print, online, video)? The only logical conclusion would be that you want out, and you want to hurt that person very, very badly.

Which is exactly what Christie Brinkley did in her exceedingly humiliating spectacle of a divorce. She exposed Peter Cook to humiliate him (and her), to get what she wanted, children and propriety be dammed. Exposing such nasty truths only serves as revenge. Michelle Obama, who has said that she won’t let Obama run again if he loses, and Cindy McCain, who is known to dislike the whole running for president thing, aren’t as brokenhearted and humiliated as Christie Brinkley is (we hope), but I don’t think they are saying these things purely out of spite. They are just telling the truth. But the truth doesn’t have to sound like they hate their husbands.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Strange article

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal ran an article on how retail workers, trained to fold clothes a certain way, have brought these obsessive folding standards home and that it's wrecking their relationships. This article, by the way, is on the front page. Not only is this strange, but the fact that the Journal, known as a staid, conservative business newspaper, covered this at all is quite funny. Imagine the woman pitching the story: "So apparently Gap workers are so into folding clothes properly that it bleeds into their home life and causes trouble for their kids and spouse. It's a comment on the rigid standards of our culture!"

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"If I were to watch the news you hear in the United States, I would just blow my brains out because it would drive me nuts"

Kick-ass interview with Lara Logan from last week. (Only available in the episode's entirety at this point: roughly 13:35 to 20:30.)

She gives an idea how hard it is to get war stories on the air, although she does acknowledge that there are many producers who want to cover it. It's all about the bottom line, and war coverage doesn't sell unless it's sexy (you'd think Lara Logan would have that covered, but that's not what's getting traction). With news operations crunched for money and every day another major newspaper lays workers off, foreign news coverage is being cut or outsourced. The Nightly News regularly takes reports from the BBC. You could say, considering out foreign coverage isn't much to speak of, that this is a good thing, that we're making it easier on ourselves. But these reports are probably reedited to fit our viewpoints and standards, and still crunched in.

If I were a soldier, I'd be pissed.

I understand no one wants to hear depressing news, and the news is pretty damn depressing these days. I get asked how I'm still able to read the newspaper, considering how much negative information I process on a daily basis. The state of the world does worry me. But the media has to present this information; it has an obligation to inform the public and be as truthful and accurate as possible

Lara talks about Americans "being numb" to war information. Of course we're numb to it; it filters through one ear and out the other. We're not under siege (except by high gas and food prices), so we don't feel immediate concern or terror. Since the networks won't show graphic images for fear of upsetting us, we won't see the true horror. It's not surprising Afghanistan is considered the forgotten war, considering that much of the media forgot about it for so long, and even the recent headlines aren't enough to make us remember it for long. Statistics only work for a short while; it's searing images that stick. If television showed dead American soldiers like they showed Hurricane Katrina damage, these stories would get bigger play and people would care more.

Shut up and try it

"I’m scared.”

I heard this today in response to a vegetable. Yes, a vegetable. Collard greens, to be exact.

Today it was Soul Food Day at work (we get free lunch every Wednesday), and in addition to the fried chicken and corn bread, there was collard greens. Standard southern soul food fare.

But a twenty year-old intern was scared of the food.

This isn’t the first time I heard "I’m scared" in response to a vegetable. At my cousin’s graduation party, I heard several teenagers say the same thing upon a pasta dish cluttered with vegetables. One girl nervously took a spoonful and asked me what the yellow wedge nudged between two white oblongs was. “It’s a piece of zucchini,” I said, appalled.

I realize these kids were being flippant. But scared? Not only are they using the wrong word, but they’re "scared" of food? Of vegetables? Clearly they lead incredibly sheltered lives. The intern hails from the Midwest, but she’s not giving a good impression (although we were all amused when she had never tasted cannoli, pronouncing it a “Jersey thing”).

There are very few things in the food category that anyone should be scared of. Being scared indicates that your heart rate is rising and you have some sort of fear of the outcome. The worst that could happen when eating collard greens or tasting a piece of cooked zucchini bathed in olive oil and garlic is that you don’t like it, and so you don’t eat it again. The only time, in fact, that it’s acceptable to say “I’m scared” when eating is if A) you are on Fear Factor, Survivor, or another reality show where you are forced to eat something slimy, raw, alive, or not meant for human consumption; B) you are afraid of throwing up, especially if in front of people; C) the food in front of you is or has a strong chance of being poisoned, sour, moldy, rotten, or filled with bugs; D) the food has tentacles, claws, strange bumps, odors, colors, or textures and no, ethnic food does not count.

Basically, if you are served food, especially catered food, and the dish seems normal, it probably is. I could understand being worried about recalls. Fine. Understood. But being scared of cooked vegetables is ridiculous.