Tuesday, June 30, 2009

USA geography lesson

Uproarious... even better that one of these pics is titled "Murrica" (click on either to enlarge).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Torrential rain makes everything better

Rainstorms makes everything into a party.

I was waiting for Dianna at the Smithsonian Sculpture garden with their live jazz / zydeco band. This event makes people so happy - you're outdoors with hundreds of merry people dancing and doused in sangria and beer.

I brought a pizza, since the 40 minute wait for food last time almost killed me. So I'm walking amidst all these happy people, and the pizza is somehow this great addition to the event, because I'm getting thumbs up and looks of envy from strangers.

Then the rain comes. The square instantly clears, and people huddle underneath the trees to stay dry. The rain picks up, and people start huddling under umbrellas, both from friends and people who just happen to have some. Bear in mind I still have a pizza box in my hand. In the rain. Under someone else's umbrella.

But we're having a great time. Whenever the rain picks up, everyone laughs together. People are passing wine between umbrellas. No one knows what to do, and that's OK.

It rains even harder, and I'm holding this damn pizza box and I'm really, really soaked. I make a mad dash for the concession building, but it's packed and there are people 10-deep trying to get in. There's no awning. People are squeezed under some table umbrellas on the patio. I muscled my way in with some nice couples. My pizza box was slowly disintigrating, so I offered everyone some. They gladly partook (it was still warm) and they gave me some sangria.

It kept coming down. I got a call from Dianna who was in a cab nearby, and very dry as well. I gave the table the rest of the pizza, grabbed a slice and my fruity booze ("A shot of courage," I said) and ran out into the rain. People cheered as I ran through the sheets of water. "He's got pizza!" they said in admiration.

I made it to the cab. It turned out that the friends we were meeting were just two blocks away at the Smithsonian archives. We drove basically across the street and bolted up the steps. Beneath the massive stone columns, a group of soggy refugees were huddled together, yearning to breathe warmth. And they were drinking and making the most of it.

We popped Dianna's champagne, and had a great time until I developed hypothermia.

Friday, June 26, 2009

On Michael Jackson's death

I was trying to wait for tonight to do this, but when you're moved, you're moved:

There is something very strange happening right now. It may be the first time in my life that it is happening.

The world is mourning.

In my office I'm largely insulated, but going online you can the emotion in a thousand places, people hearts being pulled and torn. You can feel pain through a computer monitor.

I heard last night while driving to see Kathy Griffin. My reaction to the news that he was hospitalized was a huge gasp. When the story was updated and TMZ, all of places, broke the story, I felt muted on a very deep level. It was tough to fully appreciate it then, though, as we were on the road. At the concern, Kathy made a quick topical joke about Michael's death being perpetrated.... by her, and it was sort of funny, but also too soon. She moved on quickly.

We got home at 11:30 and went right to sleep. It wasn't until this morning when I started talking to people and checking websites, and I started to feel very, very sad. The NY Times ran stories about global remembrances, but I think a better gauge of his impact came from CNN about how his death practically crashed the internet.

What does larger than life mean? To me, it means that the person's legend extends to the point where the person is almost lost inside it. They became a caricature, a symbol of themselves. They become timeless - their fame is so large that you never expect anything to happen to the person itself, which is left far behind the hurricane-type force of their celebrity.

So when I heard that he died, I was shocked, because it didn't seem possible for him to die. This sounds silly, and yet fame works this way. Fame makes immortals, and gods can't die. It hurts inside a little, thinking how much one person gave to the world of music, of pop culture, and to you.

Last night people on the radio said - "I'll always know where I was when I heard Michael Jackson passed away," and I thought they were silly.

Today, when I hear people talk about how much he meant to them, when I read eulogies on Youtube or pronouncements by Nelson Mandela, I get chills. It occurred to me that it's as if humanity was wounded, and is bleeding out emotion all over the world. In a very real way, the world is grieving and struggling to understand. It hits me hard that something singular has happened. Maybe this is what an end of an era feels like, like when John Lennon or Elvis died. Did it feel like this?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Straights for Kathy Griffin!

This is one of my more unlikely posts. But I'm sort of / kind of / maybe a fan of Kathy Griffin.
Don't ask me why, but I inexplicably thought this red-haired Irishwoman was somehow Jewish. Kathy has carved out a pretty interesting niche for herself. She is your friend the gossip. She went to the party you didn't go to, and she unabashedly tells you the behind the scenes stuff. And she loves telling you stories about how she gets fucked over by Hollywood, which is always funny.
I just saw her at an outdoor concert in Maryland with Dianna. I have to give my girlfriend credit - her steady diet of Bravo TV paved the way for my understanding a few of Kathy's constant stream of celebrity jokes.
Kathy's got guts, though. It takes guts to make fun of Maya Angelou (or, as Kathy calls her, "the insufferable DOC-tuh Maya AN-gel-oooo).
The real reason, I guess, that I thought Kathy was Jewish was because she does the ADD storytelling thing so well: She starts to tell you that she's going to tell you a story, but then rewinds / fast-forwards to a different story, only to dovetail back later. Or not. It's fiendishly entertaining, even if you are fighting it. It's pixie stix humor.
She's kind of similar to Lisa Lampanelli (whom I also like), but, as D said, Kathy is smarter and she can do topical political humor.
Kathy said she "loves her gays" but did a shout out to "all four straight guys in the audience." I clapped widely.
Then she called us "fags." It was great.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A bit fishy...

Wonder what the background to this site could be?
Were they selling (gasp!) illegal fish??
Actually, if it's an endangered fish or one with a fishing ban, I'm rightfully PO'd. String up up and toss them into newspaper!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Do you solemnly swear?

When is the last time you took an oath that really mattered?
If you're married or in love, yeah, you took one there.
But people's words - as in, "I give you my word" - well, you usually hear only that sort of stuff in the movies. Bar and Bat Mitzvahs have pledges, as do Confirmations, but kids will say anything to get those presents. And, plus, sometimes it's in a language they don't really understand, like Hebrew or Latin (?), so it's even easier. The National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance are mostly relegated to grade school or sporting events.
The big pledges are mostly legal promises - like in court. Today I took a pledge like that. I held my right hand aloft and, in the presence of witnesses and a representative of the Executive branch of U.S. government, I said:

I, Jonathan Rubin, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

I think that is pretty amazing.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The end of scalpers?

Probably not, but maybe the end of ticket window folk. These automatic ticket machines were outside Nationals Stadium in DC. Granted - this only works when there are tickets left over (i.e. not a good team like the Yankees or a Red Sox) but still... forward thinking!
And the Nats won 5-3. They are far better than our Wizards (record 0-39543) and they feature Ben's Chili Bowl as one of their food joints.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The S.S. Tycho Brahe: One smart boat

Whilst having a splendid evening in the DC Waterfront area, I spied this literary vessel. It's giving props to one of two geeky sources - either the Danish astronomer / alchemist or, better, one of the stars of my favorite webcomic, Penny Arcade.
It's a fun area. The fish market smells overwhelmingly of fish of many varieties, as will your clothes when you're done. I enjoying seeing a counter of crabs scurrying all over each other. The fishmongers (yessss) would toss the live crabs into brown paper bags and hand them to happy customers. Raw fun.

Sweet Potato of Hope II

A long time ago, I wrote about a supermarket staple that turned into an inspiration. Sadly, I didn't know how to care for it, and my muse perished.
But Dianna bought me another potato, and I gave it a shot. It, too, did not disappoint.


Go potato, go!!

What would YOU do....

If a good friend's clothes didn't match? Would you tell them? What if there was nothing they could do - they couldn't go home and they didn't have any spares? What if they thought they were hot shit?
And yes... yesterday, I was the fashion offender...

Friday, June 19, 2009

When Kickball gets nasty... and Politico covers it

There is a brewing controversy involving my kickball team and a bunch of uppity congressional softballers who refused to yield the field to our intrepid team.
Read a horrible piece of journalism by Politico (frown) and then some uplifting comments at the end.
I was appalled at the "don't you know who we are?" attitude from the congressional / IRS teams. These types are one of the things that isn't so great about DC, I must admit.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Published: The lowdown on the DC Bocce scene


Bocce scores big points on the Hill
by Jonathan D. Rubin
June 16, 2009

Just as 7 Up was called the “unsoda,” you might call bocce ball the “unsport.”

In bocce, attire and equipment are minimal. No skills, training or favorable physical attributes are required. And, for a playing field, all you need is grass. Perhaps because it’s so simple, bocce seems to be becoming the King of Lawn Sports in Washington.

Wait, you say. Isn’t bocce the game that old Italian men play? Where you stand around chatting, occasionally throw a weighted ball or two, and drink all day?

Yup, that’s the one.

See it for yourself on Wednesdays in Garfield Park on 2nd and F streets SE, just a few blocks south of Capitol Hill. Last week, no fewer than 24 teams were slugging it out in the D.C. bocce playoffs. Despite all the activity, the game felt more like a backyard family reunion than a playoff series.

That’s part of the appeal.

“It’s not like golf … it doesn’t take a lot of concentration,” said Jo Martin, a bocce-er on the Nobody Puts Bocce in a Corner team.

Casual competition
Bocce “is a stress reliever, not a stress-maker,” said Michelle Dallafior. She plays on the Ticklebritches team when not working on the Energy and Environment subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee.

Dallafior said she grew up playing lawn sports like croquet and horseshoes. Her tip? “You’ve gotta read the green,” she said. Grass fields are notoriously uneven, and a small hill or a valley can turn a perfect throw into a dud.

The D.C. Bocce League started in 2004 as a fun hobby for five friends. That year they had 50 players. Today they have nearly 1,000 in their Capitol Hill and West End Leagues (the latter plays at Rose Park on 26th and P streets NW). A new summer league in Adams Morgan is slated to begin June 22.

They play games every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, rain or shine. After games, they go to a sponsor bar with food and beer specials (the Italian beer Peroni is an official sponsor).

It’s a lot like the D.C. kickball scene, only for a slightly more mature set.

But just slightly. After all, there is something both serene and silly about bocce. And that adds to its enjoyment.

“The more we drink, the better we bocce,” said a cheery Lauren Bovi of Arlington.

The rules of bocce are so simple that the game has been played more or less the same way for more than 2,000 years. Each team can have up to four active players per match and four heavy balls, each about four inches in diameter and made of resin, like a bowling ball.

To start, a player will toss a smaller ball, called a pallina or pallino, down an area five paces wide by 25 paces long. The goal is to throw the larger bocce balls as close to the pallina as you can. If your ball is the closest, your team will score points that round. For each of your balls that is closer to the pallina than the other team’s, you get a point, up to four points maximum per round. After scoring, you toss the pallina again. The first team that gets 16 points wins.

Hill devotees

Bocce culture is slowly permeating Capitol Hill. A recent job posting for Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite’s (R-Fla.) office noted that “participation on the office bocce team is encouraged.”

Congressional staffers are common in the league; organizers estimate that a quarter of all the players work on the Hill. Their ranks can be sparse when a bill is being voted on — one night’s debate over H.R. 2410 (the Foreign Relations Authorization Act) thinned the ranks of many teams, some of which had only two people throwing.

At the playoffs, one player said there are three basic bocce tosses: bowling (just roll it), throwing (toss it up high so when it falls, it stays where it lands) and “throwling” — a low lob that is sort of a combination between the two.

But no one really discusses strategy before, during or after a game. You just play. Some people play with a cigarette in hand. Laughter and red Solo party cups are ubiquitous.

During a bocce match, the play is so relaxed that — unlike in almost any other sport — you are somehow always actively playing and not playing bocce.

“I think one person played with a baby carrier over their shoulder once,” said Sarah Curtis, the legislative director for Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio).

Some trace the history of bocce back to an Egyptian game with polished stones. Others say it was invented by the Romans. Through the centuries, bocce has been played around Europe and in the United States by statesmen and commoners alike. This spirit continues to this day — the D.C. bocce league has NASA staffers playing alongside teachers and social workers.

The Italian Embassy in Washington lacks a bocce league, although a spokesman acknowledged that bocce ball “is becoming increasingly popular in the United States.”


The group’s organizers credit the growth to word of mouth. “I’ve hardly done any PR, and absolutely no advertising,” said Sarah DeLucas, one of D.C. Bocce’s founders.

She said people scoff at bocce at first, but once they play, they’re hooked.

“One team plays, and the next year they split into three teams because all those people have told their friends,” she said.

“It’s casual competition,” player Brian O’Donnell said. “You get to be outside, you don’t have to sweat, and you get sweet T-shirts.”

A fundraiser on Capitol Hill, O’Donnell only works a block from the park. “It’s pretty convenient,” he said. His team, Nuis CocoBocces, is named after two Bocce buddies who moved to Cambodia and continue to play there. They share their Bocce triumphs on their blogs.

So is bocce the new kickball, a game famous as much for its enthusiastic players as for its raucous drinking games?

Not really, DeLucas said.

“There’s a time and a place for kickball,” she said. “You just got out of college [and] you have a crap job when you are just opening mail, so you play kickball.

“After a few years of that,” she said, “come play bocce.”

For more information, visit www.dcbocce.com .

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ape Break

Love them apes:

“I was in Georgetown, with other Marine second lieutenants, drinking beer and trying to impress a group of students. This group had gone to a nearby carnival where for five dollars you could get into a cage with an orangutan. If you could stay in the cage with the ape for five minutes, they paid you $100. But none of them were successful.

“After several hours of strategy sessions and drinking beer, we devised a plan and we launched off to encounter the orangutan.

“The monkey looked docile enough, 110 pounds, long skinny arms, just sitting there in the middle of this iron cage. I approached the monkey from the backside and grabbed it in a half nelson. To my surprise and pleasure, she offered no resistance. Then I made the mistake of lifting the orangutan off the ground. I had a big smile on my face. This lasted for about fifteen seconds, and then I noticed that this long, skinny arm had reached up and grabbed the iron bar over my head.

I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time, until a few seconds later, I felt my feet leave the ground. I figured out the orangutan, who weighed 110 pounds (and I weighed about 230 at the time) had just done a one-arm pull up with something like three times her body weight.

“I realized I was in deep and serous trouble, and the grin on my face turned to stark terror. I was no longer squeezing the ape, but actually holding on her back for fear of my life. The orangutan, while she held us in mid air with one arm, reached around with this other long skinny arm and grabbed me from the back of my neck and slung me the length of the cage, through the door which I immediately took exit from the cage.”

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Self-punishment award ceremony

Because it's strangely fascinating, here are vids of people bear macing each other, or, at right, waterboarding themselves.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Twitter and the Holocaust Museum shooting

What is Twitter good for? Searching gossip as it happens. Since tweets are short, that are automatically summaries. And when a news story happens, you can sift through the information that people are sifting through in real time.
Forget about people Twittering about their %$&*%$# sandwich or what kind of shoes they bought. Search Twitter about a news event as it happens - there's where its usefulness comes in. Observe.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Lightsaber safety

Part of my job is monitoring the Consumer Product Safety Council, a group that I post about occasionally. They are a government agency that finds products that are both dangerous and dangerously cute.
But what I didn't know about the CPSC is how inexplicably they are intertwined with my own life. During college summer break, I temped at global-toymaker Hasbro in Pawtucket, RI in 1999 or so. It was at the same time as the Star Wars Episode I release, so lightsaber fever was in the air. And Hasbro makes lightsabers, so I felt like a king.
But the lightsabers were faulty - a simple spring in them could overheat and cause a fire. So we were mailed out "repair kits" (a new spring with lengthy instructions) to everyone in the U.S. who wanted one. And who led this important crusde? The CPSC, naturally.
Think about it, though - what product needs safety precautions more than a frickin lightsaber? You wouldn't want one of these going off in your pocket during a classroom demonstration...


I asked a friend of mine who is a blogger in Egypt what he thought of Obama's much-lauded "Muslim world" speech. He said that he he attended the speech, but Obama only met with seven journalists (not he). I told him that it seemed that the speech was universally loved, but he responded:
It was bad... He was playing with Muslim emotions… He is like bush but with a good words.”
I asked him what he wanted to hear and he said “Democracy.”
For Egypt, he said, or for Arabs.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

All resources great and useless




Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Twitter goggles

Remember in the Blair Witch Project when the cameraman said that filming stuff made it easier to bear? That is, keeping things at an arm's length and treating them as subjects to be filmed, with yourself as the cameraman, helps remove you from the fact that you are actually living. It seems pathetic at first, but also it's kind of serene - it can give you some perspective and it can keep you grounded. (They sort of used the same idea in Cloverfield, too)
I bring it up because there was an article in the Express today how fashion model Kimora Lee Simmons Twittered during her labor. It makes me wonder if this sort of thing won't be more common - people Twittering not to reach an audience at all, but just to reach themselves.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Joke source

The first joke here is all over the net, from seniors websites to Christian ones to everything in between. The rest are decidedly more "Hebraic."


Sayings of the Jewish Buddhist

If there is no self, whose arthritis is this?

Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?

Drink tea and nourish life; with the first sip, joy; with the second sip, satisfaction; with the third sip, peace; with the fourth, a Danish.

Wherever you go, there you are. Your luggage is another story.

Accept misfortune as a blessing. Do not wish for perfect health, or a life without problems. What would you talk about?

There is no escaping karma. In a previous life, you never called, you never wrote, you never visited. And whose fault was that?

The Tao does not speak. The Tao does not blame. The Tao does not take sides. The Tao has no expectations. The Tao demands nothing of others.. The Tao is not Jewish.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Forget this and attaining Enlightenment will be the least of your problems.

Let your mind be as a floating cloud. Let your stillness be as a wooded glen. And sit up straight. You'll never meet the Buddha with such rounded shoulders.

Deep inside you are ten thousand flowers.
Each flower blossoms ten thousand times.
Each blossom has ten thousand petals.
You might want to see a specialist.

Be aware of your body. Be aware of your perceptions. Keep in mind that not every physical sensation is a symptom of a terminal illness.

The Torah says, Love your neighbor as yourself.
The Buddha says, There is no self.
So, maybe we're off the hook.

Partisan Wikipedia?

I just noticed that Wikipedia's National Council of La Raza page is closed to editing. Even more interestingly, it closed itself to editing BEFORE adding that new Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was, in fact, a member of this organization. That's a pretty big news slight, eh? Citizen journalists, at your marks....