18 October 2006

Keep Your Ribbons

In his recent comprehensive post on TruthDig, Stan Goff, a retired veteran of the US Army Special Forces, discusses the evolution of the Rumsfeld Doctrine and its application in Iraq. Here's one passage that caught my eye:
Every time I see one of those insipid yellow-ribbon magnets now, I think of Charlie Anderson, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. “I just want to ask those people,” says Anderson, referring to those who display the yellow-ribbon magnets, “when is the last time you wrote one of those soldiers? How many of them do you actually know? How many have really asked us, what did you do there? I wanna tell them, we don’t need your fucking ribbons. We need help and jobs.”
The whole essay is well worth reading, and you can do that right here.

05 October 2006

Salad Days

Are you getting tired of waiters coming to your table with a 3-foot-high pepper grinder asking if you'd like "fresh ground pepper" on your salad? Well, so is Nora Ephron, who unloaded last month on the New York Times Op-Ed page, God bless her. Ephron's a much better writer than I am, so I'll let her do the talking:
Many years ago, they used to put salt and pepper on the table in a restaurant, and here's how they did it: there was a salt shaker and there was a pepper shaker. The pepper shaker contained ground black pepper, which was outlawed in the 1960s and replaced by the Permanent Floating Pepper Mill and the Permanent Floating Pepper Mill refrain: "Would you like some fresh ground black pepper on your salad?" I've noticed that almost no one wants some fresh ground black pepper on his salad. Why they even bother asking is a mystery to me.
Ephron tackles some other restaurant annoyances in the column, which you can read here.

03 September 2006

Air World

I hate flying. This wasn't always true, however. Thirty years ago, the airlines weren't going out of their way to insult "economy" travelers. You could get a meal then. Sure it wasn't very good, but still--it was a meal, not just a (small) bag of peanuts. You got a decent amount of room around your seat, not the stingy, impossibly crowded space imposed on air travelers today. You know what I'm talking about: The guy in front of you leans back, jamming your tray table into your rib cage. Your elbows spread out slightly while you're reading and they encroach on your rowmate's space. The carry-on bag you're permitted to bring onboard doesn't really fit under the seat in front of you and leave you room for your feet. I could go on (and may, later).

Why not upgrade, you ask. Well, consider this: A roundtrip economy-class ticket on British Air between Seattle and London costs about $1,000. The "business-class" seat for the same RT ticket costs about $8,000. I don't know about you, but the $7,000 difference is HUGE for me. So, what's a nonwealthy traveler to do? Seriously, what is such a traveler to do?

11 July 2006

America the Fat

Now that obesity has become a major health concern in the United States, some of you may wonder how that happened. Well, we eat too much and we sit on our asses most of the time staring at screens: computers at work, TVs at home. Moreover, what we eat is often unhealthy, high-fat food with limited--if any--nutrients: chips, cookies, soda pop, French fries, ice cream, processed cheese, etc.

Then there's the ballooning portion size of almost everything in our diet. Jane Brody, who writes the weekly "Personal Health" column in the New York Times, weighs in on the subject in the paper's July 11 edition. Her comments make for button-popping reading. Brody reports that an average serving of pasta is now "480 percent greater than the one-cup recommended serving size" and some cookies are 700 percent larger. She goes on: "A New York bagel, now sold nationwide, weighs five or six ounces. That is five or six bread portions, supplying about 500 calories, not counting cream cheese or butter." Soft drinks come in 24-ounce containers or larger, "often with free refills."

What's a country to do? Fad diets have spawned shelves of best-selling books, but they rarely work for the long haul. But there is one tried-and-true method for weight loss: eat less and exercise more. Do both and you will lose weight. Continue to do both and you'll keep the weight off.

So, next time you're tempted by a chocolate chip cookie the size of a salad plate, take a walk instead. Simple as that, piece of cake.

05 July 2006

Just Like That

I found out today that two friends of mine, a young woman and her mother, were involved in a car crash a couple of days ago. Both were hospitalized for injuries, the mother's more serious than her daughter's. The driver of an oncoming vehicle apparently lost control of the wheel, and her car swerved into the opposing traffic's lane, colliding with my friends' car.

There's no moral to this story. It's a reminder that terrible things can happen at any time.

You never know.

06 April 2006

Numb and Number

"6 Weeks to 7 Figures," promises a Men'sHealth article. Seattle Metropolitan magazine heralds its inaugural issue with "65 BEST WAYS TO LOVE OUR CITY" on the cover. "10 MORE REASONS TO LOVE ORLANDO BLOOM," gushes CosmoGIRL! Why all these numbered lists? you may wonder. Because research shows that numbers sell magazines--women's magazines, historically, but, increasingly, men's magazines as well. "It all adds up to an arms race at the newsstand," says Katharine Q. Seelye in her playfully informative article "Lurid Numbers on Glossy Pages! (Magazines Exploit What Sells)," published in the February 10, 2006, New York Times. As Seelye explains, "Numbers jump out from the clutter of type on the newsstand. They draw the eye and quickly convey value and utility, helping monthlies in particular stay afloat in the rising tide of celebrity obsession."

Yes, we can't get enough of celebrities, it seems. US Weekly and People, the best-known star-crazed weeklies, feed us a steady stream of Britney, Gwyneth, and Paris sightings, with the occasional glimpse of George Clooney aboard his boat on Lago di Como. "Today, the biggest force everyone is dealing with is celebrity magazines," Kate White, editor of Cosmopolitan, the best-selling monthly in America, tells Seelye. "You're not competing with other people's numbers, you're competing with Brad and Angelina and babies."

For those of us who'd like to eighty-six the numbers mania, there's zero relief in sight.

13 March 2006

On the Ground

Every so often, something shows up in The New York Times that makes me feel the expensive subscription is worth it. Sure, the "paper of record" has good reporters and very good columnists, especially Bob Herbert, Frank Rich, and Paul Krugman. But I'm not talking about writers who report and comment, however skillfully. I'm talking about someone who is not a professional writer on assignment, but rather a person engaged in activity on the front lines who gives us a glimpse of what life is like in the hot zone. The March 12, 2006, issue of The New York Times Magazine carries just such a firsthand report on the back page. Titled "The Waiting," it's written by Brian Mockenhaupt, who served two tours in Iraq as an infantryman with the 10th Mountain Division. Mockenhaupt's account is not long--about 1,000 words--but he conveys, with clear, powerful language, what it's like to confront death all the time, day in, day out, 24/7. After pointing out that the bomb, the improvised explosive device (IED), is "the main way to die in this war," he tells us why:
Everywhere you look, there's a possibility. The bombs are hidden in dead dogs, dead donkeys, trash piles and fruit stands, parked cars and moving cars. They're stuffed in sewer pipes, hung from overpasses and tucked behind street signs. Any place is a good place to slip, strap or bury a bomb.
A couple of paragraphs later, Mockenhaupt sums up the danger: "This is the problem with looking for bombs: They're hidden well, so you have to be close to find them. And if you do find one, you're probably too close."

A writer's bio at the end of the piece informs us that Mockenhaupt is working on a book about the military. I don't know about you, but I'm buying a copy as soon as it hits the shelves.

17 February 2006

One Thing at a Time

We've heard a lot in recent years about the glories of multitasking, usually from self-described multitaskers. But the time has come to peel off the congratulatory gold star these dynamos have affixed to themselves and see the practice for what it really is. By definition, multitasking means never doing one thing with full attention. To cite one alarmingly widespread--not to mention dangerous, even lethal--example: driving a car while talking on a cell phone. If you're talking on the phone, you're not paying full attention to driving. If you're driving, you're not giving your full attention to the phone conversation. It's that simple. And if you're on the road and not paying full attention to your driving, you're a danger to me. If you're a danger to me, I want you off the road.

05 January 2006

Page 123

Browsing at the Chekhov's Mistress blog, I came across an interesting item headed "Page 123." It's about a meme the blogger had spotted elsewhere and decided to spread at CM. Here's how it works:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don’t search around for an impressive title. Just use the book that's actually next to you.

This sounds like fun, so now I'm playing. Here's my sentence:

He was indeed a rogue, and a scoundrel to boot (when he died of acute alcoholic toxemia, in 1966, at the age of forty-four, he was under indictment for just about every variety of prohibited corruption recognized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts); he was also a decorated veteran of World War II, commissioned on the battlefield in Normandy as a lieutenant, and when I met him for the first and only time, in 1963, he still carried with him shards of shrapnel in his legs that he could cause to grind audibly, to impress a young reporter.

The rules call for not revealing the book or author. But guesses are welcome.