Friday, October 28, 2005

The Swiss Army Knife of Answers

Garry Trudeau had a whole week of strips written and ready for Harriet Miers' Supreme Court hearings, but then she dropped out. So Doonesbury, via Slate, has kindly reprinted them for your viewing pleasure. They're all good, but the last one is killer.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Kitchen Porn

I've found a soul mate!! Mark Morford appears to have the same jones for cookware that I do. Even for some of the same cookware--although I'm rather a purist, and resist the lure of non-stick. I have two pieces of All-Clad stainless (a small skillet and a larger skillet--Spouse says they're the best fucking pans ever) and one of the ways Spouse binds me to him with silken ropes is that he knows my lust for All-Clad, and has promised me from time to time that there will be more. Someday. When the kids aren't in braces or facing college.

Not, of course, that I do a lot of high-end cooking. My family (raise your hand if you've heard this rant before) tends to eschew high-end eating, and I have a curious reluctance to make food that no one but me will eat. But there is pleasure to be had in the ownership of a really good piece of kitchen equipment. My mother loathed cooking but had a full set of LeCreuset pots and pans and wonderful, artsy serving dishes and stuff. My father did like to cook, and this is one of the things he and I have in common; we used to bond over catalogs from restaurant supply stores, and in the early years of my marriage Dad would take pleasure in sending me cool kitchen neep: my marble rolling pin came from him, and the stoneware canisters in which my flour and sugar and brown sugar live, and the pasta machine. Could I live with a set of stainless steel pans from Costco? Well, yes. As a matter of fact, I do, and they're okay. But sometimes, while I'm making a prosaic meal for my prosaic eaters, I dream of haute cuisine and All Clad.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

In Which I am Incorrect

Younger Girl has decided that she's going to be Miss Congeniality for Halloween. Since I persuaded her that a full evening gown would be inconvenient and chilly for walking around town attempting to shake people down for candy, this will be relatively simple: a small fake gun in a shoulder holster or evening bag, and a banner that says "Miss Congeniality." The rub comes, you see, with the gun. I went three places today, looking for a small toy handgun. No joy. There were light sabres; there were foam-padded nunchuks; there were swords and armor; there was a broad array of "spy gear." There were also electronic versions of slot machines and Texas Hold 'Em and other gambling games. What there was not was toy guns. Apparently all these other forms of mayhem--and gambling--are okay, but shooting play is not.

Can I just say this strikes me as a little, um, shortsighted? When I was five, I asked for--and received--a tommygun with "genuine rat-a-tat action!" (It made a very loud noise which pleased me greatly.) I had cap guns. I even learned to shoot a 22 rifle and a CO2-powered BB pellet gun. And I am, today, pro-gun control; the same imagination that had me running around playing cops n' robbers and spies and all sorts of other gun-related games, plus a fascination with medicine and trauma surgery, gives me a pretty good idea of the damage a gun can do. I am profoundly anti-violence and about the least aggressive person on my block, and I still think that a kid should be able to find a toy gun for her Halloween costume.

Monday, October 24, 2005


The fabulous Jon Carroll admits he's not much of a fantasy reader, but he's reading Django Wexler's Memories Of Empire, and points out what big fantasies as a class tell us about our culture. You often hear about the dumbing down of American culture and art, but if you look at big fantasies like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, comics like Watchmen and Sandman and multi-layered TV shows like Buffy, Veronica Mars, and Lost, what they have in common is that they are dense with stories, characters, subplots, worldbuilding. They are popular because they're complex. Now, the given complexity might not be your cup of tea--high fantasy isn't mine, though I do make exceptions--but the fact that people are hot for the complex is encouraging, no?

In Which I'm Back

San Francisco is (of course) foggy. I am home again, my laundry has been done, and the girls are off to school. I am feeling rather revived by the trip. The young have capered around me squealing "Mama mama mama!" (especially since I made a pilgrimage to our favorite handmade chocolate shop in the Berkshires, Catherine's Chocolates, and brought home maple sugar candy and chocolate covered cherries--the size of a baby's fist!). I had a good talk with my editor, and return with some interesting ideas about how to attack Miss Tolerance (editor: stop writing book 3 and start writing book 4. It's like the "skip the troublesome scene and go to the next" routine, several orders of magnitude increased). So once I have written the emails and letters and made the phone calls that didn't get made next week, I dive right back into work.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


I'm home. I got off the train from Newark Liberty Airport at 7:30 this morning, shlepped my luggage up to 7th Avenue, and was instantly and comfortingly at home again. It's like a huge ball of tension I had not realized I was carrying just...melted. And I finally figured it out: San Francisco is a terrific city; it is beautiful, and there is much to love. But at this point I still feel to put this? You ever have to entertain your grandmother's friends when you were a kid? Sitting up straight, balancing a cup and saucer in your lap and being careful about your replies because you don't want to reflect poorly on Grannie? That's the way I feel in San Francisco. So here, one more anonymous person shlepping a rolly-suitcase and computer bag, I could literally feel myself expand.

A couple of things I noticed. I'd forgotten all the fruit vendors at the corners, ready to sell you a banana or a dozen pears or a pineapple. You don't see that in SF--it's either Safeway or the Farmer's Market (Farmer's Market produce is undoubtedly better than the stuff sold on street corners, but the on-your-way-to-work convenience of grabbing an apple or banana is a very mass-transit-and-walking-culter sort of thing. Musicians in the subway; BART doesn't have 'em. Sometimes in the halls of the underground, yes. But the wonderful flautist who came on at 79th Street and played Mozart to 66th Street does not have an opposite number in BART. Finally: every subway car I was in today had ads for English language tutoring. "Aprende Ingles Ahora!" Oddly, despite the huge immigrant population in San Francisco, I can't remember the last ad I saw for English language tutoring. Not to say it's out there, but it's certainly not a saturation ad. I'm still thinking about all this, trying to figure what it all means.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Scripting Counts

"Thank very much for everything. I like you." --Sgt. Maj. Akeel Shaker Nassir, Iraqi in charge of the Army Training Facility in Tikrit, to George Bush last night.

The publicity event itself was pretty creepy: the soldiers being interviewed all looked like little kids who had been told they could go to the circus if they were polite to the visitor, and the President seemed to stumble over his own talking points. But what was fascinating and sad was the video that went out of one of Bush's press handlers drilling the soldiers on what they were to say and how they were to react to the President's comments.

For a faith-based presidency, it seems to have very little faith in anyone or anything that hasn't been scripted and rehearsed. Even then...

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Okay, writers are ghouls. On a listserve I'm on a discussion has come up that started with Graham Greene's statement that every writer must have a sliver of ice in his heart (or something to that effect; I no longer have the original post) and gone on to people recounting experiences--from robbery to brain surgery--during which they have found themselves taking notes on the experience for later use. I have a bunch of these myself, from childbirth to having my wallet lifted (I got to go to One Police Plaza; I got deposed by an ADA; I felt like an extra in Law and Order!). Aside from the technical benefits of amassing information about a traumatic situation, I've always thought that the "someday I'll use this" experience is a way of getting a handle on an un-handleable event.

So my question is: when something big happens, do you find yourself taking notes? Are you a writer, or are we kidding ourselves in thinking that this is a behavior specific to writers, film-makers, etc.?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


I love looking through those odd catalogs you get--Sharper Image is the high end, Lillian Vernon the middle end (if the middle can be said to have an end) and there are a couple of definitely lower end ones--at the odd things people invent and put out for sale. Who decided that a pith helmet with can-holder and built in straw was a good idea? Or a pith helmet with a tiny battery operated fan in the crown, to cool ones sweaty brow?

So I note with reverence the passing of Eugene Beals -- inventor of turkey pop-up timer. Who among us has not peered anxiously into the oven to see whether the little red button on the Thanksgiving Butterball had popped yet? I just think it's swell that Mr. Beals came up with the idea, and swell that he is celebrated for it posthumously. The fact that I usually use my grandmother's method of testing a turkey for doneness (is the juice of the thigh clear, with no bloodiness? Your turkey is done) in no way diminishes my appreciation.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Thunder Overhead

This is doubtless unpatriotic of me, and flying in the face of cherished local tradition and stuff, but can I just say that I hate the Blue Angels streaking overhead, so loud and so low that it calls up in me a passionate desire to hide under a table? I was no where near 9/11 (I was, in fact 100 blocks north), but like a lot of people in New York it took me several years to get past a flinch response when a regular ol' jet airliner went overhead. And these showboating damned jets zipping over my home makes me completely regress. Hate, hate, hate. There, I've said it. You can report me now.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Well, I'm Awed

When we moved out west, Younger Girl got involved with Girl Scouting. We found her a lovely troop, with a bunch of nice girls and two women who acted as co-leaders, and it was all swell for about a year and a which point both of the leaders felt that their professional commitments were overwhelming their ability to do the job properly, and they ducked out. There followed a year when YG wandered in the wilderness, doing some Council events but otherwise having no scouting home. The Moms of her troop kept talking about someone picking up the reins--a teacher from the school which had housed Troop 406; one of the Moms; a leader supplied by the Council. All I knew--because you have to have a little self-knowledge in the Mom biz--was that it wouldn't be me. I'm good for the odd afternoon here and there with a bunch of kids; I'm a fine support person, but I would almost certainly throttle someone if I were in permanent charge, and I don't believe that's The Girl Scout Way.*

So, on Tuesday of this week I decided we should stop waiting, and called the Council, explained the situation, and got the name of the leader of a troop that was open. As luck would have it, they were having a camp out last night at a nearby Girl Scout campground (in San Francisco proper! This is so not New York!) and if I wanted to fill out all the paper work to reregister YG and myself, she could attend that. So we loaded up the truck, I brought my pen and money for the various fees, and within twenty seconds YG had insinuated herself into a crowd of kids. When I left her there, she was happily stringing Froot Loops and pretzels onto red licorice strings as "survival necklaces" to much while they hiked. I'm sure I will hear tales of adventure when I pick the kid up in three hours.

But what awes me is the new Troop leader. She's not just in charge of the Juniors (YG's level). She manages a troop of Daisies (the kindergarteners), Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes, and Seniors. This is essentially the equivalent of voluntarily and without pay running a one-room schoolhouse. And she apparently loves it. True, she apparently has lots of Moms helping out, and doesn't seem shy about delegating, but even so: Wow.

Update: The girl had a swell time, despite blustery winds and very little sleep. She's totally gung-ho about the troop, met some nice girls...and is already planning for her part in the Troop trip to England in 2007, when she's a Cadette. Holy cow. Definitely not her mother's Girl Scouts. A trip to Westchester was considered hot stuff in my day.

*of course, when I was a kid I was briefly a Girl Scout, but quit because I was repeatedly mugged for my dues money by a fellow Scout...

Friday, October 07, 2005

"Heinlein's Female Trouble"

Serve me right for taking five days to get to the Times Book Review section. There's a back-page essay called Heinlein's Female Troubles, all about Robert Heinlein's treatment of women in his fiction. Understand, I once got booed from the floor at a panel at an SF convention when I suggested that Heinlein's treatment of women in his later books got in the way of my enjoying them (the books, not the women...), but I stand foursquare for his juveniles and a good number of his adult works (I think Time Enough for Love is the place where his work jumped the shark; you might have your own thoughts on the subject). M.G. Lord, the author of the essay, says that Heinlein's work is what made a feminist of her, and I can't argue with the examples she gives or the points she makes. And she does acknowledge that Heinlein's post-1970s novels are tainted "with a dated laciviousness and [impair] his ability to create three-dimensional women." But I'd go farther and say that with his later books Heinlein stops trying to create three-dimensional women at all; most of them are a catalog of abilities (starship pilot! mathematician! particle physicist! gourmet chef!) stapled to a Playboy pinup, with a pair of ovaries paperclipped to the packet. While Lord criticizes Friday, for example, as "a brazen disease vector, recklessly promiscuous, with a bizarre weakness for male engineers," what bothered me about Friday and the other women of Heinlein's last works was their status as mommies. Future mommies, happy incubators...not raising children (who seemed to be brought on stage to be cute for a moment, then retired to the nursery to get out of the way of the plot) so much as being in a pre-gestational or peri-gestational period. Nursing mommies. These works gave me a permanent distaste for being told that pregnant women are sexy (which irritated Spouse a little during those times when I was pregnant). And I won't even go into the weirdness of Lazarus Long going back in time to sleep with his mother...

I will go to my grave loving The Moon's a Harsh Mistress and The Day after Tomorrow and Double Star and a whole lot more of Heinlein's work. That's going to have to be enough.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


I'm sick. And Spouse is in NY at a convention. And I'm sick. Bronchitis. In a rare show of good sense, I called the doctor yesterday and got antibiotics, and probably by tomorrow I will feel better. I stayed home from work yesterday (which is hard to do when you work at home...essentially, I didn't do anything but feed the children and drink hot liquids) and may do the same today. YG started crying in the car on the way home from school yesterday: "Daddy's 3000 miles away and you're sick! This is terrible!" Funny, just what I was thinking.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Scary Dentist

For some reason, San Francisco TV is peppered with ads for dentists and tooth-whitening businesses. I don't remember dentists advertising this aggressively on the east coast, but I could be wrong. In any case, there's one specific dentist who advertises in San Francisco who scares me. It's not as though he appears against a background of David Cronenberg-type implements of dental torture. He's really just another in a long line of business-owners who insist upon being the spokesman for their own companies despite the fact that they can't read lines for beans. That in itself is not scary. What is? His smile. The smile itself is big and white, a good advertisement for Dr. Jang's work. What is scary about it is the way he uses it. One gets the feeling that he doesn't smile easily; the smile is jerked into being at the end of sentences or paragraphs of copy, with flipped-switch suddenness, like an exclamation mark. It's clear that Dr. Jang has been coached to look approachable and smile for emphasis. He may be a terrific dentist; his staff may be remarkable, and they may speak every language known to man (in addition to English and Chinese, they advertise that they also speak French and, I think, Japanese and Tagalog), can you trust a dentist who looks like he's about to bite your head off? Scary.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

How I Learned About Politics

I was twelve years old at the time of the mayoral race in New York City. While I certainly didn't understand it all, I remember all the players and the city they were talking to. That's why The Buckley Effect resonates so strongly for me, I guess. It's a fascinating article in its own right, but its effect on mee was like that of a kid who finally learns, years later, what all those half-heard and half-comprehended arguments between her parents were all about. And weirdly enough, reading the article reminds me that I miss New York politics. I get New York politics. I'm still working on the San Francisco politics thing, and in the oddest way this article made me feel homesick.