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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

International and Domestic Idiocy

Russia has sent “military advisers” and a special “terrorism response team” into Syria to assist President Assad with his distressing domestic “terrorist” problem (which most everyone else on the planet understands as the Middle Eastern potentate’s deliberate effort to exterminate all who would oppose him, an effort amounting basically to a genocide).  The Russian government leases a naval base area from Assad, a tidbit that I had earlier overlooked, but relevant to the former armed assistance information in that there is an entire school of historians who attribute the last three centuries of Russo-Soviet expansionism as a geographical quest for a warm water port, while Cold Warriors would automatically recognize this southern interest as a continuation of the old bilateral brinksmanship which colored East-West relationships from the mid-1940s through 1990.  Perhaps the historians and the hawks both have a point.  Either way, it has led to Russia’s unerring support for almost every nasty tinpot rogue anti-statesman on the planet throughout the twentieth and now into the twenty-first century, from Hitler (until he turned on his old buddy Josef Djiugashvili) to Hugo (Chavez), and with it an obnoxiously predictable veto in each and every "we ought to say they're being bad" Security Council meeting. 

Nowadays, the international bugbear, formerly (and justifiably) the Fascist, is that vicious and universally-feared animal the Terrorist.  Unfortunately, the term “terrorist” is a deliciously easy one to apply to one’s opposition.  And so, in the last ten years, regimes of questionable moral character, who tend to derive their de facto domestic legitimacy from their ability to cow their citizenry, have readily adopted this vocabulary to their own strategic ends, leaving the many morally-questioning post-modern democracies (our own shamefully included), wondering if there is any reason, really, to get involved, since, after all, the people being suppressed by the dominant regime may indeed BE terrorists.  Who is to say?  We can’t judge.  Better to just sit on the sidelines and wring our hands about all this nasty violence, and talk in sad tones about the great tragedy it is.  The Russian Federation government, or more specifically the Putin and Putin-including governments of Russia, have themselves used the “terrorist” register of diction to justify their bloody handiwork in Chechnya, while handling real Chechen terror incidents (e.g. the Moscow theater and Beslan school hostage crises) with less than requisite finesse [What is the use of a “hostage rescue squad” that seems as likely to kill the hostages during its rescues as the hostage-takers themselves?].  Be that as it may, Assad recognizes an ally in the rough-and-ready rulers of the Russian Federation, which has spent so much energy “pacifying” its “breakaway southern republic".  And so, Russia maintains its Mediterranean naval presence, and Assad gets the fiscal and physical backing of a government which really does adhere to the mantra “kill them all, let God sort them out.” 

Much of the time lately I can’t bring myself to read the news, because I find myself grinding my teeth in frustration, thinking about all the stupidity abroad in the world.  And then I get stuck in traffic in Georgetown and have plenty of time to consider the stupidity available in my own town.  For months now, they have been tearing up the cobblestone streets that occupy blocks in the district between 37th Street and Wisconsin Avenue.  Running down the middle of these cobblestoned blocks are old trolley-car tracks, relics from the days when the city public transport system rolled around on rails.  Over the decades, the cobblestones have sunk at irregular depths (some quite deep) around the tracks, leaving these streets treacherous for pedestrian and car alike.  So, you’d think they’d pave the streets.  After all, the tracks aren’t in use, cobblestones have been superceded as conventional metropolitan pavement for a reason, and they'd just spent years and probably tons of money installing beautiful (but unnecessary) granite curbstones on many of the neighboring blocks.  But no, instead, they have carefully torn the cobblestones out, and the tracks, and then poured a new foundation, and RELAID BOTH THE TRACKS AND THE COBBLESTONES.  Mind you, the tracks have been out of service for decades.  They are not connected to any larger system.  In fact, they don’t even run through intersections, but stop and start on either side of the paved cross-streets.  And, as I said, cobblestones are one of the more labor-intensive road materials to maintain.  Of course, having said that, there is one paved block near Georgetown that waited for YEARS to be repaired—there were many potholes more than a foot in diameter, and it was taking one's alignment in one's hands to navigate the crater-full couple of hundred yards to the corner.  Well, they finally paved it.  And six months later they tore it up again to service one of the perpetually-temperamental sewer lines (before I moved to the city, manhole covers were blowing off because of pent-up gases in the area).  It’s still a mess, more than a year later.  I can say that even Moscow’s streets are better maintained.  The Washington, DC, roads department must truly be one of the worst-run in the United States.  It’s embarrassing.  But I can do as little about stopping this waste of taxpayer resources and human time as I can still the chaos around the world.  

I know I need always to be reminded that I am not God, but sometimes I just feel so darn helpless, even beneath what should be mere human ability!  I mean, if we as a country can’t solve international relations problems, at least one town, our wealth-riddled capitol city, should be able to grasp the wise use of resources to create and maintain basic infrastructure!  ARGH!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Seasonal Allergies

It’s spring, which means middle-aged matrons have begun to twit their single sisters about their (lack of) love lives.  For two years I’ve been left blissfully alone, partly courtesy over the deaths in my family (and the first anniversaries thereof), partly seasonal chill, but in the last several weeks I’ve been questioned about (and offered advice on snagging) a significant other.  Heck, I barely have time and oomph to blog, much less fritter away the hours on some matchmaking website, judging men on their punctuation rather than the content of their character.  And let us not forget that eHarmony has blacklisted me.

This undue concern with my personal life (short and pudgy if my figure is any mirror of its condition) didn’t gall me until yesterday evening, when I attended a friend’s birthday party over on Capitol Hill.  I knew only a few of the other guests, but enough to make (what I hope passed for) polite conversation.  However, sometime after I arrived, a fellow that asked me out a couple of times a few years back arrived (a coworker of the birthday girl) and he didn’t even say hello or acknowledge my existence.  It’s not like I expected him to drop to his knees, dazzled by my beauty, and exclaim in wonder, but it was just mannerly to nod and perhaps shake hands.  Truthfully, I did look rather fetching, if I do say so—the makeup and hair were having a good day, and I’d concealed my burgeoning muffin top underneath a flowing silk and sequin halter shirt trimmed with velvet ribbons, all of a muted color.  Yet, not so much as a hello, nice to see you again.  So I came home early, miffed.

And stayed up all night watching a South Korean serial called "Boys Before Flowers".  Twenty-five episodes of great melodrama, an entertaining combination of humor, paths, suspense, and so forth.  The best subtitles I’ve ever encountered (pointed out puns).  Very romantic (no sex, and only rare, chaste kisses, though plenty of smoldering looks from a quartet of yummy young Korean men), with usually one fistfight or bloodletting per episode and several tear-sheddings.  Sweet.  Frankly a great publicity piece for the RK—I couldn’t help but wonder what Northern neighbors who were lucky enough to capture the signal thought of the thing when it was first broadcast in 2009.  Oodles of tasty-looking food, lovely clothes, settings all over Seoul and vacation spots off the coast.  Needless to say, I went considerably over my wireless internet data limit for this month (ending on the 19th) and so sent a check off to my mom to reimburse her for what will probably be an embarrassingly high Verizon bill.
I was planning to get a new set of tires today, but I think I’ll wait until after the estate sale this next weekend.  We have another the following week, and then the hoarder’s house is to be done in April.  At last we’re finally moving along—nothing’s so bothersome as only getting to work a few hours here and a few there, without seeing any significant progress made.  We have once again turned straw into gold for the upcoming sale—it looks so much better than when we arrived!  My boss is a genius when it comes to staging—it’s like an interior designer has gone over the place when she’s through.  I think the attractive presentation (not to mean our obsessive orderliness) has contributed to several of our more discerning clients (those who’ve been going to sales all over the DC area for decades) telling us that we are one of the two best companies in the entire greater metropolitan region.  I think we can legitimately claim to be.

My stomach is upset, and though I should be proofreading a former Russianist colleague's conference paper, but it's going to have to wait until this evening.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

15 years or 150,000 miles

My car’s odometer flipped 150,000 while I was driving over to Leah’s last night.  That’s a lot of time behind the wheel, and, of course, given my impecunious state, I’m hoping to see another 150,000 from behind the same before my little Honda falls into rusty dust.  I do need to procure a new set of tires much sooner.  I noticed the other day that the back ones are nearing smooth, whereas the fronts are deceptively new-appearing.  What we have here is a failure to rotate.  One of the front ones (I’d been checking the air pressure in all obsessively, and meantime overlooking the rotation schedule) has a double-plug in it thanks to absorbing a bolt last year, so I’ve been preoccupied with the potential for flats, rather than attentive to routine maintenance (besides oil changes, which I’ve religiously observed).

At Leah’s all the usual suspects were assembling—my friends since undergraduate days, the three girls who drove/flew all the way to GA at a moment’s notice when they heard my father died, and then drove me back up here afterwards (today is the 21-month anniversary of his death).  They are the best.  Given that Leah’s 10th wedding anniversary is approaching (a date she and her husband shared with my grandparents—May 17th) and her and my 15th undergraduate class reunion is taking place that weekend, we’ve determined to combine these observances (he went to our university, though with our other friends, he preceded us by a couple of years), and they’ve rented a house for all of us to share.  I hope it will be comfortable—it should be a little easier in some ways than the last time we all shared vacation digs, since the four little boys (my honorary nephews) are now all out of diapers and nap time is no longer de rigeur—though, come to think of it, all of us adults enjoyed nap times, too!

I’ve mixed emotions about the reunion…  I’ll be with friends, so it’s not like I’ll have no one to talk to, (which is always a hazard at such functions), and it will be fun seeing how cushy things have become since our hard-knock tenure (to tell truth, we had it good—I particularly remember the good D-hall food and the church-like cafeteria); I know they’ve got many more luxuries now, though they are missing some of the old-fashioned joys we shared, which included climbing in and out of classroom building windows at any time of the night, so we could sit on the roofs underneath the stars.  I know at least one classmate has died (we two were the finalists for the year at Oxford program—the award went to her) and of a few other unwelcome developments.  I do hope to see some of my old professors, and hope they are happy to see me!  I’m in an unusual position of not being socially changed—I have no husband or children to introduce to acquaintances of yore (or to show the hallowed colonnade where I once trod), I’ve no distinctive career to claim as a self-identifier.  I’m just older.  Wiser, too, I guess.  I don’t really remember too many people in my own class, since most of my friends were a year ahead, and with the core group that met at Leah’s I’ve kept in regular touch, so a reunion is superfluous in that regard.  But it’s a beautiful town, and a lovely campus, and I hope to enjoy the show, so to speak, as one of my ever-expanding collection of “interesting cultural experiences”. 

Saturday, March 03, 2012

But It's A Good Pain

[Friday night--couldn't post as internet access was down, likely due to weather]  I am in agony.  Not, as my more fitness-oriented readers would suppose, from yesterday’s workout, although I did walk five miles and then do 28 minutes at 11 on the elliptical trainer.  No, I just returned from another superb meal at the Russia House in Dupont Circle with my friend Isabelle.  As before, we split a bottle of red Georgian wine, and then plowed through five or so tapas-style dishes before sitting back and spooning in individual portions of crème brulee.  Ah, me.  The joys of Groupons.

I have been always a harsh judge of people who let their property go to pot—you know the sort where you drive by and a shutter has fallen into the bushes and lies there for months without being replaced?  Well, let she who is without sin…  There’s a lovely cabinet in the corner of my room that I use for clothes storage.  I acquired it two years ago at the Crate and Barrel outlet in Leesburg, VA.  It cost a fraction of ordinary retail because the pane of glass in one of the three doors had been broken, and there were one or two other minor cosmetic details that I knew were easily fixable.  Yet, since I bought this cabinet, I had not replaced the glass or attended to the other issues.  Finally, fed up with my own hypocrisy, I determined yesterday that I was going to fix it.  It took at most 30 minutes and cost around 12 dollars, and that included going to the hardware store for the glass (which they cut to precision), installing the wooden border to secure the pane (and mitering it with my hacksaw) and staining the wood with a touch-up pen.  At least I can mark that particular file of my broad and unending archives of personal procrastination off the list.

The women’s retreat proved entirely restful, physically, socially and spiritually.  I am so glad I went.

Read the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins Wednesday and Thursday.  Good, but not exactly what I would consider really children’s literature, though told simply, and about a girl in her teens.  No butterflies and fairies in these, but depictions of grave physical and psychological damage and political intrigue.  Fascinating for its interweaving of the modern reality television genre, the gladiator competitions of ancient Rome, and the concentration/internment camps of our own and the last century into an amalgam both original and shockingly familiar.

Must digest a bit before I retire.  Tomorrow I plan to go to a chocolate festival in Fairfax.  “No calorie left unconsumed” is my motto this week.
[Today] The chocolate festival was delicious.  Marie and I forked over a couple of tokens apiece for fruit to dip into the chocolate fountains, and we voted for the best decorated cake at the Chocolate Challenge.  I also bid on one at the silent auction--an incredible design made by a baker at the Ritz-Carlton.  If I win, I'll post pictures! 

Have to digest again--after indulging in sweets, we went to a great little mom and pop Greek/Italian eatery...