Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The C-Section

This piece by Tova Mirvis about C-Sections (it's on Babble.com) says so much so well that I hardly can think of more to say. Well, that's not exactly true, I can think of many things to say (I myself had a schedule C-section because of a very specific complication), but I won't because if you're interested, you should go and read it.

Good-Bye My Love, My Morning Joe

I've given up coffee. Just last week I wrote about mastering the coffee maker while my husband was away, and today, as I write this, I'm quite sure I'll never use it again. After drinking almost a whole pot Saturday morning (to celebrate David's return) and dining on chorizo and roasted red peppers and peas (yum!), my stomach woke me with great urgency at 4 AM to say this: Stop the madness. Now. By 6 that morning I knew my coffee days were over. In fact, except for wanting to be woken up, I felt so badly I didn't want any coffee all of Sunday. Three days later, I still would like to be more awake, but I still don't want a cup of coffee. I know soon enough I will want one, but I won't have it. I can't be moderate with the coffee and clearly, my constitution can't take it.

But, it gets worse. I have to give up my afternoon chocolate, too. We'll see how well I do with that one.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Things I'm Avoiding

1) The economy.
I'm overwhelmed by what I don't know and what I fear.
2) Anything having to do with the war.
What I said for the economy.
3) Awtul Gawande's New Yorker essay titled Hellhole about solitary confinement ("ordinary torture").
After reading about the other kind of torture, I can't bring myself to confront the everyday kind.
4) Work.
Enough said.
5) Spring shoes.
Like a jacket in April, you never know what's right.

There are other things, but I think I've divulged enough for one post. So now, I must face something.

The Kindle

OK. I'll admit it. I kind of covet the Kindle. The backlight thing is a problem, yes, one potentially solved by an iPhone, which I won't get for a variety of reasons, until I discover I covet it so much that I must get one, and when I do, I'll get the "old fashioned" one, as I did with the iPod. But whether it's the kindle or the iPhone, I can see the appeal. If I had one, I could read it while I sat with my daughter in her dark room, waiting for her to sleep. If I had one, I would worry about batteries in landfills but not clearcuts. At least there would still be a tree in the forest to hear my anxiety. Finally, if I had a Kindle, I wouldn't worry that I had too many books for my apartment. But then, I also wouldn't have that reassuring pile of books on my nightstand.

Like Josh Marshall, I worry about what the shelves will look like, even the shelves I don't yet have. This will be gotten over, of course, and soon enough reading that's not in cookbooks or atlases or picture books or art books will land in little handheld devices and we'll all say something will be lost, and it will. By then, presumably, the devices will cost nothing so everyone would find them affordable. And if they don't, what do we do then? How do you force someone to buy a reading device?

At the end of The Class, a student tells the teacher about reading Plato's Republic. Her sister had the book, it was lying around, so the student picked it up. Could that kind of accidental encounter happen with the Kindle? Granted, this is a scene from a movie. Who knows what would happen in real life -- I guess that's the point. Who knows once we get used to Kindles or whatever we'll eventually read on, what'll happen. Something will. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

The Anxiety of What Not to Wear's Influence

It's been a while now since my husband and I collapsed on the couch and tuned into Stacey and Clinton, those doyennes of style on TLC's What Not to Wear, but the two were brought uncomfortably back to our home just the other night. While David was away, I bought some tapered chino-type pants at Anthropologie. When he got back, I tried them on. David took one look at me and his mouth twitched. "Now why," he began, channeling his inner Clinton, "considering your torso (it's long), would you buy pants that make your legs look shorter?"

Part of me rejoices at the metrosexual qualities of my beloved. This is, after all, the man who turned to me after seeing the preview of Notting Hill and said, "Let's go see it opening weekend!" But this particular fashion feedback stung. Who likes to be reminded of her inherently compromised sense of what looks good? The clash of reality and fantasy that is a clothing purchase might well and happily be left unaccompanied by high doses of reality. Until it can't. So the pants will go back. One last thing? Thanks Stacey and Clinton! You've changed my life!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Email Exhaustion

When I moved back to New York a few years ago, I had brunch with a friend. When it was over, he whipped out his blackberry, sent a message, and said, "If I play it right, I never have to talk on the phone." That was his goal, no phone talking. These days, I think people have a new goal: No email. Texting, it's fine; phone, OK in a pinch, in the car, or walking down the street; email, though, they'd rather not. What with the endless special offers and sales that land in our in box (not to mention fashion updates we'd rather not get) and the hundreds of emails waiting after a vacation, the demand for correspondence time is just too high. Don't get me wrong, me, personally, I love email, but the halcyon days when all notes would be answered, some at great length, are long gone. These days, it's not just that there are myriad ways to get in touch or to feel a cold silence, it's that there are all these ways to be tired of getting in touch. Too many options and you opt to talk to no one. Plus, if you give up email, there's always Facebook; some people use it just for email. It's kind of like giving up a land line for a cell. After all, what you can't email via Facebook you can always text, or, you know, leave on a message. I bet right now, at this very second, someone is writing a manifesto, no doubt intended to be emailed and then published, calling for the banishment of email for personal communication. "A Return to the Phone," it'll be called and it'll make room for texting and missed calls as messages, but it'll decry the email option. The first line might be: "Remember when to say hello to an actual friend you had to pick up the phone or put pen to paper?" You might read it and sigh and think, "They had me at 'pen.'"

Just a theory.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Chocolate Cake Smackdown

This morning, to celebrate my husband's return, I made a chocolate cake. To be precise, I made Rose Levy Beranbaum's chocolate Domingo cake, which is supposedly the sine qua non of chocolate butter cakes. For me, not so much.

Granted, I didn't weigh my ingredients. Roni told me I should do this, but I don't have a kitchen scale so I didn't. Then, even worse than making a Beranbaum cake without a scale, I let my 4-1/2-year old twins participate in the baking, which was admittedly nerve-wracking. I mean, who hasn't heard how careful you have to be with Levy Beranbaum's cakes? Truly, I was not gracious about it, but after most of the flour got in the mixing bowl I calmed down and figured, how bad could it be? Besides, I'd bought sour cream to make this cake, organic sour cream. I had to go for it.

My plan B if I lost faith or will or whatever was to make the one bowl chocolate cupcakes from Martha Stewart as a two layer cake. This is my go-to chocolate cake recipe because it's so easy and reliable. The last time I made that cake, after a near disaster in the measuring (I put in way too much baking soda and had to scoop it out), the cake came out just about perfect. I knew in my gut I should go with the simple cake, but the sour cream, it was taunting me, daring me, nagging me to try the Domingo cake. So I did.

Of course, in the end I should have turned my back on the sour cream and saved it for a Passover bowl of sour cream bananas and sugar (my favorite childhood kosher-for-Passover meal). The chocolate Domingo cake was dry and weird with large inexplicable holes and an unappealing crumb. I figured I'd overbaked it from the moment I took it out of the oven. (Beranbaum insists that the sides of the cake must not pull away from the sides of the pan while the cake is in the oven; mine did even though I opted for a short baking time.) Before I even made the cake I guessed this could be a recipe that would want some tinkering, or at least practice, but now I don't know if I have the heart. I've become a much better cook since I've become less obsessive in my cooking and baking. Perfecting the Domingo cake could set me back years in my hard earned relaxed cooking style, and while I could tell the cake's flavor had some real potential if only it had any moisture to it, I just don't know if I have the heart to try it again, what with the foolproof Martha number in my back pocket.

I may try a straight butter cake from the Bible and see how I do. If I do, I'll bake alone. If it only comes out so-so, I'll just have to see what's on deck from the Martha cake files. It'll be a butter cake smackdown, and I'm sure even if one fails, the competition won't disappoint.

It's a Beautiful Day!

I should be glad. It's in the sixties, I'm wearing a skirt and no tights, I went for a run, I took two year old baby clothes to the Salvation Army and other clothes and baby stuff to a friend, I baked a chocolate cake and will roast Melissa's chicken and will make frosting for the cake and will smother it with rainbow sprinkles, all to celebrate my husband's return. I should be feeling pretty good. But, really, now I have to run two more errands and all I've wanted to do today is to sit and read Parallel Lives, an unbelievable juicy book about five Victorian marriages. That autism article got under my skin, too. I need to cheer up and take the good, but doing so just seems, I don't know, too damn cheerful.

An Autistic Adult

When people talk about autism I always imagine a small child, "locked in his own world." Sometimes there's a story of a teenager -- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. Sometimes, there's Temple Grandin. A friend has a colleague researching autism and the frequency of the diagnosis, she's told me he's said, "I bet I would've been diagnosed as autistic as a child." And then he, a highly successful man, widely respected, a parent and husband, laughs.

Anne Bauer has written a painful and moving essay about what else can happen to autistic children who grow up to find themselves miserable in their bodies, unable to negotiate the world, helpless and almost uncontrollably violent because of their impulses. Here's how Bauer describes inauguration day after her son had been hospitalized for attacking a young woman at his group home:

"I spent Tuesday at a friend's house, as planned, in front of the TV, watching the Obamas walk and wave. Once, when someone asked why I was so quiet, I mentioned that one of my children was in the hospital, quite ill. She touched me and said something kind. I knew she was thinking of something like leukemia and I wanted to tell her I would hack off my right arm in return for something as simple as cancer. The flickering beauty of a sad, pure, too-early death sounds lovely. Instead I nodded, silent and dumb."

I keep trying to come up with something else to say, but I can't.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

It's 10:18 PM. Do you know where your children are?

I do. They're both in my bed, and they look so cute snuggled up together that I almost don't want to take them out. Almost. Because if I don't take them out and put them in their beds, I'll have to blow up the air mattress in order to have somewhere to sleep that's not a toddler bed. I know, it almost seems reasonable to blow up the toddler bed. Almost.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Shuffle to iPod

I've lost my shuffle, the one my brother got me to get me running. I came in, I put it down, I thought to myself, "You know, this thing is so small you could lose it really easily." As if I didn't know that just by thinking that I was guaranteeing the loss of the shuffle. I mean, who thinks that with any reasonable hope of hanging on to a teeny tiny shiny little green thing? Some kind of fool, I tell you. Some kind of 40-year-old fool. In fact, I bet Apple made the shuffles that big (I'm snapping my fingers) not simply to make it easier to run with, but to insure that people would lose them and have to replace them. Frequently. The silver lining to all this is I have an iPod (I got it with points) and before I went to my cousin's son's bar mitzvah I loaded it up with a bunch of episodes of This American Life. (There was a train ride involved.) I never in a million years would have thought to run to people talking, but my friend Ana does, and I thought, "Why not?" And now I have the glory. The sheer simple glory of running to This American Life. (The summer camp episode? If you've been to sleepaway camp, you have to go find it and listen right now.) In fact, I'm thinking of getting another shuffle (I bet I have enough points) and filling it with nothing but This American Life episodes. Would I get sick of them? Maybe. But if that happens, there's always old school Fresh Air.

How hard do I rock? So. Hard.

The Thin Line Between Populism and Paranoia

George Packer explains.

I Didn't Watch the Press Conference

I felt kind of badly about that. I didn't exactly decide not to watch the president, I forgot and then it was too late. But I wasn't all that sorry I'd missed it. Truth be told I've always felt compelled to watch a president no matter the man. Even George W. would get the perfunctory tune-in. I feel like it's my civic duty. Of course, with W. I'd have to turn the TV off fast, but still, I'd turn it on. So last night when I remembered to tune in to the after-shows with the talking heads, I realized that the president is, for me, becoming a regular president and not a "ohmygod Barak Obama is President!" Which I guess is a good thing, but a little sad. The phenomenon, though, reminds me of a song by our friend the extravagantly talented Susan Werner: "I can be anything," she sings with a touch of melancholy, "but I can't be new."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Have You Been Tagged? 25 Random Things I Don't Know About Me

If you're on Facebook you've no doubt been tagged by someone with a list of "25 Random Things You Don't Know About Me." After getting four of these in one week, I decided to write "25 Random Things I Don't Know About Me." Here they are.
25 Random Things I Don't Know About Me

Rules: Once you've been tagged, you're supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals you don't know about yourself. At the end, choose 25 people you don't know to be tagged. You don't have to tag any person who didn't tag you. If I didn't tag you, I don't know why but maybe it's because I still want to know you. If I tagged you, I'm pretty sure it's because I don't want to know you or anything else about you.

1. I hate chain letters.
2. In the second grade, I thought my teacher was really smart and cool and pretty.
3. I never studied a musical instrument and never wanted to but…..
4. It'd be nice to play the guitar better than I do.
5. No matter what I say at a cocktail party about that trip I took to Morocco last year, I don't like to travel and I never want to go back there or anywhere else that isn't Brooklyn. I don't live in Brooklyn.
6. It wasn't all that embarrassing when Scott Schwartzbaum gave me a wedgie that time at summer camp. It didn't hurt that much either.
7. My mother's not actually critical at all, but she really does love my sister better.
8. I'm tired of the stories I tell my therapist, but I'm pretty sure she still likes them.
9. The next time I see my therapist, I have to tell her about the time my sister gave me a wedgie after she made out with Scott Schwartzbaum.
10. Gardening is one of my all-time favorite things to do.
11. My mom always told me I just decided I couldn't do math. I can't decide if she's right.
12. For some reason I wasn't surprised when my mom told me she didn't think what Larry Summers said that time about women and math and science was all that bad.
13. Sometimes I really want to know if the Dixie Chicks are ready to make nice.
14. No matter what I say at a cocktail party, I'm not a vegetarian because of any ill-treatment of chickens, cows or workers in meat packing plants. I'm a vegetarian because I think lambs are cute.
15. I learned the difference between lambs and sheep from Top Chef.
16. I don't want to know how Padma got her scar. Tina Fey either, even though I heard she told.
17. I have never lived in a house with a yard in my adult life for a reason.
18. Every time I get an email from Barack Obama I think, "Barack Obama sent ME an email!"
19. I can't believe it when my sister tells me SHE got an email from Barack Obama. My mom, too. I mean, she voted for Hillary.
20. If I think about the other sock at all, I think, "Good riddance."
21. Because I've had so much therapy, I think there's always something else I don't know about myself.
22. Gardening is one of my all time favorite things to do!
23. I think everyone should be able to show his or her emotions all the time, except Roger Federer.
24. I really love the way Japanese women dress when they're tourists in New York. I'd love to go to Japan and see if they dress that way at home.
25. Whenever I get a chain letter, I think: Why not?

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Class

I just saw the French movie The Class, and I so very much wanted it to be an American movie of redemption. I wanted the teacher to see, really see, the troubled and trouble-making student. I wanted the student to bask fully in the glow of recognition and find some nugget of himself. I wanted them to share a meaningful smile, each with a tear in his eye, at the end of the year when they said goodbye. Instead, I saw complicated French movie about Frenchness and expectation and rigidity and rules and forgiveness and punishment. People made mistakes, accidents happened, nothing was resolved, everyone moved on, I guess. I guess it was true to French life, and for my happy ending I'm going to have to look elsewhere. Maybe Juno's on demand. Isn't that kind of happy?

Gendered Coffee

So my husband is out of town on business and this brings out great sympathic signs from my friends. "How are you doing?" they ask. "Is it OK?" They're talking about the kids, of course, and so I bravely answer, "Oh yeah, it's great. It's fine." But really I want to say: "I mean, it's fine, but the coffee in this place is killing me!"

From the moment I moved in with my husband, which was about ten minutes after I met him over ten years ago, he made the coffee. I bought him a coffee maker and grinder for his new apartment, but from the moment the machines left the Zabar's bag, David was the only one to touch them. I've noticed other men do the same. My friend Chris said to me the other day, "Before I met Hilary, I never made coffee. Now, I make it every day." And lest you think it's just a new generation of males, my dad makes the coffee, too. When did the coffee maker become the grill of the kitchen?

This morning, I might have made a passable cup, but we had no milk, because I couldn't run out after my kids were asleep last night and get some, so I couldn't really tell. It doesn't matter, though. By the end of the week I will have relearned how to make a descent cup of coffee and how to get to the market when I need to, and then, David will be back and then he'll reclaim his rightful place in the kitchen in front of the coffee pot and I'll forget all about how to make a decent cup of coffee. Talk about co-dependent, without David I'm a coffee damsel in distress, and I kind of like it that way, too.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Portia on Sunday Night

Just when I was thinking I was in need of a little pick-me-up, I found this clip of Portia De Rossi on Jimmy Kimmel Live apologizing for the pain and suffering caused by her marriage to Ellen DeGeneres. It's not quite funny to me since it's truth is a little bizarr-o, but still, I;m glad for it and glad I went to Jezebel on a Sunday night, even though I almost never do.

Out of Sheer Rage

I've just finished reading Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence by Geoff Dyer and on the one hand I have no idea what to say about it, on the other, I have so much to say. The book, it's billed as a novel, is an account of Dyer's inability to write a "study" of Lawrence, a writer about whom he's wanted to write since he was a teenager. (Dyer describes himself as in his late thirties at the time of his writing.).

On the one hand, it's as hugely self-indulgent as you'd imagine a book about writer's block would be and you kind of get that by page ten. (OK, so I get the tender irony of saying any other writing is "self-indulgent" in a blog.)

On the other, Dyer gets the inertia of starting a project, the problem of being in the middle of it, and the break of understanding that comes with almost being able to look back on it so exactly right, that I for one was happy to join him on the slog. I never got lost in this book, but I felt completely in it. While I was reading it, Dyer felt like a person in my life, something that happens whenever I recognize that I'm lost in a book. And I liked having him around. (I probably liked it more than I liked have Dorothea from Middlemarch around, but maybe that's because I'm more familiar with people like Dyer, and I was always a little put off by how beautiful Elliot made Dorothea out to be.)

But Dyer's book was, for me, a great success, and I know it had to be tricky, The insertion of yourself as the writer writing about a writer is a hard thing to pull off, and because of this, the book is, in a very strange way, a nice companion piece to Janet Malcolm's brilliant The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, which is as much about the project of biography as it is about Plath and Hughes. Malcolm's book is as heady and precise as Dyer's is casting and almost lyrical in its evocation of procrastination. Both get at how little we can know about anyone else and how the process of non-fiction writing, particularly about people, is, in its narrative demands, as much about writing fiction as anything. In any case, I recommend both books for entirely different reasons.

Did I mention I feel chastened by Frank Rich?

Frank Rich On Bonus Rage

I feel chastened myself on the ai-ai-AIG front, and though I still think all the rage is not yet productive, Rich sets a course for it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Republicans & the Courts

With all the hoo-hah over bonuses, I was glad to read Dahlia Lithwick lay out the great hypocrisy of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Glad, that is, only because Democrats control Congress and Obama is doing the nominating these days. Otherwise, reading Lithwick's article should have made me weep. It's astonishing what Republicans do and get away with. It's astounding the degree to which they've controlled the way we talk about the body and the body politic and all kinds of cultural issues. And it's good to remember that even though he's not a Republican banana-boat, Arlen Specter is and has been, on these issues of the judiciary, a loyal Republican.

Judith Warner Lectures

Judith Warner, who made her reputation on the anxious backs of the top five percent of earners, who complained last summer that she could no longer afford to drive her Range Rover because gas prices were too high, tunnels into Barbara Ehrenreich's territory in her blog post today, and while Warner isn't wrong, it still rings smug.

One choice quote:

"We — journalists and readers both — simply must, for once, resist the temptation to let what may or may not be happening to the top 5 percent (or 1 percent) of our country’s families set the story line for what women’s lives are becoming in this recession.

Because, the fact is, the story’s not about them. "

Um, thanks Judy. Now, will you call up your friend Hanna and tell her the issues around breastfeeding (here and here) aren't about you -- I mean them -- either. Because, seriously, who is she lecturing here?

On the one hand, Warner is right that the stories right now should not be about the pain being felt by moms on Long Island who have to cut back on Gymboree classes but about those losing homes. (As George Packer , too, made poignantly clear.) On the other, I don't want to hear from Judith Warner, the chronicler of our privileged discontent, about where the real "storyline" is and how we have to "for once" look down the economic ladder for our collective narrative. After all, that story, the "real" story, the story of those outside of the top tax bracket, has been out there for years, even while the economy was booming Warner was looking and writing no further than very green grass in her own backyard.

What Matters More: New Taxes or Old Ones?

So the NY Times lead story is this: The House passed a 90 percent levy on bonuses paid with bailout money. Two words: What.Ever.

On page A18, or somewhere back there, there was this small AP story, the headline of which says it all: "13 Firms That Received Bailout Money Owe Back Taxes." More than $220 million in back taxes.

Now, we know from the bonus discussion that when you're talking billions, $220 million, just like $165 million, isn't all that much money. Right? But still, it'd be better if those taxes were paid, don't you think? And wouldn't you rather the tax code and regulations were such that if companies, multi-billion dollar companies, didn't pay their taxes they'd get, like, fined. And they'd have to pay their fines, and not with trips for senators on corporate jets or to the Bahamas or fancy dinners but with actual dollars to the IRS and not PACS. And if Congress can "overwhelmingly" pass a bill on a retroactive tax that might not even be legal, why can't it pass some real reform? Hmmmm, that must have something to do with how wide that reform net would have to be cast and how long the pain of hating Wall Street might last. Because right now Wall Street just has to take its whipping, but unless something real happens, this will be just a tender moment of humiliation, a passing shower, some floating leaves, before the Times tells us someone down on The Street is happy again. (Granted even as I write this I feel like maybe this moment of outrage won't go by so quickly, but you never know, and wouldn't it be a shame to waste?)

See, the worst part is I'm writing all this and I have no evidence for any of it, other than the back of the book Free Lunch: How the wealthiest Americans enrich themselves at government expense (and stick you with the bill), by David Cay Johnston, which I read this morning --just the back, not the whole book. Along with that deep well of evidence, there's my twisted populist outrage, which I love to hate and hate to love. But what the heck? What are blogs for anyway, right?

Happy Spring everyone!

The Great Hate

Gail Collins gets it exactly right.

Bread & Jam, As If!

I don't know why Bread & Jam for Frances is so beloved. First of all, the sentences are so long they give Proust a run for his cookie. Second: Those meals! They go on and on and the packed lunches even include flowers and salt and pepper shakers. I don't have my copy with me, but the first time I read the damn thing as an adult, I felt wildly inadequate. At the time I was even making lunches for my kids, but I knew I'd never be able to pack a salami sandwich and an egg and carrot sticks and a clementine, not to mention a napkin. Not to mention my children would never even eat all that stuff. I recognize that the elaborate lunches are meant to stand in contrast to Frances' preferred bread and jam, and I remember loving, just loving, these books as a child. But now? I've got to say, not so much.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Republican-Bonus Doublespeak

This breaks it out -- what Republicans in congress said about pay on Wall Street before this past Sunday and now.

Why Trials

This is from a March 4th post on Slate by my friend Jesse Eisinger. It's well worth reading for a concise take on the budget, the bailout and the media. Here's a quote on how to manage the bailout:

"We need to rip that weak spine out of the rotting corpse of our regulatory bodies, show it to them, a la Mortal Kombat, and then transplant a new, real spine into them. The SEC has been culturally inclined to allow bad actors to pay fines, often nominal ones, and reach settlements where they neither admit nor deny guilt. That has to end!

After their spinal surgery, they will need to go after big-wig wrongdoers and take them to trial. If we let the view that sees this as one giant bubble in which everyone acted more or less with equal irrationaity triumph, all will be lost. What I mean is that we jeopardize the chance for genuine structural change. Wall Street won't always be this weak politically. (Even at its weakest point, it's still extraordinarily influential, as I point out above.) If the public is allowed to see public trials in which top Wall Street executives are proved to have broken laws, they will be more eager, not less so, for sweeping financial regulatory reform."

It's not a witch hunt I want, it's accountability and change and if it takes trials, so be it. Remember this big idea? Yes we can.

The Witch Hunt

Something about the whole AIG hububaloo has not sat well with me. It's not that I don't think the behavior of AIG executives hasn't been outrageous, I do. I suppose my problem with the outrage has been that I suspect their behavior isn't all that unusual -- they're the guys that got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. The moral outrage directed at the one company just felt to me, what's the word...easy, maybe I could even say cheap. I mean, don't know who didn't put a limit on bonus payments in the stimulus package -- the administration or Congress, but I'd bet it didn't make it in there for some simple reason like Wall Streeters have to have what to give in order to fill campaign coffers. And then today, I read this on Sullivan:

Noam calms:

I mean, however you feel about what Geithner knew about the bonuses and when he knew it, you have to concede that his far bigger concern throughout this time was preventing the global economy from self-immolating. As a substantive proposition, how much would we even want a Treasury secretary to focus on $165 million in bonus money while there were hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money flowing to AIG and other companies?

But actually fixing our problems is not half as much fun as a witch-hunt.

It's that whole witch hunt thing, the bandwagon thing, it just makes me feel somewhat oppositional. Like I've said, there's no reason to defend AIG, but spending all this time and energy shaming one company when there's plenty of shame to go around, not to mention actual legal indictments to hand out seems wasteful, foolish and even distracting from the real work that has to get done.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Chef Interrupted

Hunting around for something to make for the endless dinners that one has to make -- every single $%#^&*% night there's dinner! -- I started poking through Chef Interrupted, Melissa Clark's gorgeous cookbook, while my kids were coming up with the "real" way to play Candy Land. Right off the bat, there were at least four dishes I wanted to try (garlic pesto pizza anyone?), and this I could discern even while screams of "IT'S NOT FAIR!" were coming from the other room. In a moment of peace and quiet, I know I'll happy find more dishes to add to my dinner party wish list and super Sunday supper plans. Not that I keep either that list or those plans, but I really should.

Stewart Qua Mill

My brother and I had a very erratic debate yesterday about John Stewart and what he's doing or what he did with Jim Cramer and whether or not it was useful. While my brother, Louis, has a sense of humor, he's also not altogether happy with Stewart. He wants to see some democrats in the hot seat. Now Louis is a business-lawyer guy. He voted for Obama "even though I know he's going to raise me taxes." (He wrote that during the campaign; he still wasn't happy with Obama's budget.) As I've mentioned, he drives an SUV. He's extremely competitive. When I brought up maybe doing a scavanger hunt as part of our parents' birthday party, he said, "Yeah! We can break up into teams and whoever finishes first WINS!"

Did I mention he's my older brother?

Anyway, I give you a full quote pulled from Sullivan and the link to the full blog post on why Stewart is a capitalist. I like it. And it means I can blog and go do my taxes.

"Some have called Jon Stewart's argument "anti-capitalist." We disagree. If anything, he makes an impassioned plea for an economy that functions the way we're told capitalism ought to: a producer makes something worth purchasing, and a consumer decides to buy it. You get ahead by hard work and keen insight. If anything, Cramer's defense of 30 percent returns that have evaporated for everyone who didn't cash out in 2006 demonstrates that he and the financial experts he came on the show to represent have lost touch with real capitalism. They came to believe that just moving the money around for eight years and hoping the bottom wouldn't fall out could replace the laws of supply and demand."

This is so true. I was thinking just the same thing when I was wondering about retention bonuses and making things. (See David Leonhardt for why they're unnecessary, as opposed to just blowing the top of your head off because of course it's unnecessary to pay people to stay who've already left and of course why do you want to retain people who aren't very good at their jobs.)

In any case, there it is. Forgive this as not my best post, but I remain a Stewart fan and I have to get to those taxes.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Begala on Cheney

Dick Cheney was interviewed by John King recently. Apparently he's worried about the expansion of government by the Obama administration -- expansion into things like health care and education. We all know he's not worried about expansion into other areas, like our privacy or basic human rights. Begala nails it, "it" being Cheney's indecent hypocrisy.

The Harem Pant

I know I don't usually blog about clothes, but the other day I ordered a few things from Anthropologie. They weren't the kinds of things that suggested I considered myself a winsome, dreamy 25 year-old who travels the world with an endless supply of print dresses and moody looks. Plus, they were on sale and I felt very patriotic buying them. But then today Anthropologie sent me an email suggesting these pants.

Can I just say? I once bought pants that could have fallen into the category of "harem pants." It was the eighties, I was in my teens, my hair feathered, I tanned with abandon, and I was in the region of the world sometimes called "the fertile crescent." The days of me and harem pants, they are long gone. And frankly, from the look of these pants, there aren't too many for whom those days should come back again.

Michelle Obama

There's nothing earth-shattering about Jennifer Senior's summing up of Michelle Obama in the new New York magazine, nothing you haven't read somewhere or thought about some way, or recognize from that half conversation you had on the phone the other day. Still, Senior puts it all together well and with a smart easiness. What's interesting to me about Michelle Obama is simply the way she doesn't have to be all one thing. What she's doing in the White House, how she seems to be living, how her priorities are evolving, it all feels believable, genuine, recognizable. I mean, I think should I ever find myself standing next to her I wouldn't say, "Oh, you're so recognizable!" In fact, I probably couldn't say anything at all, I'd be so nervous. But she'd be used to that and I think she would handle my mute awe with a gracious laugh and maybe a knowing joke. I'd look up at her in every way grateful, and she'd probably cluck her tongue and think "another one I have to take care of"(in a nice way) before gliding off to her next assignment. I should be so lucky, right?


The thing about yesterday's New York Times story about bonuses at AIG is it was really poorly balanced.

On the one hand, it's enraging that the people who ran the financial products division which brought the company to its knees are getting bonuses. (Believe me, I was so enraged my husband was like, "You need to go blog.) On the other, the second half of the article makes clear that lawyers for both the treasury department and AIG could not find a legal way out of the contractual obligations of the bonuses. There was also this: "Mr. Liddy wrote that A.I.G. hoped to reduce its retention bonuses for 2009 by 30 percent. He said the top 25 executives at the financial products division had also agreed to reduce their salary for the rest of 2009 to $1." This is not a small fact, it seems to me, and while the bankers who got bailed out are less than sympathetic, it's clear this article was structured to put AIG in the worst possible light. AIG didn't help matters by having CEO Liddy's talking points on this be "bonuses are necessary to keep experienced people in their place" instead of "These are legal obligations and the highest paid executives will get a salary of $1 in 2009."

I mean, the highest paid executives should also be required to pay back their bonuses, and I think bonuses should be suspended in 2009, and yet the $1 salary is a welcome starting point of at least some restraint.

I want to be clear: I'm not defending AIG here, I'm just noticing the way the Times built the story to foment outrage and there's already plenty of outrage to go around.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Breastfeeding: One last thing

I don't mean to go on and on about that breastfeeding article by Hanna Rosin, but I'd like to make the point that my friend Ceridwen made, the point that gets to the nub of why Rosin's argument that breastfeeding is the scourge of birth mothers of infants is wrong. Because no matter what, whether fed with the bottle or breast, pumped milk or formula, a baby has to be fed at regular intervals. Formula feeding isn't magically faster than nursing, and it doesn't leave a free third hand with which one could get "organic juice" for older kids (a concern of Rosin's). Granted, someone else can give a baby a bottle, and presumably someone was giving Rosin's older children bottles of breast milk while she was working. (But then Rosin had to deal with those breasts, and she didn't like that.) But one way or another you've got to give the baby food and a four month old won't hold a bottle obligningly. Breastfeeding doesn't keep mothers of new babies at home, babies do. Financial options do. Choices do.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Chutzpah, Food Column Style

In the March 15th Sunday Times Magazine the food column by Amanda Hesser is devoted to Maida Heatter's Popovers. Hesser asks David Lebovitz, who used to be pastry chef at Chez Panisse if he'd make them. She writes: "But because Heatter never made the leap to television celebrity chefdon, I wondered if Lebovitz would have ever made her recipes."

I'm sorry, but WTF?

Meanwhile, I'm absolutely going to make the sugared puffs, but maybe not for my brother but only because he hates it when I blog about food.

And I'm doubly sorry because I suspect this is excatly the kind of thing I'm supposed to Twitter, except I don't yet Twitter.

Update, Sunday morning: A friend told me I overreacted to this (Surprising, right?) because it's reasonable to think someone wouldn't have made Heatter's recipes. Although I would argue that TV celebrity chefdom isn't such a good predictor of recipes made.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Late to the Party, But Still a Fan

But, after watching not just the interview with Jim Cramer but especially the 8-minute take down of CNBC, Jon Stewart is my hero.

The Splinter

Yesterday, I removed a splinter from a child's hand for the first time. It was from my daughter's hand. She got a huge, wood splinter from the climbing apparatus on a playground. The whole time we were walking home- me, crying Helen, my son Elliot, their bikes -- I was wondering two things. First, was it really too crazy for me to make my husband come home from work to get the splinter out since he was potentially much better at that kind of thing? Yes, it was, too crazy. Second, could I give Helen a little bit of bourbon before I dug the thing out? As I was considering this plan of action, the scene from John Adams during which the Adams' adult daughter Abigail has a breast removed without anesthesia flashed through my mind, and I knew I was over-reacting. We got home, I stayed calm and assembled my tools, Helen flung out her hand and cried, "Just do it!" and "Be gentle!" I didn't give her any bourbon, but I did get the splinter out and I hope I was gentle enough. She was a champ, that Helen, and she got to have two cookies when it was all over.

A Case Against Breastfeeding or Reductio ad Absurdum

In the April issue of The Atlantic magazine, Hanna Rosin writes The Case Against Breastfeeding. All I can say is if it is THE case then lactation consultants don't have to worry about their business drying up (so to speak), because it's a poor case indeed.

Rosin's article sets out to do two things: (1) demolish the medical arguments for breastfeeding; and (2) link the pressure to breastfeed to the decision by highly educated women to leave the workplace. Her first task is relatively easy. The argument that breast milk is better for an infant than formula, medically speaking, is not hard to take apart. Controlled studies with one group of breastfeeding moms and one group of formula feeding moms are ethically impossible to construct because you can't tell someone how to feed her kid. The results of the studies we have are contradictory at best. The breast is best argument has been oversold. Got it.

Then Rosin sets out to prove that breastfeeding is to twenty first century women what the vacuum cleaner was to mid-century stay at home moms, or what Betty Friedan called the problem that has no name and ties women to the home. Because of the intense pressure from doctors and the media to breastfeed and because breastfeeding is so hard, Rosin argues, women have to give up work to do it. Rosin writes: "Let's say a baby feeds seven times a day and then a couple more times at night. That's nine times for about a half hour each, which adds up to more than half of a working day, every day, for at least six months."

Um, no. After four or five months, a baby could very well sleep through the night -- some babies do this even earlier. By four or five months, you could even introduce a little cereal, a pediatrician wouldn't mind and it means fewer feeding. And breastfeeding for a half hour every time through six months? Maybe Rosin's children did that, but mine didn't and many, even most, kids I know didn't either.

Rosin also couldn't bear the indignity of full breasts in the workplace. She describes the experience of lactating spontaneously as hugely embarrassing. I'm not saying it'd be my favorite day at the office, but of all the embarrassing things I've done in my time in offices, I'd take that over most of them. After all, it's a body thing. I mean, fart much, Hanna?

But Rosin is convinced that it's the demands of breastfeeding that make women leave work. "Recently my husband and I noticed that we had reached the age at which friends from high school and college now hold positions of serious power. When we went down the list, we had to work hard to find any women. Where had all our female friends strayed? Why had they disappeared during the years they'd had small children?"

Rosin's answer: Breastfeeding! Really?

Babies and their habits are as varied as the reasons women decide to leave or stay in the workplace. Among those who have a choice, some can't imagine returning to the stress of work. Others can't imagine staying at home. Either way, as parents of infants and very small children we enter a period in our lives when the physical and emotional demands are enormous. To argue that the medical profession along with all those nasty ladies at putting out the magazines that urge new moms to breastfeed comprise a vast conspiracy to keep women at home doesn't make much sense. It's a big, reductive bark up a pointless tree. (Jill Lepore's case that the prioritization of pumping undermines the argument for better work-life policy makes more sense.)

Yes, educated older women who have babies should feel empowered to choose to breastfeed or not. That Rosin didn't seem to realize she had a choice or could use any formula until she had her third baby doesn't mean she should browbeat the rest of us with how beaten down we've been by the establishment forcing us with over-inflated claims and half-truths into the challenges and, yes, the deep, physical pleasure of breastfeeding. (And I say that as someone who didn't like it all that much.)

The bottom line is there's important work to be done to improve the situation of parents of infants and young children and the children themselves. Serving up the choice not to breastfeed as if it were a revolution to well-educated grown-up new mothers who already have that choice is not part of that work. Not even close.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Running, an Update

I continue to run. I try to go three times a week. If I only go once, I figure it's OK, I'll go more next week. Unlike any other time in my life when I've tried to run with any regularity this time I know that I'll keep going back out even after a week away because this time I'm not running for some abstract goal of weight loss or "getting in shape," which really should be translated as "having smaller thighs." (As if.) This time, I'm running for my bones. Back in November I was told if I didn't do weight bearing exercise, they could get weak, so I can hope they don't or I can do weight bearing exercise. Not one to trust the benevolence of the universe, I'm choosing the exercise.

A few weeks ago I read this Gina Kolata piece in the NY Times about women running. In it, she describes a woman who at 48 went out for her first run and came back exhilarated. I have to say, that really hasn't been my experience. But still, I go. And yesterday, for the first time, I went running and about two-thirds of the way through I realized that it didn't totally suck. 'Maybe,' I thought to myself, 'maybe in a year this will actually be fun.' Here's to hoping.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Intelligence Appointments

The strangest thing about Charles Freeman's withdrawal from his nomination as chair of the National Intelligence Committee is that I had no idea about it. I started reading about "Freeman" on Sullivan, he blogged on the topic heavily, but since Sullivan never used Freeman's first name, I never googled the guy. (I also didn't follow any links, having to work and all.) I asked my husband who reads five papers a day who Freeman was and he didn't know either. Sullivan himself pointed out the problem. In the last eight days, Charles Freeman wasn't in the New York Times once. This all has to do with Israel and alleged anti-Israel remarks Freeman made. While I don't know a thing about Freeman (I'm not the only one), I do know the way this played out is not good. A stranglehold is never good for anyone.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Michael Pollan's Food Rules

I can't tell you how weird I found this post on the Times' Well blog. First of all, I can't bear the title "Well" and think the column and the blog should be renamed immediately. Maybe something like "Good News/Bad News" or "Nagging Fears that You've Ruined Your Body Forever Turn Out to be Only Half True." Catchy, right? But, seriously, in the post, Pollan asks readers for advice garnered from traditional eating habits. By "traditional" he seems to mean 'the little nuggets of golden truth your immigrant grandparents fed you.'

But, get this, he doesn't exactly want to hear about how they taught you to eat. He wants to hear about how they taught you not to eat. For example, Pollan writes: "My own Russian-Jewish grandfather used to say at the end of every meal, “I always like to leave the table a little bit hungry.”" You know what my (Galician-Jewish) great-grandfather liked to say to my mother who then liked to say the same thing to me about food? "When you're hungry you'll eat anything." I don't really think this particular immigrant nugget is what Pollan is after. But it's not just these half-sour but what-the-heck-I'm-hungry grapes that make me think his request itself is odd. What's Pollan going to do with the maxims he's fishing for? Is the man who once grew poppy plants going to write a diet book? Not that there's anything wrong with that. Of course, if he does write that book, I suspect his will be the most food-correct and ethnically-diverse diet book ever.

You know what else I bet? I bet the book he writes, let's call it Michael Pollan Tells You How to Eat: A Food Lover's Guide to Slow Food, Healthy Living, and a Better Planet sells a million copies (which would be great) while its far-flung maxims, recipes and invocations will make you look back at that wedding sequence in Rachel Getting Married as a WASP-y sham of multi-culti inclusivity. Seriously, cue up the Ry Cooder because it's going to be a rollicking good time.

Tuesdays and Blogging

Tuesdays are a hard blogging day for me because I pretty much have no daylight time alone unless the TV is on. But I will say one little thing I've been waiting to say it since yesterday morning when I saw a little thing on Jezebel about the New Yorker cover and just the title of Maureen Dowd's latest column (Should Michelle Cover Up; I couldn't bring myself to read it). Can we please please PLEASE stop talking about Michelle Obama's arms? She has great arms, yes. She also has great legs. And? The woman went to Princeton and Harvard Law School. She's had a long career during which she was a full time working mother. It's enough already with her arms. She has them. They're nice. Get over it. Jeez.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Many times over the years, I'd open up Middlemarch only to close it and place it back on the shelf. Next year, I'd tell myself, next winter I'll get into it. It's a winter book.
This year, though, having turned 40, I felt I couldn't wait another year. So I didn't. I decided to read it, and I did. Along the way, there were some of the most perfect paragraphs I've ever encountered. There were complicated characters and nuanced insights into human nature and sad and funny comments on the position of women in society and the state of marriage in general. There are also sheets of stuff about English politics which I didn't understand and I'm sure would color my feelings about the book and add a layer of meaning to the closely detailed psychological portraits if only I had any interest in figuring them out. What's most interesting to me, though, is that in the end, the book is simply a love story and everyone pretty much lives happily ever after. There are tragic figures, for sure, but their tragedies are too complicated to be heartbreaking and for a prudish book they visit most closely on the most prudish -- or priggish -- of the cast of characters. Every life has the big and small dramas but I have to admit I was surprised that after 800 pages almost everyone ends up so pleased. It's nice, sort of. I will admit to feeling, I don't know, a little restless when I finally closed the book. Thinking about it now the ending is growing in brilliance (I love the last line of the epilogue), but I did have a vague dissatisfaction. And yet, I'm so glad I can FINALLY say I've read that damn book. Now my only problem is my friend N told me after a palate cleanser of Mansfield Park I should go off and read Daniel Deronda. I don't know if I can. Maybe for 45.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bar Mitzvah World

I went to a bar mitzvah this weekend. The kid did great. Really. I was wildly impressed. What freaked me out, though, was the band at the nighttime shin dig, or, more appropriately, the music-dance collective. There was a DJ, an apple computer, a singer, two dancers, and a guy with a mike who can only be called a facilitator. Surely you've seen this guy? He's, like the best camp counselor ever who was really into hip hop and somehow made whatever you were doing acceptable? An endless spout of enthusiasm and hiccups, this facilitator could sing along and explain dancing games and really, you know, facilitate. But he was also a grown-up, which is to say, he was wearing a wedding ring. It freaked me out. I kept wondering what his life was like, how he'd come to be in this band, who go the idea for the name and how they figured out how much he could sing along? I know he got me thinking way more than I needed to and the band is probably a way to make some extra money to supplement his teaching salary, and no doubt he's a great teacher. But, still, if American Idol ever started a summer camp for Jews, this is the guy who'd run it. And he'd be damn good at it. Damn good.

Friday, March 6, 2009

About the Arctic

I read this, and I think all this stuff about the economy, it doesn't really matter. Even if there's still a little bit of ice left after 2013, even if these estimates are much too extreme, we all know what's happening to the planet, and it's much worse than what's happening to the economy. Talk about saddling our kids with debt, we'll be lucky if they've got ground to stand on.

The Price of an Orderly House

I've decided to become more orderly. I can't banish clutter, but I can reduce it. I can't get rid of the piles of art supplies, but I can do a better job of managing them. Here's what else I can't do: I can't believe how much time I spend getting rid of clutter and organizing art supplies. It's non-stop puttering, and it's unbearable.

David Brooks, Moderate.

Here's his column from today. It's thoughtful, clear, and balanced. I hope my brother reads it, because my brother was "very disappointed" in the Obama budget and quoted the WSJ editorial about it to me. Like that worked.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Old Apthorp

I started reading this article about a multi-generational family living in the Apthorp, a famous old apartment buinding on New York's Upper West Side, and I wanted to feel all the things I was supposed to feel. I wanted to feel nostalgia for the days when you'd balk at $675/month rent. I yearned to feel admiration for the quirky family with names like Coke and Mercury who took in stray cats and lost souls. I hoped to think, "Oh, it's so sad those days are gone and those developers really got their comeuppance" because over-developed highly priced apartments now stand empty. But, I have to admit, all I felt was annoyed, so annoyed that I had to stop reading.

Maybe it was the $675 starter controlled rent, or the current rent of $2,850, maintained by careful cultivation of an in-the-home income of $175,000. (I have no doubt that the family, succesful restaurateurs, has means well beyond that.) Maybe it was the strange shock that Coke felt in high school when he learned that not everyone in New York City lived in 8-room spreads. Maybe it's just the Apthorp, because used to be you were damn lucky to get an apartment in that building, and it turns out that a lot of people were damned lucky to get paid to leave. (Some, it's reported, were paid as much as a million dollars, this after paying below-market rents for decades.)

It's not that I don't think housing costs are too high in this city, they are, and the cost of renting or buying an apartment keeps people out or drives them away or leaves them on the streets. Housing is completely unreasonable. But, as a very succesful literary agent once told me, if you get lucky in New York, you can get really lucky, and everyone who had a chance to live in the Apthorp shared that luck and I'm just not so interested in mooning over its loss. I did that once with Nora Ephron. I could just barely take her amused self-indulgence about having to find a new eyebrow threader on the Upper East Side; the only reason I could was because it was Nora Ephron. But I can't do it again. It's enough about people mooning over the Apthorp. Moving on.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


I don't know, I just don't think Maureen Dowd should be following John McCain's Twitters about the budget. Granted, I know nothing about Twitter and I'm resisting the pull to yet another time sink (sorry Kim!), but I really don't think the list of horrible earmarks were so horrible. Two hundred thousand dollars for tattoo removal to help former gang members actually sounds pretty good to me. Given the economic times, gang membership in big cities is likely to increase, why not help some people make a fresh start? And given how much money AIG requires, two hundred thousand seems like chump change to be stomping around about. Seriously, I'm with Walter Kirn on the Snark issue, but Dowd seems reflexively snarky here, and, frankly, given how serious the times are, unhelpfully so. She's like the sweaty kid in the back of the room shooting spitballs when everyone else is ready to get down to business. It's enough already.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Making Sense of the Credit Crisis

Daniel Gross hosts a fascinating discussion of our current economic crisis. In it a group of journalists discuss what might have been done to avoid it and how to address the behavior of the bankers. Was it criminal? If so, who was criminal? Reading through it, I was intrigued that the idea of actually paying back some of the outlandish sums that bankers were paid out over the last few years only came up at the very end. Personally, I think making someone give money back --and making those payments public -- would an extremely effective way to deter white collar misbehavior and sloppy, greedy action. I also think that those who are criminal should get much more than community service, they should be tried in a court of law. In this I agree with my friend Jesse Eisinger who states the case quite strongly and well. Since I have a very long history of disagreeing loudly and publicly with Jesse, this is both a full disclosure moment and one of personal glee that I don't feel compelled to say anything to Jesse other than, "Damn Straight!"

Monday, March 2, 2009

Stroller Obession

I don't know one new mom who didn't obsess about her stroller. And now, there's one more reason to do so. Great!

Sledding Guilt

So, I finally get to the library to work this morning, and I'm late because of all kinds of house-holding, child-rearing tasks, and there's a guy sitting in the study room I decide to use. Fine. He gets up and asks me if it's still bad out. I say it is, it's snowing a little and it just feels, I don't know, gross. He shrugs and says he's going sledding with his kids and I (wince) and say, "Oh you're good. I don't get enough time to work." And you know what he mumbles? He mumbles, "They'll only be three once."

Smug meanie.

Are They Liberal Enough?

What worries me about this story in the Washington Post telling of a new liberal PAC seeking candidates to run against Democrats is its drive toward some kind of agenda coherence. That seems problematic to me. Don't the the conservatives and Republicans now have some serious problems not only because of the abject failure of all their policies but also because of their ideological conformity and rigidity? The new PAC might claim to be only interested in Democrats who aren't meeting their constituents' demands, but, I don't know, I somehow don't trust that. Besides, I thought constituents themselves decided that kind of thing in, like, elections. I know, I'm so naive.