Blinders On and Heading Off a Cliff

Economist

This cartoon from this week’s Economist magazine summarizes how I feel about the debt limit debacle going on in Washington right now.  While I think there is blame to be shared by all sides, the obstinacy of the Tea Party Republicans to not accept any revenue increases, even if they are only in the form of closing tax loopholes, shows a fiscal illiteracy that is reckless.  The deficit cannot be tackled through spending cuts alone.

I was discussing this over lunch this afternoon with a mixed crowd of Thais, Australians, and a Canadian.  They all would like to know why American politicians are behaving like this.  I’d like to know, too.

 

Finding Bigfoot

Bigfoot

I am bigfoot.  My feet are long and they are wide.  That has always made finding comfortable shoes (especially stylish ones) a challenge.  The problem is that for an untold number of years, I’ve been buying shoes that are too small for my feet.  It wasn’t until I stopped at a New Balance shoe store in Torrance, California last month, that I met a man who led me out of the shoe size darkness and into the light.

You may wonder how it is that, if I knew my feet were long and wide, I continued getting shoes that were too small for my feet.  In retrospect, I feel kind of silly about the whole thing.  What happened was this: since graduating from college, I’ve had it in my mind that I wear a size 10.5, 2E width.  That has been the gospel truth, in my mind if not in reality, and so always tried shoes in that size.

Sometimes the shoes felt like they fit well, other times it was clear that they didn’t, but they were always pretty snug.  Sometimes the shoes that felt like they fit well ended up not fitting so well once I brought them home, often pinching my small toes.  Over time, I had come to accept that this was just my lot in life as someone with wide feet, and would stick loyally to the few pairs I had that were truly comfortable.

So it was something of a revelation when I walked into the New Balance store on a whim and the assistant manager, an affable young man named Matt, listened to my complaints about the difficulty I have in finding shoes that fit and asked, “When was the last time you measured your feet?”

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Of course, this is one of those questions that shouldn’t catch someone by surprise.  But I was stumped by this trick question.  A long silence lingered, as I searched my mind for an answer.  “I don’t know that I’ve had my feet measured anytime in the last two decades,” I responded with a twinge of guilt.  With that, Matt suggested that measuring my feet would be the right place to start.

You will not be surprised to learn that I’m not a size 10.5, 2E.  In fact, according to his measurements, I’m a size 11, 4E.  Half a size longer, one size wider.  This would go a long way towards explaining why some pairs of shoes I bought in size 10.5, 2E would still pinch my toes.  THEY WEREN’T WIDE ENOUGH!

Matt also had me stand on a mat that measures how I distribute my weight, which showed that I put more weight on the balls of my feet than I should.  That would explain the problem I had a few months ago with tendonitis in the front of my left foot.  (As I write this, I’m amazed at how obvious these things now seem, and how inexplicable they were back then.)

NB993-Grey1 

We looked through a variety of shoes and Matt explained that even at a single manufacturer, the shapes of the shoes vary.  He pointed me to one particular model, the 993, which is a classic New Balance shoe and is cut wider through the “toe box” – a term I had never heard before.  Sure enough, trying a pair of these in the right size and with the right shoe insert was an amazing experience.  The shoes actually felt roomy and comfortable instead of tight and cramped.  I also noticed that I was putting more weight on my heels instead of the balls of my feet.

I left the store with two pairs, one in grey and another in navy blue, and a profound respect for just how much comfort a professional shoe salesperson can bring to another human being.  Looking back, I still wonder how it is that I managed to go so many years without measuring my feet.  Maybe it is because at most shoe stores, no salesperson ever suggests it.  The future feels a little brighter, though, now that I’ve found bigfoot. 

 

Croissants in North County: Loïc

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The last night of our June trip to California was spent in Oceanside, a small beach town in northern San Diego County, visiting friends.  The following morning, I decided on a whim to search for a French patisserie, or pastry shop.  Perhaps I was in the mood for something like Tartine, a corner bakery in San Francisco’s Mission District that I make it a point to visit each time I’m there.  We ended up driving a quirky route through the hills until we wound up at Loïc, a bistro and patisserie in Rancho Santa Fe.

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The bistro and patisserie are adjacent buildings nestled in a small shopping complex at the foot of a large housing development.  The design is meant to evoke an Italian village, which it more or less succeeds in doing.

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Would an Italian village have a parking lot like this?  Probably not.  Just a small concession to Southern California’s car culture.

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The interior of the patisserie was a little stark but the smell and sight of freshly baked goods were every bit as welcoming as the lady working behind the counter. 

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As we ordered, the lady explained that the chef is French.  After several years working aboard cruise ships, he decided to settle in the Rancho Santa Fe area and open his own restaurant and patisserie.

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We sat in some comfy chairs, sipped our café au lait, and picked apart our croissants, smearing eat bite with jam and pretending we were back in Paris.  The croissants were very nice: light, flaky, and buttery – everything one wants in a croissant. 

Afterwards, we took a few more pictures then climbed back in the car for our drive back to Orange County, where we met another Xangan for lunch.

 

Proposed Changes to Politcal Terms

The thought occurred to me the other day that maybe the problem of the never-ending campaign, in which it seems America has no sooner finished one election season than another begins, would be to change the length of terms to which politicians are elected.

Currently, the President is elected to a four-year term with a maximum of two terms.  Senators are elected for six-year terms, with approximately a third of the Senators up for election every two years.  Representatives are elected for two-year terms with the entire House of Representatives up for election at the same time.

What, then, if we changed the President to a single, six-year term with no chance for re-election?  Senators could remain a six-year term, but modify it so half the body changes every three years.  Representatives could be increased to three-year terms.

It would seem that the upshot would be a bit more time between election seasons, allowing for more opportunity to govern.  Especially for the President, since he or she could not be re-elected, there would be more freedom to govern based on one’s positions rather than the poll results.

What do you think?  Would there be any pros or cons to this plan?

How Does My Garden Grow – Part 2: A Move to the Sunny Side

Three weeks have passed since I rolled up my sleeves and started my balcony vegetable garden and while there are encouraging signs of life, there have also been a few lessons learned.

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One of the first lessons learned, almost as quickly as I finished washing the dirt from under my nails, was that I should have started the seeds in small containers and then transplanted them once they grew larger.  With our heavy rains nearly each afternoon, the wee seedlings were being pummeled and the soil wound up splattered all over the balcony, creating a mess.  Plus, there is no direct sun on this side of the building for another month or so.

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My solution was to move the pots to the hallway outside our units, where they enjoy some better protection from the rain and at least a few hours of sun in the mornings.  Soon, though, that sun will go away as the star passes directly overhead our building.  At that point, I’ll move them back to the balcony.

Here is a container-by-container update:

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These are the large Chianti Rose tomatoes.  The cherry tomatoes are at a similar stage, with the second pair of leaves growing.  The cherry tomatoes will also need to be significantly thinned as one 15-inch container is not going to handle a dozen plants.  So far, so good.

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The carrots and beets seem to be doing well.  I think I didn’t grow enough carrots and I think my beets may be too crowded, but I’m happy to see the frilly leaves on the carrots – a sure sign that they really are carrots.  I’ve planted some additional carrot seeds in the open spaces between plants.  I realized that each plant produces only one carrot.  For some reason, maybe because I always see carrots in bunches, I expected I might get a bunch of carrots from one plant.  So much for having farmer’s blood in my veins.

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The two mini bell pepper plants are doing well, also with a second pair of leaves forming.  There is another sprout coming up in the background but I don’t think this is a pepper plant.  Not sure what sort of interloper it is.  Curious, though, as I know I planted at least three pepper seeds.

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On to the mixed herbs container: These two stalks are growing in the area I planted parsley seeds.  I’m not sure what baby parsley plants are supposed to look like, but this isn’t what I had in mind.  Am I not looking for crinkly leaves?  Do those just grow in later?

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The first hints of what may possibly be cilantro peeking up through the soil.  These little green flecks have scarcely grown in a week.  The rosemary seems to be missing in action.

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The Italian basil is doing well, not seeming to mind their close quarters.  I’m looking forward to having the basil developed enough to cook with, although I guess I could eat the young shoots, too.

That’s all from the farm.  Stay tuned for more details in another few weeks!

 

Buying Girls from Behind Glass

American_Girl_Molly_McIntire
Wikipedia

While in Los Angeles last month, Tawn and I slipped up to The Grove, a shopping and entertainment center near the Farmers’ Market located at Third and Fairfax Streets near CBS Studios.  While there, we met with a pair of Xangans who were down in LA for the weekend, and also observed first-hand the disturbing trend known as the American Girl Doll.

The Grove is another of these recent developments built to approximate the feel of a real downtown, except with a Disney-esque sense of artifice.  An electric tram runs down the middle of the “street” past big box stores that, if it weren’t for their elaborate façades, would look like any other strip mall.  It is a nice space, much in the same way that Main Street, U.S.A. is a nice place, but I think I’d prefer to stroll down a real main street rather than a recently built recreation.

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Borrowed from someone on the internet for non-commercial use.

Prominently placed on the main shopping thoroughfare is the American Girl Doll store.  Have you heard of this trend?  It simultaneously fascinates and disturbs me.

The roots of the American Girl Doll are generally impressive.  Originally released in the mid-1980s, these 18-inch dolls represented 10-year old girls from a variety of periods in American history.  They were dressed in period-appropriate costume and were accompanied by a series of books targeted to 8-13 year olds that brought the characters to life while addressing (in an age-appropriate manner) subjects such as poverty, racism, child labor, etc.  In short, a compelling way for young people to identify with and learn about history.

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American Girl website

In the mid-1990s, though, a “Just Like You” line was released, with dolls representing a wide range of skin tones and eye and hair colors, so that you could purchase a doll that looked just like you.  A variety of accessories are available including matching outfits.  (See the picture above.)  The dolls, sans accessories, cost $100, a price that strikes me as ridiculously expensive for a toy targeted at pre-teens.

On the one hand, I can see a lot of positives about a doll that reflects the wide diversity that exists in our world.  Certainly, any number of women of color have shared stories about not being able to find dolls when they were children that looked like them.  At the same time, especially when you can even wear the same clothes as your doll, this seems to be furthering the growth of unhealthy narcissism.  Not only are we gazing more at our own navels, but now we can have a dolls whose navels look like ours.

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What was even more disturbing, though, was walking into the store and seeing two display cases containing rows of the identically-dressed dolls wearing numbers.  Maybe this is just a sensitivity to the too-visible sex trade that exists in Thailand, but this image of women lined up behind a glass wall, wearing numbers and waiting for you to choose them, is especially disturbing.

I don’t know what to make of the whole thing.  As I mentioned early, it is both fascinating and disturbing.  Reading more about the American Girl Doll phenomenon, the company (now owned by Mattel) seems to do a lot of philanthropy and there are many opportunities for young girls to learn important lessons about the world and about issues they may not often hear about.  The messages on the walls of the store – “A confident girl believes in herself!” – are potentially empowering.  That said, I’m still a bit disturbed.

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Courtesy Sheening

The best thing that came out of the experience was the opportunity to finally meet Piyapong, one of those Xangans who doesn’t blog often but whose posts are still interesting.  Also met Sheening again, but he hasn’t blogged in so long on Xanga that I’m not even sure what his user name is anymore.

 

About Fat Cats and Corporations

In the July 9 issue of The Economist magazine, I read this interesting article about why it is so difficult to stir up public sentiment in the United States against the wealthy.  For example, why do so many people get riled up about the idea of eliminating the tax cuts for the wealthiest people, when we’re talking about 2% of the population who are radically better off than the other 98% of the population?

One paragraph in particular caught my attention:

“The point here is only that Americans do not seem to mind about the widening inequality of income and wealth as much as you might expect them to in current circumstances. By and large, they have preferred opportunity to leveling; equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome.  The trouble with this is that America is a long way from providing equal opportunity.”

I continue to wonder why it is that when you talk to people individually, they are very much in favor of creating truly equal opportunity.  Somehow, though, en masse, they become reverse Robin Hoods who support the taking from the poor and giving to the rich.  Even more confusing when it is against their own best interest to do so.