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Life List: 61-70 March 30, 2010

Posted by A. Robinson in Life List.

61.  Throw a dinner party.
I’m talking the works here.  Multiple courses, intelligent conversation, neat-o table settings, the whole nine yards.  You know, a real grown-up party.

62.  See the sun rise or set over the Grand Canyon
I don’t know if it’s because I’m neck deep in my thesis or what, but I’ve suddenly been struck by the compulsion to see the Grand Canyon.  I can’t see myself hiking to the bottom or anything like that, but I’d certainly like to see its grandeur as its painted by the colors of the sunset/sunrise.

63.  See Courtney perform in a college play.
I will make all of my students go see her performance for extra credit.

64.  See a Broadway play while it’s actually on Broadway
Oh man, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to go watch a play in its original form.  I see off-Broadway, local, and touring productions all the time, but I think there’s something special about visiting big, ostentatious theatre at its source.  I would have to go see a musical, I’m sure.

65.  Own ten signed books
I’ll admit it: I’m a celebrity whore.  When I meet one, I pretty much babble incoherently then swoon (really, you should have seen me around Apolo Anton Ohno.  I was an idiot).  So far I have a few signed books (Frank Warren, Edward Albee, Luis Alberto Urrea), but I’d like to improve my collection.

66.  Read all of Entertainment Weekly’s new classics

67.  Pick a pumpkin from a pumpkin patch
This sounds like so much fun!  I’ve always loved “harvesting” stuff, which means I’ve pretty much been free labor during every growing season OF MY LIFE, so picking my own pumpkin is right up my alley.  Also, then I can choose the most perfect and adorable one for my Halloween jack-o-lantern.

68.  Enter a craft/food/textile in the County Fair
I love fairs (right Lindsey?).  I like looking at all the neat stuff people enter, and I desperately love winning blue ribbons.  Well, scratch that.  I love winning.

69.  Learn how to make tempura shrimp
These look complicated, which is a shame because they’re so delicious.  John and I first had them on our honeymoon, so it would be nice to be able to make that special meal over again in my own kitchen.  Too bad I won’t be eating them whilst gazing out over the ocean.  Le Sigh.

70.  Go parasailing
This looks like so much fun.  I’m never going to hurl by body out of an airplane, so this is the closest I’m ever going to (willingly) get to a parachute.  Too bad I’ll have to do it by myself since John’s afraid of heights.  Volunteers?

I’m Lovin’: Timbuk2 March 25, 2010

Posted by A. Robinson in Lovin'.
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Have you heard of Timbuk2 bags?  NO?!  Oh my God, seriously, people.  Get yourselves to an outdoors store and drop some serious cash, already.

Anyway, some explication: everyday there is a war raging in my head and in my pocketbook.  On one hand, I’m a fan of good, functional, sturdy design.  Usually this translates to me being a fan of expensive things.  Take my engagement ring for example (I will spare you pictures).  The design is classic, but John was sure to buy one with a thick band and really sturdy diamond-holdy-prongies.  Right after he proposed he told me he specifically asked about the durability of the ring, and the jeweler said that as long as I don’t run over it with a truck, it should be good for at least a few years.  Of course, that cost money.  How much, I’ll never know–John and I agreed that there’s really no need for that.  He just phrased it as, “If you knew, you’d make me take it back.”

On the other hand, I am an incredible cheapskate.  I mean, An. Incredible. Cheapskate.  I refuse to buy things full price.  With the exception of groceries, I really can’t remember the last thing I bought that wasn’t at least 10% off.  My mom taught me how to save money, and save I do.  As a matter of fact, this drives John nuts sometimes.  He’s really fiscally responsible, but I take it to a whole ‘nother level.  I’d rather spend a week DIY-ing something to save $50 than give that money to The Man.  Anyway, what I’m getting at is that I have rich people tastes with poor people sensibilities, which basically makes me schizophrenic when I’m shopping.

That’s why when I first saw Timbuk2 bags at our local outdoors store I nearly had an aneurism.  They’re sturdy and completely, wonderfully functional.  Not only that, but the company itself is dedicated to sustainability and small business, which I love. Then I looked at the price tag and had a fit.  Buy it, said my luxe half, while the other subconsciously made my hand grip my wallet until my fingers cramped.  I mean look at them.  They’re magnificent.

So many styles, so little money.

After months of my going on and on about them, John finally bought me one for my birthday a few years ago.  The best thing is the organizational system these bags come equipped with.  They hold TONS (I have a medium Outtawhack, which unfortunately, they don’t make anymore).  I can carry my laptop, a few books, my phone, and various ephemera comfortably.  My bag converts to a backpack for when things get extra strenuous, too.  For me, it’s been invaluable.  The size of the bag accommodates everything I could want and then some, and its functionality helps me to cull all the crap I don’t need in order to pack only what I do.

Also, it’s seriously the sturdiest bag I’ve ever owned.  Though I still carry my conventional backpack to school, this is the only bag I travel with.  The top flap hooks with snaps AND velcro, so in airport security lines, all of my pertinent information is easily accessible with one hand.  When everyone else is fumbling for their crap, I whip mine out like a pro.  My laptop compartment is heavily padded and lined in corduroy, and the whole bag is lined in PVC waterproof lining to keep out any water.  I mean, it’s like they thought of everything.

So, if you’re ever in the market for a high end bag, I recommend Timbuk2 with all my heart and soul.  Actually, just browse through their website for a few minutes and see if you don’t fall in love.

A Few Thoughts on the Health Care Bill March 22, 2010

Posted by A. Robinson in Life, Loathin'.
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I’ll just come out and say it:  I’m unhappy that the House passed Obama’s health care reform.

I’m not, however, unhappy for the typical conservative reasons.  I’m glad that the abortion clause was taken out, but it wouldn’t have been a deal-killer for me.  I’m actually glad that it will require all Americans to have health insurance, and that it is going to provide an affordable option for that.  Let’s be completely honest with one another–uninsured Americans cost the health care industry billions every year.  That cost has to be redistributed across insurance payers, other procedures, etc.  This will, ultimately, be a good thing, if not screw over illegal immigrants.  Does it rankle me that people will have no option in this matter?  Sort of, but the ultimate point of the matter is this:  most people who don’t have insurance in this country don’t have it because they can’t afford it.  Those who still don’t want it aren’t the rich who can pay for their own medical treatment but the POOR who don’t want to pay for it at ALL.

It’s not that I’m not for health care reform.  I am.  There are plenty of people in my life who struggle with their health and can barely afford treatement.  Some examples:

1.  A good friend of mine’s father has recently been diagnosed with chronic leukemia.  He’s the sole breadwinner for the family, and although he’s a University employee, his health insurance won’t cover enough of the cost for sustained chemotherapy and radiation.  He cannot afford treatment; instead, he and his family have turned to alternative therapies to treat the disease.

2.  My pastor and his wife both have preexisting conditions that keep them from switching insurance providers.  Right now they pay 35% of their income after taxes to keep their insurance.  Though they could get a bit of a break by changing companies, that would mean that they wouldn’t be covered for any of their preexisting conditions for a year–tough, considering one of them suffers migraines.  My pastor is looking for a second job in order to keep his health insurance.

3.  John and I have a close friend whose nephew was recently diagnosed with cancer.  Because the boy’s family doesn’t have health insurance, he wasn’t diagnosed until January even though he had been having fairly severe symptoms since September.  Once he was diagnosed, the family struggled to find charity care at a hospital because they couldn’t afford treatment.  He died last week.  (To be fair, there’s a lot more to this story besides health care reform and insurance, but it still made a difference).

I love these people.  I want them to have everything they need to make their lives comfortable.  However, I think we are going to pay an awful lot of money for a health care band-aid, not reform.  This bill is not transformative enough.  I also think this is just not the right time to pass the bill.

Let me start with that last bit first.  Look, guys.  We’ve just paid out BILLIONS in bail-out money.  BILLIONS.  The economy is in a hole.  Unemployment in this country is at an all-time high.  As of yet, I have heard of no compelling plan of action for actually PAYING for this bill.  Instead, it inflates the deficit without any thoughts of reducing it.  I don’t understand why this bill couldn’t have waited another year for the economy to stabilize a little more in order to support such continued, sustained, massive spending.

I also think that this bill has been pounded through Congress with little thought to actual health care reform.  The one issue that is critical to reducing health care costs substantially has been little addressed: tort reform.  Right now, doctors run tons of unnecessary tests in order to avoid lawsuits.  The amount hospitals and doctors pay in malpractice insurance is incredibly high, and doctors that lose malpractice suits often find themselves jobless.  They become a risk that clinics and hospitals no longer want to assume.  Though I think it’s important that we keep doctors accountable for their actions, we’ve become sue-happy, which drives up costs.  But tort reform is unpopular.  Lobbying groups pretty much kept that discussion from happening.  Secondly, we need to streamline our healthcare system.  It’s SO SLOW.  However, this is going to require automating a lot of processes and eliminating jobs–also unpopular.

Anyway, I”ll be interested to see how all of this unfolds, but I’m not optimistic about its long-term feasibility.

Proof That Killer Whales Are Pretty Much The A-Holes Of The Ocean March 15, 2010

Posted by A. Robinson in Life.
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Lindsey, I realize this post might not be for you, seeing as you think animal cannibalism is “cute.”

I have continued to mull over killer whales this weekend.  Well, okay, not really, but John and I watched part of the BBC series Blue Planet and it sparked some questions for me.  Namely, are killer whales really all that friendly at all?  Or are they–as I now suspect–just big, raging meanies?

Here’s the video that sparked my curiosity:

At first I was all like, “Oh, that’s sad, but so goes the circle of life,” up until the narrator mentions that the whole pack of whales only eats a teensy weensy bit of the baby.  You know, after they spent 6 hours hunting it or whatever.  Of course, I went straight to YouTube to try and find out whether this was typical behavior.  Cue a slew of videos showing how they not only capture but torture their prey.  They play volleyball with baby seals!

Yeah, so they let one go at the end.  Big effing show of mercy once you’ve whacked it around for thirty minutes!  The thing is, these suckers are incredibly smart, turns out.  Just look at the way they coordinate in order to knock this seal off an ice flow and into a waiting pod-members mouth.

Not only that, but they’re totally adaptable.  I read an article this weekend that said the Sea World whales have figured out how to take fish to the bottom of the tank and send up little pieces to lure in sea birds.  Once the birds land on the water, it’s CHOMP CHOMP while buddy whale rushes up to snag him some poultry.  Also, check out these guys who’ve learned that hanging out by fishing boats gets them a quick and easy meal (also, you should watch this one because the fishermen are hilarious).

Conclusion?  These guys are smarter than I am, and no way in heck am I getting in the water with one.

I Hate to Even Post This March 10, 2010

Posted by A. Robinson in Crazy Magnet.
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Today I was squirreling around the internet searching for birthrates out of wedlock.  The first link that came up led me to the Stormfront.org forums (I’m not going to link to it because, seriously, the site doesn’t need any more hits).

The source article was fine; it was just embedded a link to a New York Times article–40% of all American children are now born out of wedlock, according to this source.  But as I read through the replies, I was increasingly horrified.  One commenter blamed the increase on “race-mixing whores.”  I figured this guy would get lit into, but as I kept reading, there were all sorts of racist comments.  People were blaming the increase on Hispanics and African-Americans, citing their dependency on the white man’s tax dollar.  I couldn’t believe it, until I realized that I was on a white nationalist message board.

Oh. My. God.  I knew some crazy stuff happened out there on the internet, but SERIOUSLY?  A whole forum dedicated to WHITE SUPREMACY AND RACISM?  No lie, the boards were broken up topically and globally. Turns out, if you’re a racist neo-nazi in Switzerland, there are some folks who really want to hang out and chat with you.  The really disgusting thing was that there were, literally, tens of thousands of posts.  It wasn’t like this was Alabama John Doe’s backyard project.  It’s popular, and that’s terrifying.  Crazy people by themselves are bad enough, but crazy people en masse are dangerous.  Very, very dangerous.

Captivity March 1, 2010

Posted by A. Robinson in Life.
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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of the Orca attack at Sea World in Orlando, Florida.  Tilikum, a male Orca with a history of attacking humans, killed his trainer last week in what Sea World has called “an unfortunate, tragic accident.”  Of course, this has brought another, older debate to the surface: should animals–especially dangerous ones–be held in captivity?  And, on yet another level, what do you do with an animal like Tilikum?

I, of course, have an opinion on this, but to get there, we first have to talk about ponies.  I. LOVE. HORSES.  This almost goes without saying, I know.  I share the sentiments of most 7 year old girls in that horses are pretty much the best animals ever.  Not only that, but I’m incredibly attached to them.  I can remember the individual foibles of all the horses I’ve ridden, and even though I don’t know where many of them are today, I can look back at many with fondness.  My horse, who died tragically when I was a sophomore in college, was my best friend in high school.  When I heard she’d died, I cried for months.  I’ve still not taken out the pictures of her that I boxed up; even remembering her now is incredibly bittersweet.

Yet, I’ll be the first to tell you that of all the animals that I’d be comfortable letting a 7 year old girl hang out with, horses would be at the bottom of my list.  They are crazy mo’fos.  Totally unpredictable.  You can have a horse for 20 years and never have him freak out at a bird, and then one day…BAM.  You’re on the ground and Trigger is running terrified from a pigeon.  You just can’t predict their behavior.  Some horses, though, are much more dangerous than others.  Those horses you have to kill.  You can’t sell it to someone and have it hurt and/or kill a kid.  Sometimes the only place they can go is the glue factory.

This reminds me of the story of Magic Pony.  I cackled with glee as I loaded him up on the Dog Food Trailer.  That’ll teach you to roll on my brand new saddle, you jerk.

Anyway, this has everything to do with the debate at hand.  What do you do with a killer whale who kills people?  Heck if I know.  My instinct is to terminate it, but the issue is more complex than that.  The whale (or dolphin, really) was just doing what it instinctually does.  It’s not like a horse in that it is WILD, and no matter how many hoops you teach it to jump through, it is not a puppy, pony, or kitty.  It is an apex predator that abides by you when it wants to.  Not to mention, there’s no telling how many instinctual triggers you can trip in a given day that might scream, “I am yummy and delicious FOOD!” and get you eaten.  I don’t really think you can punish it for that.  To wit, you can’t release the thing into the wild either, because it’s just domestic enough that it isn’t equipped to deal with the Darwinian system.

This is the textbook definition of rock and hard place.

What I do know, though, is that you absolutely cannot start hating on Sea World because it has killer whales in captivity for a couple of reasons:

1.  It’s not like Sea World went out and snagged a baby Orca from its momma.  Tilikum, like many of Sea World’s orcas, was actually bred in captivity.  The whales, dolphins, sharks, and other assorted creatures that aren’t from a captive breeding program are almost always rescues.  Animals that otherwise would die in the wild are given a pretty nice life with lots of food.  Sea World, like most zoos, does its very best to not to take animals out of the wild for a life in captivity.

2.  Sea World, like zoos, are incredibly important for educational purposes, and I’m not just talking about understanding how these things live, eat, and breed.  Do you know why little girls love horses?  Because they can go out and pet them, ride them, and otherwise get to know them.  That’s why there are more people fighting for America’s wild mustang than fighting against open ocean pollution.  Ponies are majestic.  They’re wonderful.  Everyone’s met one that they thought was beautiful/awe-inspiring/the poo.  The key to conservation efforts is allowing people to understand why these animals are important.  When you go to a zoo and see the elephants, all of a sudden the shrinking African savannah seems like a much more important problem.  Sea World banks on the fact that at least a few of the people who visit will start driving Priuses and switch to compact flourescencts when they realize that the way they’re living is killing Shamu.

What Sea World–and other zoos–understand more than ANY of that is that children must be educated to actually make a difference.  If a kid falls in love with bottlenose dolphins, maybe he or she will become an eco-conscious adult.

I guess what I’m saying here is that I can’t see people getting pissed off about captivity.  I mean, yes, I understand when animals are kept in inadequate conditions.  I’m not even touching that part of the argument.  What I’m talking about are places that make every conceivable effort to keep their animals healthy and happy.  What it comes down to for me is this: if 20 whales, scattered across America, can help educate the public and encourage environmental awareness about the 100,000 whales in the wild, then that’s fine by me.