thoughtful. entertaining. random.

Month: September 2008

support your local retailers!

I’m pissed.

Part of the charm of my DC neighborhood, Dupont Circle, is the variety of retailers, large and small, that surround the actual circle/park. Eateries, booksellers, salons and nick-knack shops of all kinds gave the place a special attraction.

Since I moved to DC in 2003, I’ve seen the slow decline of the locals in the neighborhood.

First it was Kemp Mill Music, who couldn’t keep up with the internet and the loss-leader shops (Best Buy and Circuit City), and whose neighbor, Melody Records, had a more knowledgeable staff and loyal clientele.

Then it was District Hardware and The Bike Shop, whose landlord refused to renew their lease after decades in their 20th & P location. They’ve since moved to the West End, across from the West End Library, but it’s not the same.

Olsson's logoNow I hear that Olsson’s Books and Records, one of the few local chains that really did things well, is closing its doors and filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This was the only good local bookstore in Dupont, and their staff were helpful and actually knew something about books and music. They had recently started a video rental service that was top-notch: a great selection of classic, foreign, Criterion Collection and rare films that had very reasonable rental rates. There was never a hint of attitude there, other than kindness and a willingness to make sure you left happy.

Now I’m left with either Kramerbooks (who never have any special sales, and whose staff are always too busy wrangling the crowds heading to the bar and restaurant to be of any real assistance) or Books-A-Million (née Crown Books, and a wannabe clone of Barnes & Noble: impersonal, über chainy and depressing) for my new book purchasing needs in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.

There are two used booksellers in the neighborhood: the overpriced Second Story Books and the funky, not-for-profit Books For America charity shop. But if I’m looking for something current, or for a special order that’s handled with a friendly smile and nary a complaint, I’m now stuck with going up Connecticut Avenue a long ways, to Politics & Prose.

So to my friends who read this: please support your locally-based retailers whenever you can! Sure, Barnes & Noble may be closer, and Best Buy may be cheaper, but they have no soul, and simply make every town look like every other town.

I’m headed to Melody Records after work – best to drown my sorrows in some new music.

friday my:dc : autumn sunset

Autumn brings out the most lovely sunsets, and in a city full of pomp and majesty, it’s sometimes refreshing when nature one-ups the construction of mankind. This shot was taken earlier this week as I was returning from riding laps at Hains Point. It was a bittersweet day: I rode laps with a friend who was celebrating her birthday (as well as her husband), as we all grieved for a friend who was just diagnosed with breast cancer.

Sunsets can mean different things to different people. To some, they signify an ending. To others, it’s the signal of a new beginning or rebirth. And the sunset that day signified both things, and a lot more.

Wanna see more? Hillary, sprite, Sarah, and MsP are all photo-happy and willing to share their unique DC-based views.

Potomac sunset

workout log: 13 september 2008

Activity: road cycling (racing)
Location: Barnesville, MD
Distance: 37.5 miles
Duration: 1:46
Weather: sunny and muggy, 75-84 degrees
Avg HR: 170 (max 188)
Climbing: 3,800′
Type: aerobic (!)

My first-ever road bike race: the Giro di Coppi.

Yup: in all the years I’ve been riding a bike, I’ve only ever raced on the mountain bike. And that was in the late-1980s and early-1990s when I was still a Utah resident, when a Slingshot bike was about as full-suspension as things got, and Suntour was the alternative to Shimano in drivetrain components.

So seventeen years after my last full-on foray into the land of bicycle racing, I decided to dive into the land of USA Cycling road racing. My friend, Darren, asked me about a month ago whether I’d be interested in racing the Giro, which is the final race in the MABRA Championship series. His team, DCMTB/CityBikes, had an extra entry slot for the race, and he thought that the rolling, hilly course would play to my strengths and improve the team’s chances of doing well. I thought about it for a moment and agreed to race.

Since Darren and his team are primarily a mountain bike squad, they’re all ranked Category 5, which is the beginner’s league in road cycling. As I’m not a licensed racer, not only did I race Cat 5, I had to buy a one-day racing license at the venue (no big deal, though the organizers had to scurry to get a day-license form from officials). Unlike the other teams at the race, our squad didn’t have any rollers or stationary trainers to warm up before our starts. No matter, though, as there was a one mile neutral roll out (from the staging area at Monocacy Elementary School to the course loop in “downtown” Barnesville) to get the legs moving.

And once we hit the course, the pace wasn’t exactly breakneck. In fact, Darren had to tell me to scale back my hill pace (which is fast as-is) to keep from stringing things out too early. So Darren, Matt and I (the entire Team DCMTB/CityBikes squad for the day) stayed close to the front of the pack, keeping an eye on the dynamics of the pack. Other teams had more folks in the mix (especially All-American Bike Club and NCVC), and there were some non-affiliated folk as well. But we were the smoothest riders in the pack: consistent pace, predictable. That’s the thing with Cat 5: you have some folks who should be ranked higher, and some who are definitely still learning the ropes (I was a quick learner, due in no small part to the fact that I ride with a lot of current and lapsed racers).

Our strategy was to attack at the end of lap two, during the last 200 meters of the uphill grind to the start/finish line. I worked my way to the front, with Darren and Matt on my heels, and at the 200 meters-to-go mark, I made my move: a shot up the hill, going from 15 mph to 21 mph quite quickly (I love the Garmin’s ability to record this data). As we crested the hill and rounded the corner into the final 12.5-mile lap, we were joined by two other riders (one from AABC, the other from the University of Maryland team). I’d given a lot in the attack, so I wasn’t as quick to get into the paceline with the others, but I found my pace and legs again by the turn onto Slidell Road. However, my shifting was skipping a bit in the higher gears, which was perplexing. I soldiered on, and our group built a one minute lead on the pack by the last sharp turn of the course, about 3 miles from the finish.

Darren dropped off, leaving four of us to contest the finish. I was feeling really strong, and was preparing for a sprint finish when I heard the sound:

“Pling… ping, ping, ping…..”

And my chain spun freely.


I didn’t know what was going on, but I was able to upshift to my 12-tooth cog – my next-to-highest gear in the back. I tried to downshift, but no luck: lots of chain skip. The other three raced ahead, and I was perplexed. The race marshall asked if I wanted to turn back to get the metal piece that had fallen off, but I figured I was going to muscle through to the finish, come what may. So I settled into my 50-12 gear (not good for climbing, but my 34-12 was skipping like mad) and POWERED my way up the final two hills to the finish. I saw the finish sprint happen some 30 seconds ahead of me (my powering did make up a little ground) as I fought up the hill to a 4th place finish.

Not bad for my first try, right?

When I got back to the car, I assessed the damage: I’d sheared off the 13-tooth cog (third-from-highest) from my cassette. Damn! I’d never heard of this happening, but it explains why my shifting was erratic on the last lap: the cog must have been cracked and bent at that point, and my push to the finish sealed the deal in terms of snapping it off.


So I sacrificed a cog, cost myself the chance at a top-three finish, but still finished a strong fourth. Not bad for a newbie, right?

ETA: Darren has posted his write-up of the day’s events, as well! T’was fun racing with you, sir!

seven years later, i’ve moved on

I read a newspaper story today that said

“The world hasn’t stopped turning since the towers came down and the Pentagon smoldered and the earth was torn in a Pennsylvania field.”

Yet for the Republican party (and certain Dems and “independent Democrats”), it’s as if the world did stop, then and there.

Or if it did, they continue to rewind in times of political insecurity.

As Keith Olbermann said in a “Special Comment” segment on last night’s Countdown, to the GOP “9/11 has become… 9/11, with a trademark logo.”

I’m reminded of this as I remember September 11, 2001. I remember the horror and confusion created by the attacks, the anger the generated, and the hope that things would not get worse. On that day, I was teaching a class in Metarie, Louisiana, and it was tough to concentrate on my curriculum when my mind, as well as the minds of all my students, was focused on lower Manhattan, Arlington and Pennsylvania.

As time went by, I saw some of the best of America come forth: community efforts to help the victims’ families, a re-visitation of how people viewed being “American,” and a non-partisan unity of spirit and resolve.

But this feeling didn’t last long. Partisan bickering and misguided revenge put the United States into a war with a country that had nothing to do with the Al-Quaida attacks. Racism revealed its ugly face as civil liberties were undermined and the Constitution weakened in the name of so-called “security.” Fear was used as political capital, to the detriment of the foundations of this country.

And still, seven years later, many people – politicians, the media, victims of the attacks and those who still harbor feelings of anger and revenge – re-open the wounds of the attacks. These people keep looking backward, trying to find closure to a wound that they refuse to let heal.

I prefer to look forward – and I think that I’m not alone in that sentiment. During this hectic election time, I wince whenever any of the candidates lean on “remembering 9/11” as a justification for misguided military spending, detrimental expansion of domestic oil drilling, subsidizing bankrupt entities, propping up outmoded business models, and instilling fear in the voters.

But the politicians serve it up, aided by the waitstaff that is the media, and many members of the public lap it up like manna.

Except for the fact that this manna is no less off-putting than Soylent Green: not the food of the gods, but an empty form of sustenance brought forth via the most foul and despicable means imaginable.

The people of the United States can be better than this. They’re being sold out by misguided trust: in the media, in the pundits.

As far as 9/11 is concerned, I’ve moved on. While I will never forget the tragedy – I reflected on the events of that day during a slow, quiet ride to work this morning – I prefer to look forward, to move toward something better and not dwell on the mistakes and horrors of the past.

If only more people in this country felt the same, perhaps we would be asking the right things of our politicians rather than the non sequitur. At least I can hope that’s the case.

100 more foods to eat (again, not chosen by me)

Hat tip to “Fixed Gear” Pete for this continuation of the “100 Things to Eat” memes. From Pete:

“If you want to play along, here’s how you do it: copy the list,including these instructions, and bold any items you have eaten and strikeout any you would never eat, and then post it to your blog. I’m going to add the following rule: italicize items you have made (or grown) yourself. (Presumably, you’ve eaten those as well.)”

1. Real macaroni and cheese, made from scratch and baked
2. Tabouleh
3. Freshly baked bread, straight from the oven (preferably with homemade strawberry jam)
4. Fresh figs
5. Fresh pomegranate
6. Indian dal of any sort
7. Imam bayildi
8. Pressed spiced Chinese tofu
9. Freshly made hummus
10. Tahini
11. Kimchi
12. Miso
13. Falafel
14. Potato and pea filled samosas
15. Homemade yogurt
16. Muhammara
17. Brie en croute
18. Spanikopita
19. Fresh, vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes
20. Insalata caprese
21. Stir-fried greens (gai lan, bok choi, pea shoots, kale, chard or collards)
22. Freshly made salsa
23. Freshly made guacamole
24. Créme brulee
25. Fava beans
26. Chinese cold sesame peanut noodles
27. Fattoush
28. New potatoes
29. Coleslaw
30. Ratatouille
31. Baba ganoush
32. Winter squash
33. Roasted beets
34. Baked sweet potatoes
35. Plantains
36. Chocolate truffles
37. Garlic mashed potatoes
38. Fresh water chestnuts
39. Steel cut oats
40. Quinoa
41. Grilled portabello mushrooms
42. Chipotle en adobo
43. Stone ground whole grain cornmeal
44. Freshly made corn or wheat tortillas
45. Frittata
46. Basil pesto
47. Roasted garlic
48. Raita of any type
49. Mango lassi
50. Jasmine rice (white or brown)
51. Thai vegetarian coconut milk curry
52. Pumpkin in any form other than pie
53. Fresh apple pear or plum gallette
54. Quince in any form
55. Escarole, endive or arugula
56. Sprouts other than mung bean
57. Naturally brewed soy sauce
58. Dried shiitake mushrooms (fresh, too!)
59. Unusually colored vegetables (purple cauliflower, blue potatoes, chocolate bell peppers…)
60. Fresh peach ice cream
61. Chevre
62. Medjool dates
63. Kheer
64. Flourless chocolate cake
65. Grilled corn on the cob
66. Black bean (or any other bean) vegetarian chili
67. Tempeh
68. Seitan or wheat gluten
69. Gorgonzola or any other blue veined cheese
70. Sweet potato fries
71. Homemade au gratin potatoes (Mormon funeral potatoes FTW!)
72. Cream of asparagus soup
73. Artichoke-Parmesan dip
74. Mushroom risotto
75. Fermented black beans
76. Garlic scapes (a springtime favorite)
77. Fresh new baby peas
78. Kalamata olives
79. Preserved lemons
80. Fried green tomatoes
81. Chinese scallion pancakes
82. Cheese soufflé
83. Fried apples
84. Homemade frijoles refritos
85. Pasta fagiole
86. Macadamia nuts in any form
87. Paw paw in any form
88. Grilled cheese sandwich of any kind
89. Paneer cheese
90. Ma Po Tofu (vegetarian style–no pork!)
91. Fresh pasta in any form
92. Grilled leeks, scallions or ramps
93. Green papaya salad
94. Baked grain and vegetable stuffed tomatoes
95. Pickled ginger
96. Methi greens
97. Aloo paratha
98. Kedgeree (the original Indian version without the smoked fish, not the British version with fish)
99. Okra
100. Roasted brussels sprouts

Notes from me: Where are the porcini or chanterelles? I mean, if you’re going to include shiitake, then you need to include the big kahunas of the European mycological world!

As usual: try it yourself, post your comments, have fun!

my endorsements for the primary?

Find them here at my namesake site.

Once you’ve read ’em come back here, click on the “more” link, and see how I think it’ll shake out.

Read More

building a bridge back to the 20th… er, 19th century

With these words in John McCain’s speech, he revealed the entire focus of his campaign and his party:

“We have to catch up to history.”

So he says that we need to catch up with something that’s inherently in the past.

Sure, John. Yup. Okay.

Is it any wonder that many folks around the world see the United States as backwards and puritan in its ways, culture and beliefs? Well wonder no longer: that’s been the modus operandi for the GOP.

So yes, a McCain administration would be McSame: more of the same detrimental, destructive, divisive politics of BushCo.

No, thanks.

There is one area where McCain was right last night: a change is coming to Washington, DC, in the form of Barack Obama.

all i’m gonna say about palin (for now, at least)

As if you can’t tell from my political musings of the past, I’m no fan of the modern-day GOP and its pandering to extreme elements: misguided evangelical zealots, the hyper-rich, and those who lead by division, rather than by unity.

Sen. McCain has had moments of independence from these forces, but in the end he, too, trod down the path of theocon/neocon pandering in his race to become President before he kicks the bucket. No move says this more than his selection of Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) as his running mate.

Plainly speaking, she’s no more qualified than I am (read: not at all) to be one heartbeat/tumor/coma/scandal away from one of the most powerful offices in the world.

Here are my concerns about Palin:

  • She has almost no true executive experience on a large scale. Wasilla’s town government had only 50 employees, and those in Alaska who report to her office number less than 2,500. Furthermore, in Wasilla she delegated most leadership duties to an adviser, while maintaining a “pretty face” at the titular helm of the town.
  • She purports to fight corruption while proving herself a leader in being corrupt. Witness her term as mayor of Wasilla, where she played pork barrel politics to the tune of $30+ million in federal appropriations for junk projects. Witness her continuing acceptance of PAC money from Abramoff’s cronies. Witness the improper use of her office to try and sway hiring and firing decisions, as well as the related cover-up and smokescreen battle.
  • She knows nothing about international relations – or the dangers of mixing religion and international politics. In a recent address in front of her right-wing church, she claimed that our soldiers are in Iraq and Afghanistan doing “a task of God.” In most circles, that’s equating our hostile occupation of the Middle East as a crusade – a BIG no-no in trying to maintain any diplomatic stance on relations with the Middle East. And let’s be blunt: just because Alaska is only a short distance across the Bering Strait from Russia doesn’t bring any expertise in border relations with an international superpower.
  • She shows little knowledge of the history of the United States or the structure of its agencies. She attributes the Pledge of Allegiance to the founding fathers (false), especially the “under God” line (introduced during the McCarthy communist scare era). She also takes credit for leading the Alaska National Guard, which answers only to the Department of Defense. And as recently as July, she claimed that she didn’t know the real purpose of the office of Vice President of the United States – more theatrical, perhaps, but she failed to see the purpose of the office.
  • She believes that women’s rights should be decided upon by men, without any input from women who are free-willed and open-minded.
  • She believes that science and religion are not mutually exclusive – which should shock her father, who was a science teacher.
  • She has precious little world travel experience (to almost everybody’s knowledge), which as we’ve seen with Bush 43, is a major danger when dealing with global cultures, norms, politics and religions.
  • Few Alaskans of either party have positive things to say about her or her leadership skills. I trust first-hand knowledge of a person’s leadership abilities, and many first-hand accounts I’ve read and heard are far from positive.

I could go on, but won’t. In summary: she’s unfit and unqualified to be the second-in-line to the presidency of these United States.

And her selection speaks volumes of the fortitude – or lack thereof – of John McCain. He caved to the forces of division to try and seal up parts of the GOP base (conservative women and evangelicals) who would never vote for Barack Obama. I’m sure that the decision of Palin was not entirely up to McCain, and that he would’ve rather gone with Tom Ridge, Joe Lieberman or Mitt Romney as his running mate. But rather than stand strong and be a maverick, McCain chose the same old divisive route that is a hallmark of the GOP since the days of Nixon.

For shame, Sen. McCain. For shame, Gov. Palin. For shame, GOP.

ETA: Click here to hear Gov. Palin mention the “task of God” aspect of military action in the Middle East.

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