Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wherein I take issue with the inconsistent values of sitcom characters

On How I Met Your Mother, Marshall is a character that is highly concerned about the environment (he wants to be a lawyer for the NRDC), yet he also proudly, joyfully eats a lot of meat. I think environmentalists should be vegetarians: read why here and here.

At the Maplewood Mall

As I walked around a mall this morning over an hour before the stores opened, sporting my khakis and sneakers, I thought, I'm going to be a terrific old man, because I'll have had years of practice.

I also want to give kudos to the Maplewood Mall for having two restrooms without doors. This is convenient for parents pushing strollers, and it is also convenient for people with obsessive-compulsive tendencies that don't like to touch things in public restrooms (including doors).

Bad sportswriting about Viking QBs

As an English teacher, I can't help but to demand good writing, consistent logic, and concrete evidence, even from sportswriters. More at Pacifist Viking.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How favorite restaurants lose me

My wife and I loved Taste of Thailand on Old Hudson Road in St. Paul, but then they raised the price (significantly) on our favorite vegetarian dish. They priced us out of their customer base. As vegetarians we love Good Earth in Roseville, but haven't been there in a while (it's not an easy place to be with a toddler). Now I'm looking at their menu, and it looks like we might be priced out of their customer base. I can eat healthy, excellent vegetarian or vegan food for much cheaper than this, and I should be able to eat out for much cheaper than this.


At Pacifist Viking, I address the silly ways sportswriters address the current Viking QB situation.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Viking Questions

All the talk is quarterback, but the Vikings have some other concerns going into 2009 (Pacifist Viking).

Friday, July 24, 2009

Anxiety in the Modern World

Have you seen these new hand dryers that are in some public restrooms (for example, some of the restrooms at the Rosedale Mall)? You stick your hands into a small gap, and then hot air from both sides dries your hands.

If this becomes a universal trend, I have a lifetime of drying my hands on my pants ahead of me.

I was immediately leery. I detest pubic restrooms anyway, and the idea of sticking my wet hands into a tiny hole where a bunch of strangers have already stuck their wet bathroom hands fills me with dread. But I thought I'd try it once. I ended up rewashing my hands--it's hard to avoid your hand bumping into the inside of the dryer, and I felt additional splashes of water coming onto my hand. And those additional splashes of water might have been from somebody else's wet bathroom hands. Wet bathroom hands. Wet bathroom hands. Wet bathroom hands.

But what if Rosenfels stinks?

I start to double-back in anxiety at Pacifist Viking.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

At the MIA

I've found a lot of modern art to be terrific for children: the sizes, shapes, and colors make toddlers stare, laugh, or go "wow."

At the Minneapolis Institute of Arts' Target Wing, there's an intriguing exhibit of Cheryle Melander's and Don Myhre's work. I found Myhre's work particularly interesting, especially the pieces featuring giant white faces. My own toddler liked it, too, but it is a little spooky (for a bit, he thought the three giant faces together were mad at him. Later he thought they were happy. There was another face that appeared to flicker that I think creeped him out a bit too). Overall we enjoyed this particular exhibit. My toddler really enjoys a lot of the modern art in the Target Wing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

George Costanza and Me (1)

My wallet is getting out of control. It's not just that it's far more filled with coupons than with money: it's the type of coupons. I'm a mostly vegan vegetarian: why am I carrying around a coupon for Arby's? For Burger King?

Wait, did I say out of control? What I meant was awesome! Everything that is in my (non-leather) wallet needs to be there. Important things belong in a wallet.

Nietzsche calls me a weak-willed degenerate, and he is correct.

"The same expedient--castration, extirpation--is instinctively selected in a struggle against a desire by those who are too weak-willed, too degenerate to impose moderation upon it [...] It is only the degenerate who cannot do without radical expedients; weakness of will, more precisely the inability not to react to a stimulus, is itself merely another form of degeneration."

--Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

I think Nietzsche has me nailed: the only way I was really able to become a healthy person was to go to the extreme, adopting a mostly vegan lifestyle and consuming loads of fruits and vegetables. When I'm in strict vegan mode, I'm not remotely tempted to eat cheese or egg products (I'm already vegetarian for moral reasons). I don't even think about it; it's just not an option for me. It's this lifestyle and attitude that helped me lose over 50 pounds. My mom always counsels moderation, but I really can't do things in moderation. I'm better when I pour my being into something, even when that something is abstaining.

However, I'm mostly vegan. I make exceptions for social and special occasions. And on these exception days, I tend to go really, really overboard. When I'm allowing myself, I have "precisely the inability not to react to a stimulus." While most days I would not even consider eating cheese, or a donut, on an exception day, if there is cheese or a donut in front of me, I'm almost compelled to eat it.

You might say that having exception days at all would make me, according to Nietzsche, able to handle my passions and desires in moderation. But I know that isn't so. I can resist my desire only when I put myself on a strict, rigid order; when I don't have that order, I feel helpless to resist that desire, a man prone to giving into my temptations. My mostly vegan lifestyle is, according to Nietzsche, "merely another form of degeneration." I "cannot do without radical expedients."

Well, sucks to your Nietzsche anyway.

Veggie Pitas

My best homemade vegan meal is also stupidly simple, and takes little time to prepare.

1. Cut veggies of your choice into smallish pieces. Use whatever you like: I use combinations of broccoli, bell pepper, carrot, onion, green bean, and sugar snap peas.

2. Cook the veggies. I've tried this several ways, and prefer a wok. In my opinion, steaming them gets the veggies too damp for this meal.

3. Warm the pita bread. This softens the bread; a couple minutes should do the trick. If you are in the TC, I recommend using the superb Holy Land brand pita bread.

4. When the pita bread is warm, slather it with hummus. I love Holy Land hummus, but it's a little expensive; since this hummus is just adding flavor to veggies and pita (which are already good), I buy cheaper hummus just for this meal.

5. Put the hot veggies on the bread and wrap it up. I also recommend putting cold salad veggies (things like lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, olives) on top of the hot veggies; it makes a really good combo.

Really, I've made this too complicated. Cook your veggies, and wrap them in a pita with hummus: that's the gist of it. It's pretty inexpensive, and very delicious. It is also a healthy, vegan meal.

Free Expression for Peace

Apparently, expressing desire for peace is discouraged by the Burnsville Police. According to the Strib's John Tevlin, they

"assign two squad cars and two officers to the corner of Burnsville Parkway and Nicollet Avenue to keep an eye on a ragtag group of war protesters and issue tickets to people who honked their car horns.

"For peace."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Post-modern Traffic

On my way back to the TC on I-94 (spent the weekend celebrating Sinclair Lewis Days in Sauk Centre), smooth traffic came to a quick stop and go holdup. Eventually we saw a sign telling us the right lane was closed ahead, and we should merge left. All drivers were behaving accordingly. After driving much farther, it became obvious that the right lane was not closed at all. A big traffic slowdown occurred for nothing.

There was a signifier, but no signified. Yet we all behaved according to the dictates of the signifier.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Somehow, I always knew

Scrabble is out to ruin us (The Onion).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Reading Julius Caesar

Given his time and place, it's not surprising that civil war pervades so many of William Shakespeare's greatest plays. Harold Bloom, in claiming Shakespeare invented the human, would make him the playwright of the individual. But Shakespeare is also the great playwright of the nation in conflict with itself. So often we see the turmoil of civil rivalry, or the anxiety of succession, "Domestic fury and fierce civil strife." I would still call the conflict individual: it's rarely a conflict of ideology, but rather simply over who will be in power. But Shakespeare's drama is filled with national, civil, political tensions.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

On Frozen Berries

Here's a delicious snack. Mix frozen blueberries and frozen raspberries together in a sealed container, and leave it out for a few hours. The raspberry juices mix with the crisp blueberries, and it tastes like candy. It's terrific in the winter, when quality, cheap, fresh berries aren't easily available, but it's terrific in the summer because it's a cold snack.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

On Aestheticism

Aestheticism, a literary idea meaning much but summed up as "Art for art's sake," is both essentialist and moralist.

It is essentialist in claiming a singular, central, pure essence for art. For the aestheticist, art has but one singular purpose, and thus there can be one singular approach for all people to all art. It requires a commitment to a quasi-spiritual understanding of what art is.

It is moralist in claiming that those who do not follow the aestheticist's approach are in the wrong, and in the wrong in an immoral way. The aestheticist may claim that other approaches to art debase it--by failing to approach a work of art at its essence (as defined by the aestheticist), the individual commits a damaging wrong against art.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Macaroni Grill

Here's what I've gotten for signing up to receive (very occasional) emails from Romano's Macaroni Grill:

free appetizer
free piece of (giant and delicious) chocolate cake for my birthday
free piece of (giant and delicious) chocolate cake for my anniversary

Sign up for restaurants' email lists. Some restaurants just want to give away food to you.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

On Parades

Not long ago, I found parades overrated, tedious, and boring. Having kids, however, has restored my pleasure in parades. I now enjoy them. I like to see what's in the parade, I like seeing what people are giving away, and I especially like watching the kids get excited. We have a two week parade season during which we attend three parades (in Afton, MN, on White Bear Avenue in St. Paul, and in Sauk Centre, MN for Sinclair Lewis Days).

Kids like parades. I like eating candy. Everybody is happy.

On waiting for Favre

It's strange checking the news daily for confirmation of what we already know will happen (Pacifist Viking).

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

On Free Will

a contrapuntal essay

"The innermost truth of every epoch-making novel, whether tragic or comic, must always be the wrestling of the individual soul with fate; a wrestling which is bound to become sooner or later some kind of struggle between good and evil, between endurance and misery, between creation and destruction."

--John Cowper Powys, in Dostoievsky

A baby renders any discussion of free will absurd. A baby does not control his own body (he poops, he pees, he jerks, he moves his arm, without will or understanding) or his environment (why is he picked up or set down? Why is he taken to a particular place? Why is something put in front of his face?). Combine our total lack of will at the beginning of life with the inevitability of death, and if free will has any but a spiritual meaning, it is limited to some middle period of life, and thus only partly free.

But maybe that's why, as Dostoevsky's underground man says in Notes from the Underground says, humans have such a driving desire to prove they are not "sprigs on a barrel organ." In that book Dostoevsky suggests that humans will act against reason, even against their own best interests, in order to assert free will. Do we remember being babies? Is the memory of being moved about without will or understanding lodged in our brains, causing some of us to vehemently assert that we have control, that we are independent, that we can do what we want? That may start as toddlers, but as adults we can rationalize it, come up with grand philosophical systems to claim our free will. It may all be psychological resistance to the helplessness we knew as babies.

I've stayed standing by Dostoevsky's underground man even as I've moved away from standing with Sartre. I've stayed standing by Dostoevsky even though John Fowles already convinced me (of what I already knew), that Hazard is the dominant force in our lives. And I still stand with Dostoevsky though I know that as a baby I lacked any control, and any volition I have can only postpone death, and perhaps not even do that (a beautiful line in Philip Larkin's "The Old Fools:" "The peak that stays in view wherever we go/ For them is rising ground.").

My commitment now is to a spiritual free will, one that is always small and often futile. It is influenced by John Howard Yoder's pacifist theology, that in choosing nonresistance one may willfully submit to defeat, that some sort of victory is possible in subordination, failure and death. But then that makes free will an existential matter, so perhaps I haven't left Sartre very far behind at all.

Myths of War

In "All sides blame McNamara for Vietnam" in Salon, Michael Lind argues that it's not quite fair or reasonable that Robert McNamara receives so much specific blame for the Vietnam War. I think he makes some good arguments, particularly that the presidents responsible for the policies in Vietnam deserve much more blame than they get. Lind writes that McNamara gets criticized from the left, right, and center for the Vietnam War, and he makes the effort to debunk all three criticisms. The right wing criticism, according to Lind, is basically the Rambo idea: the U.S. soldiers/military could have won the war if the civilian politicians would have just let them:

"Just as they had done during the Korean War, however, conservatives denounced a Democratic administration for allegedly holding back the U.S. military. Just as the right accused the Truman administration of needlessly throwing away victory in Korea by restraining and then firing Gen. MacArthur, so the right accused the Johnson administration of needlessly throwing away victory in Indochina by restraining Gen. William Westmoreland. This "stab-in-the-back" theory of the Vietnam War, blaming timid civilians like McNamara and LBJ for forcing the U.S. military to fight with one hand tied behind its back, was popularized by the late Col. Harry Summers after the war and is still the dominant view on the American right."

How does Lind attempt to debunk this view? He essentially argues that the civilian politicians were right to hold the military back because of the threat from China:

"The conservative stab-in-the-back theory of the Vietnam War has flaws of its own. If only the Johnson administration had 'unleashed' the full power of the U.S. military, by invading the North or bombing the dikes, then the war would have ended quickly, with far fewer American and Vietnamese casualties, with a reunified noncommunist Vietnam or perhaps a Korean-style stalemate lasting to this day. What this attractive might-have-been ignores is the fact that the Johnson administration feared that China, which was already supplying North Vietnam with hundreds of thousands of logistics troops, might engage in full-scale war with the U.S. in Vietnam as it had done in Korea. The evidence that has emerged from China since the end of the Cold War suggests that Mao very well might have intervened directly, had the U.S. gone too far. The Johnson administration in retrospect was far from stupid in trying to prevent Vietnam from escalating into a second Sino-American war."

By arguing this myth strategically, Lind leaves intact the essence of the myth: that our soldiers/military could have won the war if only the civilians and politicians back home would have let them. He doesn't challenge this myth: he doesn't suggest that it is itself what was wrong. And this myth is a specific part of a larger, very dangerous belief. It is the belief that the U.S. can win any war it wants, it just needs the proper commitment and will. And that is part of the myth that there is a violent, military solution to any problem.

Lind's debunking of "the antiwar left" or "radical left" is also rather flimsy; I might even call it a straw man. He essentially provides two arguments: First, that "Nobody takes seriously anymore the claim made by many radicals at the time that the Second Indochina War was merely an anti-colonial rebellion that had nothing to do with the wider Cold War." O.K., and what if antiwar radicals even conceded that fighting communism was at the essence of the war? What of the antiwar radicals who still believe the war was wrong even on those grounds (and I might add that communist motivations were not entirely separate from anti-colonial motivations)? Lind does not address this objection. Second, Lind says

"The moral case against the damage done to the Vietnamese population and landscape by U.S. firepower and Agent Orange defoliation is compelling. But the U.S. effort in Korea was even more devastating, and the U.S. efforts in World War II included the incineration of German and Japanese cities by conventional and atomic bombing. To the historian, the case that the Vietnam War was a unique atrocity in itself is hard to make."

I see this as a pretty weak argument: he acknowledges the moral argument against the war because of the death and destruction committed against Vietnam, but basically says other U.S. wars have been vicious and destructive too. Again, what of the antiwar radicals that would concede this: does the overall horror of war, and the specific horrors of the previous U.S. wars, really wash away the moral argument over the destruction of Vietnam?

Lind argues that everybody is wrong in their criticism of the Vietnam War. As he does so, he lets the faith in military solutions to problems stand, and does not meaningfully address a broader antiwar view.

Monday, July 6, 2009

89 cents*

Do you notice those Taco Bell commercials, where customers pay for their food with exactly 89 cents? I don't know where these commercials take place. According to Federation of Tax Administrators, there aren't many states that have no sales tax, and there are local sales taxes, too. As you can see at Wikipedia, many states exempt unprepared food from sales tax, but prepared restaurant food is often taxed.

How many places are there where a person can pay exactly 89 cents for an item listed on Taco Bell's menu for 89 cents? Not too many. I call you out, Taco Bell commercials, for being annoying.

Gratuitous Link

Former Minnesota Viking and current Baltimore Raven Matt Birk on "Minnesota Nice":

"I think 'Minnesota Nice' really does exist. It seems out here on the East Coast people are in more of a hurry and are a little bit crabby compared to those in the Midwest. You better be on your toes when you go to the grocery store out here or someone on a bluetooth is likely to push you into a stack of soup cans with their shopping cart."

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cruelty-Free Consumer: Shoes

It's easy to find cheap, non-leather shoes; it's just a bit more difficult to find cheap, quality non-leather shoes. Athletic shoes are tougher than dress shoes. I go for a lot of long walks, so I want a shoe that first of all offers great foot support, and secondly will be durable enough to last 9-12 months (that's not bad: if you walk a lot, all shoes are going to wear away eventually, and if you find shoes for under $20, nine months is pretty good usage).

There's one thing I've found to look out for. If you are buying really cheap shoes, don't buy the ones that appear to have air pockets on the side of the heel. They're going to pop, fall out, or wear away very quickly. You just want a good, thick base of solid material.

The best brand I've found is Cross Trekkers, which you can get at Payless Shoes. Whenever I put on a new pair, I'm always amazed at how great my feet feel: the support is very thick, and a long walk is pleasant and smooth. Walking is easy when your foot is comfortably cushioned. I've found Cross Trekkers to be pretty durable, easily giving me the 9-12 months of usage I'm looking for.

It takes longer to find shoes without leather. Some brands clearly label the materials as including man-made materials, leather, or both, but some brands make it difficult, and some don't seem to bother labeling it at all. So cruelty-free shoe shopping is a little more challenging, but I actually usually end up with high quality shoes.

On reaping what you sow

When a city decides to light the sky on fire in a veritable orgy of sound and light, the next day that city is bad for breathing.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Whatever you say, Comrade

I like to make a list of my July 4th activities that would be deemed "unamerican." "Unamerican" is defined as what I imagine the projected persona of a Fox News personality would find unamerican. Here's how I'm doing. Are these activities vaguely unamerican?

Drinking a bottle of Perrier.
French water? Definitely.

Reading The New Yorker.
Probably. Since I was reading one article about gay rights, and another article about atrocities committed by American soldiers in Iraq, I would say definitely.

Eating veggie burgers.
Probably. If I'm not eating the grilled flesh of a dead animal, I can't really be an American man, and if I'm deliberately flouting the standard with a veggie burger, I'm basically a commie.

Whole family going to a parade wearing peace sign shirts.
Posssibly. Maybe. I tripled down with a peace sign hat and peace sign bracelet. And none of us wore any red, white, and blue. Probably not unamerican, but I think the projected persona of a Fox News personality would at least give a disapproving look.

Eating egg rolls.
Um... no, I don't think so. Even though I chose egg rolls over the wholesome American choice of an ice cream cone, I really don't think even the projected persona of a Fox News personality would think that matters.

So, does anybody else have any "unamerican" July 4th activities to report on?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Carol Muske-Dukes' "Twin Cities"

Read the poem at The New Yorker. If you don't like links, it is on pages 56-57 of the July 6 & 13 magazine.

Distracting Headline

Here's how it works: the title of the AFP article on Yahoo! is "Vegetarian diet 'weakens bones.'" Will meat eaters now latch onto this new finding, giving a "ha ha, tsk tsk" to vegetarians? Only if they stop at the headline. The first line of the article:

"People who live on vegetarian diets have slightly weaker bones than their meat-eating counterparts, Australian researchers said Thursday."

"Slightly weaker"? Should this be a concern? Maybe not. What does lead researcher Tuan Nguyen say?

"There was 'practically no difference' between the bones of meat-eaters and ovolactovegetarians, who excluded meat and seafood but ate eggs and dairy products, he said."

Interesting: an article titled "Vegetarian diet 'weakens bones'" includes a sentence claiming there is "'practically no difference' between the bones of meat-eaters and ovolactovegetarians." Is the headline a lie, then, or just an exaggeration?

The researcher finds, then, "that vegetarian diets, particularly vegan diets, are associated with lower bone mineral density." Vegetarians apparently have 5% less dense bones, vegans 6% less dense.

How meaningful is this difference? Or rather, how strong is the association between vegan/vegetarian diets and weaker bone density? Actually, not at all:

"'But the magnitude of the association is clinically insignificant,' he added."

Clinically insignificant!

So, the headline reads "Vegetarian diet 'weakens bones.'" At no point does the article suggest a vegetarian (or vegan) diet weakens bones to the point of unhealthiness. Though Nguyen attempts a Michele-Bachmann-like association at the end of the article ("Given the rising number of vegetarians, roughly five percent (of people) in western countries, and the widespread incidence of osteoporosis, the issue is worth resolving"), there is no evidence provided that a vegetarian or vegan diet leads to greater bone health problems. And actually, the article featured by this headline claims there is practically no difference between the bones of meat eaters and vegetarians, and includes a quote from the researcher calling it "clinically insignificant."

Scientific research may be objective; what we do with the results, however, is subjective. A headline reporting these very same results could focus on the "clinically insignificant" part, or it could focus on the "practically no difference" part. But of course that doesn't happen. The headline instead gives fodder to meat eaters who want to believe/claim they are healthier than vegetarians and vegans, or that vegetarians and vegans are "weak."