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: Presences And Absences In The Sundries Store Downstairs: The store sells: Choco Leibniz cookies, pantyhose, liquorice allsorts [sic], and blank audiocassette tapes.

The store does not sell: Red Hots candies, Red Herring magazine, or any porn that I can see (that last despite a handwritten sign prohibiting the opening and reading of such magazines while in the store).

: Not Just Simple Interest: Last night I finished watching The Secret History Of The Credit Card, another great Frontline show. I am going to look up my credit score by getting a free credit report, and investigate credit unions that don't suddenly raise interest rates or fees on their customers for no good reason (unlike most issuers).

I worry about the innumeracy of my fellow Americans. Remember the magic of compound interest from math class? Remember the graph that makes it look so neat to save money and so scary to borrow? Too many people have forgotten it, or never learned.

I can't post about usury without pointing out Daniel Davies on Ezra Pound on usury.

Loan sharks seek out poor neighbourhoods; they don't create them, and the fact that extremely poor people are nevertheless prepared to pay extortionate prices for the ability to move consumption around in time just confirms what a great thing it is to have access to debt...

It is absolutely horrible to be deep enough in debt that you worry about it, and this simple truth about modern life is one which is not mentioned anything like often enough. One of the consequences of having a social relation of debt is that it creates fear and worry in the lives of debtors, and this is a cost which ought to be set against the benefits of an expanding credit-based economy, and to be minimised as far as possible. Specifically, although loan sharks provide a valuable service to the poor, they often do so in an extremely destructive way, and they should be regulated as tightly as possible; also, the bankruptcy law for individuals should be easy and free of stigma.

: Thousands Of Things!: Family, job, friends, comedy, food, aaaah! Thousands of neat things happened today! Must sleep and process!

: Great Deals On Indulgences: I'm obsessed with religion (Christianity specifically) and money (taxes and loans specifically). In reference to the latter:

Credit unions don't have a huge incentive to screw over their member/owner/customers. Therefore, you might consider joining one and getting your credit through it instead of using a for-profit corporation whose shareholders care about profit above all else. In San Francisco, any resident can join The San Francisco Federal Credit Union or The San Francisco Fire Credit Union.

Speaking of great deals, Amtrak is discounting its LA-Chicago line by 70% this week. Lawrence, Kansas is on that line! Also, 25% off Coast Starlight rides (the LA-Seattle line).

: More On Usury, & Eric And Dylan As Shylocks: I have not yet seen the new Merchant of Venice movie. While considering watching it, I came across an essay on Shylock.

....The Magna Carta, the basis for English constitutional law, is itself a testament to the growing unpopularity of Jewish money-lending activities. Two clauses in the 1215 document state that if a debtor dies before his debt is paid, neither his heir nor his widow will be responsible for repaying the debt....

In Shylock's final scene, Shakespeare had him act out another stereotype: a ritual murder. Of course, there is no mention in the play that Shylock would use Antonio's blood in any religious ritual. But the audience would have immediately associated the stage action with the myth. Shakespeare seemed to be giving his audience exactly what they expect from a stage Jew. In Portia, the audience got the means to stop the ritual murder because she would not let the Jew shed one drop of Christian blood. The text specifically says "Christian," reinforcing the "blood libel" legends....

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: Movies: I got to see Bride and Prejudice recently, as well as Hitch.

B&P was worth watching, but had some truly "whaaaa?" badness. Many of the songs are in English and sound stupid. Due to a charisma deficit and a lack of singing, the male lead doesn't really convince us of why the female lead should love him. The movie contains a tiny bit of class discussion, but the servants are completely ignored! But I'm Indian-American, so I had to watch, and I did enjoy it. Also, you will laugh at how Rai twists the famous first line of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and non-Indians dancing in Bollywood style = funny.

Hitch is unfortunately not about Christopher Hitchens. It is a very capable Will Smith vehicle and made me laugh and say "awwww". Smith can pull off melodrama that others couldn't, and I found the dialogue and most of the plot devices quite acceptable. Recommended.

Oh, and I got to show Leonard Office Space today. Office Space speaks to an essential truth about knowledge work and the management of corporations. So does The Matrix, which I will probably never get Leonard to see. You'd think I'm playing Airplane with the spoon full of peas.

: Don't Get Me Started On The SFO Post Office That's Open 18 Hours A Day Including Sundays: My father, a civil engineer and Hindu priest, and my mother, a homemaker with a master's in literature, founded Amerikannada together. It was a family affair from the beginning. My parents solicited articles from their friends, fellow immigrants from India's Karnataka state. They all spoke Kannada, a language with a rich heritage that my parents wanted to keep alive in the American diaspora. Hence the name. The logo featured a griffin-like creature, half-lion, half-bald eagle.

As my parents processed subscriptions, wrote, and edited, my sister and I stapled, stamped, glued, and sealed bits of paper in languages we couldn't quite yet read. We used the magical bulk-mail stickers, red and orange and green with single-letter codes, and piled envelopes into burlap sacks and plastic bins for the frequent trips to the post office.

It was always my Dad who took the Amerikannada mail to the post office. He was strong in those days, heaving the great bags of mail like an Indian Santa Claus alongside the blue-uniformed workers on the loading dock, the part of the post office most people never use or even see. My sister and I came along, not to help -- how could we? -- but to keep my Dad company.

The magazine died. The Internet entered our lives. My father grew frail. I never saw the bulk stickers again; companies now print barcodes on envelopes for presorting.

Salon moved into Rincon Center in February. I've discovered a post office downstairs. I think my coworkers don't entirely share my glee. Sure, it is convenient for changing one's address and for sending packages. But the most exciting part is the tiny philately department that sells the special collector's stamps. I thought it was a museum at first, since the displays take up so much of the room. I saw stamps of odd denominations, strange shapes, spare designs and colorful ones, and even collector's stamps that are not valid for postage.

A wizened collector stood at the counter, asking for a few rows of a Reagan and a panel of sparrows. He and the seller spoke in code, in mantras, in reverence for these stickers that mean more than simply payment for the conveyance of an envelope.

The next time my Dad comes to SF, I want to take him to the philately room. Maybe they'll have a lion stamp somewhere that I can smoosh together with an eagle stamp. He always did want me to take over the magazine.

: The Cloth Pouch Is Really Nice, Possibly The Femininest Thing I Own: I've updated my guide to menstruation products. Excerpt:

The brown rubber Keeper now has a white silicone sister, the DivaCup. I haven't used the latter; here's a compare-and-contrast....

...I visited a vegetarian expo and got to buy a few hundred GoodFriend Herbs Sanitary Pads from Good Friend Biotech at a wholesale price. I approve. They smell nice, but not in an artificial way, even after they are soaked with menstrual blood, and I figure the mint and whatnot can't hurt. You won't see the pads on their site but you can order them via mail, and you'll get a bulk discount even if you're not a distributor or retailer. Disclaimer: at least a few people think GoodFriend pads smell "like dirt", or at least weird.

: Best Email Opening Ever:

Dear Sumana
Anyone as prompt as you are will surely go to heaven.
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: More Theology Comedy: I've never seen Dr. Who and yet all references to Daleks crack me up. Also Triffids.
He'll say it for all of us.
Calling Steve Schultz: this one mentions Ultraman!

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: Nerdcore Hop: The Metreon at 4th and Mission in San Francisco has a Dance Dance Revolution machine in an arcade on the theater floor. The machine now runs DDR workalike software called "In The Groove" and most of the songs are in English. Today I got to dance to MC Frontalot's "Which MC Was That?".

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: "Sumana" Hasn't Yet Cracked The US Top Thousand: The Baby Name Wizard is a neat site about baby names. If you can view Java stuff in your browser, look at the Baby Name Wizard Name Voyager, which shows you the relative popularity of names in the US in the twentieth century (as long as the names were in the top thousand). Some observations:

People are naming their kids "Genesis". Should this be a boy name or a girl name? How about "Jaeden"? Evidently "Jaeden" is male, while Leonard opines that "Jaeden" "is a name for a Trill." There were quite a few "Deanna"s in the '80s and '90s.

People are naming their sons "Xander" and "Logan". People are naming their daughters and sons "Diamond". (There used to be men named "Pearl" but women have pretty effectively claimed that ground for our own. "Loren" also used to be male and is now female.)

"Rosemary" is sort of down but "Sage" is way up.

"Otis" has been slowly declining for a century.

"Grace" and "Hope" are more popular, which is too bad because I used to like them. Now I won't want to use them if I have kids, and I'll associate them with mewling brats.

"Thalia"??? "Thyra"????

"Porter" and "Portia" have alternated in popularity.

"Scott", "Pearl", "Erin", "Carlton", and "Petra" are out of fashion. "Fern" and "Florence" are nice and unpopular. "Basil", "Douglas", and "Dorothy" are down. "Lois" is on the wane.

"Horace", "Hortense", and "Columbus" have dropped out of the top thousand. Leonard and I both like "Horace" - maybe it's the connection to the old-school writer. There were a bunch of "Cicero"s 100 years ago. "Homer" dive-bombed in the '80s; "Virgil" died later. There were a lot more female "Vergie"s than male "Vergil"s.

I noticed that there are a lot more Josefs than there used to be. Leonard decided that this is "because Stalin is hot, hot, hot."

I noticed that people are naming their kids "Chasity" [sic]. Leonard: "They are naming their kids that to get around spam filters."

Awww, no one is naming their little boy "Columbus" anymore.

Who named their kids "Buddy" en masse in the '30s? We think of "Buddy" as a nickname but back then it was a real name.

There is a big spike of "Kobe"s and "Shaquille"s recently.


: Or Possibly Joke-hovah: Today's a really unusually wonderful day, weatherwise, in San Francisco. It just calls out for an earthquake from Jerkhovah. Leonard: "I'm still God, and I hate you!"

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: Question Marks: Unitarian Universalist jokes and a Satanism joke: "Satanism seems to be an elaborate prank designed to annoy Christians while having some good parties ... rather than a system one could practically live by."

The classics AND contemporary media sometimes show people doing immoral things, and sometimes we see that these actions lead to their downfall. Kristen, you ask why certain books become classics, and whether classics that portray immoral behavior are smut. I've never understood what smut is. I think smut would be pornography that didn't care about a story or characters. The classics care about story.

Literature explores different ways of being human, as my old English teacher said. I realized, after reading George Eliot's classic Middlemarch and finding in Rosamond's character a reflection of myself, that I should be more emotionally independent and not a self-important parasite like her. But that's not because the story punishes her. It's because Eliot describes Rosamond so precisely, wittily, and devastatingly that I wince at recognizing myself.

And TV shows have taught me stuff, too. Sitcoms teach me that lying and hiding stuff never works; if I'm straightforward and honest with people, my life gets a lot easier. The elegant plot structures and wordplay I remember from Seinfeld (probably a classic) and Mad About You taught me about art before I ever read Fitzgerald.

I'd argue that the movie The Matrix is a classic; if anyone wants me to expand on that, shoot me an e-mail.

Compare-and-contrast: the CAPAlert guy who marks a movie down for portraying sin, even if the movie shows the sinner punished for his sin. His justification is that the very portrayal of the sin might influence a child who had not previously considered that sin. I'm not certain there are any edifying stories that don't depict bad behavior; there has to be a Goofus to make Gallant look good.

In our everyday lives, sometimes good things happen to bad people and vice versa. So morality plays for children will have to be somewhat unrealistic, and stories for adults, aiming to recreate the familiar, will depict these dismaying outcomes. (I hesitate to say the word "unrealistic." I've just read C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, and his scorning comments on the secular world's use of the word "real" to mean "most unpleasant, whether material or notional" make the word "real" stick in my throat. What a funny, disorienting, doubly-directing book, Lewis's Christian edifications feinting behind the Devil's decreasingly convincing instructions.)

Last night I saw Camus's The Just, a hundred-year-old play about terrorists aiming to overthrow the Tsarist Russian state. [Spoilers ahead.] In the end, only one of them dies, but one goes mad. We as adults watching the play know that none of these people comes to a happy end and Russia never gets free, but within the play there's very little explicit punishment for the plotting and murdering. [End of spoilers.] Does that make the play immoral? I really doubt The Just encourages anyone to become a terrorist.

But the main point of your post, Kristen, was about teaching ourselves to act responsibly and accountably. If I could change one thing about the way my parents raised me, I'd work on that very aspect of my rearing. If they'd let me make little choices and suffer the consequences of choosing wrongly, I'd have been more prepared for the stormy ocean of adult life. I think.

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: Who Would Need To Say "AOL" To Describe E-Mail?: Two-person Taboo is a relaxing game in improving communication skills and revealing implicit assumptions. Last night, I tried to describe "Denzel Washington" to Leonard by saying, "This is an African-American man who gets paid to pretend things that are lies." His guess: Armstrong Williams.

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: A Round Of Music: When I'm turning off my computer at home, and I type "poweroff", I sing "Pow-Pow-Poweroff," like in the old TV ad for "Power Wheels" (a child-sized car).

Susanna gave Leonard and me macadamia nut oil for Christmas. Thank you, Susie! The name of the Nature's Way macadamia nut oil is "MacNut Oil." Leonard and I sing it to the tune of the phrase "Uptown Girl" in the eponymous song by Billy Joel.

Recently I got to watch a bit of The World Of Chemistry, starring Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffman. It has very energetic music over the opening credits and Leonard is quite enamored of it.

: People Cleaving To Each Other: Man, all these people are getting married. A coworker, Andrew and Claudia, Joshua Micah Marshall even. This is following a small spate of weddings by Salon workers over the past six months. It's pretty unnerving.

: The Summer Founders And The Sunshine Patriots: If you have ever considered founding a startup company, Paul Graham says that now's the time and he's here to help.

: Declaring The Pennies On And The Planks In My Eyes: I see that you can e-file for free but I find paper reassuring. My 2004 taxes are complicated enough that I'd prefer the extra reassurance of an accountant. Anyone know a California CPA who'd like my custom?

The Beatles' Taxman has some kinship with, and a mashup with, the theme from Batman.

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: Wheee: In a few minutes, Unix will reach a meaningless milestone: the number of seconds since it started will be a bunch of 1s in a row. If you have access to a command line,

perl -e 'print time, "\n";'

might work, as might

date "+%s"
to excite your sense of wonder.

: Fame, I Want To Live Forever: Neat! Heather Gold has extended her one-woman show through April. If you'd like to go, let me know and I'll try to hook you up.

Heather's site now includes a QuickTime trailer, featuring my disembodied voice introducing Heather in the first half-second.

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: And Of Course "Arrested Development" Blew My Mind: Through the magic in KEXP's internet stream, I've discovered Clem Snide's music and intend to seek more of it.

A full weekend. I met Joel Spolsky at his publisher's party (an Apress rep begged us to blog the party for no good reason I could tell), possibly hooked up an acquaintance with a new job, went to the zoo with Eric (the flamingos did Cleese-esque silly walks and a koala pooped upon noticing us), and watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dr. Strangelove, and about ten minutes of Zardoz with Claudia and Andrew. I'd never seen any of these films before, although I think my ex adored Zardoz.

I'm not sure whether I'm more amused at the flamingos or at my own ability to flip an omelet in midair, which I discovered this morning.

Gotta get up early to do work I should have done over the weekend! If one of those items pans out, I will have good news to tell you all soon, and will need to throw a party.

: Reverse Foodies: If you have a dietary restriction of any sort, or if you often host parties including people who do, please let me know so I can ask you a few questions. I'm going to write an article about vegetarians, vegans, and people who keep kosher or halal or have food allergies, and their effect on hospitality.

: gH: When dismayed, we often say "Gah." If I'm quite dismayed, I'll say "Gaah" or even "Gaaaahhhh!". But how can we quantify our dismay more precisely and accurately?

gH is a measuring tool for dismay. Its scale is akin to the pH scale of alkalinity and acidity.

7 = no dismay.
0 = dismay at murder, rape, and other such awful, barbaric behavior.
14 = dismay at Precious Moments figurines and other such sappy glurge.

Yes, a typo in an instant messaging conversation inspired this model. Coleridge only wishes he was on AIM.

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: Frist Post: Leonard and I used to think Bill Frist was a curiosity, and I once flipped through his disaster-prep how-to book, When Every Moment Counts: What You Need to Know About Bioterrorism from the Senate's Only Doctor. Now, as Amy Sullivan points out, "Now that Tom Coburn is the junior senator from Oklahoma, Frist is merely the Senate's only not insane physician."

I harbor a deep and unreasoning affection for the nerdy pun in this post's title.

: Fannishness: Eeeee! Aishwarya Rai in Oakland!

: We All Fall Down: "A woman's battle for the soul of Islam" and "A 'virtuous pagan' looks at the priesthood" make it seem that every week Salon interviews an interesting woman who's thinking about Abrahamic (Judeo-Christian-Muslim) faith. I think that isn't true, but should be.

Emily Proctor quotes an Indianapolis bishop as saying, "Of course the church messes up. We have to mess up or else we would have to believe the Inquisition was a good thing." I love seeing officials of organized religion admit fallibility. Religious officials as a group tend to emphasize obedience and belief too much for my taste. For example, Bill Keller of LivePrayer will say that he's an imperfect servant of the Lord and that we're all depraved, sinful, and far from the mind of God, which rather makes me wonder why I should listen to him in particular when he tells me that he knows what the Lord wants from us. (His usual defense: circular arguments involving the Bible.)

I think it's a good thing that there is no one Pope governing Islam. Asra Nomani's local mosque isn't being very flexible (and ShaBot would not approve), but Islam as a whole can be. Witness the Spanish imams' fatwa against bin Laden and Nomani's Muslim Women's Freedom Tour.

Maybe a schism is coming. Maybe we'll have Sunni, Shiite, and Nomani Islam. Maybe the new flavor will descend into rigid hierarchy and one of its sects will launch an attack aginst an alien community on Mars. When I speculate about the future of these organized religions, I can't see how they can escape their cycles of schism and fundamentalism.

Geeks say of using "regular expressions" to solve certain computer problems that "now you have two problems." When politicians and religious activists try to solve problems, I feel lucky if they only double them. How do we finally get the bubble of air out from under the wallpaper instead of just moving it from side to side?

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: No: Is there a television show that balances trash and wit more perfectly than House?

No, there is not.

: Take Care: San Francisco Chronicle readers and a Salon editor tell their stories of continuing or ending extraordinary care for family members during severe illnesses. I cried.

Death may be slow and gradual for me or it may be a flash of white and pain. In case someone else has to make that awful decision, I need to write up an advance health directive and a durable power of attorney for my sister to use.

: Happy Purim!: I hope those of you who celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim have a good time. I remember evincing amazement when my freshman-year roommate told me she was supposed to booze till she didn't know good from evil; now that seems completely normal to me. Oh no, I've defined deviancy down!

During some services on the "Jewish Mardi Gras", you get to boo when the rabbi mentions the villain's name. That's pretty awesome.

It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays and parodies, and to hold beauty contests. I have heard that the usual prohibitions against cross-dressing are lifted during this holiday, but I am not certain about that.
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: I New York Kind, I Delaware: I sit in my room and listen to the cover of "Black Hole Sun" on The Moog Cookbook (think rockin', yet Muzak) while composing a review of Good Catholic Girls by Angela Bonavoglia. This morning some subway musicians brought me to tears with Pachelbel's Canon in D.

But the most significant musical experience of the past week has been obsessively listening to a CD by Lawsuit. Lawsuit was a ska band from Davis, California with awesome lyrics and sound. I discovered the band while driving around Oakland and listening to KALX; an infinitely cool DJ played "Oh Boy!", which is about a couch that yearns for a better life. I obtained some of Lawsuit's other stuff. Leonard absolutely adores "North Dakotachrome" above all other Lawsuit songs and can't listen to any others because he worships that track so. That's reasonable, since "North Dakotachrome" possesses upwards of thirty geography puns as well as a catchy melody.

Lawsuit's lead singer died years ago and so there will be no reunions, but you can download the music as MP3s and play the "North Dakotachrome" game. If enough people do this and compile lists of the puns, I might have a contest.

: Cole Porter, Genius: Did Malcolm X get his "Plymouth Rock landed on us!" line from the eponymous song of Anything Goes?

The line in that song that interchanges wrong and right and day and night reminds me of The Communist Manifesto on the conveniently changing morality of every age. "All that is solid melts into air" would totally fit into Anything Goes except I don't know how to make it fit the meter and rhyme scheme.

: D-D-D-Doctor House in the House!: I originally started watching Fox's medical drama House because it stars Hugh Laurie, better known to American audiences as Bertie Wooster in the TV adaptations of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories.

Now I watch it because of Hugh Laurie, because of the character of Dr. House, because of the banter, and because I want to figure out what they are doing with the female characters. So far I'm disappointed; both Cutty and Cameron get defined by their attractiveness and romantic interest in House. Hugh Laurie is indeed pretty attractive as House, and helps me understand why some women fall for jerks. He's like James Spader in The Practice in that way.

I also watch it because it is basically the only drama I can watch with Leonard. The campaign plots on The West Wing cause him unpleasant flashbacks to his time working for Wesley Clark, and Enterprise is in reruns.

I certainly don't watch it for the variety of plots - it's almost as formulaic as Home Improvement was. But that's soothing too.

: Fun-To-Say Word Of The Moment: Atavistic!

This follows Thursday evening's word, hamentashen.

: Litigious Fairy-Tale Queens: From The Fact-Checker's Bible by Sarah Harrison Smith, pgs. 74-75:

Audiotapes of interviews can be a wonderful source [italics in original]. They offer excellent legal protection. In a trial, libel lawyer David Korzenik says, "the factual support for an article needs to be reproducible; tapes are better than notes." He adds, "Everyone thinks they've been misquoted. Most people would sue a mirror for what it shows them in the morning if they could...."
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: Also, I Put The Caller On Hold And Then Cursed Them: I bit my own hand as a silent stress relief technique during a bad customer support call today. I must have learned this as a child when my parents did not look kindly upon my shrieks of dismay at some huge injustice.

The tooth marks are gone but I may have some bruises.

: And All The Faces Are Female!: Am still blah from boring work and tech disaster at last night's Egg/Cookie show. Lunch with a friend will help. What would also help would be if the huge faceless organizations that are supposed to get back to me about possible projects that would make my life inordinately cool would, in fact, get back to me. I'm talking to you, [redacted]!

Actually none of these organizations are faceless.

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