Sunday, December 27, 2009

A modest proposal

Who decided that Christmas and New Year's should come so close together?

In the past I never noticed that this was a problem. As an academic, I had a month off from classes at this time of year to hunker down at home and do my own work without being bothered. As a zookeeper I had no holidays off at all.

But now it's a huge inconvenience. Sure, I can write on whatever days I want. But as a nonfiction writer, I need to be able to get in touch with other people to do my work, and they're not answering their email or phones on those days. And as a freelancer it's still a lot like being a zookeeper: I have no time off - I have to meet all the same deadlines I would have otherwise. So the only thing these "holidays" accomplish is that I have to somehow pack two weeks of work into eight weekdays instead of ten.

I am sure the same is true in many other professions. What's more, I think we can all agree that we don't need another day off next week nearly as much as we need it at other times. There are entire months when Americans have no holidays.

I propose that we move New Years Day. How about March, when it's so depressing that we need a holiday? Or June, when the weather is nice and we could make better use of a day off?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How much is that puggy on the counter?

Buy one get one free!

Lilly has always wished that I would open a store where she could hang out all day. Now we are working part-time at her favorite local dog boutique, so she has at least partly gotten her wish. She hates to leave at the end of the day, no matter how long we have been there.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why pugs hate Christmas

Why pugs hate Christmas
Originally uploaded by wombatarama

Bah Humpug!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays
Originally uploaded by wombatarama

Saturday, December 5, 2009

No more stuffed pugs for Christmas

I think...

(I found four more that I neglected to put in the picture. Just small ones, really.)

Monday, November 30, 2009


One of the things I hated about being a college professor was when people asked me what I did for a living. Along with it being impossible to explain what linguistics is, it just seemed like such a pretentious thing to be.

So then I went to the other extreme and worked at a job where I had to haul bales and sweat and get sore and have poop all over my clothes.

Now, when people ask what I do, I have to say I am a writer. Which combines all the pretentiousness of being a professor with the low pay of being a zookeeper.

I guess I am going to have to keep trying till I get this right.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!
Originally uploaded by wombatarama

sort of...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pugs with Thanksgiving parade

Pugs with parade
Originally uploaded by wombatarama

They are not having too much fun. Who doesn't love a parade? A pug who'd rather be at the dog store getting cookies, that's who.

Also I think Lilly did not like the competition for attention. There was not nearly enough petting considering the number of people on the street.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

More from the history of infectious disease

Another picture from the Halloween plague event. (I was hoping this one would get in the newspaper article, but it didn't.)

This woman is helping kids make plague masks, like the one worn by the statue in my earlier post, out of construction paper. But it's something else that's really interesting. She's not just dressed in period costume, she's dressed as a particular person from the history of infectious disease: Sarah Nelmes, who was the milkmaid of Edward Jenner. Jenner basically invented vaccination when he noticed that people like his milkmaid who'd had the related disease cowpox were immune to smallpox.

But the best part was after I wrote all that down and I asked her name. Which is also Nelmes. She thinks she's probably a relation, since her family originated in the same part of England.

(If you click to see the large version of the photo, you can see that she has costume wounds on her hands to represent the cowpox pustules.)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009


You can keep your zombies and monsters and all that fake stuff. What I did for Halloween was go to a museum exhibit about epidemics. Now that's scary.

(That's the outfit that a doctor wore to treat a patient with the plague. The beak is stuffed full of herbs that they hoped would ward off infection.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Corn in maze, with human for scale

Corn in maze, with human for scale
Originally uploaded by wombatarama

There were actual ears of corn on those stalks. I know I am a dumb city kid, but this was sort of surprising.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Idiotic dilemmas of modern life

Idiotic dilemmas of modern life
Originally uploaded by wombatarama

After two years I finally took the perfect cell phone wallpaper photo of Lilly. Of course, then the phone started to die. I thought, no problem, because everyone told me, they can transfer the pictures.

Well, they can. But the new phone zooms and crops the picture when it sets it as wallpaper without asking me. So it's ruined.

I know, I should get a REAL problem. But I am SO CROSS.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Five pugs and a foot

Five pugs and a foot
Originally uploaded by wombatarama

We had a party of pugs last weekend and I forgot to mention it!
More pictures here and here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Power speaking truth back atcha

From an AP story about yet another recent demonstration on the National Mall, it doesn't really matter which one:

Rep. Barney Frank... said the marchers should be lobbying their lawmakers. He said the demonstrations are simply "an emotional release" that do little to pressure Congress.

"The only thing they're going to be putting pressure on is the grass," the Massachusetts Democrat said Friday.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The newspaper of record

From the New York Times:
Correction: September 22, 2009
A picture caption on Sunday with an article about the garbage crisis in Cairo, caused by the Egyptian government’s misguided campaign last spring to eradicate swine flu by killing all the pigs — once the city’s champion garbage consumers — misidentified the animals shown sampling Cairo street refuse with less gusto than the pigs. They were fat-tailed sheep, not goats.

I've written to the Washington Post in the past because they misidentified an animal and never seen a correction. It's nice that someone cares.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Spread out all over the Internet

I guess all the cool kids have one of these now:

It's kind of old school actually. Remember when a blog used to be links to other stuff on the web? Seriously, I swear I remember that. That's why they were called "weblog" and not "online diary" or whatever.

Anyway, that's what these seem to be used for, but now we have better technology, so fancier. I'm hoping it helps with my increasing unwieldly list of bookmarks - I can put things there instead if I don't need to visit them regularly - if nothing else.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

MOON cake

I wish I could go to Hong Kong and get some. Look at the whole collection here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Decline and fall of print journalism

Here is the saddest story I have heard lately.

I am writing a column on trap-neuter-return management of feral cats. One person I interviewed said that she went to Dayton to trap some cats, and they had a problem because they line the traps with newspaper, and Dayton doesn't have a newspaper anymore.

I love the internet, but you can't line animal cages with it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


This is a photo from my last column by AP photographer Jacquelyn Martin. She took this one too, which is of course better because it has two pugs in it, but, wow, huh?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Plant one!

Lilly entered a trick contest at an event run by the store where she goes nearly every day to beg for cookies, Living Ruff. She did a routine of all her tricks in a row, starting with the dance, including the wave bye-bye and ending with this, the Plant One.

The judges sitting at the table are Mary Alice of Charm City Cakes, famous for the tv show Ace of Cakes, Jen, famous for the Silver Spring Penguin, and some guy. He does something really worthy with therapy dogs at Walter Reed but I don't know his name, and in this picture, I am standing so you can't see him. Sorry, Some Guy.

Lilly won second place, which had a $30 gift certificate prize. She can buy her own damn cookies for a few weeks.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Adventures in local journalism and fried dough

See that unassuming metal building on the far side of the courtyard?

It just looks like an equipment shed or something boring like that. But inside is the whole summer's worth of food preparation for a Greek church festival, like these five foot tall carts full of moussaka and pastitsio, ready for their close-up:

In the church basement (where it is much warmer than in the walk-in freezer), a bunch of ladies are punching dough:

and rolling it out:

and cutting it up:

and frying:

Unfortunately this story doesn't have an end yet, because I left before they finished filling the rest of the big plastic trays with the fried diples and putting honey and nuts on them:

Stay tuned and maybe next weekend there will be a final picture, but I might be too busy eating the other fried dough thing that I like better.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What writing is good (or bad) for

Harvard once considered hiring Nabokov to teach literature; Roman Jakobson, then a professor of linguistics there, is supposed to have asked whether the university was also prepared to hire an elephant to teach zoology.

That is from an article by Louis Menand in the June 8/15th New Yorker. I just got around to going through three months' of New Yorkers to cut out the cartoons. I didn't find any cartoons, but I liked this quote.

I had a moment of terror realizing that I had kept the magazines since June, because I fear that if I went off the deep end, I'd become one of those people who hoards reading material until they can't walk around the house and are eventually found dead under a fallen-over stack of magazines. This fear has been aggravated lately by reading a bunch of papers on the related disorder of animal hoarding and also by a review of the latest E.L. Doctorow novel, which is about a couple of famous hoarding brothers in New York who died in the 1940s in just this way.

But more to the point: THREE months of New Yorkers with no cartoons I wanted to cut out? Is it them, or me? Are they no good anymore? Or am I old, and have read so many cartoons in my life that I am harder to please? I don't know, but there's still a list of web cartoons in the sidebar over there that I enjoy every morning, you know?

Friday, September 4, 2009


There is an asteroid named after Bruce Springsteen.

There are so many asteroids, I wonder if one could aspire to this goal. Previously my highest concept of fame was the dream that someday I'd publish a book and see a stranger reading it on the subway.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why sometimes a person just gives up and goes to Starbucks

Recently I decided there is no excuse for someone who works at home, with a full kitchen, to go out to Starbucks in the afternoon for a chocolate banana smoothie. However, the chocolate banana smoothie, which is under 300 calories, is a pretty healthy afternoon snack. So the plan was to figure out to make the same thing at home.

The first obstacle was that I don't have a blender. We threw out the blender when the kitchen was being remodeled. It was a new blender that I had bought after careful research of reviews from trusted sources, which, when it arrived in the mail, I discovered had a glass container that weighed about a hundred pounds. And which didn't always screw onto its bottom properly, resulting in its liquid contents spilling out the bottom all over the blender base. There was absolutely nothing good about this blender. So when faced with the prospect of finding someplace to store it during the remodeling, I jumped at the chance to throw the damn thing out.

Now, I do have a stick blender, which I bought as a replacement, not being willing to buy another stand blender after that traumatic experience, and thinking it would take up less space and be useful for blending things without dirtying another container. It turns out that is great for things that are already being prepared in some kind of container, but stinks for making drinks because you can't really put it in a drink glass. It might work if we bought the right kind of container to use it in, but at the point of considering that, it becomes clear that what we need is a regular blender.

So, first I went out and bought a blender.

Then, I went to Whole Foods to find a chocolate protein shake mix. There's one made with soy, but sometimes soy milk gives me a stomachache. So I looked at the other, made with whey protein. WTF. They sell this at a store called "WHOLE foods"? There appears to be no entire food anywhere in this product. There was also that warning that they put on aspartame, although I couldn't find aspartame in the ingredients. I got no idea what's going on here with micro-filtering whey and having to warn phenylketonurics not to eat the stuff, but no way I am buying it.

So I decided, if the alternative was something that started with milk and then processed it beyond recognition, why not just make the thing with milk?

OK, fine. I have milk. Now I just need a way to make it chocolate flavored. So I go look at the chocolate milk powders. To make a long story about factory ingredients and the quality of chocolate short, it turns out that the only one that I find acceptable is made of just cocoa and sugar.

Well, I have cocoa and sugar at home. So never mind buying that product either. Now remember, real cocoa powder does not dissolve in cold milk unless processed in a factory, so using real cocoa means that I am going to have to make a paste of cocoa, hot water and sugar every time I make a shake. Or else find a recipe for cooking that into a syrup that will keep a little while.

Then I go buy some bananas. Which reminds me, there's this other whole problem which is that to me, bananas are only at an acceptable stage of ripeness for about five minutes. OK, for a shake, I'll eat them a little riper, so they might be OK for about a day. What are the odds that when I want a shake, A, I will have bananas, and B, they will be exactly ripe enough? Yeah.

So, chances are, every time I want a shake, I will have to go to the store to buy a banana. Then I will have to make a paste of cocoa and sugar, then I can put all that stuff in the blender. Then I have to wash the blender, and all the equipment that I used to cut the banana, make the cocoa paste, etc.

There is no way that it will be faster to go across the street, buy a perfectly ripe banana at Whole Foods - assuming they have one that day - and come home and do all of that, than it would be to walk another block and wait on line at Starbucks for a shake in the afternoon when they are usually not busy. It's also unclear when, factoring in the cost of the blender, it will start being cheaper to make it at home. I don't have the energy left to try to do the calculation, even if I knew exactly how many tablespoons of cocoa I am going to want to use and so on.

I give up. Some things are best left to a professional.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Trip to the park

Pug in the park
Originally uploaded by wombatarama

You were expecting a dog park maybe? Silly.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Unclear on the concept

There is a nice store in our neighborhood called Living Ruff. Now that the pugs know that they give out free dog cookies there, Lilly will not go for a walk in the morning unless I clearly state "we are going to the STORE."

Sometimes there are other dogs there and the excitment level gets so high that the cookie feeding frenzy looks like it's about to turn violent. This is usually Lilly's fault, so as in this picture, she gets picked up and put on the tall chair for a time-out.

Someone elsewhere on the internet commented that this was the happiest he'd ever seen someone in time-out and I realized, this is because she keeps getting cookies. I think we are a little unclear on the concept.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Internet wisdom

New optimism test, instead of "glass half empty/full?" is as follows: "Do you read the comments on things?"

-ferociousj on Twitter

Thursday, August 20, 2009

General Annoucement to Pug Dogs

When I am lying in bed in the morning trying to sleep, if you absolutely must lick your foot, PLEASE do so without making that UNGODLY RACKET. I know that this is possible, because I have licked my own paw for comparison purposes and it is UTTERLY SILENT.

Thank you.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I have finally reached one of my goals in life.

For years, I have been swearing that I would stop putting my t-shirts away inside-out. Finally, in the last couple of months, I have managed to get into the habit of turning them right-side out before I fold them, when they come out of the drier inside-out, as they usually do.

Don't let anyone tell you that people can't change. I am living proof.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My theory of Art, or at least music

1. Sometimes stuff is good even if it's popular.
2. Sometimes you don't like stuff even if it's good, and there's nothing wrong with that.
3. It's only rock n roll. Don't get your knickers in a twist.

I said this somewhere else and one of my imaginary friends liked it enough to copy it onto his Facebook page, so I figured it was worth plagiarizing myself here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Still a nation that values reading

Here's a story I forgot to tell last month, so I can give the latest update. In July, a bus driver was photographed reading a book while driving, but the story I read left out a crucial detail, resulting in this letter of mine in the Post:

I don't want to seem flippant about the safety issues involved if the Ride On bus driver in the July 14 Metro article "Bus Driver Who Had Book Is Off Md. Route for Now" was really reading while the bus was moving.

But how could your reporter have not asked the obvious question: What was the book? Those of us looking for a good summer read would be interested to know what book would deserve a blurb like "Couldn't put it down -- even when driving a bus!"

The story disappeared after that, but the resolution was hidden at the end of another article today. I was actually sort of pleased with the comparison among the punishments for the various recent offenses.

Metro has been faced with a series of embarrassing incidents involving bus and train operators this summer. The Washington Post reported this week that a train operator who tested positive for drugs is in rehab after bringing a train that was two cars too long to the Greenbelt Station. In July, another train operator was suspended for 12 days without pay after he was videotaped apparently sleeping behind the controls of a moving train.

Metrobus has also had its share of embarrassing episodes. In the past month, a driver has been charged with kidnapping a passenger; a driver was discovered driving with a suspended license; and another received a written reprimand for reading while transporting passengers.

Only a written reprimand. I still want to know what book was worth it!

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Yesterday I met a local blogger and my first thought was "He sounds taller in writing." My second was that I hoped that I do too.

Monday, August 3, 2009

How to save the publishing industry

The other day I started the fourth book in a row that I did not want to continue reading past the first few chapters. And I thought, you know, maybe I just don't like to read books anymore. Lots of people never read books. Maybe I'm one of them.

Of course this makes it a bit awkward that I still want to write books. I mean, if I don't buy books anymore, how can I expect there to be an industry left to publish mine?

But my Technical Staff pointed out that the solution was very simple and logical. All I have to do is buy books and not read them. The genius of this, of course, is that it's what I am already doing. Now if we could just get more people to follow suit. Who knew that it could be so simple to save the whole book business?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Life with pugs

A while ago, I was visiting my sister in New Jersey. As we were walking with the pugs, a woman came running toward us, waving and shouting "Pugs!" She had a pug puppy with her, so of course this made perfect sense.

We stood around and talked and took photographs. It was all totally normal. The only thing that was a little unusual was that she had one of the kids run back to her house to get treats so we could show them our tricks, but it was just a couple houses down the street, so it was really no big deal.

My sister's conclusion was that pug people are nuts. I told her that even people without dogs come running after us all the time. In fact the other day, I was walking past a shop in my neighborhood WITHOUT the pugs and a woman came running out - also without a dog - to tell me that she always saw me walking past with my dogs and that she really loved them.

If a person who actually had a pug with them didn't stop, that would so be weird that it would actually be suspicious - I'd think they were fleeing a crime scene, or something. And of course, this would never happen, because anyone who had a pug would know better than to take it along to do a crime, with all the attention they attract.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

World affairs

I know this is childish, but I have to say it. Next time we invade a country, can't we pick one that I am at least slightly interested in? This morning NPR spent about half of the whole morning show on reports about the election in Afghanistan. I think that I am a pretty well-informed person who feels a responsibility to care about the rest of the world, but I am sorry, I have tried and I simply can't work up the slightest bit of interest in the election in Afghanistan. Couldn't we pick a country with SOME feature I am interested in, the food or the language or some good animals that live there? Something? Just a little bit of help here?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wisdom of the East, and West

In Book II of the Analects, Confucius turns to Tzu-lu and says, "Shall I teach you what knowledge is? When you know a thing, to recognize that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, to recognize that you do not know it." Just one hundred years after Confucius, Socrates would make the same point in his Apology: "I decided that I was wiser than the man who... thinks he knows something when he knows nothing. Because while I may not know anything, at least I never pretend I do." About twenty-five hundred years later Chief Petty Officer Prendergast told me the same thing when I was learning to become a naval navigator: "The best thing is to know where you are. It's a little worse not to know where you are. But the worst thing is to think you know you are someplace when you really ain't there."

-T.R. Reid, Confucius Lives Next Door

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The book business

The Bobbsey Twins and Baby May received what is regarded as the most extreme rewrite; it is a story about the Bobbsey family's adventures trying to find the parents of a foundling baby. Since, by the 1960s, modern social services had rendered the original story utterly implausible, an entirely new novel was written about the twins' adventures with a baseball-playing baby elephant.

Um, because a baseball-playing baby elephant is so much more plausible, right?

(Quote from Wikipedia, thanks to Cat and Girl.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In the News

This is sure true at my house:

Taller People Make More Money

And, if I had only made this important a psycholinguistic discovery in my career, I would have been proud:

Swearing Makes Pain More Tolerable

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Computers still can't compete with millenia of evolution

I heard the first cicada of the season last night. And I thought, uh oh. We've had unusually cool weather up to now, and I was afraid that the cicada meant that summer was finally really here.

And indeed, when I got up this morning, it was the first day where I could already feel the heat that early. There's still a cool breeze, but the humidity is lurking behind it, and it's obvious where the situation is headed. This is what July normally feels like here.

On the other hand, the weather service was predicting a 60% chance of thunderstorms overnight and there wasn't a drop and the garden is dry as a bone.

Really, should my tax dollars go to support a weather service that predicts less accurately than an insect?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The amazing animal mind

The pugs now recognize the snap that my new laptop makes when it closes and come running when they hear it. They've figured out that when the laptop closes, we are either moving our location - like maybe we're going inside and are going to get a cookie - or even better, maybe we're done working for now and pugs are going to be paid attention to.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Pug puppy pushing pram

Here is a link to the third best pug video on the whole Internet.

(The first two are linked here.)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

pugs on the rocks

He who the pugs call Not-the-Mama nicely agreed to take them on a hike today, but miscalculated a couple of things. One, that a blind pug can't climb up and down piles of huge boulders; and two, as seen here, that once you've climbed through the mud to get up on a rock and frame the perfect shot, you have to remember to focus on the pugs, not the river.

Lilly was having a great time - even at her age she is still like a little mountain goat. For Rose's part, she was thrilled when it was over, but I figure, we all should have an experience like that once in a while for a sense of perspective.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

More Bostons

There is an excellent new store in Rehoboth Beach where we met an excellent Boston terrier, Mirabelle. This is her website with artistic renditions of her adventures, and here are many things to buy which are decorated with her. I have to admit that while pugs are cute, there is nothing like a Boston if you want striking graphic design.

Unfortunately we were there just a few days too early to see her own art show with paintings of her by many different artists.

We were glad to see that Rehoboth has become more smush-faced, and hope to go back soon to buy more things that we never got around to looking at because we were too busy talking about dogs.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pugs with their chins down on other pugs

Originally uploaded by Tom BKK

Haven't had one of these in way too long.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

It is said that in ancient China, pugs had their own slaves

Every Saturday morning in the spring and summer, we take a walk to the local farmers market and share a brioche from a wonderful French baker. Although it's been pouring rain almost constantly lately, we've been lucky on all the Saturday mornings so far - except today.

I always tell people that the nice thing about pugs is that they hate bad weather - you don't have to take them for long walks in the rain. I have to confess that I leave out the part where everyone else gets to stay home on the couch in the nice dry living room while I go out and get drenched to bring home the brioche.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Smush faced competition

Originally uploaded by plummzilla

I may have to admit that this is cuter than anything the pugs have ever done.

Monday, June 15, 2009

yappy hour

yappy hour
Originally uploaded by wombatarama

Saturday, June 13, 2009

bird with its chin down

Not as cute as a pug doing it but pretty darn good for a bird.

Baby frogmouth from Sea World via

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Other People's Posts Roundup

Remember in the old days when a blog was a weblog, a list of links to other things on the web? I swear that's how it used to work.

Do you need a dose of BABY LEMURS? Because I know I do.

This blog about a little walking tooth
is the cutest thing I've ever seen that doesn't have animals in it.

A really good piece of advice, thanks again to Zoomar. And click around there for lots of wonderful weirdness.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

This would be a title worth working for

We'd have a long way to go though. They've been disqualified on requirement 2 every day for as long as I can remember.


Requirements are as follows for the three levels of performance: B.D., B.D.X., and B.D.O.

All levels shall require:
1. Dog does not come on the bed unless invited
2. Dog does not get handler out of bed until alarm goes off
3. Dog takes up only his space
4. Once the lights go out, there is no activity from the dog such as bathing, scratching, chewing on toys, etc.
5. If told to get off the bed, the dog does so immediately.

The Bed Dog degree (B.D.) requires one handler and one dog in bed. It can be earned in a twin sized bed. Higher degrees require larger beds.

The Bed Dog Excellent degree (B.D.X.) puts one dog in bed with two handlers. At this level it is also required that the dog sleep at the foot of the bed, not between the handlers.

The Bed Dog Outstanding degree (B.D.O.) consists of two handlers and more than one dog. At this level it is required that the dogs do not bicker among themselves over space. (If you add a cat to the group, your dog can earn a Bed Dog Unbelievable. Cats can also earn any of these degrees, substituting C. for D. in the degree title.)

Non qualifying performance:
1. Dog anticipates the command to get on the bed
2. Any activity from the dog that requires the handler to get out of bed during the specified time period (when the lights go out until alarm goes off)
3. Knocking the handler out of bed
4. Soiling the bed
5. Not getting along with the other animals in the bed (B.D.O. level)

Major deductions:
1. Waking the handler, without getting him out of bed
2. Minor infractions of scratching, bathing, or chewing during night
3. Causing the handler's feet to go to sleep.

From a 1994 newsletter of a Maryland group called Pets on Wheels, which reprinted this piece by Joanne Barnes "from a Delaware Valley Wolfhound newsletter."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

on creativity and complaining

From Hugh MacLeod,
Human beings have this thing I call the "Pissed Off Gene". It's that bit of our psyche that makes us utterly dissatisfied with our lot, no matter how kindly fortune smiles upon us.

It's there for a reason. Back in our early caveman days being pissed off made us more likely to get off our butt, get out of the cave and into the tundra hunting wooly mammoth, so we'd have something to eat for supper. It's a survival mechanism. Damn useful then, damn useful now.

It's this same Pissed Off Gene that makes us want to create anything in the first place- drawings, violin sonatas, meat packing companies, websites. This same gene drove us to discover how to make a fire, the wheel, the bow and arrow, indoor plumbing, the personal computer, the list is endless.

Part of understanding the creative urge is understanding that it's primal. Wanting to change the world is not a noble calling, it's a primal calling.

We think we're "providing a superior integrated logistic system" or "helping America to really taste freshness". In fact we're just pissed off and want to get the hell out of the cave and kill the woolly mammoth.

I'm always saying this to the Technical Staff: if it weren't for people who complained about the way things were, we'd still be living in caves... without cooked food, books, indoor plumbing, the internet, you name it. Satisfied people don't do the hard work of trying to make things and make things better.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Food for thought

Last night I attended a heritage breed pig cooking competition. The photo above is from a butchering demonstration at the event. The pigs were special crossbreeds of traditional breeds, from EcoFriendly, the company run by Bev Eggleston, whose name may be familar if you've read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, but who really deserves a book to himself.

Eggleston told me about how he stops to give thanks to each animal before he slaughters it and how he will immediately fire an employee who approaches his job with the least bit of unkindness or aggression. If you've been fighting with your spouse all night and can't get your mind in the right place, he tells his workers, let him know, and he'll have you pack boxes for the day instead. He wants no one to cause the death of an animal on his watch without the proper state of mind.

"I want my customers to be aware that blood is shed, that the ultimate gift is given," he told me, but he's not about guilt-tripping, but appreciating that gift. He treats his animals well up to and including the last moment of their lives, and, he says "Happy pigs taste great."

He says that people call him progressive, but he feels like he was born too late, in the wrong century - all he's trying to do is get back to the attitude that people had when they lived close to their animals and respected what they provided.

And wow, it's a good thing they got more exercise in those days too, because look at the amazing delicious fat on these "old time old school fatty pigs":

Friday, May 29, 2009

Great literature and snacks

I am re-reading all the books that I have by Daniel Pinkwater and rediscovering why he is my favorite children's author: there is only a very little plot, and a whole lot of eating out.

Even better, the eating out happens mostly in odd, old-fashioned, pleasures-of-urban-decay establishments. The only way that these books could be better would be if the characters were always drinking egg creams instead of root beer. But I guess it's easier to suspend disbelief about multidimensional time travel and sentient earthworms than it would be to believe that you can get an egg cream outside of New York City.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

the pug mind

Rose is looking with great concern at a hopping, yodeling, remote-controlled lederhosen we just got from Archie McPhee. It makes quite a racket and is obviously unnatural and disturbing to pugs. But here's the funny thing: as soon as we had finished playing with it and taking pictures of them being disturbed by it, they expected us to give them cookies. Somehow it was clear to them that this was the kind of annoying experience that, if they put up with it, the humans would pay them for it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Everything old is new again

Today I went into Starbucks, and guess what I discovered is the latest beverage that they are pushing: Iced coffee. With milk.

I guess it's possible that there's a whole generation that doesn't realize that there is any other (and cheaper) cold coffee and dairy drink aside from a Frappuccino.

I am not only old enough to remember before Frappuccinos. I'm old enough that I remember one time in grad school, visiting the University of Connecticut, I asked my colleague where I could get an iced coffee and she looked at me like I was mad, like I was asking a small town to provide some fanciful big-city delight like, I don't know, a taxicab hailed on the street or a 24 hour store. Or like I had requested a unicorn sandwich.

So even if we can only afford simple iced coffees at the Starbucks on every streetcorner these days, it's still days of miracle and wonder to old farts like me.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The 21st Century

I just got yelled at for not updating my blog. By someone who could have just walked downstairs and talked to me, if he was so thirsty for a taste of my particular brand of entertainment. Well, it's nice that someone's reading.

Mostly the problem was that I didn't know what to post after that last one, but here's an aerial shot of a couple of smiling pugs to lighten the mood.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pug with Found Object, in memory of Roscoe

Pug with Found Object, in memory of Roscoe
Originally uploaded by wombatarama

Roscoe, the best pug on the internet, who I have mentioned before, passed away yesterday. He was fourteen and though I never met him, it was obvious that he led the best life a pug can live. In the last few years there was nothing that was a bigger bright spot in my day than seeing a new picture of Roscoe.

Sometimes I hate the internet. There are enough things to be sad about without having your heart broken over a dog you never met. I guess that it is always better to have loved and lost, etc., even if long-distance and virtually. But that doesn't make it any easier to see him go.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I hate gardening

Last fall I pulled up a big clump of asters in my front yard because they have pretty little flowers on a big ugly plant that always gets diseased rotting foliage, thus giving an overall impression which is basically repulsive. I am no garden design expert, but I am pretty sure that "repulsive" is not the effect I am striving for, so they had to go.

I tossed them in a big plastic pot so I could easily carry them to the trash, but they got shoved behind a bush and forgotten. These half-rotted, bare-root plants spent all winter freezing and thawing in that empty pot. And now they are showing new green growth.

At the same time, I can point to at least three bare spots in the same bed where I lovingly planted and tended new plants last year and now there is nothing.

And I'm sure I'd be able to point to more, but mercifully, my project to label everything was thwarted by the guys we hired to clean up leaves, whose leafblowers uprooted nearly all my labels.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My dream

Today, Wombatarama's Hollywood correspondent reported that she had read a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, and hadn't liked it, but it had been useful for killing two flies.

See, that's why it's not enough to write articles and I will not rest until I get at least ONE of my damn books published. After so much time spent writing stuff that's only good for lining the birdcage, one longs to produce something lasting. Something that can at least be used to kill a fly or to prop up a table leg, you know?

Friday, May 8, 2009

other people's pugs

These are not my pugs. This is a picture that was taken for a recent column of mine about pug rescue. Awwwwww.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Curmudgeonly environmentalist

I hate the whole thing about taking reusable bags to the store. I'm sure it's just a way for stores to save money, and the environmental argument is just an excuse.

But I realized today that there is one bright side: It's revived the art of careful grocery-bag packing.

Maybe this only ever happened in big cities where many people carried groceries home by foot, but there used to be people who packed groceries into bags beautifully, like it was really their life's work. Maybe the difference is that for years now I've shopped at more suburban stores, but at these places it wasn't uncommon for them to toss only two items in one of those plastic bags and move on.

But today I had ONE reusable tote and slightly too many groceries, and by God if someone hadn't actually spent some time training that cashier to bag, I'll eat my tote.

Monday, May 4, 2009

when piglets flu

Can't find the source... but this is actually the second Pooh-themed swine flu cartoon I've seen. One more and it's a genre.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Quote of the Week

I'm trying to think but nothing happens. - Curly Howard


Thanks to zoomar's (of Roscoe the Pug fame) Twitter.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Quotes of the Week

He's not the only one:
"What Poe most wanted was never again to answer to an editor." -this week's New Yorker

Good news for scatterbrains!
"Cognitive psychologists have found that there is a trade-off between attentional focus and creativity. And there is some evidence that suggests that individuals who are better able to focus on one thing and filter out distractions tend to be less creative." - ditto

Possibly the best DC conversation I have ever been privy to:
"Cherry laurel, it's in bloom now. You know the guy who exposed Watergate - he lives a couple blocks - Bob Woodward. He has one in his yard."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In a bad mood

Originally uploaded by wombatarama

I'd go into detail, but isn't a picture supposed to be worth a thousand words?

Friday, April 17, 2009

The pug mind

Somehow, Lilly knows when I am cooking meat scraps for her in the microwave. She doesn't get excited when I am microwaving something for humans, or when I am cooking meat on the stove. How does she know when I am cooking meat in the microwave for dogs? I suppose she can smell it - but it seems like she also knows that I never cook meat for humans in the microwave.

But she's not as smart as she thinks she is. Because you know what she does, in the remodeled kitchen, when I am microwaving meat for her? She runs over and stands, licking her chops, in front of the counter where the microwave USED to be.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bizarro Customer Service World

We live two blocks from a fancy new shopping street. They do that very, very evil thing where they have Muzak OUTDOORS. I've learned to live with it, but last week, the music was much louder than before, and also, they'd changed the repertoire to the most annoying Baby Boomer era pop hits that you could possibly imagine.

The Technical Staff theorized that they'd chosen the music to chase away teenagers, who have been causing some problems in the area. I decided to write to the management company and inform them that whether or not they were repelling teenagers, they were certainly repelling us and our more-than-teenage income.

I assumed this was one of those things where all the email would accomplish was getting something off my chest. I figured I wouldn't get an answer, or at least, no more than a form letter.

Well, imagine my flabbergastation when I got an email back almost immediately. The woman said she'd look into it the next morning - it was already after the end of the business day when she answered - and even asked what kind of music I would prefer.

When I walked down the street the next day, nothing had changed, and when I remarked cynically upon this, the Tech Staff opined that they probably had to have a week of meetings first.

And indeed - yesterday, I got the following email:

I just wanted to follow up with you and let you know that we have adjusted the volumne on the Muzak System and we have made some changes to the types of Muzak.

Thank you so much for your comments and please let us know what you think of the changes.

I have not actually checked out what they have done yet - it's been raining, but also, I'm just enjoying the moment.

If this weren't weird enough, I just had an experience with the cable company that was remarkably similar. It requires too much tedious technical detail to explain, but suffice it to say, it was so far beyond their usual level of competence and service that I wanted to say to the woman "Excuse me? Don't you know you work for the cable company? Are you sure you won't get fired for this?"

Saturday, April 11, 2009