Flavor “Tripping”

April 29, 2010 at 3:16 pm (Uncategorized)

Last month, I tried these magic berriesThe New York Times article makes you believe they are crazier than the reality, but given yesterday’s medical news about chocolate aiding  depression (thanks to my public health expert commentators for rightly pointing out the flawed causal arguments), flavor tripping sounds like a a better way to get out of a funk.

A friend ordered the West African berries online and then froze them until the DC weather cooperated for a lovely roof-top party.  It cost $1.50 or $2.00 per berry, but well worth the opportunity to “trick” my tongue.  Basically, you take the pulp of the berry and hold it in your mouth for a minute or so.  For the next hour (or half hour in my case) everything tastes sweeter and altered.  Grapefruit without the sour zing, sharp cheeses without the sharpness, raw onions without the kick, popcorn became bitter, gross natural lemons tasted like gross sweetened lemonade.  (Miracle berries could not alter my hatred for the taste of lemons.)

Apparently, the FDA refused to approve a natural sweetener made with the berries magical properties.  The down side is that the berries alter everything you eat for a short period and they won’t alter you mood. 

Enter chocolate…


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Bummer of the Week

April 28, 2010 at 4:18 pm (Uncategorized)

Mood Food: Chocolate and Depressive Symptoms in a Cross-sectional Analysis

by Natalie Rose, MD; Sabrina Koperski, BS; Beatrice A. Golomb, MD, PhD

Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(8):699-703.
Methods:  A sample of 1018 adults (694 men and 324 women) from San Diego, California, without diabetes or known coronary artery disease was studied in a cross-sectional analysis. The 931 subjects who were not using antidepressant medications and provided chocolate consumption information were the focus of the analysis. Mood was assessed using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D). Cut points signaling a positive depression screen result (CES-D score, ≥16) and probable major depression (CES-D score, ≥22) were used. Chocolate servings per week were provided by 1009 subjects. Chocolate consumption frequency and rate data from the Fred Hutchinson Food Frequency Questionnaire were also available for 839 subjects. Chocolate consumption was compared for those with lower vs higher CES-D scores. In addition, a test of trend was performed.

Results:  Those screening positive for possible depression (CES-D score ≥16) had higher chocolate consumption (8.4 servings per month) than those not screening positive (5.4 servings per month) (P = .004); those with still higher CES-D scores (≥22) had still higher chocolate consumption (11.8 servings per month) (P value for trend, <.01). These associations extended to both men and women. These findings did not appear to be explained by a general increase in fat, carbohydrate, or energy intake.

Conclusion:  Higher CES-D depression scores were associated with greater chocolate consumption. Whether there is a causal connection, and if so in which direction, is a matter for future prospective study.

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Can a Streetcar Save DC nightlife?

April 27, 2010 at 8:18 pm (Uncategorized)

14th Street, NW

Thomas Circle, NW

3rd and H, NE

Washingtonians looking for options outside of the Lopont*, Gtown, and Adams Morgan area are intrigued by the H Street Corridor.  Yes, that’s right, NE.  The one strip of bars, restaurants, coffee houses, and a concert venue has attracted Ward 2 NWesterners out of their row houses and high-rises.  The H Street Corridor is like the great Astoria Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden or P.S.1 to Queens-hating Manhattanites, minus a subway stop.  Getting there is a pain involving cabs or the free shuttle bus sponsored by area businesses.  A friend equated the mini-van shuttle experience with going to the airport.  It has clearly tarnished the H Street Corridor’s image as the hip, alternative DC neighborhood.    

Mayor Fenty and the DC Council have answered the call not with an expensive subway expansion, but with an old fashion Streetcar.  Starting in 2012, Washingtonians will have one less excuse to remain held up in one quadrant of their city.  If you want a sneak peek at the new, old-style car, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is hosting a DC Streetcar show on May 5 through 8 at the City Center. 

After a 50 year hiatus, streetcars will once again operate in the nation’s capital in 2012, and at the showcase next week Mayor Fenty and city officials are expected to make some significant announcements about the program and other transit services in the District.   In the first half of the last century, the District had a robust streetcar network with more than 200 miles of track, but as bus service became more prevalent, the popularity of streetcars declined and the last day of streetcar service in the city was January 28, 1962. Today, plans are well underway to restore this rich piece of the District’s history. DDOT is developing a 37 mile, 8 line system, and construction has already started.    –DDOT Press Release

Will this bring us closer to mussels and beer at Granville Moore, shows at the Rock and Roll Hotel, wine at Sova, and sushi at Sticky Rice? I hope so, but given city planning and implementation 2012 could always be delayed.  If you want to go to H Street now at least DC cabs have ended the ridiculous “zone” system.

*Logan and Dupont Circles (a stolen phrase)

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The Only Thing That Can Stop This Asteroid Is Your Liberal Arts Degree

April 26, 2010 at 3:22 pm (Uncategorized)

BY MICHAEL LACHER   http://www.mcsweeneys.net/2010/4/22lacher.html

By now you’re probably wondering what this is all about, why FBI agents pulled you out of your barista job, threw you on a helicopter, and brought you to NASA headquarters. There’s no time, so I’ll shoot it to you straight. You’ve seen the news reports. What hit New York wasn’t some debris from an old satellite. There’s an asteroid the size of Montana heading toward Earth and if it hits us, the planet is over. But we’ve got one last-ditch plan. We need a team to land on the surface of the asteroid, drill a nuclear warhead one mile into its core, and get out before it explodes. And you’re just the liberal arts major we need to lead that team.
Sure, we’ve got dozens of astronauts, physicists, and demolitions experts. I’ll be damned if we didn’t try to train our best men for this mission. But just because they can fly a shuttle and understand higher-level astrophysics doesn’t mean they can execute a unique mission like this. Anyone can learn how to land a spacecraft on a rocky asteroid flying through space at twelve miles per second. I don’t need some pencilneck with four Ph.D’s, one-thousand hours of simulator time, and the ability to operate a robot crane in low-Earth orbit. I need someone with four years of broad-but-humanities-focused studies, three subsequent years in temp jobs, and the ability to reason across multiple areas of study. I need someone who can read The Bell Jar and make strong observations about its representations of mental health and the repression of women. Sure, you’ve never even flown a plane before, but with only ten days until the asteroid hits, there’s no one better to nuke an asteroid.
I’ve seen your work and it’s damn impressive. Your midterm paper on the semiotics of Band of Outsiders turned a lot of heads at mission control. Your performance in Biology For Non-Science Majors was impressive, matched only by your mastery of second-year Portuguese. And a lot of the research we do here couldn’t have happened without your groundbreaking work on suburban malaise and its representation and repression in John Hughes’ films. I hope you’re still that good, because when you’re lowering a hydrogen bomb into a craggy mass of flying astronomic death with barely any gravity, you’re going to need to draw on all the multidisciplinary reason and analysis you’ve got.
Don’t think I don’t have my misgivings about sending some hotshot Asian Studies minor into space for the first time. This is NASA, not Grinnell. I don’t have the time or patience for your renegade attitude and macho bravado. I can’t believe the fate of mankind rests on some roughneck bachelor of the arts. I know your type. You feed off the thrill of inference and small, instructor-led discussion. You think you’re some kind of invincible God just because you have cursory understandings of Buddhism, classical literature, and introductory linguistics. Well listen up, cowboy. You make one false move up there, be it a clumsy thesis statement, poorly reasoned argument, or glib analysis, and your team is dead, along with this whole sorry planet.
I’ve wasted enough time with chatter. Let’s get you over to mission control. Our avionics team needs your help getting their paper on gender politics in The Matrix properly cited in MLA format.

Special thanks to my liberal arts cohort for sharing this piece.

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Corporate America Got it Right

April 24, 2010 at 2:00 am (Uncategorized)

Over the past year, my rage at nonprofit America (I guess I can’t say Corporate America, because I’ve never actually worked there) has not resulted in a fatter paycheck, but in a fatter jean size.

I wish I could say all that misplaced and untapped energy manifests itself on the treadmill, but the scene looks more like me in my PJs and a pint of dark chocolate ice cream.

So when I saw this commercial by Kellogg’s I cringed.  First of all, most of us don’t look that cute when we are at home in our PJs.  Second, despite all my weirdness, in this instance, I really fit some MBA marketing team’s perfect stereotype of a  single, just thirty-something woman, in need of her chocolate fix late at night.  (Although I sometimes need it in the morning too.) Ick.

It gets worse.

I actually bought the product today sustaining said MBA marketing team’s paycheck.

And then it got even worse.

Looking up the embarrassing commercial online there was a discussion of racist undertones in the piece.  Here’s an edited version of one comment:

the premise is: white woman goes to fridge for snack and hears a deep overly enunciated shaft like black voice saying ” you know you want me, im so chocalately.” the voice also says ” come on baby”. this commercial harkens back to the black exploitation films of the 70s, when every brother wanted a white woman and vice versa. it seems hard to believe that kelloggs would be this edgy. i think they have offended both blacks and whites. i wonder if sharpton has seen this yet?

While I am sensitive to race relations in America, and even studied 20th century American advertising with regards to race and gender in college, I don’t know if it’s fair to blame Kellogg’s for racism in this instance.  I mean, at the end of the day, it’s not Kellogg’s fault that vanilla is boring and plain and white and chocolate is vibrant and complex and dark and amazing and hits the spot and has more calories.

I strongly agree that media stereotypes can reinforce negative images, but I hope Sharpton is working on bigger issues.  For example, the disgrace of having to “whiten” a resume for equal access to competitive job interviews in this day and age.  Other ethnic and race groups, sadly, have and will continue to do this too.

This commercial is surely playing on the fears of women more than stereotypes of blacks.  It could be implying that if this woman keeps it up she could end up like…horror of horrors…THIS.

(Okay that might be an extreme, but how else could I have worked that recent sketch into my blog?)

Corporate America, you won this round.  Perfectly calling me out on my sins aka nightly routines.  But, the battle continues.  I rage at nonprofit America and have a gym date tomorrow.

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The Ecological Funeral

April 22, 2010 at 2:35 pm (Uncategorized)

An Essay in honor of the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day: April 22, 2010

The death of a grandparent is a difficult experience for most teenagers.  As a member of the small and dwindling Zoroastrian religion, it was all the prerequisite pain plus my first lesson in ancient environmentalism.

While most of my friends growing up on Long Island sat shiv’ah or attended wakes at funeral homes when a loved one passed away, I attended my grandfather’s funeral while on vacation with my parents in India.  The experience was beautiful, strange, and ecologically friendly.

Zoroastrianism, a pre-Christian, Persian faith, famous for monotheism and Freddie Mercury, embraces rituals which respect and celebrate all the natural elements.  Fire is a symbol of God, water is used to purify the body before worship, adherents face the sun to pray, and abundant flowers and fruit are mandatory at all formal ceremonies.  We eat the fruits after they are blessed as waste is frowned upon. You could say Zoroastrians were the first environmentalists.  Although all faiths have a history of embracing God’s creation, I dare to argue that none go as far as the unique Zoroastrian funeral.

In a large, private, lush green space in the middle of Mumbai’s bustling mega-city, my grandfather’s last rites were performed.   I remember his deceased body was gently placed on the ground and covered in a plain white sheet while the priest above him, also dressed in white, gave his last blessings.  It was my first time in Mumbai since I was eight-years old and I didn’t expect to be surrounded by peaceful trees in a small plot of the city that has escaped urbanization through the centuries.  My mother grieved and made her peace.  It was a simple, yet beautiful funeral consistent with Zoroastrian ideals. And then it got a little strange.

After the priest finished his last prayer which is believed to urge the soul into heaven, my grandfather’s body was carried deeper into the park with a select number of immediate family members following behind.  For the first time, I got as close as possible to Mumbai’s famous Towers of Silence, or dokhmas.  I had only read about the dokhmas in religious classes in New York, which are often described as large stone stadium-like structures that serve as the final resting place for Mumbai’s Zoroastrian community. 

As fire is a symbol of God, cremation goes against ritualistic purity, and burial sites can pollute the ground or create large cemeteries which take valuable land away from the living. It creates an interesting dilemma for a good Zoroastrian: what to do with your last piece of earthly waste? 

In the dokhma, the body is left exposed to the natural elements to decompose mostly by the sun and vultures.  Circle of life sounds more pleasing than composting.  Eventually, the bones are left and the area is cleaned by often poor Zoroastrians that are the only living souls allowed on the private territory. 

Before my grandfather was carried up to the dokhma, a trusty dog sniffed his body in a traditional part of the funeral. Before the days of improved medical science, dog, man’s best friend, was believed to bark if the unconscious body was still alive.  In my grandfather’s case, as in all modern-day funerals, the dog remained silent, tail down, and slowly walked away.

The dokhmas were outlawed long ago under Islamic rule in Iran, making the only active sites in the world in India.  But as Mumbai’s pollution crisis deepens the vultures are dying off themselves. The smog, coupled with a demographic crisis where Zoroastrian deaths far outnumber births, creates a difficult blockade in the circle of life.  Neighbors started to complain about the stench.  In 2001, solar panel reflectors were installed on the dokhmas to aid the decomposition process.  Nobody knows how many more decades can, or should, this elite community maintain its traditions on prime real estate as the needs of an overpopulated city, opportunist developers, and bureaucrats encroach on the borders. 

Back in the United States, a decade after the ecological funeral, my mother and I talked about how we could observe the tenets and spirit of religion without conflicting with the health and sanitation laws of the State of New York.  We concluded that a modern adaption would allow for donating all organs, eyes, and skin to any needy recipient as well as the cadaver to science research laboratories or medical schools.  It seems to be the best compromise for a modern-day Zoroastrian-American.  After all, it’s not in cold tombstones that loved ones reside– it’s in the center of the beating heart.

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iHeart iPad

April 19, 2010 at 10:50 pm (Uncategorized)

Techies who already own and operate multiple toys may find the iPad redundant.  Creative folks might find it limiting.  People who love Flash video are enraged.  Communists say it’s another useless gadget to perpetuate a consumerist society.  If you are any of these people, Steve Jobs didn’t make the iPad for you.

He made it for my mother.

My mother, a highly skilled manual laborer, has often felt the negative aspects of the digital divide.  In the early 90s, the desk-jobless of America didn’t really care that they couldn’t type when computers were mostly for running boring programs like WordPerfect.  In fact, my mother boasted about how her livelihood didn’t involve staring at a screen all day.  However, in the last ten years she has been aching to be part of the fun side. 

So I tried to teach her, but our slow laptop was more frustrating than fun.

If you taught your parents or grandparents how to use the internets you might understand why “double-click” is the most annoying invention of the latter half of the 20th century.  And while it was mandatory for me to take keyboarding class in 9th grade (today’s nine-year olds type better than I did in high school), my parent’s never actually learned how to type. 

Enter iPad.

The iPad is revolutionary not because it does things unheard of in other yuppie gadgets, it’s revolutionary because it opened up a whole new world for my mother.  I personally have seen how much easier it is for her to surf the internet, write basic emails, watch videos, listen to the radio, buy books and music, get recipes, play soduku, get directions, and a host of other things. 

The ability to easily enlarge font on books and websites is a sight for older eyes.  Not knowing how to type can actually be a benefit for the touch-screen.  While I found it a little frustrating and awkward to type fast and without errors on the iPad, my mother was cranking out reply emails faster than she used to dictate them to my dad.  On the iPad you have to look down at the keyboard, but amateur two-finger typers need to do that on a desktop anyway. She will master touch-screen typing in no time.  It’s perfect for reading the great American novel on the go, not for writing it. 

Perhaps Apple thought that marketing the iPad for non-technically savvy, aging Baby Boomers was only going to inspire Depends jokes on top of the abundant female hygiene taunts.  But, if you know anyone who suffers from the digital divide, and can afford this toy, I highly recommend it.  It’s fun for the rest of us too–watching movies and video is great without a keyboard in the way.  The new battery lastest 12 hours!  It’s pretty, sleek, and user-friendly, but you must have a computer with iTunes and an iTunes account to activate the initial start.  (And, yes, my parents just got WiFi.) 

The iPad is helping bridge the middle- and upper-class digital divide for $499.  My mother can now read countless versions of the same news story and gossip away about Sandra Bullock (she deserves better!)  like the rest of America.  Now, she can email AND fill a cavity.  She’s unstoppable.    

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Quote of the Day

April 14, 2010 at 2:08 am (Uncategorized)

Without a doubt, my best attributes are my calves.  I don’t know if
they’re earned or genetic, but they’re almost comically muscular, the equivalent of Popeye’s forearms.  For years I was complimented on them.  Strangers stopped me in the streets.  But that all changed with the widespread availability of implants.  Now when people look at my legs I sense them wondering why I didn’t have my ass done at the same time.  It’s how women with naturally shapely breasts must feel – robbed and full of rage.

David Sedaris, ‘When You Are Engulfed in Flames’

Thanks to my friend du jour for this quote.

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Friends of the Week

April 13, 2010 at 9:48 pm (Uncategorized)

  • One of my favorite Boston natives alerted me to news that the creators of the Jersey Shore are casting for a new enlighten reality show: Wicked Summer.  Slate is claiming credit.  Massholes across Red Sox Nation rejoice.
  • Check out President Obama play “POTUS” aka HORSE hoops and talk smack with Clark Kellogg.

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April 12, 2010 at 3:35 am (Uncategorized)

Check out Tina Fey’s hysterical spoof on Sarah Palin last night.

SAISers, enjoy being considered part of the Washington “ELITE.”

Sometimes I felt this way in SAIS econ class…


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