Archive for June, 2008

Some random thoughts on politics.

June 29, 2008

Sometimes I think about politics. Though living in the center of it, literally on Capitol Hill, I often purposefully disengage from the issues. I also admittedly have little faith in the system. While the democratic party offers more hope than usual this year, there are some fundamental things I just don’t think will change (Obama does support “clean coal” afterall–which, FYI, is possibly the most oxymoronic concept on earth, it should be called “kind of sort of a cleaner option for one of the dirtiest energy options known to humans”).

The Political Compass somewhat reaffirmed my fears in their analysis of where the US Primary candidates fall on the political compass, which consists of 4 quadrants: the y axis runs from very authoritarian (fascism) to very libertarian (anarchism) and the x axis from economically left (communism) to right (neo-liberalism). Based on some interesting questions you can see where you fall on the continuum (I’m about where Gandhi is), and in this case where our politicians fall.

While Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader are depicted on the extreme left in an American context, they would simply be mainstream social democrats within the wider political landscape of Europe. Similarly, Hillary Clinton is popularly perceived as a leftist in the United States while in any other western democracy her record is that of a mainstream conservative.

Interestingly, when you look at the difference between Clinton and Obama, there’s not much there. I will stand by my opinion that I think the difference is one of charisma and oratory–which I don’t think is inconsequential or not valuable. But I don’t think there’s a difference on fundamental political ideology or issues. And they’re both quite centrist, or even conservative, hence my inability to get too excited.

The second bit I’d like to share is courtesy of the Times and a lovely United States city: San Francisco

From the Department of Damned-With-Faint-Praise, a group going by the regal-sounding name of the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco is planning to ask voters here to change the name of a prize-winning water treatment plant on the shoreline to the George W. Bush Sewage Plant.

The plan, naturally hatched in a bar, would place a vote on the November ballot to provide “an appropriate honor for a truly unique president.”

Finally people are starting to make some sense to me.

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Virginia is for Vegans.

June 23, 2008

When I met my boyfriend we were living in New York City, a city that is literally heaven in my eyes to such a degree that I was blind to the idea that others could possibly feel differently. How could you not be satisfied in the city that houses the pinnacle of what humanity has to offer in just about every realm. And not only that, but despite the stereotypes, I thought people were friendly and approachable unlike the city I had moved there from, DC (the at-least-once-voted “coldest” city, cold people not cold weather). But. Not only did he feel differently about New York, he felt that way about Richmond, Virginia.

Come on now, there is no comparing the two. That’s just ridiculous.

And I was right, there is no comparing the two–they are vastly different cities. But one could conceivably compare my current home, Washington DC, and Richmond…and in my falsely humble opinion, Richmond wins out easily for the simple fact that it has two incredibly important elements that DC and probably most cities don’t:

1. A wealth of some of the tastiest vegan/vegetarian food you’ll ever eat

2. A natural body of water in the middle of the city that is clean and pleasant enough to want to swim in. All summer long.

To be perfectly clear, DC sucks for vegetarians. There are a few places and even a website and printed guide for vegetarians in the city, but most of what you’ll get is horribly mediocre. This is especially true if you’re carless and at the mercy of the metrorail geography. There’s one upscale veggie place, Vegetate, which I think is pretty good, but it’s nothing–and I mean nothing–when compared with Ipanema in Richmond.

We actually zipcar to Richmond instead of taking the train or bus just so we don’t have to leave before Ipanema opens to make the last train or bus. This place is that good. It’s a small, dark little room that is legitimately charming (almost dive-y) with a fantastically creative menu chalked onto a board (the only menu there is) and pleasantly laid back waiters. The ambiance is perfect, but is a distant, almost invisible second to the food, which manages to surprise me with its flavor, interesting ingredient combos, and HUGE portions (I’ll be eating my leftovers for lunch today, thus allowing me to relive the excitement all over again). Last night I had a minty pea risotto topped with a portabello stuffed with snowpeas, zucchini, and some other tastiness I don’t remember. It’s at 917 W. Grace Street, in the Fan section of Richmond.

Now the thing is, Ipanema isn’t all there is. In fact, when we go to Richmond, the day is organized around eating, since there are so many tasty veggie offerings. Even the grocery store is better there–Elwood Thompson’s, where we got some soy nuggets that may have us going back to Richmond more than usual to get our fix. We bought half a pound of them, got back to the car, each ate one, and looked at each other with eyes so wide you would have thought something truly remarkable happened. For us it did. They were amazing. I immediately went back to buy another half-pound. I have this vision of us eating in Richmond, like two starved dogs that are used to eating dirt and cardboard…I think it may border on pathetic. New York does this to us as well though–meals are always planned out because we have to squeeze so much goodness in. Some places inevitably get left out, but we try. I realize that I’m making DC sound like a wasteland for vegetarians, but by comparison it kind of is. There are choices, but they are far from stellar.

So onto the second leg-up Richmond has. The River. The gorgeous, rocky James River. This is something that I haven’t quite found anywhere else in the US (though I qualify that by saying my intra-US travels have been limited). The James runs right through Richmond and is actually clean enough to swim in with a high degree of confidence (or so I’ve been told…). In the center is Belle Isle, connected on either side by pedestrian bridges over the river. It’s a lovely park, with bike and hiking trails, and provides direct access to to the river, where you can hop rocks across the river to explore different swimming spots. There are also places to rent rafts and kayaks I believe.

The view from our rock.

I even got some knitting in while the sun warmed me a little before getting in the water. The great thing about having a swimmable river is that the water is generally warm, especially when you’re used to ocean water. I spent a few months on the Amazon a few years ago and that was the same with exclusive regard to swimming in a luke-warm, bath-like body of water. Of course, the Amazon is so large it actually looks like the ocean since you can’t see the other side of the river. Trippy, to say the least.

I’d still take NYC over Richmond any day, but I’ll take a Sunday in Richmond over one in DC for certain.

Car-free in NYC.

June 17, 2008

For all my New York City friends and those that may be visiting the city in August here is some great news from the Gotham Gazette:

Car-Free Summer Streets
On three Saturdays in August, the city will create a car-free zone stretching 6.9 miles from the Brooklyn Bridge to 72nd Street on the Upper East Side. Motor vehicles will be banned along much of Lafayette Street and Park Avenue from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on August 9, 16, and 23. Fitness classes, bike rental and repair, and outdoor meeting places will be set up along the route. Download a map of the route (in pdf format).

The idea of a car-free city used to be my dream…and then somewhere along the lines that idea got lost, maybe some cynical practicality seeped in. But recently the idea returned to where it belonged, at the forefront of my urban dreams. I was biking home, dodging cars and death, and it dawned on me: DC should just be car-free! Everyone can park in garages outside of the city and then take trains or buses in. The city could be one of pedestrians, cyclists, streetcars, and other short distance circulatory mass transit. I know this is unlikely to say the least, but steps could be taken to get us in that direction by cutting driving within the city. For instance, I’ve heard something about turning Bedford Ave in Brooklyn into a pedestrian street with some green space in the center. There may not be any truth to that but it’s definitely an attractive idea.

In any case the step that NYC is taking to promote car-free streets is fantastic, even if it’s just for a short time.

Pretty and Smart.

June 16, 2008

It is an exciting day.  While frantically searching for the yarn I need to make an emergency bolero/shrug/whatever for a wedding I’m going to in a couple of weeks (Habu’s laceweight bamboo in wine in case anyone has some and they want to sell it to me, please please), I came across something amazing on one of my favorite sites, natursongyarn.com:  Fleece Artist Organic Wool.  Fleece Artist and Handmaiden make some of the most beautiful handpainted yarns I’ve ever seen.  The colors are rich and interesting, but until now they didn’t meet my criteria for 2008: organic, local, socially responsible, or (in a pinch) naturally dyed.  Until now.  Naturesong says this about it:

It really is creamy soft, it is not superwashed, so you can use it for felting if you feel so inspired, it comes from sheep raised organically, and was processed in a certified organic mill. Its DK weight is ideal for just about everything and, now that it is robed in Fleece Artist’s flowing colorways, well, life doesn’t get much better than this.

Too bad the other thing (besides buying “green” materials) is buying less materials.  It looks like everyone’s coming out with their green yarn lines, which is fantastic but also tempting to the point of possibly negating all the positive effects of buying green by buying too much.  I just recently bought some unneeded Malabrigo Limited Edition Organic Cotton, which is lovely and comes in lovely colors.  My excuse is the limited edition really put that fear into me–God forbid I miss out…or have a strong will.

So one of you will have to let me know more about this stuff….at least for now.

Progress.

June 10, 2008

The idea of progress has been heavily on my mind lately. I just went to my 5 year college reunion, which is surprising in itself since college was not the positive experience I think it is for most people (high school strangely was the more positive time). Reunions I think generally leave us questioning how far we’ve come as individuals and though I pretty much left without any substantial revelations (except that there were quite a few cool, like-minded people that I wish I had known better while I was actually stuck in small city Virginia), I did come away with the reaffirmation that I have indeed grown into a far better and cooler person than the self-conscious, de-energized version of me running around college those years ago.

This reunion also got me thinking about progress of humans in general. I have the benefit of living with a vegan who is a vegan simply because he believes that by this point, with all of our physical and mental development, we humans should have progressed past the need to subjugate animals and use them primarily as commodities. Yet after a few conversations with friends at this reunion (all of whom I have nothing but the greatest respect for), I realized that maybe most people still do believe that humans are just better than animals and not only can but should exert that dominance. In fact, animals don’t have the same depth of emotion or level of consciousness to know the difference. I personally do not believe even an ounce of this, but it’s an argument that constantly comes up in the discussion of animal rights: the word animal itself denotes a something less than. It’s a living thing, yes. But it doesn’t emote like a human and our inability to understand animals as deeply conscious and cerebral creatures prevents us from believing they are worth protecting or even respecting in many instances. The question I got in drunken jest was would I kill a puppy or kill a baby. I think the real question is can we think of real situation where we would really have to do one to save the other? What I came out of this whole thought exercise was that it’s a slow progress…and we haven’t even progressed beyond the subjugation and torture of fellow human beings, whose humanity and capacity for deep emotion we should in theory be able to understand pretty well.

Even if we as a human race are only making slow progress on this front, I as an individual am making lighting fast progress on what in this context is a more frivolous topic, my current knitting project:

My meshy Phildar sweater.

The pattern is nervousing because you set up a row at the beginning, then knit your dozens of centimeters and then drop stitches….so if you screw up…it’s all over.

It all worked out for the front piece and looks pretty fantastic so far.  And the pattern has delivered in teaching me new techniques: the twisted stitch to border dropped stitches.  It really tightens the stitch and makes for some really clean edges.

The end product will not be so fast coming I fear.  But soon.

I hope my dear knitting friends aren’t too annoyed that I made you go through my rant on the progress of humanity before getting to the knitting.  Maybe you were smart and just scrolled down to the pictures.