October 31, 2011

Well, There Was That Escaped Rhesus Monkey In Turtle Creek A Few Years Back...

OK, OK, more "yinz" and no "eh" would've been more accurate...  regardless, enjoy this gem posted by a FB friend...

October 29, 2011

A Veritable Halloween Basket Of Random Links

Michael Pollan is doing a countdown of his favorite food rules in advance of the release of the illustrated version of, uh, Food Rules.  Gotta admit, this book is the Pollan work I'm least enamored with--it's uncharacteristically oversimplified and can come off a wee bit preachy--but there's still some good stuff here if taken with a grain of salt.  (Even salt's OK in moderation.  Honest.  Fight blandness wherever you find it!)

From the department of News You Almost Certainly Will Never Have Occasion To Use...  an intriguing look at prison cell cuisine.  From legal "pies" made with commissary goods (but no oven) to several grades of decidedly non-regulation booze...  well, this ought to be enough to convince you to refrain from mayhem and rioting, be honest on your taxes, and leave the tag on your mattress.

In other news, my subconscious is leaking again.

Here's the kind of extry-geeky commitment to pulling off an elaborate inside joke that I appreciate in Glitch.  (You don't need to have played the game to enjoy the link.)

And finally, check out pictures of some amazing French buildings...

...The amazing part is they're all 1:30 scale.

Seriously.  Go look.  Wowza.

Cleaning Out The Secondmost Cell Phone Camera Citizen Journalism

Spotted in Posvar Hall...  I assume it's the work of the noted, notorious prankster known as GSPIA Signs.

Amazingly, 800-867-5309 isn't owned by Jenny Craig.  The ad campaign writes itself, no?  But I digress.

And this gem from this morning's sojourn to The Strip...
Sorry, I am secretly 14. Not even a mature 14.

And here's an intellectual exchange from the first floor ladies' room in Posvar.

The problem with taking a picture of restroom graffiti is that you either have to wait until nobody is using the facilities or prepare for a reaaaaal awkward conversation with campus security.

October 26, 2011

Creating Public Value

You know what?  Patrick Leahy is now my hero.  My mapley, mapley hero.

Phoning It In

Years ago, back when I was still living in my Friendship apartment, back before I had a phone with caller ID, I was home alone one night around seven o'clock.

The phone rang.  "Hello?"

"Uh, yeah.  Hello, Ma'am.  This is Darla from the 'lectric company*.  We're doing some line testing outside your house, and I just needed to know, is your refrigerator running?"

I allowed a few moments of dead air.  (I have my issues with Ira Glass, but he's got a point about the value of a well-timed pause.)

"You know," I said, my words heavy with the wisdom of experience**, "When I was your age, we had 'Prince Albert in a can***.' Now that was a good prank call."

"Wait, no, really--we're testing--"

"Good try, Darla.  Keep it up."  I hung up the phone, feeling that I'd done my bit to encourage increased creativity on the part of America's mildly delinquent youth.

*Yes, "the 'lectric company."  Not even "Duquesne Light."  COME NOW PEOPLE, ATTENTION TO DETAIL!!!!
**I was about 22.  But a battle-weary 22!
***I don't think they were literally still making Prince Albert in a can, but people were indeed still using the line.  And thinking it was the cleverest thing in the history of Man.

October 24, 2011

Today's Quality Brooding Music

My former officemate and I used to get into it over Chris Connor.  (She's flat!,  he'd insist.  Bah.)

With respect, I believe the following settles the argument in my favor.

My Brush With Costume Greatness

OK, so, last fall, before I went on the My World Has Gone To Hell Diet, I bought a really cute dress that I never got to wear.  But I hung on to it, thinking that eventually I'd get around to having it altered.  And recently I realized that it could be THE BESTEST HALLOWEEN COSTUME EVER.

Seriously, I would have WON Halloween.
One (1) avocado green dress, one (1) updo, one (1) bottle of stage blood, ...  and taaadaaa!  Walking PSA about the dangers of indoor lawnmower operation!

Anyway--here's where it gets all anticlimactic--I called in the SMLTS Official Seamstress ("Mom"), and apparently the fancy-schmancy French seams are such that the thing can't be taken in.

But still, take heed...  you really shouldn't drive lawnmowers in an office environment. It's dangerous, plus all the other departments will want one. One-upsmanship ensues. Before you know it, there's a wood chipper in Accounting and two kinds of routers in IT. The More You Know.

October 22, 2011

Things I've Eaten On Purpose, Volume 1: Tamarind

For years, I've enjoyed the sweet, spicy flavor of tamarind in sauces and candies; until recently, I'd never actually seen a whole fruit. Thanks to a vendor at the Pittsburgh Public Market, it is now my great pleasure to bring you...


First, let's state the obvious: Tamarind pods look like cat doots. There's no way around this. There is no point during the eating process at which the tamarind will cease to look like a cat doot. You have been warned.

Assuming you are brave enough to proceed... What you do is throw caution to the winds and crack the brittle shell, which will give way much more easily than you'd expect. Kind of like a more-than-vaguely-fecal peanut shell.

You are left with... something that looks like a cat doot during shedding season. Presentation must be tamarind's natural defense mechanism.

So you grasp the fruit, remove the vine-like membrane hickeymadoo, and maybe cut the fruit into sections to minimize the Doot Factor.

There are large, very hard seeds inside the tamarind, so it's somewhat like eating a fresh cherry--don't just crunch down on the thing.

Tamarind is doomed to be the ugly duckling of any produce market, but is the taste worth it?  The fresh fruit is not as pungent as it is in sauce form, but is nevertheless flavorful, rich, and sticky--the vendor compared it to fig. It's also got a bit of a family resemblance to date, I'd say.

I'd buy it again, though I might avert my eyes a lot when shelling it...

This post has been brought to you courtesy of The American Tamarind Council. Tamarind: It's MUCH Tastier Than It Looks, We Swear.

Who Was That Masked Blogger?

Things I learned from last night's GPSA Masquerade Ball:

1).  GSPIAns really are the most fun.
2).  Really.  Ain't no party like an Administration of Public Affairs party.
3a). Hey, Pitt bought the Concordia Club?
3b). The University Club is nicer.
4). I'm pretty sure that the boxed wine industry is primarily dependent upon graduate school events.
5). Glitter sticks to everything except that to which it is glued.

The City Formerly Known As Smoky

A photographer friend of mine recently sent these neat pictures of The Burgh, circa 1905.  Check out the carriages on the bridge!

Part of me is convinced that there has to be a UPMC sign somewhere in that skyline...

October 20, 2011

Try A Little Blind Faith, Won't You?

You know what all public policy really comes back to?  The central problem, the core conflict, the source of dramatic tension?  Here it is: People are wired very, very differently from one another.

For a number of reasons, including but by no means limited to the above, I've been thinking of a favorite movie this week, Holiday.


October 18, 2011

One Down

Just barely off-schedule, maybe 9:02 AM, blue books were handed out.  I began to fill mine with what I hope was reasonably legible scrawl...  ninety minutes later my first grad school midterm was done.  Econ.  Not bad.  Although I reeeaaaalllly had to couch my words carefully on a couple of questions since I 1). have not drunk the supply-side Kool-Aid and 2). would still very much like to pass the course. 

In honor of the art of the possible and deadlines and integrity and stuff... 

October 17, 2011

Today's Surprise From the Secondmost Mailbag

Some time ago, I mentioned in a post that the world really dearly needs a show called Sparky McLaughlin: Narcotics Agent.  (Believe it or not, I'm fond of distinctive nicknames.  You'd never guess, right?)

And today, I am even more certain than ever.  The actual, real live, honest-to-goodness Sparky McLaughlin got in touch with me today!  Go check out his blog, Damned From Memory--the man has amazing stories.  (But, you know...  real-world cop stories, including strong language.  Depending on how your workplace is, might want to read this from home.)

The man has serious guts. 

Bowler Hats Are Neat

I heard somewhere that it's actually beneficial to take a break roughly every two hours when studying.  I will happily accept advice which happens to fit with my preferences; hence my firm belief in studies that show that red wine, coffee, and dark chocolate are actually good for you.

Anyway, this is Midterm Week.  I've been studying for the last few days, breaking only for extremely important waffle-related expeditions.  But, even with visions of student loans dancing in your head, there's only so long you can focus on production possibility frontiers and creating public value and t-scores. There's nothing to shake the synapses out better than a good laugh, and if it happens to incorporate a clever pop culture reference along with a fine-tuned appreciation of the ludicrous, all the better.

So, to not spoil a good punchline, let's get everyone caught up.  Community, which in a meritocratic universe it would totally stuff Parks and Rec in a locker, excels in delivering beautifully-executed, triple-axel-while-juggling-flaming-torches surreal meta goodness.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a subplot involving one character's desperate need for a new TV show to fixate upon.  After rejecting candidates like the original British version of Cougar Town, Abed finally finds geek bliss...


You have got to love a lower-budget ripoff of notoriously low-budget classic Who, yes?  Yes!

So, fast forward a couple of weeks.  As I regard the printouts of my econ professor's lecture slides for the dozenth time, eyes glazing over at the parabolas dancing across the x and y axes, I wonder...  What has the Internet done with Inspector Spacetime?  Because you know the geeks will be on that like red on the Darsit.

The geeks did not disappoint.

A rich, detailed backstory has sprung up around this completely nonexistent show.  (For the record, I frankly think that Sellers was a poor fit for the role.  Benny Hill, all the way.)

There's an inspiring display of deadpan fandom at the Inspector Spacetime Confessions Tumblr. 

There are multiple fake themes and opening sequences...  short (mercifully so) episodes... 

Any doubt that The Inspector has arrived?  There's even a Downfall rant. 

October 15, 2011

Here Is A Completely Normal Picture Of A Ghost Carrying A Candle Holder.

Spotted at a favorite restaurant this morning; presented without further comment.

This Blog Is Very Popular With People Who Routinely Screw Up Punchlines

Another gem from the SMLTS traffic sources...

"time flies like an arrow fruit flies like jerry brown"

No Escape From Reality

If you're like me, you've often wondered what Freddie Mercury would have sounded like if he grew up on corn pone and fatback in the holler.  Wonder no more!  Courtesy of SMLTS informant Luke...  the most disturabalicious act I've had to privilege to be introduced to in a long time.

Ladies and gentlemen, let's give a warm welcome, as well as some shirts, to...   Hayseed Dixie!

October 10, 2011

Quiet. Too Quiet.

How strange it is, living through an October without a pledge drive.  No 4:15 AM alarms, no fifteen-hour days fueled by adrenaline and idealism.  I can actually accept invitations to Halloween parties because I won't be in a state of near-collapse by the end of the month.  I don't know if you've ever noticed this, but before the leaves drop off the trees, they turn all sorts of pretty colors. Cool, right?
Nature likes hitting us over the head with this all-things-must-pass business, doesn't it?  To experience renewal, we must slough off our scales.  The leaves die and crumble and mingle with the soil, the ground freezes, the world waits and rests...  and then it all starts over again.  Each of us, one day, follows the example of the leaves. 

Like I said, Nature is a trite mofo*. 

*I kid you not, this is a nickname of The Mozilla Foundation. 

Word of the Day

Footnotes, on occasion, can be really intriguing.  Take this improbably colorful moment from Public Management in Global Perspective:

The word "juggernaut" is an English mispronunciation of the Hindu God Jagannath--an avatar of Krishna--whose huge and heavy chariot cannot be stopped by any force once it is finally pushed in motion by a crowd of believers during his festival in the city of Puri in the Indian state of Orissa.
Your choices: Keep moving, or find on-street parking.
A little poking around online dispels the mental image of a giant uncontrolled object careening through the streets.  There most certainly are Jagannath chariots, and they are indeed big and heavy, but nobody intentionally lets one make like a giant Pinewood Derby entry.  (It seems that a 14th century Western clergyman witnessed a sad accident in which a follower was crushed under the wheels; he misinterpreted this as an intentional act of devotion, and poor Jagannath has been attached to a word meaning "unstoppable force demanding merciless sacrifice" ever since.) 

I suppose if there's a moral, it's that assumptions made about someone else's motivations often say more about the observer than the observed...  oh, and that organized crowds can be very powerful and a good deal more responsible than they're often given credit for being.

October 9, 2011

In July

For no good reason other than it never ceases to entertain me...  ladies and gentlemen, Orson Welles' Frozen Peas.

No-Armed Bandits

So, as has become a Fall tradition, my buddy and I went to his church's international food festival on Friday night.  You want a good rule of thumb for life?  Start with "Never pass up the chance to have an Irish coffee lovingly crafted for you by a nun."  It's a lot of fun--even before they break out the Jamey--and the food is all ridiculously good.  The Greek booth had the best grape leaves I've ever had (and I've certainly conducted a great deal of research into the matter).  About three bites in to a fabulous hot sausage sandwich from the Italian booth, it occurred to me that it was Friday.  In a Catholic church.  No skin off my humanist nose, but...  well.

This being The City That Likes Its Naps, things started to wind down around 8.  My erstwhile companion and I weren't in the mood to pack it in just yet, so we tried to figure out where to go next.


"I dunno," I thought for a moment.  "Want to see if there's a K-Mart open or something?"

We looked at each other for a moment, and laughed.

My head hit my hands.  "We are so old and boring.  So.  Old.  And.  Boring."

Boring, yes, but self-aware!  So, we did what old, boring people do: We drove to West Virginia and visited the casino.

Now, granted, perhaps my idea of what constitutes good branding isn't the be-all and end-all, but it seems to me that if you're trying to stress the idea that "gaming" is good, clean family fun, you probably shouldn't run with a Prohibition theme.  But the faux-Chicago-rowhouse facade of The Speakeasy Casino attracts a crowd, a big one.

The first thing you notice when you walk in, assuming that you are from Allegheny County, is that holy shit it's smoky.  Really, really smoky.  I mean, like, Season One Unreformed Don Draper would be all "Damn, you people need to cut back."

Frankly, I couldn't conceivably care less about slot machines, but the people-watching was great. There was also a surprisingly good cover band in the bar. I guess you get gigs where you can grab 'em.

I doubled the whole two bucks I put on the penny slots, but since my only intention was to keep busy until we could leave, I went ahead and kept pushing the dumb little button until my credits were exhausted.  (That's right, you don't actually put pennies in the machines; you put in bills or load value onto a ticket thingy.  And you don't pull a lever, you press a button.  People do this for hours, on purpose, for fun.)

Finally, my companion ran through his credits and we headed out.  On the way to the exit, we passed a vending machine stocked half with chips and half with cigarettes.  I strongly suspect that there's some bizarre time bubble; that Chester, WV arises only under the right conditions, stuck in its own time, like a smoky Brigadoon.

October 6, 2011

A Brief Commercialish Message

TODAY'S MOSTLY FUNCTIONAL DAY IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY ZYRTEC.  That's ZYRTEC.  Try it today.  "ZYRTEC: It Kind Of Works When You've Run Out Of The Good Stuff That The Stupid Meth Heads Have Spoiled For Everybody Else."

Insanely Great

You couldn’t help but notice the sad parallel between man and machine, as Steve Jobs became ever thinner these last few years, these last couple of Apple keynote addresses. Somehow, even though Jobs’ physical frailty was plain, I think I actually expected him to invent his way out of it.  One more thing...

In retrospect, it seems to me that my geek-heavy circle avoided talking about it, beyond observing that Jobs surely must be in rough shape to be leaving Apple.  Sure, we passed around that amazing video from the 2005 Stanford commencement.  But we’d quickly move on to other topics, as if the cancer would disappear, like the rude intruder it was, if we starved it of attention.
Odd, in a way, that there’s this feeling of personal loss.  But every day of my life is improved by Steve Jobs having shared the planet with me.  I’ll leave it to the tech writers and the sociologists to dissect the individual innovations, the iPhone and the iPod and the iPad, and how they changed the way we engage with the world.  What I suppose I really feel unapologetic affection for is the Apple brand.  

There is one word for the best of Apple’s product line:  Elegant.  Both in the very obvious aesthetic sense--my God, just try going into an Apple Store without lovingly fondling the merch--and also “pleasingly ingenious or simple.”  These smooth, slender objects are as easy to use as they are easy to love.  Remember the old slogan?  It just works.    

Steve Jobs achieved a fusion of the utilitarian and the aesthetic; he had both the drive to innovate and the wisdom to understand that making technology accessible doesn’t have to mean compromising its seriousness.

Steve Jobs is largely responsible for the fact that today feels like The Future, for those of us who remember thinking that cassettes were a pretty cool innovation, those of us who remember when you rented your telephone (no need to specify your landline telephone) from Ma Bell.

Many people hope to change the world.  Few manage to do so on the scale that Steve Jobs did.  But we can all learn from his example that pragmatism cut with a sense of wonder can be creative jet fuel.  Work like hell to make something useful and beautiful and fun.  And take the time to enjoy it.

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle."
– Steve Jobs

October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma -- which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. --- Steve Jobs

October 4, 2011


One of my very favorite people in the world is bringing her wit and style to a brand new project called 2 Vintage Gals, a brand-new blog/Etsy shop.  The blog's up and running now--eagerly awaiting Angie's first post!--and the Etsy shop's coming later this month.  Looking forward to the fun!

Tuesday Randomness

  • One of my fellow MPPM'ers told me that the Pittsburgh mists this morning looked "more Ireland than Ireland."  Interestingly, she also tells me that Groundhog Day was really big in Eire.  Two peoples bound by lousy weather and an appreciation of Mr. Bill Murray.  And, uh, groundhogs.

  • Speaking of deep GSPIAn thoughts...  if there's one thing that you pick up on real quick-like when studying American public policy, it's that we keep fighting the same battles, ad nauseum.  The intro of tonight's installment of Ken Burns's Prohibition observed that the country that chose to ban alcoholic beverages somehow at the same time become the world's largest importer of cocktail shakers.  Color me amused if unsurprised.

  • Somewhat related...  I recommend this disproportionately interesting look at what is hands-down the most boring beverage in the Universe.  Listen up kids, I'm only likely to say this once: Go read this article in The Weekly Standard.

*aka, me

October 3, 2011

Economics of the West

I'm quite enjoying one of my economics assignments, a book called Codes of the Underworld.  (As you'd probably imagine from the title, it's basically a study of how criminals communicate with each other.) 

All in one day, this book has taught be a magnificent word--"kakistocracy," or rule by the worst--and quoted Mae West.  (Although they blew the quote slightly... the text has it as "brains are an asset if you can hide them," which is almost but not quite accurate.  DISCUSSION QUESTION: What might have Mae said about the Invisible Hand?)

Of course, we then return to the big theoretical text, the one which is explaining labor unions from, shall we say, the perspective of capital.  That book needs to learn a word it's been dancing around painfully for the last page or so: Scab.  Much more of this claptrap, and I swear I'm painting "THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS" on my guitar.  (Okay, okay, maybe on my amp.  Can't mar the lacquer on my precccioussss.)

October 2, 2011

God Bless The History That Doesn't Repeat

Courtesy of the Secondmost iPod, an oddly effective juxtaposition...


So, it's a rainy day in the Fall.  I'm not overly fond of this time of year to begin with, and I'm painfully aware that the last time I experienced an October minus a pledge drive, I was a teenager.  (It's been... uh... a while.)

When I get morose, I cook.  I like creating.  I like praise.  I like control.

So I went to retrieve one of my go-to favorite recipes.  I've been collecting good ones for a long time--some of them clipped out of newspapers, some of them my own work, some of them from friends.  Crammed into a red vinyl binder, they've traveled with me through several lives and residences.  Stories, really, as much as instructions. 

It's not important how it happened, but I discovered today that my binder had suffered serious water damage recently, and was now somewhere between papier mache and petri dish.  Wet pulp and black mold.

I sobbed.  Hard.  Then I collected myself.  Then I sobbed some more.  Harder.

Well, you can't fool around with mold.  So I set to salvaging what I could to be transcribed.  As dispassionately as I could, I pulled apart twenty years' accumulated clippings and notes.  Oh, some of it was easily replaceable.  Things I'd printed from Epicurious or clipped from the Post-Gazette?  Not a big problem.

My gob recipe--which has undergone so much fine tuning over the years that a transcription was probably overdue anyway--was in decent enough shape to copy over.

The musty odor filled my nose; my fingers grew black from the mold and the dissolved ink.  I wept uncontrollably when I reached the fettucine alfredo recipe from my home ec teacher, a good-hearted if brusque character who died of leukemia in her mid-twenties.  I know the technique by heart now, but... oh God, the anthropomorphised cartoon pasta smiling up from the mimeo, blissfully unaware of the future... I recovered a bit, then ran across the fudge recipe written on the back of a blank pledge card by one of my very favorite DUQ volunteers, the late and much-missed Sister Rosanne.  She was a dear, funny, outspoken, unapologetically eccentric woman, from whom this lapsed Presbyterian learned the distinction between a sister and a nun.  I said a fond goodbye to her handwriting for the very last time.

A big, sopping, irretrievably damaged pile of fond memories hit the trash.  Life is welcome to stop handing me these obvious literary metaphors any freaking time now.

And now, time to rebuild.  Again.

October 1, 2011

All Hail The Queen

And heck, don't ya know my tiara is in the shop.  Take it, Aretha...

An Evening On Cardiac Hill

Fellowship, chicken satay skewers, and an open wine bar?  Yes, I am getting used to academic life.

There was a reception  for new GSPIANs last evening at the Peterson Center.  One of my classmates, surveying the club area we were in, remarked that she'd half expected that we'd be on the basketball court.  But no...  the Pete has some pretty sweet VIP digs, and we were in 'em.  I continue to have a sneaking suspicion that one of these days, they're going to figure out that I'm masquerading as a grownup.  Back to The Towers cafeteria with you!, they shall say, as they imperiously swipe my merlot.

I was happier than I really want to admit to have a chance to break out the business garb.  I try, really I do, to blend in to the casual world of grad school, but I never feel more like I'm wearing a costume than when I'm wearing slacks.  So out came the slate-blue skirt suit, up went my mood.

It continues to be very interesting being one of the senior statespersonages of the class.  One very sweet young woman from China offered that my presence, as a person with experience in the world, offers comfort.  I couldn't help but take that as the compliment it was intended to be.

Almost inevitably, the question comes up, in one form or another: "Why did you leave your job?"  (When it's posed exactly like that, my flip-but-accurate answer is that my job left me.)   But I'm getting skilled at boiling the whole thing down to, if not an elevator speech, at least a crudité-plate speech.  I hope I haven't scared too many fresh-faced young idealists into the business school.

All kidding aside, it brings me comfort to be moving forward, to be an environment where my experience is valued and respected, and to be among people who are as determined as I am to go out and change the world.  We mean it.  So, watch out, evildoers of all stripes; beware, stampers-out of dreams.  We are GSPIANs.  And we are armed, with ideals and skills and righteous determination.

And those little bamboo skewers from the chicken satay.  Splinters are nothin' to laugh at, pallie.