Sunday, January 30, 2011


Yesterday, I took my ten-dollar Groupon and headed over to the Newseum. And thank goodness for the Groupon, because in a town full of free museums, I wouldn't pay the $21.95 plus tax it normally costs to go otherwise. The Newseum is run by a non-profit organization, so I can see why they need to charge something for admission, but I find something wrong with the fact that a museum celebrating one of our basic freedoms costs so much to get into. Apparently the Newseum costs a ton for upkeep, so maybe they should work on reducing those costs so that they can reduce the cost to visitors.

Enough ranting. The Newseum is a really cool place. I already had a strong appreciation for journalism, thanks to my fine undergraduate journalism education, but I think the museum packs so much history and culture in that even the most curmudgeonly, anti-media person would find something there to appreciate. The admission ticket is good for two consecutive days, and it would really take that much time to really read and watch all of the content. It gives you a different perspective of the current events that have impacted our lives - I remember how I felt as a regular citizen during 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, but seeing how the media reported on what was happening was fascinating. For example, have you ever thought about how newspapers in New Orleans continued reporting and publishing without electricity, or even offices? They figured out a way to pick up and move the whole shop so that they could at least publish an online version. They managed to resume printing a dead-trees version within days (or a couple weeks) after the hurricane. The stories of reporters from both of those tragic events are so moving, and their perspectives make you think about them in ways you hadn't considered as a news consumer.

Here's a dilemma for you to ponder. Say you're a reporter, and you're covering some tragedy. It's your job to provide an objective report of what's happening in front of you. You know that stopping to help people will insert you into the story and keep you from reporting objectively. But these people need help. We're all human after all, and it's possible that no one else will come by later to help them. What do you do? The 9/11 and Katrina stories and the gallery of incredibly moving Pulitzer prize-winning photographs show how journalists dealt with that dilemma, sometimes with good outcomes and sometimes with lasting regret. 

Thankfully the Newseum isn't just about the tragedies; it also showcases the history of journalism in the U.S. and around the world and celebrates pop culture in the media as well (see: the Elvis exhibit). Martin Sheen tells the history of the freedom of the press in the U.S. (That man was born to be the voice of American history, wasn't he? I would believe anything he told me.) A giant map on the wall shows the levels of freedom the press enjoys in each country around the world. Guess what: the press in most countries are either partially free or not free. We may despise the things that people in the media say or do in this country, but the freedom to say or do those things is rare and precious. Just as we are free to say what we wish, we are also free to not listen to things we don't like or don't agree with - something that we should exercise more than we do.

Speaking of which, do you know the 5 basic freedoms in the U.S.? Most people can name freedom of speech and freedom of religion - do you know the other three?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Aural memories

I'm trying to recreate the music mixes that carried me through workouts past
I should have written them down
I should have backed them up
But I didn't
and now they're lost on an old iPod
So I create new playlists
dredge my memories
wrack my brain
trying to remember the songs that were connected
in what order.
But some songs appeared more than once
so I connect them to memories
like treadmill running and elliptical trudging at my old gym
or the 8K I ran through the streets of Chicago.
But that was many years ago
Many playlists ago
So I do my best. Maybe new memories will jog old ones
or maybe the songs will re-mingle and I'll have new connections to re-remember
when I have to start all over again.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Blow my mind

I have discovered the WNYC Radiolab podcasts. There have been other podcasts that have caught my attention for weeks on end, like WUNC's The Story, as well as everyone's favorites, This American Life, Science Friday, and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. They're fun and entertaining, but eventually I grew weary  of listening to people's tragic stories, Science Friday can be a little dry sometimes, and WWDTM's formulaic format gets old after a while. I still love This American Life, but it only plays once a week. Radiolab provides hours of entertainment and about subjects that I never gave much thought to. Jad and Robert dive deep into every subject they cover, wandering on tangents that are only loosely related to each other, incorporating sounds and ideas that round out each story. This isn't just people talking, this is a sonic journey. And it blows my mind.

Last week, I woke up early and went to the gym before work. At 6am, I hopped on the bus in the cold darkness and listened to the podcast that came out a full year ago about animal minds. As I walked four blocks from the bus stop to the gym, I listened to the hosts and guests tell the story of how a group of divers cut fishing nets away to free a trapped blue whale off the coast of San Francisco, and I teared up as they described how she swam up to each diver to thank him for helping her. It was amazing and moving, and the rest of the hour-long story was just as smart and moving.

Yesterday, I listened to the podcast about words while I walked to work under a vanilla sky, and as Jad and Robert talked to various people about language and about how acquiring language changes how we think and live, I realized that I was beginning to think about my world in a different way. This is not just about seeing something in a different light or learning something new. Radiolab creates a new world for me. I find myself utterly fascinated by ideas that never even occurred to me before.

Seriously, check it out. Go to the website and watch the videos and check out the extras. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Ahoy, matey!

January 1st is a good marker for people to use to start anew, but without the concept of a calendar system, it's really just another day that happens to occur soon after the winter solstice. Life is cyclical, so lucky us, we get lots of opportunities to start over. Even so, leaving 2010 behind feels good. I can't help but think that 2011 will be so much better, and not only because my birthday this year falls on 2-11-2011, a nice neat number. I bought a Salvador Dali wall calendar for my bedroom and a calendar of tall ships for my office. I've been thinking about Dali a lot lately after having a few weird dreams set in landscapes that would make any Surrealist painter proud, so glancing at his artwork every day feels fitting. The calendar was made by a European company, so the week starts with Monday, not Sunday. It also denotes the holidays for a number of other countries, including Japan. Turns out that my birthday falls on Japan's National Foundation Day. As for the tall ships, I wanted something totally random to hang in my office cave, and I like tall ships, with all of their masts and sails.

It seems like every year, I spend time thinking about what I'm going to do in the coming year, how I'm going to improve myself, which interests I'm going to dive into. But not this year. I'm not making any resolutions or goals. This year, I don't care. At all. And that makes me very happy.
Today was a neat day at the zoo. I got to watch the rainbow boas being fed. They each get a dead rat that has been frozen, thawed, and warmed slightly. Not so exciting for us humans, but when the keeper wiggles it around a little, the boa (which eats only every few months) snatches it up, coils tightly around it, and slowly gulps it down through its long body. After a holiday season full of hearty food and a little too much beer, eating like a snake sounds about right these days.

After my shift, I wandered up to check out the lion cubs, who were all outside with their mothers on this cool, damp day. Good God, are they cute. Whoa. Serious kryptonite. Combine the curiosity of kittens with the rambunctiousness of puppies and the exotic draw of the African bush and you get seven African lion cubs in a park in the middle of a big city. Sorry, panda-lovers, these guys are way cuter than Tai Chan. Whoa.