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Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Blue Book Week

So - it's been a week since I blogged. No - I'm not on vacation, and I'm not dead - yet.

Our company does annual performance evaluations in one fell swoop every August. I take people's evaluations very seriously, and take pride in making them valuable and personal. I've only been here 5 months, so it is patently unfair for me to evaluate a person on an entire year's worth of work when I've only been working with them for less than half that time. To that end, I have involved many other people in this process.

Nevertheless, I have spent an entire weekend, as well as many late nights watching the Olympics or the DNC Convention, reviewing HR records and trying to craft some well thought out comments for more than 24 managers. I have to admit, despite every effort at personalization, after a while, some of the comments just require a name change, cut and paste, and voila! You have an evaluation.

Now I know what my sister goes through grading hundreds of college level art history Blue Books, trying to be original and thoughtful in your comments for every student. It's draining. Especially the first time out.

The harder part is the delivery. With blue books - you hand them out and post the grades and you're done. There is nothing personal involved unless the student wants to speak to you afterwards.

These evals are personal. Very personal. You're not getting a grade - you're getting a raise. The stakes are higher, and people respond to them very differently. Some of my best performers can't take even the slightest constructive criticism, and some of the worst performers are utterly oblivious to their suckitude. The easy ones are joyful, the hard conversations ("Honey - we need to talk...") are utterly painful.

And so it goes. I had them scheduled back to back on a 45 minute schedule all week.

Last night, I went to a terrific Baltimore Foodies dinner with friends for some relief. PLEASE go to Woodberry Kitchen. It's another home run for my buddy Spike Gerdje as head chef. Everything he touches is just wonderfully crafted, and Woodberry is no different.

Tomorrow I get on a plane and head to New England to float in my BFF's pool, drink her award winning wines, eat the bounty of her garden, and attend the Rythm and Roots Festival. Perfect tonic for this week.
posted by Broadsheet @ 6:48 PM   1 Editorial Opinions
Thursday, August 21, 2008
See No Evil - Update
No surprise here. Beijing allotted three areas for "preapproved protests" during the Olympic Games. So it's utterly no surprise, that 10 Days into the Games not a single one of the 77 applications for protest by 149 individuals has been approved.

In fact, some of the applicants have been detained and jailed by the Public Security Bureau.

Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency reports otherwise. They claim that of the 77 applications:
All but three applications, were withdrawn after the authorities satisfactorily addressed the petitioners’ concerns, Xinhua said. Two of the remaining requests were rejected because the applicants failed to provide adequate information, and the last was rejected after the authorities determined it violated laws on demonstrations.
A representative from Human Rights Watch stated the obvious when they commented that the IOC seems totally oblivious to the fact that they are holding the Games in a repressive regime.

As for seeing any protesters during the Games - don't hold your breath.

UPDATE:

This news out of Beijing yesterday:

Too Old and Frail to Re-educate? Not in China

Wang Xiuying, left, and Wu Dianyuan have been ordered to undergo “re-education” for seeking a protest permit in Beijing.

The two women, both in their late 70s, have never spoken out against China’s authoritarian government. Both walk with the help of a cane, and Ms. Wang is blind in one eye. Their grievance, receiving insufficient compensation when their homes were seized for redevelopment, is perhaps the most common complaint among Chinese displaced during the country’s long streak of fast economic growth.

But the Beijing police still sentenced the two women to an extrajudicial term of “re-education through labor” this week for applying to hold a legal protest in a designated area in Beijing, where officials promised that Chinese could hold demonstrations during the Olympic Games.
Dear China, You should be ashamed of yourselves for treating your grandmothers this way. They are hardly terrorists. Don't you have bigger issues to deal with? Like, say, pollution? Ethnic repression? Underage Olympians? Oh, and what about corruption?
posted by Broadsheet @ 10:13 PM   1 Editorial Opinions
Corn and Basil Pudding
This is really more of a casserole than a pudding, but it OH so good! Recipe courtesy of Epicurious.com. We made a few additions and changes.

Ingredients
4 cups corn (from 6 ears) - scrape into a bowl and save the "milk"
1 small red onion finely chopped
1 cup packaged fresh basil leaves, torn
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
2/3 c grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup heavy cream
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
salt and pepper to taste

Here are the ingredients ready to go:



Obviously - don't add the eggshells people.

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter a 2 1/2-quart shallow baking dish.

Saute the corn and red onion until lightly cooked and the red onion is soft. Transfer to a large bowl to cool. Stir in basil, and whisk in milk, cheese, and eggs until combined.

Pour into baking dish and bake until center is just set, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.



MMMM - summer goodness. You're welcome.
posted by Broadsheet @ 6:11 PM   0 Editorial Opinions
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Summer Goodness

I headed home this past weekend for a surprise B-Day party for my brother at our family cottage in Northwestern PA. I swung by the Amish Farmer's Market in Cockeysville on my way out of town to collect what I thought were supposed to be 5 dozen bratwurst, but thanks to a cultural misunderstanding with the Amish woman in the meat department, turned out to be 5 dozen bockwurst instead. No harm, they were gorgeous veal sausages instead of pork, grilled up just great, and everyone seemed to enjoy them. Very German.

Kayaking, fishing, volleyball, horseshoes, bonfires, kids, good food, family, and friends. Summer just doesn't get better than that.

Although I could do without the half dozen mosquito bites I acquired on my ankles.....

The day after the party, my sister and I slept in at my parent's house, had a lovely brunch on the patio and slummed in the pool on floats with my parents, enjoying a perfect summer day.

And then I climbed back in the car and drove another 5.5 hours back to Baltimore....

Tomorrow, I'll post photos of the feast my sisters and I made at the cabin the night before the party while we were rocking out to music, drinking wine, and decorating the cottage with embarassing baby photos of my brother with adulterated cutouts from tabloids.

(photo courtesy of youngest sister)
posted by Broadsheet @ 10:43 PM   0 Editorial Opinions
Thursday, August 14, 2008
I like to watch....
...the Olympics silly - get your mind out of the gutter.

Seriously though, I am SO sleep deprived this week from watching Michael Phelps into the wee hours of the morning all week.

And maybe it's all the advances in training, maybe it's the fact that most of America is overweight and out of shape these days and it's all relative, but there is an element of pornographic awe and voyeurism in watching nearly naked, mostly perfect bodies pushing themselves to extraordinary accomplishments, often times into extraordinary shapes, lengths and heights as well.

2,900 hours of broadcast coverage over two weeks, and at the end of week one, I bet I've watched close to 40 hours of it since last Friday night and the jaw dropping Opening Ceremonies. Sure, I've cooked, cleaned, surfed the web, talked on the phone, and worked during coverage as well, but the Games have been on non stop while I'm at home. I'm afraid if I change the channel, or God forbid, turn it off, I'll miss some quirky backdrop story on an athlete, a not to be missed moment in Olympic history that everyone will be talking about at work tomorrow - but me, or some shot of Beijing that looks familiar or was where I was hanging out less than a year ago.

Despite the pageantry of the Games, the banality that is Bob Costa is nearly unbearable. I mean, he "dismissed" the President of the United States! (I probably would have too - but not on live TV). And Bob - if you're reading buddy - give in to the gray. Jim Lampley has. You look like you're wearing a helmet of Grecian Formula.

With the glaring exception of the Today show crew trying to learn to sing Chinese Opera this morning (think cats being strangled on live TV - I was embarrassed for them), the coverage has been great for the most part.

The best part - hands down - are the athletes. They are just so much fun to watch with their determination, courage, strength, passion, joy, and yes - let's admit it - hot bodies.
posted by Broadsheet @ 8:06 PM   2 Editorial Opinions
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Eating Skippy
The BBC had an article yesterday about the merits of eating kangaroo meat as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

I'm not sure if I buy that angle, but I can tell you, that kangaroo meat is yummy and should be eaten and farmed. I spent nearly a month in the remote Outback of Queensland about 15 years ago, as part of a scientific research project examining the reproductive systems of red kangaroos. I got the gig courtesy of Dr. E., my college roommate, who is now a research scientist working for the US Geological Survey group out in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Those were the good old days before digital photography, so my photos from the adventure are in a photo album (remember those?), instead of my hard drive, but I have some great photos of us grilling, and eating, kangaroo (and wild rabbits, and emu, etc.).

It's very lean, and has it's own flavor, not unlike venison, but certainly not gamey at all.

While the merits of eating kangaroos are many, there are still cultural barriers in Australia to eating what amounts to their national symbol. The kangaroo holds a unique spot in Australian culture. Worshipped by the aboriginal people, and valued by them as a food source, they are also considered a pest in the Outback by ranchers and farmers competing for valuable grassland for grazing cattle and sheep. The small settlement near the national park where we lived and worked for three weeks, owed its existence to "roo shooters". Guys who make their living culling kangaroos from farmlands. Most, if not all, of that meat ends up as dog food or rots. It's not used for human consumption. They do use the hides, but not the meat. Go figure.
posted by Broadsheet @ 11:06 AM   1 Editorial Opinions
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Less than 24 hours
This is an edited account from my friend in Beijing, less than 24 hours before the Opening Ceremonies:
*****************************************************************************
Yep, I have to say I'm excited...the atmosphere in town yesterday was terrific.

This morning, with my tutor I'm off over to Tian'AnMen Sq to soak it up...and then we're going to an historic site that's been closed for a couple of years...

This afternoon, I'll have to head to the BN (Bird's Nest) mid-afternoon. There's a pre-Opening concert that starts around 5 PM local...don't know if it will be broadcast...it will feature 20+ ethnic groups. My guess is it's to try and lure the audience into the BN (Bird's Nest) well ahead of time. I expect security to be really intense.

My seat (for the Opening Ceremonies) is on the bend right after the start line -- what I think I could describe as the first bend...in Sector D, the lower tier...and I'm only 14 rows back from the infield, so should have a good view.

And, BTW the order of appearance of the participating countries has proved to be controversial...of the 205 countries, Australia will appear 3rd from the bottom! This is all dictated by the stroke value of the first character of the Chinese name...so, in fact all the "Ma" countries -- Malaysia, Mali, Malta etc., - will appear towards the front, as their character is only 3 strokes. Australia has 15 strokes in its name.
posted by Broadsheet @ 9:14 PM   2 Editorial Opinions
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Extreme Home Makeover
While I was busy keeping my leg propped up on pillows with an ice pack for the last five days, my parents descended upon my house like the crew from Extreme Home Makeover to look after my recovery and took on tasks that I either haven't been able to do with my knee all screwed up since April (i.e. anything requiring lifting, bending, or stairs), things I am not handy enough to do, or things that simply require two people to accomplish.

So, after five days, a daily trip to Lowe's, and much swearing, grunting, and pounding....

1. I have a garden gate that finally swings freely, closes securely, and is well attached to the garden wall.
2. I have a new towel bar and tissue holder in the powder room (and my neighbor got the towel bar in her mother in law apt., fixed as well).
3. I acquired a few new tools in the process.
4. All my knives are professionally sharpened to the point that I can shave translucent slices of onion thinner than paper.
5. I have a new, lighted workbench and storage shelves in my basement storage room, and the room is lined with pegboard, shelving, and all manner of brackets and hooks to organize my tools.
6. My garden is weeded, trimmed, pruned, raked, and watered. It's blooming like crazy and the flowers looks wonderful.
7. Blinds were installed in my guest room and den, and valances were hung in the living room and kitchen.
8. My security lights were re-wired to permit motion detection and other features.
9. The chandelier in the atrium has all new light bulbs and was thoroughly cleaned till it gleams - it's really bright at night!
10. The overhead fluorescent lights in the laundry room work again.
11. A trip to the dump in my parent's SUV got rid of bags of trash, window screens and building materials I had sitting in the basement just waiting for a large truck or other vehicle to haul them away.
12. The large, heavy, brass, beautifully patinaed letter that I got from an architectural salvage yard from an old building sign, was hung on my garden wall, and gives the garden a great look.

Oh - and we had some really nice dinners, cocktails and wine in the garden this week.

My knee is getting much better. The swelling goes down daily, the bruising is less angry and purple, although I still need crutches to get around outside the house, and the stitches don't come out till next week.

I am going to attempt to crutch my way in to work tomorrow - we'll see how it goes.
posted by Broadsheet @ 11:31 AM   2 Editorial Opinions
A City of Gorillas
Aside from being completely astounding, this makes me unspeakably happy.

To think that these gorgeous animals are hiding in plain sight, in numbers so large that they have effectively tripled the previous estimates of lowland gorillas remaining on earth, gives me so much hope.

It's astonishing really, that this many large animals could be unknown from man. Good for them.

Now, let's hope we leave it that way and work to keep their secret.
posted by Broadsheet @ 11:26 AM   0 Editorial Opinions
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Guest Blogging from the Beijing Olympics
While I'm recuperating from knee surgery, I asked my buddy in Beijing if I could post some of her emails as she observes first hand, the preparations for the upcoming Olympics this weekend. If you encourage her, perhaps she'll let me post her photos from the Opening Ceremonies and other events as she witnesses them. Enjoy:
**************************************************************************************
Countdown to *8/8/8*, and the opening ceremony that will commence at *8:08pm* local time.

I cycled across town to Tian'anmen Square last week to see the clock as it marked the 10 day countdown – well actually by the time I got there it was 9 days, 22 hours and 27 minutes. [That's a sentence I never -- ever in my wildest dreams -- thought I'd have cause to write.] In addition, I got a nice shot of the entrance to The Forbidden City with some Olympic signage mounted in the foreground.

During the next fortnight, I'm hoping to take photos of newly gentrified neighbourhoods and some of the extravagant floral displays around town. Now that my Internet service has been restored, I will upload them throughout the Games. As one of the lucky lottery winners, I have tickets to the Opening Ceremony (8th ), the Closing Ceremony (24th ), some athletics events, and a swimming session. In addition I've been invited to a final session of the diving competition. Lots to look forward to once the Games get underway.

So, 8 days to go to the Opening Ceremony, and 625 since I arrived in country. Some days have dragged, but on the whole, time has flown. Unlike the early days, I'm now comfortable getting around town, using the bus and metro systems, and going into local restaurants without feeling too intimidated by linguistic constraints.

In the meantime, I've grown to enjoy some aspects of life here, and continue to abhor others. Learning the language grew on me. At first I was totally overwhelmed by the prospect of tackling it, but quickly realized that I needed to, in order to derive more enjoyment from the experience of living here. Ironically, given that I was daunted by Chinese script in the early days, I now really enjoy learning to read and write characters; however it takes a huge amount of stroke practice, followed up by recognition and recall exercises. That being said, there's still so much to learn, it could easily become a life-long endeavor. For the moment, I'm happy with what I've achieved.

I've grown to really enjoy local cooking, and accustomed to eating from communal dishes as long as I know the contents; however, I remain deterred by the thought of eating donkey meat, dog meat, or dishes containing any type of penis. I understand that Beijing restaurants have been discouraged from serving donkey and dog meat during the Olympic period.

Sanitization of restaurant menus is the tip of the iceberg. The city has undergone enormous change in the run up to the Games – much of it welcome. One of the more positive – but to date short lived -- aspects have been the improvement in local air-quality. Two weeks ago, we enjoyed the most stunningly clear skies that I've seen in the twenty months of living here; however, the past week, the skyline has been alternating between the hazy smog that so often degrades the quality of life here, and what the authorities consider to be an acceptable "blue-sky" day.

Interestingly over the last 6-8 weeks, we experienced thunderstorms, the intensity of which was spectacular. Many of us speculated that the meteorologists were somehow 'playing' with the weather controls. It's no secret that the Chinese authorities have been experimenting for years with rain generation, and cloud manipulation. I recently learned from a foreign environmentalist that during the last few months, there have been accusations of 'cloud stealing' among the provinces that surround the municipality of Beijing. Apparently this activity is all part of the practice routine necessary to ensure a dry Opening and Closing ceremony. According to the state run news agency – XinHua – the Beijing "weather engineering office" is in charge of the massive 'Olympic weather modification' project. Using technology developed by US scientists, cloud seeding is achieved by shooting shells or rockets containing silver iodide particles into the clouds. The icy particles freeze the drops in the clouds, make them continue to grow and eventually fall out of the clouds.

If the fireworks practice session that we enjoyed here one night last week is anything to go by, the country that invented gunpowder will pull out all the stops to provide the pyrotechnic show to beat all. Although the athletics stadium, now more usually referred to as the Bird's Nest, will be the focal point of the ceremony, the firework display will apparently extend as far south as Tian'anmen Square, which is located on the central axis of the city -- about 10km south of the Olympic Village.

During the last month I had the opportunity to run with friends up and around the Village. Now that it is completed, the environment has changed dramatically since my first visit to the area over a year ago. Gone are the migrant workers; gone are the prefabricated buildings that they slept in; and gone are the hole-in-the-wall eateries that fed them for the years that they lived on site working on the iconic structures of the Birds Nest and Water Cube. These workers – like so many others scattered around the city -- came from all over the country, typically working twelve-to-fourteen hour days, seven day weeks and living in extraordinarily primitive conditions. While here, they reputedly earned a wage that far exceeded what they could have earned as peasant farmers back in their hometowns. Maybe, what was visible to us in terms of their quality of life was merely an inconvenience; perhaps their total earnings will provide them with a cushion that will finance an education for their 'one-child', or will fund improvements to their living quarters back home. One can only hope and wish that having had a long distance relationship with their family, it will have been worth while.

In the immediate aftermath of the BeiChuan earthquake, I thought that the massive reconstruction effort needed in that region might provide employment opportunities for these tens of thousands migrant workers who were coming to the end of their Beijing based shelf-life. But, as time passed and I've read that the local authorities in BeiChuan are reluctant to rebuild along the fault line there in SiChuan province. As a result, I've more recently contemplated that the migrants may simply revert to their former occupation of peasant farming.

In addition to the many that worked on the Olympic venues, many more worked around the city on various commercial, residential and government funded construction sites. Some of those buildings that met their pre-Games completion dates are being occupied. Across the city, blocks and blocks of former construction sites have transformed the face of neighborhoods – some spectacular in their architectural design, many others simple – but sprawling in their nature. In the last couple of months acres and acres of retail/commercial space have become available, but interestingly it appears only a fraction of the total available space is occupied.

On the other hand, existing legitimate business that have been operating for years have been effectively choked by restrictions imposed by local authorities. Two Beijing based English language magazines that apparently operated since their inception 4/5 years ago were recently forced to comply with a 'dormant' licensing law. As a result, the June edition of one publication was impounded at the printers and reportedly pulped before it could hit the streets. Many night-time entertainment spots are being forced to apply for 'live-performance' licenses that heretofore had not been required. This week I also realized that Mongolian street vendors who had sold their ethnic jewelry outside one of the local markets have disappeared.

On a positive note, the authorities seem to have completely eradicated the sale of counterfeit DVDs, which previously had been available in the underground access tunnels to the metro system. In addition, the powers that be have closed down what I considered to have been the more 'legitimate' outlets. But, funnily enough a friend relayed the story of one store where a bookshelf on casters masked a wall behind which she was offered a full choice of counterfeit DVD stock.

In addition to the arrival of some national contingents in the Olympic Village, the other big news last week was that the authorities acknowledged the need for three 'zones' where individuals can gather to protest. This was big news; however, what appeared to have been a significant concession transpired to be shrouded in a complex application process that is expected to stifle all but the most persistent applicant. From what I understand of the rules, these zones will not be available to facilitate 'spontaneous' walk-in protesters. Rather, according to a local press report, BOCOG (BJ Organizing Committee of Olympic Games) will notify a designated park; if, as a result of a successful application, there is a demonstration scheduled. No doubt there will be adequate police and possibly army presence – as the local government publication 'Beijing Today' reported on July 25th -- to 'prevent riots or similar conflicts'.

Although not expected to result in crowd misbehavior, the last round of ticket sales on Friday (25th ) provided the authorities here with a taste of crowd control issues. While this went under-reported in the local press, the Hong Kong based South China Morning Post, did not hold back in drawing attention to the experience of their photographer covering what should have been a benign journalistic event. They reported the HK Journalists Association saying 'it was shocked by the violent interference with HK journalists' reporting activities. One photograph published, of a policeman restraining a cameraman as a fellow policeman is clearly pointing at another photographer telling him to stop shooting. Unfortunately, this kerfuffle is not a good start to what could well be a strained relationship between the local authorities and the droves of international correspondents expected in town to cover all events, warts and all, of the Games.

Although I have misgivings about the prevailing political environment, and continue to question the wisdom of the IOC for awarding the Games to Beijing in the first place, I hope for my Chinese friends there is no disruption at the competition venues and that they have the opportunity to enjoy the event as a wonderful sporting occasion.

Unfortunately the Irish team don't carry too many medal hopes, so on any occasion, I may cheer for a US win, or indeed my current host country. Who'd have ever thought it…?

All the best from Beijing on this hot, hazy and humid night...I'm sure the weather Gods will have another go to clear the air between now and Friday night...
posted by Broadsheet @ 8:06 AM   1 Editorial Opinions
Monday, August 04, 2008
OUCH

Recuperating. No luxury problems here.
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posted by Broadsheet @ 10:28 AM   0 Editorial Opinions
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