Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Birthday Round-up

My birthday was this past February 23rd, and keeping with my tradition of posting something to Some Guy's blog on my birthday, here it is... I'm now 30.

Some women freak out at 30 because 30 means not in your 20's any more. Some women freak out at 30 because they're not married yet. Some women freak out at 30 and their ovaries start punching them in the gut reminding them to squeeze out a rug rat.

I thought I'd be different, and that I wouldn't have a Turning 30 Freak-Out. I thought that I was way too logical for that bull, that 30 is just a number, that I'm already happily married, that I wasn't even sure if I wanted children at all and so it wouldn't freak me out if I didn't have children by the age of 30.

And I was on the right track! If you had asked me six months ago if I was okay with turning 30, I WAS! I wasn't just saying I was... I really was! And then... if you asked me five months ago, I said I was okay with turning 30, but I was having doubts. And then... if you asked me at Christmastime if I was okay with turning 30, I was definitely not okay.

It's not the "getting old" thing. In fact, since I work in marketing, it's actually better for me to be 30 instead of 29... Women don't like other women in their 20's, from what I've been told; Women in their 20's are threatening. But being in your 30's... a horse of a different color! And the number was never what creeped me out or made me feel old... just that there was so much I wanted to do, and every year that passes indicates another year less I have to do it... so it's not 30 per se, just the idea of running out of time...

And it's not the unmarried thing, because I am very happily married...

As to the knocking ovaries thing... It's not that I never wanted kids, I was just unsure if I wanted them... not because I wasn't sure if I wanted them per se, but rather because I was unsure if I was unselfish enough to put my career aside to make the sacrifices I knew I would want to make when I became a mother. Children require attention and work... they need to become a top priority in your life. My career and my marriage are my top priorities, and I was unsure if I wanted to add yet another top priority that could push those two out of the way.

I love my career: do I really want to "sidetrack" my advancement to have a child? I just never understood how intelligent, career focused women could justify putting aside their hard-fought and won job advancement...

And I love my lazy Sundays with my husband... do I want to sacrifice sleeping in until 10am on Sundays and watching him play video games while I poke around on the computer? I guess I just never understood why a couple would want to add another responsibility to their lives that would take time away from spending time with just one another...

But then, this past year, so many of our friends have either become pregnant or are trying to become pregnant. My sister has now had her second baby, and my brother in law gave us our first niece on my husband's side, and I love my nieces and nephew more than I ever thought possible. I see our friends and close family members expanding their families, and I understand it now. Seeing that precious little person smile up at you, or call you on the phone and have an unintelligible conversation with you... it's priceless, and I get it now.

But that's not the freak-out...

It is that we are renting, and don't own a house.

My big f@*king freakout is that we don't own a house. How messed up is that?

You can justify buying a house way you want... It's a buyer's market, and so we're wise to buy a house now as opposed to a year ago. Interest rates have held and are holding steady, so it's wise to buy a house now as opposed to later when they may rise. Housing prices are also holding steady, or dropping slightly, because homes are staying on the market for longer periods of time. Buying a home is a wise investment due to the tax breaks of being able to deduct your interest payments.

And while all of those reasons are important, and good, and definitely support our decision to buy a house in general or at some point in the future, that is not the reason we have started looking at houses now. I will be 100% honest with y'all and with myself that the reason we are buying a house is because I'm freaking out about turning 30.

In my defense, we are being wise about it, and have done lots of research about what to expect when house hunting and buying a home. We have used mortgage calculators and renting vs. buying calculators to ensure buying a home makes financial sense for us. We have put an artificial deadline of one year for our house hunting, but we really have no time frame by which we need to buy a house since our lease is month to month now, and the house we rent is really large enough to raise children in if we chose. We researched housing prices and neighborhoods, and have selected the best locations we can afford.

But yeah, we're looking for a house because I need to feel that stability and security... I need to feel accomplished, and that I am an adult. I need to feel like I have something to show for the past decade of hard work, and for some reason that means I need to have a house.

I'm turning 30, and I see my friends having children, and I realize that yes, I want children. The "plan" always was to have children when I turned 32/ 33, and I didn't want to have children until I had a house, and I wanted to live in the house for a year before having children to get used to the responsibility and financial burden of having a house, and that meant that I needed to buy a house when I turned 30 so I could live in it for a year before trying to have children, and then we'd start trying to get pregnant at 31/ 32, and then (depending upon how long it took to get pregnant) and we'd have the baby when I was 32/ 33... If I didn't buy a house this year, it would screw up the plan!

So we're house hunting now, and have put a bid in on a house, and they counter-offered, and then we countered their counter, then they accepted our counter. We close at the end of March, which is scary and exciting all at the same time.

So this is my freak-out. Welcome to my insanity...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Science: Chimps Use Spear

Well this is just disconcerting:

WASHINGTON — Chimpanzees living on the West African savanna have been observed fashioning spears from sticks and using them to hunt small mammals — the first routine production of deadly weapons observed in animals other than humans.

The chimps were repeatedly seen using their hands and teeth to tear the side branches off long straight sticks and peeling back the bark and sharpening one end of the sticks with their teeth, the researchers report in Thursday's online issue of the journal Current Biology. Then, grasping the weapon in a "power grip," they jabbed into tree-branch hollows where bush babies — small monkey-like mammals — sleep during the day.

After stabbing their prey, they removed the injured or dead animal and ate it.

Lead researcher Jill D. Pruetz of Iowa State University in Ames said it reminded her of the shower scene in "Psycho."

The new observations are "stunning," said Craig Stanford, a primatologist and professor of anthropology at USC.

"Really fashioning a weapon to get food — I'd say that's a first for any nonhuman animal."

Fellow researcher Paco Bertolani of Cambridge University in England saw an adolescent female chimp use a spear to stab a bush baby as it slept in a tree hollow, pull it out and eat it.

Pruetz thought it was a fluke, but then saw similar weapon- making herself "over the course of 19 days almost daily," she said.

It was typically females who displayed the behavior.

This is a picture of a "bush baby," the chimp's prey:

bush baby
So, not only are chumps using tools to hunt, they're remorselessly hunting cute furry things with huge eyes that would make me break down into cooing baby noises if I saw it. This is clear evidence of their superior evolution. The next phases of which are obvious:

Extra bonus points if you recognize that the first pic is from the obscure Sunday morning show Ark II. Also, here are clips from the Simpsons Planet of the Apes, the musical. "Dr. Zaius! Dr. Zaius!"

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Demotivational Friday: Science

Not my best work. But when I saw the picture in an article about how Bush toured an ethanol plant I couldn't stop laughing., and I just knew that I had to use it with a quote from Dr. Strangelove. I also considered some sort of long paranoid rant about fluoride, but it wouldn't fit into the caption.

Note to politicians: You look stupid when you dress in anything but a suit or casual business attire, especially military uniforms or lab attire. Resist the urge to do something cool and different. It'll make you look like an idiot.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tearing Down the Walls at Work

The Federal government is all about status. Who you know. What committees you sit on. Your title. And the size of your office. If you're really important (or have just been around for a very long time), you also get a good view from your office, something very coveted in this city of monuments. It's a daily reminder to them that their the boss, and you're the peon. And its a daily reminder to the peons that they need to find a new job. A job where you get an office.

So it was very refreshing to read this:

You know those scenes of the big-city mayor's office you see on television? A supplicant climbs to the top floor of City Hall, appeals to a stony-eyed secretary for a session with Mayor Important, then gets deposited on a stiff sofa for a long, fidgety wait. Finally the massive wooden door swings open, the supplicant crosses a cavernous stateroom and stands meekly before His Honor, who is sitting as serious and confident as a king 10 feet away in his plush high-back behind an acre of a desk. The nervous supplicant clears his throat and begins: " Excuse me, sir. . . "

Well, not in Washington. Not now. Not under Adrian M. Fenty (D). Here's the new reality:

It's lunchtime. Fenty whizzes into his "executive office" carrying Caribbean takeout in a plastic container. This "executive office" is a cubicle. As in, Dilbert.

The cubicle is surrounded by 32 cubicles with 32 government officials and at least 35 BlackBerrys (of which Fenty has three).

The Mayor of the District of Columbia, the city with more self absorbed ladder climbers then anywhere else, works in an open cube surrounded by everyone he needs to manage.

I think it's bloody brilliant. The more you empathize with your boss and the mission of your organization, the more likely you are to put in the extra hours, to care about the details, to love what you do, and to stay there for the long haul.

If you're a manager of any type, the urge to give yourself additional perks can be overwhelming. Lavish trips, the best hotel rooms, a big office, an extra large bonus, your own secretary, a fancy company car and a private parking spot, whatever. But whatever it is, it really just makes the people who work for you resent you. Meanwhile, the manager who drives a beat up car, parks it with everyone else, and then sits in the same space as everyone else, has a much easier time of telling folks what to do, especially when annual reviews come around. Then he quietly pockets his million dollar salary and goes home to his mansion.

Americans don't hate wealth. We love wealth - everyone secretly dreams of being rich. But we hate status. We think that all of us are created equal, and deserve equal rights and treatment. So even if someone really is our boss and really is more important then us, we like to think we're the same. Keep that in mind the next time you get a promotion.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Monica Bellucci

A year ago La Femme Nikita posted this picture of Monica Bellucci.

Monica Bellucci
In the past week, this blog has gotten an extra hundred or so hits per day, all from people looking for pictures of Monica Bellucci.

I have no idea who Monica Bellucci is. I think Monica Bellucci was the voice of Kaileena in a Prince of Persia game. I don't know why a half naked Monica Bellucci draws so many people to my blog this week. Did Monica Bellucci new suddenly become popular? Was there some sort of Monica Bellucci tryst I don't know about? Is there a Monica Bellucci lingerie line of cloths? Is there a Monica Bellucci sex movie floating around that people are looking for? Have I mentioned that I recently learned that repeating a phase, such as Monica Bellucci, with common search terms, such as Monica Bellucci sex lingerie tryst, moves your blog up in the Google ranking without actually saying anything offensive to anyone? Monica Bellucci.


Heading North

This weekend for Sneezy's birthday and next weekend for La Femme Nikita's I'll be in Philly. The weekend of March 10th I'll be in NY for Alex's birthday, and I might be up there again not long after that for my brother's, and then again for Easter. If any of my DC/MD/VA friends (ie, the people who live in the same region that I theoretically do) are looking for me, that's where I'll be. If anyone needs a ride north in exchange for gas in the next few months, I can probably help you. Accounting for my frequent travels and DC rental prices, I think it might be cheaper for me to get an apartment close to 30th Street Station instead of an apartment in Columbia Heights. But then I'd have to live in West Philly.

Demotivational Friday: Recruitment

Today was a group effort, with every team member contributing a witty remark.


Sneezy D:

Qui Gonn:

La Femme:

Mike adds that this is nothing to joke about. The military is serious about recruiting suicidal teens. The really scary this is that they're putting them all in the same unit. He saw it in this video:

And just to tie this all into more insanity, do to the increase pressure of war, the military has recently decided to recruit people with felony convictions.

So if you want to kill yourself or other Americans that's fine. But if you're gay then somehow that will cause a morale problem.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Government Snow Day

If anyone needs to check the status of the government in the Washington, DC area and whether or not it is open due to snow or other inclement weather, check here.

And now for my rant...

So instead of just closing the government, they gave us a two hour delay and liberal leave, allowing people to use vacation time to not come into work today even if they weren't scheduled to do so. This was a pretty dumb move, in my opinion.

First, I'm on a flexible schedule. I can leave and come as I please, as long as I get my work done and spend 8 hours at work each day. But the work doesn't disappear by telling me I can only work six hours today, and it barely effects how late I'm allowed to come in to work anyway.

Second, the government is basically shut down. No one was here when I arrived, and I've maybe seen five people all day, and my building alone employs thousands of workers. The contractors I oversea haven't returned any phone calls, so I assume the rest of the city is shut down as well. So if its shut down, why not just call it shut down? Why force some small percentage of your workforce to come in anyway?

Finally, most government workers have massive amounts of sick time stored up. You can use sick time whenever you want. So liberal leave is pretty meaningless. But most schools are closed and roads are a deathtrap, so you're basically just penalizing 90% of the Federal workforce 8 hours of vacation time for no particular reason. And those of us who work on deadline usually just put in extra hours without getting comp time anyway, so its not as if they would be holding up essential activities if they gave us the day off. I would have just worked at home, where the food is better and my computer is faster.

Having said that, I've often wondered what would happen if we had a nor'easter that shut down non-essential functions of the Federal government for a few months. Social Security checks would still go out. The military and post office serve no matter what. But would anyone notice if Congress stopped passing laws?

On a tangentially related subject, I've decided that DC should stop pressing for the right to vote in Congress. Instead, they should press to be exempt from Federal income taxes like other U.S. territories. I think that given the choice between taxation and representation, most Washingtonians would take the cash.


Happy Valentine's Day

If only I had a girlfriend, I could buy her this. Of course, my sense of humor might explain why I don't have a girlfriend. Oh well.

Hat tip to Neatorama.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

News: Dolphins with Lasers

This is cool. Next up, sharks:

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Dozens of dolphins and sea lions trained to detect and apprehend waterborne attackers could be sent to patrol a military base in Washington state, the Navy said Monday. In a notice published in this week's Federal Register, the Navy said it needs to bolster security at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, on the Puget Sound close to Seattle.

The base is home to submarines, ships and laboratories and is potentially vulnerable to attack by terrorist swimmers and scuba divers, the notice states.

Several options are under consideration, but the preferred plan would be to send as many as 30 California sea lions and Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins from the Navy's Marine Mammal Program, based in San Diego.

I challenge anyone to show me a cooler dolphin related picture.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Apartment Hunting Continued

So in my attempts to find a new place to live, I've been reminded that housing is all about trade-offs. The closer you are to Metro, the more expensive it is. Having a private bath adds at least $100. Being close to amenities adds another $100 or so. One of the less talked about price differentials are local taxes:

Families earning between $45,000 and $65,000 now begin paying more in Virginia than they do in Maryland.

In Virginia the average tax burden is $2,287, while in Maryland it is $2,194.

As expected, D.C. has the highest personal income tax burden in the country with an average tax of $3,886.

However, all three jurisdictions are above the national average of $1,771.

Right now I'm looking at three main options:

1) Large one bedroom, in a residential neighborhood of Takoma Park, 15 minute walk to Metro, $875 plus utilities.

2) Smallish and sorta run-down three bedroom 2 bath, moderately close to stuff, in Silver Spring, 8 minute walk to Metro, $640 including utilities for my room.

3) Tiny 2 bedroom 1 bath, one top of everything I could need just north of Chinatown, 2 minute walk to metro, $700 plus utilities for my room.

But the tiny apartment is in DC, so the cost of living there jumps by $141 a month, putting it on par with the expense of the one bedroom in Takoma Park. Plus I might have to rent a parking space, which would be a giant hassle.

So the real question is, do I want privacy and space, or do I want convenience and a roommate? Or do I want to give up both of those things and just save money?

Right now I'm leaning towards the one bedroom, simply because it frees me from ever having to go through this horrific experience again until I'm ready to buy a house. But I'm a social person from a big family, so I know I'm going to get lonely. And as a New Yorker, the city life beckons me.

Damn you fickle apartment gods! Why must you torment me!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday: Demotivational

Sorry, no pithy graphic to amuse you today. Work is crazy, and I've been spending every evening trying to find a place to live.

I think that instead of prison time, we should sentence first time offenders to a month of trying to find a good apartment in the D.C. area. It's a soul crushing experience. When I started looking, I wanted to pay about $600 a month, find a moderate sized room in a group house, a few blocks from the Metro, with people my own age and of similar interests. After two weeks and twenty different places, I'm willing to pay $900, have made a list of my possessions that I'm willing to give away so that I can fit into a shoebox sized room, I'm willing to live a mile away from the Metro, and with any roommate that isn't currently threatening me with an axe or other heavy sharp object.

Anywho, if you know of a place I can live, please email me.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Distraction: Hardest Video Game Boss Ever

Ah, my wasted youth. I wish I could live it again, so that I could waste it on better video games.

Hat tip to Extra Life and Game Diggity.


Government: Contract Rigging

Three Army Reserve officers and two civilians were indicted yesterday on federal charges of participating in a wide-ranging bribery and contract-rigging scheme involving millions in Iraq reconstruction funds.

The 25-count indictment handed up by a Trenton, N.J., grand jury expands a probe that has resulted in three guilty pleas. Those indicted yesterday were accused of participating in a scheme to funnel $8.6 million in reconstruction contracts to an American businessman in exchange for cars, $3,200 Breitling watches, plane tickets, $3,000 Toshiba laptop computers, weapons and stolen money. Named in the indictments were Col. Curtis G. Whiteford; Lt. Col. Debra M. Harrison and her husband, William Driver; Lt. Col. Michael B. Wheeler; and Michael Morris.


The reconstruction program often distributed funds in cash, handing out blocks of currency known as "bricks," and the indictment described how participants in the scam smuggled the bulk back into the United States.


In one case, Harrison and Wheeler smuggled at least $330,000 in stolen authority funds from Iraq to New York using commercial business-class tickets purchased by Bloom, according to the indictment. In a January 2004 e-mail, Stein proudly told Bloom that he and Wheeler had secured another contract for him.

I personally handle millions of dollars worth of government contracts and grants. So when another civil servant is caught doing this sort of thing, I'm filled with disgust, because it reflects poorly on all of us, and it reflects poorly on our country.

But having said that, what the heck was anyone doing in Iraq with bricks of cash? Who in the administration thought that sending billions of dollars in loose currency was somehow a good way to manage the reconstruction?

You don't need to be an accountant to know that its almost impossible to have meaningful internal controls if you're moving around your funds that way. It's far too easy to pay a contractor in cash and then get a kickback, or just report giving the contractor $1,000,000, but only paying him $500,000, and embezzling the rest for yourself. And even if you are an honest civil servant, its far too easy for the contractor to under report on their taxes.

This wasn't just corruption. This was stupidity. If you put a brick of $100 bills on the table in front of an honest person and asked them to use it to rebuild a war torn country, most people would. But the overwhelming temptation would be to take some part of it for themselves. After all, the contractors you're handing the cash to are making ten times what you are for handing them the cash. And they're often far less experienced, and risking their lives far less then you! Now multiply that temptation by 100, and have one of your friends blown up by roadside bombs randomly, and read letters from your family once a week about how much they miss you and are struggling without you. The pressure would be enormous. That’s why intelligent people set up strong internal accounting procedures with regular audits. You don’t need people to be angels. You assume that people are thieves, but hold everyone accountable to honest and verifiable standards.

While the Post essentially just did a Metro beat report on the crime, The Guardian wrote an excellent piece a year ago on the environment it happened in:

"Iraq was awash in cash - in dollar bills. Piles and piles of money," says Frank Willis, a former senior official with the governing Coalition Provisional Authority. "We played football with some of the bricks of $100 bills before delivery. It was a wild-west crazy atmosphere, the likes of which none of us had ever experienced."

The environment created by the coalition positively encouraged corruption. "American law was suspended, Iraqi law was suspended, and Iraq basically became a free fraud zone," says Alan Grayson, a Florida-based attorney who represents whistleblowers now trying to expose the corruption. "In a free fire zone you can shoot at anybody you want. In a free fraud zone you can steal anything you like. And that was what they did."

There is no ideological position on filling potholes. Either you fill the potholes, or you waste the money on something else. Good government is good government, regardless of party or belief. Whether or not we should have gone to war is a highly charged political question. But rebuilding a country shouldn't have been. And now Iraq has a lot more to deal with then just poor infrastructure.


Monday, February 05, 2007


Joss Whedon will no longer be writing and directing Wonder Woman.

Joss Whedon, who had been developing a big-screen adaptation of DC Comics superhero Wonder Woman for Warner Bros. Pictures and Silver Pictures, parted ways with the studio and production company on the project.

Whedon announced the news Friday on a fansite, chalking it up to creative differences. "I had a take on the film that, well, nobody liked," he wrote on Studio and agency sources confirmed the development.

The latest setback on "Wonder Woman," which has gone through a long gestation process, underlines the difficulties studios encounter when developing such marquee pop culture titles.

I was really looking forward to Wonder Woman killing vampires. Sigh.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Demotivational Friday: Tragedy

When I saw this I wanted to burn my retinas out. In case you haven't heard, Daniel Radcliffe is staring as Alan Strang in a production of Equus, a play about a 17 year old boy who has a pathological sexual fascination with horses. Seriously, I can't even make stuff up this crazy.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Free Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens

So in case you haven't heard, two artists have been arrested for being creative and exercising First Amendment rights, and the mayor of Boston wants to throw the book at them.

A furious Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino vowed yesterday to throw the book at the masterminds behind a guerrilla marketing campaign gone amok that plunged the city into bomb-scare pandemonium and blew nearly $1 million in police overtime and other costs.

As city and state attorneys laid groundwork for criminal charges and lawsuits, cops seized 27-year-old Arlington multimedia artist Peter Berdovsky, who posted film on his Web site boasting that he and friends planted the battery-wired devices, and Sean Stevens, 28, of Charlestown. Both were jailed overnight on charges of placing a hoax device and disorderly conduct.

"This is outrageous activity to get publicity for a failing show," said Menino, referring to the battery-operated light-up ads for the Cartoon Network's "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," which sparked at least nine bomb scares in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville.

Menino promised to sue Turner Broadcasting Co., the Cartoon Network's parent company, and criminally prosecute Berdovsky and anyone else responsible for the devices, and to petition the FCC to pull the network's license.

Attorney General Martha Coakley was put in charge of the case and said the companies behind the promotion would be investigated. She said the felony charge of planting a hoax device could be broad enough to allow prosecution even if the stunt's sponsors did not intend a panic.

Some Guy with a Website (another talented artist) hits the nail on the head:

I have never lived in Boston, and I have never supported a Republican for any elected office. But I would send money to a Republican opponent against Boston Mayor Tom Menino just to get him out of office if he actually dares to do something as cowardly and abusive-of-power as this.

I'm a New Yorker who was working within view of the Twin Towers on 9-11, and I now work within view of the Capitol building. So if anyone has a target on his back, its me. But this sort of security kabuki theatre just drives me nuts.

Overreacting to some artist's stunt doesn't make anyone safer. Like a two-minute hate, it just makes people feel safer, without actually accomplishing anything. If they really wanted to improve homeland security, they could hire additional police, expand the Coast Guard, have more thorough inspection of our ports, and set up better communication between all the various divisions of law enforcement.

They could do something useful. But no - we get streets shut down for half a day while a bomb squad stares at a Mooninite Lite Bright flipping the bird, and insane elected officials who give a billion dollars of free advertising to the media company by making a federal case of a stupid marketing ploy. Brilliant. Maybe next we should shut down the Lebanese restaurant down the block from my apartment. Because that would accomplish just as much in the fight against terrorism.

Looking for a place to live

I currently live in an old apartment building in Silver Spring, but my roommate is leaving for Baltimore, so I've decided to look for a nicer place to live. If anyone has a room to rent, or knows someone who has a room, or wants to re-post my this info anywhere, please do so.

I'd like to stay in Silver Spring or move back downtown into DC, but I'll consider almost anywhere. My only requirements are that the place must be within reasonable walking distance of the Metro (less than one mile) and it must have a reliable place to park.

I'm a 29 and have a completely reliable civil service job. I can afford a nice place to live, but I expect to get what I pay for. I'm clean and tidy, but otherwise laid back and very respectful of personal space. As an Italian, I also love to cook, and will keep the kitchen well stocked. I have some nice non-IKEA furniture as well which could fully a living room, though I'm flexible about bringing it or not bringing it to my next living arrangement. I'm looking to move some time in March, and I'm flexible as to when.

I'm happy to provide references from my job and my current and previous roommates, and to answer any questions.

If you have or know of a place I could live, please email me. Thanks.