Male genital mutilation

My friend wrote to me that his son will be circumcised soon. It reminded me of how opposed I’ve become to the practice. I did some research a few years back and decided that circumcision is butchery. It’s not medically necessary and the infant doesn’t have a say in the matter of mutilating his genitals. Nor can he fight back.

We do this only because a few thousand years ago, some crazy desert nomads decided it would be a fun way to show obedience to their Sun God.

Things in the sky

I’m back from the holiday weekend in Colorado. I spent a fair amount of time playing with my nearly one-year-old nephew. He’s so cute I can’t stand it. He walks around now and babbles in baby talk.

The flights were uneventful, and were a nice break from my recent streak of delays and other nonsense. The Cedar Rapids airport has a giant mobile in the terminal of different mythological representations of the cosmos, which I took a picture of in my boredom.

Iowa was cold on Thursday, but Colorado was much colder. It was well below freezing most of the time I was there. They even had more snow than we got in Iowa.

When I got to my brother’s place in Colorado, I was startled by a much closer celestial object: a hot air balloon.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden spoke at a private home (actually a penthouse apartment downtown owned by two gay guys). It was open to the public, so I went. My brother likes him and I’ve been curious. I shook his hand and listened to him speak for about an hour.

And I think I see why he’s not going to win.

He gives a good, passionate stump speech that’s light on specifics. He sounds like a fighter. He bills himself as a pragmatist with some core Democratic values. He’s willing to, as he puts it, not cede an inch to the Republics of the moral high ground they’ve staked out for themselves on values. He took some indirect swipes at his Democratic rivals. For example, he said that Democrats have become too wonk-ish, coming up with fourteen part plans to solve Americans’ problems rather than connecting with their hearts.

That being said, I left about ten minutes into his three-point answer to a question about Pakistan. He knows his foreign policy, but a general outline will do it for most people. He also did a lot of “I went to Kurdistan to meet with so-and-so” and “Musharraf called me the other day” and “I briefed Whathisface on this issue.” One of the ladies riding down with me on the elevator said, “What an ego!”

Never go to these things hungry.

Des Moines

Susan and I took a day trip to Des Moines, which aside from our day at the State Fair in August, was my first real trip to the state capital. We started off by visiting a sandwich shop on the edge of town that boasted “Guinea Grinders”, a Midwestern term for Italian sandwiches. The proprietress asked why I was photographing her shop and I explained that I had seen the sign advertising Guinea Grinders. After talking to her, I found she knew it was an offensive term for Italians, but that it was Midwestern term for a sandwich that dated back to the 1904 Saint Louis World’s Fair. The sandwich was pretty good: a spicy ground Italian sausage and beef parmigiana hero.

We had time to visit the State Capitol, a beautiful building built in 1873. We didn’t take a tour but were able to explore quite a bit on our own, and visited the two legislative chambers. On the tour we might have been able to see the governor’s office and the law library. I took lots of photos of the capitol before we headed off to our afternoon show.

After the show we searched in vain for the Italian meats shop that made the sausages for the Guinea Grinder, had some coffee and hit the road. We weren’t hungry enough to eat dinner in Des Moines, but we stopped in Grinnell so I could show Susan the Cafe Pheonix, which Ava and I discovered during our Iowa food odyssey. The place is very nice–in an big old house a block from downtown–and serves great food with local ingredients. We took some delicious baklava and chestnut bread home with us.

What a nice day.

Avenue Q

Last year my Uncle gave me a copy of the soundtrack to Avenue Q, a Broadway musical. He hasn’t seen it yet, and neither have I despite trying to get tickets during my last two trips to New York. The soundtrack is hilarious (and catchy) but I had to see the show. As it happened, the traveling show came to Des Moines this week.

It’s like a demented adult Sesame Street where puppets and people mingle in a New York neighborhood, except Bert and Ernie are odd couple Rod and Nicky with repressed homosexual issues. There’s a Trekkie Monster and sarcastic former child star Gary Coleman (played by a woman–he has not personally starred in any version of the show that I’m aware of) is the landlord. Gary sings the delightful and ironic number “Schadenfreude”.

The puppeteers are on stage in full view of the audience, and despite their dark stage clothes enrich the puppets with their body language, facial expressions, and dancing. It was very well staged. Not only that, but everyone had great voices. We had a great time, and if it plays near you, it is worth driving a couple of hours to see.

Week in Wichita

This week I attended the National Association for Interpretation’s annual national workshop, which was in Wichita, Kansas this year. I went to help man the NPS Fire Management Program exhibit but I got to some of the sessions, meetings, and other presentations, including the keynote speech by author James Loewen.

This was my first time inside Kansas ever. Nobody ever spoke highly of the place, but I was impressed what little of Wichita I saw outside the hotel and the convention center. The hotel itself was quite nice and attached to an equally nice (and large) convention center. It made for a vast complex and a lot of walking.

The downtown riverfront (the Arkansas River is pronounced Ar-Kansas in Kansas) is spectacular and the city has a nice old town district. The central attraction there is the Keeper of the Prairie, a monument to the Plains Indians on a island at the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers. From a distance it looks like Oz the Great and Terrible because it has these flames surrounding it.

On the way to and from Wichita I passed through the Flint Hills, a place I’d like to go back and explore more closely later. It’s a vast and hilly pasture and rangeland and prairie. There’s a cattle pen along I-35 that trucks can access so I stopped there to take a picture. The cattle can be driven into the pen across a pass over the interstate. The pen was empty, but I was trying to imagine driving through while the cattle are being moved over the overpass.

The Darjeeling Limited

Going to the movies two nights in a row? Susan’s kids are gone for the weekend so that’s what we did. And avoided anything animated, even though “Bee Movie” looks good. We saw Wes Anderson’s “The Darjeeling Limited”, which was one of his better films. It’s a “life as a journey” type of film with the usual slow pace, face shots, slow motion, and alienated characters. Just as the characters were starting to get annoying the film took a hard right turn. It’s filmed in India and is beautiful.

It’s gets a “worth seeing”.

And, Evrim met Owen Wilson yesterday at a soccer game in New York.

Three movie reviews

We went to see “Dan in Real Life” last night. It was very funny but I can’t remember a single line. It was mostly facial expressions and body language. I really like Steve Carrell. He’s an excellent actor as well as a funny one. Juliette Binoche was excellent too, and quite hot I might add. In fact there were a lot of good performances there even if the movie was a little formulaic.

Recently I’ve rented “Click” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”. Click was much better than I thought, a funny critique of the rat race. It was smart but had enough goofy Adam Sandler stunts to not be too heavy.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” was a recommendation from Netflix based on my interests and preferences. So I ordered to see if Netflix’s software could be in the ballpark. It’s a musical, and it was good (the music was good and the story). Different, and I like different. I couldn’t stop laughing at the scenes in the restaurants when the band was performing in front of all of these annoyed and disgusted Midwestern patrons.

All three are worth seeing.

More on pumpkins

Bill Keane of “The Family Circus” (which I almost never laugh at) has the same take on pumpkins as I do. Check out the Oct. 31, 2007 cartoon.

In other pumpkin news, the Des Moines Register reported that the unpopular pumpkin tax will be rescinded. The state started levying sales taxes on pumpkins this year because they’re usually used as jack-o’lanterns and not food. To their credit, they did distinguish between pumpkins-for-cooking and pumpkins-for-carving.

And then, I used my mashed pumpkin to make a pumpkin ice cream pie with graham cracker crust for tomorrow’s work lunch. I also finished roasting my pumpkin seeds. I put too much canola oil and salt on them, but they’re still better than movie theater popcorn.

Finally, here are two of Susan’s jack-o’lanterns. Her six-year old carved the mouth on the second one freehand.