Friday, February 29, 2008

Année bissextile

Happy Leap Day, everyone!

I ran across this little lottery poster on the way home this evening... notice anything wrong with the cherry in the back?


Sunday, February 24, 2008

I voted!

In the Texas primary, not the Swiss referendum!

But while we're on the subject of the referendum that was held today, here are some of the political posters that have been up around town for the past month.

Posters for the public smoking ban:

Posters supporting free public transport:

A poster supporting an even stricter version of Geneva's already-strict dog laws:

And a poster opposing it:

Today's turnout was a record high for a referendum in Geneva -- over 61%. The smoking ban, which was supported by several interest groups and all but one political party, passed with 80% of the vote (hallelujah!) The law on "dangerous" (60lb.+) dogs passed, too, and the initiative for free public transport failed. (Not surprising -- there wouldn't have been enough funding to be able to maintain the current standard of service.)

Now, for those of you in Texas... early voting is under way! Vote now and avoid long lines (and unforeseen impediments to voting -- bad weather, working late, etc.) on March 4th.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A week in the life

...of a traductrice apprentie.
  • 20 hours of class -- general, legal and economic translation from French and from Spanish into English, plus beginning German
  • 10 - 15 hours of paid work
  • 50ish pages of reading from an economics textbook
  • 20 or so pages of translation homework (about 40 hours' worth) -- an excerpt from a WTO dispute settlement case, a chapter from an economics textbook detailing the role of the Swiss National Bank in international monetary policy, the first two chapters of a Pennac novel, a blog post detailing the similarities between Société Générale's rogue trader and the Chairman of the Board of Directors at UBS, a newspaper article on illegal immigration to Spain, a newspaper article on excess liquidity, an excerpt from a telephone company's service contract, and an opinion piece on global urbanization.
  • German grammar exercises
  • a freelance editing job (my last freelance job this semester!)
  • and, if possible, thesis research.
Life is crazy. I have no free time. My neurons are shot and my synapses are no longer firing...

Friday, February 22, 2008

This freaks me out.

It's the new milk products commercial that's being shown on French TV. I'm scared of skeletons, aliens, and gushing fountains of milk emanating from giant cows, so it's no wonder the commercial gets to me.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Buttons, revisited

I made my monthly pilgrimage to the post office to pay bills today. It was really busy, so the ticket machine let me know that my estimated wait time was 12 minutes.

I didn't have much to do but stand there, so I did. After awhile, I realized that I was fixating on their button system. Here's how it works: each postal worker works at a window from A to K. When they're ready for a customer, they push a button. Immediately you hear a buzzer and see a new, shiny, bright red number pop up on a screen. Then the customer belonging to the number goes to the screen and carries out his transaction. Instant gratification for the button-pusher.

I need to seriously rethink my choice of career...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


There are several American TV shows that I watch here that never did interest me back in the States. Heroes, Boston Legal, 7th Heaven... you get the idea.

I saw an episode of Deadwood for the first time this evening. The show's premise seems to be to cram as many instances of the word "f-ck" in an implausible Wild West town as possible in 45 minutes or fewer.

I think I'll be skipping this one in the future!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Back to school

Today is the first day of the spring semester -- yay! It's going to be a busy four months... eight 2nd year MA classes, a job, and a thesis... plus German and job hunting.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I am a button-pusher. If a button is there, I can't not push it.

It's my grandmother's fault -- I inherited it from her. When my mother got her a life alert button a while back, the first thing my grandmother did when she got it was push it. Oops.

So is it any wonder that I love being the first person in the bus to push the button for the next stop? If you're first, the light above the door pops on for you and a little buzzer at the front of the bus beeps.

I wish I could push the button for every stop!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Die Mäuse sind...

More German prepositions (and declensions) in class today. But this time they were a lot warmer and fuzzier... we had the cutest little cartoon mice teaching us!

I love mice.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Don't Mess with Texas

Or little old ladies from Texas, either.

Click here to find out why. And have a very happy Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Great quote

"De temps en temps, il faut se reposer de ne rien faire." -- Jean Cocteau

(There comes a time when you have to take a rest from doing nothing.)

How very true!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Let's review


Got it? Good. That's the easy part. The rest of Saturday's German lesson was on declining prepositions. You know... Ich bin im Büro, but Ich gehe ins Büro. That kind of thing.

No wonder my brain is fried!

Les bouchons

This is something I haven't been able to come to understand, so y'all need to help me out and explain this to me.

I see a lot of elderly people poking through the trash here. Nice, well-dressed people. Judging by appearances, they're pretty well-off. And they're not crazy. Which is why I'm having a little bit of a hard time understanding this phenomenon.

Today's elderly person was digging through the recycling bin for plastics. As I stopped to put some bottles in, he said, "I'm collecting the caps." So I took off all my bottlecaps and gave them to him, and then we bid each other good afternoon, and I left.

Somebody help me out here. Why do people do this???

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Come take a walk with me

Today I went on a two-hour walk to Carouge, a colorful little town with a reputation for being quite a lot livelier than Geneva. Here's what I saw:

A campaign poster on the upcoming referendum on smoking in public places:

The view from the bridge over the river:

Geneva is proud to be hosting the Euro 2008 this summer:

Spring has sprung, at least in one window:

Lots of fun shop signs:

Seen over two doors:


A wall of stars:

An interesting mailbox:

(This post has been brought to you by the number 6):

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Gotta love Kurt Browning

The Art on Ice 2008 performance in Zurich was on TV tonight, and Kurt Browning was one of the skaters participating. It's great to see that he is still going strong and has a brilliant sense of humor.

This video isn't of tonight's performance, but it's the same routine he did tonight:

I love it!

Well, looky who decided to drop by

Invasion of the crocodiles

I was walking home from German class today, minding my own business, when I came across this guy in the middle of the sidewalk:

Yep, he's a giant red plastic crocodile. And it looks like he's made himself at home.

Maybe this is why the invasion siren was going off the other day?

Friday, February 8, 2008

100 Things About Kitty

I got the idea from Dixie Peach and Jaxie Fantastic. Because, you know, I don't have anything better (like German homework) to do this evening.

1. I don’t know how to spell my legal name. Neither does anyone else in my family. And neither does the US Government.
2. One of my nicknames is “Princess Naked Cowgirl”. No, I won’t publish the associated story on the internet!
3. I speak English and French fluently, I speak Spanish at an intermediate level, and I’m learning German. Whew!
4. I’m a picky eater. Get over it. It is rude to comment on other people’s eating habits.
5. I skipped 7th grade.
6. My dad and I used to sit out in the garage with the door wide open and polish his shoes on rainy afternoons.
7. I took ballet for six years, but I never was very good at it.
8. I lived through an earthquake in my church basement in the middle of the night during the spring of my freshman year in college.
9. I love to scrapbook, but I haven’t been able to get my supplies over to Geneva yet.
10. I have a mortal fear of dead bodies, but I like to photograph cemeteries. Go figure.
11. I have lived in two different states and three different countries: Texas and Vermont; the US, France, and Switzerland.
12. I am more ticklish than anybody I know. Including many friends who used to think that they were the most ticklish person they knew until they met me.
13. I started reading at the age of 18 months. By the time I was in kindergarten, I was reading at a middle school level.
14. In elementary school I took piano lessons, and in middle school and high school I played the viola.
15. I spelled down my entire school when I was 10 years old. I then went on to place in the city and regional spelling bees.
16. I can’t play softball to save my life. Or, at least, I couldn’t when I was 8 years old and I haven’t tried since.
17. I can’t ice skate to save my life, either. When I was seven, my skating teacher told my mom that she shouldn’t waste her money by signing me up for any more lessons. I’ve tried to go ice skating many times since then, but I’ve always wound up very sore and bruised.
18. I tied for valedictorian in high school.
19. When I was in 5th grade, I organized a group of neighborhood friends and put on an American Girl play in my backyard. To “pay” for admission, we had people bring a donation for our local animal shelter. We ended up collecting several bins full of donations, enough to get ourselves on TV.
20. I took Irish stepdancing lessons for two years in high school. And I was actually pretty good at it.
21. One day when I was really little (along the lines of 3-5 years old), my mom dressed me up in a pretty outfit and took me to the museum. A photographer saw me looking up at a dinosaur skeleton that was suspended from the ceiling, and the next day my picture was published in the Dallas Morning News.
22. When I was 10, I taught my best friend Pig Latin so we could have secret conversations at school. It drove all the other kids nuts because they could never figure out what we were saying!
23. From kindergarten through the last year of my M.A., I’ve gone to eleven different schools. No, my parents are neither oilmen nor members of the Armed Forces.
24. One sunny Saturday morning during my stay in France, I was awakened at 7:30 by a nun wearing a full habit who was trimming the little bushes in my courtyard with a chainsaw.
25. I’m an alto. I sang first soprano in choir and in musicals until I was 17, and then I switched to singing second soprano. But it turns out that I’m actually an alto, much to my surprise. (In case you're wondering, I can vocalize up to Bflat above the treble clef.)
26. I don’t own any cats. Never have. I’m allergic to them.
27. I grew an extra half inch during the first year of my M.A. – now I’m 6’1”.
28. My grandfather was a Cajun. He grew up speaking Cajun French and didn’t learn English until he went to school.
29. I never got picked to participate in any of my schools’ talent shows.
30. I am a prescriptive grammarian.
31. I had a very thick northeast Texas accent as a child.
32. Everybody is surprised when I tell them that I’m shy.
33. My stage name is The Yellow Rose of Texas. I’ll let you do the research to figure out why.
34. When I was little, I wanted to be a vet when I grew up. Despite the fact that I get weak at the sight of blood.
35. I broke my wrist in a horseback riding accident at the age of 12.
36. I sang in my college’s Russian choir. No, I don’t understand any Russian.
37. My first solo airplane trip came at age 12. And I didn’t use the unaccompanied minor service.
38. I have had several IQ tests performed on me, both as a child and as an adult. I tested as a genius then, and I still do now.
39. I used to have dreams about flying all the time when I was little. I miss them.
40. To pass the time spent in the car during my childhood vacations, I would count the number of oil pumps we passed on the way to our destination.
41. I am scared of helicopters, thanks to two escaped prisoners my senior year in high school who couldn’t read maps.
42. I used to lie about my age all the time when I was in elementary school, counting "girl scout birthdays" along with all my regular birthdays.
43. An employee of our local grocery store accidentally slammed my hand in the trunk of my mom’s car when I was 2.
44. Because I learned to read at such a young age, I saw many words before I had ever heard them in conversation. I still don't know how to properly pronounce some of the words I've read... and sometimes that can be pretty embarrassing!
45. One of my great-aunts used to refuse to pronounce the word "third" because with her French accent, it sounded rather like a dirty word.
46. Sometimes I sing in my sleep. It freaked my mom out a little when she heard me doing that for the first time.
47. One day at my old retail job, I had a woman who was formerly an officer in the Israeli Air Force come over to my counter, read the inscription on the necklace I was wearing, and proceed to tell me all about the pregnant women and children she was forced to shoot down during one of her campaigns. She finished up the speech by giving me an enormous hug and blessing me in Hebrew. She ranks as my #1 strangest customer ever.
48. I'm allergic to metal. Not just nickel, but also 24k gold, sterling silver, platinum, and surgical steel. Yes, you read that properly. I'm allergic to surgical steel. It is possible.
49. I once slammed my head in the back door. Purely by accident. I don't think I could recreate that if I tried.
50. I was very nearly stung by a scorpion during my first shower at my grandmother's house. It came up out of the drain... *shudder*
51. Tornado sirens still scare me, even though I moved away from Tornado Alley 12 years ago.
52. One of the nicest compliments I've ever received was "J'étais sur les fesses!" This was from my medieval history professor in France in reference to the exam I had written for her class.
53. In first grade, I was taller than all of my teachers.
54. I’m a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
55. One day as I was walking home from elementary school, one of the boys in my class kept running over my and my friend's heels on his bike. I asked him to stop, but he didn't. So I slugged him so hard that he fell off his bike. Oddly enough, he didn't bother us much after that!
56. I believe in jackalopes, even if nobody else does.
57. "Deep in the Heart of Texas" was one of my favorite songs to sing when I was little. Along with that Raffi song about the baby beluga in the deep blue sea.
58. I love being a translator!
59. I wish I were taller. They told my parents I'd grow up to be 6'2". I feel cheated out of that extra inch.
60. I learned at a very early age that the roads in Texas are much better than the roads in Louisiana. Seriously, you can use the cracks in Louisiana's roads as a steady beat and sing a song to them.
61. Having auburn hair is so much fun. This happens to me all the time: I tell people that my hair is red, they argue that no, it’s brown, and then they see me out in the sunshine on a random summer day and say, “Oh my goodness! You dyed your hair! It’s red!” No kidding. I’ve been telling you it’s red all along…
62. Someday I would love to be able to take a photography class. And get a fancy camera. And PhotoShop.
63. I weighed 9lb 10oz at birth. My poor mother. (No, she didn't have a Caesarean!)
64. My biggest pet peeve: people who lie. Don't ever try to lie to me. You will regret it for a long, long time.
65. My dad and I always went through the same bedtime routine when I was little... listen to a couple of country songs, always ending with "Borderline" by Alabama, and then tell a funny story.
66. I used to love watching the Miss America pageant every year. I wanted to grow up to be Miss America. I never ended up entering any pageants, but I have two friends who went on to be Miss Texas and Miss Vermont.
67. Nobody can figure out where I come from based on my accent. But it's fun watching people try.
68. The Numa Numa song (properly called "Dragostea Din Tei") will always hold a special, silly place in my heart because of the events of the last two weeks of my B.A. program.
69. I'm a speed reader in both English and French. Spanish... not so much.
70. When I was a toddler, I chased my father through a solid glass door. He was fine, but the door sure wasn't.
71. During a high school trip to Paris, one of my friends and I got lost. She'd had four years of French and I'd only had one. Guess who went into a store on the Champs Elysées, got permission to use their phone, called our hotel to get directions, and got us through the metro without a map? That's right, me. And once we were safe and back where we were supposed to be, I burst into tears, scaring the rest of my classmates to death.
72. I never go to the movies. Which is, in part, why everyone is surprised that I've seen the movie "Blade Runner." Now if only they'd listen to me when I tell them that the movie was based on the book "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" They invariably waste three and a half minutes of their lives trying to disprove me when I know I'm right.
73. It's scary how few books I've read for pleasure since beginning college. I used to read voraciously. So much so, in fact, that my mother's secret password for me was "bookworm". I guess I do still read all the time, only now it's for class.
74. As a teenager, I performed in several musicals with my local community theater. Annie, The Sound of Music, Grease, South Pacific, Kiss Me, Kate!, and many others.
75. I spent a week in the hospital with pneumonia when I was in kindergarten, during which time I used the "f" word in proper context, much to my mother's chagrin. I got out of the hospital on Christmas Eve, and when I went back to school in January, my classmates told me they thought I had died.
76. I used to drive my mother nuts, begging her to drive to the end of the rainbows I saw out the car window to see if there really were leprechauns and pots of gold there.
77. Looking back on my high school yearbook (the one from the private high school), I realize that I was a lot more popular and involved in student life than I thought I was at the time.
78. The sound I love most is rain on a tin roof.
79. I have seriously weird, psychedelic dreams on a regular basis. My grandmother says I should write a book.
80. My mom always practiced the piano every night right after I went to bed. To this day, I have a soft spot in my heart for piano music because of her.
81. On childhood visits to my grandmother's house, the first thing I'd do after arriving would be to flush the toilets to hear them hum. I've never heard another toilet hum since she moved.
82. I refuse to ever have children. No, you can't talk me into thinking that someday I may change my mind.
83. I get the letters "c" and "s" and the colors pink and green mixed up.
84. Aslan makes me cry. In a good way.
85. I love alliteration. Once I won an award for writing the best alliterations of anybody in my class.
86. I won awards in both mental math and spelling in UIL competitions in elementary school.
87. I really don't like to drive. In fact, I didn't get my license until I was 21.
88. One day when I was six, I stripped down to my underwear, collected a bunch of leaves from the shrubs in our front lawn, and scotch taped them to myself. Then I went and got my mother and forced her to take a picture of me "being a tree". She still has the picture.
89. There's nothing that I've really and truly wanted in life that I haven't gotten. Not because I get things handed to me on a silver platter, but because I put my mind to it and accomplish what I set out to achieve.
90. Within the 12-month period that spanned the end of my high school career and the beginning of my college career, I experienced temperatures of -40°F and 115°F -- and everything in between. Brutal.
91. I own the entire Harry Potter series in French. I read them in French first, and then I read the English originals. Except with the last book. I waited in line at 7am to pick up my reserved copy of the 7th book at the bookstore in downtown Geneva. I finished reading it at noon.
92. If my mother hadn't sent me off for two extra years of education at a private boarding school, I would have graduated from my public high school and received my diploma at age 15.
93. In 3rd grade, one of my friends convinced me that we could dig all the way to the Black Hole. Needless to say, we never made it even though we spent all of our recess time for a month digging.
94. I will never forget how to say "index cards" in Spanish. Fichas. That was my first experience needing to buy something that I didn't know how to say in a foreign country.
95. I was taught to write entire paragraphs in preschool, but it took me years to be able to write the number 8 correctly.
96. I have a really hard time telling people I know apart. It's also not at all uncommon for me to not recognize acquaintances when I pass them by in the street.
97. You know the big black E at the top of the vision chart in the eyedoctor's office? I can't see it without my glasses on. All I see is white. (And I've been wearing glasses since preschool.)
98. The most interesting experience I've ever had at the doctor's office was without a doubt my first physical in France. A friend and I wound up sitting next to each other in the waiting room, holding our respective cups of pee (with no tops!), reading the explicit sex ed poster plastered on the wall. Then we were called in separately to perform a series of exercises, including naked jumping jacks, before we were given a clean bill of health...
99. I memorized my social security number by making up a ditty about it in my head one afternoon while I was stuck in the bathroom.
100. I used to spend the entire car ride to preschool arguing with my mother over the correct pronunciation of "meadow". I insisted that it was pronounced meed-ow ("meed" because of the paper brand Mead, and the "ow" is pretty self-explanatory). I am happy to report that I now pronounce the word in the conventional manner.


I've always known that I have good French, especially considering that I didn't start studying the language until I was 15 1/2. It was no secret that I had the best written French of all the students in my B.A. program, and I think that most people would agree that I have the best written French of the students in my M.A. program. (Oral French is another story -- many of my fellow students speak French as well as, if not slightly better, than I do.) And yet I still wonder how I measure up to other non-native speakers, so when I saw some expat groups post a variety of online French tests, I had to take the bait and test them out. It was reassuring to get a perfect score on them all, as I haven't had any formal instruction in French grammar since I graduated high school at age 17.

Two other things made me feel pretty good yesterday, too, both of which happened over the course of a detailed explanation I gave of the American primary system and of school funding problems to two of my francophone friends here (in French!) The first happened during the explanation of the differences between les primaires and les caucus. One of my friends said, "I hate the word caucus. It reminds me of cocu. ... Oh, sorry, you probably haven't heard that word before."
"Actually, I have," I replied. "It's a word referring to a man who has been cheated on by his wife."
"How did you know that?!"
"Well, I have seen a couple of Georges Feydeau's plays..."
"Um... who is that? ... Oh, well, nevermind."

The second came while constructing a sentence with the subjunctive (native English speakers are notorious for having subjunctive issues). I started a sentence with, "Bien que je sache..." at which point they both interrupted me and said, "Yes!!!"

I have to admit, it felt good. Now, if only Spanish came to me as easily...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

La franchise

I am a very candid person and I generally say exactly what pops into my head without sending it through a propriety filter first, much to my mother's chagrin. Luckily for her, this doesn't usually happen during conversations in French, seeing as the majority of the off-the-cuff comments that pop into my head occur to me in English, and by the time I've got them translated into beautiful French prose, the conversation has moved on.

There was one such comment that I wrote this week during an online conversation about Abercrombie & Fitch's controversial new ad campaign, which apparently shows some partially exposed breasts. This was my response (which garnered more attention than I thought it would):

"The ads wouldn't bother me.

But, of course, every morning I catch the bus next to a life-sized ad depicting a stone statue made in the image of Woody Allen masturbating a disproportionately large penis. So it's all about perspective."

People seem to think that I make this stuff up, but really I don't...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Super Tuesday

Yesterday was Super Tuesday, the day in which nearly half the nation cast their vote to help determine the Democratic and Republican nominees for President. We all know by now how the voting turned out, but do you know how your vote and the nomination process works?

The rules that dictate how voting works differ from state to state. First, states work in conjunction with the Republican and Democratic national conventions to determine the election schedule. A select few states are authorized to hold elections before February, but most are not. This is what led to Florida and Michigan being stripped of their delegates to the national conventions this year -- a scheduling disagreement with the DNC and RNC.

Some states choose to hold primaries, while other states choose to hold caucuses. States holding primaries can choose between an open primary and a closed primary. In an open primary, a registered voter may vote for the candidate of his choice, regardless of party affiliation. In a closed primary, registered Democrats must vote for a Democratic candidate and registered Republicans must vote for a Republican candidate. Voters may arrive at any time during the hours that their polling place is open on election day, and they cast a secret ballot.

Caucuses work a little bit differently, and I'm not 100% clear on what happens because I've never voted in a caucus before. From what I've been able to glean from my research, caucus procedures differ between the Democratic and Republican parties. It seems that voters all gather at their assigned polling place at a specific time of day. Republican caucuses take a straw poll amongst the voters present, sometimes done by a show of hands or by having voters break up into groups based on which candidate they support, and sometimes by giving all voters a blank piece of paper and having them write down the name of their candidate of choice and place the paper in the ballot box. Unlike Democratic caucuses, Republican caucuses do not use rounds of voting and do not require candidates to attain at least a specified minimum percentage of the vote. At Democratic caucuses, voters break up into groups depending on which candidates they support. If a group for any given candidate holds less than 15% of the caucus-goers, those voters must either choose to support another voter, join an uncommitted group, or choose not to vote.

Presidential nominees are not actually selected by the popular vote. When an American votes in a primary or a caucus, he is not actually voting for the candidate of his choice but rather for a group of delegates who, in turn, pledge to support his candidate. In order for a candidate to become the party nominee, he or she must receive the vote of 50% + 1 of the party's delegates. There are 4,049 delegates for the Democratic party, and a candidate must receive votes from 2,025 of them to be nominated. The Republican party has fewer delegates -- 2,380, with 1,191 needed to secure the nomination.

The manner in which delegates are allocated to the candidates differs from state to state and between the two parties. In most states, Democratic delegates are awarded proportionally to candidates who receive at least 15% of the vote. The Republican delegates of most states, on the other hand, are usually awarded exclusively to the candidate who wins the state (but some states allocate delegates proportionally and some states adopt a winner-take-all system by congressional district). In states where delegates are awarded by congressional district, it is possible for a candidate to win the popular vote statewide but receive fewer delegates than the second-place candidate -- this has already occurred within a few states during this year's primaries.

The delegates won by candidates in both parties during primaries and caucuses are called "pledged delegates". Within the Republican Party, these pledged delegates may be bound or unbound, depending on their state's election rules. Bound delegates are required to vote for the candidate they are assigned to, whereas unbound delegates are not required to vote for their assigned candidate, but usually do. Within the Democratic Party, pledged delegates are not legally bound to vote for the candidate for whom they are pledged, but they generally do because candidates may remove their pledged delegates if they feel that they will not be loyal.

Each party also has a certain number of "unpledged delegates," or "superdelegates," who are determined according to its own rules. Superdelegates for the Democrats include the Democratic House and Senate members, Democratic state and territorial governers, DNC members and distinguished party leaders. 796 of the 4,049, or about 20%, of Democratic delegates are superdelegates. These delegates vote for the candidate of their own choosing, and are not bound by any election results. Unpledged delegates for the Republican party are chosen according to slightly different rules, and 463 of the 2,380 Republican delegates are unpledged delegates (also about 20%). As a result of the unpledged delegate system, 0.000007% of the voting population holds 19.6% of the voting power in the 2008 primaries.

If none of the candidates from a given party win a majority of their party's delegates, then the party nominee is chosen by means of a brokered convention.

Now let's take a break from the facts so that I may air my personal opinion. It's a pretty plain and simple opinion: I don't like our primary system. Here's why:

1. Nationwide voting does not take place on one specific date. I think that the outcome of the primary election might be different if everybody had to vote on the same day -- namely because the media would have less time to publicize one candidate as the front-runner while neglecting to report on other candidates. I think our current system encourages people to jump on the bandwagon without researching the position taken by each and every candidate on the issues central to the election. It also gives a lot of influence to small states holding a minority of voters.

2. Nominees are not selected solely by the popular vote. Granted, the President is not elected by the popular vote, either, but I'd like to change that, too!

3. The rules governing the distribution of delegates to each candidate vary not only between the two main parties, but also amongst all the states! I think that we need a uniform, transparent voting process.

4. Pledged delegates are not legally bound to vote for the candidate to whom they are pledged. In other words, if a delegate decides to go off on a wild hair and disregard the popular vote, he is free to do so.

5. The DNC and RNC are able to strip individual states of all of their delegates if they so choose, disenfranchising a significant percentage of the American population.

Off my soapbox now.

They still scare my socks off

When I was a little kid, we lived right outside of Dallas. Tornadoes were a big concern for us come springtime -- we were put under tornado watches and warnings pretty often, and we knew several people at church who had lost their homes to tornadoes.

The scariest tornado experience that Mom and I ever had scared each of us for very different reasons. We were in Dallas proper, listening to the weather report while driving home, when the tornado sirens went off. Everybody knows that when you hear the sirens go off, you get the hell off the road. But we got stuck with a flat tire and nowhere to go, and since cell phones didn't exist back then, we had no way to call for help (and besides, who would we have called?) Mom managed to park the car in a nearby parking lot, and then we got out and walked to the neighboring bus stop.

Meanwhile, my seven-year-old self was freaking out about the tornado siren -- I knew that the safest place to be was inside an interior bathroom, in the bathtub with blankets and a mattress over you. But there we were, standing around in the middle of the street in Dallas.

Shortly thereafter, a bus pulled up and a young, rough-looking man got off. Mom went up to him and said, "I'll give you twenty dollars to change my tire." He agreed, followed us back to the parking lot, and proceeded to change the tire. Once he was done, Mom thanked and paid him, and then we got back in the car and finished driving home.

Me -- still freaked out because the tornado sirens were still going off. Mom -- freaked out because she saw the knives in the young man's waistband when he bent over to work on the tire.

When I was 12 we moved south of Tornado Alley, so the school drills and radio reports and sirens all faded away into the murky depths of memory. Then I moved to New England for college, and while we had an earthquake one night at school, we never had to worry about tornadoes.

Then I moved to France for a year when I was 19. I had just finished a very culturally eye-opening physical at the doctor's along with two other friends, and we were walking back to the university campus. Suddenly, a tornado siren went off. "C'mon, we have to get inside!" I hollered at the others, sprinting for the nearest building.

"Um, Kitty? What are you doing?" they asked.
"That's a tornado siren! Hurry up!" I said.
"No, it isn't. It's the German Invasion Siren."
"The what?!"

Apparently Poitiers installed a siren system after WWI (I think?) Its purpose was to warn the city of a German invasion should one occur. Even though there's no longer a threat of a potential invasion by the Germans, the siren is still tested every first Wednesday of the month at noon for ten minutes. Ten very loud, very frightening minutes.

Fast forward to today... I woke up to news of tornadoes tearing through several states in the South yesterday evening. I was downtown this afternoon, waiting to catch a bus back home, when a tornado-like siren went off.

Yep. Even today, those sirens still scare my socks off.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Music finds

I have never watched American Idol in the States. My mom tried to get me to watch it once, and I think the five minutes that I ended up seeing must have been tryout footage or something, because the people being featured were not particularly good singers. That turned me off of American Idol for good.

I try to watch as much television as possible in French here -- not dubbed programs that were originally written in English, but programs written in French that are intended principally for a French-speaking audience. My comprehension of French on the television is excellent, but there are always cultural references to be learned and subtle nuances to pick up. But with so much of the programming here imported from America (Bewitched, 7th Heaven, Boston Legal, CSI, NCIS, Without a Trace, Shark, House, The Bold and the Beautiful, Ugly Betty, ER, My Name is Earl, Everybody Hates Chris, Spongebob Squarepants, Prison Break, Deadwood, Grey's Anatomy, Dora the Explorer, Dawson's Creek, Malcolm in the Middle, The King of Queens, 24, The Simpson's, and many others have been broadcast on Swiss TV just this week), original programming in French is somewhat limited. The majority of French-language programming on Swiss TV comes in the form of the evening news, sports commentary, documentaries, game shows and reality TV.

That is how I came to start watching Star Academy. And surprise... once I started watching, I was hooked. I liked the contestants and thought they were talented, and I also liked discovering new music that is popular in Europe but not in America. Here is a short selection of some of the songs and artists I've discovered that I like:

Christophe Willem, "Jacques a dit" (with Maureen from Star Ac):

Olivia Ruiz, "J'traîne des pieds":

Yael Naim, "New Soul"


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Silly, silly boys

I went for a 1 1/2-hour-long walk in the park near my apartment today to get some exercise. I like walking in the park because there are lots of cute little kids running around with their parents, and that always puts a smile on my face. Unfortunately, there are also groups of unsupervised boys who sometimes enjoy bugging women exercising by themselves.

Well, today I was the woman they picked to bug. There were five or six boys, probably ranging in age from 11 to 14, all on bikes. I first figured out that something was up when a couple of them rode up alongside me, passed me, then turned around and rode back to the rest of their group. But I just kept walking.

I couldn't hear everything they were saying, but I heard enough to know that the older boys were daring the little one to do something to me. Sure enough, here came the little one on his bike, riding as slowly as possible so as to keep pace with me. It was pretty comical... he was going so slowly that he could hardly keep the bike upright. But I ignored him and kept on walking.

He dropped back pretty quickly -- it was obvious he was pretty nervous. I heard the older boys whispering to him and snickering, and then he rode back up alongside me. This time, he swerved at me a couple of times, trying to force me off the sidewalk. It didn't work -- I could tell he was too scared to actually do it, and even if he had tried, he was going so slowly that it wouldn't have hurt me at all and he would have ended up falling off his bike. So I kept on ignoring him and continued on my walk.

He dropped back again. More whispering and snickering from the older boys. They definitely weren't ready to give up. I heard a bike coming up on me pretty quickly, and before I knew what had happened, the little one had smacked me on the butt and sped off like a bat out of hell.

I didn't miss a beat. I just kept on walking, not even turning to look at the kid who hit me or the older boys who were still behind me. If you hadn't seen him hit me, you wouldn't have known that anything had happened.

The older boys were so disappointed. Eventually they rode off, not brave enough to try what they had dared the little one to do.

Silly, silly boys.