Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Feliz Natal, suckaaaas!!

Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it, and a joyous Kwanzaa (Kwaanza?) to the rest of you.

I am back in San Francisco for Christmas this year, which would be 100% wonderful, except I have had to study every day here since I have law school exams as soon as I get back in January. Isn't that sadistic? Leave it to Harvard to devise the most cruel and unncessary -- dare I say UNUSUAL -- timing for our exams. The good news is, after I struggle through my three shiteous tests, I get to go to Puerto Rico for five days to lie on the beach/shake off the post-traumatic stress disorder. Yesss.

So, Christmas was good. I have consistently eaten myself sick every day for the last several days, what with all the cookies and candies and ham and beans and other deliciousness being shoved at me. Today we had Christmas morning breakfast at my godparents' house (eggs, beans, toast, etc.), and my cousin Megan gave us some tamales from Luz Maria's family's tortilla/tamale business in Palm Desert. We steamed those babies up for dinner tonight, along with the other leftovers; it was quite delicious. It's good to know people in the tamale business.

Besides the yummy food, some interesting things have happened here over the last several days. I think I will list them:

!. Earthquake
2. Another earthquake
3. Two people -- a police officer and a prison escapee -- were shot to death in our neighborhood
4. A third earthquake
5. A tiger attacked its handler at the zoo

... is anyone else getting sort of an Armageddon vibe from all this? Maybe it's just the freakishness of the tiger attack that's getting to me.

Clearly, the shootings were the most disturbing thing that happened. This suspect escaped from prison and was running around our neighborhood (...awesome), so the police set up a perimeter and went to look for him. He kicked in someone's door and was hiding in their garage when the officers found him, and he shot one of them in the face and then ran off. The fallen officer's partner went after the guy and found him in someone's backyard and shot him (or else the guy shot himself, it's not clear). In any case, the police officer died, which is really sad, of course. It was also really creepy to watch the news and think about our neighborhood being partitioned off as we sat there because an armed criminal was running around shooting cops.

All the earthquakes were weird, too. It reminded me of this summer, when I became kind of really paranoid about earthquakes. They're so freaky because once they start, you don't know when they're going to stop -- it could be The Big One! It also doesn't help that I live with a certified earthquake alarmist (my mother) and now my dad is jumping on the bandwagon, claiming he felt one today (but it was all in his head).

Well, enough of this creepiness. Merry Christmas, Feliz Natal, Feliz Navidad, etc.! I am going to put on some Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack and get back to the studying.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

La alegria ya vino!

The news is in -- Augusto Pinochet, former dictator of Chile, finally died.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/10/world/americas/10cnd-pinochet-obit.html?ei=5094&en=e8a3b38f23c29fc7&hp=&ex=1165813200&partner=homepage&pagewanted=all

For me and my Chile-lovin' friends, this is a big deal. For a lot of Chileans, I imagine this brings a wave of relief, joy, and perhaps redemption after years of watching Pinochet evade punishment for wreaking such havoc on their nation and people. Then again, by dying as a 91 year old man in a hospital, after years of living cushily above the law, Pinochet never really was subjected to the type of punishment he deserved for killing 3,000 of his own people.

Many Chileans, however, including ones I know, are mourning Pinochet's death today. My Chilean host mother, Margarita, was actually a distant cousin of Pinochet (they share a surname), and the night before the September 11, 1973 coup, she was flown out of Santiago for a "ski trip" with Pinochet's daughter, so they'd be away from the chaos and carnage that unfolded in the capital. When she came back, the country had been transformed and Pinochet had begun his 17-year reign. Today, in her bedroom, Margarita still displays a picture of Pinochet and herself at a party; he is wearing his military uniform, she is blonde and beaming.

Margarita explained to me over and over how Pinochet saved Chile for the middle class, that her family had suffered under Allende. "I had to wait in line every day for bread and milk," she said, telling me about how in the darkest final days of Allende's administration, she and her brothers used to get up before dawn to wait for basic goods at the store, taking turns to relieve each other of standing in the long line. Waiting in line for staples was unthinkable for someone from Margarita's background -- her family is "one hundred percent Spanish," as she proudly explained -- no Indian blood -- they were well-to-do, her father had been a career Navy officer. To Margarita, it was shocking and disgraceful to live under a socialist regime where supplies ran so short that people of her family's status were forced to jostle in line to enter understocked grocery stores.

My friends' host families, too, supported Pinochet wholeheartedly. Below is a picture of some of us in Kit's host mom's kitchen, in front of the completely un-self-conscious "PINOCHET" magnet on the fridge. I love this picture.



It was hard not to be shocked by our Chilean families' love and support for Pinochet. It was particularly baffling because these people were not rich -- not even upper middle class -- not famous, not particularly well-connected, and yet they maintained their devotion to Pinochet through all the ups and downs. When we delicately asked them what they thought about the charges of human rights abuses committed by Pinochet and his government, they firmly denied that any of that had happened. All lies, all made up by opposing politicians, all a misunderstanding. I guess at some point, people shut their minds to the truth to maintain their beliefs, right or wrong. It seems doubtful that Margarita or our other Chilean friends will ever accept that Pinochet was a murderer or deserving of scorn or punishment. In any case, his death marks the end of a very important chapter in Chile's history, and impacts that entire country, supporters and opposers of the man alike.

Bueno... para Chile, la alegria finalmente vino.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Winter Wasteland

It's official. Winter is here and I am hating it, with every morsel and fiber of my being.

I grew up in cold climes -- Michigan -- but that doesn't mean I like winter. I entertain no romantic notions of snow angels and winter wonderlands and hot cider and Jack Frost nipping at your nose and whatever other creepy, sappy cliches winter-loving people cling to. I out-and-out hate winter. No apologies. I guess snow's okay when viewed from the vantage point of a toasty warm living room with a roaring fire and mugs of hot cocoa (...whoa, maybe I do subscribe to a little bit of romanticism), but what happens when you have to go outside?

In Michigan, once winter started, life became a winter hell for everyone. To do the simplest tasks -- say, drive your car to school -- you had to perform laborious and miserable rituals, every single day. Bundle up. Shovel the driveway (this was usually done by Dad, to be honest). Break ice off car locks with ice pick. Attempt to turn on car several times. Curse. Run back inside to restart bloodflow to hands. Ten minutes later, re-emerge to get in car once engine is sufficiently warmed. Slowly back out of driveway. Run into snowbank. Start to drive to school. Skid on black ice. Arrive to school. Search for close parking spot. Fail. Park in back. Trudge through black slushy mess to get to class. Arrive in class with numb feet and hands, the bottom of your jeans coated with Detroit snow sludge. Repeat come lunch time.

Ugh. I HATED winter when I lived in Michigan but I didn't really have anything to compare it to. I had never really experienced any extended non-snowy, non-freezing period between the end of October and March until I came to college in California. True, Stanford's gross, rainy winters and cold, windy nights were not exactly a tropical California paradise, but it was a hell of a lot better than the Arctic tundra that is the Detroit metro area.

Michigan schoolchildren -- at least, public schoolchildren, cough -- are taught to be tough (snow days? pshaw!), and are sent to so-called "Winter Survival Camp" in northern Michigan in fifth grade. The preparation for the trip is a fun rite of passage, involving buying those gross Canadian rubber-toed lace up boots, hand-warmers, and turtle furs. At Camp Wolverine, (http://207.97.251.55/wolverine/) we slept in a lodge, helped clean dishes, went snow-tunneling and snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing, sang camp songs, learned to make shingles using an axe and a log, did "trust falls" and ropes courses, and, for the lucky few, contracted pneumonia. I'm not kidding.

The year I went to Camp Wolverine, the fabled winter of 1993/1994, was one of the coldest winters in recent memory. With wind chill, it was 40 degrees below zero on several of the days, but true Wolverines scoff at 40 degrees below zero. We were out there making lean-tos and going on nature hikes and learning about Native American lodgings, frostbite be damned! Camp Wolverine was the first time I remembered actually losing circulation in my hands -- later I realized this was the beginning stages of superficial frostbite that I have gotten several times since -- and it happened when we were learning how to cook an egg on a stick. I guess a really key winter survival skill is egg-stick-cooking, since most people who are lost in the wilderness tend to carry a carton of eggs in their backpack, along with a pogo stick, a book of Pablo Neruda's poetry, and a bag of confetti. I mean COME ON.

So the counselor was showing us how to very carefully sharpen the end of the stick and very carefully wheedle the stick through the egg without cracking it, and very carefully hold the egg over the blazing fire. All of this stick-sharpening and egg-positioning required us taking off our gloves so as not to crack the egg, and my fingers were fast turning white and numb. Finally, in a desperate bid to warm up, I deliberately cracked the hot egg over my hands. The counselor saw me and tsk-ed. "Better wash those hands off," he said, and instructed me to stick my bare, white, egg-covered hands in the snowbank to clean them off. So, that plan backfired.

The point of all of this fun reminiscing is that I will never, EVER live in a cold climate again unless I am absolutely required to, and only if I am guaranteed that it will be a temporary sojourn. I HATE this. All of you winter lovers can keep your ice skating and covered sleigh rides and chestnuts roasting on the open fire. Screw winter. I'm going into hibernation.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Yo, Justice Scalia!

Law school has been busy lately, surprise!!! That's why I have returned to being a blog slacker and have found it increasingly difficult to write. I have been trying to balance classwork, studying, job searching, social life (dwindling), and basic functions of life without totally flipping out. So far, so good.

Another reason that I may have been somewhat lazy in updating my blog is because I might be braindamaged from prolonged exposure to the cold in my room. No joke -- you would not believe how f***ing cold my room is. At the moment I am wearing two shirts, a thick, hooded robe, two pairs of socks, and UGG slippers, and still can't fully feel my feet. I finally broke down and emailed my RA tonight and asked her if there was any way I might be able to get the heat turned on in my room (seeing as it is routinely below 30 degrees outside lately), and she emailed me back to inform me that everyone's rooms were supposed to have heat for the last few weeks. She forwarded my email to maintenance to see why the heat hasn't been turned on in my room. This is so typical -- the girl with severe circulation problems, who hates the cold and has suffered from frostbite three times, gets put in the one dorm room in Boston with no heat during the winter. Should I shoot for a fourth frostbite streak? Any one want to put some money on this?

Anyway. Another thing that I had been meaning to write about for a while was that I got to go see Justice Scalia speak here at the law school last week. That makes two -- or three, depending on how we're counting -- Supreme Court Justices that I have seen. I got to see Sandra Day O'Connor when she came into the Alumni Center my senior year. I said "hi" to her but was too shy to say anything else. Then, earlier this semester, Justice Kennedy was on campus to preside over a moot court, and I went to it, but had to sit in overflow seating and thus technically only saw Kennedy on a tv screen. But he was in the next room, so I think it counts. And finally, Nino Scalia makes three.

The talk was good. Scalia is an impressive guy because even if you don't agree with most of his decisions, you have to admit he is principled in his jurisprudence. His main argument for why he thinks an "originalist" interpretation of the Constitution is preferable to an "evolutionist" perspective is that an originalist will always have the text of the Constitution as a guide, while for an evolutionist, "each day is a new day." However, I think that perspective results in some really disturbing/wacky results, but, that's a blog for another day.

The point is, most people who went and saw Scalia talk probably have some serious disagreements with quite a few of his positions and decisions -- I certainly do -- but went to hear him talk and perhaps pose some thoughtful questions to a Supreme Court Justice. How often do you get that opportunity? So we were all pretty shocked when some kid got up to the microphone and started reading off a piece of paper, his voice gradually rising until he was yelling at Scalia, asking him if he was going to "step up and take judicial responsibility" in a case that the Court is currently hearing. He went on and on, yelling at this Supreme Court Justice, until the Dean of the Law School stepped in and told him that it was inappropriate to question a Supreme Court Justice on a case that is currently before the Court. Ugh.

Scalia said, "Doesn't Harvard have an ethics course?"

The kid snapped, "Yes, I've taken it."

How embarrassing. It's one thing to challenge someone politely on a position or decision, but you have to address judges -- ESPECIALLY Supreme Court Justices -- with respect. Not only that, but as Harvard students, we owe every speaker who comes to talk to us a certain level of respect and deference. These people are taking time out of their schedules to come and share a little bit of wisdom or challenge us in some way, and they deserve to at least be spoken to in a respectful tone. It was pretty ridiculous for this random kid to think that he was entitled to stand up and speak -- nay, yell -- rudely at a Justice, just because he doesn't agree with Scalia. People like that are unbearably presumptuous because they assume that they are sailing on a cloud of righteousness above those whom they disagree with and can thus speak however they want to those below them whom they deem "wrong." But really, this guy was just some awkward kid with a piece of paper shaking in his hand, making a total ass of himself.

The only other things I've thought to blog about have been random and fleeting: the intoxicating smell of hamburgers in the air and how it never fails to improve my mood, my theories about winter and winter-haters like me, the ghetto-ness of Harvard health facilities as compared to Stanford, why are omelettes so damn good?, etc. Maybe I will get to these fascinating topics at another time. Right now I am going to go put on another layer and shiver myself to sleep while watching Law and Order SVU.