Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Busy days at InterAction, in the worst sense. We have staff members fretting about relatives and friends in Sri Lanka, and we spent a good deal of yesterday trying to track down a co-worker honeymooning in Thailand. She's fine, but as fortune would have it, she had just left the resort of Phuket just before the waves hit.

Here's a link to our site with some information on what our members are up to, and you could help if you're so inclined.


Friday, November 26, 2004

Class of 1999: Back and Drunker Than Ever

i had the odd experience this Thanksgiving weekend of attending my 5-year high school reunion. I confess to being a bit wary of going, as I only knew one other person -- John -- who was going. The few other people that I kept in contact with were not planning on attending, and there was the distinct possibility that most of the old crew would still fancy themselves too cool for such gatherings. As one friend-of-a-friend stated: "High school was so lame. There's no way I'm going back there. I am so over that obnoxious gang of losers." All evidence to the contrary.

Anyway, I got decked out in a new Victoria's Secret dress (one must adhere to the proscribed semi-formal dress code while simultaneously conveying the message that I am a worldly, sophisticated grown-up now, but I can still rock a cleavage-bearing emerald green ensemble thankyouverymuch) and descended upon the catering hall of choice. Upon opening the door, I was assaulted by the sight of dozens -- nay, hundreds -- of faces that I hadn't seen in five years and immediately entered into the "Omigod, HIII!!! How are you?!? What are you doing?!?!" repertoire that was to rule the night.

I was most pleased to find good old buddy and London tour guide Christina Lecker in the house. She is still living in London and married to her British boyfriend where she is forging an acting career. She doesn't win the financially-solvent award of the night, but she does win the "duuuude, if only" prize for sheer bohemian ballsiness.

Big plus: Open bar. Even bigger plus: A potable-savvy pseudo-British drinking buddy. Drink we did. And dance to bad house music we did. One huge logistical failure: The music was cranked up to nightclub-decibel levels, making conversation without screaming impossible.

Although I was disappointed by the number of pals from the past that failed to materialize, it was interesting to see who had embraced adulthood, who hadn't changed at all, and who was running, screaming, back in the other direction. I suppose that after a mere five years after graduation, we all have the luxury of still making up our minds. It will make it that much more interesting for the 10th anniversary.


Saturday, November 20, 2004

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Mom to the Rescue

In response to the oh-so-chipper nature of the last entry, Mom proceeded to research the Philadelphia Inquirer's archives to find the game of which I spoke. She has narrowed it doewn to two contenders: A November 18, 1990 game against the Atlanta Falcons which the Eagles won 24-23 with a field goal with only 1:45 to go, or more probably, a 21-20 victory over the Cowboys on October 28, 1990 which was won by a touchdown in the last 44 seconds.

Thanks Mom.


Wednesday, November 3, 2004

The Tragedy of the Closet Optimist

When I was about ten years old, and only just learning the fine art and discipline of what it means to be a Philadelphia Eagles fan, I remember a game that would forever define for me the importance of being steadfast in the face of despair. As I recalled, the Eagles were down by 13, and with a minute to go in the 4th quarter, all seemed lost. Then, in the final 20 seconds, they scored two touchdowns to win the game. I never could recall exactly who we played, or what year it occurred in precisely, and I barely knew the rules of football well enough then to grasp the statistical miracle of this event, but I remember that the jubilation of my family at this wonderful feat taught me to believe in the impossible. I hate that stupid game, vaguely remembered but for its glorious finish. Because nearly 15 years, and a fair share of well-earned cynicism, later, I still watch Eagles games to the bitter, excruciating end because no matter how bad, it might happen again.It just might happen again.

That's kinda how I felt last night.

I was so hopeful that Kerry would pull it off last night (Have I mentioned I was rooting for Kerry? It may have slipped my mind). I got a little worried when both of the Carolinas went to Bush, but I stuck it out. I had a pint of Ben & Jerry's on hand in case things started going really bad (a tradition started in 2000, when Christine and I slurped down Bovinity Divinity with crazed gusto), but I didn't really feel terribly compelled to utilize it until late in the night, when Florida fell.

I don't have to tell you that it was pretty much downhill from there, as the deficit of the Ohio result got larger and larger. To put it bluntly, I couldn't believe that so many people could vote for a person who got so many things so terribly wrong. It wasn't possible. So I stayed up until 1:30 am, sometimes ranting semi-coherently about provisional ballots, sometimes staring at my diminishing pint of Primary Berry Graham, sometimes catching quick snoozes in commercial breaks, but never, ever really believing it was over. Not even this morning, when the networks had the gall to turn their attentions to other things. Ballots can be counted. Touchdowns can be scored. It has happened before. It can happen again.

But it won't this time. We all know that now. And if I allow myself to get a grip for about three seconds, it may not be the end of the world. It's just a huge letdown.

But if you really want irony and cynicism, consider this: I related my football story analogy to a fellow liberal Pennsylvania football fan. "Which game was that exactly?" she asked. I confessed not really knowing, and spent the better part of a lunch break searching articles, stats, Google, anything that would give me the details of this long exalted game. I don't know whether it was someone else's story warped by my young impressionable mind until it became my own, but the Eagles game with the miracle finish, the game that so formulated my philosophy on football and so much else, that game...never even existed.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Hometown News

Sorry to bother you with another news story of political indignation, but this one is particularly frustrating on a few levels, not least of which that it happened where I grew up.

Resident says confusion cost her tickets to Republican rally
Bucks County Courier Times

A Lower Makefield woman said she received a rude awakening Wednesday when she tried to get tickets to see President Bush today in Lower Makefield.

Simi Nischal got a ride with a co-worker to pick up tickets for herself, her husband, Narinder, and their two children. But just as the tickets were about to be placed in her hands, she was escorted from the Yardley gristmill and told to leave, she said.

" 'I deny you the right to attend this rally,' " Nischal said a Bush-Cheney campaign worker told her.

Apparently, Nischal's ride was a Kerry-Edwards supporter. Her car sported a bumper sticker for the Democratic candidates.

Nischal, a computer programmer who is originally from India, said her children wanted to see the president. The family had talked over dinner Tuesday night about attending today's campaign rally at the Broadmeadows Farm in Lower Makefield.

About lunchtime Wednesday, Nischal's co-worker dropped her off at the gristmill to pick up free tickets. When the co-worker returned, rally organizers for Bush and Vice President Cheney apparently noticed the Kerry-Edwards sticker stuck on the car, Nischal said. The organizers asked the co-worker why she was there and she responded, "to pick up Simi." While this was going on, Nischal was in the ticket office finishing paperwork and showing her identification for her tickets.

"The lady came in and said, 'Who's Simi?' " Nischal tearfully recalled Wednesday night, adding that she identified herself and was then refused tickets to the rally and escorted from the building.

Shortly after that, a man wearing a Bush-Cheney T-shirt confronted Nischal in the parking lot and told her to leave.

"He was so rude, he made me feel like a criminal," Nischal said. "I said, 'That's not fair, you are losing a supporter.' [And he said], 'We don't care about your support.' "

Nischal said onlookers cheered and laughed at her as she left the property.

But that wasn't the end of the insult, she said.

She said another co-worker took her back to the gristmill to try to clear up the confusion, but she was again refused tickets.

Multiple calls to Bucks County Republican Party headquarters, several party members and the Broadmeadows Farm were not answered. However, rally organizer Hank Miller said he could not comment on the incident because he was not there and had not heard of it.

Nischal said her daughter has been learning about the political process at school and has been a Bush supporter. She even picked up papers for her daughter to volunteer for the Bush campaign right before she was kicked out of the gristmill, she said.

Nischal said she and her husband had not voted in previous elections, but the couple wanted to set a good example for their daughter by voting this year.

"I was undecided, but we have changed our opinion," Nischal said. "You don't treat people that way."

The first thing her son asked when he got home from school Wednesday afternoon was if they would get to see the president. Nischal said her son did not understand what happened. But she said her daughter said she wasn't going to support Bush anymore.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004


Wouldn't you know...I found this posted by the columnist who wrote the "Sentenced to be Raped" article on the NYTimes website. Snail mail can reach him at:

Nicholas D. Kristof The New York Times 229 West 43rd Street New York, NY 10036

An update on Mukhtaran Bibi, the woman in Pakistan who was sentenced by a tribal council to be gang-raped, and who then started schools for boys and girls in her village. I thought I might get a response from the column, but it has blown me away. While I was off traveling, my assistant, Winter Miller, was opening stacks of letters from people who wanted to help - and who in many cases did help, with checks.

So we've got a box here with more than $90,000 in checks made out to Mukhtaran. Since they are drawn on U.S. banks, we need to work out a way to get her the money without incurring large check-clearing fees, and Winter has been working that out. Probably the money will go through a U.S. aid group, which will also help Mukhtaran keep the money safe and figure out how best to use it. I should know more in a couple of days, and I'll post any updates here.

I also heard from Mukhtaran that she has received many checks directly. She deposited some directly, but will hold on to the others for now, until we can figure out how to avoid those check-clearing fees. (Unless you make special arrangements, a bank in Pakistan will charge up to $50 in fees for depositing a U.S. check.) She is delighted with the response, needless to say, and thanks everyone for the help. My hope is that the attention will also help keep her alive, and will make it harder for the higher-status villagers who raped her two years ago to kill her now.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

NYT: "Addicted to 9/11"

Addicted to 9/11
Thomas L. Friedman

I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I hear the president and vice president slamming John Kerry for saying that he hopes America can eventually get back to a place where "terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance." The idea that President Bush and Mr. Cheney would declare such a statement to be proof that Mr. Kerry is unfit to lead actually says more about them than Mr. Kerry. Excuse me, I don't know about you, but I dream of going back to the days when terrorism was just a nuisance in our lives.

If I have a choice, I prefer not to live the rest of my life with the difference between a good day and bad day being whether Homeland Security tells me it is "code red" or "code orange" outside. To get inside the Washington office of the International Monetary Fund the other day, I had to show my ID, wait for an escort and fill out a one-page form about myself and my visit. I told my host: "Look, I don't want a loan. I just want an interview." Somewhere along the way we've gone over the top and lost our balance.

That's why Mr. Kerry was actually touching something many Americans are worried about - that this war on terrorism is transforming us and our society, when it was supposed to be about uprooting the terrorists and transforming their societies.

The Bush team's responses to Mr. Kerry's musings are revealing because they go to the very heart of how much this administration has become addicted to 9/11. The president has exploited the terrorism issue for political ends - trying to make it into another wedge issue like abortion, guns or gay rights - to rally the Republican base and push his own political agenda. But it is precisely this exploitation of 9/11 that has gotten him and the country off-track, because it has not only created a wedge between Republicans and Democrats, it's also created a wedge between America and the rest of the world, between America and its own historical identity, and between the president and common sense.

By exploiting the emotions around 9/11, Mr. Bush took a far-right agenda on taxes, the environment and social issues - for which he had no electoral mandate - and drove it into a 9/12 world. In doing so, Mr. Bush made himself the most divisive and polarizing president in modern history.

By using 9/11 to justify launching a war in Iraq without U.N. support, Mr. Bush also created a huge wedge between America and the rest of the world. I sympathize with the president when he says he would never have gotten a U.N. consensus for a strategy of trying to get at the roots of terrorism by reshaping the Arab-Muslim regimes that foster it - starting with Iraq.

But in politicizing 9/11, Mr. Bush drove a wedge between himself and common sense when it came to implementing his Iraq strategy. After failing to find any W.M.D. in Iraq, he became so dependent on justifying the Iraq war as the response to 9/11 - a campaign to bring freedom and democracy to the Arab-Muslim world - that he refused to see reality in Iraq. The president seemed to be saying to himself, "Something so good and right as getting rid of Saddam can't possibly be going so wrong." Long after it was obvious to anyone who visited Iraq that we never had enough troops there to establish order, Mr. Bush simply ignored reality. When pressed on Iraq, he sought cover behind 9/11 and how it required "tough decisions" - as if the tough decision to go to war in Iraq, in the name of 9/11, should make him immune to criticism over how he conducted the war.

Lastly, politicizing 9/11 put a wedge between us and our history. The Bush team has turned this country into "The United States of Fighting Terrorism." "Bush only seems able to express our anger, not our hopes," said the Mideast expert Stephen P. Cohen. "His whole focus is on an America whose role in the world is to negate the negation of the terrorists. But America has always been about the affirmation of something positive. That is missing today. Beyond Afghanistan, they've been much better at destruction than construction."

I wish Mr. Kerry were better able to articulate how America is going to get its groove back. But the point he was raising about wanting to put terrorism back into perspective is correct. I want a president who can one day restore Sept. 11th to its rightful place on the calendar: as the day after Sept. 10th and before Sept. 12th. I do not want it to become a day that defines us. Because ultimately Sept. 11th is about them - the bad guys - not about us. We're about the Fourth of July.

Friday, October 1, 2004

Cheesesteak Rules

Okay people. I've gone through this with others who are alien to the ways of the cheesesteak. I'm gonna go through this one more time.

A cheesteak consists of:
  • Rib-eye steak -- sliced very thin or chopped
  • Cheese: Provolone, American, Whiz, and perhaps Mozzerella (exercise caution).
  • Toppings: fried onions (obtained by merely saying "with" or "wid" in local parlance), green peppers (optional), mushrooms (optional), red sauce (but then it's a pizza steak, which is almost it's own entity, so tread carefully).

If you have something before you that has any component not mentioned above IT IS NOT A CHEESESTEAK. It may be a "steak and cheese." It may be a sandwich or sub of some kind. But it ain't no cheesesteak. And even if it has the above components but has been obtained anywhere more than 50 miles outside of Philly proper, it still debatable as to whether it is in fact a cheesesteak. Consult a professional if there's any doubt by dialing 215 and seven numbers of your choosing. You should be able to obtain knowledgable guidance.


Friday, September 24, 2004

NYT: "Sentenced to be Raped"

From the New York Times
September 29, 2004


MEERWALA, Pakistan - I'm still trying to help out President Bush by tracking down Osama bin Laden. After poking through remote parts of Pakistan, asking for a tall Arab with a beard, I can't say I've earned that $25 million reward.

But I did come across someone even more extraordinary than Osama.

Usually we journalists write about rogues, but Mukhtaran Bibi could not be more altruistic or brave, as the men who gang-raped her discovered. I firmly believe that the central moral challenge of this century, equivalent to the struggles against slavery in the 19th century or against totalitarianism in the 20th, will be to address sex inequality in the third world - and it's the stories of women like Ms. Mukhtaran that convince me this is so.

The plight of women in developing countries isn't addressed much in the West, and it certainly isn't a hot topic in the presidential campaign. But it's a life-and-death matter in villages like Meerwala, a 12-hour drive southeast from Islamabad.

In June 2002, the police say, members of a high-status tribe sexually abused one of Ms. Mukhtaran's brothers and then covered up their crime by falsely accusing him of having an affair with a high-status woman. The village's tribal council determined that the suitable punishment for the supposed affair was for high-status men to rape one of the boy's sisters, so the council sentenced Ms. Mukhtaran to be gang-raped.

As members of the high-status tribe danced in joy, four men stripped her naked and took turns raping her. Then they forced her to walk home naked in front of 300 villagers.

In Pakistan's conservative Muslim society, Ms. Mukhtaran's duty was now clear: she was supposed to commit suicide. "Just like other women, I initially thought of killing myself," said Ms. Mukhtaran, now 30. Her older brother, Hezoor Bux, explained: "A girl who has been raped has no honorable place in the village. Nobody respects the girl, or her parents. There's a stigma, and the only way out is suicide."

A girl in the next village was gang-raped a week after Ms. Mukhtaran, and she took the traditional route: she swallowed a bottle of pesticide and dropped dead.

But instead of killing herself, Ms. Mukhtaran testified against her attackers and propounded the shocking idea that the shame lies in raping, rather than in being raped. The rapists are now on death row, and President Pervez Musharraf presented Ms. Mukhtaran with the equivalent of $8,300 and ordered round-the-clock police protection for her.

Ms. Mukhtaran, who had never gone to school herself, used the money to build one school in the village for girls and another for boys - because, she said, education is the best way to achieve social change. The girls' school is named for her, and she is now studying in its fourth-grade class.
"Why should I have spent the money on myself?" she asked, adding, "This way the money is helping all the girls, all the children."

I wish the story ended there. But the Pakistani government has neglected its pledge to pay the schools' operating expenses. "The government made lots of promises, but it hasn't done much," Ms. Mukhtaran said bluntly.

She has had to buy food for the police who protect her, as well as pay some school expenses. So, she said, "I've run out of money." Unless the schools can raise new funds, they may have to close.

Meanwhile, villagers say that relatives of the rapists are waiting for the police to leave and then will put Ms. Mukhtaran in her place by slaughtering her and her entire family. I walked to the area where the high-status tribesmen live. They denied planning to kill Ms. Mukhtaran, but were unapologetic about her rape.

"Mukhtaran is totally disgraced," Taj Bibi, a matriarch in a high-status family, said with satisfaction. "She has no respect in society."

So although I did not find Osama, I did encounter a much more ubiquitous form of evil and terror: a culture, stretching across about half the globe, that chews up women and spits them out.

We in the West could help chip away at that oppression, with health and literacy programs and by simply speaking out against it, just as we once stood up against slavery and totalitarianism. But instead of standing beside fighters like Ms. Mukhtaran, we're still sitting on the fence.

Friday, August 27, 2004


I just returned from a trip to Maine to visit the grandparents. I do enjoy it there. It was nice and cool -- about 70 degrees -- which was a welcome relief from the icky-sticky Washington summer. I imagine that walking around DC in the summer is a lot like being trapped inside somebody's mouth. Shudder at my lack of tact all you want, but those who know whereof I speak know that I speak the truth.

Anyway...yes, Maine is lovely. Lovely people, lovely scenery, lovely moose. This visit was unique in that it was Jeffrey's first visit, so we schlepped him out to Pemaquid Point to gaze upon the Atlantic from an appropriately rocky and lighthouse-laden coastline. We taught him how to properly say "hah-bah" in proper New England patois (incidentally, "schlepped" is not proper New England patois, but what the hell).

We also watched a lot of Olympics. A lot of Olympics indeed.

I also discovered the Whoopie Pie, which evidently is a Maine delicacy, though damned if I ever knew it. We were treated to some of these delicacies from a bakery in Gahd-nah (or Gardiner) that was featured on Oprah (not Oprer). Quite good. Wicked good even. So good, battle lines were drawn in the Shepherd households in both Hallowell, ME and Richboro, PA as to who would get to feast upon a bit of Whoopie Pie. Learn more about the wonders of Whoopie Pies here.

Good times were had. Off to Texas next week. Oy, contrast.


Thursday, July 29, 2004

Oreo Cookie Cookie

I had the most wonderful confection the other day. Imagine if you will an Oreo Cookie Cookie.

Dig it:

It's your standard issue cookie, but instead of chocolate chips or M&Ms, it is festonned with sizable bits of Oreo cookies.

It is a cookie concocted out of other cookies. It is one of the most fantastic creations ever devised.

God bless the thought process that brought forth the Oreo Cookie Cookie: "My, these cookies are smashing, but what could make them even better. Aha! Other cookies!"

Suffice to say that as I stood in the middle of the Brookings Institution cafeteria, my mind was blown.



Thursday, June 17, 2004


Although I have had the good fortune to visit Aruba several times, this year's vacation was Jeffrey's first time in the islands, so it gave us an excuse to revisit the place. Normally, a Shepherd vacation consists primarily of eating breakfast, sitting on teh beach, going in for lunch, sitting on the beach, going out to dinner, going to bed. But we decided to be a bit more active in deference to those who might not be inclined towards such a sedentary vacation.

Aruba is unique among other Caribbean islands in that it is not lush and green as one would think a tropical island should be. It's mostly desert on the interior. The southern beaches, where most of the hotels are located, are as nice as you could hope a beach to be, with white, cool sand and blue, blue water. But the north is rocky and wild, with dramatic surf next to dry land with little vegetation, save cactus and the emblamatic divi tree. But it's still beautiful. I particularly appreciate the goats, wild donkeys, parrots and myriad lizards that populate the area.

The lizards in particular are rarely shy, and range in size from tiny geckos to large, friendly iguanas who like to sun themselves next to your chaise by the pool. This particular vacation, we adopted a family of small, dysfunctional green lizards -- or rather, they adopted us. One night we found a lizard with a truncated tail lying in the flower bed looking rather poorly. We actually thought he was dead at first. He was gasping for air and flailing around a little, so we put him in a box and gave him some water and lettuce and put him on the patio for the night. In the morning he was much better, keen to get out of the box and even followed Mom inside to the kitchen when we weren't looking. It was clear, however, that even in normal health, this lizard was, how you say, "special." He was a lot more slow and clumsy than most others, but seemed happy enough. On our final day, he returned with two other green lizards -- one of whom had a tail tied in a knot and the other who walked as though he had sustained some long-ago back injury, though he seemed to not mind it. A happy family of disabled lizards indeed.

Besides befriending wildlife, we also went snorkeling out by a WWII-era shipwreck and a coral reef where saw many a fish and a few squid. I hadn't ever been snorkeling, and to have your first try be in 50 feet of water over a gnarly shipwreck is quite something. The first few minutes are fairly odd, as you have to convince yourself to put your face in the water and breathe through your mouth, which is, of course, inherently against your better nature. But once you get the hang of it, it's very nice to float about with the fish. I'd highly recommend it.


Saturday, May 29, 2004

Enter Tippy

Let me make something perfectly clear. I love Gato. Gato will always be my cat -- my beloved bad-ass psychopathic kitty friend. There is no replacement for the Gato-Cat, nor shall there ever be. But Gato is so very very far away, and a Robyn without a pet is like a day without sunshine.

So it is with great pleasure that I announce the addition of a new Washington-based feline companion, Tippy.

Tipster. Tipmonster. Tipperary. Her Supreme Tippness.

Tippy comes to us from the animal shelter where I've been volunteering for about a year. It is a no kill shelter, which is a good thing in that it gives a lot of nice animals a chance to find good homes. One of the drawbacks, is that unfortunately, some well-deserving critters wind up doing more time there than necessary. This is true for most older cats, cats with minor health problems, black cats (travesty!), and other cats who just aren't as cute, as young or as outgoing as some of the competition.

Tippy is such a cat. She was given up by her owner afer having lived in a comfortable home for five years. Despite being well-cared for at the shelter, she quite understandably didn't thrive in an environement where she was locked in a cage half the time and subjected to an unceasing cacophony of barking and mewing from her more outspoken neighbors. She became very withdrawn and shy, hating to leave the cage for fear of the other cats, and slowly gaining weight due to depression and inactivity. Although she actually is quite pretty, her greay, white and tan coloring is rather common at first glance, and so she was overlooked in favor of the sexier Siamese or Himayalan or altogether fancier breeds that are usually there. She was so shy, she required a covered litterbox because she was afraid to do her business in plain sight.
She remained at the shelter for two years.

I decided to adopt Tippy because I wanted a cat who wouldn't mind having therun of a quiet house for most of the day and who was old enough and mellow enough to be trusted not to tear the place apart out of boredom. I also discovered that if you were patient enough, she may be willing to uncurl herself from her bed and put her chin on your lap for a bit. So we bought her some playhouse to hide in if she needed them, and mentally prepared ourselves for bringing this special-needs case home in the hopes that in a few days, weeks, or months she'd come out of her shell.

It took about 20 minutes.

The sad thing is that sometimes you don't really know how a shelter kitty will behave until you actually get them home. In Tippy's case, we were prepared for her to immediately hid under the bed and not come out for days. In reality, as soon as she stepped outside her carrier, she immediately waled the length of the apartment, and decided that wherever this place was, it was a lot better than where she had been, and very soon was sitting in our laps, purring, chattering and generally behaving as though the apartment were hers to command.

We've discovered that she's actually very personable, and will jump in your lap as soon as you sit down. She's also playful, and will most likely lose a lot of her excess weight if she keeps up her activity. She is in many ways, the anti-Gato -- just as sweet as you could hope a cat to be. Not that crankiness, belligerance and independence can't be charming traits in a cat, it's just that it's nice to know that there is an alternative as well.

So we're very happy to have Tippy, and we think she's glad to have us as well. As long as I convince Gato that he hasn't in some way been sacked, all should be well.


Sunday, May 23, 2004

A Most Momentous Week Indeed (Robyn Meets Bono)

I was off to such a good start, update-wise, this month. A run of three (three!) updates in a row promised to result in breaking my all-time record of four updates in a row, set sometime in the spring of 2002 when cool stuff was actually going down on a regular basis.

Alas, my renewed diligence was interrupted by really cool stuff going down, and my not having the time to write about it. No disrespect to the website audience (both of you), but I wouldn't mind a more regular occurrence of this kind of dilemma.

The first week in May was a brief respite between moving into DC and helping to set up the annual InterAction Forum. To recap, the Forum is an event at which the executives and employees of the nation's leading humanitarian organizations come to the Washington Marriott for three days and go to workshops and eat salmon and wear nametags and discuss the current state of international development and humanitarian workers (here's a hint: it's currently pretty crappy). Very important issues are discussed and very important speakers are in attendance (see last Update).

The whole shebang this year was essentially organized by a relatively new and preternaturally capable employee named Cassandra who has never done anything like this in her life. Cassandra was primarily assisted by an equally capable consultant named Beth. I was on hand as well for much of the week leading up to the event.

There were several 15 hour-plus days which consisted of padding around the dark office in socks, sticking little flags that say "Advocacy Day" to roughly 2,465,634 name badge holders (unofficial estimate), running off enough copies to bring the Rainforest Action Network to its knees in despair, removing roughly 394,857 "Advocacy Day" badges from the nametags of those who cancelled, and vicious tirades aimed at attendees, hotel organizers and, at times, colleagues all in the name of "therapeutic venting." For good measure, I hyperextended my knee early on in the process and so continued the rest of the endeavor hobbling around and whacked out on painkillers. The first day of the conference revealed that even the most empathetic and saintly of humanitarian workers who would lay down their lives to get a bag of rice to a village in Ethiopia will just about disembowel you for mis-alphabetizing their program packet. Pulling off a conference like this with little direction and little perspective of what the hell you're doing is much like making sausage. Just enjoy the tasty treat before you, and inquire not about the nasty, bloody work it took to get it to your table.

But this is a not a hard-knock tale, dear friends, for there was considerable emotional payoff for myself on the first night, when Bono made his appearance. He was a bit late, which accounted for a good deal of poorly concealed concern on the part of those staffers who had earlier been practicing shepherding a Bono stand-in through the catacombs of the hotels service entrances with walkie-talkies and all manner of gratuitous, CIA-style rock star-wrangling (by comparison, Colin Powell and the Secret Service-type folks just walked through the door and locked it behind them). But he arrived, the staffers still got to play Secret Agent, and he delivered a very good speech that had those who were skeptical about his inclusion in the program fairly well converted. After his speech he was led by his "people" (easily distinguishable from the non-profit crowd by their black suits, black shirts, and red neckties) into a room where the InterAction staff gathered for a group photo. Sadly, I am a bit obscured in the shot, and there was no verbal exchange nor a handshake between myself and the guest of honor. However there was a point in the evening after the initial insanity of the early morning had faded away, the event seemed to be well on its way to success despite many long hours of doom-laden prophecies on my part, and I was standing (quite literally) shoulder to shoulder with someone whom I can claim as my hero without fear of being guilty of overstatement. At this point, all the grief and trauma that marked not only the past week, but the past year and a half, was all worth it, and I was ecstatic.

And just in case it's not all worth it, I have a nice chunk of overtime coming my way. Don't even worry about that.


Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Bono is Coming...

I know it's been a busy month, what with moving and all, but I'm a bit surprised at myself for not having mentioned this before. I share this news with not necessarily out of my own personal proclivities, but because it is my professional duty to promote the efforts of my organization:

Bono is coming.

As part of the InterAction Forum, a yearly gathering of the CEOs and other interested parties of the leading international American humanitarian groups, Bono will be speaking at the Humanitarian Awards dinner, at which I shall be reporting the proceedings in a most objective and dignified manner for InterAction's esteemed publication, Monday Developments.
It shall be a most informative evening at which the leaders in humanitarian policy and practice will be honored by their peers, and a multitude of insight and ideas shall be exchanged among luminaries of the international development community. Rest assured that I understand the magnitude of the event, and the professionalism it requires.

However, in the context of my own personal website, my feelings regarding the proceedings can be summed up thusly: Holy crap in a chicken basket, this totally rocks.

Also in attendance will be Colin Powell, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees Ruud Lubbers, etc., etc., etc.

And to think, this time last year I was folding pants at Express.

More to come, of course.


Saturday, May 1, 2004

Smarty Jones

How nice to see a horse from the Palookaville known as Philadelphia Park win the Kentucky Derby.

Philadelphia Park is located in beautiful Bensalem, Pa., a mere 15 minutes from the family home in Richboro. Although I have never gone there for a race, I am well acquainted with its grounds, as it hosts the Pennsylvania Fair every May.

Philadelphia Park is very blue-collar, very not glamorous, and very un-Kentucky Derby. Which is why Smarty's recent bitch-slapping of the other contenders at the Derby is so very satisfying.
If only that horse could give the Philadelphia Eagles a talking-to on how to kick ass when it counts. If only...

Well done Smarty Jones, his trainers and the Philadelphia Park. Mad props to y'all. Quite.


Sunday, March 14, 2004

Legally Red

Last week was to be my big Congressional debut, in a sense. I was given the intriguing assignment of going up to Capitol Hill to cover a briefing by the Human Rights Caucus on the situation in Uganda. Although I had something of an idea of the situation in Uganda (briefly stated, it's bad), I was rather excited to hear a Congressman's take on it, since I usually only hear from humanitarian workers in the course of my job. Additionally, being able to attend Congressional briefings as part of your job is really cool -- especially when you consider that six months ago my main job entailed folding pants.

So I squeezed my size 6 frame into my size 2 suit and informed the receptionist that I was to be on the Hill until four, just in case anyone was looking for me. If she wasn't as polite as she is, I'm sure she would have told me that that's all well and good but you know no one will be looking for you and besides other people in this office go to the Hill every day so it's no big deal you jackass. As it was she merely said, "Mm," which I interpreted as "Go Robyn go."

Our briefing was to be held in the Committee of International Relations hearing room. Other non-profit workers slowly filed in. I wrote the title of the briefing in careful handwriting on at the top of my page, and sat up nice and straight, waiting to journalize with authority.
And then we waited.

I figured the Congressman must be running late. Five minutes isn't so bad, and my watch was a bit fast anyway. I was a bit miffed that someone else showed up to attend the briefing in a sweater and jeans while I was causing significant distress to my digestive system in my merciless pants, but no matter. I would just make that much more of a good impression.
After ten minutes I wondered why the lectern in the room looked so dang shitty. It was terribly scuffed up, and one side looked as though it was pulling away from the others, leaving an unseemly gap. This was the Committee on International Relations, not Richboro Elementary School after all. Jeans girl was now chewing gum.

After twenty five minutes, I had tired of contemplating the lectern, people passing outside in the hall were looking at us with confusion and pity, and it was abundantly clear we had been stood up. There was nothing left to do but drown my disappointment in the creamy gravy of the pot pie at the cafeteria. As is so often the case in Important Buildings, I discovered that the cafeteria was way more interesting than anything else. The furniture was way nicer there than in the hearing room. I thought I saw Tim Russert, until I realized that just about every paunchy white guy in the room looked like Tim Russert. My only celebrity sighting were the "freedom fries" on the menu, but then they're so last year.

So my Congressional debut was a bit of a bust, pot pie notwithstanding. Sadly, I later learned that it's not all that unusual an occurance to have briefings cancelled without warning. It was a disappointment sure, but at least I looked good. Agonized and constricted, but good.


Tuesday, February 17, 2004

"Moby, I'm Sorry I Broke Your Potty"

Jeffrey and I went to New York for a very nice, and very chilly, post-Valentine's Day/President's Day weekend. This visit, we decided to embark upon the East Village hippie experience we always meant to have at NYU, but never got around to it. Yes, there's a fair amount of facetiousness in that statement. Relax already.

How does one go about this? First, one must stay in the reasonably hip Union Square area in a place that's fairly unheard of, fairly reasonable, and very clean (we're bohemians this weekend, not animals). Then one should explore thrift shops that sell a bunch of the same crap I played with when I was four, but is now being resold in dishevled, used incarnations for about twice the price my parents paid for it in 1984 all in the name of kitsch. A stop in an all-British owned chip shop for a deep fried Mars bar is nice. Followed by tea in the vegetarian tea shop owned by Moby (the Mobyteria, in Robyn parlance). Of the 96 types of tea (no hyperbole implemented), I selected a delicate oolong (great words always start with two vowels), which I was told was handpicked high in the treetops by monkeys. I questioned the ethics of a vegetarian tea house that chooses to employ monkey labor, but did not do so out loud, for I desired monkey tea without argument. Those monkeys pick some fine tea. I just hope they get decent benefits. I think I may have broken the flusher on Moby's toilet. Although I was too embarassed to notify the staff, I now tak ethe opportunity to say: "Moby, I'm sorry I broke your potty." We follwed the tea shop visit with a trip to a feminist bookshop that smelled like tasty coffee.

Bohemian Day was brought to a close with the requisite visit to oh-so-mainstream (and oh-so-pretty) Rockefeller Center. The visit lasted approximately four and a half minutes, for it was told as a citch's wit. Following day consisted of a visit to the Met, then home.

Thus endeth the entry that proves that Robyn is indeed "getting out."


Monday, January 12, 2004

A Word on Job Hunting

This month I finally was offered a job at InterAction. I'd been temping there for about two months, covering for someone who left rather suddenly, and although I was not offered the job that I was temping for, they went ahead and created a position for me. That makes me feel special. I'll be assisting the President of the organization, as well as various other committess with names like the Commission on the Advancement of Women, Humanitarian Policy and Practice, and Public Policy. I also get to write a weekly article, so all that book-larnin' weren't fer nuthin' after all.

There is a bit of a dilemma in explaining what InterAction actually is. In casual conversation, the description of "a coalition of US-based non-governmental organizations specializing in international relief and development," tends to make people glaze over about three words in. "The United Nations of American International Non-profits" is a bit lofty, but seems a bit more direct. Plus "American International" is understandably awkward. "International relief" also tends to rub some people the wrong way as being too Commie-Pinko-Lefty. This is not the desired effect, nor is it entirely accurate. I shall puzzle it out in due time. Meanwhile, suffice to say that I'm quite happy. And I get my name on the door. I'm a grown-up, I am.

Since I am no longer utilizing this site for the sake of prospective employers, may I offer a word on job-hunting? It's miserable. It's humiliating. It's a soul-crushing, heart-breaking, hysteria-inducing, relationship-damaging mind-boggling stupid stupid stupid awful process. I am not engaging in hyperbole for effect, people. I don't recommend it to anybody, and I'm damned glad it's over.