Sunday, February 28, 2010

Oops

Obviously I'm not the only one who forgot about this... Actually I didn't completely forget, I just didn't realize that the year mark was already come and gone. Oops. :)

Fun for you and fun for me... The first five people to respond to this post will get something made by me! My choice. For you. This offer does have some restrictions and limitations:
1- I make no guarantees that you will like what I make!
2- What I create will be just for you.
3- It'll be done this year.
4- You have no clue what it's going to be.
The catch is that you must repost this on your blog and offer the same to the first 5 people who do the same on your blog. The first 5 people to do so and leave a comment telling me they did win a FAB-U-LOUS homemade gift by me! Oh, and be sure to post a picture of what you win when you get it!!!

What about the rest of you, are you going to still do it?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Poor Norway.

I think it's interesting that no one seems to be paying Norway much attention. They have only one fewer gold medal right now than the U.S. and Germany, and are third in medals overall.

Medal Count


Medal Count
CountryGoldSilverBronzeTotal
United States8121232
Germany811726
Norway76619
Canada86317
Russian Federation34613

Plus, Norway is small, and yet is the first (only?) country to win 100 Olympic gold medals. They have won more Winter Games than any other country. So that doesn't make sense. Why aren't more people talking about them?

(Check out the article I read)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Help Please...

I need a new YA book to read. I've been reading a lot of grown-up books this year for my 10/10/10 project and don't get me wrong, I am loving them. But both the YA series I've been dabbling in are on hold because the next books aren't out yet, and I need something un-grownup to supplement all my serious reading. Ideas?

March, by Geraldine Brooks

As I mentioned on the reading blog, I would have liked this book much better if the protagonist hadn't been the father from Little Women. Of course, that is what interested me in the first place, but it turns out that I didn't care much for the character, and that is a little sad.


When you judge the book independently and not as a companion to Little Women, it is amazing, and deserves its Pulitzer. March is about a Union soldier's experience in the Civil War, and it is violent, heartbreaking, and stomach-turning. Like I said, I ended up not being a fan of Mr. March: He is a good man with high ideals, but oppresses his incredible wife in his attempts to cure her of her "improper" temper and passion; and beyond that, is unfaithful to her and lies to her for many years of their marriage. Actually, though, he's such a different character than I thought he would be, that in fact I don't even really connect him with the adoring father in Little Women, and thus I don't think that story will be ruined for me by having read this.


It's an excellent book, and surprisingly short; I would recommend it to anyone who's interested in the Civil War or reading quote-unquote important books--but not to anyone who wants to read it because they love Little Women. I will give it... a 7.5.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Political Spectrum

Where are you on the political spectrum
Your Result: Liberal
Your political and policy decisions are influenced by the principles of liberty, equality, peace and justice. You have an altruistic concern for your fellow men and women. You are likely to be a Democrat, but not all Democrats are liberals.
Lefty

Moderate

Libertarian

Conservative

Wingnut

Where are you on the political spectrum
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

I don't know why it isn't showing the percentages but they were: 3/4 lefty, 2/3 moderate, 1/4 libertarian, a little conservative, no wingnut.

http://www.gotoquiz.com/where_are_you_on_the_political_spectrum?ref=nf

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Members Only

In some ways, your mid-twenties is a strange age to be. On the one hand, you have the real adults--people in their late twenties and thirties--who treat you like you're still sixteen, even though that was almost ten years ago and some of them are barely a few years older than you. And on the other hand, you have teenagers who are already convinced that high school is 100 percent different from when you were there all those years ago. Meanwhile there you are in the middle, pretty much a completely different person than you were in high school, starting to feel weird about your next milestone birthday being your 30th, and shunned by both age groups. People will make anything into an exclusive club, and age is no exception.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

...Yosh-zilla?

I keep having dreams about being chased by a dinosaur. Is this weird?

Okay--to be fair, when I say that I "keep having" them, I mean I've had them twice in the last month or so. And also, for the sake of accuracy, the dinosaur in the first dream was a very realistic T-rex, but the one in my dream last night didn't look much like a real dinosaur; if anything, he looked like a really tall version of Dino from the Flintstones, only green and with a gigantic potbelly.

So what is up with these dreams? They seem to go on for a really long time while I'm having them (as in, if my dream were a movie, the chase scene would be like half an hour long). They're strange to me because I don't have a particular fear of dinosaurs, nor have I been reading or watching anything related to them.

...Unless you count Yoshi? It occurs to me that I have played Super Mario World recently; or rather, watched my niece Alex play. But that doesn't make much sense, because Yoshi isn't scary. He is green though... Hmm.

     +    =     ?!

Monday, February 15, 2010

10/10/10--Update

My current updated list of books for the 10/10/10 challenge. Some categories changed from my original plan, and none of the category lists are complete yet, but they're getting there. (An asterisk means I've finished.)

Adult Fiction:
  1. *The Gathering Storm, Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson
  2. *The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
  3. Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
  4. The Alchemist, Paolo Coelho
  5. The Postmistress, Sarah Blake
  6. Storm Front, Jim Butcher
  7. *Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver
Recommended
  1. *Abarat, Clive Barker (Joseph)
  2. *The Alchemyst, Michael Scott (Nathalie)
  3. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer (Megan)
  4. Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson (Mike)
  5. The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown (Dan)
  6. Same Kind of Different as Me, Ron Hall and Denver Moore (Lori)
Authors I've never read

  1. Virginia Woolf
  2. Neil Gaiman
  3. Norman Mailer
  4. Cormac McCarthy
  5. Ken Follett
  6. John Milton
Award Winners

  1. The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
  2. *March, Geraldine Brooks
  3. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
  4. We Need to Talk about Kevin, Lionel Shriver
  5. (Tentative: Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri; Ironweed, William Kennedy; A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole)
Foreign

  1. Say You're One of Them, Uwem Akpan (in progress)
  2. The Bonesetter's Daughter, Amy Tan
  3. Pandora in the Congo, Albert Sanchez Pinol
  4. Arrow of God, Chinua Achebe
  5. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
  6. Some things that take place in neither Africa nor China
Self-Improvement
  1. *Forced to be Family, Cheryl Dellasega
  2. Feelings Buried Alive Never Die, Karol Truman
  3. The Four Agreements Companion, Miquel Ruiz
Nonfiction

  1. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver (in progress)
  2. Going Rogue, Sarah Palin (on hold)
  3. 120 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature, Nicholas Karolides, Margaret Bald, Dawn Sova
  4. My Life in France, Julia Child
  5. (Tentative: The Great American Citizenship Quiz, Solomon Skolnick; Have a Little Faith, Mitch Albom; Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortensen
Series
  1. *The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
  2. Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, by Michael Scott (in progress)
  3. (Tentative: the Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher)
Books I own but haven't read/Unfinished Business:
  1. Villette, Charlotte Bronte
  2. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
  4. The Glass Castle, Jeanette Wells
  5. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  6. The Rise of Silas Lapham, William Dean Howells
  7. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  8. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Thursday, February 11, 2010

How to Get Our Democracy Back

This is the name of an article I just read by Lawrence Lessig, and I hope you'll go read it too. It's long, but very clear and easy to understand, and I think Lessig is saying something important.

The article discusses how Obama's administration has already, in one year, given up on the promises that his campaign made: the main one being, of course, "fundamentally changing the way Washington works" and working to "challenge the broken system." These promises are the reason people voted for him; instead, so far Obama has sat down and dealt with Congress exactly the same way previous presidents have. What he should have done was focus on fixing Congress.

Congress, Lessig says, is the main problem with our government: policies are basically bought by campaign contributions, since the members of Congress need campaign money to get re-elected (and since, of course, re-election is all anyone cares about). His article says, "The perception, at least among industry staffers dealing with the Hill, is that one makes policy progress only if one can promise fundraising progress as well." Apparently Congress-people are rewarded for meeting fundraising goals with better assignments and leadership positions. There's no way that doesn't affect the way they approach policies. This is Lessig's response to people who say that it's not true that Congress is ruled by money:

...If money really doesn't affect results in Washington, then what could possibly explain the fundamental policy failures... of our government over the past decades? The choice (made by Democrats and Republicans alike) to leave unchecked a huge and crucially vulnerable segment of our economy, which threw the economy over a cliff when it tanked (as independent analysts again and again predicted it would). Or the choice to leave unchecked the spread of greenhouse gases. Or to leave unregulated the exploding use of antibiotics in our food supply--producing deadly strains of E. coli. Or the inability of the twenty years of "small government" Republican presidents in the past twenty-nine to reduce the size of government at all. Or... you fill in the blank. From the perspective of what the People want, or even the perspective of what the political parties say they want, the Fundraising Congress is misfiring in every dimension. That is either because Congress is filled with idiots or because Congress has a dependency on something other than principle or public policy sense. In my view, Congress is not filled with idiots.

As I read this article I was getting increasingly irritated with our politicians. It seems like it's become impossible to get anything done in this country, because the people who could do it are only concerned with themselves, their position, and their money. Self-interest dominates the political field, and what can we possibly do about it?

Well, it seems like there is something we can do, and it was actually already suggested a hundred years ago by Theodore Roosevelt: citizen-funded elections. There is a bill about it in the House right now (being sponsored by Republicans and Democrats) called the Fair Elections Now Act. From what I understand, the bill would require candidates to raise a certain amount in their communities--with a $100 limit on individual contributions--and once they've reached that goal, the contributions they receive will start being matched by money from the Fair Elections Fund, plus extra money per congressional district in their state. (I don't understand that part yet--to me it seems like that gives the larger states an advantage over the smaller ones--but I'm researching it.) This would limit the influence of corporations and special interest groups.

What I'm saying is, you should look into it. There's a petition you can sign, and of course you can research it for more information. I won't pretend that I know a ton about this stuff, but I think it's important and I am learning. And I would really like, for once, to see some actual change in the government. Goodness knows it needs it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Empire, by Orson Scott Card--9/10

Fantastic, really fantastic book. See the post before this one for more information about the plot--just know that it has great action, great characters, and a great (albeit horrible) message that everyone should think about. In case you're into audiobooks, the reader is really good, and Orson Scott Card reads the chapter titles and subtitles. I hope you will read it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

America the "Beautiful"

Our system of government is what makes us different from other countries. If a person thinks America is a great country, then that person respects the man who was elected by that system--regardless of who he voted for. And, even more importantly, that person respects the right of his fellow Americans to feel differently about things. How can any free country be considered great when its people treat their government and their fellow citizens like foreign enemies, just for believing something different than they do? A nation of people who antagonize their own president because he isn't the one they voted for is a nation that does not deserve to be a world power.


Before I say anything else I would just like to mention a couple things. First, I am not a Democrat. I am not a Republican either. At this point I'm basically independent (small i): Although I share some of the same moral beliefs as many Republicans, I agree more with some of the policies of the Democrats, and so far have not found a party that encompasses everything I believe. So if you are now thinking, "That's easy for her to say, she did vote for Obama. She would feel different if McCain had won," then not only are you (rather unkindly) assuming the worst about me, you have completely missed the point.

The real problem here is not which side wins. The problem is that both sides are wrong--not in their principles, necessarily, but in their actions.

This morning I finished listening to Empire, by Orson Scott Card, on audiobook. (The book is fantastic, by the way, and I think absolutely everyone should read it.) At the end of the recording there was an afterword by the author, which I was hoping to be able to include here in an audio clip because it went along perfectly with this post that I was already writing. I haven't been able to find the audio online, so I hope you'll click on that link and read the text of it. It isn't very long, but i
n case you don't want to read the whole thing, here are the parts that stuck out to me (the bold is my addition, for the things I want most to point out).

Because we haven't had a civil war in the past fourteen decades, people think we can't have one now. Where is the geographic clarity of the Mason-Dixon line? When you look at the red-state blue-state division in the past few elections, you get a false impression. The real division is urban, academic, and high-tech counties versus suburban, rural, and conservative Christian counties. How could such widely scattered "blue" centers and such centerless "red" populations ever act in concert?
Geography aside, however, we have never been so evenly divided with such hateful rhetoric since the years leading up to the Civil War of the 1860s. Because the national media elite are so uniformly progressive, we keep hearing (in the elite media) about the rhetorical excesses of the "extreme right." To hear the same media, there is no "extreme left," just the occasional progressive who says things he or she shouldn't.
But any rational observer has to see that the Left and Right in America are screaming the most vile accusations at each other all the time. We are fully polarized -- if you accept one idea that sounds like it belongs to either the blue or the red, you are assumed -- nay, required -- to espouse the entire rest of the package, even though there is no reason why supporting the war against terrorism should imply you're in favor of banning all abortions and against restricting the availability of firearms; no reason why being in favor of keeping government-imposed limits on the free market should imply you also are in favor of giving legal status to homosexual couples and against building nuclear reactors. These issues are not remotely related, and yet if you hold any of one group's views, you are hated by the other group as if you believed them all; and if you hold most of one group's views, but not all, you are treated as if you were a traitor for deviating even slightly from the party line.
It goes deeper than this, however. A good working definition of fanaticism is that you are so convinced of your views and policies that you are sure anyone who opposes them must either be stupid and deceived or have some ulterior motive. We are today a nation where almost everyone in the public eye displays fanaticism with every utterance.
It is part of human nature to regard as sane those people who share the worldview of the majority of society. Somehow, though, we have managed to divide ourselves into two different, mutually exclusive sanities. The people in each society reinforce each other in madness, believing unsubstantiated ideas that are often contradicted not only by each other but also by whatever objective evidence exists on the subject. Instead of having an ever-adapting civilization-wide consensus reality, we have became a nation of insane people able to see the madness only in the other side.
...
So virulent are these responses -- again, from both the Left and the Right -- that I believe it is only a short step to the attempt to use the power of the state to enforce one's views. On the right we have attempts to use the government to punish flag burners and to enforce state-sponsored praying. On the left, we have a ban on free speech and peaceable public assembly in front of abortion clinics and the attempt to use the power of the state to force the acceptance of homosexual relationships as equal to marriages. Each side feels absolutely justified in compelling others to accept their views.
...
Yet we seem only able to see the negative effects of coercion caused by the other team. Progressives see the danger of allowing fanatical religions (which, by some definitions, means "all of them") to have control of government -- they need only point to Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Taliban, or, in a more general and milder sense, the entire Muslim world, which is oppressed precisely to the degree that Islam is enforced as the state religion.
Conservatives, on the other hand, see the danger of allowing fanatical atheistic religions to have control of government, pointing to Nazi Germany and all Communist nations as obvious examples of political utopianism run amok.
Yet neither side can see any connection between their own fanaticism and the historical examples that might apply to them. People insisting on a Christian America simply cannot comprehend that others view them as the Taliban-in-waiting; those who insist on progressive exclusivism in America are outraged at any comparison between them and Communist totalitarianism. Even as they shun or fire or deny tenure to those who disagree with them, everybody thinks it's the other guy who would be the oppressor, while our side would simply "set things to rights."
Rarely do people set out to start a civil war. Invariably, when such wars break out both sides consider themselves to be the aggrieved ones. Right now in America, even though the Left has control of all the institutions of cultural power and prestige -- universities, movies, literary publishing, mainstream journalism-- as well as the federal courts, they feel themselves oppressed and threatened by traditional religion and conservatism. And even though the Right controls both houses of Congress and the presidency, as well as having ample outlets for their views in nontraditional media and an ever-increasing dominance over American religious and economic life, they feel themselves oppressed and threatened by the cultural dominance of the Left.
And they are threatened, just as they are also threatening, because nobody is willing to accept the simple idea that someone can disagree with their group and still be a decent human being worthy of respect.
In this book there is a civil war started by exactly the same issues that we struggle with in today's politics. This article illustrates how close we are to that, how easy it would be for us to find ourselves in the same situation. My point today is less about the civil war aspect and more about the principle of the way we approach politics, but I still think you should read the rest of the article because what he says is important to think about.


I have had exactly this kind of discriminatory, nonsensical hatred directed at me personally, and I expect a lot of you have as well (at least, if you've ever tried to have a conversation about politics with someone "across the aisle"). For this reason, I know a lot of people refuse to discuss politics with anyone. (For the record, I think this is wrong, because it only contributes to the divisiveness of American politics and encourages total disengagement from the political system.) In any case, this is an example of how we have become "a nation of insane people able to see the madness only in the other side." Like so many others, I have had the experience of trying to discuss different beliefs with someone who, no matter what I said, could only see what he had already decided about me.


This kind of behavior is exactly what goes on during electoral campaigns, and is exactly what Orson Scott Card is talking about. It shouldn't be happening. We are all Americans. Democrats have exactly as much right to fight for their beliefs as Republicans do, and vice versa. Our friends, family members, coworkers, roommates, neighbors, and church leaders have different beliefs from us. That is no excuse for treating them like enemies. There is no excuse for the way politicians treat each other during the campaigns--and we are all just as guilty as they are. A country that divides itself this way is just waiting to destroy itself. It has to stop.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Why does what size you wear matter more than who you are?

A Jenny Craig commercial came on just a little while ago. I have the TV on mute because I'm not actually watching Bobby Flay, but I like to see the food he's making in the background. So I didn't know that it was a Jenny Craig commercial at first. I was thinking how happy it made me to see a really beautiful girl who clearly isn't a size 2 (or even an 8) on TV--and then the Jenny Craig logo came up. It was so disappointing.

The commercial came on again a few minutes later; I turned the volume back up to find out what she was saying, and what I heard was Sara Rue saying that she was tired of having people say she had a great personality and a beautiful face. How depressing, I thought, that this poor girl--who is beautiful--would rather be known for what her body looks like than for how wonderful her personality is.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile... or a Makeover.

In all the movies where the geeky kid gets transformed into a princess or something, the message seems to be that your looks don't matter, and self-confidence is what's important. Funny, though, that they all get conveniently made beautiful anyway, so that they no longer have to worry about feeling good about themselves independent of the way they look... (Which, if you'll notice, nearly always includes straightening the frizzy untamed hair and getting contacts.) It just seems a little bit contradictory to me.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver--9/10

The Lacuna is an amazing book. It's historical fiction--the main character is fictional, but many of the supporting characters are famous people from history like Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Leon Trotsky (a leader of the Bolshevik revolution). Harrison Shepherd, the protagonist, starts out as a young boy living in Mexico, where he becomes friends with the two famous artists and works closely with Trotsky. Later on we see him in America, where he lives during World War II and the years following it. Shepherd is a really likable narrator; he's a writer, and has such a unique way of looking at things and a beautiful way of expressing his thoughts.
The book addresses some really serious issues, and raised a lot of questions for me about the way the United States acted in the time surrounding the war. It was such a horrible time in history, with so many lives ruined for very little reason. The story is fascinating, though, and it was incredibly interesting to see that time period through one person's experience.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Required Reading

It seems to me that a lot of the required reading in high school ruins kids for reading the classics. I, on the one hand, really enjoyed most of the required reading I did in school, and in fact when I am at Barnes and Noble now I like to go to the summer reading tables and get ideas from there. But on the other hand, a lot of kids aren't such nerds, and don't enjoy the books they have to read for school. I think this is because they're being forced to read them before they're ready.


I absolutely adore The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. It took me years to read it; I tried it once my freshman year of college and only got a page or two in before I put it back on the shelf--where it waited for about five years before I picked it up again. That time, I loved it. But I might not have if, say, I'd been forced to read it in high school, like my brothers were (and they hated it).


I had to read Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, when I was a freshman in high school, and I hated it then. I had to read it again my senior year, and I still didn't care for it. But in my sophomore year of college, I had to read it a third time, and that time I really liked it.
In all honesty, I don't think high school kids are ready for a lot of the books their teachers want them to read. Don't get me wrong, I am all for encouraging them to read the classics--I think they're absolutely essential to any person's repertoire. But it needs to be done with discretion. Reading should be about enjoyment, learning, and broadening your horizons; it shouldn't be forced.


A lot of this goes back to the elementary schools, where I think they are taking the wrong approach to reading. You might remember a post in which I lamented the loss of shows like Reading Rainbow, that teach kids how to have fun reading; instead, the focus is all on teaching grammar, spelling, and vocabulary--all those things kids hate. Why?? If children learn to enjoy reading, the grammar and vocabulary will come naturally. I'm not saying that they shouldn't teach those things; just that they should be secondary. Teachers shouldn't push the classics on students who don't care much for reading. If teenagers haven't read much and don't care for the idea, for Pete's sake don't start them on Heart of Darkness--try handing them Twilight or Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, and see how they do.


It's just so disappointing to see the way reading has become a chore for many people, how quickly it's being replaced by all the electronic entertainment that's out there. None of it can compete with a really excellent book, but that doesn't really matter if people don't know it.