Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Think for Yourself!

Can it really be Banned Books Week again? I feel like it just barely ended! But I am not complaining, because I love Banned Books Week.

Also, I love this year's theme a lot a lot:

I picked up a pamphlet at the Allen library which showed this design available on a t-shirt, but I haven't found it online yet. Hmm. Don't worry though, I also want this merchandise:

I love that bracelet, even though I don't know some of the books that are on it! I think the design is beautiful. And of course I love that bag. 

Banned books I have read this month:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower--Stephen Chbosky
Mrs. Dalloway--Virginia Woolf
The Catcher in the Rye--J.D. Salinger 
Banned books that are coming up in my reading: 
On the Road--Jack Kerouac (category: authors I've never read)
Slaughterhouse-Five--Kurt Vonnegut (category: books I own that I haven't read)
The Naked and the Dead--Norman Mailer (category: authors I've never read)
The Chocolate War--Robert Cormier (category: miscellaneous)
The Color Purple--Alice Walker (category: undecided)
Banned books you should consider reading, because they are lovely and fantastic and some of my favorite books of all time:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower--Stephen Chbosky 
 A Wrinkle in Time--Madeline L'Engle
Number the Stars--Lois Lowry
The Golden Compass--Philip Pullman
To Kill a Mockingbird--Harper Lee
The Diary of Anne Frank--Anne Frank
1984--George Orwell
The Joy Luck Club--Amy Tan
Fahrenheit 451--Ray Bradbury
If you're interested, here's a list of 25 Banned Books That You Should Read Today--it also tells you where you can read them all online for free. (Or you can go to the library and read them not online for free! Always my choice.)

Think for yourself!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Bridge of San Luis Rey, by Thornton Wilder

A bridge collapses with five people on it. A priest witnesses the disaster and, in his quest to prove scientifically that God has a purpose for everything that happens, sets out to learn everything he can about those five people, and why they were the ones on that bridge when it fell. 

 This book won a Pulitzer. I liked it. I liked it 7 of 10.

It's short. Like this post.

The end.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Right to Remain Silent

This story made me a little angry. Read (or skim) it and then I'll tell you why. 

What Not to Say When Pulled Over by a Cop

by Jennifer Waters
Sunday, September 19, 2010

In what he calls an "educational video" that's widely circulated on YouTube, comedian Chris Rock offers advice on what to do when you get pulled over for a traffic violation.

"Obey the law" he says. "Stop immediately" and "stay in your car with your hands on the wheel." Finally, "if your woman is mad at you, leave her at home. There's nothing she'd like to see more than you getting your [you-know-what] kicked."

It's a dead-on spoof of a hard truth: Respect authority. If you don't, you increase the odds of a pricey ticket.

"Everything in that video is absolutely true," said Sgt. Matthew Koep of the South Plainfield, N.J., Police Department. "It's funny, but it's accurate."
Citizens who are generally law-abiding are likely to come into contact with the police only under two circumstances: If you're a crime victim or you get pulled over for a traffic violation.

Police officers are not out to make your life miserable, but to make sure you're following the rules of the road and not endangering yourself or those around you.

With a few exceptions, and an egregious traffic violation is top among them, cops aren't mandated to write tickets. Most would rather send you on your way with a friendly warning -- that can save you time and money.

But handle the situation with an aggressive or arrogant attitude and you can expect to squeeze an expensive court date into your busy schedule.

Play Nice
First rule: don't argue.

"I get this all the time," said Karen Rittorno, a nine-year veteran with the Chicago Police Department. "'What are you stopping me for? I didn't do nothing.' If they try to take charge of the traffic stop, they're not going to get out of it without a ticket," she said. "We ask the questions, not them."

Accept that the police have caught you doing something that's against the law, such as speeding or gliding through a stop sign.

"All we do is react to what people do when you pull them over," said Dennis Fanning, a homicide detective and veteran officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. "We don't instigate the stuff, but we will react to you. The situation will escalate or de-escalate depending on how that person reacts."

To argue with cops is akin to calling them idiots. Don't do that. "That's implying that I pulled you over for no reason and that bothers me," Koep said.

Keep It Honest
Don't lie, either. Cops are trained to note the human characteristics of lying, including twitching and looking to the left, and they know the right questions to ask to suss out the truth.

Fanning estimates that nine out of 10 people lie to him. "It's an attack on our intelligence," he said.

Moreover, the truth can set you free. Koep recalled an incident when he pulled a young guy over for speeding.

"He looks straight at me and says, 'You know, officer, I wasn't even paying attention. I just had the best date of my life. I just met my future bride. I'm just on cloud nine right now.'

"The guy was completely serious," Koep said. "How are you going to write that guy up after that? Who makes that kind of stuff up?"

Of course, don't use pejoratives when addressing the police, unless you're eager for a ticket. But other words may backfire, too. Rittorno works in a crime-ridden section of Chicago where the majority of people she pulls over for traffic violations don't have licenses or insurance, she said.

"So I get a lot of, 'I'm sorry, baby. I didn't mean it, sweetheart,'" she said. "I hate being called 'baby' or 'sweetheart.' I'm 'officer' to you.''

The police don't like being talked over, either. "Be polite," said Chicago Officer Mike Thomas. "You have your rights as a citizen, too, but it doesn't do you any good to talk while he's talking."

Cops know that people are nervous when they get pulled over, and they expect a certain amount of jumpiness when they approach a car. Rittorno even admitted she's intimidated in the same situation. "I'm the police and I get scared if I get pulled over," she said.

But did you know they're on edge, too? You know who they are, but they don't know whether you're a good guy or a bad guy. "The only thing on his mind when he approaches you is safety," Thomas said. "You know you don't have a gun in your lap, but the officer doesn't know it."

Rittorno, for one, said she assumes everyone has a gun. "I'm always on 10," she said, referring to her high level of vigilance. "I take it down depending on their demeanor or what I see."

Stay Calm
When those headlights go on, it's best to pull the car to the right, stay in the car, turn the interior lights on if it's dark and put your hands on the steering wheel.

Don't make any quick movements, and don't turn to grab your purse or put your hands in your pocket or under your seat to retrieve your license -- until the officer instructs you to. Then, do it slowly.

Don't move to open the glove box either, until directed. And do that slowly, too. Let the police shine a light inside the box before you reach in. Many criminals hide guns in glove boxes.

"What's going to cause the situation to get worse is for the fear factor to rise in that officer," Koep said. "The officer is more likely to cut you a break as long as you can reduce that fear. …If you're friendly with me, not arguing or denying what happened, that lowers the fear factor and will make me a lot more cooperative with you."

Don't boast about who you know, either. That can infuriate cops. They consider it a veiled threat to their livelihoods. Fortunately, most municipalities have laws in place to insure that an officer is not fired or reprimanded for ticketing, say, the mayor's daughter.

Finally, never try to buy off a cop. "In those instances where they've offered me a bribe," Fanning said. "I loved making those arrests."

Jennifer Waters is a MarketWatch reporter, based in Chicago.

So, I'm sorry... When did it become okay for the police to tell us that we can't ask questions when we're pulled over, and that if we do we're not getting out of it without a ticket? And how did I miss when we created the law against "disrespect"?

To argue with cops is akin to calling them idiots. Don't do that. "That's implying that I pulled you over for no reason and that bothers me," Koep said.

Well, perhaps this person is out of the loop, but it turns out that sometimes cops do pull people over for no reason. It's happened to me. It's probably happened to you.

(Interesting story along these lines: Right to Remain Silent. It's long, but fascinating and horrifying. No, I'm not saying that all cops--or even a majority--are like this. But it happens, and let's not pretend it doesn't.)

Anyway. I am torn on this issue, because on the one hand, I think being a police officer is a really honorable profession and I have a lot of respect for the job. But. On the other hand, there are cops who pull you over for going 1 mph over the speed limit, and who give you a $300 ticket for getting in the right turning lane five feet too soon. There are plenty of cops who abuse their position, and this article is proof.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ah Facebook, How I Sometimes Love You.

What would Muslims say if Christians built a Huge stadium sized church community center in front of the Kaaba in mecca?

Jason Quackenbush · Washington

Non-muslims are not allowed in Mecca under Saudi law, so it's a bit of a strange question. Of course, my suspicion is the motivation for the question is in fact an attempt to justify anti-muslim opposition to the Park51 community center in New York City. And in response one could make a number of points about how Saudi Arabia is not exactly a model of human rights, how the muslim world is not monolithic and the opinions of muslims are as varied as the opinions of any other group, and therefore the question is itself prejudicial and bigoted, etc. Instead, I think I'll make the point that's heard by every five year old whose ever tried to get out of trouble by claiming that someone else wronged him first: two wrongs don't make a right. That such lessons still need to be given to adults is something that those adults ought to be pretty ashamed of. Of course, it's become clear at this late date that there are huge numbers of Americans who have absolutely no shame at all about how inconsistent and craven their beliefs are.

Timothy Faust · Rice
This is important: Nobody is building a mosque at "Ground Zero." That notion is preposterous, offensive, and dangerous. A Muslim community center is planned to be built several blocks away--if you've been to NYC, that's a huge distance--not a mosque, and not even remotely near Ground Zero.

Shazwan Azizan · Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 
You cannot compare building a COMMUNITY CENTER in the middle of NYC to building a church in someone else's Holy Land.

Ruby He · GWU
Did you just attempt to compare Mecca to the Financial District? I mean, really now.

Jonathan Yi · UCSD
While it may be true that there really are no stupid questions, this is pushing it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a murder mystery starring a precocious eleven-year-old British girl and her eccentric family. To be honest, I'm not sure what the appeal of the book was to me; but although I can't quite put my finger on why, I did enjoy reading it.

One thing that bothered me was the ridiculous number of allusions and pop culture references. There were significantly more than is normal, and a huge number of them were totally obscure to me. The book takes place in England, but it was published in the United States and written by a Canadian, so I'm not sure why it didn't occur to someone that perhaps some of the references would be over their audience's collective head. I recognized several of them--Scrooge and Marley, Ophelia, the Vitruvian Man, Miss Gulch (from The Wizard of Oz), "Bibbidi-bobbidy-boo", Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Laurence Olivier, Manderley (from Rebecca, by Daphne duMaurier), etc. But there were at least five times as many that I had never heard of: Austin Freeman, Mario Lanza, Hebrides, Rosicrucians, Dr. Crippen, Douglas Bader, J. Arthur Rank, Jose Iturbi, John Bull, We Dive at Dawn, and dozens of others--not to mention countless references to Catholic saints, classical musicians, and super old cars.

(I wasn't kidding about this.)

There were times, too, when the writing felt affected and pretentious.

I knew that Father derived endless pleasure from the countless and minute variations of his bits of confetti, but I did not know the details. Only when he became excited enough over some new tidbit of trivia in the latest issue of The London Philatelist to rhapsodize aloud at breakfast would we learn a little more about his happy, insulated world. Apart from those rare occasions, we were all of us, my sisters and me, babes in the wood when it came to postage stamps, while Father puttered on, mounting bits of colored paper with more fearsome relish than some men mount the heads of stags and tigers (145). 

But the story is quite interesting. Flavia de Luce, who is obsessed with chemistry and knows way more things than it is possible for any child to know (she's the one who makes all the aforementioned allusions), has a very exciting day in which a dead bird with a postage stamp on its beak shows up on their doorstep; she overhears her father having an argument with someone in his study late at night; and early the next morning, goes outside just in time to watch a stranger die in their cucumber patch. Because she is just that kind of child, Flavia investigates the murder, and wild antics ensue.

I have to admit that I'm a bit baffled by this book. When I describe it, I can only think of things that annoyed me, and yet my overall impression of it was positive. I can't say I think the story was particularly inventive, although it was interesting; I didn't even like Flavia all that much (although I didn't dislike her either). I'm having a strangely difficult time organizing my feelings about it. However, I do think that anyone would probably like it, and I'll give it a 6.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dangerous Advice

I picked up The Dangerous Book for Boys today at the library and it fell open to a page in the middle where the spine was bent. This page happened to be a section on girls, and I thought some of the advice was amusing.

"It is important to listen. Human beings are often very self-centered and like to talk about themselves. In addition, it's an easy subject if someone is nervous. It is good advice to listen closely--unless she has also been given this advice, in which case an uneasy silence could develop, like two owls sitting together."

"When you are older, flowers really do work--women love them. When you are young, however, there is a ghastly sense of being awkward rather than romantic--and she will guess your mother bought them."

"Play a sport of some kind. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as it replaces the corpse-like pallor of the computer programmer with a ruddy glow. Honestly, this is more important than you know."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

Friends, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: You must read The Hunger Games.

That being said--I had to put it before the break, because obviously if you haven't read it you'll want to avoid spoilers and so you might not read the rest of the post and then you would have missed my exhortation, which would have made it completely useless--I must warn you.

There are spoilers in this post. Big, huge spoilers. So stop reading now. (Lindsey, this means you.)

Mockingjay is the third and final book in the series by Suzanne Collins--which, if you have continued past the break, you obviously know because you have already read the books. (My deductive skills are astounding, no?)

I did not like it as much as I did the first two books. It was still fantastic; I still enjoyed reading it and was reluctant to put it down for things like work, food, and sleep. But I was supremely disappointed in the ending. (Here's where the spoilers come in. If you are being sneaky and have read this far, you are safe--you can still turn back. But this is your last chance.)


Okay. First of all... Prim dies. Finnick dies. Lots of other smaller characters that we like die. This is okay story-wise, but like Janssen pointed out in her post, there was very little closure for these deaths. When I read that Finnick had died, I had to go back and make sure that it had really happened, because of how quickly he was passed over (I figured that for a character with such importance in this book, his death would have received a bit more attention. No such luck).

I am also not happy with the resolution of the Gale/Peeta situation. It's nice that Peeta didn't get killed off, which is what I had been thinking would have to happen, but for him to end up with Katniss just didn't feel right to me. It was like Katniss said, "Hey, we had this relationship, and even though most of it was pretend, since it turns out that we're both still alive and you're not crazy anymore, and Gale is obviously out of the picture... Why not?" I can understand her not ending up with Gale--the other ending I imagined was that she wouldn't end up with either of them and we'd never know if she married--but I still think she should have. And that is all I will say about that.

Finally, I was disappointed about the vote for a last Game involving the children of the Capitol. I couldn't believe Katniss would vote in favor of it; I was solidly in Peeta's camp on that one. Their victory, after the agony and struggle of the war, seems diminished to me by a choice that puts them in the position of the oppressors. That was unfortunate.

So, like I said, not as good as the first two, but I still loved reading it. Since I gave the others a 9, I will give Mockingjay a 7.

Friday, September 3, 2010

10/10/10 and The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck

I'm making a lot more progress on the challenge ever since I realized how many of the books I was reading were not counting toward it! I've buckled down and started focusing more on the books in my categories, and it's going much faster now. 

Most recently finished: The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck, which was good but made me wonder why it became so famous and won a Pulitzer. Then I remembered that it's because it was written by a non-Chinese woman from the perspective of a Chinese man, and that is pretty impressive. Not as compelling as the other Asian lit I've read (primarily Amy Tan and Lisa See), but still a good read. 

The book starts out with Wang Lung as a poor young farmer, and O-lan as his new bride. It follows their life together--the children who join their family, the famines and wars that affect them, and eventually their children's lives as they become adults. It turns out I don't like Wang Lung very much, but it's hard to tell how much of that is just the culture of the time, and how much is his personality. I will tell you this for free--historically, reading books of this kind does not make me think well of Chinese men in general. 

It's a pretty fast read, so if you're looking to check out one of the classics or branch out into some international literature, I'd recommend it. On my rating scale I think I give it a 6.5.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Christmas List 2010: Second Edition!

I told you there'd be multiple editions of this list! The first revisions come after I was finally able to decide how to use the Amazon gift card that Miki gave me for my birthday. I bought two of the books from this list: Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, and East, by Edith Pattou. (Incidentally, both of these books are fantastic and you should read them.)

Also, for Nathalie and other family members: I'm making a page for this list, so you won't have to go back and look for this post. It'll be in the left sidebar, right under the "About Me" section.



This is important, regarding all the Books of Bayern: I want the old covers, not the new ones with actual people on them! That's why I haven't bought them yet myself; the new covers are the easiest to find.

Book 1, Book 2, and Book 3

Seasons 2 and 3
Seasons 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, and 9
Seasons 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8

These Disney sing-alongs (doesn't matter if they're DVD or VHS): 


The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan--9/10

Without any introduction, I would like to say just how much I loved this book. Yes, it took me absolutely forever to read--something like two or three months, I don't even know more accurately than that--but it wasn't because I wasn't thoroughly enjoying it! I have just had a ton of things going on this summer and my reading time has been cut short.

Seriously, though, I think this is my favorite of all the food books I've read so far--it even beats out Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which is by one of my all-time favorite authors, so that is saying something. It is a shame that it's so long, because I know that will make it more difficult for people to read.

The Omnivore's Dilemma follows three food chains from beginning to end, starting with where the food is grown and ending in a meal eaten by the author. First is the industrial food chain, which ends with a meal from McDonald's eaten in the car while driving. This section reads much like Fast Food Nation and others of that kind--basically, a lot of information that makes me wonder how I ever eat at fast food restaurants. 

The second food chain is organic, and it's really two food chains: what he calls big organic (like  Whole Foods and Trader Joe's), and pastoral organic, which is food that is all grown on a farm he visits for about a week. Interestingly, the big organic section felt a lot like the industrial section, which I think says something about the actual quality of that food system. What I really loved was the pastoral, where Michael Pollan explains the intricate dynamics of the organic farm he was visiting, and the countless ways that nature--all by itself, without any help from science--works to create an amazing food system.

The last food chain is the hunter-gatherer food chain, in which Michael Pollan hunts, forages, and grows everything for his meal himself. This part was fascinating, in large part because I have exactly zero experience with that food chain. 

If you don't think you can read the whole book, I suggest starting in the middle and reading through the pastoral and the hunter-gatherer food chains. These were the parts that had me absolutely enthralled, and I seriously can't wait to read Michael Pollan's other books in the hopes that they will have more of the same wonderful experience.