Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Book Review: The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon

I should really accept the fact that at this point in my life, I know what I like. But I don't accept that, and I always think that if I go out on a limb and try something in a new style, maybe this time will be different. Michael Chabon proved that, in his case...it was not.

I don't like mystery novels. Well, strike that. I don't like mystery novels where the entire plot hinges on the mystery and is not somehow related to the creation of sub-plots and character development. I think C...more I should really accept the fact that at this point in my life, I know what I like. But I don't accept that, and I always think that if I go out on a limb and try something in a new style, maybe this time will be different. Michael Chabon proved that, in his case...it was not.

I don't like mystery novels. Well, strike that. I don't like mystery novels where the entire plot hinges on the mystery and is not somehow related to the creation of sub-plots and character development. I think Chabon expected he was doing this, which might be true for people who are accustomed to reading mysteries. But for me, it just seemed so far steeped in this obsession with the mystery element of the plot that it entirely glazed over all the most interesting elements.

The interesting parts I'm referring to are the alternative history aspects. This part, I loved, and were it not for this part I would have likely abandoned the novel altogether and opted not to finish the 400+ pages. And the novel did eventually stop meandering around the mystery and get to some elements of this. Even the mystery got more interesting, and by the last quarter of the book I found myself genuinely compelled to find out the ending. But 300 pages is a long way to go to get to that point. Far too long.

Ultimately, I think Chabon is a great writer. I would even be interested in trying some of his more acclaimed books, as I'd like to think that acclaim is a good barometer for the quality of the plot, and I genuinely like his writing style. Some of the metaphors and turns of phrase he comes up with are uniquely impeccable to the situation in the story. But overall, I felt like I read a book that, majority of the time, I only sort of liked, and for that reason, I was only sort of satisfied. If you like a good mystery told in a unique and different way, then you would most likely disagree.

This review was reposted and expanded from my review at Good Reads. Oh, you love reading and reviewing books, too? Join! We can be friends!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Fall of the Berlin Wall: November 9th, 1989

Twenty Years Ago...

I realize I am a day late doing this post, one I've been planning to do for some time, but real life in the form of a packed schedule of errands got in the way today, and I wasn't able to write this all down until now.

However, as someone who lived, albeit a short while, in Berlin and who has been personally touched by the richness of the city, and as a passionate fan and student of German culture and history, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is something I really wanted to mark. Especially because so many of the people I've talked to recently have little to no understanding of the full significance of this day in history.

As with most historical moments, I believe that pictures often say a lot more than words:


At midnight on Saturday, August 12th, 1961, construction of the wall begins under the orders of Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev. The wall was constructed in response to the mass exodus of East Berliners to West Berlin in anticipation of the restrictions that would be placed on East Berlin under the Soviet Bloc. Border is closed by morning of Sunday, August 13th, 1961. Immigration from East to West is restricted and West Berlin is enclosed within the borders of East Germany, dividing those living in East Berlin from West Berlin indefinitely.


The city of Berlin, as well as East and West Germany, remains separated by the wall, consisting of an expanse of "no man's land" that makes illegal crossings virtually impossible. Soviet officers are ordered to shoot on command anyone who tries to escape. Tensions with East Germany continue to rise throughout the reign of Soviet control.

There are roughly 5,000 successful escapes from East to West, though escape attempts account for 136 deaths, with some claiming the actual number to be around 200. Those wounded in escape attempts are not permitted help for fear of setting off fire from east german guards. One notable preventable is of a man named Peter Fechter, who is shot and then forced to bleed out, all under the watchful eyes of the western media in August 1962. He becomes a symbol for the inhumanity of life in East Berlin and the inhumanity of the wall itself. Other stories of escape attempts, both successful and not, are compiled and presented by the Checkpoint Charlie museum, a must-stop for any visitor to Berlin today.

Tensions come to a boiling point in the late 80s. Gorbachev is elected leader of Soviet Union and things begin to change, slowly but surely. Further, massive peaceful protests break out in East Germany beginning in September 1989, the largest a huge demonstration in East Berlin's Alexanderplatz attended by half a million people. Refugees also began escaping through routes assisted by decreased immigration restrictions between East Germany and Czechoslovaki and Hungary.


A press conference on November 9th, 1989, originally intended to announce eased immigration restrictions from East to West Berlin at a later date, results in an announcement that the borders are open immediately. Thousands flood the checkpoints, rendering any response by border guards useless. The guards are thus instructed to stand down and allow people to cross through the check points, causing celebration in the streets as East Germans get their first taste of freedom in West Berlin.

In the days and weeks that followed the opening of the borders, the wall came down. Many played a part in tearing down the wall themselves, sometimes with their bare hands, and all that remains of the wall is a few spare spots left for the purpose of memorial.


Reunification was by no means an easy process for East and West Germany and in many ways, the country is still not fully unified. But there is little doubt that majority of Germans are happier now in a unified Germany, as evidenced by the widespread celebration for the 20th Anniversary yesterday. Here is some great stuff from that celebration:

I loved one of the things that Barack Obama said in his video-taped speech. "Human destiny is what human beings make of it."

Dominoes erected to represent the wall were painted by school children around the world and then knocked down to mark the anniversary, to the minute, of when the borders were opened.

It is an understatement to the suggest that the wall was merely a product of the Cold War and that it's fall was merely a marker for the end of the Cold War. Rather, what is moving about the fall of the wall, about understanding the whole story, is the perspective its history gives on the capacity of humanity to endure and of the importance of freedom for all people.

If you'd like to study more, and I really suggest you do, here is some more information on the history of the wall:

Multimedia Chronicle of the Wall
Newseum - An interactive Museum on Berlin Wall History
Animated Video of the actual make-up of the Wall's defense system

Also, here are previews for three very good German movies that really make the history of the wall come alive:

DER TUNNEL (2001) - One of the most moving stories on The Wall I've seen

Friday, November 06, 2009

Ten Songs On A Thought: NaNoWriMo Edition

For those of you who don't know why I've been neglecting my blog lately, it's partially because I am really trying to get some personal business in order (substitute teaching license, graduate school applications, etc.) but also largely because this year I am, for the first time, participating in NaNoWriMo.

Now, you may not know what NaNoWriMo is. Conveniently, I will now tell you. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and is held each November. The goal is to write a novel (at least 50,000 words), start to finish, during the month of November. What I think is really a novel concept (no pun intended) is that the emphasis is not on producing quality work or rather, is not concerned with achieving immediate quality. The idea of the process is to get the words on page and really hammer it out so that at the end of the month you can say you're officially a novelist and then you have a wealth of raw material to work with.

I have never written a novel before. I have written a lot of moderately successful poetry (I've even been published a few times, which is nice) and I have also done some work with short stories, but it is really nice to have a specific reason to discipline myself and write this novel. As of right now, I am exactly 7,864 words in and I'm hoping to surpass 10,000 by the end of tomorrow. I don't know why I decided to take this on during such a busy month, but in a way, it is helping me focus and juice up my creativity so I can be more successful at other pursuits.

In any event, I think it's a really exciting organization. It's definitely worthwhile to encourage artistic creation for the sake of creativity and enrichment of human experience. If you would like to donate to this organization and help not only fuel this cause but also support their Young Writers Program, please go here.

In honor of my NaNoWriMo pursuits, this week's "Ten Songs On A Thought" features "Songs for Writing a Novel in Thirty Days" and I have encouraged other such folks to leave their thoughts. I encourage you to leave yours as well...any suggestion just might help power me through a couple hundred more words. For those who don't already know, the goal is to come up with the first ten songs that come to your head on the topic without an eye for editing or placement...kind of like a NaNoWriMo novel, no?


  1. Pass This On - The Knife listen
  2. Cast A Hook - Laura Veirs listen
  3. Heartless - Kanye West listen
  4. I Will Possess Your Heart - Death Cab For Cutie listen
  5. How Low - Jose Gonzalez listen
  6. The Wrote & The Writ - Johnny Flynn listen
  7. Horse & I - Bat For Lashes listen
  8. There There - Radiohead listen
  9. Just Like Honey - The Jesus & Mary Chain listen
  10. Swansea - Joanna Newsom listen
Note: I can't contextually explain the Kanye either, but according to iTunes, I've listened to it four times since beginning this process. And iTunes never lies.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ten Songs On A Thought: Songs For When You're Snowed In

Something about being snowed in: it makes me introspective. I lay down on the couch with a blanket in front of the fire and the music I want to listen to is quiet and soft and pretty and maybe, sometimes a little sad. I was thinking of that today, because Colorado is enveloped in inches and inches of snow and while I realize this is similar to another topic (sweater weather, if you remember), I think music for being snowed in has its own vibe...the kind of music you listen to alone with headphones on when you feel like you have a chance to lay and think for awhile.

For those who don't know, each week I choose a topic and write down the first ten songs that come to mind on that topic in no particular order. Then you do the same. Easy enough, right? I give you:

  1. Ambulance - TV On The Radio listen
  2. Cinder and Smoke - Iron & Wine listen
  3. The District Sleeps Alone Tonight - The Postal Service listen
  4. Hide and Seek - Imogen Heap listen
  5. New Slang - The Shins listen
  6. Wet Ground - Sondre Lerche
  7. For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti - Sufjan Stevens listen
  8. Joga - Bjork listen
  9. Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) - The Arcade Fire listen
  10. White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes listen

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I know I advocate a lot of ideas on this blog, as I believe it is my duty as a citizen of this country to stir discussion on a variety of topics. However, one thing I haven't advocated is that everyone should


to tell them what you want on ANY hot topic but especially on healthcare. Clearly, I am an advocate for healthcare, but I am also an advocate for building provisions that reduce the actual cost of healthcare rather than just creating coverage for all. I can't do anything about this without contacting the individuals in charge, so:


We are lucky enough to live in a democratic society and our system for communicating our ideas is seriously underutilized. I am flabbergasted whenever I look at reputable opinions polls and compare them to the actual ideas being presented in Congress so sound off and encourage your friends to do so as well. Democracy starts with you!

Friday, October 23, 2009

AcademicEarth.org : College Lectures for Anyone

I gotta say, I don't think I've ever been as enthralled or as excited about something I discovered on the internet as I am about Academic Earth and other sites like it. I had heard about it from a few different places: Time Magazine has spotlighted it once or twice and I've stumbled across the name in newspapers before, most notably this article from the Washington Post.

However, I hadn't gotten around to trying it out myself until today, and I was blown away by how much I liked it. Since I am brushing up for my grad school applications, I decided to try out a literature course and began the series of lectures on "American Literature since 1945" from Yale University's Professor Amy Hungerford. I immediately felt engaged by the content and even compelled to take notes on what she was saying, just as I would in a regular classroom.

I have always believed that the internet is an underutilized resource for the dissemination of academic information to those who are willing but otherwise unable to acquire this information readily. What better way to do this than to see lectures from some of the finest educational institutions in the world? It's an idea whose time has definitely arrived, and I look forward to seeing what other content becomes available.

Academic Earth is not the first or only place to offer this kind of info, and I have provided some links below with further information. I have simply found that Academic Earth is one of the easiest platforms for this kind of information, but there is a wealth of information available if you sift through the offerings, particularly if you would be happy with audio files alone rather than video.

I really do encourage everyone I know to spend his or her free time engaging in something that he or she would like to learn. Lectures like this prove that you don't have to be immersed in the depths of academia or a high level critic to appreciate the benefits of growing your knowledge, and I can't wait until I have time to listen to my next lecture.

Links to academic lectures online:

Academic Earth
Open Culture
OpenCourseware Consortium
You can also find some info online by searching iTunes U in the iTunes store

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pogo is Neat

So there is this guy named Pogo and he is an electronic artist from Australia and he has gotten a lot of attention on the youtube and such for making these really intricate pieces composed entirely from one movie or scene from a movie, mostly kids movies from what I can tell. His best known piece is Alice (linked below) but he has some other really interesting pieces as well. I'm really digging it, so check it out!

Oh, and did I mention you can get all of his music for free here?

To see other videos, check out his youtube page.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ten Songs On A Thought: Songs For A Sweaty Dance Party (Indie Rock Edition)

After watching the movie Fame (hold your laughter, it was free and entertaining for the cheesy movie it is), I remembered how much fun I used to have dancing when I lived in Germany and at clubs and parties during my college years. I guess I've liked dancing for a long time...I do remember trying to recreate music videos in the eighties when I was 4 at most. I, however, am not much on the skill front dancing wise. But I can't resist a good dance party.

My theme this week is "Songs For A Sweaty Dance Party (Indie Rock Edition)" because as soon as I tried to mentally compile my list, I knew it would be impossible to do so without somehow limiting genre. This also gives me an excuse to do other editions, which is ultimately very important to the success of this blog. Naturally. Also, I really want to underscore the word sweaty. Sweat is an essential part of any successful dance party, at least in my book.

Anyway, you know the drill. I mention the first ten songs that came to mind on the thought, without regard for order. Then you do the same. Simple, right?

Ten Songs For A Sweaty Dance Party (Indie Rock Edition)
  1. Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt - We Are Scientists listen
  2. Hummer - Foals listen
  3. Electric Feel - MGMT listen
  4. Young Folks - Peter, Bjorn and John listen
  5. Banquet - Bloc Party listen
  6. Worked Up So Sexual - The Faint listen
  7. Heartbeats - The Knife listen
  8. Oslo In The Summertime - Of Montreal listen
  9. Cowbell - Tapes n' Tapes listen
  10. Apply Some Pressure - Maximo Park listen
What about you? What are your picks? You can restrict genre if you like or you can be free-form. I won't restrict you with my rules, man.

Balloon Boy: For Real?

I can't resist the urge to say a little something about this since it happened in my own part of the world...but do we think the balloon boys parents are for real? I mean, it seems insane to me that the kid could say "You said that we did this for the show" and that the family doesn't want to let reporters follow up on a comment like that.

I mean, it made for a rather entertaining 2 hours of television, if not a little terrifying, but the fact that the kid was in the attic (and the Larimer County Sheriff didn't think to check there before sending in the National Guard? Where are my tax dollars going in this county?) the entire time, and the family has not only been on reality tv but is mentioned in an acting book somewhere. I don't know. Seems a little odd.

I'm officially polling. Do you think this family is being legit?

Read this article, dudes

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Book Review (Kinda): All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

I almost never abandon books. Ever. If it's really bad, I'll put it down a week and come back. I kept telling myself I should read this book. Oh, it's won awards! It's an important text! But I was fooling myself.

It was bad, and I didn't enjoy it, and after devoting my time to 100 pages, nearly half the book, I realized that I did not and had never had any desire to finish it. Oh, and the plot alluded to? Definitely not hit by 100 pages in. 100 pages and the plot summary STILL did not match what I was reading. I have a stack of books as tall as I am that says tick-freaking-tock. This was not worth the time I had already invested.

I realize this is the least in depth review I've ever given on this site. I'm okay with that. I kind of feel like I maybe invested the amount of time in this review that McCarthy invested in planning out a plot for this book.

This review was reposted and expanded from my review at Good Reads. Oh, you love reading and reviewing books, too? Join! We can be friends!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

"Is Your Baby Racist?" - Newsweek, September 14th, 2009

I was reading some older magazines at the gym and came across the
Newsweek from September 14th, 2009 with the cover story "Is Your Baby Racist?". I found this story totally fascinating! It's culled from a chapter in a new book called Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. Lucky for me, I have a friend who has already purchased this book, so I will get to read it whenever he is finished, but this article definitely helped pique my interest in the book.

You should take the time to read the entire article (linked above) if you get the chance, but I'll summarize some of the most interesting points for discussion:

  • Even among families that volunteered to participate in a study that investigated children's perceptions of race, researchers found that parents were reluctant to discuss race at all with their children because they felt that not discussing race allowed their children to be "colorblind." In fact, the study found that children are able to distinguish differences in race as early as 6 months old

  • Researchers found that parents who did discuss race used vague terms like "Everyone is equal" or "We're all friends" which did not actually help children process their own questions about race. This leads not necessarily to discrimination but rather to preferences for one's own group. To quote the article:

    Kids are developmentally prone to in-group favoritism; they're going to form these preferences on their own. Children naturally try to categorize everything, and the attribute they rely on is that which is the most clearly visible....children extend their shared appearances much further—believing that those who look similar to them enjoy the same things they do. Anything a child doesn't like thus belongs to those who look the least similar to him. The spontaneous tendency to assume your group shares characteristics—such as niceness, or smarts—is called essentialism.

  • Research suggests that by age 8 or so, when most parents finally figure it is necessary to talk about race, children's opinions about race have mostly formed, whereas discussing it earlier tends to allow children to openly question their curiosities about race. The idea is that they are not necessarily prompted to discriminate immediately, nor do they see any specific reason to, but rather that their self identification with their own race can lead to classifying others precisely as that -- "others."

  • Sadly, school integration may not be the key. Research found that "the more diverse the school, the more the kids self-segregate by race and ethnicity within the school, and thus the likelihood that any two kids of different races have a friendship goes down." This is perhaps because students recognize more social constructs around them that center around race (one example might be a lunch table that a student assumedly cannot sit at because it is populated by another race) and thus is less likely to pursue opportunities to interact with students of other races.

  • Interestingly enough, informing kids about the sordid history of racial discRimination at an earlier age may be the key to preventing such group discrimination. Another interesting excerpt:

    Bigler ran a study in which children read brief biographies of famous African-Americans. For instance, in a biography of Jackie Robinson, they read that he was the first African-American in the major leagues. But only half read about how he'd previously been relegated to the Negro Leagues, and how he suffered taunts from white fans. Those facts—in five brief sentences were omitted in the version given to the other children.

    After the two-week history class, the children were surveyed on their racial attitudes. White children who got the full story about historical discrimination had significantly better attitudes toward blacks than those who got the neutered version. Explicitness works. "It also made them feel some guilt," Bigler adds. "It knocked down their glorified view of white people." They couldn't justify in-group superiority.

Anyhow, that's just a tiny snippet of some of the interesting stuff contained in the article, and it really makes me wonder how racial discrimination has shifted, especially with the election of a mixed-race president, which seems like it would be an opportune point for discussion between parents and their children.

It seems especially poignant that as older generations who grew up with more prevalent racism age, the newer generations are faced with their own unique obstacles to discussing race, such as the assumption that children are "naturally colorblind," which seems a bit idealized when you think about it. That said, I don't think children have a natural tendency to discriminate, and it seems to me to be more of an issue of not addressing a natural curiosity that arises about something in the child's world.

I know I have a couple parents who read the blog, how have you tackled the question of race with your children? How did your parents tackle it with you?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Fall Television Weigh-In

Now, as much as I love television, I don't watch every show that premieres. I don't have the time, or patience, or in most cases as of late, the slightest interest. Not to mention my addiction to Bravo style reality shows leaves me pretty busy, even with the benefit of a DVR. I just have to do what I can do when I can do it.

But still, there are some shows I am loving this fall. Naturally, I am excited about the return of certain old standby favorites...the current seasons of both Project Runway and Top Chef: Las Vegas have been excellent so far, and I'm really pumped for The Amazing Race (I want the kid with Asperger's to win!). But I thought I'd give some thoughts on the three new shows that I am really digging and see what you all think of them as well.


Community is one of those shows that so far is so good and so funny and so original that I'm worried it's going to get cancelled after the first season. After sampling some of the "best" sitcoms on television and being annoyed by the sheer amount of cheese, I was excited to see something premiere that for me is on par with the likes of 30 Rock or Arrested Development for the quality of humor and the originality of concept.

It was definitely a smart move to cast Chevy Chase in this show, because his experience brings a lot to the table, but it's Joel McHale (of The Soup fame) who really carries the show as its leading man. McHale plays Jeff, a successful lawyer who must go to community college in order to please the bar after his original college degree is proved to be fraudulent. I was happy to see that the kind of deadpan delivery and wit that McHale brings to The Soup translated to scripted comedy flawlessly, and I'm glad to see someone so genuinely talented getting a chance at his own show.

One of the breakout stars of the show is Danny Pudi who plays Abed, a very blunt and straightforward character with Asperger's whose timing and delivery is unmatched. This show is, frankly, one of the best I've seen in years and you would be seriously disappointed if you didn't do yourself the favor of catching up with the season on Hulu. Lucky for you, I provided you with a link. You could watch right now! Or you could watch on NBC Thursdays at 8/7c.


I'll admit, the first time I saw previews for this show, I didn't think it was going to be that good. I thought it was going to be another show that relied on a bunch of stupid cliches for cheap laughs. And while there are some cliches (I sometimes feel that, while hilarious, the gay couple on the show is a series of "gay man" caricatures), I think the show is original in its handling of the cliches. In fact, the strength of the show is its ability to take those stereotypes and make them funny again by forcing them all together into one family dynamic. What emerges from this mix is some pretty witty satire on the modern family (thus the title, I assume) and it's just a funny show to watch.

For me, Eric Stonestreet's over the top portrayal of a proud gay man in a couple that just adopted a baby is fantastic. I thought at first that he would be the main tool of cliche dispensation, but what I like about his choices is that they seem very natural. Sure, he's flamboyant but he also seems like a real guy. There is a moment in the second episode in which he reacts to one woman's criticism of Meryl Streep that just slays me each time I see it. I was also really impressed by one of the kids on the show, an actor named Rico Rodriquez, who plays Manny, an over the top romantic little ten year old who professes his love to a sixteen year old girl who works at the instant photo booth at the mall with a poem and a frilly white shirt. This kid is excellent. He practically makes the show himself.

The show is on ABC on Wednesdays at 9/8c.


ABC is well aware that when Lost finally ends in early 2010, they'll have a gap to fill. They want to keep their audience engaged and so they're clearly looking for something to fill that gap. I believe Flash Forward was one of the ways they were hoping to do that, so I was skeptical that it would be all that successful. So far, though, I'm really interested in what they have going on on this show, and I hope it can keep the momentum that its had since the first episode.

Now, I'll be the first to admit it-- this show is kind of cheesy. Maybe really cheesy. But I also know that I have a lower tolerance for cheese than the average viewer, especially in a seemingly "sci-fi" sort of plotline, and I still think this show has an interesting premise, so that says a lot. The basic plot of the show is that the entire world blacks out one morning for 2 minutes and 17 seconds, only to determine that each of them had a "flash forward" in which they experienced their lives roughly 6 months from that date. Obviously lends itself to a lot of drama and interesting twists, but could also easily fizzle out if the show doesnt handle the issue of passing time delicately. I've heard that the show was originally conceived as a mini-series, which seems smart, but I wonder if ABC will take the success and try to stretch it out for multiple seasons, which could definitely lead to some crappy gaps in the drama.

I will say that Joseph Fiennes has the making of any great leading man, and not just because he's so delightful to look at. He has a solid sense of delivery, which is rare for an action-packed show, I've found. I'll be interested to see how long this show can keep it's momentum. It's on every Thursday on ABC at 8/7c.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Time Magazine on Glenn Beck

I don't like Glenn Beck. I'm not gonna sugarcoat that one. And I just plain don't think that the stuff he says is necessarily good for America. Not that I think he shouldn't have the right to say it, and I thank God that I live in a country where he has that right, but anyone who thinks that he's somehow speaking the "truth" to the country is seriously dilusional about the world we live in, let alone what decade we live in.

To be fair, I haven't listened to much of his show at length, mostly because the one time I tried, I was infuriated about 30 seconds in. But I do know that most of the quotes I hear from him that infuriate me most are those that stoke the fires of racial tension in the US (some particularly horrifying quotes of his, including a forced "blackface" voice here). It is comical to me that anyone argues that his hatred of Obama does not stem partially from the President's race.

Yes, I realize that conservative talking heads would attack a Democratic president regardless but I think the election of a black man to the office has opened up a pandora's box of ugly rhetoric and viscious thinking that I had really wished I wouldn't see again in this country, and in my opinion, Glenn Beck is one of the spearheads of this movement. I believe his tactics are based less on news or fact than they are on intentional fear-mongering and biased pandering to a specific demographic.

Video of Glenn Beck's statement that Obama is racist

I believe he knows he taps into people's fear and is using it to make money, not even necessarily espouse something he truly believes. And if he truly does believe it, then I don't like him for being a racist, pompous hypocritical fascist. The only thing that brings me solace is that these racially charged comments are the primary reason that so many advertisers pulled their advertisements from Beck's program. It helps me to believe that I'm not in the minority of Americans who won't tolerate those kind of statements as the norm.

Now I will be the first to admit that there are radicals on any side of a debate. And when a liberal commentator says something that I disagree with vehemently, I'm just as happy to denounce it. However, I think Glenn Beck is not only in poor taste but it actually disheartens me a little to think that people listen to and give merit to what Glenn Beck has to say. It really upsets me, truly, and I am reluctant to even discuss him with my conservative friends because I can openly say that if I found out a friend of mine was a Glenn Beck fan and thought what he said was real "truth," I don't know if I'd be able to maintain the friendship because I don't know if I would want to associate myself with people who would support someone who stirs that kind of hate and fear. Honest to goodness. Luckily, I'd like to think that most of my friends are the type of people who would be able to think rationally and see past that kind of scaremongering. Unfortunately, his seeming popularity leaves me unsure about that assertion.

That said, Time Magazine ran an article on Glenn Beck two weeks ago that I thought was interesting. I didn't like it, because in some ways it seemed to glorify Beck but I also respect that Time does try to, at least some of the time, give merit to both sides of any debate. But what I liked best is this week's issue, when the Letters section featured the first letter I've ever read that sounds like it could have been written by me myself:

"Deanna Frankowski, the Beck fan mentioned in your article, is "sick and tired of being ignored"? Give me a break! I had to wait through eight years of an Administration that brought this country to the brink. Frankowski should sit down quietly while the rest of us get to the task of cleaning up Bush's mess. Besides, this health-care debate isn't about those over 30; it's about the millions of uninsured, recently graduated young people saddled with loans we can't imagine paying off, who are sick and tired of living in an abyss created by our elders' stupidity. Obama would be smart to focus on college towns. Step aside, Grandma. We want health care, and we want it now." -Agnieszka Marczak, Lincoln, RI

Thank you, Agnieszka. I couldn't agree more, even if I'm partial to subtler wording. And worry not...Beck would probably not like you either, on account of your foreign sounding name.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Ten Songs On A Thought: Songs To Celebrate A New Start

This weeks theme for Ten Songs On A Thought? Songs To Celebrate A New Beginning. For me, this was about celebrating the fact that after 16 months of absolutely hating (loathing, abhorring, coming home from and crying about) my job at a local restaurant, I finally got the guts to quit, regardless of the financial outcome.

The idea behind this feature is, I'll write down the first ten songs that come to mind without any real editing, and I encourage you, the reader, to do the same. It's fun!

Ten Songs To Celebrate A New Beginning
  1. Brand New Colony - The Postal Service
  2. Independence Day - Elliott Smith
  3. The Box - Johnny Flynn
  4. Pink Light - Laura Veirs
  5. Sleep The Clock Around - Belle and Sebastian
  6. Caring Is Creepy - The Shins
  7. Prescilla - Bat For Lashes
  8. Oh, Mandy - The Spinto Band
  9. Let's Get Out Of This Country - Camera Obscura
  10. In This Home On Ice - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
What are your ten?

Book Review: In The Bedroom by Andre Dubus

This collection is a series of short stories by Andre Dubus culled from his other works and is ostensibly patterned around stories that handle characters at pivotal moments in their lives. I found this theme to be what was ultimately so moving about this collection of work, particularly reading the stories all together.

The first story, "Killings" was the basis for the movie In The Bedroom, as the preface by Todd Field illuminates, and incidentally, I found "Killings" to be one of the least compelling stories in the book, perhaps because it really would make a better movie (and thus, why I am now dying to see the movie In The Bedroom).

What I found most interesting about the stories was the idea of loss as indicated by a change in one's state of mind or quality of living. Each story dealt with the idea that something big has happened and then investigated whether things could or could not go back to the way they were before. Whether this end was sought through some sort of atonement, or reminiscence, or a physical action, this return to when times were better or different was a string throughout. It felt a bit like a thought that guided you by the hand through each story, making each one richer than the one before it.

All of these stories have a heartbreaking resonance with the human spirit that is a testament to Dubus' skills as a writer. He is king of the short story, for each of his stories is exactly as long as it needs to be, and he provides the exact amount of detail necessary to satiate the reader without limiting the capacity for reader response. As a writer of short stories, it was really a treat to see someone so adept at the genre make such skill seem so effortless.

I would recommend this book to just about anyone, but particular to those who are fans of the short story format, for it is on excellent display here. My favorite stories in the book are "Rose," "The Winter Father," and "The Fat Girl," but all of them are excellent, excellent stories and I can't wait to read more Dubus.

This review was reposted and expanded from my review at Good Reads. Oh, you love reading and reviewing books, too? Join! We can be friends!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Two More Stop-Animations

Guys, I made two more animations! I gotta admit, I love them both as much as my owl, but my heart is really beginning to love the caterpillar one the best. Of course, that would be like picking a favorite child, which people never do, of course.

These animations were an activity for The Greenhouse, which is a creativity collective I'm in with some of my friends where we are attempting to get together once a week and work on creative projects in a variety of medias to spawn further creative thought for both our group and individual endeavors. I think it stems partially from our mutual appreciation of Ira Glass' discussion on taste and the creative process but so far has just been a really good and uplifting way to get together with like-minded people and make use of our time in a thought-provoking manner. Let me know what you think of these!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Banned Book Week: September 26−October 3, 2009

I have always been vehement in my opinion on book banning: I'm 100% against it. Nothing seems more fundamentally in opposition with the ideas of freedom of speech and freedom of choice than the idea of limiting content in the written word from the public eye. The sordid history of book-banning has long been a tool for oppressing the frank and open discussion of race, sexuality, violence and other cultural issues in an intellectual venue. Literature has a way of tackling these issues that few creative mediums can, and the continued treatment of such issues is necessary in provoking informed discussion about our ever-changing culture.

Now, I understand that with the issue of their own children, some parents may exercise the right to keep their children from reading certain books, just as some parents may choose not to allow certain television, movies, or music into the home. But when arbitrary panels of lawmakers, parent groups, or educators take the matter into their own hands, they are refusing students the ability to make their own decisions about what is suitable reading material, effectively limiting their ability to discover the world around them through an intellectual medium that provides open and thoughtful discussion on a topic.

The act of reading itself is always a choice: no one can force you to read the words on the page, even if they put the book in front of your eyes. Why shouldn't that choice be left to the person doing the reading? And where do the limits on suitable material stop? It is already easy to notice the trends in some of the most commonly banned books of all time (the list of the top 100 can be found here) and they seem to revolve around books that deal with race, sexuality, gender confusion or violence. It is logical to suggest that the censorship is used entirely as a way of attempting to suppress discussion or advancement on such issues and in turn suppress such people. The only thing offensive about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is that a black man is allowed to be a character, and the frank discussion about the validity of slavery and the treatment of black people that it suggests.

In any event, I encourage you all to read banned books and exercise your right to make choices for yourselves. Because ultimately, that is a freedom we all have and that extends to your choice in books.

For useful information on banned books, check out these websites:

ALA Banned Books Week
AS IF! Authors Support Intellectual Freedom
Huffington Post - Banned Books Week: Still Needed In The US
Banned Books Week Website
The Map Of Book Censorship - this one really gets me

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ira Glass on Taste

I am a self-professed Ira Glass fan girl. I'm a huge fan of This American Life (both the radio and tv versions) and I just think he is a genuinely insightful, creative man with a lot to offer artists and thinking types of all sorts.

However, this clip on taste is one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received from anyone on the topic of creativity. It's part of a four video series on Storytelling that is in and of itself quite informative, but this part is the most worthwhile, I think, and I believe sums up the struggle that anyone pursuing a creative endeavor, regardless of type, must go through:

How fantastic is that advice? For those of you who aren't huge fans of Ira Glass by now, check out the website for This American Life.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Feature I'm Considering? Ten Songs On A Thought

So you know how cool blogs with lots of comment happy fans usually find some resourceful way to create common features? I tried the haiku polls, not sure I'll keep up with them since no one was cool enough to submit answers (if they're wanted, I demand that readers express demand!), but I thought I'd try this idea here. It's sort of like a mixtape. Sort of, I guess.

Basically, I'll present a thought or theme for the ten songs, and suggest the first ten songs that come to mind for that theme. There doesn't have to be any rhyme or reason to why the songs come to mind, they just do. I want to toy with the idea that music can provide a sort of sense memory or thematic element that isnt always present in the music itself. I then encourage you, the blog reader, to present your own ten. It's fun!

Ten Songs On A Thought
Songs That Feel Like Sweater Weather

  1. White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes
  2. Blacking Out The Friction - Death Cab For Cutie
  3. The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us! - Sufjan Stevens
  4. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out - The Smiths
  5. Us - Regina Spektor
  6. No Surprises - Radiohead
  7. The Dream Of Evan and Chan - Dntel
  8. Crutch - Pinback
  9. Blood Bank - Bon Iver
  10. Oh, Comely - Neutral Milk Hotel

So what are your ten?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Forcefeeding in Mauritania" from Marie Claire, Oct 09

Today while at the gym, after both my Time and Nylon Magazines had run out with me (I'm too hardcore to be contained on the elliptical as far as reading material is concerned), I turned to Marie Claire and stumbled upon an interesting, albeit very sad article about the practice of forcefeeding young girls in Mauritania for cosmetic purposes. That article can be found here.

A summary of the article, essentially, is that because of cultural norms associated with female obesity representing a husband's prosperity, obesity and stretch marks have become the height of cosmetic allure in Mauritania. Further, a woman's soft, rolling flesh has been considered to make a girl seem older and thus ready for marriage, allowing her family to marry her off earlier. Consequently, girls are being sent to "force-feeding" camps for weeks at a time where they are forced to consume as much as 16,000 calories a day and lie around without exercise to insure that the food becomes fat, rather than muscle.

The story is shocking and truly sad in many ways, not least because many of these girls have no desire to change their bodies. Many of them have at least been exposed to Western culture and are not of the mindset that fat is beautiful. Further, it is clear that forcing so many calories on a young girl, let alone contributing to morbid obesity so directly, is tantamount to child abuse. Ethnocentristic views on the relative merits of fat beauty aside, its not healthy and ought to be viewed as an issue worthy of intervention.

However, what I find a little shocking is the brazen manner in which the article handles such an issue with shock and horror but makes little mention of the reverse behavior being essentially condoned by western society. Our obsessive views on the merits of thinness lead to fat camps, parent inflicted dieting, and widespread eating disorders, and our media only perpetuates these impossible norms, markedly influencing the behavior of young women. It is a near guarantee that in many cases, these views are reinforced by overbearing parents who continually remind their daughters of the importance of remaining thin.

This is not to say that combatting obesity is a bad idea. Of course it is a good idea, because promoting healthy behavior, especially in youth, is always a good idea. I am simply stating that the opposite behavior of perpetuating overly thin ideals is just as unhealthy as perpetuating obesity.

I don't mean this to downplay the sadness of the article itself, but given that the pages of Marie Claire are littered with ridiculously thin models (particularly because this seasons shows, more than many I've seen previously, seemed overwraught with skeletal gauntness), Marie Claire could pay heed to the fact that our culture perpetuates the opposite views at times to similar extremes. I think its just a bit sad in general that all over the world, women are held to impossible standards of beauty (relative to their culture) that for most women are impossible or unhealthy to achieve.

Photo credit of Marie Claire/Joost De Raeymaeker

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Best Part Of Waking Up

You guys, I made this myself! My friends are starting a sort of creativity collective where each Sunday we devote time to doing something creative, and this was my first project! Let me know what you think...better yet, go straight to YouTube and leave ratings and comments there, too!

Really though, proud of me for doing something new.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

From NPR: Almost 3/4 of Doctors Support Public Option

Just found an interesting story on doctor's opinions and healthcare reform. I originally heard it on NPR "All Things Considered" yesterday afternoon and found the print version. Some highlights from the article:

  • 63% of doctors favor a plan that would include a public option as well as the freedom to purchase private insurance. This is the plan supported by Barack Obama and many others, including this particular blogger
  • Another 10% of those doctors polled say they support a public option only
  • The survey found that the support was widespread and did not differ much between specialists and generalists or those salaried or in private practice.
  • Many of the doctors who wanted a public option were AMA members, despite the fact the AMA is opposed to a public option

I stole this graph from the NPR article, linked above

What this means is that compared with polls conducted on the general public (ostensibly, patients), doctors are more in favor of a public option and that much of the political dissonance surrounding healthcare which uses doctors as an example of who might be victimized by such reform is inaccurate, at least with regard to an overwhelming majority of doctor's opinions. Certainly something to chew on.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering September 11th, 2001

I've never been one for grandiose sentimental or patriotic statements about things like this, but whenever September 11th rolls around, I like to look at some of the pictures and reflect. These pictures of people throwing themselves from the buildings always seem to hit me hardest.

Plus-Size For Me Is Plus-Hot (+ Crystal Renn)

As some of you may know, I am a big fan of fashion. But I am not such a fan of the fashion industries single-minded, outdated obsession with being dangerously thin and unhealthy. Some may argue that this trend is slowly dying out, but that just isn't so. Small steps do not equal actual progress until models on the runway start looking more like healthy women who take care of themselves, rather than emaciated skeletal beings.

That's why I was so pleased to hear about Crystal Renn's new book, Hungry, which talks about her experiences growing up in the modeling business and going from her normal weight as a young model to an emaciated weight, and back to a size 12 again to work as a plus-size model.

I've seen Renn in a lot of different ads for a long time, and I've always thought she was unbelievably gorgeous. I'm glad to see that she stuck with it and went back to her normal size, because I think she is a lot more beautiful and natural that way.

Now, I'm not saying that there aren't women who are naturally small. My younger sister, through some genetic repositioning that I clearly did not personally come in contact with, is a natural size 0. Great for her. But battling the construct of models being 5'10" and a size 2 is certainly more a matter of representing clothing and fashion in a realistic manner that makes allowances for all shapes and sizes.

Does Crystal Renn make this Jean Paul Gaultier couture gown look any less fabulous and chic by mere merit of being full-figured? Not in the slightest. If anything, I think it makes the fashion more beautiful. Renn is zaftig and comely, with curves in all the right places. This is what women want to look like in a dress, at least most women I know, and as a male friend pointed out, this is what attracts men to women. Sure, there are some guys who go for stick-figures, but there are an awful lot more men who are attracted to a voluptuous figure.

In any event, I found some of the interviews shes been doing about the book pretty enlightening. What do you think?

Crystal Renn: New Book 'Hungry' - ABC News

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Obama on Healthcare: 09/09/09

So what did you all think of the Obama speech to the joint session of Congress tonight? I haven't had a chance to watch the entire speech yet, but I've been watching all of the highlighted clips on CNN and I have to say, I was impressed.

It was really time for him to take at least some strong stances rather than sort of letting the chips fall where they may in Congress. I think he did this, particularly in his willingness to address tort reform, a typically republican issue, for the merits it does present, which is that doctors forced to cover themselves are wasting money on unneccessary procedures. It's certainly hard to find the right balance between reform and allowing victims of malpractice a venue for justice, but I do agree that some reforms need to be made in order to drive these costs down. (Side note: in general, I think Americans can be a bit lawsuit crazy on all fronts, but that is a topic for another discussion).

How about South Carolina's Rep. Joe Wilson heckling the President in the middle of his speech? As I said on my twitter page, the only thing classier in such a forum would be if Rep. Wilson had called Obama a poopie-head to boot. I'm glad to see both sides condemned it but come on, Wilson, have some decorum.

I think the best moment in the speech was this:

I think many critics of healthcare reform lose sight of the fact that we are supposed to be one of the most advanced democracies in the world and yet our system fails a huge portion of our citizens, myself included. Regardless of how it gets done, some form of coverage needs to be readily available to those people. Period.

I am also glad to hear that he openly states that he wants to eliminate the ability of insurance companies to exclude based on previous condition, faulty paperwork, etc. I think both sides can agree on that one and if nothing else comes from the reform, I think that will.

I'd like to sum up with this quote from the speech, which I wholeheartedly agree with, especially because the context of the speech is that he was addressing members of Congress. This is a quote regarding the kind of program he'd like to extend to those without insurance:

"As one big group, these customers will have greater leverage to bargain with the insurance companies for better prices and quality coverage. This is how large companies and government employees get insurance. It's how everyone in this Congress gets affordable insurance and it's time to give every American the same opportunity that we give ourselves."

I think I'm just excited to have a President who cares about the fact that I can't afford the medicine that I'm gonna run out of next month.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Movie Review: Synecdoche, New York

As a huge Charlie Kaufman fan, I've been waiting to see this movie for awhile. I didn't get around to seeing it in theatres, mostly because most people I know didn't seem interested, but I finally got around to renting it. I expected good things because Philip Seymour Hoffman is amazing and the rest of the cast is fantastic as well. But I have to say: this movie was weird.

Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I've watched and enjoyed a lot of very weird movies in my day, a lot of them Kaufman films. And this movie showed elements utilized in previous Kaufman films, particularly the likes of Being John Malkovich or Adaptation. It's instantly recognizable as something with Kaufman written all over it, and in many ways seems like a culmination of the ideas he'd been accumulating and refining with his other films. Jon Brion also does the music for this one, which is always a great touch. Kaufman and Brion go so well together.

I couldn't recommend this film to many people. In fact, I wouldn't recommend it to most people because I think most people would find it tedious, eccentric and pedantic. There is something so difficult about watching Philip Seymour Hoffman's character Caden Cottard languish and toil his entire life on something that to him is both nothing and everything at once. The role gender and age plays in the development of the plot could be jarring for most audiences and I think a lot of people would be just plain bored.

But there is one venue in which I think this movie will find a happy home, and that is from the academic perspective. From a film studies side, I don't think any movie has ever been made like this one ever. It's almost like a play within a play within a film within a film. For those well versed in postmodern slang, it's essentially a "metametafilm on metametatheatre" and that is saying a lot.

The other element, which may only appeal to me and other Comparative Literature/Theatre/German nerds (so, well, me and my friend Katie), is that I've never seen a movie that reminded me so much of Bertolt Brecht's "epic theatre" or "episches theater". Epic theatre, as opposed to dramatic theatre, is defined loosely as theatre in which all natural and realistic elements are removed such that the audience is unable to identify with the characters or the story. To explain it succinctly, as this website from Oregon State explains:

The dramatic theater's spectator says: Yes, I have felt like that too-- Just like me--It's only natural-- It'll never change--The sufferings of this man appall me, because they are inescapable--That's great art; it all seems the most obvious thing in the world--I weep when they weep, I laugh when they laugh.

The epic theater's spectator says: I'd never have thought it -- That's not the way -- That's extraordinary, hardly believable -- It's got to stop -- The sufferings of this man appall me, because they are unnecessary -- That's great art; nothing obvious in it -- I laugh when they weep, I weep when they laugh.

The characters within the movie create a play much like epic theatre not just in its size and scope (a scale model of an entire town) but also in that their characters can be boiled down to singular actions or mindsets, much like Brecht's gestus. Everything seems terribly fragmented and disconnected from its proper place in space or time throughout the film, and this effect makes you constantly aware that you are just watching a constructed story rather than a singular plot. This detachment from the story, awareness of construct was central to Epic Theatre (or "Dialectical Theatre," as Brecht preferred) because it allows for a creative dissonance between the space of the story and the audience.

So anyway, this is not a film I would recommend on the whole. But if you're fascinated to see something different, to see something like what Brecht might do if he were a postmodern filmmaker, then definitely check out Synecdoche, New York.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Christina Hendricks? Totally Bangin'

I just wanted to applaud Christina Hendricks, the actress known for the lead role of Joan Holloway on Mad Men, for having one of the hottest and simultaneously most realistic bodies on television. I know it seems like a stretch to have to point out when an incredibly sexy and attractive curvy woman gets to play a sexy woman in charge of her femininity in our culture, but its true. And frankly, I would be so lucky to have such dangerous curves. Not to mention, I read an interview she did and she's the most down-to-earth, sweet lady. I love her! Here is a great quote of hers from Page Six magazine:

"Sure, I'd be happier with 10 pounds off-- wouldn't every woman? But when I looked at pictures of myself at the Emmys, I thought I looked beautiful. I didn't tear myself apart."

On a completely separate but still related note, heard that Hung was having a difficult time casting actresses for the show. They wanted normal looking, average sized women over 35 and many of the talent agencies they approached told them that they didn't even have such women at their agency. Sort of a disgrace, if you ask me. There are plenty of talented actresses ready for a shot if their body doesn't, well, get in the way.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Book Review: Killing Yourself To Live by Chuck Klosterman

If my enjoyment of a book can be measured in reading speed, this is one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a long time. I simply couldn't put it down.

Now, I may be biased. I think Chuck Klosterman is totally likeable because I think, more than most people I read, he thinks like I think. And I think a lot of people have this private thought when they're reading him. Here is this nerdy guy who throws around pop culture references like sprinkles on the cupcake of his own self-deprecating over-analyzing sadness. And frankly, I think we all feel that way sometimes.

But I can also see how other people might not like Klosterman. And the book isn't perfect. It moves around a lot, inserts references that aren't always clear, but thats part of its charm. Its like Klosterman wrote a particularly funny diary for us about this road trip he went on and reading it made everyone feel a little better about the times they can be a little self-absorbed or monomaniacal or just plain bad at communication.

Klosterman is a reflection of all of us at our most earnest and sometimes most awkward.

Now, this book is ostensibly about rock star death but I really think its about the death of one's self throughout life. How certain chapters have to be closed in order for new one's to be started. On this theme, Klosterman is poignant and heartfelt, in his own way, and it really is what makes the book so worthwhile.

This book, as well as Klosterman in general, comes highly recommended. And when you read it, and fall in love with it, be sure to feel super envious of my autographed copy.

This review was reposted and expanded from my review at Good Reads. Oh, you love reading and reviewing books, too? Join! We can be friends!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Book Review: Americana by Don DeLillo

I really wanted to like this book. I remember when I read DeLillo's book "Libra" that I had been completely enamored with his prose. It was a really good book, and he had a penchant for detail that was completely unmatched. And the prose in Americana is good, but I just didn't like it as much. It's not DeLillo's best.

There are a lot of good things I can say about the book. I did love his repetition of icons and ideas that really are associated with Americana: the cheap hotel room, the idea of female sexuality as glorified by commercials, the romantic ideals of cross-country travel. The strongest sections are those in which the protagonist, David Bell, reflects on his own past, particularly his memories of his family and his mother.

There is also a clear transformation in David's character from the beginning of the book to the end, and that ultimately comprises the majority of the story arch. And DeLillo's prose is still very lush and exciting at points. I definitely love the way he phrases things because it is very vivid and alive.

What is important to note about Americana is that it was DeLillo's first novel. He can't be expected to have the poise and delicacy in his early writing that he would later in his career with works such as "Libra" and "Underworld."

Further, some of the frustration I had with the novel may be more a matter of timing. The novel was written in 1971 and was very much a novel of its own time. The Vietnam War is at the front of consciousness throughout the book, as are elements of changing cultural mores. It seems an early example of the kind of work that would inspire the likes of Bret Easton Ellis, with his literature of the grotesque, and it is clear that the novel investigates many postmodern elements.

All said, while Americana wasn't all that good itself, I would recommend it to any DeLillo fan in order to gain a wider understanding of his work. For anyone else, I would recommend DeLillo and I would start with his excellent novel, "Libra."

This review was reposted and expanded from my review at Good Reads. Oh, you love reviewing books, too? Join! We can be friends!