Tuesday, December 09, 2008

True Story

On Monday night, I took the trash out. The bins are right in front of my building, so all I did was toss on my slippers and a blue hoodie and schlep it out. I opened the door to my apartment and automically placed my keys on the hook beside the door which is their habitual resting place. I can always find my keys.

At that EXACT SAME TIME that I did this, Blue (my fluffy white cat) decided it would be fun to see what's outside. He slid out past me and started walking toward the front door of the building.

Now, the front door of the building was locked. And closed. But that didn't stop my one moment of blinding panic - my OMGMYCATMYCAT moment - so I ran after him to scoop him up and put him back in my apartment. What is the problem with that, you ask? MY KEYS WERE NEXT TO MY DOOR. INSIDE MY STUDIO APARTMENT. THAT I LIVE IN ALONE.

So, what did I do? I walked the six blocks to my friend's apartment who has a spare set of my keys. I walked there in my slippers carrying 17 pounds of angry cat. Blue meowed the entire way there and the entire way back. People kept looking at me like I was a horrible person for torturing my cat, and I kept telling Blue that all of this was HIS FAULT. I was so scared he would twist just right and get away from me and run into the street and get hit by a car and DIE.

But he didn't. And my friend accompanied me back to my apartment just in case I needed the cat back-up, which was good because it's hard to open a door when you're carying SEVENTEEN POUNDS OF ANGRY CAT.

And that was Monday.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


The kole tang I got a few weeks ago introduced a virulent pathogen into my tank. So far, I've lost 5 fish. I know they're only fish, but it makes me really sad. I have 5 fish left: my pair of pylei wrasses, one yellow clown goby, my purple firefish and my blue green chromis. Thus far, they are unaffected as far as I can tell. My royal gramma is definitely affected but seems to be possibly throwing off the infection. I think he is probably doomed though.



Kole Tang

Lamarcki Angel

Tail-Spot Blenny

Yellow Clown Goby

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Palin SNL

So, Sarah Palin was on Saturday Night Live.

(You should watch the sketch on the top because Amy Poeler was FREAKING HYSTERICAL!)

Here are my thoughts on this. Sarah Palin is not the first political figure to appear on SNL having been mocked week after week in their sketches. I remember when Bob Dole appeared and he and the cast had a good time poking fun at the way he always referred to himself in the third person. But here is the difference between Bob Dole and Sarah Palin: Bob Dole was always taken seriously. Sure, sketch comedy shows mocked him, but public perception of him was that he was a serious candidate with experience and a legitimate claim to the presidency. He lost of course, but not because of questions about his experience or knowledge. Sarah Palin is questioned about those things constantly. She's already made herself human and approachable with all of her down-home talking - what she needs to do for her image is to make herself seem MORE serious and MORE capable. Her appearance on SNL (while proving she is a semi-good sport) just makes her seem all the more frivolous.

But seriously, watch that first sketch. Holy crap it's funny.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay
fiction/fantasty, (c)1984, 383pp
rating: **

The Wandering Fire by Guy Gavriel Kay
fiction/fantasy, (c)1986, 375pp
rating: ***

These two books comprise book 1 and book 2 of the Fionavar Tapestry, the first series of books by fantasy author Guy Gavriel Kay. I am still reading the third one, so it will be reviewed separately. Earlier in the year, I read Song for Arbonne also by Kay. I liked it well enough - it was a quick and engaging read though not without some flaws and not something I'd pick up over and over again. However, it was engaging enough and I know enough people who love this author that I thought I'd give the Fionavar Tapestry a try. People who are rabid fans of Kay insist that these are his best books.

All I have to say is it is a good thing that I read something else first or I would never go back to him as an author.

The overall story of The Fionavar Tapestry is that five university student from University of Toronto get whisked into an alternate world called Fionavar. They think they are going as part of a ceremony for the High King of Brennin but it becomes quickly clear that there is more going on in Fionavar than meets the eye. And, conincidently, all of the students brought to Fionavar are destined to play different intricate roles in the upcoming battle between Rakoth - god of evil - and the combined forces of light.

Does any of that sound familiar? If you've read any fantasy novels at all, you should recognize one of the universal plots. If a writer can't think of anything new, they can always have a fight between the forces of good and evil. In this case, the fight borrows a LOT of JRR Tolkien. There are the usual creatures - dwarves, humans and "lios alfar" - aka elves. In fact, the lios alfar also "go west" when they die, much like the elves do in the Lord of the Rings series. They create an alliance against evil - also much like in the Lord of the Rings series. Rakoth rules with a bunch of nasty creatures and one traitorous mage (Saruman anyone?) from a mountain fortress (Mordir anyone?)

The truth is that tons of fantasy writers borrow from Tolkien and in this case I think part of it was intentional. Kay has this idea that his world will wrap up all sort of themes from other worlds that repeat themselves over and over and over agfain - although it is never made clear whether or not the Tolkein-esque elements are part of this idea. What is made clear as part of this idea is bits of Arthurian legend. Yes, that's right, out of the mists come elements of Camelot and King Arthur and his love of Guenevere. I thought all of that seems contrived and very out of place in the book - especially the way that all of the characters greet King Arthur as if they know him somehow.

Of the two books, the first is worse than the second. In the first book, we are introduced to a huge cast of characters within a span of 50 pages with no character development whatsoever. The characters and the mythology of the world made such a small impression on me that I kept having to flip to the cast of characters to remind myself who all of these people were. The five university students in particular are given very little character development and seem to take it in stride that a mage from another land would just pop up on the University of Toronto campus and whisk them away. We can tell that some of the characters are holding deep and hidden pains but it's hard to care without the backstory. After the character development in the first book, this gets easier in the second book and I stopped having to check the different characters every 30 or so pages.

Also in the first book there is a rape incident. I hate hate hate it when fantasy authors incorporate rate or threat of rape as a major plot point in their novels. But that's a matter of taste I suppose.

The writing in these books is not as good as in his later books. A lot of the foreshadowing is extremely heavy handed. The omnipotent narrator says things like, "And in this one there was something more. She looked like someone. He knew this, or he sensed it to be so, but although he was quite right, he had absolutely no way of knowing whom, and so could not warn anyone." Who could she be, the reader is suppose to ask themselves. And of course, we do .. but there are less heavy-handed ways to get the reader thinking along those lines.

Something kind of interesting about this book is that he obviously decided to go back to some of the themes and ideas from these in his later novels. In Song for Arbonne, the priestesses are blinded in order to commune better with the goddess; in The Fionavar Tapestry, the Dalrei blind their seers so he can commune better with the gods. In Song for Arbonne, Midsummer's Eve is a time of rampant sexuality - the same is true in The Fionavar Tapestry. And there are similar echoes of the rights of women to choose their mates in the Dalrei of Fionavar and the women of Arbonne.

Anyway. I almost didn't bother to read the other books, but I always finish what I start. So now I'm starting the third one. May it be better than the other two combined.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Blue & Sheets

Mr. Blue likes the new sheets I got too!



Tuesday, October 07, 2008


I bought new sheets today. I should not be trusted in houseware stores alone with a credit card. It's funny - marriage is not a priority for me, but I would love to register for stuff. It's kind of a geeky thing but I love all of the sheets and curtains and new pillows and soft fluffy towels. I had to restrain myself from buying a bamboo hamper and two thirty dollar bath sheets of the softest, most buttery and absorbent cotten ever. But the sheets! They called to me. They said, "We're 300 thread count sateen!" They said, "We're a beautiful orange paisley pattern that compliments your decor in all of it's jewel-toned richness! You must buy us!"

... so I did. And all I wanted were some cheap picture frames to hang some of my photos in my bathroom. I spent the better part of an hour being filled with the familiar mixture of happiness and shame - happiness with my new purchase and the shame of having made it when I'm so close to utter financial ruin. Happiness will win out when I slide between them tonight. Ah, new sheets, I love you so.

On Saturday, I switched over my aquarium from a 40g tank to a 75g tank. It looks SO much better and makes the room look larger. Once I get my wood panels made and the old tank out, I'll take some pictures of my apartment. The best thing is that by just selling my old skimmer (filtration device), I've paid for my entire upgrade since so many of my friends gave me stuff for free and I was able to use a lot of the things I already have. It's nice to have generous friends. Everything is still settling in; photos forthcoming.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tyra Banks

So, I saw a taping of the Tyra Banks show today. This is the first time I saw a Tyra episode all the way through. A friend of mine asked me to go to the taping with her so I figured - why not? The price was certainly right. But it really wasn't bad at all - and she seems really sincere. She was totally joking about her dress making her boobs look saggy and the height of her hair during the commercials. I was overall really impressed.

Also, you have no idea what the show theme is going to be when you sign up so I was ridiculously excited when - drum roll please - Clinton Kelly came out (from TLC's What Not To Wear, one of my favorite television shows of all time. Mock me if you will, but straight legged dark wash jeans and structured jackets have revolutionized my wardrobe.) I almost squee-ed I was so excited and a camera swooped down in front of my face. Erg. And lots of gifts! Macys gift card (ostensibly for a pair of jeans), QVC gift card (ostensibly for a tunic which I might actually buy) and a copy of Clinton's new book. I talked to him briefly after the show with a group of people who were exiting at the same time and he is super nice. I wished I had a camera with me (but the Tyra Show doesn't allow it).

The taping was really fun and actually they didn't have to go back and fix and edit things hardly at all. So overall, I WIN! My friend and I were chatting after the taping and we would both totally do this again as it wasn't that hard to get tickets and the experience was very positive. Yay Tyra!

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Emmys

My friend BM works in television so she had a little Emmy watching party last night. I hadn't seen the Emmys in a couple of years and I must say that I was unimpressed over all. Here is my own best and worst list:


1. Ricky Gervais gets his Emmy back.
Gervais introduced a video montage of how to give an acceptance speech which ended with the video of last year when Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert gave his Emmy to Steve Carrell. Gervais walked off the stage and demanded his Emmy back from Steve, asking him whether or not he'd seen Ghost Town yet since he sat through two hours of Evan Almighty while Stewart and Colbert were laughing in the background.

2. Don Rickles goes off script.
Don Rickles and Kathy Griffin were the pair of introducers and Rickles mocked and left the teleprompter script. Every time Kathy Griffin tried to go back to the script, Rickles made another jab. Very funny.

3. Laura Linny's acceptance speech.
After winning for her role in John Adams, she ended her speech with subtle jab at the Republican Party by saying it was amazing what a bunch of "community organizers" could do. Nicely done, Laura, nicely done.

4. Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert
Colbert's semi-endorsement of John McCain using prunes ("I don't want to stop eating prunes. What could go wrong?!") was very funny.

5. Josh Grobin has a sense of humor.
In the middle of the Emmys, Josh Grobin did a musical medley of a bunch of different television theme songs. A lot of the critics hated this, but I thought it was really funny and he seemed to have a real sense of humor about it. I was expecting him to take it seriously, but instead he rapped the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song. Nice.

6. Tommy Smothers
Steve Martin's intro into giving Tommy Smothers his honorary Emmy was funny and touching - as was the acceptance speech that Smothers gave.

7. Jeremy Piven
"What would happen if I just talked about nothing for 12 minutes for my acceptance speech? Oh wait that was the opening."


1. The Hosts
Who thought it was a good idea to have five reality television hosts host the Emmys? They were not funny and blathered on and on about nothing over and over and over again. All of their jokes fell flat and Howie Mandell couldn't shut up. The best part of the show was when it started to run long and the hosts were cut.

2. The Amazing Race wins again?
Enough is enough.

3. Jeremy Piven wins again?
Enough is enough.

4. Laugh-in Reunion
The Laugh-In reunion wall of jokes was a good idea in concept but sometimes jokes from 40 years ago don't translate that well into the present.

5. Mary Tyler Moore's arms.
She is officially too old to wear a sleeveless garment.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Have The Right To Destroy Myself by Young-Ha Kim

I Have The Right To Destroy Myself by Young-Ha Kim
fiction, (c)1996 (english translation in 2007), 119pp
rating: ***

I Have The Right To Destroy Myself is a very slim novel by young Korean author Young-Ha Kim. I picked it up out of the 50% off box at The Strand because of the eye-catching title. This book is told partially through the eyes of a nameless, faceless narrator. The narrator had a unique job - he is specific that is not a murderer, rather he helps people to commit suicide. He becomes involved in a love triangle between K and C (brothers) and a young woman named Se-young. Also involved in the story are a performance artist and a woman from Hong Kong who is allergic to water.

Because the book is so short, there is not really a lot of room for character development. Despite that, there is a certain amount of moodiness in the sparse writing. There are continual allusions to different pieces of art, such at Klimt's "Judith" and the ways that art mirrors life. The middle of the story with the woman from Hong Kong falls a little flat but the parts that concentrate on the brothers and their obsession with Se-young are fast moving and well told.

All in all, it was a quick read. It would be great for a plane, but I wouldn't necessarily seek it out. People with a greater background in art history might get more out of this than I did.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

SNL just got good?

In conclusion, I invite the media to grow a pair. And if you can't, I'll lend you mine.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More Books

I can't believe how quickly I am ripping through the books this year. I'm going to easily be able to finish my 50 book challenge this year. I have been a little lazy on the reviews but I'll try to get to rectifying that in the near future. But, for the time being ....

41. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Greogry
fiction/historical, (c) 2002, 672pp
rating: *****

The Other Boleyn Girl is probably Philippa Gregory's most often read book and the only one that was turned into a (terrible) movie. It is about the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn told through the eyes of her less famous younger sister, Mary. When I picked out this book, I thought it would take me a long time to read as it is quite long, but instead I plowed through it in under two days. The writing is great and extremely absorbing. Telling the story through an unfamiliar narrator gives it a certain freshness such that even though we all know how the story ends (off with her head!) it still made me want to see how we were going to get there. And that is the mark of a great book. I highly recommend it.

42. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
fiction, (c) 2008, 480pp
rating: ****

Jodi Picoult is an extremely engaging author. Though I am not usually a fan of general contemporary fiction, Picoult has a way of tackling issues that is absorbing and draws the reader in. Nineteen Minutes is about a school shooting and the way that the ramifications of that shooting echo across the entire town. In the book, the shooter is 18 year old Peter Houghton - a loner and a geek who has been subjected to years of bullying in school. Also at the center of this book is Josie Cormier, Peter's former best friend who left him (and happiness) for the popular crowd once they entered middle school.

The book is told through alternate time frames, skipping from the time that Peter and Josie are born up through the shooting and the subsequent trial. The flashbacks work well in this case as it is easy to see the way that the events of these two people's lives shaped the way that things happened in their futures. A good portion of the book is also devoted to the parents of Peter Houghton who constantly question what mistakes they made in Peter's upbringing that led him down this path.

It sounds like a downer of a book and it kind of is. But it is also extremely engaging and unlike the other two books by her that I've read, it ends in a way that is more satisfying. (Unlike My Sister's Keeper which made me want to toss the book across the room and The Pact which just left me vaguely unsatisfied). If you are new to Picoult's writing, this would be a good one to start with.

43. Christy by Catherine Marshall
fiction, (c) 1967, 511pp
rating: **** (and that fourth star is mostly for my fond memories)

When I was in high school (I think?), I loved the television series Christy with Tyne Daly and Kellie Martin. My mom told me that it was based on a book and that she had a copy, so I read it and read it again and read it again. I loved that book when I was younger. But unlike some of the other books that captured my imagination when I was young, it didn't make it into my small stack of books that I read over and over again to this very day. I was thinking about it not too long ago when I saw the DVD set for sale on amazon.com, so I found a used copy for a dollar and re-read it - probably 10-12 years after the first time.

Christy is about a nineteen year old girl who leaves Asheville, North Carolina to teach a one-room school house in Cutter Gap, a remote section of the Great Smoky Mountains. Once there, she meets: Miss Alice, a Quaker and a spiritual leader; David, a preacher; Neil MacNeil, a doctor come back to his mountain home; and many school children. These people all make an indelible impression on Christy's life as she comes to grips with reality in the backwoods. And of course, there is a love story which was given a lot more air time in the series than in the book.

I definitely liked this book a lot more when I was younger. Somehow I missed all of the obvious preaching and religious rhetoric. Or maybe I was just less sensitive to it when I was younger. The book is really about Christy's spiritual quest and the way that she makes peace with God and biblical stories and questions about faith make up a substantial part of the writing. i guess when I was younger I was better at ignoring all of that or just seeing it as one aspect of the story. The story itself is still good, but just not quite what I remembered.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

File Under: Things that annoy me.

... being asked for the title of a talk I said I would give that is scheduled in February.

As if somehow I've given that any consideration at this early date.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Jon Stewart is my hero.

This is possibly one of the best segments I've seen about McCain's appointment of Sarah Palin. The GOP backpedaling is astonishing.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


So last week commenced the first week of teaching for the new semester. I'm teaching my first large lecture class this semester - I have somewhere around 100 students in this class.

It in my policy to always make textbooks optional. I know there are a lot of people who would disagree with this policy. My feeling is that textbooks are ridiculously expensive and new versions come out every couple of years with nothing but some prettier graphs and a new cover. My classes often roughly follow the textbook but deviate at points substantially from the book that I select as the optional reading. I am very free with the fact that I always test from the lectures and not from the readings. Whatever is in the book that is not in my lectures will not be on my examinations, period. And I know that when I was an undergraduate, I started the semester with the best of intentions of reading all of the required reading only to slack off midway through the semester, opening the books for the last time to make sure there were no syllabi stuck in them before selling them back to the bookstore.

Therefore the text is optional.

Every single semester students questions me about this. "What do you mean, the textbook is optional?" they ask.

I mean exactly what it says - OPTIONAL.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
fiction/young adult, (c)2007, 272pp
rating: ***

Twisted is about a teenager named Tyler. Following a school prank at the end of his junior year, he is sentenced to a summer of hard labor. This has changed him from a skinny little boy into a bulked up man over the course of the three months. This shift in appearance catches the attention of the most popular girl in school and twin sister of his rival/tormentor. Over the course of the school year, a series of events plays out that delves into the psychology of teenage boys and the nature of the interactions of high school students.

I picked this book up because I liked Speak so well, but this one is simply not as good. She still does a good job charting the tumultuous waters of teenage life, but I thought that some of the more "dramatic" points of the story felt a little forced. The big twist was less of a twist and was telegraphed from early on in the novel. That being said, it was a very quick read. I think that, unlike Speak, this book is really more for young adults and less for adults.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
fiction/classic, (c) 1899, 102pp
rating: *****

Written in 1899 and subsequently banner, this book tells of the awakening of young Edna Pontellier. At the age of 28, she is a wife and a mother and should be happy in those roles. However, she is dissatisfied with her boring husband and she takes little interest in her children. Her frustrations find an outlet when she starts and affair with another young man who is as passionate and artistic as she is. After he leaves, she finds it difficult to return to life as usual with her husband and children and strikes out on her own. Society quickly punishes her for this move on her own, and her story ends tragically.

I can't believe it took me so long to read this book. I can easily see why it has been steeped in controversy even if the contents of the book are less that shocking in today's society. Much of this book rings very true to me and I enjoyed it immensely. It also makes me wish I had read it with a class so I could discuss with other people. Really, really good.

In Control of Nature by John McPhee
nonfiction/nature, (c)1990, 272pp
rating: ****

In Control of Nature is a book of three long essays that detail the human struggle to curb and control nature. The first essay is about the Old River Control Center and the levee system on the Mississippi River. The second essay is about an eruption on the icelanic island of Haimey and the way that they stopped the lava from ruining the natural harbor. The third essay is about the San Gabriel Mountains and the mud slides the plague the Southern California hills.

This book was recommended to me by D and I was less than enthusiastic when I started it. However, it turned out to be really interesting. John McPhee is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and writes for the New Yorker, so his text is very readable. The chapter about the lava was the least interesting, possibly because it was the most removed from what I know. The description of the Old River Control Center and the ways that the levees have been built up all down the Mississippi river was fascinating, especially when thought about in light of the events of Hurricane Katrina. And his explanations for why there is so much debris coming down from the San Gabriel Mountains (it has to do with the summer fires followed by heavy rains) was equally fascinating. You are left seriously questioning whether or not our efforts to combat Mother Nature are really warranted and the idea that maybe we'd be better off if we left well enough alone. This was an excellent read.

No Longer At Ease by Chinua Achebe
fiction, (c)1969, 208pp
rating: *****

No Longer At Ease is the sort-of sequel to Things Fall Apart. Obi Okonkwo is the grandson of the main character in Things Fall Apart and the events of that story are referenced vaguely in the last chapter of this book, but it is certainly not a prerequisite to reading this book.

No Longer At Ease follows Obi Okonkwo, a young man who is singled out to get a foreign education. When he returns to Nigeria, he is repulsed by the corruption that he sees in the government and tries very hard to resist the temptations of money and sex that are thrown at him for his influence. Obi is constantly trying to balance the pressures he feels from his village who sponsored him for his education, and the pressures of living in the big city and living up to his government post. Slowly things begin to unravel as things go wrong piece by piece.

I actually think that in a lot of ways, this book is even better than Things Fall Apart. It deals honestly with the colonial legacy that the Western world has left in Africa and could be relevant to any country, not just Nigeria. The book is told in simple prose, but that makes it easy to read and even more powerful. I highly recommend it.

House of the Tiger King by Tahir Shah
nonfiction/travel essay, (c)2004, 219pp
rating: ***

Tahir Shah is one of my favorite authors, but this is probably my least favorite of his books. In The House of the Tiger King, Shah goes in search of the fabled Incan city of Paititi supposedly the last Incan stronghold after the conquistadores invaded Peru. Like his other books, Shah infuses his trials and tribulations with a certain amount of humor and some interesting detours that allow him to meet new and interesting people. Unlike his other books, there is less humor in this one. It is a darker novel and he seems obsessed with this quest to the point of cruelty to his expedition team. There was less of seeing the country and more of the unrelenting slog through the jungle. This was definitely my least favorite of all of his books and I would recommend trying one of the others before this one.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Friday, July 18, 2008

Billy Joel

Yes, I saw Billy Joel in concert on Wednesday in the first of the "Last (Double) Play at Shea" concerts. It was originally billed at the Last Play at Shea but because the tickets sold out in T minus twenty seconds, he added a second concert date (much to the disdain of all those who desperately wanted to be at the LAST play at Shea). I didn't really care since I lucked into a ticket the night before the concert from a friend who had an extra she was trying to unload.

This was actually my first, and likely last, time at Shea Stadium. Billy Joel may be getting on in years, but man does he put on a good concert. He could easily have been self-indulgent and political (a la Barbara Streisand), but instead he played for three solid hours and all of the songs that everyone knew. When he needed a break, he brought out "guest stars" including Tony Bennett (who sang a duet with him on New York State of Mind), John Mayer (who played guitar to Times to Remember), John Mellencamp (who sang Little Pink Houses) and Don Henley who sang a song that I knew, but the name escapes me.

The concert was peppered with references to the Mets and the Yankees (you have to love the culture of baseball in New York City) and references to the Beatles (the first concert ever played in Shea Stadium). Billy Joel played all of his songs that referenced New York specifically and while he looked to be approximately one inch tall from my seat in the upper deck, there were large screens shaped like the New York skyline to put him in technicolor. The scariest part of the concert was the end when he played "We Didn't Start the Fire". The driving beat got all of the people on the upper decks moving around in a rhythm, causing the ending deck to shake. The people in front of us were taking video of the railing moving back and forth in time to 65,000 people singing about hypodermics on the shore and rock and roll and cola wars.

Really awesome concert.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Gratuitous Cat Post II

Blue likes to keep cool on my bathroom floor.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Went out collecting with a friend of mine in the Long Island Sound. He has a cold saltwater set up and he wanted to collect some local critters to maintain. Basically, this entailed both of us slogging around in the Long Island Sound with three different kind of nets, scraping the bottom of the sound and picking through sludge. Yes, it is possible that I have a warped sense of "fun". Clearly we attracted all sorts of attention from passers-by, all of whom were desperate to offer helpful "advice". New York is the only place I have ever lived where complete strangers are always happy to get all up in your business.

Here is some of the stuff we found:

We also got a little scorpionfish, mud snails, hermit crabs, grass shrimp, two northern pipefish and various pretty macroalgaes. Good fun! And then when we were done, we had seafood at the beach. All in all, a fun day out.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

My friend Harriet brought this news item to my attention a couple of days ago, about a man who assaulted another man in his spin class because he was shouting, grunting and otherwise making obnoxious comments. We laughed about, ha ha, ho ho.


Today as I was riding the elliptical machine at the gym, the man next to me was making grunting noises better suited to X-rated porno movies than a public gym. And I began to be a little more sympathetic to the raging stockbroker.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Maybe they needed pocket money?

There were two little girls selling cookies and lemonade with their nanny outside of a huge elevator building between Park and Madison. It was so incongruous, I had to make a purchase.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lensbaby @ Trinity Graveyard

Thanks to the kind people at Lensbaby, I have a brand new one for my new digital camera at half price. Thanks guys. :) And today I took it to Trinity Graveyard.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Even More Books

Private Dancer - Stephen Leather ****
fiction, (c)2005, 288pp

Of all of the books that I picked up at the resort in Venezuela, this one was the best. Published in Thailand (and apparently purchased there - the sales sticker was in Baht), this book explores the sex tourism industry in Bangkok. Pete is a british writer employed by a company that makes travel guides. He is sent to revise the company's guide about Thailand. When he gets to Bangkok, he falls in love with Joy, a bar girl that works in the red light district. The book chronicles their relationship and the way that it takes a toll on both of their lives.

The book is told in alternating voices. Leather isn't a particularly skilled writer and all off of the different characters basically speak in the same voice, but being able to see the situation from all different points of view adds a richness to this story. Really, this book is about the cultural divide between East and West. Pete meet Joy at a bar while she is working as a prostitute and wants her to prove to him that she really does love him and it is not about money. But from Joy's point of view, the way that a man proves that he loves a woman is by providing for her monetarily and keeping her so she doesn't have to work. This was a really interesting and compelling read. If you can manage to get a copy, I'd recommend it.

Silent Fall - Barbara Freely ***
fiction/mystery/romance, (c)2008, 416pp

Another book donated to my reading deperation cause by my mom. My mom and I have very different taste in books. This is yet another romance novel, though a romance novel with a veneer of mystery. In this case, Catherine is a firey redhead with a heaving bosom, gently curving hips - oh, and psychic powers. Dylan is a rakishly handsome television reporter who is framed for the murder of a one night stand. They are thrown together through happenstance - but is it love? (I bet you all know the answer to that question).

This book wasn't so bad when it concentrated on the mystery aspect of things. The story was interesting, if not particularly well written (too many cliches). The book fell apart at the end with an ending that came out of nowhere - and not in a "oh, I should have guessed it from the beginning sixth sense sort of way". But it was entertaining for a twelve hour flight and that's all I can really ask for.

The Caliph's House - Tahir Shah *****
nonfiction/travel essay, (c)2006, 349pp

Tahir Shah's latest foray takes him to Morocco with his whole family. He and his long suffering wife buy a fixer-upper house in Casablanca. This book charts their troubles in renovating their home, where they come up against lazy worker, the Casablancan godfather, a man who trades stories for stamps and several vengeful jinns. Shah is a fantastic writer and I pretty much will gobble up anything he has written. And you should too!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Work and Cat

I have been told 95% that I have this research post in Europe. Sadly though, not 100%. They have said they want me. They said I am their first choice. They said they wanted me in July. I said that was impossible and so they revised their demands and said they wanted me in the end of September. Yet, no official offer and no mention of money yet.


Here is a gratuitous cat photo.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Listy Fun

What we have here is the top 106 books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users. As in, they sit on the shelf to make you look smart or well-rounded [or were bookclub choices that you never read that month]. Bold the ones you’ve read, italicize the ones you read for school you have on your shelf and haven't read.

(as seen at unbalanced reaction)

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights

The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: A novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities

The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked: The life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales

The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes: A memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake
Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood: A true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield

Wild Horses Couldn't Stop Me

Last weekend, I went camping in Assateague National Seashore with H and friends. Ten people went in all, and each small subset of people were friends with H in a different way (work colleagues, high school friends, college friends) though we didn't know each other. That's why it's funny that she got all turned around and arrived at the campsite last.

I picked up my friend JSG in a rented car and we drove down. Our drive was unremarkable. Manhattan never gives up anyone without a fight, but we didn't hit terrible traffic leaving the city. We just had to make multiple stops for different things. We actually hit no traffic all the way down to Maryland and even had the foresight to buy a map so we wouldn't get horribly lost. Yay!

Assateague National Park is known for the two groups of wild horses that run free along the beaches. When it's cool, they stay up in the marshes but since it was hot, they were down along the beach a lot. In the middle of the night on Friday, we heard loud pony noises coming from our camp and one lone pony came pounding through. Luckily they did not disturb anything - apparently the ponies are mean and destructive. Even though they look cute and cuddly. Who'd a thunk it.
We spent most of Saturday laying around on the beach, reading our books, pony watching and beer drinking. It was an excellent day.

There were only two downsides to the entire trip. The first were the mosquitoes. HOLY. CRAP. It must be because the seashore backs up onto a marsh, but they were huge and aggressive and apparently immune to 40% Deet bug spray. I'm sure I when I get cancer in 10 years, I'll be able to trace it back to the all of the chemicals that leeched into my skin on this trip. I must be extra tasty, because when I came back I counted 53 mosquito bits on ONE LEG ALONE. Srsly, they aren't that bad in Africa. AFRICA. The other is that JSG convinced me that the best way to get back into the city was not to go over the George Washington Bridge, but to take the Goethals bridge and the Verrazano Bridge since she lives in Queens and we needed to stop there first. TWO AND A HALF HOURS after we got off at the Goethals Bridge exit, we got back to her place. That's the worst traffic getting into the city that I've ever had to sit in. Holy crap.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Two views of the fencing on the dunes at Assateague National Seashore. I took out my film (film!!!) camera for the first time since 2004. It still had film in it and I used the film I bought pre-2004 which was clearly expired. I kind of like the effect though - the lighter film is yellowed and the darker film is more blue/green than it should be.

(17-35mm wide angle)

(100mm macro)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

More Books

Bodily Harm - Margaret Atwood
fiction, (c)1981, 301pp
rating: ***

Maragaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors. Ever since I read The Handmaid's Tale for the first time as a sophomore in high school, I have been a big fan and have read her novels avidly. Bodily Harm is one of her earlier works and this one definitely does not stand up to her later novels. The book is about Rennie, a fashion/travel writer. Following a bout of breast cancer, she travels to the fictional Caribbean Island of St. Antoine which is on the brink of revolution. There, she gets involved with Paul, a mysterious man with shady credentials. Mayhem and self-discovery ensue.

What I found most disconcerting about this novel is that it lacked Atwood's poetic style of writing. Usually, when I've finished one of her novels, I have a list of quotes to write down and keep and savor later. But this one was completely without that and I felt like it could have been written by anyone. Like many of Atwood's later characters, all of Rennie's relationships with men are self-destructive in different ways, but there is no sense that she learns anything from most of these encounters. The non-linear storytelling works to a certain degree, but also is distracting at times. The character of Lora (an island ex-pat) is more irritating than tragic.

I found this book to be more disappointing than the Penelopaid.

Light on Snow - Anita Shreve
fiction, (c) 2006, 288pp
rating: ***

I ran out of books in English about halfway through my time in Venezuela, so I had to read books that people had left at the resort. Sadly, the most common nationality of resort-goer was ... German. So the english selection was sad. That is my only excuse for some of the next few books. Desperation will drive a person to read anything (witness my Dan Brown reading extravaganza when I was in Ethiopia).

Light on Snow is a short book that deals with a week in the life of Nicky and her father. Nicky's father is a recent widow. On a walk through the woods, they find an abandoned baby in the snow, which they take to the hospital and save. A few days later, they are visited by the mother of the infant and the real story of what happened that night is told. It is a simple plot, but poignant in its own way.

I freely admit that I am not an Anita Shreve fan. She's a little too angsty, a little too Oprah, a little too trendy for me to really enjoy any of her novels. But Light on Snow manages to be good snapshot of two weeks in the life of this family. The contrasts between Nicky and her father's family before the accident, as it as after the accident, and Charlotte's makes for interesting ideas about what really makes a family. The writing was good. I can see how a lot of people would really enjoy this book - it just wasn't really my kind of book.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Iron Dragon´s Daughter - Michael Stanwick

fiction/science fiction, (c) 1994, 412pp
rating: ****

The last of the "from home collection". This book takes place in a world that is parallel to our world. Jane is a human changeling that is an indentured servant in an iron dragon factory. All of her friends are fey creatures, strange hybrids of creatures that we would recognize from mythology and folktales. One day Jane finds a Grimoire which teaches her how to operate one of the iron dragons. Then the iron dragon begins to talk to her and Jane makes her escape. The rest of the book deals with Jane's integrating into life outside of the factory

At first, I wasn't sure if I liked this book, but the more I think about it, the more interesting it is. Has anyone read it? The book deals with the idea of reincarnation and fate and how our actions impact the lives of others. It also explores sexuality and what constitutes deviant behavior. It would have been easy to make Jane a really likeable character, but Stanwick makes her more and more unlikeable as the book goes on, yet still compelling to read about. The ending of the book was a little abrupt and strange, and we are left with questions as to whether or not Jane was really a changeling or if the entire book was something else entirely. A strange read, but ultimately really interesting.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Song for Arbonne - Guy Gavriel Kay

fiction/fantasy, (c)1992, 512pp
rating: ****

This is another book from the "Unread Novels From My Parent's House" collection. Song for Arbonne takes place in a world that approximates medieval Europe. Arbonne (France) is a country that is dominated by a goddess cult, strong women, troubadors and the Court of Love. Directly to the north is Gorhaut (Germany), a war-like country where women are second-class citizens, and fighting and hunting are prized. Enter Blaise of Gorhaut, who leaves his own land and comes to Arbonne. He quickly becomes enmeshed in the politics of Arbonne, including the ongoing war between the Duke of Miraval and the Duke of Talair which was started 23 years prior over the infidelity of a woman. Throughout the book, Blaise has to come to terms with his upbringing and his mind is slowly opened to other ways of thinking by the friends that he makes in Arbonne. There is love, there is sex and there is war.

Overall, I liked the novel. It was very well written, linguistically, but I thought that the story was kind of loose. Much of the novel felt kind of contrived. At 512 pages, it's already a long book, but I thought that Kay should have either focused on the war between Miraval and Talair, or the war between Arbonne and Gorhaut, as opposed to trying to deal with them both. It's impossible for one or the other not to get short shrift. There were interesting characters introduced that never got particularly well fleshed out and the ending of the book was especially contrived. I would recommend this book if you like the genre, but I've heard some of his other novels are better.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


Today, I went to the Belmont Stakes to watch Big Brown (not) win the triple crown.

The Belmont Stakes was an interesting experience. Since Big Brown was going for the triple crown, the crowd turnout was larger than normal. They projected 120,000 people there and it certainly felt like there were that many people there. It was over 90 degrees today so I'm pretty sure I sweated out about fifteen pounds. The Belmont Stakes was the eleventh race of the day, and we were there from race one. I don't know about the other tracks, but at the Belmont track there is a large general admission grassy area where you can bring picnic good and lawn chairs and sit out and make a day of it, so that is what we did. Being there early was good, because we got a prime position in the general admission section. I placed some modest (read: two dollar) bets on a few horses and managed not to win a single one.

There were a lot of obnoxious people where, which was probably to be expected, as well as the most extraordinary assortment of outfits I have seen in one place. If you have grandstand or clubhouse seats, then you are expected to dress. For the general admission, you can wear just about anything. A lot of women were wearing sundresses, which was fine. But then there were the other dresses. A younger lady sitting next to us was wearing a black and white cocktail dress with a huge black hat straight out of the Ascot Gavotte number in My Fair Lady. There was a couple sitting a little in front of us that I dubbed "Miss Teen Staten Island" complete with sparkly tiara, prom hair, and a little jersey dress that just barely cleared the edge of her dress. Her boyfriend was wearing white linen pants and about two pounds of gold chains around his neck, visible because his blue button down was only about half buttoned.

I also don't know what happened, but they closed all of the bathrooms about halfway through the races. There were enormous lines for the eight port-a-potties on the back lawn (where the paddock and fair games were). It got to a point where a lot of the men were going in this little area that was screened by some bushes, and at one point there was a line of six people just to pee in the bushes. Also, after the stakes were finished, there were police officers doing "crowd control" on the exit, and only allowing a few people to trickle through at a time. Supposedly, this was to stop people from being trampled, but instead people were being squished up against the fences. I was glad I got a ride with my friend because the train was backed up at least four people deep on the platform.

Big Brown didn't win (sad, sniffle sniffle) but it was still fun to watch all of the horses. Big Brown was in third place going into the last stretch, until the jockey pulled him out of the pack and he trotted in at last place. I have to assume they realized that he wasn't going to win and decided it was best to save the horse for future studding than to push him too hard and have him be injured a la EightBelles. They are FAST - as the horses come around the track, it almost looks like they are on rails.

So all in all - a great day out!

The day begins

The track before the races started.

The second race of the day

Second race horses coming by us!

The whole place was packed by the time we got to race 11.

It's Big Brown! You may have lost, but we still love you.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Debt of Bones - Terry Goodkind

fiction/fantasy, (c) 2004, 175pp
rating: **

Debt of Bones is a novella set as a prequel to Goodkind's famous Sword of Truth series. I read the Sword of Truth books when I was a senior in college and during my first year of graduate school. By the time I got to Faith of the Fallen, the most recent in the series at that time, I was heartily sick of Goodkind. It was clear to me that this was going to be a never-ending saga and his books were getting progressively worse (with the exception of Faith of the Fallen, which was actually quite good). My friend left Debt of Bones in my apartment and told me to read it, so I figured why not oblige him.

Debt of Bones tells some of the backstory of Zedd Zorander, one of the pivotal characters in the SoT books. This takes place before the boundaries go up. The book is centered around a woman who goes to plea with Zedd and the Mother Confessor to intercede in the war with D'Hara and save her village (and more specifically, her husband and daughter). Though it is a prequel, its short length means that there is little backstory. So, if you haven't read the other books, you would be missing a lot by starting with this one.

The best thing I can say about this book is that it was mercifully short. Given Goodkind's propensity for long, meandering novels that explore the actions of minor characters, 175 pages is practically miraculous. It was not well written, and it wasn't even really a good story. Debt of Bones will not make me go back to the Sword of Truth Series any time soon.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

fiction/literature, (c)1719, 320pp
rating: ***

When I was an undergrad, I read a couple of his other books (Moll Flander and Roxana). I remembered really liking them both, so when I saw Robinson Crusoe in the far depths of my bookshelf at my parent's house, I picked it up and brought it back to NYC to be read. Robinson Crusoe is the original castaway, a man who is shipwrecked on a semi-deserted island for over thirty years. The book chronicles his early life, the circumstances that led him to become shipwrecked, how he learned to live on the island and his eventual salvation.

This was easily my least favorite of Defoe's books, which is interesting because I think it is the most famous. Defoe is fond of the anti-hero - people who are victims of circumstance and life that eventually find redemption from their fall. However, Robison Crusoe is not as dynamic as his female leads and his fall is not as great. Therefore, the "redemption" seems less like a redemption, and more like just a plain rescue. Also, too much of the book was devoted to the minutia of living on the island. He spends the majority of his time communing with goats and pontificating about God. I would not really recommend this book, especially to people who are new to early english writers.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

... Also

There is a good possibility that I will be moving to Europe before the end of the year. Stay tuned.


When I was a young, I had a recurring nightmare. I used to think that burglars were going to break into our house and steal things while I was still there. This home invasion nightmare I think was brought on by the fact that there have always been branches outside of the window that tap on the glass in the breeze. To a nine year old in the middle of the night, that sounds less like branches and more like someone scrabbling at the screen, trying to get in. So, when two thieves burst into my hotel room at 3:00 am two weeks ago, it seemed at first to just be a recurrence of my previous nightmare.

Here is what happened:

Apparently, around 3:00am, there was a knock at our door. I didn´t even hear it but it woke up my mom. Sleepy and disoriented, she thought we overslept our alarm and it was one of the hotel people coming to tell us that it was time to go (I was scheduled to go diving the next day). She opened the door and two ¨marauders¨ (their words) burst in on us. They were carrying knives. One of them pinned my mom down and the other one came over and tried to pin me down. Clearly, having lived in New York for the last six years, I kicked him hard in the stomach and screamed for all I was worth. He had to put down his knife to stop me from struggling and he put his hands over my mouth. So I bit him, hard enough to draw blood. At that point he slapped me and started yelling at me in Spanish and my fight or flight reflexes slowed down and began to think a little bit more clearly about all the things that guy could do to me. One of them took all of my mom´s local money, but she took a chance when their backs were turned to hide that last of her american cash under her pillow. They took all of my money (the ONLY time I´ve ever travelled with a lot of cash on me because the exchange rate is so much better on the black market in South America) and, more importantly ...

... they took my camera. And my lensbaby. They didn´t find my wide angle lens or my ipod or my cell phone, all of which I hid under the bed. My camera was in my bag though, ready to be taken out on the boat with me diving. Perhaps it was karma catching up to me - I have traveled by myself in many less than savory places and never had a single thing stolen or a single problem. This is the first time - and I hope the LAST time something like this ever happens to me.

I gave a description of my assailant to the police (thank you photographic memory) so I guess there is a slight chance my propery will be recovered, but it is unlikely. The owner of the hotel apologized about a million times and only charged us for half of our stay at the hotel.

After that, we moved to Isla de Margarita. Isla de Margarita was quite nice. We stayed at a particularly schmancy resort, one of these all-inclusive numbers. Here is the thing about all inclusive resorts: they are full of pod people. All identical families having a sanitized, identical good time. Seriously, what is the point of an all inclusive resort in Venezuela? Everyone speaks English, the food is "international" and they play American elevator music on the loudspeakers during meal time. You might as well just go to Miami and have exactly the same experience at half of the plane ticket. There is nightly "entertainment" which two nights ago consisted of a truly horrific "international dance show". Bad dancer did a tangos and salsas across the stage to equally bad music and announcing. It was like a train wreck and I couldn´t look away.

We did get out of the soft confines of the resort several times. We shopped and bought duty free liquor in Porlamar, saw an old spanish fort in Pampatar, took a driving tour of the Macanao peninsula, went to the museo del mar, and took a boat tour through the mangrove swamps. I finally got a chance to go diving (but I also got an ear infection from my snorkeling trip off the coast of Playa Santa Fe where we originally stayed). So all in all, an eventful vacation. At least I am tan now.

Playa el Agua, Isla de Margarita
Taken with a disposable camera.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

See You in Two Weeks...

.... because I'm off to Venezuela.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Richmondtown Part II

The end of the semester is always a busy time. I've had multiple house guests, a presentation, a fish event and I am seeing someone new. So, I'll leave you with a few more pictures from Richmondtown until I have time for a proper entry:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Professional Meetings

I spent most of last week at my discipline's annual professional meetings. This is the first time in two years that I went due to conflicts with dissertation data collection. Last time I was there, I shared a room with Dr. Brazen Hussy and Dr. La Blonde Parisienne and they were sorely missed this year. Say you'll come back to hang out with me someday? Sniffle.

This year's meetings is the first time that I have presented any of my dissertation data. I wasn't going to present anything at all, but my friend asked me if I would be his co-author and do a presentation synthesizing some of our research. I said that sounded good. I had most of my stuff ready before the meetings, but I still had some anxiety about it. He was still putting together his end on Thursday night when we were supposed to give the paper later that week.

I really wanted to see what was going to be presented before it was presented, so he said he would meet me after lunch. I assumed that meant around 1:30. At 3:30, he finally showed up ... he was late because he just had to "take a nap". I was PISSED OFF. We only had time to practice it once, so it was kind of choppy and not very good when he presented it. After the session was finished, I was invited to lunch with the other speakers. I knew I HAD to go to, for face time and schmoozing and answering questions, but I really would have preferred to relax and get a beer with my friends. After FOUR HOURS of talks, the last thing I wanted to do was to be mentally on my game some more.

On the walk over there, another one of the presenters in the symposium told me that she has an article in press that covers a small portion of my dissertation data, using the very same methods. The first thing I thought was ... shit. Then she said that her data came up wildly different. Double shit. Then she asked me a whole bunch of questions, some of which I think I answered kind of badly (about my study subjects) and some of which I answered kind of well (about statistics). Lunch was a little awkward and I sat there silently trying to look intelligent, and attempting not to say anything stupid.

Good things that came out of the meetings:

(1) Because this woman has something in press about my dissertation data, I have re-evaluated how I am presenting mine. The power of my study is in that I have a lot of complementary data on different things. I am going to concentrate on that aspect of my work.

(2) One of the other people who presented in my session is doing really cool work on complementary stuff and wants to collaborate with me at some point. Yay!

(3) I discovered I have the perfect data set to publish a paper on an extremely trendy aspect research angle.

Please hire me? kthxbai.

Monday, April 14, 2008

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

fiction/literatue, (c)1930, 288pp
rating: ***

Despite being an english major, I never read any Faulkner as a college student or as a high school student. I've been trying to expand my literary horizons now that it doesn't feel like such a task to read "the classics", so I pulled As I Laying Dying off of my book shelf and gave it a read. I purchased it during my senior year of high school to read in preparation for the AP English exam. I never even cracked the cover. Now, 10 years later, I have finished it.

As I Lay Dying tells the story of a country family making a pilgrammage to the big city to bury Addie Bundren, husband to Anse Bundren and five children - Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman. Each chapter is told in Faulkner's signature stream-of-consciousness style by a different narrator. The chapters are labeled with the narrator's name and the reader is immediately plunged into whatever internal monologue the character has at that particular time. The trip to Jefferson to bury Addie Bundren is part tragedy and part farce. While the plot of As I Lay Dying is extremely simple - a woman dies and the family goes to bury her - the themes of the novel are not. Issues of greed, the tragedy of motherhood, illegitimate children, mental disease and rape are all covered through the lens of each character's internal monologue.

I can't say I loved this book. I recognize the skill involved in writing that, and I recognize that Faulkner is an extremely influential writer. The first part of the book was very slow going while I was waiting for Addie to die so that the family could get moving. The stream-of-consciousness narrative vacillates between being really effective story telling and being really difficult to properly figure out. At one point, I had to read a general description of the course of events just so that I could be watching for them in all of the different narratives.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Historic Richmondtown

About a month ago, I told my friend T that I really wanted to go to Historic Richmondtown. Historic Richmondtown is on Staten Island and it is sort of the poor man's version of Williamsburg (or Skansen, for those who have visited or live in Stockholm). Richmondtown was one of the first towns on Staten Island and used to be along New York harbor (before large chunks of the harbor were filled). The historical society has preserved a lot of the colonial buildings in the area and made it a living museum to the time period. My friend T is really into the history of New York City, and has also always wanted to check it out - though found it difficult to find someone else suitably dorky enough to go along with it. I figured I would check the schedule and see if anything really fantastic was going on, and that is when I found it.

Revolutionary War Re-enactment Weekend.

Clearly, we had to go for that. There is so much delicious kitsch there that we absolutely could not miss it.

Thus, T, FR, S and I gathered at 11:30am on Sunday morning to make the two hour trek to Staten Island. In order to get to Historic Richmondtown, we had to take the subway, to a boat (the S.I. Ferry), to a bus. This was actually my very first time on Staten Island (not counting the times when I have taken the ferry across and back to give visitors a view of the Statue of Liberty). All of the clocks were still an hour off, leading us to believe that by leaving Manhattan, we had actually entered a different time zone. (Okay, not really.)

When we showed up to Historic Richmondtown, the revolutionary war extravaganza was well on its way. The Continental Army was recruiting small children by arming them with bayonets while delighted parents snapped photos of their children mock-killing people. Good times for all. We visited all of the old houses and learned many interesting factoids. For instance, did you know:

- The term "sleep tight" refers back to the time when bed springs were made out of rope. It was necessary to tighten them periodically, as they tended to stretch out over time.

- the term "straighten up your room" comes from moving all of the chairs into more formal positions across the walls for entertaining

- the term "bar" replaced "pub" or "tavern". The term "bar" comes from a series of bars that would come down around the barkeeper, the liquor and the money in case of a fight or robbery

At one of the houses, there was an exceedingly irritating re-enactor who seemed a little drunk and was not very imformative. He leeringly asked us to sign a loyalist petition and pledge our allegiance to the King. We told him that since we were women, we were clearly not allowed to read or write so he'd have to ask our fathers and our husbands.

The actual skirmish in the town was not as exciting as I hoped it would be. Actual revolutionary war re-enactors came in from Pennsylvania and New Jersey and were really excited to be able to skirmish in an actual town instead of on an open battle field. However, this led to a production that was really more for them than for us. We were pretty excited with the rebels (that's us amurricans) finally began to die. There was much booing of the loyalists and "huzzahing!" of the rebels. One of the re-enactors children was among the spectators. He was carrying a bayonet larger than he was. This was the conversation that ensued:

T: That kid is going to get hurt.
S: Nah, he's more likely to bump into someone else.
T: Exactly. He's going to hit me with it and I'm going to kick him.

The last activity of the day was a reading of the Declaration of Independence in the Tavern. We were all excited for the prospect of beer and liberty until we got to the tavern and THERE WAS NO BEER. There were cups! But they were empty. There were toasts! But no beer to toast to. Regardless, the reading was kind of fun. The tavern keeper read the preamble and then different people around the room were asked to read the different complaints. The tavern owner was smart enough to pick educated looking adults, so it was pretty nice. However, one women read redress as "Red-ress" as opposed to "Re-dress" and another man kept talking about the "Tye-ranny" of George the III as opposed to the "tier-anny" of George the III.

The lack of beer was a bummer, but luckily the Staten Island Ferry has its very own bar! So we toasted Staten Island and Richmondtown with our Michelob Ultra as we sailed away from one time zone and went back to our own.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


During class today, a student asked to make an appointment with me on Friday to go over some of the course material. What is the problem? you might be thinking.

Well, here is the problem. This same student comes late to class almost every week, and leaves early from class more often than not. He failed his first exam. The material that he wanted to make an appointment to go over was the material for today - since, as usual he left early.

I relented and agreed to an hour on Friday. But I am resentful. I am not paid for any of my time that I spend meeting with students outside of class hours except for a single office hour - which I spend between the two classes I teach on Tuesday afternoon. I am going to have to make a special trip to University for this student because he couldn't be bothered to sit through the normal class time.

When I told him I would only give him an hour on Friday, this student was resentful and wanted even more of my time. I told him that when he began attending the full class sessions, I would give him more time outside of class.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Overheard in NY

The Creationists Are Going to Love This One

Ghetto girl: Hey, look! What's that? I think it's an egg!
Friend: What the hell?! What's wrong with you? Monkeys don't lay eggs!
Ghetto girl: ... Well, how was I supposed to know that?!

--Bronx Zoo, Jungle World

Overheard by: cracking up behind them


So, I got a comment on the post today from my time in South Africa last year. The comment said: "Such a jaded person should be left under their rock and NEVER taken out - not one good thing to say - how sad!" and was left by "anonymous" (of course).

I thought that was an interested comment as I remember have a quite good time that day. I got out of Pretoria and got a chance to see some very important site in the general area. Maybe I did highlight the more unfortunate things that happened to me, but that makes for good reading.

But on the off chance all the people who I know read (yes, all three of you) think that I am jaded and should be left with mold spores under a rock, be sure that I am not. I am maybe a little bitter and cynical, but I do know how to have a good time and enjoy life.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

American Idol

I admit it. I like it. I watch it.

Something that I find really irritating is when the judges tell a contestant that they are being "original" when they cover a cover of a song. Example? Tonight, David Cook sang Chris Cornell's version of Michael Jackson's song "Billie Jean". Ryan Seacrest mentioned it briefly during his intro of David, but the judges subsequently ignored it.

Hello? Not original. Chris Cornell's version was original. David Cook's version is a retread of someone else's originality. I don't have a problem with that in general - just that the judges praise originality when there is none.

This happened a couple of years ago when Chris Daughtry sang the Live cover of the Johnny Cash song "I Walk the Line". Chris sounded good, and it was a good choice, but not original.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go listen to the Chris Cornell version.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Kitty Love!

Happiness is watching your cats bat at each other through a chair slip cover. Hee hee!


It is midterm season, and I have elected to punish myself this year by giving short answer exams (rather than multiple choice). I have done this partially to make up for the fact that I have given them no writing assignments. Normally, I assign either two short (3-5 pages) papers or one longer paper (5-7 pages). But I just couldn't bring myself to read them this semester. It is a soul destroying, disheartening process. So I went with the short answer/essay exams.

I realized after I turned in one of my exams to be copied that there was a term leftover from a previous edition of the exam that I didn't go over specifically in class. Because I am fair, I told my students that that question would be extra credit. When I was reading through the exams, I noticed that one of my students had an extremely technical answer. In fact, it was so technical, I had to look it up to see if it was correct or not. And upon looking it up on teh interwebs, what did I find? The answer was copied from a Wikipedia article.


I am used to getting papers plagiarized almost exclusively from wikipedia entries, but this is the first time a student has done this on an exam. This student must have used a blackberry under his desk to surf the internet and look up the answers. As a professor, what am going to do about this? I mean, I know what to do with this student - he fails the midterm and will likely fail the class. But what do I do in future exams? I am not allowed to collect their cell phones prior to class because of insurance purposes. I guess I will have to have them leave their cellphones on their desks in a place where I can see them.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

One of those days.

I am still angry about that article. The Washington Post did a follow up interview with Charlotte Allen to allow her to clarify her position and I couldn't even finish reading it before I got so angry that I had to close my browser. Note to the WaPo: if you are going to publish an oped that is a "satire" of misogyny, then don't let a misogynist write it. Furthermore, if you are going to continue to call it satire, don't allow her to participate in a Q&A that does nothing but point out that it is NOT satire, but actually what the writer believes. Publishing a piece like that in a respected newspaper gives Allen's word weight that they simply don't deserve, no matter how she originally intended the article.

* * *

Yesterday was definitely one of those days. I was fighting a cold all weekend. By Monday, I was a puddle of phlegmatic goo. My students have their first midterm today, so I trudged out to campus to teach and answer questions on Monday. I told them from the outset that I would be cutting class short because I wasn't feeling well and I heard some muted cheers. Thanks, guys. I feel like crap, so you win. See if you get a curve on your exam.

Because of my extreme sick and tired-ness, I definitely overslept my alarm on Tuesday. My eyes opened at 8:54 am when I was supposed to be teaching at 9:10am. I quickly threw on some clothes and some contacts and ran out the door and onto the subway. I made it to class with no breakfast and feeling slightly smelly by 9:25. Clearly, I rode the elevator up with one of my students who always wanders in late and I thought to myself how much I miss the days when I could wander into class late or opt just to skip it. Sadly, as the instructor, those options are now barred to me.

For class, we were doing a modelling exercise involving these little plastic beads. The last person to use them did not close the bags tightly so as I pulled them out of the drawer, they spilled out all over the floor. At that point, there really wasn't much that could happen to make a day worse. But then it started to rain on me on my walk home from class. And then I realized that I submitted the wrong exam to be copied for my Wednesday class.

On the upside, last night I got a good night sleep for the first time in several days and I am feeling much better.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Seeing Red

My friend's boyfriend pointed me in the direction of this article in the Washington Post entitled "We Scream, We Swoon, How Dumb Can We Get" written by a woman ... against women.

I don't know who this Charlotte Allen is, but she clearly has serious penis envy. And I don't know what's wrong with the Washington Post that they would publish such total drivel. If you can't be bothered to read the article, it's all about: the idiocy of women who support Obama; Clinton as a poor candidate because of her poor choices - chalked up to her being a woman, of course; and the supposed biological differences between men and women. I actually read the article twice because I thought she was being ironic at first. But on second read, I realized that this chick was totally serious.

I don't know what makes me angrier. Her idea that the stupid things men do are rooted in some kind of ancestral "save and protect" mentality or that women are biologically preprogrammed to be nurturing mothers and make a home. Clearly I must be some kind of genetic anomaly because frankly, children annoy me and the only thing I am truly nurturing towards are my fish and my cat.

Her arguments don't even hold up - she claims that women have been verbal skills because we had to be able to "remember where the berries were" during our hunting and gathering days and men have better math and spacial relationship skills because "they had to be able to map out the trajectory of a spear." Um, remembering the locations of food patches is a cognitive mapping skill and would also fall under navigating spacial relationships.

She ends her article with this:
"So I don't understand why more women don't relax, enjoy the innate abilities most of us possess (as well as the ones fewer of us possess) and revel in the things most important to life at which nearly all of us excel: tenderness toward children and men and the weak and the ability to make a house a home. (Even I, who inherited my interior-decorating skills from my Bronx Irish paternal grandmother, whose idea of upgrading the living-room sofa was to throw a blanket over it, can make a house a home.) Then we could shriek and swoon and gossip and read chick lit to our hearts' content and not mind the fact that way down deep, we are . . . kind of dim."

Even if that is meant to be ironic, it still validates all of the ridiculous, outdated stereotypes present today against women.

I am so angry I can't even continue to articulate. Read the article. Be outraged.

EDIT: Apparently it is tongue-in-cheek. But it should have been clearer.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Last Weekend

I made a new friend. He asked me to come over to his place and takes some photos of his zoo. Here are the highlights:

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Grendel by John Gardner

fiction/literature, (c)1971, 175pp
rating: *****

Grendel is a retelling of the "Beowulf" myth from the point of view of Grendel. It's pretty important to have read "Beowulf" before reading this book or you will be hopelessly lost. The majority of this book deals with life at Hrothgar's hall prior to the appearance of Beowulf. We are introduced to Grendel immediately who tells us all about his life and what he has observed. He has observed the settling of this area by the nomadic bands and the building up of Hrothgar's empire. He is entranced by Hrothgar's "Shaper", a harpist and storyteller, though the storyteller's words cause Grendel auguish because he knows what the Shaper says is untrue but he is so entranced by his words that part of him believes. After an encounter with a dragon, he begins his marauding on Hrothgar's hall until the inevitable meeting with Beowulf.

Apparently this book is widely used in high school classes, though I never had to read it. I read up a little bit about the style of the book so that I would appreciate it more. There are 12 chapter and each of the twelve chapters corresonds to one of the zodiac signs, starting with the first chapter and an encounter with a Ram. Each chapter also deals with different ideas of philosophy, including using philosopher's own words. Grendel himself goes through several different phases in thinking about the meaning of life. There are also meditations about propoganda (through the role of the Shaper), the role of religion on society, and the meaning of war.

Throughout the book, Gardner plays with different literary styles as well. Most of the book is told through stream-of-consciousness of Grendel. However, he shifts to a lyrical style (which echoes the original text) and screenplay style (very Beckett-esque).

I started reading this a long time ago and I couldn't get all the way through it. However, this time it really captivated me and made me think. And sometimes it's nice to read a book you really have to think about.

Friday Seminars

One of the most annoying things about my graduate program is that we have mandatory Friday seminars. They are "mandatory" for everyone - faculty and students. During the second semester, our second year Ph.D. students give talks about various topics. Occasionally we have visiting professors speak (though those are usually on Thursday night - less mandatory; I only get in trouble for not going if it's something directly related to my area of interest). The rest of the empty seminar slot are filled by "senior students" or recent grads giving update about dissertation work.

In small doses, I think this is an excellent idea. However what ends up happening is that the same people get roped into speaking again and again about their dissertation data. And since my advisor is instrumental in these seminars, I am roped into giving these talks about once a year. I am supposed to give a talk about my dissertation data for the THIRD TIME in May. I have already given a talk about what I was going to write my dissertation on (the first time). I have given a talk about my exploration of most of my data (the second time). I am still working through all of my exploratory data (since the first time I gave my talk I hadn't finished collecting it yet) - what am I supposed to talk about in May?

Another thing that irritates me about these seminars is that they are scheduled from 2-4 in the afternoon. That pretty much kills my day. It's hard to motivate myself to start working on my dissertation stuff when I know I'm just going to have to break to go down and listen to people talk about the same things I've already heard them talk about at least once before.

Additionally while these are "mandatory", there are a lot of faculty members that rarely if ever darken the door of the lecture room. These are also random students who somehow get exempt from these because, "they're just so busy." While, I AM BUSY TOO! But my advisor says, "If I can't get my own students to come ..." Six years of this! I am tired of it. My small form of revenge is to find the facet of my dissertation that my advisor is least interested in, and I'll talk about that.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Words to Live By

A writing schedule brings balance to your life – not balance in the pseudoscientific, New Age, self-help sense of wondrous fulfillment, but balance in the sense of separating work and play. Binge writers foolishly search for big chunks of time, and they “find” this time during the evenings and weekends. Bing writing thus consumes time that should be spent on normal living. Is academic writing more important than spending time with your family and friends, petting the dog, and drinking coffee? A dog unpetted is a sad dog; a cup of coffee forsaken is caffeine lost forever. Protect your real-world time just as you protect your scheduled writing time. Spend your evenings and weekends hanging out with your family and friends, building canoes, bidding on vintage Alvar Aalto furniture that you don’t need, watching Law & Order reruns, repainting the shutters, or teaching your cat to use the toilet. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you don’t spend your free time writing – there’s time during the work week for that.

- Paul Silva, How To Write A Lot

Top 12 Movie Scenes!

I can't even find the first edition

12. Hot Stuff The Full Monty (1997)
When the men are in line for unemployment and the song "Hot Stuff" comes over the loudspeaker. They can't help but do a little of their choreography while they are standing there.

11. It's Raining Men Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
The fight between Mark Darcy and Daniel Clever. They're too posh to fight properly, so it turns into an awkward, bumbling sequence to the tune of "It's Raining Men". One of the best uses of a musical soundtrack.

10. The Slowest Car Chase Ever Enigma (2001)
Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet are chased through English country fields by a private investigator. Car chases are so much more fun when they are done at 30mph in a WWII era buggy. Plus, this scene culminates with a satisfying, yet incredibly awkward kiss. Love it.

09. "...you'll remember this moment when we were so close." Igby Goes Down (2002)
My favorite scene from my favorite dark comedy. Sookie tells Igby what she thinks about after she's done having sex. Igby's response? "You're a real fuckin' upper." Dialogue perfection.

08. "I'd like to dedicate this to my grandpa, who showed me these moves." Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
The ending scene at the beauty pageant in Little Miss Sunshine was the perfect ending to a perfect movie. Making a mockery of child beauty pageants has never been so funny.

07. The Baptism Montage The Godfather (1972)
The juxtaposition between the baptism and the string of violence is riveting. And don't think I missed the symbolism.

06. "How are you going to kill this bunny? Swingers (1996)
Trent's pep talk to Mikey in Swingers when he is getting ready to pick up a girl. Priceless - and is followed by one of the most cringe worthy scenes in movie history.

05. The Tango Roxanne Moulin Rouge (2001)
Another instance of juxtaposition. The way that "Roxanne" is retooled is almost sinister, as is the flashing between Satine's night with the Duke, Christian's jealousy and the tango dancers.

04. "You can't handle the truth!" A Few Good Men (1992)
Best courtroom scene ever. Hands down. I can almost forget how crazy Tom Cruise is in real life.

03. "And like that ... he's gone. The Usual Suspects (1995)
The final reveal where Verbal Kint's lies all crystalize for the police officers is magic - and one of the few endings I didn't guess before it happened.

02. "I want my father back you son of a bitch." The Princess Bride (1989)
Inigo's vengeance for his father's death at the hands of the evil Count Rugen is sweet. He finally gets to tell Count Rugen, "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father - prepare to die!" over and over again, and he ends with this line as he kills him with a final blow of the sword.

01. How do you solve a problem like Maria? The Sound of Music (1965)
When Maria finally marries Captain Von Trapp, she walks down the aisle in this huge, gorgeous wedding dress. The camera pans up and the wedding march morphs into a reprise of "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?" I've loved this movie since I was a little girl, and while twenty years later I'm not so sure about the implicit message that the problem is solved by marrying her off, this scene still makes me smile.

An Offer I Couldn't Refuse

I watched The Godfather with FR last night for the first time ever. I understand entirely why so many people count it as their favorite movie of all time and I am looking forward to seeing the next one. I think the final montage scenes between the baptism and "taking care of family business" might go into my top ten movie scenes of all time.

But now I'm craving cannoli.

Friday, February 22, 2008

New York Minute

Had a fantastic, touristy New York day, despite the slushy puddles of treachery lining the streets. I met a friend of mine in Grand Central Station and we proceeded downtown to the Lower East Side Tenement musuem. I thought the tour was a little dull, though quite informative. Mostly, I kept looking around at all the apartments, thinking, "LOOK AT ALL OF THIS SPACE!" Granted, I know it would be different if there were a family of four living in an apartment the size of my current apartment.

Also, we were in one of the rooms and another person on our tour asked what this odd metal box was above the stove. Turns it out it was a gas meter where the tenants would have put in a quarter for gas. It occurred to me that there is actually an only one of those boxes in my apartment too.

We had lunch in Little Italy (NOT the best Italian food in New York by any stretch of the imagination, though guests always want to go there) but I was able to have a glass of wine and cannoli.

When I walked back into my apartment, the lights in my aquarium were off which led me to a moment of total panic. It went a little like this: Why are the lights off in the aquarium? Oh my God the power is out. Oh my God, all of my fish are dead! Oh shit, what - . Then I flipped on a light and realized I just plugged the light into the wrong socket.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Out by Natsuo Kirino

fiction/mystery, (c) 2005, 400pp
rating: ****

I ran across this book when I was looking for more things to read when I ran out of literature when I was working in London. I didn't buy it then because of the sticker price (high exchange rate is a killer on books particularly), but I tucked the idea of this book away. Finally, this year, I decided to read it.

Out tells the story of four friends/colleagues that work the night shift at a company that makes packaged bento box meals. Each one of them has their own reasons for working the night shift, and each one has severe problems at home. Matsuo's family members orbit around each other without ever caring or interacting with each other. Kumiko is mired in debt and has spending problems. Yoshie is stuck caring for her ungrateful children and her aging mother in law and Yayoi's husband gambles and cheats on her. In a fit of rage one night, Yayoi strangles her husband with his own belt and calls her friends to help her figure out what to do. In this way, all four of them are pulled into the more criminal underbelly of this Tokoyo suburb.

Kirino won the Grand Prix award in Japan for this novel and it is well deserved. Though it is filed under the "mystery" section in Barnes and Nobles, it's not really a mystery. We find out exactly what the crime is and how it happens in the first thirty pages or so. The beauty of this book is watching everything unfold and seeing how Masako particularly manages her situation. Kirino has done a good job making all of the characters extremely realistic and this makes the reader invest in them. She also includes a young loan shark, a Brazilian immigrant and a casino owner as supporting characters and does an excellent job fleshing them out as well. The fact that all of these ladies work the night shift and so live in an inverse of everyone around them adds an additional darkness to this novel that makes it even moodier.

The other nice thing about this book is that it doesn't fetishize japanese culture (likely because it is a crime novel written by a Japanese woman). Many works of fiction and movies made by western writers fall prey to orientalism (read the essay if you haven't!). They either play up the young, hip, edgy teenagers or the rigidity of the culture. This book depicts a different side of Japanese culture and life and is refreshing to read.

I only had two quibbles with this book. Quibble #1 - it is quite long, and while most of it is a page turner, it definitely dragged just a little in the last quarter of the book. Quibble #2: The ending is a little ... odd, and somewhat disturbing. To say more than that would give it away. Overall, I highly recommend it.