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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Obama protects banks

Matt Taibbi's latest column expresses his contempt for the Obama administration, which is crafting a deal that creates a single fine for the banks to pay for mortgage-backed securities fraud, and protects them from all future legal action.  The Attorney General of NY, Eric Schneiderman, is blocking the deal.  Excerpt:

In a remarkable quote given to the Times, Kathryn Wylde, the Fed board member who ostensibly represents the public, said the following about Schneiderman:

It is of concern to the industry that instead of trying to facilitate resolving these issues, you seem to be throwing a wrench into it. Wall Street is our Main Street — love ’em or hate ’em. They are important and we have to make sure we are doing everything we can to support them unless they are doing something indefensible.

This, again, is coming not from a Bank of America attorney, but from the person on the Fed board who is supposedly representing the public!

This quote leads one to wonder just what Wylde would consider “indefensible,” given that stealing is pretty much the worst thing that a bank can do — and these banks just finished the longest and most orgiastic campaign of stealing in the history of money. Is Wylde waiting for Goldman and Citi to blow up a skyscraper? Dump dioxin into an orphanage? It’s really an incredible quote.

I find the whole thing incredibly discouraging.  Taibbi is as lucid and informative as always, but, like so much of what's been going on, from the bank bailout to the fact that Guantanamo is still open, it just seems inexorable.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bot fly larvae

Something I never wanted to know about, and almost wish I didn't!  Last night, we got home after it was a dark and a bunny was sitting in the road.  It didn't move, so we put it in a box and brought it in the house.  It seemed a bit stunned, maybe hurt, but we couldn't see any obvious injury.  Then we noticed a blackish round thing on it's shoulder.  We asked our hunter friend, Jim, and he said someone shot the bunny.  I told Alana the bunny could stay overnight, and we'd take it to the vet today.  This morning it seemed much better, and when we were cleaning up it's poop we found out why - the bot fly larvae that had been eating its way out of the bunny had finished!  GAG!!!  We killed the larvae and let the bunny go, though it's prognosis is not good - Wikipedia says that bot flies lay about 30 eggs, so that poor thing undoubtably has more of those digusting creatures incubating inside him. (I considered taking the rabbit to the vet, but this website says that these parasites are a natural phenomenon, and that it's often more stressful for wild animals to try to remove them - it's better to "let nature take its course." The site also says that animals often survive an infestation, so maybe Mr Rabbit will be ok.)  Thank goodness there is only one variety of this parasite that infests humans and it doesn't exist in North America.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Weekend movies

Watched a couple of interesting videos this weekend~

Breaking and Entering (2006) - Anthony Minghella's final film, before his untimely death in 2008.  I liked the film a lot, it's very textured and complicated, with excellent performances by everyone, and lots of thoughtful dialog. It's also really visually beautiful.  My only complaint is with the morality of the film, which I wasn't totally comfortable with; I thought Jude Law's character got off really easy, and in the end, the film didn't say as much about class differences as I hoped it might.  This is really a quibble though, it's a wonderful film.

You Cant Be Neutral on a Moving Train (2004) - this biopic of Howard Zinn is excellent, and also a bit poignant to watch after HZ's death in January last year.  My only complaint is that it's a bit short - only 80 minutes - and I was left wanting more. 


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jewish movie/book weekend

Weird to be finishing up a book about Germany between the wars, City of Shadows, and then also get the chance to see Sarah's Key, based on a novel about the round-up of Jews by the Vichy government in France in 1942.  Lots to think about, and of course lots of sad moments in both the book and the movie.

City of Shadows - I really enjoyed this book, it's a page turner; I don't really care about the crime in the book, though it's cleverly presented and solved, but I loved the history - the fascinating perspectives on Hilter's rise and the way different people coped and responded; she also includes a character who escaped to Germany from Russian, where Jews were persecuted for decades before the Germans got into the act (with their peculiar efficiency); affecting and thought-provoking

Sarah's Key - a moving story of course, and very well done; shockingly virtually lost to history, the French government shipped 13,000 Jews to Auschwitz in July 1942.  In this story, an American journalist living in Paris (Kristen Scott Thomas) discovers that the beloved apartment belonging to her husband's family since August 1942 became vacant when its Jewish occupants were deported.  She becomes obsessed with the (probably) surviving girl from the family, and doggedly pursues her story over several continents.  A gripping mystery that also addresses the choices inherent in modern marriage as well as family loyalty, secrets, and forgiveness across several generations.  A lot to pack into 2 hours; I haven't read the book myself (though I plan to), but several of my friends have read it and recommend it, and it's a book club favorite also.

Side note: I'm just about to start my next audio book, which also happens to be a Holocaust story, also well-known, popular, and rather off-beat, The Book Thief.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

"The Help" box office

So The Help crossed the $100 million mark this weekend, after just 3 weeks in theaters, with a budget of only $25 million.  Is there ANY chance that Hollywood will consider this success when planning future movies?  ANY chance that this will increase the number of mid-budget movies for grownups?


Friday, August 26, 2011

America, Israel & natural disasters

Apparently John McTernan, a British political strategist, wrote a very prescient book called God's Final Warning to America in which, among other valuable obvservations, he presents evidence that every time the US criticizes or doesn't support Israel, something bad happens.

This important information was given to me by Larry, who heard it from a Jewish friend of ours.  I wasn't especially surprised that the friend is touting this, as he's shared some of his other views with me, but I was a bit shocked that Larry was buying it.  When I asked him if he really believes that God punishes America for not supporting Israel, he said, "It's a very long list."

You can see some of the list here.  As a person versed in statistics (specifically, the principle that correlation does not equal causation), as well as generally being connected with reality, I find this beyond ridiculous.  Even if you could make the case for these two things (criticism and disaster) happening together, which apparently you can, it still says absolutely nothing about God's intentions or Israel's rightness.  In fact, I would suggest that it mostly indicates that bad things are constantly happening and can therefore be linked with anything else that is also always happeneing!  It actually annoys me when Jews resort to this kind of thing to protect Israel.  It makes us look crazy, like Michelle Bachman.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Restaurant food gauntlet

As part of their All You Can Eat theme this week, NPR's Fresh Air broadcast a routine by Patton Oswalt, where he talks about the food at the Black Angus Steak house.  Hilarious.  I love "and what the heck, four cheeseburgers" . . .

Black Angus used to be a very friendly restaurant where I'd come in and have a steak and a baked potato. It'll be a good time. And you go, that sounds fine.

And then over the past few years, the commercials have turned into this, like, gauntlet of threatening food, where it doesn't even look pleasant anymore. It sounds like an initiation rite now:

"At Black Angus, well start you off with an appetizer platter, featuring five jumbo, deep-fried Gulf shrimp served with a side of our butter and cheese cream soup and 15 of our potato bacon bombs and a big bowl of pork cracklins."

And you're like, "You know, we're each going to split that."

"No, you'll each get your own. And we'll take you to our mile-long soup and salad bar with our He-Man five head of iceberg lettuce salad, served in a canoe with 18 pounds of ranch dressing and, what the heck, four cheese burgers."

It's like, "Oh, man, you know what? I just, how about I'll just get a little mixed green salad?"

"Hey, I'll put on a dress and curtsy before I bring you a mixed green, buddy."

"Why are you yelling at me?"

And it just, it just never ends.

[It's a lot more fun to listen to him saying it!]


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Public responds to risk communication

As usual, NPR had some fascinating analysis of the latest news story.  In this case, they have a couple of experts who discuss public response to disaster warnings.  Below is an excerpt, which is part of a larger article about public officials' choices in these situations.

Fearing Unlikely Events

Of course, people could blame officials for hyping things, but McGraw said, "They don't become outraged about that versus being told, 'Oh, it's safe to stay here' and have your house destroyed."

Risk-management expert Howard Kunreuther at the Wharton School in Philadelphia said his work shows that people say they want officials to focus on the dangers that are the most likely, but they expect officials to protect them against the things they fear most — which are sometimes extremely unlikely. Experiments done after the Sept. 11 attacks show that's not just true with natural disasters, but all kinds of threats.

"Individuals thought it was more likely for terrorists to strike a civilian object with a truck loaded with explosives than a hijacked airplane, Kunreuther said. "However, they were much more concerned about blaming the government for failing to prevent the hijacked airplane attack than the truck loaded with explosives."

So if you're an elected public official, should you focus on truck bombs, which are more likely, or airline security, which makes the public more scared? Policymakers face a dilemma: They can keep people safe but risk making them angry, or keep them happy and risk making them unsafe.

Princeton University psychologist Alexander Todorov said the disconnect between how we say we want policymakers to behave and how we judge them stems from a psychological bias.

"We have known in psychology for many years something that is called hindsight bias," Todorov said. "That looking back at the events that happened in the past, they look way more predictable than they actually were."

Kunreuther said the hindsight bias allowed people to blame others for their own actions and inactions.

"The disconnect is that often before the event, people will say, 'It's not going to happen to me,' " said Kunreuther. "So they don't pay attention themselves, by taking measures like purchasing insurance or making their house safer, but after the event there's a feeling that someone should have helped us here, we have a reason to blame them."


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Restorative justice

My sister recently told me that she has an interest in this topic, so this fascinating article in Newsweek, caught my attention in a way that it might not have otherwise.  It's about a guy whose family members were victims of a horrible crime, similar to the one portrayed in "In Cold Blood" - 2 strangers came into the house, killed the parents, raped the daughter (12 years old), stole a little money, and left them all for dead. The son and daughter survived, but of course were completely traumatized.

What's relevant to RJ is that the son and daughter witnessed the execution of one of the men, but experienced no closure or psychological relief from this. However, the son had the opportunity to talk to the other man in prison - he was originally given a death sentence but it was commuted to life in prison. The man apologized for his crime, and the son experienced quite a bit of psychological relief from this exchange. The article doesn't discuss this in terms of RJ, but it struck me as a very clear example of it.  In fact, it almost seems like a mini controlled experiment, because of him also witnessing the execution.  Very thought-provoking.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Required 9-11 reading

Frank Rich is always brilliant and his essay in New York Magazine should be required reading as we enter into the onslaught of 9-11 remembrances next month.  Here's the final paragraphs:

. . . In retrospect, the most consequential event of the past ten years may not have been 9/11 or the Iraq War but the looting of the American economy by those in power in Washington and on Wall Street. This was happening in plain sight—or so we can now see from a distance. At the time, we were so caught up in Al ­Qaeda’s external threat to America that we didn’t pay proper attention to the more prosaic threats within.

In such an alternative telling of the ­decade’s history, the key move Bush made after 9/11 had nothing to do with military strategy or national-security policy. It was instead his considered decision to rule out shared sacrifice as a governing principle for the fight ahead. Sacrifice was high among the unifying ideals that many Americans hoped would emerge from the rubble of ground zero, where so many Good Samaritans had practiced it. But the president scuttled the notion on the first weekend after the attack, telling Americans that it was his “hope” that “they make no sacrifice whatsoever” beyond, perhaps, tolerating enhanced airline security. Few leaders in either party contradicted him. Bush would soon implore us to “get down to Disney World in Florida” and would even lend his image to a travel-industry ad promoting tourism. Our marching orders were to go shopping.

From then on, it was a given that any human losses at wartime would be borne by a largely out-of-sight, out-of-mind, underpaid volunteer army and that the expense would be run up on a magic credit card. Even as the rising insurgency in Iraq began to stress American resources to the max in 2003, Bush doubled down on new tax cuts and pushed through a wildly extravagant new Medicare entitlement for prescription drugs to shore up his reelection prospects with elderly voters. David Walker, then the comptroller general, called it “the most reckless fiscal year in the history of the republic.” But Americans took the money and ran, and the same partisan voices now screaming about deficits in Washington remained mum as the cascade of red ink soared into the multitrillions.

By portraying Afghanistan and Iraq as utterly cost-free to a credulous public, the Bush administration injected the cancer into the American body politic that threatens it today: If we don’t need new taxes to fight two wars, why do we need them for anything? But that’s only half the story in this alternative chronicle of the decade’s history. Even as the middle class was promised a free ride, those at the top were awarded a free pass—not just with historically low tax rates that compounded America’s rampant economic inequality but with lax supervision of their own fiscal misbehavior.

It was only a month after 9/11 that the Enron scandal erupted, kicking off a larger narrative that would persist for the rest of the decade. The Houston energy company was a corporate Ponzi scheme that anticipated the antics at financial institutions, mortgage mills, and credit-rating agencies during the subprime scam. Enron had also been the biggest patron of Bush’s political career, and so the president dutifully promised a crackdown, with a new “financial crimes SWAT team” and “tough new criminal penalties for corporate fraud.” But this propaganda campaign was no more reality-based than the one that would promote Saddam’s weapons of mass ­destruction. Once the Enron collapse became old news, federal regulatory agencies and law enforcement were encouraged to go fishing as the housing bubble inflated and banks manufactured toxic paper that would send America and the world into a ruinous dive rivaling bin Laden’s cruelest fantasies.

It is that America—the country where rampaging greed usurped the common good in wartime, the country that crashed just as Bush fled the White House—that we live in today. It has little or no resemblance to the generous and heroic America we glimpsed on 9/11 and the days that followed. Our economy and our politics are broken. We remain in hock to jihadist oil producers as well as to China. Our longest war stretches into an infinite horizon. After watching huge ­expenditures of American blood and ­treasure install an Iran-allied “democracy” in a still-fratricidal Iraq, Americans have understandably resumed their holiday from history where it left off, turning their backs on the Arab Spring.

Thanks to the killing of the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and the scattering of Al Qaeda, at least no one can say, ten years later, that the terrorists won. But if there’s anything certain about the new decade ahead, it’s that sooner or later we will have to address the question of exactly who did.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Weekend movies

Shockingly, I didn't see a single movie during the week that we were on vacation (in theaters or on video!), but I saw one in the theater and one on video over each of the two weekends:

The Help - terrific movie with a wonderful cast; I liked the book so much, and I felt the adaptation was excellent (even if they left out a few moments I thought were important, and rather inexplicably altered some details in Constantine's story); the 3 people I went with all loved it (and none of them had read the book)

Glee (concert movie) - (I took Alana to see this while Matt and Cal went to see HP7, Pt 2) Not bad, though I though the editing sucked - it would have been much better to just film the whole concert in order, instead of jumping around and cutting off bits here and there; also the film makers did a poor job of locating the cameras - there were so many times when the singers and dancers were not shown to best effect; and speaking of effects, there was no reason for this film to be in 3D, other than to charge more for each ticket.  I liked the fan stories that were included, but again, the film makers didn't seem to understand how to include them to best effect (for example, having the stories precede or follow the songs most relevant to their content!) I wasn't disappointed, because my expectations weren't that high, but I was surprised how amateurish it seemed - it could have been so much better.

The Other Boleyn Girl (2003) - I had no idea that the BBC had done an adaptation of this popular book, but I came across it at the library and thought I would check it out for comparison (even though I didn't adore the Natalie Portman/Scarlett Johannson/Eric Bana version from 2008).  It was a tad odd and arty, with the characters addressing the audience and other contrivances.  The cast was excellent of course, but I thought it was a bit of a snooze, considering the lurid storyline, and I thought the actresses were miscast - Jodhi May should have been Mary and Natascha McElhone should have been Anne instead of the other way round (and I missed Kristen Scott Thomas as the mother). Not a waste of 90 minutes, but nothing special either.

Donkey Xote (2007) - I sort of insisted we watch this for Family Movie Night because I love the Don Quixote story and this seemed cute; it was sort of a sequel to the Cervantes story, and it wasn't bad, but not memorable either; sort of uneven and odd (it's Spanish);  Alana loved it, Cal got bored


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Disappointing book and movie

Sort of a one-two punch because I finished the book last night and watched the movie tonight.  Both highly anticipated and both not as satisfying as I expected.

Impatient with Desire by Gabrielle Burton

Like so many terrific books, I heard about this on NPR. The title sounds like a bodice-ripper, but it's the fictionalized (though carefully researched) journal of Tamsen Donner, of the infamous Donner Party - a group of pioneers who got stranded in the Sierra Nevadas in 1846 on their way to California and resorted to cannabalism to survive. (The title refers to Tamsen's wanderlust, which she partly blames for the situation they find themselves in.) It had been on my To Read list for awhile, but I grabbed it at the library because I was in the mood for more historical fiction with a kick ass lady front and center after reading Arianna Franklin's excellent City of Shadows. This is my idea of a great beach read!

Once I started it, though, I almost quit - it's quite disjointed and a bit confusing.  For example, she repeatedly talks about events in the past tense that you haven't read about yet, so it's hard to keep track of the characters and the flow of events. I thought, since this was written as a journal, it would be in chronological order, but the author created a more impressionistic narrative, with flashbacks imbedded in the journal entries. I'm glad I read it, but the impact was greatly reduced by the way it's written. I don't feel like I got to know Tamsen Donner the way I thought I would. The book is obviously well-researched, but I think it could have been more affecting than it is.  I had been so looking forward to reading it and it was quite a let down.

The Debt starring Helen Mirren

I heard about this movie many months ago and immediately put it on my Must See list - HM as a Mossad agent with a terrible secret having to do with a mission in the 1950s.  I rushed out to see it the very first chance I got, but it was disappointing.  The first half is terrific, very engrossing, but the ending is so improbable that it's almost silly, and the moral of the story is all muddled.  The Nazi they capture taunts them, saying that Jews are weak and cowardly, and are no good at killing, only at dying (a prevalant rationalization).  But the agents' ineptitude and infighting almost suggests that he's right.  Ick.  This is a remake of an Israeli movie, which I did not know until just before I saw it, and which makes this unflattering portrayal more puzzling (though I suppose the willingness to examine their sacred cows and show their hereos with clay feet is to be lauded).  Clearly the point they're making is that the truth is always better than a lie, and I appreciate that.  But the way that the ending plays out makes the message less clear.  Interesting difference in the remake - in the American version, the book lauding the heroes is written by the agent's daughter, but in the Israeli film, the book is written by the agent herself; having the daughter be a factor in whether the truth will be revealed definitely adds another level to the moral dilemma.  It's not a bad movie, just not as good as it could have been (an opinion that I found is shared by lots of users on imdb.com).

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Friday, August 19, 2011

More gluten free health info

My friend Michelle sent me this informative Baseline of Health Foundation newsletter (Jon Barron) posting about gluten-free eating:

Everyone today seems to be jumping on the health bandwagon. Today's latest healthy catch phrase label: "gluten-free" products. The problem? With no government guidelines defining the requirements for a "gluten-free" food, manufacturers can use their own definition of the phrase. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how this can certainly be used to their benefit. So, what should "gluten-free" mean?

The definition accepted by food experts is that true "gluten-free" foods should contain no more than 20 parts per million (PPM) of gluten, which is the lowest amount measurable by standard lab testing. In other words, if the gluten can be found, there's too much. The FDA is finally beginning to take steps to make sure all "gluten-free" foods fall under the 20 PPM line, but any rules they put in place won't take effect until at least 2012.

Rice may be a better option for most people who suffer from celiac disease because it is gluten-free. However -- although far less common -- some people are indeed allergic to rice, particularly among those societies that use rice as a dietary staple. Thus, rice allergies are almost unknown in the United States, but may affect as many as 10 percent of the population in Japan.

So, for now, if you're really looking for a gluten-free diet, only buy foods that expressly say "less than 20 parts per million of gluten," eat more fruits and veggies, and use a digestive enzyme formula that contains pectinase. And finally, cut back on your intake of pre-packaged goods.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Great book: The Glass Castle

One of those books that's been on my To Read list for a long time, and then my book club picked it for our August selection. I could swear I owned a copy of this book, but when I was ready to read it, I couldn't find it, so I had to get it at the library (there were surprisingly few copies available, for a book that's been out for several years).

I stayed up very late finishing the book, and then couldn't get to sleep for about 2 hours, I was so tweaked by it. I enjoyed reading it because it was interesting and well written, but those have to be the worst parents in America (I kept wanting to reach into the book and throttle them). Okay, so they aren't the very worst parents, but close, and they have no excuse (besides alcoholism and mental illness) for not caring for their kids! I mean, these are educated, sophisticated people. They really take selfishness and delusion to new levels. As a book club member said - birds do a better job than they did! Why have kids, if you have no desire to care for them in the most basic ways??? I could somewhat understand the bohemian lifestyle that the family had in the southwest, and though it was meager and marginal and unsettled, the kids seem to thrive and even relish it. It seems like they would have done much better to stay out west. Why on earth would they move to WV, where the weather was awful and the people were worse - the father knew what his family (and the town) was like (and he resisted the move), but his wife knew also, and she still chose to put her children into that environment. I think more than anything else in the book, I just didn't understand why the parents would subject their kids to that, and to stay there, year after year. Awful on so many levels. It was infuriating to read (there were many "you're kidding me" moments, but, for me, probably the worst was when Rose Mary (the mom) told Jeannette (the author) to get over it when her uncle tried to fondle her; I would have broken all his fingers, or told her to do it herself!) It seems like almost a miracle that the kids emerged from that intact, and managed to become productive and functional people as adults. This challenging book made for a lively discussion at the book club, and it certainly makes one appreciate one's own situation (my parents kind of sucked, but at least we had plenty to eat)


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New classics

Apparently, back in 2008, Entertainment Weekly published a list of 100 "new classics" which I saw on a book review website that I frequent (The Boston Bibliophile).  So of course I had to check which books I've read - bolded below.  I would feel truly embarrassed by the small number, but I've read quite a few by non-white authors, so I'm proud of that.  The asterisk indicates books I own, but haven't read yet (also kind of embarrassing).  I should also note that, in the era before goodreads.com, there's several books on this list that I think I read, but I'm not absolutely sure (including Bright Lights, Big City and The Bonfire of the Vanities).

1. The Road , Cormac McCarthy (2006)

2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000)

3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)

4. The Liars' Club, Mary Karr (1995)

5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)

6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001)

7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991)

8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)

9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)

10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)

11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)

12. Blindness, José Saramago (1998)

13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)

14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992)

*15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000)

16. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)

17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (1988)

18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)

*19. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (2005)

20. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding (1998)

21. On Writing, Stephen King (2000)

22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (2007)

23. The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1996)

24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)

25. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)

26. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)

*27. Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)

28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)

*29. Bel Canto, Anne Patchett (2001)

30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)

*31. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien (1990)

32. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch (1988)

*33. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)

*34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)

35. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (2004)

36. Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)

37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003)

38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (1998)

39. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)

40. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000)

41. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)

42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)

43. Borrowed Time, Paul Monette (1988)

44. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (1991)

45. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende (1988)

46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman (1988-1996)

47. World's Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)

48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)

49. Clockers, Richard Price (1992)

**50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)

51. The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom (1990)

52. Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan (1992)

53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000)

54. Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware (2000)

55. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (2006)

56. The Night Manager, John le Carré (1993)

57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)

58. Drop City, TC Boyle (2003)

59. Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat (1995)

60. Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)

61. Money, Martin Amis (1985)

62. Last Train To Memphis, Peter Guralnick (1994)

63. Pastoralia, George Saunders (2000)

64. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)

65. The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)

66. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1997)

*67. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (2003)

68. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (2006)

69. Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)

70. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)

71. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman (1997)

72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003)

73. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989)

74. Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)

75. Cathedral, Raymond Carver (1983)

76. A Sight for Sore Eyes, Ruth Rendell (1998)

77. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)

*78. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)

79. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)

80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)

81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991)

*82. Atonement, Ian McEwan (2002)

*83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994)

84. Holes, Louis Sachar (1998)

*85. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004)

86. And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts (1987)

87. The Ruins, Scott Smith (2006)

*88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)

89. Close Range, Annie Proulx (1999)

90. Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl (2001)

91. Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)

92. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987)

93. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (1991)

94. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (2001)

95. Kaaterskill Falls, Allegra Goodman (1998)

96. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003)

97. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992)

98. The Predators' Ball, Connie Bruck (1988)

99. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman (1995)

*100. America (the Book), Jon Stewart/Daily Show (2004)


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Favorite movies

Matt and I were comparing Top 10 movie lists recently.  I suggested that you can tell a lot about a person by their favorite movie, or by their Top 10 movie list.  Not surprisingly, he didn't have a single movie in his Top 10 that didn't contain substantial amounts of violent death, even if he prefers brainier action movies like The Matrix and Inception. I think the defining qualities of my list include people talking to each other for extended periods of film time, and the complete lack of violent on-screen death (people often die in the movies I love, like The English Patient, but it's not usually violently, and it's rarely on-screen).  I would go even further, to say that my list is defined by not containing a single movie where someone gets punched in the face, while that occurs in virtually all of his favorites!


Monday, August 15, 2011

Cholesterol update

My doctor had wanted to put me on Zocor because my cholesterol has been slipping toward a worse number (it's been borderline for many years), but recommended that I take the fasting cholesterol test first, as it provides more accurate numbers - see entry on 11/16/10.

I got my results this week, and I was pretty stoked - I'm still borderline, but my trigylceride number is much better, and all 3 are basically close to the acceptable range (total is 172):

My LDL is ok (105, <100 is best); my HDL is still low (38, and it should be >50); my trigylceride number is great - 146 (best is <150; mine is down from 248).  I've got to get that HDL up, but it doesn't look like Zocor is in my immediate future (for now).

Side note: while bragging about my improved numbers to Larry, he showed me the test he had a few months ago - his trigylceride number was 566!  That's very bad, putting him at increased risk of both heart and liver disease; this elevated number is due at least partly to smoking, but he could make some better food choices and get that down (e.g., less processed meats, fewer sweets, more fiber)


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fears about the economy

I was listening to NPR's Talk of the Nation a couple of days ago, and they were interviewing a man who wrote a book about the impact of economic hard times on people as a generation - in the sociological sense, not the psychological sense (Pinched by Don Peck).  He said that history shows that extended periods of economic hardship, like the Depression and the 1890s, are marked by political discord and harsher reactions, less empathy toward the poor and so on (see quote below) and I've found that it's really stuck with me and I keep thinking about it.  I'm finding the current political climate very discouraging and he's basically saying that it's going to get worse, and all the things that matter to me are going to get further and further away.  It's depressing.

CONAN:  . . . We're in a period where it seems some of the reactionary political movements you describe in the past, well, that seems to have come into American politics too this time around.

PECK: Yes, politics become meaner, typically, as recessions stretch beyond just a couple of years. And aggressive action, bold action, becomes harder. Sentiment towards immigrants tends to deteriorate, support for the poor tends to deteriorate. People become more jealous of their status relative to others and more cynical about what the government can accomplish. And I think we are seeing that now. And it makes the solutions to our problems, you know, all the more difficult.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

More YA novels

One of the NPR books reviewers contributed "5 YA novels for all ages" to the ongoing list of 5 books to read (at the books section of their website).  I haven't actually read any of these, though I think Delirium is on my To Read list (as I recall, the reviews on goodreads were rather mixed for that one, so I didn't put it on the very top of my list, plus it's new, so I won't be able to get it in the library yet). 

I'm finding that it's a bit harder to determine which YA novels will appeal to me, compared to adult novels. There's lots of gushy reviews on goodreads for books that I end up not enjoying all that much (Die For Me is case in point, and all those fallen angel books). Of course there's always a mix of opinions on virtually every book, but I feel like I haven't deciphered it yet.  For example, people said, if you liked Graceling, you'll love The Blue Sword.  I liked The Blue Sword, and it has some surface similarities - adventure fantasy, strong female character, and set in a combination of  an alternate universe and the past on earth (when people still ride horses and defend themselves with bows and arrows).  But it's nowhere nearly as emotionally deep and resonant as Graceling and that's what really appealed to me about the book and made it stick with me.  But how do you get that level of information from the reviews?

There's just so darn many books out there, and only so many hours in the day. I try to use reviews to figure out which books I'll actually enjoy, but with mixed success so far.  I think I've done much better with movies, - using reviews to figure out what to watch and what to skip.  Maybe the bar is just too high - after years and years of reading reviews and seeing movies, I've honed my discernment, and it'll take awhile to get to that level with books. (Though I shouldn't overstate my level of discernment - I still get lead astray by reviews - especially into avoiding movies that I end up loving, like The Village.)
I'm starting to think that Amazon reviews may be better for deciding which YA novels to read, though it's not a flawless system either.  Maybe there's another book site out there that I'll stumble across at some point, that will more perfectly suit my tastes.  I can only hope.


Monday, August 08, 2011

Super interesting book: 1493

I heard the author, Charles Mann, discussing his book, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created on NPR's Fresh Air today, and he was utterly fascinating.  He suggests that Columbus literally changed the world, by reuniting the disparate ecologies that had developed in isolation from each other after Pangea separated.  The effect on plants, animals, diseases, and especially people, was incredibly significant, and influenced history then and since.  Seems important information to know and also just sounds like a great read.


Sunday, August 07, 2011

Latest movies

I didn't get to see Crazy Stupid Love this weekend, which I really wanted to, but I saw 3 movies, each very different from the other~

The Eagle (2010) - I really enjoyed the movie Centurion, which is also a fictionalized story around the loss of the Ninth in northern Briton, and I'm a fan of both Channing Tatum and especially Jamie Bell, but ultimately this movie did not live up to its early potential. The actors give strong performances, and there are wonderful secondary characters, who mostly have too little screen time. The cinematography is quite good, and they use the gorgeous locale to excellent effect. But the story is cliché and some of the dialog, especially toward the end, is cringe-worthy. I think these actors and this historical period deserve better. Also, the whole purpose of the story is to promote the idea that family honor is the most important thing, worth endless amount of pointless death, which obviously, I think is a ridiculous and dull message. Finally, I don't mean to insult the actors, or belittle male bonding, but there were several scenes where I thought that Marcus and Esca were going to kiss. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this becomes a cult favorite among gay men. They're welcome to it, as there's not a single female character with any role in this testosterone fest - you'd think women had no effect on history at all.

Mother and Child (2009) - a rather sad, but very lovely story about love and intimacy and forgiveness, with a wonderful cast and thought-provoking themes; I'm glad I took the time to watch it.

Monte Carlo (2011) - Alana and I went to see this tween fest at the discount theater while Caleb went with a friend to see The Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  It was cute and inoffensive, and I enjoyed the performances of all 3 of the female leads - it was nice to see some up and coming young talent.


Saturday, August 06, 2011

30 soldiers die when helicopter shot down

Could anything more perfectly epitomize how utterly pointless this war has become, then the death of these elite soldiers, some of whom may have been involved in the assassination of Osama bin Laden?  I'm shocked that so many soldiers of that caliber would have traveled together in such a vulnerable vehicle (Chinook helicopter).  We are wasting a ridiculous amount of money in this country, and now we are losing our very best soldiers. It's time to get out.

". . . the team was thought to include 22 SEALs, three Air Force air controllers, seven Afghan Army troops, a dog and his handler, and a civilian interpreter, plus the helicopter crew. The sources thought this was the largest single loss of life ever for SEAL Team Six, known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group."


Thursday, August 04, 2011

National Women's History Museum

Yet another reason to hate Tom Coburn - the arch-conservative senator gets on my last nerve, and now I discover that he and Jim DeMint (another annoying Congressional presence) scuttled a bill to allow the establishment of the National Women's History Museum, on trumped up concerns about the way the abortion issue will be represented.  The museum will cost taxpayers nothing, because the museum board scrapped plans to petition the Smithsonian for a free site, and instead are paying market value for a rather crappy spot off the mall, paying millions of dollars to the government (when the government could very much use it).  No matter, the authorizing bill was blocked.  The effort to establish the museum is over a decade old and no doubt the intrepid founders will persevere until the museum is approved.  According to long-time supporter of the museum, Meryl Streep, Washington has museums about spies, the postal service, textiles, and journalism, but none dedicated to women.  Joan Wages, the president of the (currently) virtual museum hopes to have the brick and mortar building open by 2020, the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage.


Monday, August 01, 2011

My brain is still trying to kill me

See entry on May 14, 2010, where I first make this observation.  This morning I woke up 45 minutes before my alarm went off, though I was sound asleep and there was nothing to disturb me.  Why would I do this?  Of course I couldn't get back to sleep.  I had gotten a bit better for awhile, but it seems like it's worse again - I wake up early for no discernible reason and then I'm exhausted all day.  Crazy.