Monday, November 16, 2009

I fear my fear is greater than my faith 

I fear I will never walk again in rooms like these, once this baby is born.

I try to have faith that I will be able to stay me, to read, to enjoy just being surrounded by books even if I can't read them. But I fear I will lose that part of myself that longs to move slowly and quietly and reverently on marble floors beside the stacks of books centuries older than I.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Parody of a great children's book 

I don't usually "borrow" entire blog entries, but this entry at the Volokh Conspiracy couldn't be shortened. Besides, most of the post itself is a block quote from another post...

Click here to read the whole parody, as written by By William Akoi, Chris Condrat, and Ryan Merril-Johnson.

As Eugene Volokh notes, this will only be funny if you've read a certain children's book.

But for us, very funny: Alexander the Great and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day. The opening paragraphs:
I left the battle with blood in my helmet and now there’s blood in my hair and when I got out of my armor this afternoon I tripped on a dead solder and by mistake I dropped my sword in the catapult while the thing was launching and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day.

At dinner Aristotle found a fat juicy rabbit in the tall overgrown grass and Demetrius found a striking young buck in the tall overgrown grass but in my tall overgrown grass all I found was tall overgrown grass.

I think I’ll move to Carthage.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Message is not the Medium 

Tyler Cowen, on the death of books. This is an excerpt from his essay for the latest issue of the Wilson Quarterly: the Death of the Book.

His essay is titled, "Three Tweets for the Web!" Excerpt:

Sometimes it does appear I am impatient. I’ll discard a half-read book that 20 years ago I might have finished. But once I put down the book, I will likely turn my attention to one of the long-running stories I follow online. I’ve been listening to the music of Paul McCartney for more than 30 years, for example, and if there is some new piece of music or development in his career, I see it first on the Internet. If our Web surfing is sometimes frantic or pulled in many directions, that is because we care so much about so many long-running stories. It could be said, a bit paradoxically, that we are impatient to return to our chosen programs of patience.
Read his whole essay.

My take is: With the Internet, I read more, and I read deeper, both from books and online. I learn more, and where the information comes from is less important than the medium of the information.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Blurbs from bloggers 

Rob Riemen’s Nobility of Spirit: A Forgotten Ideal (which I haven't read and know nothing about), like many books, has blurbs and reviews on the covers. The only blurb on the front cover, however, is by Mark Sarvas, who maintains the blog The Elegant Variation, where I found this entry. Brian Sholis notes on his own blog the format of the citation is interesting:

::text of comment::
- Mark Sarvas, The Elegant Variation

Sholis writes that this is the first time he's seen a blog quoted on the front of a book. He then questions the format used for referencing a blog. "The Elegant Variation" is printed in italics, just like a magazine or book or other publication. He seems to be asking if a blog really deserves that kind of respect or recognition.

I wondered instead why the blog is referenced by its title and not its URL.

I also wonder how rare it really is to quote a blog on the cover of a book. I assume blurbs rely on an appeal to authority in trying to convince people to buy or read the book, so a quote from a famous blogger or blog would certainly be appropriate. Without getting into whether certain bloggers are famous for their blogs, for writings for online magazines, or for offline work they publish online, I looked at the covers of a few books I had in my library.

Those were the books I found that actually cite blogs. I found more that cite people I know as bloggers (they have day jobs, but I know them first and primarily from their blogs), like Tyler Cowen, Lawrence Lessig, Mike Adams, Walter Williams, and Virginia Postrel. Maybe that's just because I'm not as print-literate as I'd like to be. And of the books I have that I bought based on the authors' reputations as bloggers, only Glenn Reynolds' actually includes his URL on the cover.

Just a few thoughts.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Fairy Tales and Maternal Ambivalence 

I had a recent discussion on Hansel and Gretel.

I understand that the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel depicts the ambivalence of the mother. The mother archetype is represented in both the children's mother and in the witch who owns the candy house. The children's mother originally resents her children and wants to return to a childless state. She asks her husband to abandon them. It takes two attempts (Hansel figures out how to get home), but finally the children are lost, only to be found by the witch. Whereas the mother wished to abandon her children, leaving their fate open to being adopted or to dying in the woods, the witch clearly has more sadistic plans. She intends to use the children for her own purposes, which means Gretel cooks and cleans for her, and Hansel is fattened up to become supper. The witch's actions reflect the occasional hatred that all mothers feel for their children. But the children's mother relents finally and wants her children back. She sends her husband to find them. He does, they kill the witch (the sadistic mother), and the family is reunited. Hopefully the children's mother has dealt with her ambivalence and accepted her duty to her children.

I need to read more fairy tales about mothers, if there is as much to them as that. I could only find one book in my library that seemed relevant. I'm looking for more, but here's what I've found.

In Psyche's Stories, vol. 2, (ed. by Murray Stein and Lionel Corbett) Genevieve Geer studies the role of the women and the mother in the fairy tale "The White Snake." The mother is close to the earth, lives in the "rhythms of birth, sacrifice, and death," and lives by a set of values that seem rather alien, illogical, and wrong when compared to the dominant patriarchal value system. To a young servant not her son, the mother appears as a "messenger between her [feminine] domain and that of the patriarchal world." In this fairy tale, she inspires the servant's quest after intuitively realizing he had committed a crime against her or her husband but guessing wrong as to the crime.

The Celtic myth of "Oisin's Mother" looks at the feminine cycle of maiden-mother-crone and what can happen when the cycle is disrupted, mostly at how a girl or woman can be trapped in the child maiden phase, according to Claire Douglas' examination in the same book. The character Saeve, much like Kore (Persephone) from Greek mythology, is an innocent maiden who is raped by a much more powerful being (a druid family member in Saeve's case, and Hades, god of the underworld, in Kore's), and their psychic development stops. But while Kore is able to transform herself, largely because of her own mother's devotion to her, the mother-less Saeve is trapped and flees her situation in the form of a fawn. Like Ariadne of Greek mythology, must find and integrate the animus, the male equivalent of herself. Both betray the powerful men in their lives, and are thus cut off from society, including the traditional matriarchy. But again, where Ariadne matures and finds a way to integrate the animus (in the form of Dionysis), Saeve attempts to find and cling to a strong lover but loses him. Ariadne matures and transforms. Saeve does not. She alone remains the maiden, defenseless and subject to the whims of the powerful men in her life. Douglas goes on to compare these three figures to sexual abuse victims (a very enlightening examination), but I want to focus just on the transition between maiden and mother, or maiden and adult. Of these three, only Saeve has a child, but she loses him when she can't fight to remain in the state of mother.

I don't know if I should read these things as commentary or look for advice somewhere in them.


This is a really, really cute book. Baby-gami: Baby Wrapping for Beginners is written by Andrea Sarvady, with great photography by Bill Milne, and a short but worth-reading foreward by Fern Drillings, RN, MSN.

Baby wrapping is a modern term for swaddling, which is the practice of wrapping or folding a baby into a blanket or long piece of cloth to limit his movement and keep him warm. Infants are used to the tight safety of the womb; they also don't recognize that those limbs flailing around are, in fact, their own. Swaddled, they feel warm and secure.

The book also talks about baby wearing, in which the mother or father keeps the baby wrapped in a sling and resting against their stomach or hip or back. Babies want to be held. Slings let a parent hold the baby while keeping her hands free. Baby again feels warm and secure.

The book offers several pages describing the science and history of baby wrapping before going into the general how-to of wrapping, making a basic sling, and being sure the wrap is snug but not tight. Helpful tips (like what kinds of cloth to use and how to sew your own wraps) are scattered throughout in easy to read sidebars.

Each wrap or sling has a description of the difficulty, appropriate age range, situation (use a wrap made from a paper bag "for desperate times" while , and materials

The writing is clear, informative, and witty, but the color photographs and illustrations make the book. All 13 ways of wrapping the baby and 9 ways of wearing the baby are illustrated with a full-page photograph. The beginning wraps and the more difficult ones are illustrated with step-by-step diagrams or photographs with descriptions that seem complete and easy to follow (I can't test that yet and won't be able to until January).

The book looks like it will be very useful. Right now, though, I love it for the pictures.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Everyone talks about common sense, but nobody does anything about it 

Mark Twain said that about the weather.

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman have a new book that looks at much of the common sense theories about raising children and contrasts them with an impressive amount of recent research. They don't do any new research, but they collect some of the most interesting new studies I've seen in childhood development. I had come across some of these studies during my time at Catholic U., and just reading psych journals, but I've never seen a collection of research this interesting and accessible. Common sense might be common, and it might make sense, but that doesn't mean it's correct.

Bronson and Merryman are award-winning magazine journalists (they've written for Time and New York, among others), and they were drawn into this topic as Bronson and his wife became parents and as Merryman ran a tutoring program for inner-city kids, and wondered how much of what they were so sure that they knew was true. They began to research the new science of child psychology.

Each chapter in NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children takes on the common beliefs towards a particular topic of parenting, from why children lie, to how racially-diverse schools affect kids' attitudes toward race, to IQ testing in preschool, to the reasons behind (or existance of) teenage rebellion. I read this book in the span of a few days, but I'm sure it could be read in chapters, over weeks, and that you could skip or rearrange chapters without losing the gist of the book.

Some highlights:

From the chapter "Why Kids Lie": Children lie to please their parents, more than to make themselves happy by avoiding punishment. Many kids think profanity is the same thing as a lie - lies are things you say that get you punished. And parents encourage lying by asking questions that have no safe, honest answer ("Did you just draw on the table?!") or by teaching those social niceties we call "white lies."

From the chapter "The Inverse Power of Praise": Children who are told they are smart perform worse than those told they "work hard" or who receive specific praise about doing a specific task well. Children who are praised for their intelligence seem to stop learning, or stop trying to learn, when presented with material that no longer comes easy (often between elementary and middle school). They are afraid to try because just having to try means their "gift" of intelligence has run out. But children with equal intelligence and test scores who have been praised for their work ethic continue to do well, despite facing more challenging material. Also, kids worry about image-maintainance, but the "work hard" kids are more likely to accept their grades. The "smart" kids are more likely to cheat or lie to inflate their grades.

From the conclusion: Robert Emmons' work on gratitude (see his book Thanks!) demonstrates that encouraging adults (most of his work was with graduate students) to actively become aware of people and things in life to be grateful for, for example by listing five things to be grateful for every night, has a positive effect on mood. Gratitude intervention doesn't work with middle- or high-schoolers, according to research by Jeffery Froh. It makes many kids feel better, but it makes many kids feel worse. Kids who were fairly disengaged or apathetic became more excited and energized as they realized gratitude. Kids who were already filled with hope and excitement realized how dependent, controlled, and beholden they were. The illusion of control kept them from being depressed.

There's much, much more in this book. If any of this sounds interesting, go read it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

alive, one plus one 

So, things happen. And things are going to happen. Husband and I are having a kid, who will be making his appearance shortly after the New Year. I've been shifting between shock, excitement, terror. I'm not sure I'm mom material. But I'm doing my research.

The best book I've found on being pregnant is Your Pregnancy Week by Week, by Glade B. Curtis, MD, MPH, and Judith Schuler, MS, 6th ed. It's wonderful. There are weekly drawings of either baby-to-scale or how-baby-fits-in-mommy, weekly exercises, and great information presented in weekly, not-overwhelming amounts (as well as a great index). Lots of information, and it isn't preachy at all. There's no BS. The book feels written by a doctor, in that there are real science and real facts, but everything is written to be easily understood by non-scientists.

Best book in preparation for having a kid: Traci Hogg's Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. I love it. I am learning so much. In several months, I'll post a review of this book.

I've read a few others. I'll post more on them soon. (I don't want to promise much, since I've clearly been in a blogging rut, and I may stay there despite my best intentions)

Monday, August 03, 2009



Thursday, May 21, 2009

To those who know me IRL 

Oregon is over. I am satisfied.

That is all.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Observations on First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War, bvy Joan E. Cashin

The author is an associate professor of history at Ohio State University. This book has been published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. It has won the Fletcher Pratt award for nonfiction, and was an honorable mention in the Library of Virginia awards.

Why was I only able to find it in the Women's Studies section at Barnes and Noble?

It's from an academic press, it's clearly a biography, set in an obvious historical time period - I would think history, biography, and civil war. Not women's studies.

Who decides how to catagorize these books?!?!

"In the end?" Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends. 

Book leads to book. My determination to understand the entire world never ends.

I've refrained from typing a word (here, anyway) about the Watchmen. I'm embarrassed to admit that I had not read it until I saw the movie. I quickly made up for lost time and this gap in my geek education by reading the book a dozen times in a week, and countless times since. I picked up a copy of Watchmen and Philosophy, ed. by Mark D. White. I've copies of nearly all the media studies and philosophy books about Joss Whedon's work (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and I look forward to similar books on Dollhouse). This book, though, has turned out to be more difficult to understand than I'd expected.

Georgetown University had course requirements in philosophy, ethics, and religion. I took "Intro to Philosophy" as a freshman. I don't remember much. I remember reading and actually understanding Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" (not agreeing with it at all, but at least understanding the reasoning). I remember a ten page paper discussing arguments for and against, then countering and counter-countering, the doctrine of transubstantiation. That was interesting to me, at least. I may not have been Catholic anymore, but it never leaves your blood. Finally I understood transubstantiation, after weeks of study of the meaning of what "is" means.

But all in all, I remember so little. People's names, the names of philosophies - that's it. I can't remember the differences between utilitarianism and moral relativism.

Hence my difficulty with Watchmen and Philosophy.

I've started to read Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy. I've had the book for a while, since my last trip to Nashville last year. I found it in a used book store, a cheap hardcover with the leather tearing away from the spine, printed in 1933, and clearly well-read if not well-loved.

The book is organized first in chronological order by the major philosopher. Within each chapter, organization instead is based on a logical explanation of the particular philosophy, major pieces of literature, historical context, and other major players.

After about four pages I have realized I will *never* be able to follow, let alone retain, the material without keeping a running outline as I read. So I gotta read it with a notebook next to me.

Geez. I thought I was beyond that for any book but math texts. It's a bit humbling. Luckily, though, my husband majored (a couple decades ago, but still) in philosophy. I'm gonna rely on him to explain the hard stuff. Wish me luck.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thoughts of the Stuff of Thought 

Curse words have power to them. They are just words, but language has rules that everyone (or almost everyone) in a society agrees on. These agreed-on rules apply to basic things like grammar and word order (for example, in English adjectives come before the noun they modify, and the subject and verb of a sentence must agree in number, like he runs but they run). Meanings of words are also agreed upon by the group. Studies have shown that different cultures define colors differently. Mandarin Chinese, for instance, has a single word to describe both yellow and brown. There's an urban l;egend that Eskimos have 14 words for all the different kinds of snow. English is one of the few languages that differentiates between the perfect had pluperfect ("the phone was ringing" versus "the phone had been ringing").

Stephen Pinker talks about swear words and "taboo" words in his latest book, The Stuff of Thought. I don't have it in front of me now, so all of these next lines are based on my memory of the book. He sets up a hierarchy of taboo words, from shit to piss to snot to spit, with the former being more taboo than the latter. He observes that these words are roughly in the order of danger to other human beings, as vectors of disease, and in the order that other people tolerate them in public (i.e., people might be unhappy if you spit in public, but shitting in public is more frowned upon).

Language gives insight into human nature. The fact that "shit" is more taboo than "sweat" or "fart" is a reflection of how much more harmful feces can be, as a disease vector.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

kindles - and the meaning of spines of books 

The signal of reading a book is lost when you read the book on a Kindle, notes Tom Foster via Marginal Revolution. Someone reading a Kindle is reading a Kindle, and that's all the information the act shares. But reading a real book makes a different statement, and that statement varies based on the title and material of the book.

To what degree does the display of a book matter?

I wonder what the author of The Backs of Books would say...

Meds (a commenter at MR) wrote:
Displaying books on your personal shelf is far different from reading in public...I hate when strangers can see what I am currently reading, whether it is a scholarly journal or the New York Post, but I love for my house guests to see what's on my shelf. It gives them a chance to understand me better as a friend. But random train passengers...I could care less.
I've approached a few people on the Metro upon noticing what books they were reading. One man in particular I remember was reading Bing West's No True Glory, his first-person account on the battle in Fallujah. The man was mostly through the book, and I was about to purchase it (it was in my Amazon shopping cart), so I wanted to ask what he thought. He looked military, though not in uniform (it's easier for me to approach strangers I think are military), and our conversation proved me right, and he highly recommended the book, though it took a few moments to persuade him that I could handle the intensity of the gore - he was obviously uncomfortable recommending such a book to a young civilian female.

I don't think I've ever read anything on the Metro that I've been ashamed of enough to hide the cover. But there are books I won't read there. I'll read about the psychology of killing or about war, but I won't read anything that has a cover or title that seems remotely sympathetic to Nazis or genocidal Communist regimes. I'll read that stuff in front of friends, because I feel like my friends will either already know why I'm reading it and my real opinions on it, or they'll *ask*. Strangers on a train? I try not to antagonize strangers whose sanity and strength I don't know.

At home, there are almost no books on display in the main living areas, the places guests are. That's mostly out of deference to my husband, who doesn't want the clutter of books breaking up the themes we're working on for those rooms. So my library is the basement. It's a finished basement, carpeted, but with little to no outside light. The walls are *all* bookshelves, and the center of the room is always cluttered, both from the necessary standing torchieres and duhumidifier, and from the piles of books, magazines, and craft projects I'm always in the middle of. I rarely invite people down and I warn them of the mess. I don't mind people scanning the shelves, and I don't mind adults taking down books to look at (though I prefer to hand them the books that are antiques or expensive). Books are grouped by topic, so Garry Wills' Why I Am a Catholic lives next to Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian.

I love looking at people's bookshelves and seeing what they own or are reading, but that method of gaining insight into a person's beliefs and opinions is limited. The books show a person's interests, maybe, the things he is curious about, or the books are gifts from friends or family and are inscribed so he feels guilty throwing them away. Bookshelves are a source of questions, not answers.

Some questions that emerge from my book collection are questions I'd rather not some people ask. It's one thing for a liberal friend to find John Lott's The Bias Against Guns. It's another for a conservative family member to find One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom.

All my books are downstairs. There is no showing off or conversation fodder though I'll fetch books as a reference comes up in conversation that makes me think someone might like to see something in a book. I don't make guests venture into the chaos that is my library, the "storage" section of the unmedicated and untamed part of my brain.

The fewer unintentional signals I give the better I manage.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rage, um, moth? 

my rage over bonuses, better spoken

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Recent readings 

I barely read when I was in Oregon. I had time. I had all late afternoon and evening Wednesday, and evening Thursday. I had the plane rides there and back. But my mind wasn't staying put enough to read. On the plane, I was able to study the Eden Gray Tarot book. I think because I was nervous and jumpy and not totally focused on the conscious party of reading that I was able to discern a great deal about the patterns within the minor Arcana. I killed time with the crosswords in the airplane magazines. I could do the crosswords and the Sudoku, but I did NOT have the attention nor discipline for the Kakuro. I felt glum about that. I like to think of myself as good at math and logic.

I've been working to catch up.

Monday, March 02, 2009

She opened her mouth and began to speak 

“I’m all right,” said River, and she was.

Jewel sings:

Worry is wasteful and useless in times like these.
I won’t be made useless, won’t be idle with despair.
I will gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear.

My hands are small, I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own
But they’re not yours, they are my own
I am never broken.

Friday, February 27, 2009

So-Called Best Books of 2008 

For the heck of it, I looked up the 100 best books of 2008 to see how many (actually how few) I've read.

Who the hell picks these?

From Amazon, the editors' picks
Amazon, the customers' picks

NYT, Notable Books of 2008 (unnumbered)

Washington Post, Holiday Guide - Best Books of 2008 (unnumbered)

And that's it. Either I'm not well-read, or I'm reading the wrong books, or I have different tastes than people who read best sellers.

I'm going with the last one.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Making a hotel home 

I've developed a new habit in making a hotel room home. I bring several books with me. I always travel with books, but now I make a point of bringing more books than I could possibly read. I line up the books on some surface, the desk if there's room, the top of the fridge, the litle table against the wall. Anywhere - but anywhere that I can see them from wherever in the room I happen to be. When I was in North Carolina at a trauma psychology conference, I had a line of a dozen books on the desk, then more lined up under, as I kept buying books by panelists I listened to and wanted to learn more from.

There was a time when all I needed to feel like home in a hotel room was a pillow and knowing which side of the bed was mine (sometimes this necessitated violence against my little brother).

I'm not nearly so secure anymore. I'm skittish. I feel wary of rented rooms that aren't mine, that are so impersonal. I worry that the lifeless room will make me as lifeless as I feel and have felt for two years. It's so easy to feel paralyzed in a room that looks like any of a hundred rooms, like a room in a hospital but with uglier paintings glued to the walls and colorful bedspreads.

These books are currently gracing the top of the fridge, the fore edges against the small microwave.
Security blankets don't need to be made of cloth. They should be cuddle-able, though. Luckily, books are. :)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

An update on me to all concerned 

I'm in Portland. Tomorrow I get grilled by suits about certain events that occurred in 2006. Those of you who know me will know what that means.

Today was prep with my champion. I feel more positive than I have in a long time. I slept better last night than I have in weeks. I dread tomorrow, but it will be bearable. I believe a day of crying will be worth the lifetime of peace that will result. And I will be alive instead of sleepwalking and I will be able to write, to draw, to socialize, to leave my house, to be a real, complete person.

One day more.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Outwitting History 

Aaron Lansky walked some dangerous ground in his Outwitting History. You might not expect a book about the Yiddish language, the nature of literature, the conflict between old and young, between Yiddish and Hebrew, and scenes set either in dusty warehouses full of brittle yellowing books or in apartments with multi-course meals perpetually cooking in Kosher kitchens to be suspenseful. But Lansky gives us plenty of races against time to save books from destruction, of desperate fundraising to scrape together the money for a U-Hauls, of angry landlords, of callous bystanders. And the only thing that keeps the drama from B level movie chase scenes is that Lansky doesn't always win, and when he does, he doesn't always win completely. The books aren't always saved The pluky heroes don't always win.

These exciting rescue scenes (yes, they're rescuing books, from rain, from burial, from decay or mold, from burning, and most often from landfills) are only part of the book. Maybe a third.

Another third is the history of Yiddish. Yiddish was predominantly a spoken language until the mid-1800's, when novelists and poets and historians and theologists began writing in the language that would reach the masses. Unfortunately, these books were first printed only after most printing houses had switched to paper made from wood pulp and acidic washes. Further, many of the books Lansky finds were printed on the thinnest, cheapest paper available. The books are crumbling to dust. Lansky takes the drastic step of digitizing the books. (It's a drastic step in my mind, because digitization can destroy the book. The spines are cut off so the pages can be fed, one by one, through copier. In Nicholson Baker's Double Fold, few books are rebound; they are pitched. In Lansky's book, the books that are digitized are"extras," meaning that three or four other copies exist, and he doesn't say how the cut pages are dealt with.). Lansky finds the funding to digitize the archives of the National Yiddish Book Center - 3.5 million pages and counting. Yiddish has the honor of being the first of the world's literature to be digitized, according to a Trivial Pursuit question.

The final third describes the role Yiddish plays today. It is an embarrassment to some. It is a cultural goldmine to others. While it is far from a dead language, Yiddish is no longer as universal as it was - Lansky tells of a conference on the development of Esperanto as a universal language that was held in Yiddish - the language that most of the participants had in common.

These thirds, by the way, are all intertwined and mushed together, The book does a startlingly good job of maintaining a character-driven narrative while incorporating all the history that it does. I did find it jarring sometimes trying to keep the years in order, as events are presented as narratives. But for me that was a minor flaw, and one that didn't present itself until close to the end.

I'm keeping this book. I admire this man. He went dumpster-diving for books.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Thank You For Reading 

Thank You For Smoking. by Christopher Buckley. Loved it. I read it in a single night. I know they just made a movie of it, so I had to go read the book.

A few days before, I read Breaking Her Fall in two nights, I think, and Combat Corpsman is next.


I should sleep. I didn't sleep at all last night. I'm afraid to.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Math made me laugh. 

Hat tip to: Musings From a Catholic Bookstore.

, this new law to keep lead away from kids, could do much economic collateral damage I just can't help laughing. Read here
Searching for certainty is an entirely noble human endeavor. We long for the days when we were younger, when Mom or Dad could hold us in their arms and we would know we were safe. As we become adults, we venture out into the cold, uncertain world, and eventually we learn to live there by sticking to the course we feel most likely to bring a good outcome.

Groups like Consumer's Union seem to me to be taking an immature approach to the problem of lead in children's products. They wanted CPSIA because they believed it would make us safe from all lead, forever. Like little children, they wanted Mommy and Daddy Congress to make it all go away, and they are mad at that bad bad lady Nancy Nord for not doing what Mommy and Daddy said. If only Congress had that power. Congress has the power to make laws, but they do not have the power to make people 100% safe. Even if CPSIA is fully implemented, we will not be 100% safe from lead. Setting aside the fact that most lead exposure comes from lead in house paint, let's take a look at why this is.

We are going to use what nerds like me call a "stochastic," or probability-based, approach. Probability is the most counter-intuitive branch of mathematics, so I'll do my best to explain this approach in layman's terms.

Suppose a clothing manufacturer, let's call him Ben, buys 10,000 metal snaps from a snap manufacturer, Jessica. Ben wants assurances that Jessica's snaps are CPSIA compliant to the 100ppm standard. So Jessica pulls out her XRF gun and tests 100 snaps (that's 1% of the snaps), and they all test around 60ppm, near but under the lead content limit.
Read the whole thing. It's great. Unless you aren't a math geek, in which case, I don't know what to say to you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

the angel story 

Now that I think about it, the angel story is similar. My mom bought me lots of angle figures. So did my grandmother and other family members. They were kept in a wood and glass display case on the wall, or else in packs around my room. Yes, I decided angels run in packs. A pack of angels, a murder of crows, a herd of lions, a dazzle of zebras.

After the fire, only one angel mattered enough that I saved it from destruction and replacement. She is 2 inches tall, draped in a pale green robe, with hand-painted hair and face details that are just barely off, enough that you know she was painted with love by an amateur painter. She belonged to my great-grandmother.

When I explained to the insurance man that I didn't want market value for her so I could get a replacement, I wanted to KEEP the smoke-damaged figure, he tried to clean her in the sink. He dropped her, and she broke. He apologized, but there was so much bustle with men tearing at cabinets and carrying out sofas and watercolors, that his sincerity was tainted with an incredibly long to-do list. So I snatched the pieces from the sink and kept them wrapped in tissue that smelled like smoke.

I carried her with me to our rented house, and there it was calm enough for me to talk to my dad, the master carpenter and fit-it man, about putting her back together. The epoxy set well. I can hardly see the lines.

They aren't any more prominent than the line from the first time she broke - when my grandmother dropped her.

Precious Moments 

I used to collect Precious Moments figurines. I think. I had a lot of them, and I was told I was collecting them, and family was told I was collecting them so I often received firurines as gifts, so I guess I was collecting them. (I also collected angels, in the same manner, but that's a different story.)

We had a house fire. My room didn't have any damage from fire, only from smoke. The smoke from synthetic carpet, combined with Corian and wood and drywall and plastic suitcases and notebooks of 5th grade poetry assignments, is thick and oily. It never comes out. I still wear the leather jacket I had back then, which was a story and a half below the flames (and smoke, we all know, rises), but the lining is still several shades darker.

The unglazed porcelain didn't have a prayer. The Precious Moments figures were on a shelf high in my room (on the top floor) in the thick of the smoke. The porous material absorbed all the gray carcinogens it could. Insurance men took one look, ordered them scrapped, and gave us money to replace them. They didn't even try to clean or save them. Not cost-effective.

I didn't much care for most of the figurines. The money was designated just as bedroom decoration, so we got the replacement value in cash but didn't need to spend it on Precious Moments stuff. Fine.

But one figure I kept. I think, or at least I remember, hiding it, smuggling it out of the house. Tdoay it seems a bit ridiculous - my parents' house sustained half a million dollars in property damage, and I (a 17-year-old girl) was worried about being put in jail for insurance fraud for keeping a $10 smoke-damaged porcelain figurine destined for the dumpsters.

The figure is on a small shelf in my library, next to a glass of sand I collected from the beach during my honeymoon and a box of soap from the Penninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. It's a boy, with that large Precious Moments head and those teardrop eyes. The eyes are dark brown. The color is mostly gone from the rest of him. There's a hint of green to his coat, and I think his shoes were brown. Dark brown soot still remains in the folds of his pants and under his neck, where I couldn't clean him well.

He's holding a single flower, as if he's giving it to someone.

My brother gave me this when we were kids, I think when we were 8 and 6, or maybe 10 and 8 (I'm the older one). He gave it to me for my birthday.

Today, I think about why. I don't know if my mom bought it for him, or if she took him to a Hallmark and told him to pick out a Precious Moments figure for his sister, or what.

But in my heart it doesn't matter. It's my six-year-old brother saying "I love you" with a flower. Not with words. My brother and I never needed words then.

It doesn't smell like smoke anymore. But I think the smoky soot gray is there to stay. That's okay. The figure isn't broken. I kept it. I deliberately kept it. And it's in my library, on display with other things that are precious to me. But really, what could be more precious that a brother's love?

Loving him back, maybe. And I do. I love you, Dan.

new blog coming... 

and that's my excuse for not posting of late. But I will amend that.

Friday, January 09, 2009

I read something! 

I read a novel yesterday.

Normally, this would not be remarkable. But I don’t remember the last fiction book I read. And I don’t even remember the last non-fiction book I completed. For some reason, I’ve been alienated from reading. Strange choice of words, I know, but apt. Books have just seemed strange recently. If I can even manage to pick one up (I feel panicked when trying to choose a book from my library, even from those I’ve read and reread. I don’t know if it’s indecision or fear that I won’t get the security / information / entertainment / whatever it is I’m seeking from the book), I can manage a sentence, then I am compelled to put it down and keep wandering the house trying to find something to do that will keep my mind off the query letters I should be researching and writing for my own book. My library is like an alien planet that I’ve crash-landed on. I’ve been there long enough to recognize the terrain – it’s familiar, but it will never be home. I feel like I have no way to leave and no home planet to return to even if I could leave. The walls of colored rectangles, the craters where backpacks or magazines rested, since removed, leaving splotches of carpet surrounded by clutter; the desk and bookshelf and file cabinet that jut into the center of the room, that I tiptoe around to get to my new high-tech looking scanner and printer – it all feels wrong. I want my home back.

Yes, I’m scared to write to agents asking them to represent my book. I don’t know if that’s normal. Probably. But I hate competing against other people, and I hate asking other people to judge me.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

More on Lone Survivor 

Another review. Another (surprised) fan.

When he [narrator] moved into the events leading up to and surrounding the firefight in Afghanistan, I was riveted. Mike actually laughed at me because I was sitting in our very cosy, very comfy recliner, literally on the edge of my seat, perched forward and reading as fast as my eyes could go.

Read this book.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Meet interesting people, but try not to kill them 

So, much of my time recently has been spent driving around northern Virginia (and reluctantly, parts of Maryland) buying books for really cheap to send to troops stationed overseas. I'm part of Operation Paperback, you see, and since postage is so expensive (even to APO / FPO addresses) I need to find free of cheap paperbacks.

It's been a successful week, in the sense that I have had trouble making room for the new books, as I store them before mailing. It's also been a successful week in terms of trying out the old CCW license. What, you don't want me to walk into a stranger's home unarmed, do you? I definitely need to practice concealment more, but wearing a heavy coat in the cold winter weather combined with very short stops at people's homes guarantees adequate concealment.

Even still. I wish I were a guy. I look over my wardrobe, think about the functionality of it all, and wish I were a guy.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Life is Short - Read Fast 

My family's holiday is Christmas, and it went, surprisingly and with problems in planning, extremely well. My mom hosted dinner for 28 without a hitch (actually 27, because one uncle phoned in sick), and the little nephews running around at the in-laws' house have (to my knowledge) broken nothing of importance or of value.

The odd thing about this holiday, though, is that mostly people give me books. It isn't unusual for me to get a two foot tall stack of books. (and I can't describe my delight at that except through pictures, both from Christmas 2007 - hence the red sweater. Normally I shy away from dramatic colors like red.).

This year, though, the husband actually got more books that I. I got An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 by Rick Atkinson (and it looks great. I can't wait.). Then we both got a coffee-table book that is too heavy for our coffee table: Africa by Michael Poliza, which has some stunning photographs, many from the parts of Africa I haven't visited yet. My mom gave me Wildside III: Best of Rose Rigden, a book of comics by an artist I'm unfamiliar with, all about safaris. Sadly, I recognize my family and myself is more than a few of the images.

I also got two postcard books of Happy Bunny images. I'm already plotting which friend should get which card. Bwa ha ha.

I am pleased.

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