April 30, 2008

Favorite Things - New Takes

1. Voodoo Doll - This mini version of the classic was given to me as a gift and is soon to be used for a little retribution. Think of all the possible subjects: jerky CEOs, office frienemies, bitchy ex-bosses, insufferable co-workers...all on your list! You can only hope that you're not on my list at this point. And if you have to wonder, then yeah, it's probably you.

2. Lady Grey Tea - This I discovered on my fabulous trip to Australia, which reawakened my love of tea in general. I've always been a fan of Earl Grey; this adds a little citrus to the traditional flavor for a tasty twist.

3. America's Next Top Model - Cycle 10 - This one is the fault of VH1 and the writers' strike. When there was nothing new on, I got sucked into a few Saturday ANTM marathons and this is the result.

4. Oreo Cakesters - Good ole Oreo cookies gone puffy. Nothing but yum.

5. Word Riot - A new version of a game from Pogo. It's like being on the old game show, Password. A little scary at first but totally addictive. Like still up at 3am playing addictive.

April 16, 2008

Light My Fire

Ah, yes, the delightful Kindle I mentioned in an earlier post finally arrived yesterday. To my surprise, almost no one I know was aware of this ebook device and I've spent a good bit of time today demonstrating how it works. To no surprise at all, I spent a good two hours last night trying to decide what my first download would be! The winner was The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs.

You may notice that a picture of the cover of that book appears, for the time being, to the right of this post. Seems like a good time to mention the new widget I put over there recently, but hadn't gotten around to talking about yet. In case you don't know it, I'm a voracious reader. I've thought for quite a while that there should be a way to catalog easily all the books I've read, preferably online, but hadn't found it. I'd begun a clunky Excel spreadsheet (with the help of the very useful "My Reading History" feature that my library has online) of the books I could recall reading recently, but it wasn't exactly what I was hoping for and I wasn't all that enthusiastic about using it.

In the midst of that project, while visiting other blogs, I discovered that LibraryThing existed and did pretty much exactly what I'd envisioned. Not only that, but I could also do something else I'd hoped to do (but hadn't had the time or energy to figure out how to do on my own) -- put a short list up here of what I'm currently reading with just a few clicks. At any given time I'm reading at least two, if not three, different books and I plan to keep that list up to date by having whatever I'm reading show up there.

I'm not really a book club kind of girl. I don't like being told what to read. Throughout high school and college I probably read a couple thousand books, but very few of the ones that were assigned in English class. A personality flaw, to be sure, but it has gotten me this far. The point is, I'm not looking to turn this into a book blog, get a group going, have this turn into a Kindle discussion spot or anything like that, but I'm always interested in learning about new authors or books that someone thinks I might enjoy and sharing the same with others. I've checked out the discussion boards on Amazon for the Kindle and on LibraryThing and, frankly, some of those people are a little too nutso-passionate for my taste. But if you've read this far and I haven't already bored you to tears, maybe the same kinds of things appeal to you, too. So I hope you'll share some thoughts if something appears over there and it kindles your interest. :-)

April 10, 2008

Freedom to Choose Freedom

"Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them -- and then, the opportunity to choose." - C. Wright Mills

Not a terribly exciting quote, but I think it's an interesting one. Because, really, isn't an important part of true freedom the ability to decide what freedom means to you?

I'd never heard of Mr. Mills before, so I did a little looking before deciding to go with his words of wisdom here today. From what I read, I found that he was a social scientist who was often viewed as a Marxist. But in typical American fashion, he was also often viewed as an anti-Marxist. Kind of like how celebrity women can end up on both the best-dressed and worst-dressed lists in the same year, to use a rather more pedestrian analogy.

I found this article, written about him and one of his theories, which I enjoyed reading. The author makes a really good point about some of the insights Mills put forth in one of his lesser-known works, noting that "they might be as applicable today as they were [fifty] years ago." Given where we are politically right now, even more so when the article was written five years ago, I'd have to say "hell yeah."

April 09, 2008

Forgetting Thurgood Marshall

"Grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure.”" -—Justice Thurgood Marshall

This one resonates pretty closely with the quote from yesterday and my thoughts about the negative impact of the Patriot Act. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you felt about the last post), I'm too tired to say much more about it today.

Instead I'll ask you how much you know about today's quotee, Justice Marshall. If the answer is "Not much," I invite you to read this article about one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century. Today's title is merely a play on the title of an upcoming movie (the billboards for which I've been seeing around a lot, so it came to mind quickly), by the way; Justice Marshall is someone we should most definitely not forget. He's someone we all owe a debt of gratitude to for shaping much of our current national identity. Others in the civil rights movement in America may have been more visible, but few had more lasting impact.

April 08, 2008

Paging the Fourth Amendment...Please pick up a white courtesy phone

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

This one couldn't be more meaningful for today's America, could it? Fear has driven us to give up all sorts of liberty in the name of safety.

Patriot Act, anyone? That little gem of a legacy from the Bush Administration has stripped away much that I doubt we'll ever get back. It violates many tenets of the Bill of Rights, what I've always thought of as the shining star of American democracy; that thing which defined us as "The Land of Liberty." The Patriot Act's use, and misuse, has had the unfortunate but unmistakable consequence of virtually gutting the Fourth Amendment, in particular.

Really, it's our fault for letting this happen, though. We don't hear it as much anymore, but we've lived with the idea of "the terrorists have won" if we don't do something we'd normally do if not for 9/11 and its after-effects for the last seven years. But for us to have let our own government strip away things that were so fundamental to our identity as a country, in the name of our safety, certainly smacks of that to me. Maybe they've only won a battle in a larger war we hope they'll lose, but at what cost?

April 07, 2008

Quote Week: Freedom

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it." - Thomas Jefferson

The hullabaloo surrounding the Olympic torch relay disruptions by demonstrators protesting China's tyranny over Tibet, and activities closer to home as pro-Tibet activists scaled the Golden Gate Bridge today and hung banners, made this quote jump out at me today. Because while I may not agree with all of the tactics being used, I understand why those fighting for the freedom of Tibet have seized upon this occasion to make their voices heard.

Right or wrong, those who feel passionately about the situation in Tibet have recognized that China, a country that has long abused the human rights of those under its rule, winning the right to host an international, high-profile event like the Olympics created a worldwide stage for their message. This powder keg has been brewing for decades; the decision of the Olympic selection committee to award China the Olympic games, when it has done nothing to change its treatment of minorities or put an end to its human rights abuses, was like handing those committed to protesting a lit match.

Predictably, China has condemned the actions of the protesters but, in my opinion, hasn't got a shred of high moral ground to stand on. And, predictably, the U.S. is too much in debt to China for the government to try to take a real stand. If anyone really thinks the U.S. will be boycotting the Olympics (and I'm not saying that we should), or even that Bush won't attend the opening ceremonies, they need to take a cold, hard, clear-eyed look at the realities of our economy and the financial position we've gotten ourselves into with respect to China.

But the fact that we can see what's happening on TV, in papers and across the Web, and express our opinions about it like this, unfettered by worries that someone is going to throw us into jail for doing so, brings home what the freedom Tibet is asking for is all about. We have it. They don't. They want it. We (as I count myself among them...though I won't be scaling anything anytime soon) believe they should have it.

So this week is going to be about freedom and what wiser people than me have said about it throughout history. Because what we're seeing is nothing new; oppression and rebellion are as old as time.

April 01, 2008

Death Becomes Her

When thinking about a post for today, I'd planned to write about candy. I mean, why not? But then, as I do most days, I popped over to dooce to read her latest post. What I ended up reading, and the hours after, changed that. A lot.

Now, if you go over, please read what she says about the site she features before you go clicking on it, lest you be a "Mimi," too. "This somber series of portraits [was] taken of people before and after they had died..." I did read, and decided it was something that I didn't want to be looking at during work. Instead, I started reading the comments since she'd opened them, and those were moving enough. When I started reading there were about 141 comments; at the time of writing this, there are 901. By about number 44, I was already fighting tears and I hadn't even gone to see the pictures under discussion. Clearly, the subject of death, and our reactions to it, touched a nerve.

I decided I was going to wait until I got home to go view the gallery, and went to lunch not too long thereafter. I didn't have a lot of time, so I went to a nearby falafel place that I enjoy. There is a large TV in one corner that's usually tuned to Al Jazeera in English....which I don't generally watch. But when I glanced up at one point, mouth full o' falafel, I was startled to see a man in a coffin on the screen, quite dead, being made up prior to his viewing. I still have no idea what the story was about because I couldn't hear it and it didn't really matter -- the visual from it, on top of what I'd just been reading and thinking about, was enough to boggle my mind a bit and mull over how differently news is presented elsewhere in the world.

On the drive back and for a while after that I was thinking about death and its place in our society, our lexicon and my own life. Many of the commenters at dooce mentioned our fear of death and how it plays into the reactions people have to the photos. That made me think about how, on the other hand, we use the concepts of death and dying in our language so easily and perhaps carelessly. I realized that, a bit earlier in the day, I'd written an IM to someone wherein I'd said, "She is absolutely killing me today," without a second thought, the way we all do. Hmm, I'm pretty sure I'd said essentially the same thing...about the same person...just the day before. And here I am, still alive.

Think about it. "I'm dying of hunger." "This will be the death of me." "My head is killing me." "He's rolling over in his grave." "That is a dead end." Those are just the first few that come to mind, I'm certain you can think of many more. Why is it we're so comfortable referring to death in these offhand, casual manners, but the thought of death itself freaks us out?

As I've been thinking about this for so much of the day, I eventually realized something about my own reaction to the idea of death and dying: It's not the idea of my own death that bothers me, or thinking about people in my life who have died, it's contemplating the death of friends, family and loved ones in my life now that makes my own internal wig-out meter go bonkers.

So, let's see, here I am, seven paragraphs into this post and I still haven't gone to see the photos that started all this. I'm not actually procrastinating, as I don't have any true hesitation in viewing them. I just wanted to be done here because, if they're as haunting and beautiful as people said, I think I'm going to want some tissues instead of a keyboard afterwards. Now, however, as a friend of mine says, it's time to pull on my big girl panties and deal with it.