Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reading List Update...etc.

After a week of vacation in Nova Scotia, my completed reading list has expanded to contain the following books:

1. God's Politics by Jim Wallis
2. What Color Is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles
3. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
4. Stiff by Mary Roach
5. The Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill
6. Against the Tide by Sen. Lincoln Chafee
7. The Summons by John Grisham
8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
9. Twilight by Stephanie Miller
10. New Moon by Stephanie Miller
11. Eclipse by Stephanie Miller
12. The King of Torts by John Grisham
13. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
14. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Still working on reading The Great Bridge by David McCullough, and am also working on The Pelican Brief by John Grisham and Big Russ & Me by the late Tim Russert.
Most of the books I read last week (#9-11 and #13-14 on the list) I primarily picked up for the purpose of being more familiar with some of the hot books in kids and teen fiction. I found all of them quite enjoyable, although I have to say I was especially attached to Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac after my experience with amnesia of sorts last fall. I thoroughly enjoyed all of those books however, even the Twilight saga, despite the fact that trashy supernatural teen romances are not my usual choice of reading material. They were very well-written and engrossing; the character development was particularly strong.
Here and there I've also been reading from Katharine Graham's Washington, a book of essays selected by the former publisher of the Washington Post about life in Washington, DC. Very nice selection-- the topics are broad, the opinions are broader still, and the authors include people ranging from Will Rogers to David McCullough, "small" names and big names, but all people who lived in the District, at least for a time. I got inspired after reading some to write my own essay about my admittedly limited experiences in DC. Here it is.


The District

Washington is not my hometown. I doubt it ever will be. At heart I am, and will always be, a small-town New England girl. Yet Washington has its charming small-town aspects-- perhaps it is this that endears it to me. For I have never in my life been drawn to cities. I hate to be in New York longer than a week, I rarely venture into Boston despite living so close, and Toronto beyond my uncle's house feels like a rat race that the rats are winning. Paris and Rome, likewise, did not appeal terribly beyond the history and foreign mystique. Madrid, Halifax, and Ottawa are the only other cities I have appreciated much.

But captivates and intrigues me as few other cities do. Moreover, it has grown to feel like a second home-- perhaps not one I would choose to live in year-round, but certainly it is the city in which I can contentedly spend half the year, particularly for academic purposes.

It's my college town-- although that description is not entirely accurate, as the phrase “college town” evokes images of smaller places like Durham, NH or Newark, DE, which swarm with students from August to May, and all but empty out in December, May, June, and July. That is not Washington. I term it my college town only because it is where I study, and truth be told this academic aspect is part of Washington's identity.

I can picture no place more perfect to be a college student. Naturally it is most ideally suited to those studying politics, but students of other subjects can find a home here too. It is, after all, the home of the Center for Disease Control, the Kennedy Center, the Library of Congress, the National Cathedral, and hundreds of nonprofit groups. If you seek a place to learn about your major's real-life applications, look no further.

As I said, however, the specialty of Washington is clearly politics. Really, political doings are the lifeblood of this city. You can expect it to manifest itself anywhere and everywhere. If you love the intricacies of government, from the gossip to the serious policy debate, there is no finer place to be. It starts at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue and spreads like a ripple effect from there, to the rest of the country and the rest of the world. The political discussion that pervades my college campus in northwest Washington would warm a policy wonk's heart. Really, I'm pretty sure it's the dialog as much as the opportunities that draws political science majors the world over to the small piece of land on the Potomac known as the District of Columbia.

No matter how much government and political formality and discussion permeate life in Washington, it's a fairly comfortable place to live, at least in some places. Northwest Washington is probably one of the nicest. As you drive up Massachusetts Avenue from Union Station, along Embassy Row, past Dupont Circle, past the Naval Observatory, you start getting out to a place where you feel like you could be in any suburb in the U.S. of A. (This is before you get out to the ritzier neighborhoods of Chevy Chase that do less to suggest middle America.) I love the walk from my campus to the nearest SuperFresh grocery store, and even more so the walk to church. The latter takes me through a park and through a neighborhood that is nice, but not to the point of excess. It's a glimpse-- no, it's more than a glimpse, it's an ever-present balance of normality in a thoroughly abnormal city.

Because it really isn't normal at all. What is normal about over a quarter of a million government employees in one city? Or one of the highest poverty rates in the country in the same city as a large number of incredibly wealthy individuals in astounding mansions? How about the fact that the capital of “no taxation without representation” America has no voting representation in the governing bodies it houses? The stark contradictions are sometimes unsettling, but always fascinating.

By the end of this past academic year, I could hardly wait to get away from Washington. I thought it nothing more than a city of facades, corruption masked in white marble, appalling problems hiding under tourist attractions. And I cannot honestly say, having now gotten away from Washington to the barns and bookstores where I now spend my days, that this opinion has entirely changed. Upon reflection, however, I view Washington as a city of many colors. A tapestry, if you will. Each color is different, and they don't all match each other perfectly. But despite the problems inherent in this lack of matching, the tapestry of Washington is woven together in such an excellent way that I have found myself joining the numbers of those who are enchanted and drawn into the District, captivated by the charms of the capital city.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Nananana BATMAN!

Saw the new Batman movie yesterday, The Dark Knight. And it was everything the hype made it out to be, and then some. It was the most incredible look at anarchic criminals (Heath Ledger in what may well be a posthumous Oscar-worthy role as the Joker), the face of hope and justice turned otherwise by personal tragedy (the brilliant Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent), and heroism that will do whatever necessary to secure hope for a dark city (Christian Bale reprising his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman). Throw in a good plot, insanely awesome special effects, and a fabulous supporting cast of Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon), Michael Caine (Alfred), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), and Maggie Gyllenhaal (Rachel Dawes), and you really can't beat this movie.
And guess what? The critics like it too! Novelty. I like this review from the Huffington Post, but there are many other well-done ones too.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Time for Some Campaignin'

New JibJab movie about the 2008 election campaign...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Three's a Charm

One interesting article: Stephen Hunter wrote an article for the (maybe it was in the paper edition of the Post too, I don't know) entitled "Leading Men", comparing Barack Obama and Will Smith, and John McCain and John Wayne. It's an "all the world's a stage" sort of article, doing an excellent job transforming the presidential race into the grand theater it is, with two very different actors vying for the lead role.
One depressing article: Well written and fascinating, but depressing. From Truthdig comes a column by Chris Hedges called "Surviving the Fourth of July", about how this gentleman escapes the dismal realities of our very hypocritical society in classic literature.
And one laughable (if you're a liberal) article: From Max Bergmann of The Huffington Post, "The Week That Should Have Ended McCain's Presidential Hopes." All about, as you might expect, the VERY bad week that John McCain has had-- which has been thoroughly underrepresented in the media. Our thanks to Rev. Jesse Jackson for that one.

Monday, July 07, 2008


First, here's a couple of articles on faith-based diplomacy, which seems to be a topic that's catching interest these days. There's one on BeliefNet by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, also promoting her book The Mighty and the Almighty. There's also a very interesting one on the State Department website, written by Dr. Douglas M. Johnston and presented to the Secretary's Open Forum.
Second- I've been privileged recently to join a local office for the Jeanne Shaheen for Senate campaign as a volunteer/intern. The former Governor has decided to challenge our junior senator, John Sununu for his seat in a rematch election from 2002, and I couldn't be more delighted to do what I can to help her win. She was a solid and popular governor, and did a lot of good things for the state, especially when it comes to education (brought in public kindergarten), health care (she brought my state our version of SCHIP), and the environment. I think she'd be a great senator, and campaigning for her, though a hot job in this summer weather, is going to be enjoyable. I'll write more about the experience as the opportunities arise.
Third- the annual G-8 summit is commencing tomorrow in Japan. The G-8 (Group of 8-- the leaders of the US, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and Russia) will reportedly be discussing Africa, climate change, and the global food crisis. We'll see if anything comes of this summit. There hasn't been anything significant done of late; here's hoping somebody (or several somebodies) finally take action.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

10:00 Man

He comes into the bookstore every night around 10 least, every night that I'm there. In fact, for some of the staff, his arrival is the harbinger of the long work-night being nearly over. When he comes in, sometimes he'll peruse the shelves a bit, sometimes he'll buy something from the cafe, but always he'll wind up in one of the booths in the cafe area. Often he brings in some notebooks and a legal pad, sometimes he'll bring a book and read. But always he'll sit there until it's about 10:58 or so, before he leaves and the store closes.
And I can't help wondering...why does he come so regularly? Why at that particular time? Maybe he is just getting off work then and the bookstore is a place to come and wind down before he goes home. Maybe he just likes to have the quiet place to collect his thoughts. Maybe he doesn't want to go home-- perhaps he lives alone and doesn't like the empty house. The bookstore is relatively quiet, but there are people there. Maybe it's a combination of the above. I'm sure I'll never know. But there's something comforting, comfortable and steady about his regular appearances. I don't know his story...but it's interesting to wonder. He's our 10:00 man.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Progress on Reading List

I am pleased to report that I have made some good progress on my self-imposed summer reading list. Lots more to try to get through, but I have some actual vacation time coming up, traveling to Nova Scotia in a couple of weeks, so that'll afford me some actual solid reading time. At any rate, here is my list of what I have read so far this summer:

1. God's Politics by Jim Wallis
2. What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles
3. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
4. The Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill
5. Against the Tide by Sen. Lincoln Chafee
6. The Summons by John Grisham
7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (re-read)

Now I'm working on The Great Bridge by David McCullough. It's pretty substantial, so it'll probably take me a while to get through that one. Lots more books to come, however, I hope!

This and that

Apologies for the dry spell in posting. As usual, I have been very busy, primarily working and reading. I'm still at the cow barn and the bookstore, but starting tomorrow I will be a volunteer intern on the Jeanne Shaheen for Senate campaign. I've decided that although I have reservations about the presidential candidates, the New Hampshire Senate race is one that I CAN get interested and involved in. Our current senator, John Sununu (R), beat former Governor Shaheen (D) in their last matchup in 2002, allegedly with some dirty tactics, so I'm really hoping she'll kick his butt this time, and I'm happy to do what I can to help, so when a friend of mine told me he had a job on the campaign and was looking for help, I jumped at the opportunity. Not sure exactly what I'll be doing yet, but meanwhile here's a couple of links to look at on Jeanne Shaheen's position on the issues from and her campaign website.
Next, I did of course note the interesting announcement made by Barack Obama about his intentions to renew and expand Bush's faith-based initiatives. This is a very odd pronouncement for a Democratic candidate to make, certainly controversial and bold. I personally support it, as I always have, provided he doesn't go too far, especially with the initiatives about some ability to hire and fire based on faith, but certainly this has charged up some Democrats, who are upset about this shift to hard center, and some Republicans, who note the hypocrisy of Democrats supporting the faith-based initiatives now that Obama is supporting it, who wouldn't when Bush proposed them. Commonweal magazine has an interesting blog post about it, and Michael Gerson wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post about how this is an indication that Obama knows how to "play the political game."
Finally, Happy Canada Day (July 1) and Happy Independence Day (July 4)! Here's a quote from National Treasure appropriate to the latter holiday.

"To high treason! That's what the signers of the Declaration of Independence were committing. If we had lost the war and they had been caught, they would have been hanged, beheaded, drawn and quartered, oh and let's not forget my personal favorite. Their entrails would have been cut out and burned. So- here's to the men who did what the law said was wrong in order to do what they knew was right."