Friday, July 31, 2009

Recent Reading (Books #13-25)

Here's the latest from my summer reading:

13. America's Constitution: A Biography by Akhil Reed Amar: An excellent nonfiction book that picks apart the US Constitution from historical, political, and cultural perspectives, article by article-- like any good biography, "warts and all."

14. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith: A strange, strange new teen hit that basically takes (most of) the original text of the classic Jane Austen novel and adds scenes of zombie mayhem, brain-eating, and killing. Confused and/or disgusted? Me too. I justify reading this one because I worked in the kids/teen section of a bookstore.

15. Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower by Zbigniew Brzezinski: Analysis of the foreign policy efforts of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush in the post-Cold War era of American dominance. Written by Pres. Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor.

16. Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce: An old favorite fantasy book about Daine, a girl who has "wild magic" that allows her to talk to animals. First book in Pierce's "The Immortals" quartet.

17. Wolf-Speaker by Tamora Pierce: Continues the story started in Wild Magic with Daine and her teacher Numair going to the aid of Daine's wolf friends, whose home is being destroyed by humans. Second book in Pierce's "The Immortals" quartet.

18. Emperor Mage by Tamora Pierce: Continues the story from Wolf-Speaker with Daine and her friends participating in a diplomatic mission to unfriendly Carthak. Third book in Pierce's "The Immortals" quartet.

19. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding: The book on which the movie with Renee Zellweger was based. Single girl with confidence and weight issues resolves to solve her problems-- especially by finding nice, sensible boyfriend. Very funny.

20. Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan: Economist writer Wheelan undertakes this explanation of economics for smart people who have forgotten (or never took) an economics course. Shows both the econ worldview and the broader, real-world applications of economic theory very clearly. Entertaining and well-written.

21. The Holy Way: Practices for a Simple Life by Paula Huston: Simple living is an age-old idea that monks and other religious figures have practiced through the years, but are relevant even for those of us inclined to live simply outside a monastery or convent. Huston uses her own stories and stories of historical monks and saints to pass on these ideas.

22. Simple Living: One Couple's Search for a Better Life by Frank Levering and Wanda Urbanska: Jointly-written autobiography of a couple who gave up life in the fast lane of Hollywood for life running an apple orchard in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

23. Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton: Famous twentieth-century monk passes on his thoughts on the spiritual benefits of solitude and meditative prayer.

24. The Broker by John Grisham: Legal/political thriller about a former, disgraced Washington power broker who has to run for his life from foreign governments.

25. Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters by Dick Staub: Draws comparisons between various Christian traditions and philosophies, and the traditions and philosophies of the Jedi knights of George Lucas's Star Wars universe.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

News Hits

I Love Maureen Dowd

One of the New York Times's most critical and sharply humorous columnists today takes on a compare-and-contrast of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, and how they have in many ways switched roles from who they were in the 2008 presidential election campaign, in "Sarah Grabs the Grievance Bag." Hillary Clinton, the presidential contender who was attacked for being too wonky and seeming paranoid is now at the top of Obama's Cabinet and respected for being at the top of her policy game. Palin, the darling of the far right, has (with McCain) lost the Republicans' battle for the White House, resigned her governorship a year and a half early, and is now sounding like a paranoid whiner. You gotta love the kharma.

Monday, July 27, 2009

H.R. 3200

...Or, the health care resolution as introduced by Democrats in the House of Representatives. presents the full text of this very intimidating yet highly worthwhile bill. If you can push through it, it's worth being aware of. More to come on this, probably.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sarah's Gone (for now)

Sarah Palin officially stepped down as governor of Alaska today, continuing to cite as her reason a "love for Alaska" and a desire to avoid the "politics as usual" of a lame-duck governorship. Setting aside the fact that a lot of governors and presidents opt to use their final year in office to push hard for initiatives they care about, her folksy rhetoric and haphazard logic at this latest speech continues. I am sure she is not gone for good; but for the moment, Sarah Palin is out of political office. Enjoy it while it lasts (about 20 minutes is my bet).

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wedding Entrance Dance

This video has been popping up all around Facebook. In case you missed it-- and because I want to keep track of it-- here's one of the most memorable wedding entrances I've ever seen, in person or on video.

And in one of the more interesting news items I've seen this year...

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that a Florida atheists' association is offering "reverse baptisms" for those members who were baptized as children and would like to renounce that.
Not quite sure what to make of that, but it's an interesting notion. Can you reverse your own baptism? Does simply deciding you don't believe reverse it? Is baptism just a ritual anyway, easy to disregard anyway, or is it something more?
I have no answers, but I'll just throw the questions out into the blogosphere.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I Sing The Body Electric

I love this piece from the movie musical(ish) Fame. It really is an electric piece, especially when you watch the whole movie. It's the perfect finale.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Auto-Tune the News

What a riot. From one of the wackiest weeks in news in recent memory, this brilliant video appeared:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

RP: Be Still

(RP = re-posting; like retweeting (RT) only for blogger.) I'm continuing to enjoy my frequent perusal of; so much though that I expect my regular readers will be thinking that I am heading for a lifestyle of Zen myself. Well, who knows, but I do thoroughly enjoy Leo Babauta's reflections on living a life of peace and simplicity. I especially love this latest post: Be Still. An unusual plea in today's frenetic world for moments of quiet and contemplation; I've had ample time in my own life to pursue this kind of stillness lately whether I've wanted it or not, courtesy of a knee surgery that is keeping me bed-bound, but I do indeed find value in stillness myself. Worth a try when you can remember to do so...and that's really the point. You shouldn't have to remember, it should just be something you do. Yet all too often, stillness has to be found. It's only a matter of looking-- so turn off the Blackberry or laptop, the iPod or TV, and be still.

From the Tao Te Ching: It is not wise to dash about.
Shortening the breath causes much stress.
Use too much energy, and
You will soon be exhausted.
That is not the Natural Way.
Whatever works against this Way
Will not last long.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fun Band

I saw this Beatles tribute band, All Together Now, at an outdoor concert a few nights ago. They don't look like the Beatles, but they've sure got their sound. Very fun concert on a beautiful summer night. Check 'em out!

Quick Update

Judge Sonia Sotomayor's hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee start today. In an article about things to watch for during the hearings, POLITICO mentions that the Democrats are going to try to make it as quiet and boring a hearing as possible; Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, the committee's ranking member, has politely vowed to pursue attacks on all fronts-- his performance and its aftermath will determine how much other Republicans push her. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that both sides project an easy confirmation (the Democrats have too big a majority)-- but how easy will depend on how Sotomayor answers the committee's questions over the next couple of days. Either way, both sides will be looking to use the hearings for partisan political gain.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Featured Blog: Hollywood- To Have Faith or Not to Have Faith

My friend Bryan is one of the biggest movie buffs I know. He has superb taste and a picky eye for what is good and bad about the film industry. So when I found out that he writes a blog on which he posts reviews of films, most of which he writes for our school's newspaper, I was delighted. Just to give you an idea of his views, here is the subtitle of his blog, which is called Hollywood- To Have Faith or Not To Have Faith:
The question we all must have when watching a movie is rather simple, is it indicative of Hollywood's continued ability to make good, high quality, intelligent and entertaining films or is it merely yet another black mark on an industry that seems to be losing, if not having already lost its creative touch.
Bryan is taking something of a hiatus from posting for the summer, since he has marched off to the Marine Corps' Officer Candidates School, but his older posts about movies are well worth reading for anyone interested in which recent movies are worth watching, in light of whether or not they justify our faith in the movie industry.

Google Continues to Progress Toward Running the World

Not that I particularly object. I happen to love Google-- I'm an active user of Gmail, Picasa, Google Docs, YouTube, Blogger (obviously), GCal, Google Notebook, Google Scholar...not to mention the Google search engine. Google is generally reliable, fast, efficient, and has helped me to consolidate my online life (except for Facebook, Twitter, and news and college-related sources). I have not yet downloaded their new web browser, Google Chrome (I'm kind of waiting until it morphs a few generations and works out any initial bugs), but I expect that I might eventually, if it ever substantially outstrips Mozilla Firefox for quality.
Yesterday, though, Google took a large yet natural leap and announced their latest development: the Google Chrome OS (operating system). The really unique thing: like just about everything Google does, it will be predominantly Internet based. While there will be some ability for users who are not able to be perpetually connected to the Internet to still access files, the system will predominantly operate from online.
This is all very interesting stuff, although somewhat over my head (my dad and some of my friends may be serious computer people, but my knowledge is basic by comparison). What I perhaps found most interesting (aside from being able to access my data anywhere, from any computer connected to the Internet) was an idea posted by Leo Babauta on Zen Habits-- that a Google Music would be the logical next step, allowing you to access your personal music files (mp3s) from anywhere on the Internet. As long as they're not restricted to being Internet based, that is an idea I could seriously get into.

Monday, July 06, 2009

David Garrett- Smooth Criminal

I love this violinist (David Garrett) and especially this arrangement of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal." Garrett blends rock and classical violin perfectly, on his most recent album performing everything from AC/DC to Vivaldi.

Simple Productivity

I've been trying to make the most of my last few weeks of freedom before I spend the rest of the summer laid up after knee realignment surgery. In order to do this most effectively, I have built on a number of tips that I pulled or adapted from Zen Habits to create a summer lifestyle that I've been thoroughly enjoying. These include:
  1. Rise by 7:30 or 8:00am. Start morning routine immediately: shower, dress, make list of top three most important tasks for the day, THEN computer time to check email and Facebook briefly, then breakfast.
  2. After breakfast, get started on whatever is the biggest/most important task of the day. Since it's been nice out, the last two or three days that's been completing the refinishing of two deck chairs. Before that, I worked on a massive cleanout and decluttering of my bedroom.
  3. Try to finish all three "most important tasks" by midafternoon, so to have the late afternoon and evening free to relax.
  4. Limit computer use to three times a day. Never use the computer before showering and getting dressed; never use it immediately before bed.
  5. Journal before bed.
  6. Start winding down and heading for bed by 11pm.
I probably won't be able to sustain most of these after I have surgery, but it's been a nice experiment that's allowed me to make the most out of these past couple of weeks.

Thoughts on the News (Or, What the Heck is Sarah Palin Doing?)

I'm not a big fan of Sarah Palin. Regular readers, and people who know me, may well have gotten that idea already. I rejoiced when the campaign ended with Obama's victory-- less because I objected to the idea of a President McCain, but because I strongly objected to a Vice President Palin being one heartbeat away from the White House. So when she went back to serving as governor of Alaska, I was happy.
But something is afoot in the Palin world. On July 3rd, Palin announced that she would be stepping down as Governor of Alaska at the end of the month, letting her lieutenant governor finish out the remainder of her term. During a press conference that I can only describe as garbled and incoherent, Palin tried to frame her decision in terms of it being best for Alaska and best for her family...without specifying what her future plans were in any great detail.
Naturally, the political world (most of whom had no idea that this announcement was coming), jumped all over the news with various theories, criticisms, mockeries, and other assorted ideas. My favorite columns on the subject are Maureen Dowd's "Now, Sarah's Folly" and Gail Collins's "Sarah's Straight Talk", both from the New York Times.
A bit more has been coming out as the news has grown older. The Washington Post put out an article analyzing whether or not Palin has a political future after this; John McCain put out a statement supporting his former running mate; and Palin herself posted a July 4th message on her Facebook page hinting that she doesn't plan on going into hiding politically.
What do I think about all this? [Please note that the following are opinions, possibly unfair, and certainly slanted.]
  1. I think that Palin's excuses about her stepping down being best for Alaska are just that, excuses. I know there were assorted ethics probes going on in Alaska, but they are nowhere near "scandal" level...especially now that she isn't as much in the national spotlight. I think she couldn't take the heat and decided to cut and run.
  2. I think that Palin will likely seek higher political office, either challenging Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in a primary election in 2010 or trying for the presidency in 2012. Interesting note: Senator Murkowski was less than thrilled with the governor's decision to step down. Another interesting note: Senator Murkowski is the daughter of the man Palin beat in the Republican primary to become governor.
  3. My friend Bobby thinks that Palin is aiming to pull a Richard Nixon-esque comeback-- be low-key for a few years, build up support within the party, then emerge to take the country by barnstorm. It's possible she'll try. It's also possible that if she does, any good Democratic strategist could engineer her defeat-- starting with "she quit on her state when the going got tough and she smelled sweeter flowers, who's to say she won't do that to you?" Then, too, there's the issue of her inability to string together coherent thoughts...but we don't really need to go there. Just watch the press conference:
  4. For all her faults, I really think Sarah Palin has a great idea about spending time with family. She should go spend time with hers. Lots of it. Write a book, hang with her kids and husband, play with her new grandson. Do a couple of speaking engagement to keep up the money flow. And stay in Wasilla. Please. that my Palin rant is over, here's a couple of other notes from the news world:

Friday, July 03, 2009

Featured Blog/Website: Christian Simple Living

In my continuing quest for Zen habits and simple living, and going along with my planning to start the SLE group up with some of my campus friends in the fall, here's the latest from my reading list: a website called Christian Simple Living. It's an index of helpful links and ideas that also seeks to define the need to live simply through a Christian lens. Developed by a member of a church in Hyattsville, Maryland, it encourages thoughtfulness about how we are leading our lives. Are we living them in the way Christ intended? The site indicates that our consumerism-driven lifestyles are not in line with the Christian worldview at its core. Check it out-- whether or not you agree, our individual habits as consumers are well worth consideration and reconsideration.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Featured Blog: dotCommonweal

From the editors and contributors of Commonweal magazine comes this blog for those of us interested in further (and daily) analysis of the latest news from the religion-and-politics sphere. dotCommonweal is, like the magazine itself, a "review of religion, politics, and culture." A lot of the slant and content is based in Catholicism-- which makes sense, as the magazine is edited and managed by lay Catholics-- but I've really appreciated a lot of the depth of what they write. As regular readers of this blog will know, I base a lot of my political and social opinions on my reading of my faith-- and although I'm not Catholic, I have a lot of respect and appreciation for their point of view. dotCommonweal is an intellectually and spiritually stimulating read for those who are curious about ways that people of faith look at the political sphere.


On a separate but related note, if you want to read about any of my other featured blogs, click here...or go to the "Labels" list on the sidebar of this page and click "Blogs." Blogs that I may not have reviewed yet are on a list of "Favorite Blogs" further down the page.

Happy Canada Day!

From this Star-Spangled Canadian, to my friends in the US, Canada, and elsewhere: Enjoy this day and celebrations wherever you are! (I, ironically enough, will be celebrating by watching Gone With The Wind with a group of friends...go figure.)