27 January 2009

empress orchid - anchee min

anchee min || empress orchid || 4.5/5.0

empress orchid is historical fiction, loosely based on the life of the empress dowager cixi, who ruled china for the second half of the 19th century until her death in 1908. this novel actually only covers until about 1860, and there is a second novel (the last empress), which covers her reign itself.

empress orchid is the story of her rise from poverty to becoming leader of china. i know it's fiction, but i still think i learned more about china's history reading this book than i ever did in school. (thanks history major!) i'm certainly encouraged to learn more.

the writing is great, and the story engaging. i'll definitely be picking up the sequel soon! it was well received when released in 2004, and i can understand why.

24 January 2009


i had a great time at inauguration. i metroed in, took in the atmosphere, chanted, lamented the boos, cheered the cheers, puzzled over the poem, moved en masse, sang, danced, froze, breathed in some history, and finally walked back across the potomac.

(1) facing the capitol (which is blocked from view by the jumbotron) just in front of the american history museum
(2) yours truly
(3) facing backwards, the crowd surrounding the monument
(4) post-inaugural walkers of the memorial bridge

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hello again, ebola

the international herald-tribune has an article reporting an outbreak of ebola in philippine pigs. its only the ebola reston strain (a non-lethal strain for humans), and there may be only one case of transmission to humans.... but i'm still not feeling so good about the news. more hospitible warm bodies in which ebola can hunker down = no good.

21 January 2009

signs of the times

during the lost premier tonight (!!!), two commercials got me thinking. the first was a movie trailer for a new action flick starring clive owen... apparently about a bank that just won't fail. the second was a car commercial featuring a promise to allow anyone who buys their car but then loses their job the chance to return the car.

interesting times we're living in, eh?

16 January 2009

the winter of our discontent - john steinbeck

john steinbeck || the winter of our discontent || 4.0/5.0

i love steinbeck. this is the last novel he finished before his death. i love the title, which actually comes from richard III, "now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York".

it wasn't my favorite of steinbeck's, but he's so good that i can't complain. it's his parting shot at the declining morality of small town life (and perhaps the 1960's united states in general); some critics have critisized the transparency of his message. for me, though, it was another chance to submerge myself in his beautiful use of language.

i'm rationing myself to one steinbeck novel per year. that doesn't mean i can't reread, though, so perhaps a revisit to east of eden is in order this year? i've read grapes of wrath and travels with charley each several times already, and just can't get enough. aren't favorite authors great?

11 January 2009

tweak - nic sheff

nic sheff || tweak || 4.0/5.0

i was invited to be the friend to a bring-a-friend bookclub meeting. the books they're reading this month are this one, tweak, by nic sheff, and beautiful boy, by his father, david sheff.

the books chronicle nic's past few years as a methamphetamine addict and experiences in and out of sobriety. i haven't read beautiful boy, but i'm definitely looking forward to hearing more about it at the meeting later this month.

nic's book is really great - so long as you don't mind diving headfirst into the painful realities of drug addiction. its painful and enlightening, and very engaging. its hard to believe at the end that nic is only now in his young 20's.

its easy to write off addicts as a whole, but tweak puts a human face on the people facing addiction, and hopefully can serve to provide some illumination on the underlying diseases of addiction. i can only hope, as most addicts don't have the financial resources that pulled nic back out of it.

08 January 2009

cod - mark kurlansky

mark kurlansky || cod || 1.5/5.0

i might not have started blogging about books if i realized i'd be such a hard critic to please. nevertheless, kurlansky gets one point for adequately putting sentences together in english, and the half for at least putting his arguments in chronological order.

i mean, "a biography of the fish that changed the world"? that's a tall order, and i wasn't convinced. according to kurlansky, cod is responsible for the vikings discovering north america, nearly derailing the peace of paris (you know, because john adams was most concerned about fishing rights), the entire existence of the basque region, nearly disbanding the european union, etc.

none of his arguments are well-defended, and i'm left feeling that you could probably write a book about anything & claim it changed the world. goats? cheese? goatcheese??

there certainly are some good tidbits in there (the icelandic naming tradition, for example), but there's a lot of fluff... and a lot of unnecessary cod fish recipes. i would have liked a lot more information on the current overfishing crisis, but it feels skimmed over here.

the moral of the story? i need to stop picking books because they have interesting covers and lean more on respected recommendations.

but, i'm in the midst of three great reads at the moment, so hopefully things will be looking up soon!

04 January 2009

scarf o' color, still in progress

still a bit to go, but progress is progress, right?!

love this colorway.

01 January 2009

2009 resolutions

2008 was not kind, and so its with much joy that i welcome 2009. i'm a sucker for resolutions, too. even though every day is a new day, there's something powerful about starting a fresh year. (something annoying about everyone resolving to come to my gym for the month of january, but i try to be glad for the extra company.)

my resolutions for the year:
-get back to not eating meat.
-live with intention & self-awareness.
-do the eat healthy/exercise/lose weight thing.
-finally, follow the advice of mother theresa:
"spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your home. give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor. let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier."
happy new year!

an engineered approach to mosquito control

MSNBC has a good article today about an effort being made to control vector-borne illness (such as malaria and dengue fever) by using genetic engineering to manipulate the lifespan of mosquitoes. the idea is that if scientists can create a shorter-lived bug and release it into the wild, the population's average lifespan will eventually come down. since its the older insects that usually transmit disease, infection rates could be reduced.

a very interesting idea, i think. but i still have to hesitate, mostly at the idea of attempting to change the genome of a species as a whole & the potential effects on the ecosystem as a whole. although, as an advocate for eradication, i guess that may be a moot concern. i'll keep my eyes open for news of their research.