Showing posts from 2014

Savannah, Georgia

I am in Savannah, Georgia for a day and a half visiting my brother Charlie and his wife Deanna and their kids. My dad and mom are also here, visiting longer and staying over Thanksgiving. Saturday, Charlie and I had a good time walking around the old downtown of Savannah, by the river, and riding on the old tram (now just used by tourists like me): We also toured the Owens-Thomas House which was very interesting. We stopped in to visit the Catholic church for a while: And a few streets over there was this unusual storefront display: Today after church Charlie, Deanna, and I went to the cemetery and spent a lot of time in the Jewish and Greek sections: This couple's gravestones had a verse from the Song of Solomon, split over them so they're both needed together to read it, which I think is a romantic way to show it: On the Greek headstone on the right, the name Savannah is transliterated in Greek as ΣΑΒΑΝΝΑ, though GA. is left in Roman scr

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

I've dipped my toe in the pool of vampire popularity with the Twilight series (liked the first one and it was downhill from there), Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel (loved them), The Vampire Diaries (gave up in season 2 or 3; too soap opera-y), and just a couple of episodes of Being Human (both UK and American versions; too graphic for me), plus The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (pretty good). I thought I'd try the book that sort of started the vampire craze anew , recognizing that vampire lore has been around for hundreds of years and is nothing new. Maybe I should say that Interview with the Vampire started the sexy/moral vampire as part of pop culture. I expected it to be gripping and suspenseful and maybe more graphic and sexy than I'm used to. Not at all. I struggled to finish it. The story wasn't bad, but I really disliked the way it was narrated. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to find that it's actually written as an interview, one t

Those Were the Days / Дорогой длинною

The song “Those Were the Days” is an English version of the Russian song Дорогой длинною (By the Long Road). I like both versions a lot. The English one by Mark Hopkin from 1968 is very popular: A bit of related history is stranger than fiction: On Christmas 1975, the President of Equatorial Guinea, Francisco Macías Nguema, had 150 alleged coup plotters executed in the national stadium while Mary Hopkins’ cover of “Those Were the Days” was played over the PA system. That was reported in the Wikipedia article on the song. The first Russian recordings of the song go back to the 1920s and 1930s. This video anthologizes excerpts from some of them, giving a feel for the range of adaptations: I find the Russian lyrics and English translation are more interesting than the later English version.

The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory

Book review of The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory , by Jesse Walker. 421 pages excluding index. Published 2013 by HarperCollins . This book makes well its case that “The Paranoid Style Is American Politics”, as the name of the first chapter states. It covers pretty much everything, at least in passing: Presidential assassinations; slave uprisings; religious disputes; Indian conflict; influence by the French, English, and Spanish; overt devil worship; Freemasonry; Jews; Communism; the Illuminati; the Ku Klux Klan; later the FBI and COINTELPRO; the CIA and CHAOS; Rosicrucianism; Watergate; the Vietnam War; the tradition of paranoid movies and TV shows; Christian fears of devil worshiping and witchcraft and ritual mutilations and child abuse. Chapter 3, The Devil Next Door, includes detailed coverage of anti-Mormon paranoia about polygamy, harems, bloc voting, the Danites, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and treatment in novels by Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes

Advertisements during the Pope’s Funeral

Václav Havel, Washington, April 9, 2005 Yesterday I watched the pope’s [John Paul II] funeral on television. It was a grand and moving spectacle. I knew the pope, and I’d even dare say that we were friends, and perhaps for that very reason I was incapable of experiencing any great sorrow at his death. The thing is, I had a visceral feeling that, with great peace in his soul, he was departing for a place he knew he was going to, a good place. But America is a rather odd country. It’s very religious, and at the same time it allows the broadcast of the pope’s funeral to be interrupted by advertisements, many of which were the direct embodiment of what he had criticized for his entire life. I found it truly hard to understand, and it made me more and more uncomfortable, until I finally switched the television off. To the Castle and Back , Václav Havel, translated from the Czech by Paul Wilson, 2007, p. 20

My Final Ride by LeAnn Bednar

I thought I'd have to push myself to read this book about a Teton Valley man's ride along the Great Western Trail after he's diagnosed with cancer. I was wrong, though. I found it fascinating. Written in first-person by Chuck Christensen's daughter from his journals, newspaper articles, and interviews with people who rode with him, it's a day-by-day account of his two-part journey. Part one is from Teton Valley, Idaho to the Mexico border and part two is from Teton Valley to the Canada border a couple of years later. About halfway through the book, I suddenly realized that I know one of his daughters and a couple of his grandkids and I've met his wife a few times, which made the book even more enjoyable. I'm pretty sure I know others of his relatives, but the family trees in these parts, while well-known to the locals, are confusing and complex and have taken me years to even begin to understand and remember. But even before I recognized the connection,

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley

Even though we home school, I found a lot of fascinating stuff in this book that looks at public education in the U.S. and in three countries whose 15-year-olds test much higher than ours do: South Korea, Finland, and Poland. Some things that matter: rigor, high expectations, well-trained teachers. Some things that don't matter so much: money, high-tech gadgetry, sports programs. There's much more to it than that, of course. The tone is hopeful and doesn't condemn American education, just gives some good ideas. And even though the three featured countries test high, the author shows the limitations of their schools, as well. (South Korea is particularly ... uh, interesting. Yes, let's go with that adjective.) That's a pretty lame summary, but I loved this book and highly recommend it to everyone. By the way, at least 2/3 of my kids said to me while I was reading this, "Oh, you're reading a book about us!" They are so funny.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria Memorial complex Hillock of fraternity

Plovdiv was a Thracian city before it became a Greek city around 340 BC. (See the Wikipedia Plovdiv page for more history.) There is an impressive Communist-era concrete monument in Plovdiv which I only saw a few weeks before we moved away. I went will Lillian and Seth. The OpenBuildings page on Memorial complex Hillock of fraternity describes it this way: The “Hillock of fraternity” monument symbolizes a Thracian hillock. It reminds of a stone wreath from above. A 90m long sculpture composition inside the monument is dedicated to the Liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule, the The Unification of Bulgaria, the Bulgarian partisan movement and “the victory of socialism” in 1944. Bones of partisans from Plovdiv region were placed inside the memorial complex, once it was finished. It was inaugurated on 9 September 1974 by the party leader Todor Zhivkov in honor of the 30th anniversary of the “socialist revolution” in Bulgaria. There were plans to connect the “Hillock of fraternity”

The Age of Discretion by Simone de Beauvoir

Is there such a thing as a "long story"? Because this seems like one. My experience reading it was a little odd. I had never read anything by Simone de Beauvoir and this was in a collection we've had on our shelves for many years. I read about half of it and found myself annoyed with the protagonist, who seemed spoiled, whiney, and a brat, even though she's a mature, successful, happily married literature professor. So I put it down for quite a while, several months. Unfortunately, it's pretty common for me to put books aside these days. Some I end up finishing eventually and others not. But they all stay on my bedside table for months, just in case I get the urge to return to one of them. Yesterday morning, I thought I'd give the woman another chance (the character in the story, not necessarily Simone de Beauvoir). And unexpectedly, I could suddenly relate to her. The first part of the story, the part I read several months ago, is about how disappointed an

Wind River Range Little Seneca Lake

This past Friday and Saturday, Jacob and I backpacked in Wyoming's Wind River Range. It took 2.5 hours to drive from our house to the Elkhart Park Pole Creek trail head, near Pinedale, Wyoming. On the way in we went via Photographers Point, which has amazing views of a lake and the mountains to the north. We hiked 10.5 miles on Friday to Little Seneca Lake and camped there, at probably the only place it was possible to camp since it was so rocky. The next day on the way out we took an alternate route and went past Sweeney Lakes and Miller Lake, which made the trip out about 11 miles. It was beautiful, with mild temperatures and a few brief rain showers on Friday. We encountered a lot of people on the trail (we counted 104 people on Friday and 56 on Saturday), but we still sometimes went an hour or two without seeing any other people and it didn't feel crowded. The trails were in good shape, and our map (Wind River Range North from Beartooth Publishing) and the occasional sign