Sunday, June 19, 2011

Waiting for Superman

10-miler in Baltimore, a great weekend in sunny MD with my sweet mang, and I'm back in DC with a few pounds too many of pita chips in my belly (somebody please break into my apartment and hold me up at gunpoint to steal this damn bag!), and watching a documentary about 2 years late.

Waiting for Superman- a candid look at the shortfalls of our public school system, told through the eyes of hard-up folks who want their kids to have a better life, but don't have the choice of plugging them into a private school.

Allow me to corroborate a few of Geoffrey Canada's most salient points...

Tenure was originally designed as a protection for academia at the university level.  The intention was to protect speech in an academic setting: not to allow the administration du jour to affect post-secondary research and curriculum with a political or personal agenda. To translate the idea of tenure into a primary and secondary education-level protection is completely erroneous.  Please tell me what constitutional speech is threatened in second grade, when we're learning adverbs?  Or when high schoolers are learning calculus (those of them who still reach that level these days)?  As a matter of fact, I'm pretty comfortable with those teachers being told what to say and being granted only the discretion of how to say it.  There will always be provocative issues in the public school system - evolution, banned books, political history - but these things are not protected through tenure, they're issues that are legislated or set by regulation! 
I've been party to discussions among new teachers, sharing just how nervous they are that they may not be "asked back" next year.  Guess what folks- that's a great thing!  When I worked at my old law firm, I was conscious of every work product I handed my boss, because I knew that if I handed him anything less, he could have someone smarter than me sitting in my chair tomorrow morning.  Cue in Ayn Rand's personal challenge to live up to your potential please.  It's not a back-breaking exercise, and that goes for whether you're arguing cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, or whether you're pushing a broom in the bathroom.  It's not about being a superstar, it's about taking some ownership and doing a decent job.

We need national standards for our 50 states.  And we need less bureaucracy, which would naturally accompany thoughtful national standards were they implemented correctly.  The problem is there are so few self-starters in the federal and even state governments because they can be, in my opinion, lazy-bum factories.  And heaven forbid we expect our Congress to produce meaningful legislation between reelections!

Now I'm not trying to criticize all teachers.  I think they get paid too little and they deserve tons more appreciation and recognition than they get now - good teachers, that is.  The system is flawed, and as in any other federal government setting, people who attempt to turn it upside down realize quickly their hands are tied with federal employment protections, unions, tenure, and a litany of other superfluous, destructive forms of job guarantees.  That's not how this country became a superpower, but it just may be how this country cripples itself in its own red tape.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Book Review: Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

If you read Life of Pi and loved it like I did, then do yourself a favor and:
1.  Buy this book;
2.  Read nothing about it online- none of the critic reviews and especially none of the plot summaries;
3.  Get a box of tissues and keep an open mind; and
4.  Enjoy another Yann Martel animal allegory, as painful as this one may be.
And those are both my review and recommendation bundled into four tidy directions.  I don't want to hint at themes or touch upon turning points; I want you to experience them on your own.  I had a hint of what was to come and I found myself waiting for it the entire read, which is no way to wander through Martel's carefully crafted mix of reality and fantasy.
"It's so hard to talk about it. It hurt, it was painful -- that's all there is to say about it, really. But to feel it! We recoil from he flame of a single match, and here I was in the middle of a blaze. And still it wasn't over." ~ Yann Martel, Beatrice and Virgil

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Sue Monk Kidd's 2002 best seller, "The Secret Life of Bees," is a tale of 14 year-old Lily Owens and her search for her late mother's past.  After fleeing from her abusive father aside Rosaleen, her family's maid, she serendipitously stumbles upon the home of May, June and August - three black sisters who manufacture honey in South Carolina.  Lots of strong female characters, lots of racial tension, and a little bit of southern Civil Rights Act-era American history.

This book was almost a mixture between The Help (which I swear I've reviewed but can't seem to find my write up right now)  and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Thankfully more of the former, as we all know I can't say enough about how much I disliked Guernsey.  The Secret Life of Bees was sprinkled with slightly-too-silly moments that rang of the Guernsey characters' giggly traditions and ceremonies- very red hat society and devoid of meaning and creativity.  But aside from some silly hats and a few weird chain gang reenactments, Kidd's themes were sincere and her story was a quick, lighthearted summer trip to the land of honey and cotton. 

I'll leave you with Lily's first taste of love as a young girl:

"The whole time we worked, I marveled at how mixed up people got when it came to love.  I myself, for instance.  It seemed like I was now thinking of Zach forty minutes out of every hour, Zach, who was an impossibility.  That's what I told myself five hundred times:  impossibility.  I can tell you this much:  the word is a great big log thrown on the fires of love."*

*Now to be honest I'm not sure what "fires of love" are aflame at the ripe age of 14...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Life's a West Palm Beach

Greetings darlings - checking in live from sunny West Palm Beach where I'm relaxing, reading, sipping...err WORKING. Curiously stumbled across this gem on my wanders after a day of Florida's clean energy policy:

(Sloane's Ice Cream and Candy Bar in downtown West Palm)

Savored some delectable oatmeal raisin ice cream.  Raisins + ice cream = two of my favorite things.  Let's face it -- you could put raisins in damn near anything and I'd eat them.  Enjoying the travel time to catch up on my much-neglected personal reading list.  Here's a sweet treat for y'all tonight from my current read:
I lay back and tried to invent a story about why my mother had owned a black Mary picture.  I drew a big blank, probably due to my ignorance about Mary, who never got much attention at our church.  According to Brother Gerald, hell was nothing but a bonfire for Catholics.  We didn't have any in Sylvan -- only Baptists and Methodists -- but we got instructions in case we met them in our travels.  We were to offer them the five-part plan of salvation, which they could accept or not.  The church gave us a plastic glove with each step written on a different finger.  You started with the pinkie and worked over to the thumb.  Some ladies carried their salvation gloves in their purse in case they ran into a Catholic unexpectedly.

The only Mary story we talked about was the wedding story -- the time she persuaded her son, practically against his will, to manufacture wine in the kitchen out of plain water.  This had been a shock to me, since our church didn't believe in wine or, for that matter, in women having a lot of say about things.  All I could really figure was my mother had been mixed up with the Catholics somehow, and -- I have to say -- this secretly thrilled me.  ~ Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Spy Who Loved Me

Our favorite saucy spy is back y'all.  That's right- Valerie Plame has been double-crossed, taken the high road with some decent memoirs (highly recommend Fair Game if you're curious about all things CIA), dipped her toe into Hollywood waters when her memoirs became a (pretty mediocre) movie, and now she's just signed a deal with Penguin Group USA to write a series of international suspense novels.

(Remember this hot little Vanity Fair number?)

Good for Val.  Given how she and 'ol Joe Wilson kept squeaking about how they didn't have a pot to piss in after and during the whole ordeal, hopefully this means she's banking beyond her wildest dreams and upgrading to granite countertops in her adobe abode.  She may be a little overexposed these days, but Val is a solid citizen and a fearless broad who actually keeps her roots done.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Thawing out

Morning my sweets! Two days in a row of blogging from Miss ADD herself? What’s the special occasion?

None really. Just slowly emerging from winter hibernation. A very slight bit sad to say goodbye to some of the only things I enjoy about winter: straight hair, patterned tights, my space heater (which I regularly refer to as my boyfriend), and tons o' hot soup; but downright elated to say goodbye to everything else about Baltic daily life in the Mid-Atlantic. You know: bundling up for twenty minutes just to walk out the door, feeling like a crocodile to the touch, constant nail-breakage, gale force winds (Wind is my least favorite element! Good riddance arctic blasts!), my north face knee-length quilted parka that makes me look like a stuffed sausage, lack of regular running due to tundra-like conditions, and being stuck inside because even though there are no winter sports within reasonable range, I’m still bloody trapped in winter itself.

But our cold days are numbered. Time to blossom, young flowers (cue in interpretive dance from high school drama class), and throw on ballet flats, short skirts (hide your children), some SPF, and spend as little time indoors as possible!

In the spirit of curiosity, two quality discoveries of late:

1. Sylvia Plath. Feeling silly over here given I’m pushing 30 and just embracing Plath, but better late than never. Just watched “Sylvia,” a dark film documenting her life, in which she’s played by Gweneth Paltrow and her husband, Ted Hughes, is played by Daniel Craig.  Neither are hard on the eyes and it was a sad but lovely film.  Aren't sad ones usually the loveliest?  I wholly agree.  Inspired me to make two new book purchases:  Plath’s “The Bell Jar”, and Hughes’ “Birthday Letters.” There are so many juicy stories about these two, I don’t even know where to start. Sweet Sylvia was a serial suicide addict since the ripe age of 9, and it turns out she gassed herself to death in her own kitchen (which was later mimicked by Hughes’ second wife, with whom he was having an affair while married to Plath). Folks these are the types of people who make me realize how glad I am to have a BO-RING life sans love triangles.

Check out these minxes:  the real Sylvia on the left, and Gweneth playing Sylvia on the right (along real life and on screen mumsie).  How cute are these two?

2. Stuff You Should Know podcasts. A sister podcast to my normal choice of Stuff You Missed In History Class, SYSK is a refreshing twist on what had become an endless series on ancient, ancient, ancient history (With a new host whom I don’t care for.  "For whom I don't care," for the record, but sometimes following preposition rules sounds so pretentious to tell you the truth).  Turns out I’m a good American, and I like my history fresh and recent and at a maximum 700 or so years old.  My teenie, tiny little brain just can't fit more in.  So I temporarily switched camps and listened to a fabulous, random podcast this morning about synesthesia -- it's a disorder when someone's senses accidentally tie together, and your visuals spark the feeling of touch (like how we all feel that tackle when we're watching the Gators, but for real), or sounds tie to colors and you literally see a color projection (sort of like Fantasia, but for real) accompanying every note.  Our dear compatriot Vladimir Nabokov was apparently a "synesthese" -- perhaps symptoms are also being very, very naughty?
Toodles for now.  xo

Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Happy Monday y'all!  Back to energy madness (not a great week for nuclear energy, eh?) and coming off a superlative weekend (wink, wink...).  Just wrapping up this little number and moving on to the next jewel on my reading list which, did I mention, is bursting at the seams?  My tiny apartment is so full of books I could probably be jailed for breaking some city fire ordinance!  But I will persevere and share my precious space with the hundreds of chatty little roommates, as they will one day line the walls of my sprawling dream estate's rooms of built-in bookshelves. 
One of my more recent addition's was Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants," a depression-era novel about the life of Jacob Janowski, an ivy league-trained veterinarian who fled to join the circus.  The story bounces between Jacob's present-day 93 year-old self, and his younger version working on the Benzini Brothers' Most Spectacular Show on Earth (swap "Benzini Brothers" with "Smith Sisters" and you'd have a great title for some of the drunken aerobics videos my sister and I made a few years ago- neither here nor there).  Jacob falls in love with Marlena, the beautiful horse trainer and wife of August, a sort of jekyll and hyde-type who is more evil than he is good.  And you quickly realize the story is just that: a story.  It goes by quickly and painlessly, even including a decent love triangle, but without real meaning or identifiable themes.  Not to mention the title is never really explained (it is elluded to in a nursing home conversation, but is immediately forgotten and turns out to be quite arbitrary).

Overall, a cheap 'n cheerful read for a rainy afternoon, which was a perfect chaser to Tom Wolfe's bantering manifesto.

Have a lovely week enjoying the longer days!  Sister and I are bussing up to NYC this weekend so I can run the New York Half Marathon and she can help me carb load at Mario Batali's newest Manhattan hot spot, "Lupa."  Can't wait for some sister time, running through the city to the cheers of the crowd, and most of all, the pasta.  xx

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Book Review: A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe

Friends and lovers- how's things?  This has been a whirlwind month of working + work travel for me, and I have let my personal reading list slip by the wayside as I've ingested tons of clean energy lit.  Oh renewable portfolio standards and public utility commissions!  Hark our clean energy future!  (errr...or not.  As usual, thanks for nothing Congress.)

Not only that, but my reading list queue has been hogged by this beast, Tom Wolfe's "A Man in Full."  At almost 800 pages, the 'ol chap really outdid himself this time.  Looking back at a book it took me over a month to read, my only real comment, which is more a complaint, is that it was long.  Reading 800 pages of Tolstoy goes down like a glass of champagne; reading 800 pages of Tom is like my morning Jillian Michaels video:  watching the minutes pass on my clock but sticking through the pain because I know it's good for me (Love you Jillian darling!  Especially if I get my 6-week 6-pack!).  The man is just too verbose, the plot is just too predictable, and all of his characters are just too over the top.  Now I've never been one to practice moderation, but all of his antagonists are in a constant battle with themselves and you can cut the tension with a knife at any page in the book.  That's exhausting y'all! 

So if you're on the market to ingest 800 pages of racial and class tension in Atlanta during the boom 90s:  knock yourself out.  But if you're interested in a taste of Tom, you'd be well-served to munch on some Bonfire and take the next exit back to your bookshelf.


Monday, January 24, 2011

If I were a boy

One of my favorite tracks on "I am Sasha Fierce" - partially because it's a catchy tune and partially because Beyonce correctly uses the subjunctive mood ("were" instead of "was").  But seriously ladies- have you ever thought about it?  If you were a boy?  Beyonce has.  And so have I.

If I were a boy...

1.  I'd dress like Tom Wolfe.  That is one dapper, tiny man who may not have the most brilliant prose of his time (sorry Tom), but his books are fun to read, and he's always rocking white after Labor Day.

2.  I'd have a sweet tooth.  What's up with men not liking sweets?  Don't they know that's the only thing most women really want to cook (and eat for that matter)?  How is a fatty steak and a burned baked potato better than a delicious, moist, rich bite of red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting? 

3.  I'd read books.  And not just nonfiction biographies of founding fathers or professional golf memoirs.  I'm talking Hemingway and Tolstoy, boys.  Do men realize how sexy it is when they recognize an all too often Lady Brett Ashley reference?  Literature isn't rocket science, and even rocket science isn't that hard. 

4.  I'd care what I looked like naked (like Matt Lauer here obviously does- God bless him).  I don't mean this in a raunchy way - honest.  I just mean that men have it so easy - their metabolism is through the roof and they could skip one beer a day and lose 5 pounds without lifting a finger.  Come on.  Women obsess over our physical appearance with diet and exercise, yet we still have cellulite, spider veins, and Lord knows what else.  So get a gym membership and break a sweat for pete's sake.

If I were a boy, I'd definitely ask me out for cocktails.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review: Chastened by Hephzibah Anderson

An interesting choice for a book review given that my most seasoned blog patron is my mother.  I believe we've officially come full circle since she was my sex-ed teacher in the 7th grade (I'm serious.  Who would make something like that up?).  This book is pretty self-explanatory:  Hephzibah takes a year off sex.  As if the thought of going without sex for extended periods of time is the ultimate deprivation for our generation (which certainly begs the question, ladies- who are these skilled creatures you've slept with who make it so hard to fathom going without?  Pray tell?). 

For a book premised upon the idea of isolating oneself from men to enable self-growth -- this book was entirely about men.  It was like being back in middle school, sitting outside on the lawn during lunch, dying to escape into a daydream about horseback riding later that afternoon while my boy-crazy girlfriend du jour obsessed about every single male on campus.  Enough already!  If I wanted to read another book about women philosophizing about society's gender roles while simultaneously fixating over every man in the room, I'd pick up another Elizabeth Gilbert novel.

Yet for her lack of female focus and stream of consciousness literature review-style prose, Anderson does write very well and has some note-worthy (even if not novel) points, mainly that sex ends the conversation that is so important between two people getting to know each other.  And hook-ups are the last place to look for real romance.  Ladies:  please tell me you knew this...


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hey y'all!

I was candidly reminded of my delinquence by the lovely Mel in boot camp this morning (who kicked my *ss in our pushup challenge, might I add).  I have one book review on deck and a long-overdue update for you lovelies that will be up this weekend.

Good day.