Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cannonball Read #50: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

NB: I originally planned to review only new books for this project and to avoid re-reading books. However, I have re-read roughly 20 books during the same period and after reviewing other Cannonballers' catalogues, I think I may have missed the point of the Read itself which of course is reading, period, not limiting oneself to new literary adventures. Considering not only the conglomerate nature of the project at its outset but the community that sprang up around it, I've decided to review the re-reads I have enjoyed in the past year as well, playing some catch up over the winter break. Now of course, I did not manage to make the 100-books-in-a-year goal, but I think in a year that involved a wedding, work and a full-time school schedule, pounding out seventy-ish books is pretty damn good. The second round of the Cannonball Read has started with a reduced book requirement - a book a week - and I hope to pick that up, turning my own participation into a kind of mutant extended Cannonball Read of 152 books in two years.

On a happier note, I was thrilled to have my review of The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay be named the number one Cannonball Read review of 2009. That's pretty cool.

I love studies on environmental factors for development. Taking them all at face value is dangerous because there are plenty of logically-blindfolded leaps being made, but I think it's always worth thinking about what makes a person how they are. However, I do not typically think about gender as a whole as something one becomes, and Simone de Beauvoir put forward this idea in The Second Sex, and it's really an interesting concept. For Beauvoir, sex and gender are separate - sex the biological fact of a person and gender the panoply of social and behavioral mores that we gather as we grow.

We're at an extremely exciting time in history, but it's a scary time, too. Society has reached a point where people are generally open to equality of opportunity between the sexes. Our politics have had to make room for non-traditional families - be they divorced couples, gay parents, common law couples, etc. - and this requires that we deal with them legally. As technology and social development lets us do more, it becomes increasingly important to stop and take time to consider what makes us who and what we are. It's fairly easy to think about the dynamics that we choose consciously - our careers or hobbies or clothes - but we rarely consider those defining characteristics that provide lifelong context for us. What makes us American and what does that mean beyond a Social Security card? What makes us men and women? What does being black mean, or being a WASP? When we forego these considerations, we allow too much to be shoved under their banners and aren't able to clearly articulate our own being. It sounds like a really cerebral, theoretical thing to worry about, but when you consider how many of our problems stem from a lack of clarity and conviction in our principles, it becomes a little more real.

It's tough to give Beauvoir a free pass as The Woman With The Answers, but her analysis gives us a good look at an unusual approach to sex and gender. I think the most important aspect of her thought is the work she does to break the female identity away from being simply not-male. The attempt to define each sex and gender separately and on their own merit is a worthy experiment and may be the key to breaking the male/female binary and the rampant stereotypes that have sprung out of it. It's at least a fascinating look at what shapes us from a brilliant thinker. It's easy to see why this book had the revolutionary effect it did on the feminist movement.

705 pages

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

High School Seniors of the World, Relax

I was talking with a friend of mine about college as part of my ongoing plan to convince everyone I enjoy to move to my immediate area and I realized as I was talking to her that the bulk of high school guidance offices are failing students as they work to get them in to colleges. It's certainly not intentional and there is a lot of stuff that these offices are doing right, but I think high school kids are applying to colleges without really understanding what they do and don't need to have figured out, and doing so with far more anxiety than is necessary. With that in mind, here are some thoughts on college that I hope will help.

Not everyone needs to go to college. I hate this whole "Every Kid Should Go To College" culture for many reasons. Making everyone go to college cheapens the actual value of a college degree; as we learned in The Incredibles, "when everyone's super...no one will be." Not everyone is cut out for college work and when you force everyone to go, it means that those people who can't hack it will need somewhere to buy degrees. A college education is not supposed to be on your schedule, or happen in your pajamas. A true education should develop your mind and consume your life - your life should be about your education, not the other way around. If you only want to apply your training to a certain part of your life, then you should go to a training program or vocational school to develop those skills, not waste your time, your professors' time and your classmates' time with classes you don't want or need. Secondly, the push for college makes high school be about college, which is insane. Memorizing dates and passages isn't the most important part of high school - the social development you learn there is far more important and will last much longer than most of what you do in high school - but you should be able to read, spell and add into the bargain. High school now is all about getting kids into college, and the bottom line is that not every kid is going to go to, need or want college. High school education should be appreciated on its own merits, not used as a stepping stone for some higher ideal.

Perhaps most importantly, you do not need to go to college right out of high school. I think that success in college requires at least one of the following things: an appreciation for learning qua learning, a career you have in mind and are willing to work for, or a desire to undertake an academic challenge. Without any of those, you're likely to be unhappy and to fall short of your potential. Go be amazing somewhere else, somewhere you can be who you are and be brilliant at it. College isn't a guarantee and it can't make you love it. Take time off, work, travel, figure out what you think you'd like to do or what you don't like to do. It's okay to do that stuff, and frankly a better use of your time if you're not sure about college.

All that being said, here are a few things to keep in mind if you do decide to go to college.

1. Pick something and go with it. It can be really daunting to look at those giant books of college listings. The analyses of the schools encompass so many things that it seems impossible to figure out where to start. Start with the one thing you care about and go from there. Remember that it doesn't have to be a Serious Academic Consideration...if you don't want to go to a school in a city, knock all the city schools off your list. Sure, there are great schools in cities, but there are great schools in East Jesus Nowhere, PA too. Yale might be one of the best schools in the world, but if you hate being in New Haven (and who wouldn't? Sorry Yale.) then you're not going to get the most out of your college experience. Pick something you care about and roll with it.

2. Finances should never be what stops you from applying to a school. Yes, college is expensive, but there are two things to consider. The first one is the staggering amount of money floating around out there to help you. What you need to do is find it and apply for it. Send in an application to every scholarship fund and grant program you can find. Make those applications great ones - edit them, take the time to format them, and let yourself shine through them - and ship 'em out. The money is out there, even if it's occasionally hard to find. It's worth the effort if you want to go to college. Second of all, you need to accept that debt is a part of life. Of course you don't want a lot of it, but you're going to have it for something, and it may as well be college. A friend of mine was telling me about how she wanted to go to Paris and teach, but she had student loans so she was thinking about staying and working for a while to pay them off. I pointed out that a year of work wasn't going to pay her entire college loan load off, and more importantly that even if she DID through some miracle manage to do it, there would be more debt someday. If it's not college, it's a house. If it's not a house, it's a car. If it's not a car, it's a credit card. Debt comes from everywhere and while you shouldn't carry a huge amount of it, you should be able to appraise the value of it - some things are worth eating Ramen as an adult, you know?

3. You do not need to know what you want to do for the rest of your life. A lot of kids wind up depressed in college, and I have to assume that it's connected to this pressure to know exactly what you want to do on the day of your high school graduation. If you do, great - a friend of mine who I have known since I was six months old told me in fourth grade that she wanted to be a physical therapist and that's what she's doing today. However, that kind of clarity is very unusual in an 18 year old. Here's something that you might not know: pretty much every college has a core curriculum that every student has to take. It's usually broken into subject areas and you have a couple narrow choices to fulfill a list of requirements. Those core classes will probably annoy you at some point in your collegiate career, but they can also help you try some things to figure out what you'd like to major in. You don't usually have to pick a major until sophomore or junior year, and even then, you can always change it. There's a trade off, of course - a major demands that you take certain classes and you'll need time to get them all in - but you should never feel locked in. Do your core classes first (this will also help you avoid being the Lone Senior in English Composition 101, a.k.a. "English for the Marginally Sentient.") and see what you like.

Just remember, it's never too late to try something new, and that can mean changing a major, changing schools, dropping out of school, working for a couple years, whatever. If you're not happy doing whatever you're doing - and that is a broad happiness; no one is happy during exams - reexamine it. I was at American University in a program that didn't resonate with me and left with a 1.08 GPA, which is about .08 above "narcoleptic." When I went back to school at Assumption, where their program is more theoretical, I knew I was in the right place and my GPA is currently a 3.45 (and 3.5 in my major). If you don't love it, you won't thrive, and everyone deserves to do well in life.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Service Interruption

Dear Red LG Shine Phone,

I would first like to say that I appreciate your service and general effectiveness over the course of our time together, to say nothing of your snazzy red cover that makes you easy to locate in my various cavernous bags. I particularly appreciate your camera, on which I took all of my pictures on Inauguration Day because I was not bright enough to check my camera battery the night before. I also like not having to carry an extra mirror, because I broke my Girl Pilots of the Ferry Patrol mirror in the process of schlepping it around and that made me very sad.

The thing is, sometimes we have to criticize those we love, and this is one of those times. I don't get why you have the world's shittiest toggle where there clearly should be a trackball. Seriously, if your hypersensitive click sends me to the AT&T Useless Cell Phone Miscellany Mall or cellular video one more time, I am going to hurl you into the nearest brick wall with all available force until you smash into tiny, tiny pieces. I also want to have a little chat about your low battery alerts. The most energy-consuming function of a cell phone is lighting up the screen, but when you get low on battery, you LIGHT UP EVERY FIVE GODDAMN MINUTES TO TELL ME MY GODDAMN BATTERY IS LOW. Does this seem reasonable to you? All it really accomplishes is ensuring that the battery will be dead by the end of the day. I swear that if I wind up hanging by my seatbelt upside down on the side of this deathtrap of a road that I work on, I will escape and march directly to LG headquarters and set the damn thing on fire so it cannot produce any more deranged phones like you with shitty toggles and excessive battery waste.

In conclusion, it's been a nice run, and I hope you won't take it personally when I replace you with an iPhone in July when my contract comes up.



Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cannonball Read #49: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Ann Barrows

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a beach or commute book. You'll see the big surprise coming well ahead of time, and it's not what I would call a particularly original work, but for all of that, it is a sweet and engaging book.

The novel is really a collection of letters and telegrams between the various characters therein. The main character, Juliet, is a war writer post-war, and is unsure of her next projects. She is tired of the war and tired of her routine, but when she stumbles into the stories of the people on the island of Guernsey, she finds new vigor and begins to chart a new path for herself. The letters between the characters do a wonderful job of character development and highlighting the progress of new friendships. During the Nazi occupation of Guernsey, the island's inhabitants had to find ways to forge on and live a life as normal as possible. One of the ways they did this was through a literary club they put together after being caught breaking curfew. The club was a simple patch on a sticky situation at first, but after a while, the members began to truly know and enjoy each other.

I feel like this book is a collection of characters clumped together. Since it's all letters and telegrams, there's no backdrop for the story. You get little dribs and drabs of the environment, but it's never fleshed out enough to really give the story any kind of emotional context. I think a change in format would go a long way in improving it.

I'll be honest with you...it's taken me the better part of two weeks to write this review because I just don't have that much to say about it. It's a perfectly fine, cutesy little read, but it's the whitest of white bread. Borrow a copy from someone and take it to the beach.

290 pages

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Makeup Is Easy: I Haz A Zit.

Okay so a while back I was like "stop harassing your face with greasy concealer, it will not work" and I'm sure everyone was all "yeah whatever crazy lady" and clicked away to read about birds or something. However! I have returned to the topic with a top-shelf example, in the form of a Gigantic Zit of Doom. Observe.
Holy shit that's terrifying. Let's look at the close up.
Christ on a bicycle. Now, for all of you who are NOT blind now, let us discuss how I dealt with it using my very simple method of Basically Just Paying More Attention To One Area But Doing Everything The Same.

In the case of a giant zit, do not skip moisturizer. If your skin is dry (and it probably is, because...winter. Drink water!), your skin is going to snork up whatever you put on it. Make the first thing be something good for it. I have been using Neal's Yard Remedies' Frankincense Hydrating Cream and then following it with Amarte Aqua Veil, which is a really cool serum that feels like you're rubbing a lotion made of water on your face. Help yourself out. I also followed the moisturizer with Laura Mercier Foundation Primer that I got as a sample from Sephora, but I don't think that's necessary unless you plan to have your picture taken.

After that, I applied my Presecriptives foundation all over. I'm sure if you've experienced the joy of large caliber zits, you will know that the surface of these little miracles is kind of weirdly slippery - the skin is stretched tight, so any little textures are pulled out. I took a little bit of the foundation and tapped it onto the zit, making sure not to rub, until the color had evened out. I then applied Body Shop Mineral Powder and my new favorite thing, Guerlain Meteorites. The result was this:
...aaaaaand up close.
Here is a basic fact about human perception...your brain wants things to look a certain way. Even though you are completely neurotic about the zit and think it's visible from space and that everyone is looking at it, if the color is as uniform as possible whoever is looking at you will kind of shoehorn your face into looking even and dezittified.

I then put on my color for the day, which was from my Dior 5 Colour compact in Tender Chic. I used four of five colors - dark purple on the lid, shimmery pink above it to blend, yellow over that, and white for highlighting along the brow.
I used this funky Revlon lipgloss thing in a berry red, but I hated how it felt (really dry and crackly), so I put my Get Rich Quick Dazzleglass from M.A.C. over top and all was sparkly and well.
Be zit free!!! Viva la not-having-zits!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Relevance of Christian Just War Theory in Modern Foreign Policy

I recently opened my big stupid mouth and said that one of my Just War Theory professor's paper assignments did not sound like it would be fun, which made him get all creepily "oh, you want FUN do you?!?" about it. He then assigned us something that was still a weighty paper but was less formal than usual. The idea was to write something that could be printed as an OpEd column in a newspaper, defending the value of Christian Just War Theory in today's foreign policy, even to non-Christians. (I believe the prompt did give you the choice to say it had no value, but I happen to think that's incorrect.) Since the idea was to speak to the masses, I thought it might be worth actually taking to said masses. Feedback welcome!


Today we find ourselves enmeshed in three wars: the War in Iraq, the War in Afghanistan, and a war of opinion. Our public discourse is awash in vitriol but lacks a certain seriousness that would allow us to properly discuss the military wars before us, creating a third war of words. At the same time, our society is secularizing; religion has taken on the feeling of a hobby or pasttime, the Western zest for toleration leads us to place a wide berth around any assertions that one religion more than any other is superior, and misreadings of the American Constitution have fostered a wild paranoia that any religious influence upon government will send our government spiralling into oppressive theocracy. Our troubled relationship with religion has prompted us to abandon certain options available to us in referring to church-influenced theory, primarily those of Christian Just War Theory. Considered rightly, Christian Just War Theory can provide us with a moral language to use to discuss the justice of our military wars and a context in which we can consider them. Christian Just War Doctrine relies on a natural law accessible to all men, which renders worries about strictly religious government influence moot. Finally, our engagement with the Muslim world demands that we address matters of theological doctrine, whether we choose to or not. Though Christianity may not speak for the West as a whole, Christian theorists have made enough of an effort to make their arguments accessible to Christians and non-Christians alike that they provide an effective starting point for the consideration of justice in war.

It is particularly difficult to gauge the justice of a war from the center of it, and it may be impossible for every citizen of the United States to come to an agreement on the status of both the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars. Moreover, there are two aspects of war to appraise for justice – the decision to go to war, and the way we transact it once we are there. These complications do not exempt us from the justice of our wars, particularly if the United States wishes to continue its reputation as a benevolent force on the international stage. The necessity of these considerations demands that we develop a reasoned, methodical approach to apply, and this in turn requires us to subscribe to a more deeply rooted basis for our theories. Modern American politics operate on a somewhat superficial understanding of political urgency; even if these politicians do appeal to a less transient rationale than their emotions, they rarely go deeper than the American Constitution. Though that document is grounded in grand liberal tradition and forms the basis for American life, it is relatively young and restrains our politics to a certain depth. Christian Just War Theory encourages us to look beyond our particular political structures and rely on natural law for guidance.

There are two primary sources of Christian Just War Theory and both understand Just War to be a limiting force. Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas understand that any political consideration of war must begin with the realities of man's fallen state and that because of this, man's “profound desire for justice” is difficult for him to realize. A just war must be proportionate and narrow, which can sate both the desire for revenge and the desire for justice. As we mentioned before, it is difficult to gauge actions in the thick of war. Considering the justice of a war will limit unjust acts in the heat of the moment, freeing the combatant from later regret associated with the unjust actions. In St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica, he explores four essential questions of Just War and provides three necessities for going to war justly. Thomistic Just War requires that the ruler setting out to war have legitimate sovereignty, that there must be just cause, and that the intent of the combatants be rightful (Summa Theologica, Part II, Question 40, sect. 1). The requirements of both men cut a large swath through many of history's wars, so frequently fought over minor slights and mere property. Christian Just War limits the combatants to the pursuit of good and the destruction of evil, not temporal – and temporary – gains. Just War is not for the pursuit of simple victory but of the tranquilitas ordinis, a peace that would allow people to live as children of God.

With this guidance, we can get to war, but questions continue after the initial decision is made. Aquinas carefully analyzes the questions of clergy participation, the laying of ambushes and fighting on holy days to understand how to transact a just war. In the end, clergy may not participate because it is fundamentally opposed to their service to God. It is, however, acceptable to go to war on holy days, because a just war would be in the service of God and there is a precedent for the meting out of religious punishments on holy days. Perhaps most important however is the approval of ambushes in action but not in speech (Summa Theologica, Part II, Question 40, sect. 2-4). This distinction reveals the heart of Christian Just War Theory – ambushes in deed push the war for just cause forward, but ambushes in speech make the tranquilitas ordinis virtually impossible because the trust and honor upon which it depends cannot exist if the peace was forced through lies. We see here that justice must be considered at every step, not just on the path to war.

Though Augustine and Aquinas so refer to the Christian God in their theories, the bulk of the arguments are based on natural law teaching, and this basis allows Christian Just War Theory to reach well beyond Christianity. Natural law is accessible to all men. Americans understood that there was such a law and based their own government on this knowledge long ago at the country's founding. In this way, the relative youth of the American government and its foundation in natural law make Christian Just War Theory uniquely applicable to our foreign policy. In George Weigel's article Iraq: Then and Now, he explains that the Bush Administration referred often to Just War Theory in the much maligned 2002 National Security Strategy, though the aspect that the media clung to was that of preemption (Weigel, p.39-40). Discussed without a serious consideration of Christian Just War Theory, preemption seems a choice more suited to sandbox squabbles, but in context, we may understand the choice to strike first as a blow against injustice rightly understood.

Weigel also takes aim at the idea of the United Nations as an international authority on just war, successfully attacking the claims to sovereignty often raised by its advocates. One part of our fallen state so willingly embraced by Christian Just War Theorists is our mortality and our inescapable connection to the Earth. This means that our political life is necessarily influenced by our connection to and perceived ownership of our territory and property. Sovereignty originates in this physical politics and the United Nations relies on the gift of power from member nations for the mere illusion of sovereignty. Even the United Nations' Charter understands this reality. As Weigel points out, Article 51 leaves an “'inherent' right of self-defense” to the member states (Weigel, p.37), and if this right remains under the purview of individual nations, then the UN has no sovereign authority – it cedes the valuation of war and justice, ostensibly the most important part of statecraft, to individual nations. Without sovereignty, there can be no just war in the Christian tradition nor in natural law teaching. We must abandon the United Nations as anything more than a tangentially useful center for debate, and not allow it to guide our foreign policy.

Christian Just War Theory and its basis in natural law provides an excellent guide for determining the justice of our wars. “Christianity” has become a strangely loaded term in American political discourse, and people may shy away from something they believe requires them to sign on to theological doctrine. It is the natural law foundation to Just War Theory that makes it accessible to all men, not its Christian structure. The Theory demands that we take justice seriously and adopt a complete and operable vocabulary for the application of justice to war. None of this is to say that Christian theory must be stripped of its theological bent to be accepted by a large population. There are certain themes that are reflected across religions, and even atheists can agree that man is not perfect. This is what Augustine found so important to considerations of just war. He called it a fallen state, but that is his term for a universally understood term. A fallen state means temptation from earthly desires, and this is why we need to take such great care in the contemplation of war. Reinhold Neibuhr points ouf that “Even the most 'Christian' civilization and even the most pious church must be reminded that the true God can be known only were there is some awareness of a contradiction between divine and human purposes, even on the highest level of human aspirations (Neibuhr, The Irony of American History, p. 173).” He goes on to remind us that our enemies' unjust actions come from the same impulses that lead us astray to unjust wars both ius and ad bello. It is considering our actions seriously that can keep us from acting in defiance of natural law, and Christian Just War can help us pay these questions the attention they are due.

It is easy to understand how non-Christians would shy away from embracing Christian Just War Theory, but when we examine the teachings thereof, we see that Christian teachings on just wars are some of the only approaches that make a serious effort towards creating a widely applicable, grounded context for the study of war. Its dual justification through both theological and natural law doctrines increases its accessibility and encourages the student of politics to talk about and rightly consider war. Our impoverished political dialogue cries out for nourishment, for something deeper than punditry. Christian Just War Theory offers us this lacking seriousness, and gives us more to work with than the emotions of the moment. In a time of great unrest and a reinvigoration of theological struggles between the Muslim world and the West, Christian Just War Theory's measured approach only gains in value and appeal.

Cannonball Read #48: Sweet and Low, by Rich Cohen

I never really know how to explain the part of my personality that makes me like books like this, but I usually wind up saying something like "I just really like...things." It's a little bit like that scene in Cocktail where Tom Cruise is all "some guy invented drink umbrellas and made a ZILLION DOLLARS," but more like "some guy thought of this and then made it happen. Why would you think of such a thing?" I must admit that Sweet and Low is not my favorite of the faux sweeteners, but the genesis of the product is fascinating if only for the way it fit in with sweeping changes in the American relationship with food.

Sweet and Low is an account of - surprise! - the family that created Sweet and Low and the individual packets that contain it. It's also about the American enthusiasm for dieting, individualism, mafia activity in New York, business, New York City, family dynamics, Jews and myriad other topics, all of which weave through the principle story of Sweet and Low and those little pink packets.

I think this book could have been either longer or shorter. Cohen tries to take on a lot here, connecting Sweet and Low to a massive number of topics, all of which are worthy of deeper analysis and many of which do in fact have entire research industries surrounding them. Part of making a book engaging is keeping your focus narrow enough that you can cover it comprehensively, and I don't think that needs to dictate your length, either. You could count either Michael Burleigh's The Third Reich which comes in at a brisk 992 pages in paperback or Immanuel Kant's Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals at an easily lose-able 79 pages as comprehensive works with a narrow focus. While all of the threads do come back to the main story, I was left wanting more detail on many of them.

Whenever the author of a book is directly related to the book's subject, the whole project enters a certain hazard zone. I think it's directly linked to the motive for writing the book, and there are only a few motives that don't interfere with the tone of the finished work. Cohen's book half succeeds at unbiased presentation because about half of his motivation is simple exploration. I suspect that the writing of this book began in a certain kind of...affrontedness, shall we say, stemming from his branch of the family being summarily excised from the Sweet and Low fortune. It is clear that his family history is extremely important to him, and that lineage has been important to his family generally for a very long time; the whole book is tied up in knots of family connections.

I feel that Cohen could ultimately have edited more closely for over-personal connections and fleshed out some of the historical context for the real ascendancy of the company. It's a good, quick read, but it did leave me wanting more information. I think that's a plus in the end, but it does relegate the work to a piece of a larger body as a historical document. As an interesting story about a quirky family written in brisk prose full of wit and verve however, Sweet and Low stands on its own two feet and earns your time easily.

288 pages

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cannonball Read #47: The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte

I figured out what irritates me about Arturo Perez-Reverte. First, he needs to shake up his descriptions, particularly of women. When I read The Club Dumas there were times when I actually said out loud, like a crazy person, things like "holy CRAP yes, green eyes, tan skin, long legs, complete Lolita fantasy, I get it, GOD." There's certainly value in providing physical and emotional profiles of your characters, but rewording it occasionally is helpful. Ditto with the comparisons of people to animals...we get it. Wolflike. 10-4.

That's all mildly irritating, but the big problem I have with his writing is that he makes it seem like he's going to pull of these really fascinating connections between ancient artifacts and modern day events, and then in the end he makes it riiiiiiiiight up to what should be the big reveal, and then it turns out that it was just modern day people dicking around and being evil jerks. It's still interesting that way, but Perez-Reverte is a good enough writer that you get really excited about what you think he's going to pull off, only to be let down in the end. I want more out of his books because I think he can DO more in his books.

In the case of The Flanders Panel, the story surrounds a Flemish painting being restored by the Pure-Hearted Protagonist of the novel. In the process of the restoration, she discovers a hidden message in the painting, and embarks on a search for answers. The painting features a game of chess, and one of the most interesting aspects of the book is the eventual necessity of playing out the game portrayed. I don't know much about chess - not good chess, anyway - so seeing how it can all be played and reasoned out was fascinating. I must say that I was not wild about the way Perez-Reverte inserted pictures into the book, but I'm also not sure how else it could have been made accessible (an appendix?).

I'm going to put this one in the beach book category. It's not a bad book even though it suffers from the above mentioned crisis of direction, and it's a good lightish read while still requiring some brainpower to keep track of everything. Worth your time but not getting arrested for speeding on the way to the bookstore.

294 pages

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Right to Not Bear Arms

There will be a chance to sign a Registry of Conscientious Objectors at Clark University this Friday. I believe this is a national registry, but I am having some trouble establishing that definitively, so for the time being let's just call it a registry and carry on from there. I think the event will be interesting and encourage people to attend even if they don't sign the registry. Peace is a tricky subject and whether or not you feel a worldwide peace is attainable, the topic demands discussion in order for us to shape our personal and national approach to foreign policy.

Conscientious objection is an equally difficult matter. According to the Department of Defense, conscientious objection is "a firm, fixed, and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms, by reason of religious training and/or belief," and is further broken into two classes - Class 1-O objectors, whose beliefs prohibit them from participating in war of any kind, and Class 1-A-O objectors, whose beliefs limit them to non-combatant roles in war. There is a question, however, of whether or not conscientious objection is morally and ethically coherent within its motivation and end result.

Of course, if Christian Just War Theory guided US military actions, conscientious objection would become a moot point; presumably the citizens supporting a military and government guided by these principles would be Christian themselves and thus willing to engage in combat under Just War principles. This is not the case in the United States, and we must adjust our thinking accordingly. We are uncomfortable with the use of religion as a justification for war. It seems that in abandoning this justification we are declaring religion an inadequate basis for combat and perhaps for political life all together. This seems clear enough, but we then allow conscientious objection on the idea that religious conviction supersedes the agreement one makes with his nation to serve in the military.

Is it fair to let religion inform our decisions concerning the state when we are meant to function as a secular society? This question concerns both the motivation for joining and the reasons for leaving the service. The refusal to rely purely on religious motivation for war and the reticence to even discuss publicly the idea of letting Christian Just War Tradition inform our discourse on military action would seem to cast off religious determination all together. If this is so, it seems a radical exception to allow religious objection to military service. Given the secular nature of today's military, I can't help but feel that a recruiter would not be wholly comfortable when confronted with someone who showed up to register for military service saying he or she was directed by God to join the US military. Should there not be similar discomfort when one relies on religion for an exemption?

There is also a question of veracity. The simplest way to handle objections to service developed after contracting with the military is in fact the current policy. We can all relate to certain moments which changed the direction of our lives, and the extremities of combat could certainly supply such moments. However, the conscientious objection policy specifically concerns itself with religious belief. Religion is often understood as an all encompassing subscription to a faith; of course people may come to or change their religion later in life, but that an immediate and complete transformation should occur in the midst of combat after having felt strongly enough about the cause to put one's life knowingly in harm's way seems like it would be an unusual reversal. Why religion above all? Why specify that it must be a religious revelation that can release one from a service contract? It seems that we are less ambivalent towards religion than our larger military policy and disregard for Christian Just War Theory may at first indicate.

Even more complicated are the Class 1-A-O objectors. Is it possible to join a military body and refuse to participate in the stated actions of the military? This class further fractures the religious/political distinctions and allows the objector to exempt himself from the principle reality of military service. Even if one serves as a medic, one would be healing soldiers so that they could go again into battle. In an administrative role, one still facilitates the business of war. If one's objection is to killing or war, then the efforts he exerts in his non-combat job still violate his principles. To simply serve his country, there are numerous options for civil service one could choose, but the Class 1-A-O objector remains in the military. Does this detract from the strength of the religious basis for objection? I think it must; rare is the religion that says direct killing is unforgivable but indirect killing is okay.

The matter of conscientious objection points to large scale confusion between we have different levels of commitment just as we have different kinds of love. There is a certain fear in our public discussion of religion, perhaps because religion relies on unprovable faith. We demand clear definitions of our actions, and sometimes it is not that simple. One feels loyalty to many things in his life and how we vet these loyalties cannot be rigidly defined. The US conscientious objector rules certainly make a game stab at establishing lines dividing religion and politics, but we see that these rules are rife with problems nonetheless.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

News Flash: Neighbors Continue to Bring the Crazy

Last Christmas, I took some pictures of our neighbors' yard display, which happened to be lighted cross and trees lighted so as to be visible from space. The same neighbors have preserved the level of wackiness this Halloween with this display:
This would be the "DeadMan's Poker" display, where two skeletons play poker with a gravestone that has bloody...hands? It's a little random, but pretty inspired Halloweenieness, so right on.
However, they decided to include a ghoul wedding. I guess they didn't want to limit themselves to just one theme. It's a little hard to see, but there are two gravestones in the foreground, and those things on poles are skulls and skeletal hands. The bride and groom are ghoulie ghostie things, and they are being married by a Dementor, I think. I mostly like the proximity to the Dead Man's Poker room, kind of like Mr. and Mrs. Ghoul are getting married in the middle of a casino.

I love my neighbors.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Makeup Is Easy: Don't Be Shy, Little Peacock

"Even the great naturalist Donald Culross Peattie, a man whose prose is so dry you could use it to mop spills, totally lost his head when he tried to convey the wonder of a New England autumn. In his classic Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America, Peattie drones on for 434 pages in language that can most generously be called workmanlike (typical passage: 'Oaks are usually ponderous and heavy-wooded trees, with scaly or furrowed bark, and more or less five-angled twigs and, consequently, five-ranked leaves...'), but when at last he turns his attention to the New England sugar maple and its vivid autumnal regalia, it is as if someone has spiked his cocoa. In a tumble of breathless metaphors he describes the maple's colors as 'like the shout of a great army...like tongues of flame...like the mighty, marching melody that rides upon the crest of some symphonic weltering sea and, with its crying song, gives meaning to all the calculated dissonance of the orchestra.'

'Yes, Donald,' you can just about hear his wife saying, 'now take your tablets, dear.'"
Bill Bryson in Notes from a Big Country/I'm a Stranger Here Myself (Do yourself a favor and just go buy Bryson's whole catalog.)

It is fall in New England, glory hallelujah! I have been feeling particularly earth-tone-y of late. I always feel connected to the earth and all the creatures on it in when the foliage goes nuts like this - I have said several times this fall that I feel sorry for people lacking either the good fortune to be born in New England or the good sense to move here. How lucky New Englanders are to bear witness to and take part in nature's glory in this way!

Serendipity also brought me a trio of very autumnal colors in my Beautyfix box. I received the Tuscany trio from RAWminerals, which included a darker brown, a nice orangey tan, and a soft kind of chardonnay-ish beige. Blended together, they make a great smokey eye that goes with damn near everything.
I finished the eyes with that magical Guerlain eyeliner that I love so much. I did put on some very light rose colored lipstick after these pictures, but I was mid-coffee when I had time to take a few shots.
Besides, I wanted to leave my face pretty simple so the focus could be on this little piece of fabulousity
In case you are wondering, it's really hard to take a picture of the upper-back side of your head with a cell phone while in your car.
This is another piece from Liason, where Katherine produces wearable pieces of heaven. I just love the colors and textures in this, and it stayed put solidly all day. If you've talked to me in person, you know I am what one might call an "active talker" so this is really quite the achievement, hair-accessory-wise. Totally fantastic, and befitting the season!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wanna Learn About Seamless Glass?

The DCU Center did a lot of renovation geared towards making the building fantastic for hockey this summer, including the installation of seamless glass over the dashers. Here are some shots of why this is a HUGE improvement.
Clear clear clear...no visual obstruction at the top of the glass.
The biggest vision upgrade is in the corners; without metal stanchions you can see everything perfectly.
Here's a closer shot of the boards over the penalty box. This is the only place there's any metal.
Here is one of the top caps at the penalty box. Because these boards are not being directly impacted, there is not as much give allowed in the bolts; the two parts of the cap and the bolt itself are flush on either side of the board.
This is a shock absorber, located just under the rim of the dasher on the seat side. Apparently when they first designed this type of board, the construction provided VERY little give, so people were actually concussing themselves on them. These shock absorbers were integrated and the top caps were redesigned...
...like this. It's a little hard to see, but if you look closely, the bolts extend significantly beyond the glass, and there is a giant spring between the head of the bolt and the glass. This allows the glass to move when people hit it.

These boards are a huge improvement. My only complaint is that they are quite noisy...Rich described them as "pingy" and I think that's a good descriptor. The hits are very loud, but even puck deflections are kind of startlingly noisy. It's all a matter of adjustment, I'm sure.

Speaking of noisy things that I like...
...I am feeling the HELL out of Alex Stalock. He's an All-American goaltender out of Minnesota-Duluth University and was drafted in 2005 by San Jose; he just gave up his last year of eligibility to come to the bigs. I like my goalies with a little smartass on them, and I like 'em noisy. I could hear Stalock yapping all night and he's a blast to watch. He's super fast post-to-post, and he's got some kind of weird hybrid style where he's big as hell on his feet and super fast to the butterfly. The most interesting thing about his play is how athletic he is. You see a lot of goaltenders who are just phenomenal at the skills that comprise goaltending, but I look at Stalock move and just think "damn, what a sick athlete." He wings his limbs around like they're someone else's, but he's clearly in control at all times. I cannot WAIT to see how this kid develops.

Ole Henrikson Try-It Kit

If a product works, yet smells bad, I should still use said product. I understand this. But the fact of the matter is that I am not going to use said product consistently if it stinks, and therefore the benefits of said item aren't going to be forthcoming. I tried this new Ole Henrikson kit from Sephora and though there were some items I liked, many of the others were so odiferous I couldn't get used to using them. I was kind of bummed out, but that's the whole point of these little sample kits - if I'm going to hate something, I'd much rather have spent $45 for an assortment of products and not one bottle of one product.

There were two main products I liked. The first one is the Walnut Complexion Scrub. I am a big fan of the St. Ives Apricot Scrub that pretty much everyone on the planet has in their bathroom at this very moment; I like it because it is cheap but effective and nice-smelling. The Ole Henrikson Walnut Scrub is along the same lines, but a little more hardcore. You just have to spend a minute or two scrubbing a little blob over your face in circular motions, and it does a truly amazing job of exfoliating and smoothing your skin. The full size is only $24 and I think that given the small amount required per use and the lasting effects of the product that it comes out to about the same value as the St. Ives scrub.

I also liked the Blue/Black Berry Enzyme Mask. This is a clear goop that you put on your face and let sit while it gets very slightly tingly and kind of detoxifies your face. It's an easy mask to work with and you can really see the results in the form of fresh looking, pinkish skin. I also felt like I got better absorption of the various moisturizers that I use after I had used the mask. This one's $32, but it's a great value for a mask that actually does something other than peel off in a kind of fun way.

There was also one product that I was lukewarm on. This was the On The Go Cleanser, which smelled kind of weird but worked well. It foams up well and rinses clean, but the smell really did get to me. It's not even necessarily bad, it's just...weird. The rest of the items were generally not effective enough to compensate for the weird smells, so I scrapped them. I like that Henrikson makes an effort to keep his products as chemical free as possible, and I love the scrub and mask, but the rest were not as exciting for me. This is why I love Sephora's kits, though...I can try new things without spending a ton of money. Well worth the try!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Some Treats from the (Future) Garden

I've already spoken about the glorious dahlias I will be putting into the garden this spring, but I've just started my spring planting. I will now enter a permanent state of Christmas Eve-itis. I always - always - get completely overexcited as I order bulbs, only to realize that I have to wait until SPRING for them to materialize. It's like someone promised me an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle and then hung the wrapped package from the ceiling just out of my reach. In any case, I would like to share a bit of this disorder for you with a preview of the items I put in, all of which are from John Scheepers' Dutch Flower Bulbs.
I thought about ordering the more common tightly clustered hyacinths you see, but Mom recommended these airier festival hyacinths. I'm really excited to see how they come out. As long as they have that wonderful hyacinth scent, I'll be happy.
Mom planted some of these Perestroyka tulips a couple years ago, and we were all blown away by their supreme grace and spectacular color show. They are quite tall (up to 30"), and their color changes throughout their blooming period. The coloring in the picture above is the high point, and they get paler as they go by until they have gone all the way to a pink that's just barely a step from white. They're so dramatic! I got two bags of these.
I ordered some of these Orange Emperor tulips last fall because Rich LOVES orange, but they're so beautiful that I ordered them again this year for me (he responds to most floral developments with a shrug and an "okay"). These too have some shift in their color, and pale as they go by.
I'm trying these Cum Laude tulips this year...hopefully they'll be blooming as I graduate at least cum laude and hopefully above! The deep purple will be fantastic with the Orange Emperors and the orange hints in the Perestroyka.
I'm not usually one for variegation nor for fluffy tulips, but the rich red and clean white of these Carnavale de Nice double tulips was too much to resist. I hope they come out like this picture!
Finally, some Allium Ambassador. These are very tall and have GIANT globe flowers. I cannot wait to see how they do!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Makeup Is Easy: Mrs. L's Christmas Tree

As we all know, the makeup world believes that you should just cover yourself in gold and glitter when the holidays come around. Normally this irritates me (because it is boring), but when it manifested itself as a little kit from Sephora that included a sample of Guerlain Meteorites amongst other nifty things, I totally encouraged this annoying behavior and picked it up. I started playing with the eyeshadows and wound up thinking about Mrs. L's Christmas tree.

Mrs. L is our neighbor from up the street in my parents' neighborhood. She is a total hot ticket, and her home decor is very Just So. It's like a Martha Stewart layout in there, people. Every year she gets a gigantic Christmas tree and decks the whole thing out in gold ornaments and red bows. Every year, same thing. Once I got going with the gold shadow, I figured I would combine it with a strong red lip. (I did refrain from sticking pine branches in my hair or something.)
I've got Prescriptives Redness Relief Gel on, covered with Prescriptive foundation and She Space Cashmere Stockings as a finishing powder. For highlighting I added Guerlain Meteorites all over, and Laura Geller baked blush in Sunswept. I LOVE the Laura Geller stuff...not only does it look great on, but it's just so damn gorgeous in the compact!
I used Raw Minerals eyeshadow in Chardonnay (from my latest BeautyFix kit!) all over the lid, then used Smashbox's 24K eyeshadow on the lower lid and just over the crease. I can't really decide how to feel about the Smashbox; I go back and forth between thinking it's awesome and thinking it's too brassy. It might just be the weird in-between summer and winter color of my skin right now, so I'm not giving up on it yet. My wonderful Givenchy Phenomen'Eyes mascara is getting close to death, and in the name of Trying New Things, I texted my girl Joanne who has, like, ridiculously lucious, long, fabulous eyelashes at all times what she uses. She recommended Makeup Forever Smoky Lash, so I picked it up in the waterproof formula. It is freaking fantastic. It goes on perfectly and does a great job separating the lashes, and it stays put, which is crucial.
I finished it all with Saint lipstick from Lipstick Queen in Rouge. These lipsticks are just the absolute shit. The color is excellent and they FEEL so damn comfortable. None of the usual lipstick drying and what have you, just pure, kickass color. You really need to get yourself some.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Magical Chocolate

As we know, I write random reviews of stuff that appeals to me, and it's generally just whatever occurs to me to buy or read. A while back, Annie called me and was like "hey, I have a thing you should try," so I agreed to meet with her and check it out. She called it "healthy chocolate," which needless to say I kind of shrugged off because...dare to dream, etc., etc. We met up to discuss and set up a trial run.

Here's my deal...I don't usually like these kinds of Eat This Product and Lose Weight! type deals. Weight loss is more or less just sweaty math. If you burn more than you're taking in (over a given maintenance threshold), you'll lose weight. I'm not overweight for lack of knowledge, I'm overweight because I like beer and pizza. I have tried WeightWatchers which I liked certain things about (hint: not the meetings) and I have tried (and currently use) something called CalorieKing with which I can track that exact math I was talking about previously. I really recommend that site, which we're talking about weight loss. It's a great resource. In any case, I was kind of skeptical but also know that Annie's no dope, so I checked the product out.

It's called Tru Chocolate and what you do is take one to three of the little wafers before your meals with a glass of water. The really cool thing is that the chocolate is made with Xylitol instead of sugar, so when you drink the water, it also tastes like chocolate. As we know, I love toys, so this is like...chocolate in the form of a toy as far as I am concerned. It's REALLY cool, and I feel a little weird about being all "WHEE TASTES LIKE CHOCOLATE" but I just find it fascinating and weirdly happy-making. So okay, you get to eat chocolate, this is lovely. What it does is block some of your sugar from getting into your system, and the chocolate and water obviously take up some real estate in your stomach to make you less hungry. It also is full of good stuff...the most impressive to my mind is the nutty amount of ORAC units in each piece. ORAC units are the free radical fighters that everyone's always overstimulated over with blueberries and what have you. These little suckers have 3,040 units a piece, which is yooge; there's a nice little comparison chart over on their website. The chocolate is also all organic and generally full of nutrients and awesome on top of any weight loss benefits.

I lost about seven pounds in a month, which includes a slight warm up time where my body was getting adjusted to the whole thing. Annie actually lost 16 pounds in a month which is totally awesome. Like I said, I was skeptical, but damn if it doesn't actually work. I'm super impressed with it, and I'd encourage you to check it out! I have a site thingie through which you can order, and if you have any questions you can always email me (...and allow time for me to check with Annie, who is the reigning chocolate guru). Honestly, it's worth a whirl, even if you're just trying to lose a little bit of weight...you get to eat chocolate, it's an easy program that doesn't involve keeping track of anything, and it gets all your nutrition into your day. It's really, really hard to keep your actual nutrition up when you're dieting, so having a boost like this is an easy assist for your diet program.

Oh oh oh AND if you are a mint chocolate person, do not bother with the regular chocolate-chocolate flavor because the mint flavor is AWESOME and you will totally love it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


My Senior Seminar paper assignment for Prof. Dobski:

Allan Bloom claims in The Closing of the American mind that "Openness, as currently conceived, is a way of making surrender to whatever is most powerful, or worship of vulgar success, look principled....If openness means to 'go with the flow,' it is necessarily an accommodation to the present. That present is closed to doubt about so many things impeding the progress of its principles that unqualified openeness to it would mean forgetting the despised alternatives to it, knowledge of which makes ups aware of what is doubtful in it. True openness means closedness to all the charms that make us comfortable with the present."

Please write a paper defending this position using any of the readings that we discussed in the first part of the course to support your case...paper is to be 5 to 6 pages in length.

And Coworker Joe's response:

Openness as Closedness
by Josie Brown

Thing X is Opposite-Of-Thing-X [Orwell,1948]. QED.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Makeup Is Easy: Makeup of Biblical Proportions

I took this picture in the early morning today and I like it for two reasons. First, because I think I look like I am peering into the future and secondly because you can see the full awesomeness of the Givenchy Phenomen'Eyes mascara I'm always on about (the eye on the right particularly.

I would also like to make an announcement in light of this photograph - I have zits today.
I want to start the world campaign against concealer, which I know sounds insane. For those of you who do not believe that we can all live fuller, happier lives without concealer, I note that I have zits on my left cheek, under my lip on the left side, under my nose on the right side, and one kind of smooshed into my right eyebrow. They are not insignificant but they have been handled properly, by which I mean that I didn't slather greasy concealer sticks all over them.

Concealers tend to come in two varieties - greasy and drying. The downfalls of the greasy variety should be obvious. Additional oil on an oily area will encourage more zits to crop up because they can't breathe; your skin is waterbased and the concealer is oil-based, so the concealer will just float over the top and smother the zit, encouraging it to fester and get truly gross. The drying types get held up as medicated solutions, but realistically they also encourage breakout because the skin doesn't have ENOUGH moisture. You get blemishes when your skin is unbalanced, not necessarily because of oil alone.

So here's what you do. First, clean your face every day. This can mean cleanser, it can mean toner. Just clean it. Then you go out and you get yourself an extractor - I use this one from Sephora and it's great. When you get a zit, steam the bejesus out of your face using a washcloth soaked in hot hot hot water, then apply pressure with your extractor when your pores are nice and open. The beauty of the above-linked extractor is that it has a narrow end and a thick end, so you can apply different kinds of pressure to get all the junk out of there. You want to do this routine at night because your face will likely freak out a little and get red. This is worth it. Clean your face again and moisturize.

In the morning, put a little dot of foundation on your finger and TAP the foundation onto the zit. This will let it work its way into any little crevices without getting all chunked up around any raised skin (you can do the same if you just use powder; the tapping and lack of greasy concealer are the important parts). After you've paid this special attention to the blemishes themselves, go ahead and apply your normal foundation or powder. For me, this requires some concerted effort towards abandoning my more OCDesque tendencies. Yes, you will be able to see the zits, but you will be able to see them because you are looking for them and because you know where they are. Go forth and stop worrying about it and I promise you that no one will ever take note of them.
I went with a slightly more toned down version of my favorite pink/gold combo of late. I still used Bandits in Bras but topped it with the more brown Necessary Morality for a smokier feel. Used the usual Givenchy Phenomen'Eyes which is regrettably drying up, so I am considering trying some new brands...man, but it's SO GOOD. One of my Life Projects of late is being less stuck in my ways, but does that have to apply if the way I am stuck in is awesome? Decisionmaking process to follow!
This is a closeup of my lipgloss, which is Get Rich Quick Dazzleglass from M.A.C., which I bought upon a recommendation from Apocalypstick Now. I will note, as she did, that it looks horrifying in the tube. It's brown goo with Eighties colored sparkles in it but somehow when you put it on it turns into a great nude. I don't know how or why, but I assume physics factors in heavily.
I actually think I could have used some blush here. Ah, the passing of summer. From pastiness I came, and to pastiness I shall return. On a side note, were you perhaps wondering about my necklace? The one that basically sums up about 90% of my personality in one piece of jewelry?
This is a piece called "The Cimmerian Library," made by Margaux Kent of The Black Spot Books. I found Margaux's work on Etsy, and she is just amazing. She has a sublime old world sensibility that informs all of her work. This necklace is comprised of eleven books held together by three chains.
Margaux mostly works with reclaimed leather, so all of these covers have a back story. I put the card away but will be detailing them later - they include an old baseball glove, a doctor's bag and a vintage handbag, amongst others. I LOVE it and would wear it all the time if I could. You should go by Margaux's site and take a look. She has some fantastic handmade items and gorgeous prints. Here's one more shot of the library, on Margaux for her Etsy listing - much better quality than with my cameraphone!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I Have A Question

And that question is..."why?"
Everywhere I go, I get this same half freaking inch of sugar at the bottom of an iced coffee. What is that about?? This happens to be a Honey Dew creation but they are far from the only perpetrators. I am convinced that people aren't jacked up on caffeine, but on sugar. Why is this necessary?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Makeup is Easy: Vampires in RoMa

Apparently I am having either a mischievious day or a surly day because I took about nine zillion pictures today in the process of documenting this makeup and in ALL of them I look either homicidal or like I am up to no good. Even this one, if we're honest, is weird.
What is that? It's somewhere between "I'm picking your pocket RIGHT NOW" and "you're shittin' me." I don't know. I had gotten caffiene in my system by this point, too. Probably not a good sign for anyone in the office

So okay tonight I am going out to The Citizen with my friend Rose for her birthday. Rose is awesome and writes books about vampires and likes her coffee like she likes her men...covered in bees. I tend to have fairly pensive showers in which I consider everything that I am doing that day, but since I am going out with Rose I was kind of like "heh, vampires" and apparently this is what happens when I think "heh, vampires." I was also thinking of the new Sephora catalog in which they announced the arrival of...pretty much exactly the same trends from last fall, to wit - dark lips, grey shadow, etc.

I covered my whole lid right up to the brow with First Class Con, then gave the lid a dusting of Moonlight Whimsy. I threw out my black-black liner in a fit of pique a while back, so I used this charcoaly-black mineral liner (can't remember the brand, but I'll check and post it in the comments when I get home) and a skinny brush. (Sorry if this is gross for you but)I usually just dampen the brush with my tongue to give the powder more definition and me more control when I am using it as liner. To get a good catlike line, you have to work against your intuition; when your eye is closed, line straight across the lashline and continue STRAIGHT out from the eye. Don't curve it up or you'll look crazy. The main thing is getting an even narrowing of the line, and if you botch that you can dampen a Q-Tip and pull it firmly and carefully on a diagonal from below the line to above to sharpen the edge.

Once I had finished the line, I wasn't really happy with the look. I felt like the line was kind of just sitting there pointlessly and didn't cohere with the rest of my face. I decided to skim some of the darker grey from my NARS Paris eyeshadow duo over the lid, and then top it with a little more Moonlight Whimsy to blend everything in since the dark grey is matte and everything else was sparkly. I then lined my lips with CoverGirl Outlast Smoothwear lipliner in Burgundy and applied the Buxom Lips in Vanessa that I mentioned in a previous makeup note. The effect was ALMOST there but not quite, so I pulled the Moonlight Whimsy a little further into the hollow beside my tear duct and around to under the lower lash line, then lined my waterline and the logical line between lower and upper lid. THAT worked out, because the eye was one unified whole and the lighter Moonlight Whimsy opened up my eyes a little bit.

Makeup Is Easy: Petsitting is No Excuse for A Drop in Fabulousity

I was geriatric-animal-sitting this weekend for my parents and for some reason my act is never together when I prepare to bivouack at their house ten minutes from my own, so today we will be having a lesson on how you can survive with nothing but a random assortment of cosmetics that you snatched out of your bathroom in a strangely panicky fog of haste.

On my face is Prescriptives foundation and Cashmere Stockings powder from The She Space, as well as the mascara that I slept in because as we have discussed before, I have poor cosmetics removal habits.

If I just relied on good face coverage and slept-in mascara, my makeup would be boring as hell, so I applied Bare Escentuals Buxom Lips (full color, not gloss) in Vanessa. I put it on over Lemon Head Lip Balm from Stella Marie Soap Company because it does get a little feathery and vampirey without a good foundation.

Cannonball Read #46: The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan

It's interesting to read The Definitive Texts of political and social movements that have either decayed or evolved since the time said texts were written. Usually, you find a strange mix of unrelatability and startling current fact, and that is the case here. Feminism has become controversial again simply as a result of its divisions - people feel a need to define what kind of feminist they are as a result of some more extreme permutations. Sarah Bunting has a terrific article about feminism called "Yes, You Are" which reminds us that feminism isn't about bra-burning or wearing lots of flannel or being humorless or any thing else besides believing in "the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes." It's exactly that simple, but the journey towards anything approaching a majority embrace of the idea has been a long and complicated one.

The Feminine Mystique explores the idea that women are forced by society into an unfulfilling existence wherein their worth is contingent solely on marriage and child-bearing. It is the new feminism - less clear than the lack of suffrage, less obvious than forced prostitution, less dramatic than the assembly of harems - but is equally important. When TFM was published, women had political rights but still were often subject to oppression of their souls. Friedan runs through a variety of doctrines that she thinks have contributed to the Mystique, and her points follow logically. I found it somewhat difficult to evaluate these arguments from a modern day standpoint, because the landscape has changed so dramatically for women since groundbreaking writers like Friedan were revolutionary. Do Freudian interpretations of the psyche still shape our gender attitudes? Maybe. If nothing else, I think the effect is significantly

Whether or not the specifics of Friedan's work are still actively applicable, many of the phenomena that she describes still exist. I think the Mystique has mutated rather than vanished. Many women still feel pressure to be that perfect housewife, but many others feel pressure to be a full-time career woman as well. The real problem seems to be the call for women to decide and declare themselves early on in life. (This is not to say that men get off the hook - in fact, men have even fewer options, as it's generally assumed that they will work and be primary breadwinners.) There is a very serious question to be answered in regard to whether a person can be an active, engaged parent AND a serious businessperson, but that women are routinely pressed to declare themselves as one or the other without dedicated public discourse on the matter is supremely unfair. That happiness rarely factors into this forced decision is even more tragic...both genders should have joy in their lives, and the current expectations from society - whatever their cause - limits this possibility.

The Feminine Mystique is a fascinating read and is worth a look for anyone interested in gender dynamics or social structure. I will warn you that the prose is excellent but not necessarily light, so be prepared to read actively and be able to dedicate some serious concentration to it.

384 pages

Cannonball Read #45: Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

"Only letters which have come down from the founders can make it possible for the founders to speak directly to the latest heirs. It is then self-contradictory to wish to return to illiteracy. We are compelled to live with books. But life is too short to live with any but the greatest books." Leo Strauss, "What Is Liberal Education" (1959)

There are many variations on the above theme, but Strauss' here is particularly relevant since it comes in the context of educational development. I have had to read this book no less than five times in the course of my meandering college education, and I have to tell you, I do not understand what the hell academics respond so enthusiastically to in this damn book. It's not a bad book, and it's not a hard book, and it's not an uninteresting book. It's just overused...pointlessly. Not ONE of the five professors who assigned the book have come up with a concrete statement on its relevance. Some books defy concrete definition of their "point" - philosophical texts in particular are more likely to be discussion which teach us methods of thinking rather than solid proofs - but still have value. This isn't a waste of time, but its only prevailing point seems to be "Ethics can be tough to navigate, morals are hard to express concretely, and sometimes white people and religion are bad," and that is simply not enough to justify the damned tonguebath that this book routinely gets. The reviews on the cover and inside page sound like they were pulled from the jacket of the Republic. This is not the Republic.

Things Fall Apart is the story of Okonkwo, who is a villager of Umuofia. He is kind of a jackass and is largely insensible to the virtue of everything that is not power and war. He has built a grand life, but has done so largely at the expense of healthy family life (even by the standards of his village) and his own moral sensibility. He winds up in exile ostensibly for a horrible accident but more likely because of his involvement in the death of Ikemafuna. The story then turns to his son, who rebels against this life much as Okonkwo rebelled against his own father's example. The whole tale works in the shades of grey that one encounters in the course of ethical discussion, and provides an excellent examination of varying theories of relativism.

The problem is that those relativist themes are pretty much it for Things Fall Apart, and it routinely gets held up as this all-encompassing statement on ethical thought. Examining one dusty corner of philosophical thinking on ethics isn't enough for the level of cachet afforded this novel, particularly if said corner is bullshit (sorry, there are absolutes). There was a time when I liked this book, but that time passed three readings ago and I don't think this is one of the great books one should spend time with if he wants to obtain a deep working understanding of ethical theory. If professors and publishers alike could stop promoting the book as such, it would be much easier to appreciate what it DOES offer - an engaging story that presents interesting questions about ethical behavior to be considered - and judge it on its own merits.

224 pages

Cannonball Read #44: Empire Falls, by Richard Russo

My Dad really likes diners. Genetics are strong in our family. That's pretty much all of what brought me to pick up Empire Falls, and MAN am I glad I did.

About eighty percent of Empire Falls is a still life. It tells the story of a town rooted in grand industrialism eventually brought down by hubris and some deep brokenness in the family that founded it, and of the life that has flourished in the ruin of the old factories. The people who wander in and out of life at the Empire Grill are superbly average. You know all of them; it's the Office Space of small towns. Miles Roby runs the Empire Grill and the Grill runs him, and he spends his days allowing people to run over him again and again. No matter how easygoing you are, you can't take abuse from everyone in your life forever. Miles adores his teenage daughter, and when she is threatened both by the idea of staying in Empire Falls forever and by a shocking event in town, Miles is pressed into drastic action that will rework his entire life.

Richard Russo is a masterful writer. His descriptions just sing of the glories of dirty, grimy small town life. Were it not for his lovely prose, this approach to this story would drag horribly. Instead, we are left to enjoy richly developed characters and brilliant little details that make the setting tangible and real. The best part of this slow, skillful development is that the eventual shock of the book's climax feels just as crisis in a small town truly does. Russo banks on real emotion here, and that is damn hard to do in a long novel that spends much of its time without movement.

I read this in summer, and much of the story takes place in summer, but for some reason I feel like it would be a wonderful read for Christmastime. It's full of the warmth of family and the way community makes us who we are for better or for worse. All the things that the holidays are about are in this book. That being said, it really should be on your Must Read List regardless of when you get to it.

496 pages