Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Whatever!: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

The second book in the Hunger Games trilogy sees Katniss Everdeen’s emergence from the Games into a “real” world turned upside down.  The way she made it out of the games (and I won’t say what that way is for fear of spoiling the first book) left her  in direct opposition to the powerful Capitol and in great danger.  She now has to go on a sort of messed up Victory Tour, facing down the districts and families that lost children in the progress towards her victory.  Meanwhile, she is still on unsteady ground, completely unsure of who to trust.  It’s a terrifying environment, and Katniss has to continue applying every piece of her cunning and ability to keep her head above water.

Katniss’ Games were the 74th iteration thereof, and every 25th anniversary of the Capitol’s victory over the Districts brings a Quarter Quell, where the method of choosing combatants is altered in some way.  The Capitol announces that the twist this year is for previous competitors to be sent back to the Games.  Though these twists are supposedly pre-determined, Katniss and her small circle of confidants immediately suspect a fix put in to bring Katniss back to the Games as a punishment, as she is the only surviving female champion from District 12.  She must go back to the Games, and she will have to change her tactics this time around.

The reality TV parallels keep on coming in this installment.  As we all know, reality TV shows are the most exciting in their first season, when players don’t know the ins and outs of the game and have to think on their feet.  After that first season, the shows are still interesting, but players have figured out how to game the system.  There’s yet another change in game play when shows introduce All Star seasons, where players not only know the game through observation but also know the game through previous play and have had a chance to observe other All Stars.  This is certainly the case for Katniss in her return to the arena – she is playing against people she’s seen play before and has an idea of how the man-made arenas are likely to behave.  This allows her to change her strategy and approach the game in a more efficient manner.  It would be easy for this return to the Games to get repetitive, and tempting to a lesser author to sit back and essentially put the drama of the Games on replay, but Collins does a masterful job at keeping things fresh and adding more wrinkles to make it a wholly new experience.

Catching Fire also picks up the thread of commentary on genetic engineering and weapons development that we saw in The Hunger Games.  The “muttations” (Collins’ word) seen in the first book are further explored here, and they are horrible for the most part – bees with instantly injurious venom that leads to eventual death and delirium, monkeys that attack with enhanced claws and massive numbers, birds trained to mimic sounds for psychological warfare, etc. – but Collins seems reluctant to denounce them as exclusively evil.  We discover that the birds trained for psychological torment, jabberjays, have mated  with regular mockingbirds to produce mockingjays, which replicate songs, without malice or aggression, and these birds are icons of good in the series.  It’s a surprisingly nuanced take on genetic engineering, leaving room for both good and bad.

I spoke in my previous review about the addictive qualities of these books, so I’m sure if you’ve made it to Catching Fire via The Hunger Games, you don’t need me to convince you to pick this up, nor to grab Mockingjay before you finish Catching Fire so you don’t get the d-ts as you go to find a copy.  I loved this one, and though Mockingjay is my favorite (more politics = happy Josie), I cannot recommend any of these books enough.  If I had an actual, physical stamp of approval, I would be abusing the shit out of it right now.

Crossposted at The Outpost

Sunday, January 30, 2011

There Should Be a Law

Dear Reebok,

This is a hockey jersey.
1980 NHL All Star Game jersey
You will notice the distinctive hockey styling, basic shape, lots of banding, etc.  This is a great jersey, and there have been lots of great jerseys over the years. 

This, however...
2011 All Star jerseys a fucking lacrosse shirt.  These things look like shit, and the styling of your hideous sweaters is making teams adjust to design within these stupid ass designs.  This is already a league with some taste level problems (We all remember the Phoenix Coyote jerseys of the 90s, right?), but they get the jerseys right more often than not.  You know why?  Because they're not forcing their designs into your idiot styling.  WHICH LOOKS LIKE A LACROSSE SHIRT.

Fucking.  Stop it. 



Friday, January 28, 2011

Moving Train, I Get a Dollar!

My Dad really likes trains, so over the years it has become our family business to spot trains at every opportunity.  In fact, we have a reward system whereby the moving train spotter gets a dollar.  The program is mostly obsolete at this point, and I'm pretty sure that it started out as a quarter, but either way, it's how we get down.  I was waiting for the commuter rail at Union Station in Worcester last Thursday when I saw two CSX engines and a Union Pacific boxcar trundling up the way.  I got out my Blackberry and took a video to send to Dad. 

The engines pulled up on the second track from the platform, and some poor soul waded through the snow to tinker with a connection at the back of the boxcar, and then the mini-train backed up a little, went forward, then backed up all the way back whence it came.

It was a nice little dad/kid bonding experience.  I went on to classes and to ride several more trains - commuter rail, red line, green line - without incident.  A few days later, I got an envelope in the mail from Dad.  Christmas thank you notes had already been exchanged, so I figured it was an article he'd found or something.  I opened the envelope and found this:
 I assume this came from his favorite store in Florida, Nifty NicNacs, which specializes in retro doodads.  Here's what was inside:
My dad is adorable. I was on the phone with Mom and I asked if she knew he'd done this, and she goes "uh, YEAH, I reminded him to do it!"  You almost can't look at the cuteness for fear of going blind.  It's like looking at the sun.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book [Tuesday]!: Straight Man, by Richard Russo

Richard Russo has some kind of character magic. Every one of the people populating his books somehow manage to be true-to-life copies of someone you know at the same time that they are universal representations of the demographics to which they belong. This was the case in his exceptional portrait of small town life, Empire Falls, and he does the same for academe and it's bizarre, brilliant inhabitants in Straight Man. I'm still getting to know my colleagues and teachers at Boston University, but I was lucky enough to get to know my professors at Assumption College very well. As I read Straight Man, I couldn't help but slot in my professors to the various actors' roles, while marveling at the goofy uniqueness of the people Russo had created. I was particularly amused by one key similarity of location; Assumption has this duck pond, full of spoiled ducks and geese (who are taken a warm, cushy location over the winter and returned to the pond on Duck Day, when they waddle down a red carpet and everyone has cookies. Assumption never met an occasion it wouldn't celebrate with cookies), as did the college in Straight Man. You can imagine my juvenile delight when the main character, Professor William Henry Devereaux, throttles one of the geese while on live TV and threatens to kill a duck a day until he gets his budget, leaving the goose with a bad attitude and a tiny, goofy neck brace.

Straight Man is a great book for fledgling academics, as both an enticement towards and warning from the field. It is a vicious portrait of departmental warfare, where all involved are armed with pettiness honed to a razor-sharp edge over years of disappointment. Everyone in a position of power only holds it in theory and is crippled by the machinations of some other vaguely empowered individual further up the food chain. Everyone has an agenda, and those agendas are overlaid with some intensely irritating and quintessentially academic traits - hyper-political-correctness, "I am an ARTISTE!" posturing, chronic ABDism, terminal fussiness. But in Russo's hands, you can also see the charm of these people, and you understand why they would keep you in the field even as they moved you to run screaming from the department. They all mean well, in their own socially crippled way. With education in the decaying state it's in today, it can be hard to imagine why anyone would turn to the life of the mind - and you could be excused for wondering if education, even at the college level, still has anything to do with the life of the mind - but Straight Man and its wonderful cast of characters gives you an idea why.

Russo's books are never just about the narrative thread. There is so much going on in Straight Man. Devereaux is a man struggling to find his own identity in academe. He compares himself to his father while trying to carve out his own identity. He wrestles with his marriage and his relationship to his daughter and son-in-law. More than anything, this is a story about getting older and the changes that come along with it. The relationships in the book are just so wonderfully genuine and rich - not perfect, not pulled out of a Disneyfied fairy tale, but true to life and deeply affecting.

I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone, but particularly to academics. It's a reasonably fast read, but I'd recommend taking your time with it so you can revel in Russo's gorgeous writing. It is super funny, beautifully written, and deeply touching. What more do you want from a book?

Friday, January 21, 2011

True Ambivalence: Deuces, Olbermann.

A while ago, I was talking with my friend Erin at work and I said I was ambivalent about something. Her husband - who also works at the company - was passing by and was like "O RLY?" He reminded me that ambivalence is actually the experience of having positive and negative feelings at the same time; I was using it more like apathy, which is a total bad colloquialism [insert angry rant about decline in lingual precision here]. Needless to say, I spent the next couple days dwelling crankily on the correction because I am a neurotic weirdo and don't like being wrong about language, but he actually did me a huge favor, since I'll remember to use it appropriately until I am old and/or dead.

I thought about that conversation today, when I heard that Keith Olbermann had left MSNBC suddenly in the middle of his four-year contract. I don't like Olbermann. I find him deeply irritating and bizarre, and I particularly dislike the shift he has made to "Shame Finger Wielding Declarer of Moral Turpitude" and hyper-media-liberalism* that he adopted during his tenure at MSNBC. Because I don't like him, I don't watch him often, but whenever I do, I am struck by the dearth of serious analysis in his ranty program, and that feels to me like contributing to the dramatic and horrifying downslide of "news" programming. I'm not sorry to lose the Olbermann brand, but I AM sorry to lose a strong and easily identifiable voice on the left side of the media.

There's still a lot of talk about the Liberal Media, and while I think many of the off-air leaders in the industry are probably quite liberal and the bulk of entertainment programming is more liberal than not, it seems to me that the dominant voices that people are responding to in what is categorized as news (whether or not that's an appropriate designation is a different conversation for a different day) are largely conservative. This isn't really new. Conservatives proved they're fantastic at developing and pushing a unified message during the Republican Revolution of the early 90s, and have only improved their game since. That's okay, by the way - a lot of these same voices complain that they're just wee little underdogs when it simply isn't the case. Rising to market dominance isn't a strike against you.

Olbermann was one of the bigger voices in the field, even if I didn't like him. Just because his hysteronics didn't resonate with me doesn't mean they didn't provide some kind of counterweight to the conservative voices. I don't know who could be said to be replacing that weight; Rachel Maddow is on the rise, and The Daily Show is a bastion of liberal views, but they don't have the same quality to them that Olbermann did. A certain part of me is glad for this; I find the invective of Limbaugh, Beck, et al. to be alarming in the extreme, not because of their rightist views, but for the "...and then we're ALL DEAD!" tone. I believe that politics aren't solvable; the most essential part of them is the discussion, and constantly Godwin's Lawing every conversation into complete panic cuts that conversation short. Politics is the business of things people have been talking about for millennia. We're not going to strong arm our way into solutions humanity has been working on all that time. Again, that doesn't mean we can't disagree, it just means we need to have a calm discussion.

There's another angle to this, what I'd call the Just War Theory of Modern Politics. Many JWT scholars mention that your actions in war should not be so extreme and brutal that peace will not be possible after hostilities have ended. There's a good reason for this; if you're fighting your neighbor, you're still going to live next to him once the fight is over. We all have to live with each other after every bill and policy. Vilifying each other is not going to help us move forward towards the kind of country we want...which we CAN, because the beauty of the American system is that everyone can access it and everyone can make their voice heard.

I would like two things from my political media. First, I'd really like to see a distinction drawn between news and commentary. I think most people would like this, actually...I get the sense that people are getting fed up with this blurring of the lines. There's an important place in society for commentary - as I said above, politics is about conversation, so we need to, you know, converse - but it does no one any good when it's sold as news. Not everyone has time to research opinions and parse out the news from the commentary, so people should have an option for simple, no frills news. Secondly, I would really, really like a decent primetime talk show from a liberal perspective that's not full of outraged flailing. I don't want the Glenn Beck of Liberals, I just want someone discussing the liberal perspective inan accessible way. Olbermann didn't fit that bill, Maddow might, Stewart's a satirist, but I'd like an option.

*I originally wrote this as "hyper-neo-liberalism," but I don't think that adequately portrays the phenomenon. There is plenty of neo-liberalism that isn't offensive to the thinking human, but what Olbermann et al. are throwing out is a horse of an entirely different color.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Useful Products and/or Poison

My family has a habit of taking up residence in places that are very beneficial for me, which I'm sure is their number one objective. I'd like to take a moment to thank my sister for living in the North End, allowing me to live with her during school nights, and my parents for buying a place in Florida and allowing me to come down and invade their personal space on Spring Break. I have spent the past couple breaks with my parents in Florida, and these visits have conveniently overlapped with my birthday, which is great because a lot more of my social life than I'm comfortable admitting revolves around my parents and I get sad when they go away for long periods. Last year, my grandmother, who also has a winter house in the area, couldn't decide what to get me for my birthday, so she took me to this cute little import shop in Venice, FL called Parichat House and told me to pick something out. I chose a gorgeous hammered silver necklace, and Parichat (of the House), polished it up for me before sending us on our merry way. She used this weird powdery stuff to clean it, and it worked so well that both Mormor and I were fascinated. We bought a box of it to try out.

I used it yesterday to clean the necklace that Rich got me for our six month anniversary (aww), which I LOVE and which is a total bitch to clean, because it has this lovely floral stamp with very fine lines and detailing. I scrubbed a little of the powder onto a toothbrush and worked it right into the pendant, and it worked amazingly well. Of course, the problem is that I'm not sure how to find this stuff online, so you might just need to go to Parichat House. I will probably stop by there when I go for a visit in March, so I'll ask Parichat what the scoop is. Of course, part of why it's blocking my Google-fu is because I can't read Chinese, and the writing on the box is all in Chinese. Unfortunately, that means I also can't tell if it's deadly, deadly poison. For all I know, I'm polishing my jewelry with arsenic. But would they put arsenic in such a pretty box?
Probably not poison.

Why don't we package stuff like that? The other silver polish I use - the purple gunk Wright's makes - is just blue and white plastic and all it does is like, tell you what it does. LAME. In any case, I'm going to throw up the props here and try to find out where to find it, because I highly, highly recommend this to any jewelry wearers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Have a Book Coming Out! Be the First One on Your Block to Get One!

This summer, my friend Rose asked me and our friend Dr. Bill if we wanted to start a small press. Since I was working and about to start my grad program, I said "sure! I was hoping someone would find a use for all this free time I have!" For someone reasonably good at acting like a productive member of society, I have pretty poor decision making skills. Momentary lunacy aside, we did in fact go through with this, and at long last, our very first anthology is coming out!

The interesting thing about this is that Bill and Rose are big fantasy fans, where I am really not, and that has made this anthology a real learning experience for me. Rose picked the theme of "elves and love" which I have spent most of the time since making fun of, but we've gotten terrific writing and a lot of fascinating perspectives on the theme, so the joke is on me. I did wind up writing a story for this anthology as well as editing it...but it's not directly about elves. You'll have to BUY YOUR COPY TODAY to see what I mean. (See how slick that was? Marketing firms, take a number please.) We've already received several good reviews, which is awesome!

One note: for all my jokes about elf porn? It kind of looks like elf porn.
The cover was done by the talented Duncan Eagleson, who has worked with (at a guess) everyone in the artistic universe. It's lovely, though a bit porny. The funny part is that it does not, in fact, contain elf porn, which is either going to be a relief or a huge disappointment, depending on the buyer. It DOES contain some great stories, so I hope you will consider buying a copy. You'll be supporting me, small business, and independent publishing (and elves?), and you'll have my eternal thanks. You can pre-order it through the Pink Narcissus website right now, and in a couple weeks it will be available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Our next anthology is a collection of stories about what comes "after the happily ever after" of legends, fairy tales and myths, entitled Rapunzel's Daughters and it is going to be EXCELLENT. If you are interested in knowing more about Pink Narcissus and our publications, please bookmark our website and like us on Facebook. On the website, you can also read the "Chronicles of Silence," a serial that we three editors composed to give people an idea of our literary tastes.

Monday, January 17, 2011

No Seriously, What Are They Up To?

I present, in its entirety and without comment, an email I got from the Floridian Outpost.

From: Dad
Date: Sat, Jan 15, 2011 at 5:39 PM
Subject: My new business!
To: Josie Brown


Sent from my iPhone

PS - Okay, one's really the "sent from my iPhone" that does it, isn't it?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Accepting that Designated Book Day is Unlikely Day!: Learning to Fly, by Victoria Beckham

So, here I am, foolishly thinking that I'll be able to like, read and stuff at my job as a receptionist, but in the three hours I had this book out on my desk, no less than seven people gave me crap about reading a book about Victoria Beckham. These people, I can only assume, are pitiably bereft of taste and sense. Listen, people, when the universe gives you someone who not only willingly bears the title of "Posh Spice" but then goes on to recreate herself as a fashion designing, Beckham marrying wearer of five inch, ZERO HEELED shoes, you pay attention, because this person is clearly an alien recently arrived from some advanced, loopy culture, a secret superninjagenius, or someone so balls-out bizarre as to be comedy gold.

This is not a great work of literature, but you don't need me to tell you that. What it IS, however, is a startlingly sweet memoir that tells the story of an interesting life in a funny and wholly endearing tone. I make no secret of my love for Victoria Beckham - I think she's hysterical - but I was surprised to find myself thinking that one need NOT be a fan beforehand. Some might find her style of writing somewhat insipid, particularly if you don't care for conversational tone in your books, but I am inclined to think that anyone would walk away from this book with the feeling of having had a peasant conversation with an interesting person.

Victoria Beckham's progression through life is pretty well-known if you swish an eyeball over any kind of pop culture magazine, are a Manchester United fan, or survived the Spice Girl onslaught of the 90s. She was a Spice Girl, met David Beckham, became a solo artist and fashion presence, and has remained on the edge of the glitterati-sphere ever since. There is a lot about her I didn't know, however, including her disordered eating and the truly horrifying threats of violence and kidnapping that the Beckhams endured.

Her frankness does her a great service as she talks about all of this. I really enjoyed her perspective on fame and the work required to achieve it. Rather than the usual gloss we get from magazines and fluffy interviews, Beckham freely admits that she both worked impossibly hard to achieve some kind of stage fame, and that she made many errors along the way. Even when she was in the Spice Girls, there were tough times and exhausting work schedules, and she outlines all of this while providing a glimpse into the industry perspective on the girl band and the way management handled them.

This same illuminating approach can be devastating as she discusses the rockiest parts of her life. Her account of her disordered eating includes both the physical effects and the chillingly mundane slide into those behaviors. She shares her struggle without glamorizing it or turning herself into a freakshow. Even more harrowing is her account of the threats received against her infant son, Brooklyn, and the bodyguard who betrayed the family. Originally taken on in response to those threats, the bodyguard was actually spying on the Beckham family, and later attempted to sell his records to biographer Andrew Morton. Writing this part of the book must have been very painful for Victoria, because her panic still comes through the pages years after the incident. I can't imagine how scary it must have been to have someone you trust implicitly turn on you so completely, AND to realize that he'd been conspiring against you through your entire relationship.

Overall, this is a breezy read of middling literary quality that makes up for it's weaknesses with the charm of it's subject. Of course, as an autobiography, it is one side of a story - I'm sure some of it's actors would have some complaints about their portrayal - but it's an interesting one, and gives some depth to a figure usually seen in gossip magazines alone.

Crossposted at the Outpost.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sometimes I Wonder What Mom and Dad Get up to Down There in Florida

Dad: Can't wait for 8:00
Me: Why? What's at 8?
Dad: Sara Palin's Alaska!!!
Dad: ...where Sarah cuts down trees and operates heavy equipment in the bush!!!
Dad: I only have a few minutes until I tune in!
Me: How many drinks HAVE you had?
Dad: You'll be watching won't you?
Me: Shit no. lol
Dad: What?!?!
{conversation about coffee}
Dad: Got to go. You know why.
Me: You are not seriously watching that are you?
Dad: You should tune in so you know what the 'other side' is watching.
Me: Dad, NO ONE is watching that.
Dad: You should watch too.
Me: It just got canned because even Tea Partiers don't give a shit.
Dad: So you know first hand what she's saying/doing.
Me: Le sigh. I'll rely on you. We're watching football.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bonus Book Saturday! Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank

I got this book for two reasons, first because I have a (quickly) passing interest in Heideggerian philosophy, and secondly because it was free in the Kindle store. I needed something to test the Kindle app on my new iPad (bow before my powah! (also Zod!)), having tried out the iBooks reader already, because I plan to use my iPad to knock about 40 pounds of books and computer off my commuting backpack as I head in to Boston during the semester. My husband totally won Christmas with this iPad, you guys. I’ll probably do an article on iBooks vs. the Kindle app in the near future, because it tends to be one of the first questions people ask.

I’d classify Heidegger’s Glasses as a good beach or travel read for the nerdy set. Some of it is kind of heavy handed and it’s a gloss of Heideggerian thought, but it’s also a fairly well written, interesting story that explores the way relationships changed during and after the Shoah. I’d actually recommend this for younger college-level philosophy students confronted with Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics, which can be a challengng text. It’s a quick read that hammers on a couple key concepts from Heidegger’s phenomenological approach, ex. “falling out of the world” and seeing things anew so you can understand them as phenomena presenting themselves to you, separate from what additional utility or interpretation you pile on top of them. There’s also a mildly cute reference to and reversal of Plato’s Cave that I appreciated. [NB: I'd also recommend to those delving into phenomenology the excellent Introduction to Phenomenology by Robert Sokolowski, who has a gift for translating complex philosophical contexts into unpackable English. I took a course on Phenomenology at Assumption without knowing anything about it, and Sokolowski's book is one of the only reasons I got through it. The other reason was a brief guest appearance from Prof. Molly Flynn, who studied under Sokolowski, is a genius, and is worth going to Assumption College for all by herself.]

The story focuses on a community known as the Scribes, a group of people spared from the concentration camps by their proficiency in languages. Frank pings the occult undertones of the Third Reich here, explaining that a clairvoyant had told the Reich that the dead demanded answers to the letters they were forced to write before they were killed, encouraging their family and friends to come to the camps. These letters had simply been accumulating after a certain point, and the Compound of the Scribes was established within an old mine to answer them in the language they were written. All that said, not much responding went on in the Compound, because there was disagreement in the ranks about the validity of the project. It was semi-abandoned, and left to police and fend for itself.

Early on, one of the ostensible Nazi guards, Lodenstein, is summoned to Goebbels’ office to receive an order. A letter had been received from Martin Heidegger to his optometrist, Asher Englehardt, with whom he had taught at Freiburg before the Reich came to power, talking about philosophy and requesting his pair of glasses. Lodenstein is presented with a box of glasses seized from the shop and the letter, and tasked with making Heidegger feel like all was well with his friend, who had in fact been sent to Auschwitz. When Lodenstein returns to the Compound, he and Elie Schacten, his lover and Den Mother of the Scribes, are torn on how to answer this letter. It is eventually answered, but due to a series of chaotic events, it is released incorrectly and prematurely by the bumbling other guard at the Compound, and arouses the suspicions of Heidegger and his wife, who demand to see Englehardt in person.

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the story by detailing too much more of it, but I will say that the Frank provides a wonderful assortment of ways to understand the changed perception that is integral to Heidegger’s philosophy. The story is full of shifting understanding, either of surroundings or objects or people, and this only develops the somewhat heavy-handed references to Heidegger’s “falling out of the world.” (People are always falling out of places and things are falling and everything is just falling all the time.) There’s a lot to be found in this book, though I wish that Frank had a better editor and had delved a little deeper; this had the potential to be a great book. There are letters “from” the people going to their deaths interspersed throughout the book, and as far as I am concerned, I think they could have been axed entirely. Though they do show a progression that mirrors both the breakdown of the Nazi powerhouse and the changes in the Compound and its citizens, the emphasis placed throughout the book on how little responding the Scribes actually do removes a lot of their emotional heft and value to the story.

Definitely worth your time, particularly if you’re travelling or on winter break and want to keep your mind kind of sharp but not too sharp. I’ve toyed with the idea of starring these reviews instead of giving the vague “heyyyyy yeah this is kind of neat but I don’t like stories about birds” type summaries I tend to leave, but I’m actually kind of terrible at perspective. My friend Erin called me a “person relativist” this semester and though she’s not ALL the way right, she is a little bit right. I tend to give everything a fourteen day pass or something, so everything that isn’t actively horrible gets a base level of like and then it takes me a month and a half to adjust it. Basically, everything that wasn’t written by Linda Bruckheimer would get 5 stars, and then someone would be like “hey, how did you like _________?” and I’d be all “Eh.” and then they’d show me the review where I was handing out five stars left, right and center, and I’d feel like a jackass, so now I just write about my feelings. It’s lame but more honest.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Book Friday! American On Purpose, by Craig Ferguson (CBR-III: 1)

I first came across Craig Ferguson in a monologue from his The Late Late Show where he was doing something I hold near and dear to my heart: crapping on airlines.

It was funny when I first saw it, and even funnier when Continental Airlines kidnapped my friend Ashley for three days because they’d double booked fifteen flights out of Houston, thus wreaking havoc on basically every airport that carries Continental flights. I should actually point out that it was funny once I found out that Ash had made it out of the Continental netherworld alive and in Houston, though I was still sad that she did not make it to my place at all.

A little later on, I saw a bit from Ferguson that was equal parts funny and important. It was a monologue that he gave before the 2008 election, and he wrapped it up by saying “if you don’t vote, you’re a moron…it is your DUTY to vote.” It’s worth a watch, because this stuff is essential, and I love his encouragement to get out and research candidates and get your ass out to the voting booth.

Craig Ferguson is an American who worked hard to get that way, and it shows in the way he discusses politics and the way he talks about America. His autobiography, however, shows that he has not always been so focused and clear. I expected more humor from American On Purpose, because he IS such a funny guy, but got very different story.

Ferguson spent much of his formative life completely obliterated on a variety of drugs and alcohol. His account of this harrowing time is certainly infused with humor, but it’s also a fascinating look into the havoc that alcoholism can wreak on your life and how helpless you can be before it. Before finally going to rehab, Ferguson’s fledgling career, friendships and life had been torn to the ground by his disease. He is remarkably clear minded about it now, but it’s obvious that he understands how incredibly broken he was before he got help.

This book is also a love letter to the two homes of Ferguson’s life: Scotland and America. I think his adoration for both places is particularly special for the experiences he describes; he was traveling throughout Europe during one of the most creative and exciting periods in recent history, but he still came back to Scotland and was inspired by the dream of going to America. It goes to show that an emotional connection to a certain place is about more than the universally understood attractions. Ferguson’s story is an inspiring one for a variety of reasons and is well worth your time. It’s great to see such a remarkable story of redemption.
Crossposted at The CBR-III Outpost

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Josie's Closet: Pink Sparkly Bib Necklace

One of the things I'm great at is being a total goober at work just as someone comes around the corner to witness it. For example, the CEO tends to come down to get his paper whenever I am doing something completely awkward, like climbing over a cart to load up some boxes or crawling under the desk to plug something in. This Christmas, I was opening a present from my boss when the Director of Communications was coming around the corner, and I'd just seen enough to exclaim "ooh, sparkly!" out loud as she arrived. (NB: yes, I am a giant toolbox.) It was sparkly!
The picture doesn't really do justice to the pretty pale pink of the stones, but I love this for its shape. It sits just right and looks great either on a high necked top or a low cut one, so it doesn't limit what you can wear with it. The color is a little challenging to pair properly, but it's a good challenge to have because I sometimes shy away from pairing light pink with strong colors like the dark iron color you see in the metal here, and the payoff is so great when you can get it to work. It's a great addition to my jewelry box and I can't wait to wear the hell out of it!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My Husband's Safe Word is "Okay"

I have to imagine that being married to me is kind of challenging sometimes, not only because I have occasional intense attacks of airheadedness and sometimes forget to use my indoor voice, but also because I get attached to weird shit on a pretty frequent basis, and when I bring said weird shit home, Rich needs to live with it too. One of the ways he deals with this is by doing this thing that I assume is some form of dissociative behavior, where I come in all "look look I found this notebook made out of elephant poop" and he gets this kind of blank look and goes "okay." He also uses this when I get on a tear about something weird and/or esoteric and/or imaginary. Today's example:
I had popped in to TJ Maxx to pick up some river rocks (long story) and I was wandering around the home section when I saw this little piece of psychedelia. There were also teapots in the same kind of style, and a cow, but neither had the flair of this little guy. I am totally putting him in my Lair of Knowledge. How do you find something this cracked out and not buy it? This picture is totally not doing it justice either - the colors are much brighter, but unfortunately I have a Blackberry, which comes equipped with the worst camera in the history of camera phones so until I relocate my stupid camera charger you're going to have to deal with this kind of picture. On the upside, this bird is so magnificent it may be better this way, kind of like looking at the sun out of the corner of your eye instead of staring right at it. I never learned that lesson about the sun, that's why I can look directly at my new best friend here without going blind.

Anyway, I showed the bird to Rich and he went "okay," and for whatever reason, his tone made me realize that he's totally using "okay" as some kind of safe word in hopes that it will make me stop. Unfortunately, I don't really have control over my behavior, so it has little effect. I mean seriously, I am always going to look at something like that bird and immediately want to have it, much like my Disco Lions. Rich is probably lucky I'm his wife and not his dominatrix, because clearly I would be terrible at it. It's a valiant effort though, and the good thing is that now that I have the Lair of Knowledge I can stash my dumb crap down there and he doesn't have to spend his day looking at it. I'm kind of imagining him walking around when I'm not home or something, catching sight of things and going "okay" and then getting all sad because it just. will. not. stop. Poor Rich. He really is a ridiculously tolerant human being.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Can a Sister Get Some Moneyball up in this Joint?

This has been a really frustrating Worcester Sharks season. It's even worse because it comes with a sense of deja vu. A couple seasons ago, the Sharks iced a team that was lackluster, rudderless and suffered from a serious dearth of veteran players. It was boring hockey, and it did very real damage to the fan base. The first season the Sharks were in Worcester was a cardio workout - they'd lose and scrap and get way behind and then somehow come back and outshoot everyone and then lose some more and then win a bunch and it was just mayhem all the time, but it was really fun hockey to watch. Even when they were losing, it felt like they were pounding the other team. Not so this year.

San Jose has an interesting relationship to its minor league team. On the one hand, they do actively use Worcester as a development location. Coach Roy Sommer has been kept on staff specifically because he's good at teaching San Jose's prospects the San Jose system, so they don't miss a beat when they get the call. (Frankly, the idea that Sommer is supposed to be giving the players the system is the only thing that explains the godawful line changes, the timing of which is only viable at NHL speed and is terrible in AHL play.) I like Sommer, but his role here makes me hate him a little during games. It's a sprint-hate. We've seen plenty of guys come through Worcester and make it up to the Show successfully; just looking at San Jose's current roster, you have Logan Couture, Benn Ferriero, Brandon Mashinter, John McCarthy, Jamie McGinn, Torrey Mitchell, Joe Pavelski, Devon Setoguchi, Jason Demers, and Derek Joslin, all of whom have been through Worcester in the previous four seasons. Several of these guys - Couture, McGinn, Pavelski, Setoguchi - would have made it to the NHL if Finz was left in charge of coaching them, but the others have had pretty dramatic improvements that I am inclined to think are the result of good coaching from Sommer, Assistant Coach Cunniff and the rest of their staff. If you had told me when they were in Worcester that Derek Joslin and Jason Demers would have consistent and quality NHL careers, I would have attempted to slap the crazy out of you. Those kids were train wrecks.

Despite this focus on development, I'm still not sure San Jose knows how to run a consistently successful AHL team. As far as I can tell, they set the roster before the season starts, and then leave it unsupervised, trusting in Sommer & Co. to make the lemonade. That is dumb hockey. I really enjoyed Michael Lewis' Moneyball, a book chronicling the approach taken by the Oakland A's and other teams who made low-cost player investments based on statistical analysis on what I guess you'd call "less popular" statistics. In hockey, it would probably be like looking at someone's plus/minus rating instead of their point totals. I think San Jose has something like the moneyball approach in mind when they stock up Worcester; my best guess is that they're stocking a supporting cast for their top prospects, and trying to reserve their funds for those future stars. The problem is that a moneyball approach relies on constant monitoring and tweaking, and I don't think that San Jose hockey ops carries through on that end. It doesn't help that Wayne Thomas has openly admitted that they occasionally decide to run lean, exacerbating all of these problems and guaranteeing stagnation.

It's pretty easy to just say that San Jose is interested in developing its prospects, and not in the supporting cast, but that doesn't let them off the hook. Teamwork is an essential part of player development, and the current arrangement presents several challenges on that count. First of all, since there's very little in the way of AHL depth built in, or of ECHL support, when people start getting tired, then hurt later in the season, there are dramatic shifts in chemistry and team cohesion. That changes your ability to develop your players. Secondly, your prospects' teammates should challenge them as much as the opposing players. If you're not paying attention to your second, third, fourth liners and beyond, you're not working your prospects to their full potential. Third, when you leave your own ass out in the wind, you're going to need to scramble for bodies when you get call ups or injuries, so your prospects and the guys who are supposed to be developing then know that they're going to be getting people who can be signed to PTOs mid-season, which of course means people who have already been passed over and who have gotten through waivers with the NHL giving a collective shrug. Not exactly inspiring stuff, not is it going to provide you with the kind of veterans that can help develop your prospects.

Though there are clear flaws in San Jose's approach, you can rationalize it to a point, but it falls apart when you consider that both San Jose and Worcester are owned by a company called Silicon Valley Sports Entertainment. All players and franchises are investments on SVSE's part, and if you look at it all in that context, Worcester starts looking a lot more like a badly handled investment. Not an inherently bad investment, mind you, but one that is being chronically mismanaged. Worcester should be another moneymaking opportunity for SVSE, and leaving it unsupported is not going to produce exciting hockey that gets people in the building to spend money. It's not going to sell merchandise, nor concessions, and it's not going to convince people to buy season tickets or corporate sponsorship. Thanks to Worcester exemplary front office staff, I understand that corporate revenues have remained high, but that is in spite of this season's hockey product, not because of it. The Worcester front office is singularly dedicated to making an impact on the community and making things happen - they brought the All Star Classic to the city in 2009, which the Icecats never seemed to have the backbone to even bid for, for instance. The staff in Worcester could bring a Calder Cup here given freer rein, but with SVSE's laser focus on San Jose and their desire to view all their investments through that lens, the Worcester front office has a significant challenge before them.

I personally would just like some exciting hockey. It's getting increasingly difficult to muster enthusiasm for games, and if my enthusiasm is waning, the Sharks organization is going to have to fight hard to keep butts in the seats next year.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Home Improvement Lookbook: Golden Lion Edition

So, this exists.
Those would be second floor golden lions. I wish I had more time to take pictures of this, because this house has about four inches of lawn in front of it and is generally skanky looking, but I think we can all agree that the lions more than make up for any real estate shortcomings. I saw this temple of fabulousity in Westborough on the way to visit a friend, and I thought it was the best damn thing ever.

This got me thinking about the house that I occasionally make up in my head. This future house is closely tied to my plans to be a super crazy dresser as I age. When your sartorial plans for the future involve rhinestones by the ton and turbans, you really need a house that lives up to your magnificence, no? Obviously, I will need these lions, but I think they could probably be bigger and more glittery. They have also kinds of fun glitter spray paints these days, so I'd probably go for that. OR! I could also just do the manes in glitter and cover their bodies with a mirror mosaic. The future house would have a long driveway, so I could have the giant disco lions at the gate and glitter-only lions lining the drive. I think I'd probably want some disco lions at the front door, but I worry about monotony, so a switch to mirror plated tigers might be the way to go.

I just love when people embrace their wackitude this way. Loud and proud, golden lion people!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cannonballing Up: CBR-III

Some of you may remember a while back when I attempted a Cannonball Read, wherein one reads and reviews 100 books in a year. I came up a little short, primarily because I could not get my act together to review the books I read. For this round, though, the Powers That Be have set the goal at 52 books a year. That seems much more manageable, so I'll be giving that a whirl. I'll be blogging those reviews here, at a Wordpress blog, and occasionally at the CBR-III community blog. I'd recommend checking in to the community blog when you have time, because numerous Cannonballers will be reviewing their faces off over there and you'll get a huge variety of books and review styles.

I'd also love any recommendations that you can offer. I'm always looking for new reading material, and I'm open to pretty much anything. You can leave recommendations in the comments or email me at josie.brown at gmail dot com, and they will be greatly appreciated!