February 10, 2009


History and perfection are intertwined in my mind. Something quintessential, the apex of perfection for something, is in a way a historical event. It's easy to know when you are seeing "history in the making" (as though it's not being made, always, all around you); the Twin Tower attacks and Obama's election have those surreal, shimmering qualities where time slows and the rest of life holds its breath, for this is history.

Normally, history feels most comfortable at arm's length- a pebble to pick up, study for a while, and place back. It's hard to imagine that things that happen during our lifetime could be considered important by future generations. How can we produce such perfection, such terrors, in a time where we pay more attention to the tabloids and our broken dishwasher? Surely past peoples, ones who lived through remembered and hallowed historical events didn't have such everyday thoughts as to what to have for dinner.

I have a strong fondness for the cello, and Bach's cello concertos in particular. I've read some people write them off as simple exercises, but exercises don't stand the test of time. My knowledge of classical music is very limited, I only know what I like, what moves me. I believe that Yo Yo Ma's recording of the cello suites is the quintessential recording. There can be nothing else, and I can hardly bear to listen to another interpretation for anything else than scholastic curiosity.

Part of it comes from the fact that Ma is indeed playing a Stradivarius- named Davidov-, one previously played by Jacqueline du Pre, a woman considered one of the great cellists. The sound is absolutely unmistakeable. I have never played in an orchestra, especially never played a stringed instrument, but I can pick out the Davidov as played by Ma on the radio.

The cello suites have a very oceanic quality to them, a wavelike back and forth rocking, even on the spirited tracks. This, I believe, suits Ma's style of playing and indeed, how he views his instrument. He has said: "You have to coax the instrument. The more you attack it, the less it returns".

Ma has achieved historical perfection with his recording of the suites, and this is blasphemous to many. But there is a marked difference in the way the great cellists play these. You can find examples on YouTube (Rostropovich) and Amazon (Casals).

It is hard to explain what moves me so much about Ma's playing, but there is such a depth and warmth to it. The most moving part, the one that stops me in my tracks or thoughts every time, is in this song, from approximately 2:50 to just about exactly 3:30, with the crescendo of a wave really starting from 3:10.

That, truly, is the apex of perfection.

November 8, 2008

The Rise and Fall of Sarah Palin

I'm sure you're sick of hearing about her- whether it be positive or negative. But now that the election is over, she will likely fade into obscurity (although I'm predicting a short resurfacing for the 2012 primaries, of which she will not get very far).

When it was first announced that she would be Sen. John McCain's running mate, I believed it was a genius move. Many people were still bitter about Hillary Clinton's defeat, and this woman seemed very capable and likable, however unknown her amount of experience was at the time.

I will not deny that she connected with many people, especially the very conservative Republicans, and the Christian evangelists. In modern politics, charm and charisma aren't secondary characteristics, they are required in the sound-byte constant television cycle.

Soon it became obvious what she was- a woman with no interest in women's rights, someone with a shallow knowledge of the world around her and even less interest in it. Instead of being a model for the modern woman- smart, put-together and engaging, she was the opposite of what women have been working for in the latter half of the 20th century. Instead of confirming that you can be smart AND feminine, that you could make it to the top with hard work and wisdom, she reinforced the old and disappointing fact that if you look pretty you don't have to have brains, a work ethic, or even basic common sense.

My eighty-year-old great aunt, a woman who was born in 1928, who has seen so much in her lifetime (and who is a staunch Republican), said in regards to Palin, "that woman has no class". Gov. Palin is nothing but show without any substance. Her embarassing interviews with Gibson and Couric could be chalked up to nerves or being unaccustomed to the public's eye, but her interview with the Radio DJs from Montreal, pretending to be French President Nicholas Sarkozy, was particularly appalling. Hearing anyone in a position of power address another nation's leader in such an informal, insubstantive and undignified manner proved my great aunt right. The DJs later said that of all the people they pranked (the Queen of England and Sarkozy himself), the only two people to never realise it was a joke, who had to be told it was a prank, were Sarah Palin and Britney Spears.

I pray that the next time a woman in politics inspires as many people as Sarah Palin did, she is truly a woman of substance.

April 20, 2008


For those of you living under a rock, BoingBoing.net is a compendium of neat links, videos, pictures and news stories. It's won numerous web awards (for the Weblog Awards, they are disqualified from some categories for winning so many times). It is updated by Mark Frauenfelder, Cory Doctorow, Xeni Jardin and David Pescovitz.

I used to read it religiously, every day, sometimes even multiple times a day. Here are some things that bugged me so much I just couldn't read it anymore.

  • Steampunk - Holy god in heaven is steampunk the dumbest crap ever. Cory Doctorow has the weirdest, creepiest love affair with steampunk and can't refrain from posting about ANYTHING steampunk, even a fucking coffee mug. Whenever I think steampunk, I think it's just all those nerds who liked Wild Wild West and have a fetish for making everything twice as complex as it was before.
  • Xeni Jardin = Sex - If there's a post about sex, it's Xeni's. She is the classic internet attention whore- constantly tries to prove how smart she is, how nerdy she is, how she's soooooo open-minded her brains leaked out, that she's sexually liberated by constantly drawing attention to the fact she has boobs. It's women like this that make it frustrating for me to post on forums and message boards.
  • Transportation Security Administration - This issue was what pushed it over the edge. BoingBoing has harped about the TSA for ages, as if it's the most evil, corrupt entity in existence, that they stomp on rights, are overbearing, etc. etc. as if flying is some inalienable right listed in the Constitution. That's what happens when nerds with too much free time and liberty have to find something to feel prosecuted about. Here's an example of the extensiveness of their bitching about the TSA:
One day, Xeni posted an account of where she and other passengers of her flight were harassed by the TSA for no apparent reason. She says:
After 30 minutes, the TSA people said, okay, you may leave now. And everyone unfroze, and went and got their bags. No explanation. I guess I should have pressed for an explanation, or demanded to know why we were being held without our consent and without a provided reason, but I was really tired and just wanted to get the hell out of there and go home. Perhaps I was wrong to have just walked away.
She GUESSES she should have pressed for an explanation? After all the whining and complaining and Nazi comparisons?! I left a comment that told her she should be ashamed of herself, but since their comments are moderated, it never showed up. Funny.

Here's a great example of most of my BoingBoing pet peeves being put into action:

Sex, Xeni, and the TSA

Discovery Channel- I Love the World

I saw this while watching Mythbusters. It's very touching, sweet, and lighthearted. Kudos to the Discovery Channel for making it (although they tried to fit in as many of their shows as possible). Watch for the Stephen Hawking cameo.

April 6, 2008

Nutrisystem Nuttiness

For people who want convenience because they're too lazy to cook, that sure seems like a deal-breaker to me.

Book Review: What is the What

What is the What by Dave Eggers

Acquiring this book was unusual for me in two ways: I almost never, ever buy new books, much less ones I haven't read (my rule is usually to buy a used copy after I've read it a few times); and to buy a book from an author I've never read. I had heard plenty about Dave Eggers, both online and from a few friends whose opinion I trust, but I hadn't so much as read a paragraph of his.

The title is a little awkward, but it makes sense once you read the book. The book is an account of the life of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese man who is forced to run away from his village at the age of six due to raids by Arabs. He journeys around Sudan, joining other groups of boys, ending up at one refugee camp after another until one day he is selected to go to America.

It is not a fiction book, nor is it a biography. In the introduction, Valentino explains that he didn't think he could write the story himself, and the work is classified as fiction because of course he cannot accurately recall small events or conversations from when he was young. Many reviewers on Amazon had a problem with this, saying that Valentino should have written the book himself, that Eggers (or anyone, for that matter) can't tell someone else's story. A few were confused about the whole 'classifying it as fiction' thing. Once you start to read the story, though, it is very easy to just read his account of his life.

The way the book was written made my opinion of Eggers very favorable. It is chronicled in one day of Valentino's life here in America, with the rest of the story told in flashbacks. This is extremely hard to do without losing the reader, and he does it wonderfully. There is a nice balance of explaining the situation in Sudan (which I was woefully undereducated about), having the 'gory details', and injecting raw humanism (to use a very navel-gazing phrase). Valentino isn't made out to be some sort of tragic little hero, struggling through oppression and death with a brave heart. He is just very human, scared and defeated at times, and joyfully optimistic at others.

The few problems I have are not such big deals. Having written for so long, it is very rare for a book to suck me in enough to where I just read, instead of analyze their writing style, tricks, methods, etc. About three-quarters of the way in, the length and layout of the flashbacks, especially the way he wraps them up, became very predictable. Also, I would've liked to see a little more of his experiences with America. There is an adequate amount of anecdotes regarding this, such as when he and his roommate at first don't know what food goes in the fridge, the freezer, or the pantry, but being the egocentric American, more details of culture shock would've been a nice insight.

The book was not trite, nor did it play up to your emotions by being overly despondent or overly optimistic. It's definitely worth a read, especially if, like me, you know little or nothing about what is going on in Sudan. All in all, it was a beautiful book that makes you sit back and appreciate everything you have, especially love and life itself.

March 26, 2008

Cheap Chicken Soup


2 Chicken drumsticks
1 cube chicken bouillon
2 Stems Bok Choy (substitute: Spinach, Peas, or Broccoli)
2 squares sizzling rice
Few dashes pepper
Two dashes ginger

Set a medium pot of water to boil on the stove. Remove skin from chicken. Slice off as much meat as you can, taking care to remove any gristle and cartilage. Cube the meat and add to the pot when the water is at a rolling boil.

While this is going on, wash your bok choy and cut off stems to just below where leafy part starts. Cube this.

Chicken should be almost done at this point (it takes about 15 minutes total), so drain some of the water from the pot. Keep only as much as you think you'll consume. Add a cube of bouillon and the pepper and ginger.

When the chicken is done (take out a piece and cut it open- if it's all white, you're good to go), add the bok choy and immediately turn off the heat.

Set sizzling rice at the bottom of a bowl and pour the soup over it.


One of the best cooking advice I've gotten is if the chicken looks done, it is done. That way you won't overcook it and end up rubbery.

I used sizzling rice because you don't have to precook it. It's a great timesaver. You can also sub in regular egg noodles, elbow macaroni, whatever kind of pasta into this. Just add it in when the chicken is about halfway done.


310 calories

$1.13 per serving