Wednesday, September 24, 2008

American Pests: The Losing War on Insects from Colonial Times to DDT

By James McWilliams Interesting history of the battle against insects. I haven't really thought much about the amount of damage they can do to agriculture. Except for the famous story of the locusts invading the Utah crops and the miraculous delivery by the gulls. McWilliams traces the role of entomologists in the attempts to control, and then later to exterminate, insects. Early on, in the 1800's, control strategies were focused on biological control (finding natural predators) and local strategies, delivered from the ground up by the farmer. Later, starting in the early 1900's, entomologists were more interested in global control delivered in the form of pesticides.

I skimmed a lot of this book. It seemed somewhat repetitive in parts. And the chronology was sometimes wacky. I liked the last chapter the best which focused on Rachel Carson and Silent Spring (thank you Dan for bringing her to my awareness!) and the way her work turned the public against DDT.

Coulda been a New Yorker article. Oh, and interested tidbit. Silent Spring was published in serial format in the New Yorker.

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Lady of the Snakes

By Rachel Pastan. In the first scene of this book, Jane gives birth to her daughter Maisie.

The nurse wrapped the baby in a blanket and handed her to Jane, a bundle so light it seemed to weigh less than the completed chapters of her dissertation
With that one sentence, I was hooked. This is a book with beautiful writing and imagery about the profound ambivalence that some women feel about motherhood and career. This ambivalence started for Jane the moment Maisie was born.

She was glad to have Maisie back in her arms where she belonged. Nothing was sweeter than holding her daughter, except for all the times she longed to put her down.
What a perfect description of how I feel, both in general and specifically with my baby Z.

Jane is a brilliant scholar of Russian literature, specializing in Karkov. She is passionate about her work, and when she finishes her dissertation, she lands a plum job at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The book centers on the knife's edge she tries to walk on, as she attempts to both mother her child and continue her research. During the course of her novel, she digs into the archives to research the diaries of Karkov's wife, and makes an amazing discovery. Both story lines flow together well, although the plot seems a bit contrived at parts.

By the end, Jane understands that her conflicted feelings "would never be banished … the guilt, and the worry about what the right thing was. You could pluck it the way she plucked shiny leaves of goutweed by the driveway, but the blind white roots always thrust up more.”

I really liked this book. There's a lot in it that I can relate to. I'm not as passionate about a particular field as Jane is, making it easier for me to find intellectual diversions from the day to day with home and kids. And I think that these will always be issues for me too, at least on some levels. Gender roles and work and family.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City

By Kirsten Miller One of the girls in my primary class has been talking about this book a lot, lauding it all the time, trying to persuade us all to read it, and utilizing plot points in random ways through the whole lesson.

Well, I read it this week and it is a super fun book. I wish that I could have read it when I was 10 or 11. Nancy Drew wouldn't stand a chance against Kiki Strike--part detective, but more super-agent-secret-spy. She and her gang of the Irregulars (including experts in surveillance, disguise, and explosives) discover and explore the secret underworld of New York City and foil nefarious plots while their parents are left totally clueless. In a great twist, the villain is a beautiful, rich, but mean hearted princess. There are no male heroes in this story--the girls rely on their smarts and toughness to get out of sticky and dangerous situations (including their escape from thousands of creepy overgrown Manhattan rats). In addition to the great story, the narrator, Ananka, adds tips on topics like how to lie and detect liars, and "how to kick some butt". I was so drawn in that I thought, momentarily at least, that I could personally escape a kidnapping plot or trail someone without getting caught. Kiki, Ananka, and Irregulars are tough and smart. Sidney Bristow, just a few years younger. Full of awesome girl power.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Political Rantings

I had started to get a little bored with the presidential campaigning. I watched a lot of the DNC convention during prime time. I loved Michelle Obama, I thought the Clintons did well, and I liked Obama's speech, although I wasn't riveted to it.

Then, the McCain campaign announced their choice for VP. Sarah Palin. And all of a sudden, I was once again obsessed with the campaigns.

There have been so many things swirling through my head since then, and I just want to spew them all out. Yes, I will spew. This is my own blog and I will not weigh my words as I usually so when I discuss politics with others. I am surrounded by family and friends who are mostly conservative and being adverse to contention, I rein in what I say. But, not here. Not now.

1. Did the McCain campaign really think they could pick up Hillary supporters with the Palin pick? Unless the only reason that supporters chose Hillary was because she was female. They are extremely different candidates, with such different policy objectives, but lots of women seem to love Palin. I guess it's because she's just so down-home. Haven't we had enough of that though?

2. Maybe the campaign was more interested in shoring up its support among the conservative evangelical base in picking Palin. And it seems like that is what happened. The base has been suspicious of McCain's conservative creds ever since the primaries began. Well, ever since a lot earlier than that. But Palin has everything they like. Strong resistance to abortion and gay marriage. And... Hmm. What else do they really care about?

3. The Palin pick only solidifies my perception that McCain is CRAZY! She wasn't properly vetted. He chose her at the last minute after meeting her briefly. And only after the conservatives threw a fit about him considering a more pro-choice pick like Ridge or Lieberman. So, he bowed to their demands and chose a virtual unknown without giving it a lot of thought. It could turn out to be a brilliant choice, or it could turn out to be horrible. Just that whim decision though. Kinda worrisome to me. "We just can't blink." Again, haven't we had enough of that? I want someone to weigh options, who will talk to lots of people, and think through reasoned approaches.

4. I wonder about her experience. I don't think her recent interviews show that she has a strong enough grasp of relevant policy issues to be the VP to what would be the oldest president ever elected. (You can see Russia from Alaska? What?)

5. Ok, and what about the RNC convention? I thought her convention speech (along with Giuliani and the others who spoke on Wed night of the RNC) were mocking, derisive, and full of partisan rancor and had nothing much to say about their own platforms, but were just basically trying to rip Obama apart. That really bothered me, especially their barbs about community organizing, which in a party that supports local government and grass roots movements felt hypocritical and curious.

So, yeah, I hated the bits I saw of the RNC convention. Palin had nothing substantive to say. Except for a few bits of misinformation about her record. "Thanks but no thanks"? Not so much. And the crowd? They were crazy. They get worked up and excited about Giuliani and Palin mocking Obama's experience in community organizing? They chant "zero zero" over and over to emphasize that the Dems have no executive experience with the Reps have what, 20 months as governor of Alaska? Oh, and don't forget Palin's time as mayor of a town of 5000 people. Ok, so they definitely have the upper hand on experience. And then "drill, baby, drill". The whole lackadaisical approach to energy and thinking that we can drill our way out of high gas prices? I don't like it.

And I got a kick out of Giuliani making fun of "cosmopolitan" to build up "small town". And Romney excoriating the "eastern elite." Really? CRAZY.

6. One more thing about Palin. I'm not sure about the mother thing. What I liked about her: she has come to a position of power in a non-traditional way, as did Pelosi. It's good to have female role models for various career routes. But, she has a newborn with Down's plus four other kids, which include a pregnant daughter. It seems like an awful lot for someone to take on, and I would say the exact same thing of a father in the same position. I have to ask myself: am I harder on her because she's a woman? Perhaps. I feel conflicted about this.

7. Now that he has won the primary and chosen Palin, McCain is back to being a maverick. Supposedly. I liked the McCain of 2000 a lot better than I do now. Now that he has been pandering to the far right wing of the Republican party.

8. McCain is trying to co-opt the change message. Excuse me though? You're the party of change? What? I don't know where this number comes from, so maybe I shouldn't cite it, but supposedly McCain has voted with Bush 90-95% of the time. I don't see how there is going to be much change with McCain in the White House.

9. It bothers me that the main campaigning strategy of the Republicans is to tear down Obama rather than push their own platforms. And that they are distorting Obama's strengths and turning them into weaknesses. Charisma is now celebrity. Education at Harvard is elite rather than resume strengthening. Is Palin's 5 random colleges, one of which she essentially failed out of, somehow better than Columbia and Harvard Law? Oh, yeah. She's one of us. And he probably got in with affirmative action.

10. Let's discuss this "elite" thing a bit more. Sidenote: why is eating arugula now the symbol of elitism? Ok, what I don't get is how Republicans are tarring the Dems with the label elite when Bush is a Yale grad with tons of money, when McCain comes from a string of Navy admirals and his wife is totally loaded with what, 8 houses? And those who question Palin's credentials and experiences are elites.

11. Ok, ok. So, we've all heard the pitbull with lipstick joke a few hundred times now. But, why is a pitbull so afraid of the media? That the campaign won't allow anyone to interview Palin who won't respect her and show deference for her? That her motherhood is off limits for discussion, and that we can't discuss Bristol's pregnancy--it's a family matter, and oh yeah, it makes her just like us again--but, yet she parades her family and brand new baby around the convention and makes her motherhood part of her campaign image.

After the RNC convention, I was simmering for a while. I was so bothered by the tone, by the speeches, by the way they mocked "community organizing." (I think that is one of Obama's strengths--he has actually been on the ground dealing with poverty and all its accompanying problems. ) But watching Jon Stewart and the Daily Show's coverage of the RNC all in one night, though, it felt so good to laugh REALLY hard. They were able to turn all my issues around and make me laugh. And though I'm still bothered, I don't feel quite as enraged.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

The Universe in a Mirror

By Robert Zimmerman. This is the interesting story of the Hubble Space Telescope: the long process from conception to funding to building to launching to mistakes and fixing them and then to finally oberserving the universe from beyond the constraints of the earth's atmosphere.

There were lots of interesting pieces in the story of how we have Hubble. It's amazing that it ever worked at all. I am reminded of a quotation from a 5 year old girl I knew in NYC who was obsessed with space. "NASA launched the Hubble Space Telescope in 1992 but there was a glitch." A glitch indeed.

But the best part of the book was the chapter on what we have learned with Hubble. And the accompanying photos. They are truly amazing. One of my favorites was where Hubble was trained on a supposedly blank section of the sky. This is what Hubble found. No, those aren't stars, those are GALAXIES! This picture gives me goose bumps.

Hubble has given us photographic evidence for the vastness and grandeur of the universe. Looking at a galaxy like this one--the Sombrero Galaxy--from the vantage of Hubble and Earth feels a little bit like some kind of omniscience.

Even more breathtaking to consider are the amazingly distant objects that Hubble has been able to observe, providing a look back in time. Because of the time it takes light to travel, observers on earth aren't able to see objects in the sky until their light reaches us. Hubble has been able to observe phenomena that are BILLIONS of light-years away. What that means is that astronomers are literally able to look back in time to BILLIONS of years ago to places where star formation is going on (or should I say "was going on"???) at a furious pace. Time all of sudden feels very different from the linear and simultaneous earth-perspective of time.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World

by Dan Koeppel. I got the idea for this one from a NYT op-ed. While the op ed was interesting, the book wasn't so much. Based on a good idea, the writing wasn't stellar. The author jumped around in both topic and chronology. It started to lose me and then I scanned the last third. A section of the way banana companies were involved in the 1954 overthrow of a democratically elected Guatemalan president was interesting, but too brief. The story just didn't hang together well.

Just read the op ed.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

A Veritable Bounty

On Saturday, I went to the farmer's market first thing in the morning. After rereading parts of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for book group this month, I was determined to take advantage of the local bounty before cold weather sets in. I wanted not only to eat some delicious vegetables, but to preserve some for the long winter months ahead.

I walked out of the market with 33 zucchini, probably 20 peppers, a huge box of roma tomatoes, a couple of eggplants, several large bunches of basil, and some onions.

By Saturday night, I had 6 bags grated zucchini, 12 bags of sliced peppers and onions, and 14 containers of sauced tomatoes for spaghetti and pizza. And for dinner on Sunday, we had delicious pasta with fresh pesto and tomatoes and a mouth watering ratatouille. Unfortunately, I didn't get apples from the farmer's market, and ended up staring at the granny smiths from Chile at the grocery store. I bought them and made a delcious apple crisp. Does that purchase cancel out all the good from buying locally? Small steps, right?? No matter, our dinner was a delectable way to welcome in the start of fall.

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Mind Boggling

My latest obsession is Boggle. I hadn't played in years, and then when we were on vacation, I played with AJ's parents and my sis and her hubby. AJ's parents had a really cool travel set. It has a nice soft sided zipper case and electronic timer. And instead of the old school brown plastic case for the letters, there is a prettier light blue one. And when you shake the letters, the sound isn't as loud and jarring. Ha! Funny that all the asthetics impacted me so much.

Anyway, I got Boggle for us. I knew AJ would like it because he's a big fan of word games. He was dubious at first, but then warmed up to it and we've had a great time playing it. It stored under the bed, so we can play a few rounds whenever. With only three minutes to find words, you don't have to make a big time committment to play. Like last night. We played one round and then AJ had to go to bed in order to get up for seminary. More often, though, it's "just one more game."

The best rounds are when the words come popping out of the board at you. And you can keep writing almost non-stop until the buzzer rings.

I haven't gotten any seven- or eight-letter words yet. But, AJ scored the coup of all our playing with RAWHIDE and RAWHIDES. For a total of 17 points. I had no idea eight letter words were worth 11 points.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Love Them Toes

Baby Z is 5 months in these pics. I'm a little behind...

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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I wish I knew the stories behind these photos and why they were in the box of my grandparents' pictures. Maybe with a little research, I can dig something up...

These signs say "VOTE "NO" If You Don't Want TO KILL YOUR TOWN".

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