Friday, November 30, 2012

Links: free market flights, Congo news, and wacky science questions

“Why, after all, should an industry that has ingeniously used free-market principles to squeeze the most revenue out of each middle seat be protected from competing in a real free market?”
asks Clifford Winston in a NY Times op-ed

Humanitarian humor
Wronging Rights highlights the Radi-aid campaign. Africa for Norway. Awesome. (HT Marc, Fran├žoise, and Wronging Rights)

Scarlett Lion with another amazing photo.

M23 rebels recently took the town of Goma in Eastern DRC. These documents offer a little background on the group, who is behind it, and what might happen next. Stay tuned. 

The UN Group of Experts report has finally been released and has some serious criticisms of Rwandan and Ugandan participation. 

Background from Texas in Africa about the Group of Experts report on the M23 rebel movement. 

Congo Siasa has the latest and the background on the situation in Eastern Congo. 

Wacky science

I enjoyed these NPR articles and becoming a fan of Krulwich Wonders:

Attaching cameras to chickens’ heads to see if they see the world more smoothy than humans. Why not, right? I don’t think this is enough to make me feel better about seeing chickens in their boxes bumping down dirt roads on the back of motorbikes. 

A cool project looking at biodiversity and an additional scary view of US agriculture. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

New York, on paper and in person

So much has been said about New York City, and yet . A few weeks ago, I was lucky to have gotten to see the city while visiting some wonderful friends. Mostly I walked around Manhattan and Brooklyn until I got tired. I took pictures, but not as many as I would have liked. I ate a ton, but there’s always more to be tried in a city of the world. I saw the city in beautiful light, from the Staten Island ferry, the 7 train, the sidewalks of Cobble Hill, and the High Line, but there is so much more I’d like to explore. These are some favorite places I explored thanks to my knowledgable friends.
    Windows along the High Line
  • Spa Castle - a multi-story Korean spa destination a shuttle ride from central Flushing. It was well organized (with a lot of rules, but they definitely make sense), most relaxing, but also brilliantly kitschy. You wear matching uniforms (a t-shirt and giant shorts-pink for girls and blue for boys) in the sauna areas and can order dumplings, a margarita, or steamed corn-on-the cob. A novel experience. 
  • Bluestockings - an self-proclamedly activist book store and organizing space in the Lower East Side. I found inspiration in every direction, buying one book but leaving with enough reading and gift ideas to keep me going for months. 
  • Theater for the New City - we saw a production of A Bicycle Country, which is now over, but the strong production, small theater, and ticket prices made me want to check out some of the other shows in these small cooperative spaces. 
  • Union Square farmer’s market - Many of you have been here or go regularly, but I can’t resist singing the praises of the quality of the available produce. The prices were even impressively good for the location.  
It was a treat to see how my friends live in this city and to imagine the life I could have there. The best part was getting to spend time with people I enjoy each day I was in New York. Thank you guys.

What does this city need?

New York stars in these two novels, both of which I highly recommend.

In Teju Cole’s Open City, a Nigerian-German psychologist explores his thoughts, past, and relationships while walking around the city, meeting with old friends and teachers and commenting on music and art. The result is a meditative but melancholy look at the city and at our thoughts with many  beautiful moments.

My brother and I heard Cole speak as part of a writer’s workshop in Moscow, Idaho in September. I was impressed by his ability to express complex ideas in artfully simple ways. His answers to questions regarding the writing process and about politics were equally poetic. He seemed like the kind of person who could talk about anything over a pot of tea.

My favorite book about New York (and one of my favorite books ever) has been Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann. The book tells the interwoven stories of several characters surrounding the 1970s wire walk between the World Trade Center towers. I identified strongly with these characters, as different as they were from each other and from me.

What are your favorite books about New York or your city?

View from the High Line 
Seats on the Staten Island Ferry
A few more city photos here

Monday, November 5, 2012

Big questions for young people (and the rest of us)

Several years ago, a librarian friend who repeatedly schooled me at scrabble mentioned that she preferred young adult fiction to serious, proper fiction. After reading these powerful but accessible books, I see her point. Sometimes the nuance of adult fiction get in the way of asking bigger questions, even if those questions still deserve nuanced answers.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, tackles poverty, death, and the challenges of growing up with humor and grace (and even illustrations). A friend gave me a copy while I was traveling and I finished it within a few days, but was sad to reach the end. The chapters are small vignettes that could almost stand alone, suggesting the “diary" aspect of the book. The narrator is a cartoonist and every illustration adds depth to the narrative by distilling his ideas about the people around him and situations in which he finds himself into cartoons. This book makes me want to read more about challenges for Native Americans  and life on reservations in the United States, but I doubt that anything I read next will be as charming.

I know I’m several years late to this party, but I finally read the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. My initial reaction was that the premise was identical to Battle Royale and therefore thoroughly unoriginal. But, I kept hearing good things about the writing and am interested in food politics, so I bought the first book. I was drawn in by Collins’ ability to weave a fascinating dystopian world, stayed for the action adventure, and ultimately appreciated the self-doubt. The books are page-turners, manipulating and motivating readers as we expect, but they also indict the ideas and modern realities of valuing rich lives over poor ones and the media-driven worlds of politics and entertainment. Poverty and the politics of food are important throughout the trilogy and the characters are affected by the violence that surrounds them and in which they take part. Although the series is over-the-top dramatic and extremely violent, it contains satisfying ambiguity within the main characters themselves and the sides in the battle that envelops them.

I also finally read Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow, both by Orson Scott Card. The fundamental good and evil struggle--to save humanity from destruction by hive-minded “buggers”--in these books is lightly, if ever, challenged. However, the drama within a child’s head in Ender’s Game and the descriptions of the battles between students at the school are fascinating. We see the school and experiences of the boys through their thoughts and learn about the surrounding circumstances in selections of conversations between the teachers and administrators in both books. Ender’s Shadow is not a book about a boy like Ender’s Game, since the main character thinks like an adult from age four when we meet him; it adds another dimension to the first story. Despite the fact that you know the outcome of Ender and Bean's games and battles, Card creates tension and develops the parallel story well. I like that I was wondering how much I bought into the Ender’s Game telling of events while I was reading Ender’s Shadow.

Perhaps I’ve been more willing to embrace the good and evil narratives because of the major and rather terrifying election that is looming. Enjoy a brief escape with any of these books; it might just be better than reading a newspaper or turning on the television for the next several days, at least for those of you who are also in the US.