Monday, April 30, 2007

I always liked the name 'Anne'

My pirate name is:

Captain Anne Cash

Even though there's no legal rank on a pirate ship, everyone recognizes you're the one in charge. You're musical, and you've got a certain style if not flair. You'll do just fine. Arr!

part of the network

p.s. I find it absolutely hilarious that I saw that anotherkindofnerd had a pirate name quiz on her site after I posted a rant about the drunken pirate picture lady.

Say what?

I just came across this article, '‘Drunken Pirate’ sues school that nixed degree.' It is about a woman who has sued her school for not granting her a teaching degree right before graduation.

The school's reason? She had a picture of herself drinking on her myspace. 'Jane S. Bray, dean of the School of Education, accused Snyder of promoting underage drinking, the suit states.' How is posting a picture of yourself drinking (the woman is 27, the picture is from 2005, making her well within the legal limit for drinking) contributing to underage drinking? Especially when she's not even a teacher yet, she was simply training to become one?

I realize that it's important to make sure that teachers are held to high moral standards, since we're letting them raise our children while we're busy doing something else. But give me a break - a 25 year college student at a Halloween party, drinking? And this is grounds for refusing to grant a degree? If I were her, I would be suing for a whole lot more than $75,000 in damages.

But, the world is clearly not so bad of a place. After all, if a man shows up drunk to his own wedding, at least the bride knows she'll get a sober groom anyway.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time

Today I read a book called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (actually, it's supposed to be all lower case and is 1) a tribute to Sherlock Holmes and 2) shows something about how its narrator sees the world). I read it because one of the classes I assist in is reading it, and parts of it looked funny and interesting. The basic plot line is that a 15 year old, Christopher Boone, with Asperger's Syndrome (a high functioning version of autism) wants to discover the mystery of who killed Wellington, his neighbor's dog.

Parts of it were funny and interesting, and it was such a fascinating read that I read it all in one day. There were times when it was so cute, and the things he did were so crazy that they were absolutely hilarious. There were a couple times that I had to stop myself from laughing out loud.

By the end, though, I didn't want to laugh anymore. It wasn't funny. Not at all. In fact, I started crying on the train. One of the functions of Asperger's, and autism in general, is that people with the disorder don't understand human emotion like regular people do. Christopher can understand the meaning of happy, sad, frightened, and safe, but not much else. This is why he likes dogs and cares about Wellington's death - dogs too, only understand these basic emotions, and most importantly, they can't lie since they don't talk. His therapist, Siobhan, tries to teach him how to follow what people mean (since people rarely say what they mean or mean what they say) when they speak, and it's heartbreaking to read about his struggles.

The part that made me cry was his relationship with his parents, especially with his father. Without revealing too much, since you really should read the book - it's absolutely fabulous - the lack of ability to connect emotionally leaves Christopher completely at a loss to understand or appreciate his father's point of view. The book was so well written, I could just about feel the way that Christopher's actions would have been like a knife to the heart that didn't stay put but kept sawing back and forth. Christopher, of course, has no idea of the pain he's caused his father because he doesn't see the world in at all the same way.

It gave me a tiny, tiny window into what parents with autistic children must go through every single day. To have a child, a child you love more than anyone or anything else in the world, be completely incapable of returning that affection would be the most horrible thing in the world that I could ever think of. They all have my deepest respect.

All in all, it was a brilliantly written book, and I disagree with the reviewers on who said that the second half of the book trailed off. The second half of the book is when you begin to see how difficult Christopher's understanding of the world is for his parents to cope with. This is when you get out of the "fun" and the "mystery" part of the book and finally see how this child's unique abilities are both a blessing and a curse for the two people who love him most. When you have time, go read it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

In Memoriam: David Halberstam

David Halberstam can be read about online all over the place. You will probably hear a lot about his writings on the Vietnam War, or his Pulitzer Prize at age 30. You may also hear what a genuinely nice person he was.

I never had the honor of meeting David Halberstam; I only read one of his books. But this book changed the way I saw English and History and their relationship to my life. My 9th grade English teacher, Mr. Evans, assigned us all topics from the 1950's and told us to look first to Halberstam's book on the subject. According to, the version I read was 816 pages. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop. Before 9th grade, my favorite subjects were Math and Science. But I had a really lame Geometry teacher that year, and I have to say that my Biology teacher wasn't much more exciting. The only classes I cared about that year were English and German - and look where I am now. :) I really don't remember anything about what he said in the book, other than random facts about Levittown and the rise of suburbia that I still remember, but I remember how he said it.

I will always remember David Halberstam's wonderful way of making history come alive. He made me so interested in the 1950's in the United States - not, by most accounts, the most exciting decade in our history - so much so that I read his entire book at the age of 14. I am grieved to hear of his untimely death. May he rest in peace.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Meaning of Life - prepare to be enlightened

Yesterday I was contemplating the meaning of life and why I'm here on this planet.

You might ask me - Rachel, why would you spend a perfectly lovely Sunday afternoon contemplating such a useless subject? After all, not only will the answer to this question only lead to more questions, but I really ought to have been studying Chinese.

The answer to why I was thinking about it is because I had just finished reading the second book of Waris Dirie's, the Somalian female model who speaks out against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Apparently in Somalia, the worst form of FGM is practiced, called infibulation. This is when a gypsy bush midwife will take whatever instrument she has on hand (the woman who "operated on" Waris Dirie used a broken razor blade) and cut away most of the labia and clitoris and then sew up the remaining flesh so that the girl can be proven to be a virgin on her wedding night. The hole left for urination and menstruation is usually too small, and Waris Dirie said that it took her ten minutes to pee and 10 days for her period. Some 6,000 girls a DAY are at risk of dying from this procedure in Africa, but also in the West, where immigrants have brought this practice with them. She was able to have an operation to get most of the effects reversed and can function mostly normally. Most women in Africa, of course, must live their entire lives with this condition, often being cut open (!!!) to give birth, then re-sewn back up (!!!!!) afterwards so that their husbands still have a nice, tight wife. The reason women submit to having their daughters mutilated in such a way? Girls who are intact are considered over-sexed and unclean, and are seen as unfit marriage partners. Thus, to get married, one must be mutilated.

Waris Dirie has made it her life's work to combat FGM. The current hope is that it would be possible to convince people to switch to a less invasive form of female circumcision, or make it entirely symbolic. However, this practice has been going on in Africa far longer than anyone knows, for up to four thousand years according to some estimates. Something like this can't be changed overnight, but people can try. Eritrea recently banned FGM - this month, actually. So maybe there is hope.
So, what was I doing yesterday? Well, precisely nothing. I had a day off from school and I was enjoying it by reading a book. Then I started thinking about why I am alive, and what purpose do I, or should I, have - and then got depressed because I couldn't really think of one.

So I went for a bike ride and felt better. The big questions of the world can be answered another day and be getting depressed about having no answer is about as stupid as that bee who kept flying into the window all day yesterday only to be squashed when he interrupted my host father's dinner.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Op-ed on VT Shooter

Alright, it seems like everyone else is weighing in with an opinion on this issue - I also, being the silly vapid follower that I am - will also weigh in. After all, there is nothing more fun than venting one's opinion on a topical subject to the web/world at large for public consumption.

My first reaction - after the initial horror and disbelief started to recede somewhat - was annoyance at CNN. CNN Intl had switched to CNN local coverage of the event. Let me say that there are few things I hate more than American TV news coverage, and the coverage of this event was no exception, for a few reasons.
  • The newscasters look like plastic dolls who have had too much cosmetic surgery and are wearing too much TV makeup and have spent too much money on their haircuts.
  • The initial coverage was AN HOUR of uninterrupted footage of whatever the newsfolks could get their hands on, meaning cell phone interviews with students, replaying over and over and over again of cell phone images, and lots of pictures of police cruisers.#
  • It was on CNN Intl!! Apparently, nothing else in the world was happening at that point.

Which leads me to my second reaction, which set in after there was a short break in the coverage for international - imagine that, on CNN Intl - news. They reported that dozens of people had died in roadside bombs in Iraq and a car had been blown up in Afghanistan. THAT WAS IT. A few sentences. Then they went straight back to the coverage of the crazy gun-toting student.

In the days that followed, CNN showed even more how completely retarded the whole American news media really are. Instead of asking real questions of people, they asked questions about how people felt, and interviewed random people who may or may not have known either the victims or the shooter. My favorite awful piece of video was an interview with the shooter's family's neighbor where they let her speak one sentence then let her break down on camera and that's what they showed on tv. The crying, the sobbing, the EMOTION of it all, people! It's not about objective reflection: it's about how this makes you FEEL.

As far as the actual event itself, and what questions it raises for us as a society regarding gun-control, social maladjustment, university bureaucracy, and universal health-care - these are issues that will be with us for a while, and I think will get worse. In our society, there is such a premium placed on perception and image and not reality that I think more and more people will continue to feel that they are outside of 'mainstream' society. One of the interviews about the shooter focused on his inability to relate to women in a normal manner.

As far as gun control: gun control is not an issue that is going to be resolved anytime soon, as I see it, for a couple of reasons. 1) There are a number of perfectly sane, normal people who use their guns in perfectly sane, normal ways. Thus, one cannot make the argument that guns cause violence, making it harder to make the argument to eradicate them. 2) There are too many guns available in the US that are not held in a legal fashion and thus any gun control law would have the difficulty of drafting legislation to control illegal guns. When there are already laws prohibiting their use, what else are you going to do? 3) Guns only make violence easier, they do not cause the violence.

The coverage of South Korea's reaction to the massacre is something I found interesting. Nearly everyone interviewed expressed shame and remorse because the entire reputation of South Korea had been damaged. Their sense of community pride was so important that even a Korean who had long since moved to the United States could cause an emotional reaction.

Perhaps the problem isn't guns, or universal health care. Perhaps it isn't the failure of gun sellers to follow laws meant to protect ordinary citizens from crazy people. Perhaps the problem lies in a society that values superficiality and selfishness instead of friendship and honesty. A society in which 'news coverage' means focusing on how people FEEL, not on the news. An election system that got us George Bush because he seemed like he would be more fun to hang out with at a barbeque than Al Gore. In many ways, we create these people who go crazy ourselves. Maybe we ought to take a little time and examine our own lives before throwing stones and casting blame upon anyone else we can think to blame.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Donna Leon fan

I have recently discovered Donna Leon's books. I posted about one previously, about Paola's observations on students - which were spot on - but I recently read two more books which focused on fascinating topics. I think she does what I do: search the news for something interesting to write about.

Anyway, in Blood from a Stone, the topic is conflict diamonds. Because of the date, and the mention of CNN, I'm assuming she saw the documentary Cry of Freetown, because no one else has really bothered to talk about the situation, at least until Leonardo DiCaprio took a starring role in a movie about conflict diamonds.

The second one I read recently was Through a Glass, Darkly, about environmental degradation caused by chemical plants. One of the secondary characters, Inspettore Vianello, observed that even if we changed our habits immediately, we had probably damaged most things beyond repair. Such a cheerful outlook... I personally don't think that - the planet has shown a remarkable capacity for survival. But that doesn't mean that there won't be plenty of scrapes and bruises (euphemism for destroyed climates, extinct species and thousands, if not millions of displaced or dead humans) along the way. Let's hope Vianello's wrong.

But if you're ever bored in an airport, or just want something good to read, Donna Leon = good.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Washington State Ferries and Mt. Rainier

Today I went for a walk at Manchester State Park, close to my mom's house on the Manchester/Port Orchard border with my friend K.. It was, as usual, absolutely perfectly beautiful there. When it's not raining, it's the best place on earth.

Things that define the Pacific Northwest (and by PNW, I mean specifically my small corner of it: the Kitsap Peninsula) as the best place on earth:

  • the Puget Sound and attendant waterway system
  • views of Seattle when it's not raining
  • the omnipresent evergreens
  • the ubiquitous rhododendrons
  • the Mountain when "it's out" - meaning if you can see it because it's not raining
  • the variety and quanitity of good coffee shops
  • the sun when it's not raining
  • the ferries

Most of all, it's the best place on earth because it's home. :)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Joy of Flying

Flight #1: 7:35am from Vienna to Frankfurt, with Air Berlin aka Niki. We got sandwiches - and not too shabby ones - for an hour long flight. Everything went well, was really professional, and the time sped by.

Flight #2: 11:20am from Frankfurt to Atlanta, with Delta on standby. Because I thought it would save me money to go on standby with an employee ticket (thanks A.!), I chose this option. Turns out that's not the best possible plan when it's spring break in the US and holy week (meaning spring break with Catholic/Lutheran overtones) in Europe. After carting my stuff all over the airport (Delta busted off the wheels on my wheely bag on the way to Austria, so I had to use one of those stupid carts - not exactly the most user friendly devices ever), got to sit and wait at the gate, only to watch the plane leave.

Flight #3: 11:35am from Frankfurt to Cincinnati with Delta standby. Because the first flight was delayed, so was the second. But, I didn't make it onto this one either. One flight left out of Europe for the day.

Flight #4: 12:05pm from Frankfurt to JFK with Delta standby. Got the last ticket available for the flight to JFK. As I arrived at my seat, I saw, to my horror, a baby in the seat next to me. Somewhere, I was sure, God was laughing at me. A lot. Thankfully, it turns out the baby was actually sitting directly behind me, not next to me. Small miracles. Time Caesar has been stuck in his little bag thus far - 7 hours.

Flight #5: 4:40pm from JFK to Seattle with Delta standby. Nice and warm in this part of the airport - mainly because there are so many people. Everyone has crowded around the gates because both flights in this area, San Francisco and Seattle, are overbooked. The gate attendant keeps asking for volunteers to wait to fly until tomorrow for 'Delta dollars.' Time Caesar has been stuck in his little bag thus far - 17 hours.

Flight #6: 7:05 from JFK to Seattle with Delta standby. My feet hurt. I was supposed to be available for economy or first class, so I had to wear nice shoes. They hurt. I bought two New York t-shirts. I figured I may as well, since I've never been to New York before. I see, not particularly surprised, that I have not been cleared for this flight either. Barring unfortunate circumstances for some other passengers, Caesar and I will have to find a hotel for the night. Time Caesar has been stuck in his little bag thus far - 21 hours.

Flight #7: 8:00am from JFK to Seattle with Delta standby. Full flight. Last night - $130 for myself and the cat, cheapest that could be found according to the hotel reservations lady. I'm just glad I didn't see any bugs in the room and things looked reasonably clean. The driver asked me which airline I was flying with in Spanish. The other passenger had to translate for me. I didn't expect to feel the same way I usually feel in Austria - not understanding what's going on around me - in my own country. Maybe I should have taken Spanish in high school. Caesar is now more unhappy than ever since he was able to experience the relative freedom of the hotel room last night, and now REALLY hates his bag.

Seatac To-Do list:
  • take Caesar to the Pet Area to do his business (he didn't, too scared)
  • report my lost luggage
  • try to call my mom, and see if she actually came to pick me up since I hadn't been able to confirm the morning's flight

Am now at home, deeply grateful that I actually made it here. It took about 41 hours to get from my house in Vienna to my mom's house in Port Orchard. It took my mom 16 when she flew at Christmas with Northwest. AND she had a free first class ticket. Now that's what I call traveling.