Friday, June 27, 2008

Batting .333 in the Literary Game

I got this list of books from Jim's Blog. He got it from something called the Big Read. Whatever, I just love lists.

He did it so I figured I would as well. What the heck, it beats watching Fairly Odd Parents.

A) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
B) Italicize those you intend to read.
C) Change to blue the books you LOVE.
D) change the color to pink if you've seen the movie (and perhaps that's good enough for you).

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (This might be my favorite book of all time.)
6 The Bible (Okay, I skipped a lot of "begats", but when you're on the campaign trail and you don't have a book, you read a lot of hotel bibles. Besides, my father the librarian told me to read it for my own literary health.)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (Because we had to...)
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens (High school english class)
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott (High school again)
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller ("What kind of name is Yossarian?")
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I'm not sure even my mother with a Masters in British Lit. has done this.)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger (Didn't like it. Holden Caulfield was an idiot.)
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams (42)
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (My wife says it is one of the best books ever!)
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (I own like four copies, love this book.)
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (I'm with Jim, how did this get in here?)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood (The wife will be shocked by this)
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
52 Dune - Frank Herbert (The best sci-fi of all time!)
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens (High school again)
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold (My wife read it, said it was good)
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac ( was a slog.)
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding (if you are wondering what's wrong with the world, note that this book made someone's top 100 books list.)
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville (I tried...I swear.)
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Loved this as a kid.)
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo (actually, I only saw the musical on stage, but that's kinda like a movie.)

For those of you keeping score at home, that's 33 I've actually read. Here are a few that I think should have made the list. I mean please, Bridget Jones' Diary? I offer the following for consideration instead:

Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett (It looks so long but reads so fast.)
Lord of the Flies - William Golding (I've got the conch!)
The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway (Top 100 books and no Hemingway?)
Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut (Top 100 books and no Vonnegut? So it goes.)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thompson (A skewing of the American Dream.)
Green Eggs and Ham - Dr. Suess (Maybe the perfect book.)
The Hobbit - J.R. R. Tolkien (I actually like this one even more than the Rings books.)

There you go. Any suggestions for inclusion or deletion? Have at it kids.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

If we don't hang together...

As Rachel points out in her comments on the Beer, Bunting and Bullshit post, the effort to divide the voters has already begun.

Rev James Dobson, an evangelical leader and chairman of the board of Focus on the Family, an evangelical non-profit, has attacked Sen. Obama by accusing him of "distorting the Bible and pushing a "fruitcake interpretation" of the Constitution."

To put the work of this group in perspective, according to Wikipedia, "Focus on the Family has been criticized by mainstream medical, psychological and mental health organizations for misleading the public, and top academics have charged Focus on the Family with manipulating research in misleading ways."

So it is one of those groups. You know the ones. A woman shouldn't have control of her own body. Women should stay home and not work. Gays are going to hell. In fact, according to Wikipedia:

In the winter of 2004-2005, the We Are Family Foundation sent American elementary schools approximately 60,000 copies of a free DVD using popular cartoon characters (most notably Sponge Bob) to "promote tolerance and diversity." Dobson contended that "tolerance and diversity" are "buzzwords" that the We Are Family Foundation misused as part of a hidden agenda to promote homosexuality. The New York Times noted Dobson asserting: "tolerance and its first cousin, diversity, 'are almost always buzzwords for homosexual advocacy.'"

While Barack Obama tries to find common ground, groups like this spend their time trying to separate us. They aren't trying to work with anyone, they are trying to dictate to America their personal view of morality and ethics. And if the accusations are true, they aren't afraid to bend the truth to do it.

Finally, you know this guy is reaching when he calls Sen. Obama a constitutional fruitcake. I'm willing to bet that a Harvard law grad who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for 12 years knows a little bit more about that particular document than a pseudo-preacher with a clear political agenda.

Don't give these nuts the time of day. It is one thing to disagree with someone, but to come out of the box with this kind of rhetoric makes it clear that they have no interest in any perspective but their own. If you don't want on the train, then shut the hell up and let the rest of us get to the business of joining hands in the common cause of fixing this broken, misguided country. The America that gives these guys the freedom to speak and worship deserves better than the myopic, exclusionary vision of the future they espouse.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

As Promised: The Duck Story

On the other side of my back fence is a pond. When you combine that with a nearby forest preserve, a golf course and a reservoir, you get wildlife, in particular, water fowl.

In the spring, the forces of nature take over and we are soon treated to a variety of cute, fuzzy waddlers trailing behind vigilant mothers who, while caring, have…well…bird brains. This means that they are constantly dragging their children through dog-occupied yards, into parking lots, across streets, etc.

And this is where our story begins.

A chilly evening a few weeks back, I had just picked up B_____, my seven year-old daughter at dance class. We had just pulled out of the parking lot into rush hour traffic when we both spotted a mother duck and what looked like four or five chicks standing in the gutter on the opposite side of the road apparently trying unsuccessfully to get over curb.

Now, as those of you who have read my wife’s blog probably know, my youngest daughter is not only exceptionally empathetic, but she loves animals. To this day, she occasionally tears up thinking about our old dog Molly who passed away over two years ago. If it’s fuzzy, furry or feathered, B_____ loves it. Unconditionally.

As we drive past the ducks, B______ is climbing over me saying, “Dad! Dad! Why are those ducks in the road? Dad! Dad! What’s going to happen to them? Isn’t anyone going to help?”

As I turned the corner I pulled back into the parking lot, wheeled around the bank, came out on the street with the ducks again and wheeled into the parking lot across the street.

The weather was chilly, mid-50’s with a good breeze, but my critter-loving daughter jumped out of the car in nothing but her leotard and a lace dance skirt and headed for the road. When we get there, the mother duck is none too pleased. I shoo her over the curb and on to the grass and start picking up little chicks and putting them on the grass while Momma duck tries to bite me.

Just as I get the last one up, Momma jumps the curb again leading the rescued chicks back onto the busy road. Just as B______ and I started trying to get them back on the grass again, a twenty-something girl wheels up and leans out the window and asks what’s going on? B____ replies that we’re saving the ducks but they just keep getting in the road. Miss Twenty-Something immediately turns into the parking lot, jumps out of her car and comes running over to help.

Well, that was enough for Momma. She starts crossing the road just as the light is changing and the cars start moving again. Twenty-Something jumps out in the road and stops traffic, Momma waddles across the road and B______ and I stand on the side watching the progress. It was then that we both realized that we could still hear the sweet “Cheep, cheep, cheep,” of baby ducks.

Looking around, we see nothing except the grass, the curb, the road, the sewer grate…

“Oh shit.” I thought.

B_____ and I immediately put our heads down to the slotted gutter grate and see six baby ducks swimming in the standing water. They were a good four feet down and the slots were just wide enough for a baby duck, but not nearly wide enough for a human arm. Momma hadn’t been trying to get up the curb; she was just refusing to leave her fallen babies behind.

“Daddy, what are we going to do?”

So Twenty-Something looks back and yells, “What’s the matter?” I yell back that there are baby ducks in the sewer and she yells that she’s calling the police. In the meantime, a bald, Gandhi-looking, 50-something guy pulls up after seeing me and my seven-year-old with our heads in the gutter and asks what’s up? I explain the situation and he pulls into the parking lot and comes over to help.

Let’s recap. Twenty-Something is standing in bushes by the parking lot across the street watching Momma and her babies so they don’t wander off, the police have been called, Gandhi is lying in the gutter with me and B_____ is standing on the parking freezing her butt off asking what are we going to do?

After several minutes of watching the ducklings and listening to Gandhi talk to Bronte and me about how we are really nice people, that most of the drivers are just rolling past despite the fact that something is obviously wrong, Gandhi decides to call the police again.

By this point, I’ve sent B_____ back to the car to stay warm. The poor thing was so upset and so cold and it didn’t look like anything was going to get better anytime soon. And still the police hadn’t come. So I tell Gandhi that I’m going to get the police to come. He asks how and I dial the non-emergency number and get transferred to the dispatcher. I explain that a bunch of crazy people are standing in the road at this very busy intersection and they really ought to send someone.

“Excuse me sir, is this about the ducks?”

“Yeah, I think it is.”

“The Animal Control Officer is one the way.”

B_____, at this point, comes back wearing my 12 sizes too big Cubs jacket. Despite the coat, she is slowly turning Cubby blue in the cold wind. A minute or so later, we see the Animal Control van turn the corner and head toward us. As she slowly rolls past, she sees me point down into the sewer.

At this point, just let me say that it is a testament to the fine parenting skills of both myself and my wife that my daughter could read the officer's lips perfectly as she said to herself, “Oh shit.”

After surveying the situation, the officer gets a tire iron out of the police van and pries the grate up. The ducklings are so far down that she has to get a fishing net, lay down in the gutter and bend at the waist face first into the open sewer grate.

Next thing I know, she is handing baby ducks out of the sewer. I grab a couple, B_____ takes one, Gandhi takes a couple and puts them in his jacket pocket. When we get to five, the officer pulls herself back up and says, “I think that’s it.”

Then we hear it. One more faint “Cheep, cheep” coming up out of the sewer.

The officer gets back down in there and says that the ducking has swum into the pipe and won’t come back out. We put one of the missing duckling’s siblings back into the net and put it back into the sewer and try to get it to peep. It finally starts making some noise, but to no avail, the last one is gone.

B______ looks at the officer and asks were the last one went. She says she doesn’t know, but that there isn’t anything else to do. B______ immediately says that she’ll go down after it; all we have to do is just lower her down there. My seven-year-old daughter dressed in nothing but a Cubs jacket, a leotard and lace dance skirt stood before a police officer and two total strangers and tried to convince us to lower her into a water filled storm sewer so she could go after a lost duckling.

Twenty years from now, when someone asks me about what kind of girl my daughter is, I’m going to describe this scene. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of her.

When the officer said no, we weren’t going to put a seven-year-old into a storm sewer; B______ again asked what were we going to do? The officer went and got a box from her van, we put the ducklings in the box and she walked across the street to reunite them with their mother.

B______ and I stayed and listened in hopes of hearing the last one again but we never heard another peep. It was clear that the last one was gone.

When the officer came back, B______, with a tear in her eye, again asked about the last duckling. The officer, to her credit, told B_______ that she had done a wonderful thing; that she had saved five ducklings and that if B______ hadn’t stopped, we would have lost them all, and probably more as the mother stood in the gutter during rush hour with the rest of her babies. Gandhi and Twenty-Something joined the chorus about what a great thing B______ had done, Twenty-Something nearly in tears. As I picked B______ up to give her a hug and take her back to the car, Gandhi gave her a smile and told her that she was a special little girl for what she had done.

On the way home, I tried my best to get B_____ to focus on what a great thing she had done, at what a hero she was to Momma and her ducklings, but she could only manage a forced grin as she worried about that poor lost duckling that we couldn’t save.

She has such a big heart that child of mine. But like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, I’m afraid she’s learning the down side of having a heart. It occasionally gets broken and as a parent, it’s hard to watch. I just hope her heart stays this big because despite the pain it causes her, it is just so beautiful to watch in action.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Beer, Bunting and Bullshit

Obama has clinched the nomination and as I type, the world is waiting for Sen. Clinton to suspend her campaign. So the die are cast, Sen. Obama is the Democratic nominee to be and the race to the White House is on. So let's look past the primary season and stare into the crystal ball and see the future.

I see is getting is the Republican political machine. And what is it doing? It's preparing for a desperate campaign, a campaign starring an aged, flawed, cranky old man.

And what are they going to do? You don't need a crystal ball to see that. They are going to wage the classic smear campaign. They aren’t going to just throw mud; they are going to wallow in it. They are going to wear it as a badge of honor on their $1,000 suits.

No mistake about it, you are going to hear the word "liberal" more often than you ever thought possible. They are going to use images of terror to scare the crap out of you. They are going to talk about attacks-to-be here in the U.S. And in subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways, they are going to tell America over and over again he's black and quite possibly a closeted Muslim.

Frank Zappa once said that the Republican formula for success was Beer, Bunting and Bullshit. In fact, Zappa was only part of the way there. Bullshit doesn't quite cover it. The Republican formula in this campaign will be to Divide and Petrify.

First, they will attempt to hammer on the wedge issues that divide otherwise like thinking Americans. Abortion, school prayer, gay marriage and the like will be rolled out over and over again because these are the types of issues that the Republicans think they can use to hang on to their base voters and peel off some of those Independents that have moved over to Obama.

You see there are a few things that are so polarizing that otherwise agreeable find themselves emotionally divided. Even if you agree with 98% of what your neighbor says, if they are on the other side of the abortion issue, you are suddenly at odds and emotionally invested in the fight.

The Republicans have been dividing the country this way for years and they are going to bank on it again in this campaign. And once they have the voters divided on the issues of their own choosing, then they are going to hit you with the fear. Mark my words, you are going to hear variations on themes like these:

"Did you know that Barak Hussein Obama wants to negotiate with terrorists?"

"Do you want a man who has never served a day in uniform in charge of our armed forces in a time of war?"

"If you elect Obama, gas prices will go through the roof because we will have lost the war in Iraq."

I am sure there are more; those are just the first ones that come to mind. But when you hear these things, when your friends and relatives repeat these things to you, you have a job to do.

You have to stand strong. It isn't anti-American to question the war. It isn't bad foreign policy to talk to nations with whom we have differences. And it doesn't take a military man to run a country.

You have to fight for truth. You have to be what Sen. Obama is, a force for cooperation, not division. You have to reach out to these misguided souls and show them that change is exactly what this country needs. You have to show them that you are not going to be peeled away from the movement for a better America that the politics of division and hate are no longer viable. You have to show them that the lies that got us into war, into a recession and frankly, into one of the darkest times in our county's short history, must stop.

But be prepared ladies and gentlemen. There is an old saying, "Don't get between a dog and his bone." The richest one percent of the country has had it pretty good the last seven years and they aren't going to be pushed off the gravy train without a fight. They are going to invest in advertising and smear campaigns in an effort to steal yet another election from the hard working middle class of the country. So don’t grow complacent, don't let the Divide and Petrify strategy work. Stand tall and proud of being the kind of American who chooses a new path for our country.

If we fail, we will be stuck with Grampy McGrumpy for the next four years and the punishment our international reputation has suffered, the economic pummeling our middle and lower classes have endured, the systematic erosion on our basic liberties we are witnessing will continue. Stand tall my friends, and refuse to be a victim of the Republican formula of Beer, Bunting and Bullshit. That is our job as Americans, to take back our country. It is a job I hope you all take very seriously.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

I've been busy...

It is the end of the school year and as any of you with kids know, this is a very busy time. I'll write more in a day or so. That being said, read the comments section of my previous post and laugh at the great post by Phil.

Coming soon: The Duck Story, Quick Hits, and the end of the Hillary Clinton campaign for President.